It was a sunny morning. The trees were a green so lush it looked like they could have been computer generated. But they weren’t. They circled the open field I parked in the night before. I had made my way from Sommerville to the little field in Columbia the previous day.
I was still tired.
I still hurt. The pills only dulled the pain. Things were a little fuzzy in my head, as if everything was falling apart in my mind, just as it had in the world.
But I was alive and the need to press on was stronger than ever before. I guess almost dying will do that to a person; will give them a stronger resolve. In this world we live in now, almost dying could be considered an every day occurrence. Searching for food, gas, a safe place to stay for a night or two–or a couple weeks–are now the ways of survival. Gone are the days of reaching into the refrigerator for a beer or going to McDonald’s for one of their I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-soybean cheese burgers, or finding a hotel where they still leave a light on for you.
There are no luxuries. Only live or die and if you die, you better hope it’s because of a bullet to the head and not from being bitten by something resembling a person, but not quite.
That field… that field was a familiar place and nothing feels like home these days than a little familiarity.
It sat off Interstate 20. I had detoured from 26 just to find the rest. I crossed over I-20 in Columbia and headed there. It sat behind a huge church and at the time the world died, it was being turned into a sports complex. The entrance was a dirt and rock path with a mobile home to the right and a playground and eating area to the left.
I thought about the mobile home, about possibly finding a bed to sleep in, but decided against it. If I wanted I could sleep in the back of the snazzy new van I had. There was plenty of space to lie down once I moved the supplies around or took out that middle seat. Maybe one of these days I’ll find me a small mattress to put down in there–a luxury I would say.
I drove down the dirt road and around the fence that separated it from the playground. The parking area was nothing more than dirt and grass and there were a couple porta-potties sitting side by side. The field was lavishly green.
I parked in the center of it and got out. All around the field, the trees stood like ancient sentries over a holy land. They formed a U shape, with the church directly behind the fields and an apartment complex in the opposite corner. The playground and exits sat just up the hill I had come from. And along that hill just beyond the fields were steps that led up to the playground.
How many times had Bobby run up those steps after a game, whooping and hollering and having a blast?
I got out the truck and took a deep breath. The world smelled clean. There was no smoke, no pollution, and nothing even close to the scent of decay. Just the crisp smell of nature. And maybe that’s what this was. Nature doing what nature does and giving herself a bath to clean things up. Maybe she was spring-cleaning. I don’t know, but I could have stood there the remainder of my life and been content… if I didn’t have a family to find.
There wasn’t a zombie in sight.
Before the sunset I had stood in the middle of Field 2. Bobby played flag football on that field when he was five. It was only a six-week season, but he disliked it from the first practice.
“I want to play baseball again, Daddy,” he said before his second practice.
“Maybe in the spring, but for now, you said you wanted to play flag football, so you are.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Too bad. If you start something, you finish it. You started this, so you’re not quitting. I paid good money for you to play and you’re going to finish it out. Understand?”
He shook his head and cried all the way to practice that day.
I stood there, where he had played–begrudgingly–and I missed him terribly. My heart cracked and my breath hitched. I thought about when I was sick, how I wanted to give up and put a bullet through the roof of my mouth and felt shame. What if he was still alive? What if he and his mom were in Table Rock waiting for me? My heart cracked a little more…
I could see him chasing the kid with the ball, trying to get that flag, his fingers extended, but not quite able to. And I think that’s why he hated it so much. He wasn’t quite able to run as fast as the other boys, or catch that football the way they could, or get that flag so easily. Unlike baseball, football didn’t come easy to him. And he didn’t like all the contact. More than a few times he got knocked down and he wasn’t about that. I reckon he got that from his mother.
That night I dreamed of little zombie boys chasing each other, but instead of flags they were trying to grab the arm that one of the boys carried. That boy was Bobby and every few steps he took another bite out of the flesh of what could only be another little boy’s body part.
And when morning came I was tired.
I drove back up the small hill, stopped between the trailer and the playground. I don’t know why I didn’t look to the playground first, but I didn’t. I went straight for the trailer. Grass was grown up around it and there was a car parked on the side, an older model that had seen better days. Much like the rest of the world.
The steps were nothing more than a few cinder blocks stacked together. I tried the door. It was locked. I knocked softly and listened. I heard nothing, knocked again and waited. After hearing nothing again, I put my shoulder into the door. There was a jolt of pain in my arm, but it pushed in easy enough and I raised my pistol.
My heart hammered again and my mouth became dry. My shoulder throbbed and I thought of those pain pills sitting in the console of the van. I checked the first room. No zombies. Instead, there was a man sitting on the couch, the top of his head blown out and splattered against the wall behind him. I checked his gun–three bullets remained. I’m not ashamed to say I took it with me.
The kitchen held nothing other than a couple of butter knives and mostly spoiled food.
Down the hall were two bedrooms. The first one held two little girls lying in their beds, their head covered by blankets, red patches bloomed like bloodied flowers. I looked around the room and found a box full of dolls. Next to the box was a basket of doll clothes. I think I smiled a little, though there was really no reason to. I picked up the basket and made my way out of the room.
In the next room was a woman. Like the girls there was a bloodied blanket covering her head. I reckon they all opted out.
I left the trailer with a box of baby doll clothes and one gun with three rounds in it. I closed the door behind me, making sure it was locked. I thought about all those houses in my hometown, the ones I had placed X’s on after searching them for any living people.
At the van I started to get in, but stopped. The playground caught my eye. It wasn’t the faded out slide or the rusted monkey bars and ladders. It was what sat beyond that: the eating area, completely covered. Several pic-nic tables sat beneath it and sitting at one of those tables were two people.
I set the basket down by the van and approached the play set. I crouched down and peeked over the side of the slide. I wiped my mouth with one hand and held my breath as I stood.
A boy and a girl, no older than their late teens, sat staring at one another. They were as dead as any zombies I had encountered, but they didn’t turn to look at me. They didn’t get up and give chase. They didn’t seem to smell me or hear me. They didn’t seem to care. They only stared forward, like lovers do.
I cocked my gun, held my breath. If they stood to come after me, I would put them down.
One step forward, then another.
The boy turned to me. His face was sunken in and gray. His hair was matted down as if he had crawled out of mud. But he didn’t have any blood clinging to his face. As far as I could see, there was no blood on his clothes at all. The girl lifted her head. Her eyes were maybe green at one time and her hair had been red. Now it was a dirty rust color and, like the boy, there was no blood on her face or her blouse.
I took aim with the pistol.
One twitch to stand and I would drop them where they sat.
The boy turned back to the girl. The girl turned back to the boy. There I stood, a potential fresh meal and neither of them made to stand and come after me. They only stared at each other… like lovers…
I gave a nod, lowered the pistol and took the few steps backward toward the basket of doll clothes. I picked it up, made my way to the van and slid the side door open. I set the basket inside and went around to the driver’s side.
Inside the van, I sat there and watched the two teens. They hadn’t budged since I first saw them. Somehow, they controlled their hungers, their impulse for flesh, that carnal part of their mind that said humans were food and it didn’t matter that they were living creatures.
We pulled away and onto the road, leaving the lovers behind. Maybe one day they would lose the battle with their decaying minds, but not then. On that day they were lovers who only had eyes for each other.
“Hey Humphrey,” I said.
“I got you something.”
“What?” She sounded excited–the first time I heard excitement in her voice since finding her.
She didn’t say anything, but I think she smiled…