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    All The Dead Are Here - Pete Bevan's zombie tales collection


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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    RETIREMENT By Xavier Braze
    June 22, 2013  Short stories   

    It was a Thursday, the last day before the weekend that the boy would be visiting Ewing. They sat at the kitchen table at Ewing’s condo in Van Nuys, fruit punch between them, Darius using his fingers to count through single-digit multiplication problems. Since Darius’ mother had left at the end of summer, his father had been dropping him off in the afternoons while he went back to work.  Ewing had studied Darius’ countenance during these weeks, making sure he was doing okay, and he’d noted that the boy was more like he than the boy’s father.  But Ewing was concerned nonetheless.  The world was changing, even if no one was noticing.

    “Ever seen a zombie, son?”

    “Zombies aren’t real, Granddad.  Dad said zombies are just for the movies.”

    “Maybe that used to be true.  But not anymore.”

    “How can you see them?”

    “Things change, son.  Times change.  You just have to know where to look.”

    “Should we go find some?”

    “We’ll go, son.  But your dad is picking you up soon.  And tomorrow you have your karate.”

    “It’s taekwondo, Granddad.”

    “I know,” Ewing said, although he hadn’t.

    “What are we going to do when we find the zombies?” “We’ll have to be careful.”

    “Will we have to kill them?”

    “Maybe.”

    “Should I do taekwondo on them?”

    “Finish your homework first.  And Monday we’ll go.”

    The boy returned to his homework, mouthing in silence that eight times nine equaled seventy-two.  He had serious eyes, much like his father.  Ewing fingered the tattoo of a skull with a cowboy hat on his forearm, drank from his glass of punch, and watched him.

    #

    Nowadays Ewing maintained only a single handgun, the same one he’d carried at times while at the Department, the same one from his personal stash that he’d managed to keep hidden from the Rampart Commission.  Before the boy arrived, he removed the twenty-two from its storage case and fitted it into his shoulder harness.  While they worked on math, Darius kept looking at it.

    “Dad wouldn’t let me bring my staff,” Darius said when they were in the car. “I don’t have a weapon.”

    “You won’t need it,” Ewing said.  He’d put on his sport coat and patted the holster.

    “Is your weapon good enough for the both of us?”

    “For now, yes.”

    The boy’s eyes grew wide while he contemplated this.  “Should we listen to music, Granddad?”

    “Put something on, son.”

    The drive from Van Nuys into the city was against traffic but congested nonetheless. His former partner, Fernando, lived at the top of Elysian Park, jogging distance from Dodger Stadium.  When Ewing had been at the Department, he could flip the lights on the unmarked and force his way through cars.  But those days were long gone.  When they arrived at Fernando’s house, they found him sitting on the porch.  His was the only house on the hilly block that didn’t have generations of cars parked on the driveway.

    “Who’s the kid?”

    “My grandson.”

    “He’s cool?”

    “He’s my blood. Of course, he’s cool.”

    “You son is your blood too.  Is he still producing those trash flicks about cops?”

    “Darius doesn’t take after his father.  He takes after me.”

    “I’m not sure if that’s good or bad news.”  Fernando stayed sitting but extended his hand.  He was wearing a T-shirt with a shoulder holster over it, housing his nine-millimeter.  Fernando had always wanted to carry the most rounds possible in his handgun and went by the philosophy that he didn’t need stopping power in his handgun because handguns weren’t used for starting a gunfight–he always had the twelve-gauge in the unmarked for that. “Welcome, kid.  Me and your grandpops used to work together for the police.”

    “What’d you pick up last night?” Ewing said.

    “A chick.  Early twenties.  And she probably wasn’t bad looking back in the day.”

    “Skid Row again?”

    “Central City.”

    “Let’s see her.”

    Fernando led them into the house and through the kitchen to the backyard.  Avocado trees planted a century ago grew up the sides and an autumn wind fluttered the leaves.  Steel kennels lined the cinder block walls.  All of them were empty except for the middle one.  A blonde woman of average height and build snarled and hissed within.  They approached the kennel.  The boy reached for Ewing’s hand and Ewing let him take it.  Fernando’s shotgun was on the back steps, leaning against the house.  Its suppressed barrel made it illegal in California, technically an assault weapon.  Fernando grabbed it.

    “Where’d you find it?” Ewing said.

    “4th and Central.”

    “Same building?”

    “Another one.  There’s a rumor that the RDA is going to set up in Central City.”

    “Skid row?  I can’t picture the suits wanting to live there.”

    “The RDA likes to call the area ‘Central City’ now.  They figure that when the threat spreads out, the point of origination will be the safest place because the damage would’ve already been done.  They have some fancy stat guys running regressions and drawing circles around maps.”

    “Is that the zombie?” Darius said.

    Ewing nodded.  “That’s an undead, son.”

    “She’s dead?”

    “It’s not a ‘she.'”

    “What is it?”

    “It’s an ‘it.'”

    “It’s dead?”

    “It will be.”

    “Why’s that?”

    “Because you’re going to shoot it,” Ewing said.

    “You sure you want to bring him into this?” Fernando said.

    “Yes.  The boy needs to be able to take care of himself when things get bad.”

    Darius had tightened his grip on Ewing’s hand.  Ewing let go and pulled away.  Fernando handed him the shotgun.

    “Everything that happens here is between us, son,” Ewing said.  “I don’t believe in secrets, especially from your dad, but this isn’t about keeping secrets.  This is about discretion.  You know what discretion is, son?”

    Darius shook his head.

    “Discretion is about letting people know only what they need to know.  People can’t handle too much information, especially information that might be surprising.  They get jolted.  Your dad can’t handle this.  But you can.”

    He handed Darius the shotgun, still on safety.  Darius took it with both hands, struggling to grasp it.  Ewing let him adjust to the heft and bulk of it before helping him.

    “Two hands on the gun, son,” Ewing said.  “We’re doing this one together.”

    “You ready?” Fernando said.

    “Let it out,” Ewing said.

    Fernando approached the side of the kennel and the woman struck out at him through the steel bars with her hands.  He pushed her back through the bars with a broom handle and bended forward to unlatch the door.  He stepped away, retreating to Ewing’s side.  The woman evaluated her newfound freedom.  She looked around the yard and stumbled forward.  Ewing knelt down to help the boy with the shotgun, keeping it under his control while placing the boy’s left hand on the barrel and the right near the trigger.

    “Don’t pull until I say ‘pull.'”

    Ewing undid the safety.  The woman advanced and when she was ten yards away, Ewing leveled the shotgun at her torso, leading the boy to the correct aim, and said, “Pull.”  He maintained aim in conjunction with the boy and the boy pulled the trigger.  The suppressed shotgun let out a soft pop, and the boy hit the target in the torso, spraying blood and bone over the kennel and avocado leaves.  Ewing told the boy to pull again and the boy did, sending another shot into the staggering woman’s chest.  When the woman fell to the ground, he walked the boy over to her and helped him fire a final shot into her head.

    The boy was breathing hard.  Ewing safetied the gun and took it from him.  The boy was going to survive all of this.

    #

    For the remainder of the week, they worked on homework when the boy came over, and when the boy asked Ewing about the undead, Ewing reinforced the need for discretion before answering Darius’ questions as best he could.  According to his contacts at the Department, the police chief wasn’t even acknowledging the threat, chalking up the deaths of everyday citizens as disappearances rather than murders.  Missing persons cases abounded in Los Angeles and nobody in the media cared about the 3,200 gone each year.  But there was political danger for the police chief to admit that the undead were real.  All those fancy crime stats that the mayor had focused on during the election were going to get blown the fuck out of whack.  Those 300 murders in the City of Los Angeles were going to at least quadruple back to their pre-CRASH all-time highs.  The police chief wasn’t going to be able to tout that Los Angeles was the ‘safest big city in the world’ anymore.

    “If we can get you out of the house on Thursday night, I’m doing undead surveillance in downtown with Fernando and you can come along.  It’ll be a late night though.  And you still have to go to school in the morning.”

    “I can do it.  How do we tell Dad?”

    “I leave that to you, son.  Just remember about discretion.”

    On Thursday, the boy’s father let the boy stay at Ewing’s condo for the night.  Ewing didn’t know what the boy had said to convince his dad and didn’t ask although he suspected that the boy’s father just needed a break.  The boy had brought a sleeping bag and overnight kit with him and after they finished homework, Ewing helped the boy set up his bag in his room.  He wasn’t accustomed anymore to cooking for more than one but threw together a meal of spaghetti with sauce out of a can.  After dinner, he told Darius to get some sleep.  The boy tried to stay awake but drifted off and at midnight Ewing woke him.

    They parked at a meter east of the Old Bank District of downtown on the edge of Skid Row and waited for Fernando.  This part of town was different than the Los Angeles the boy knew.  The Valley was lawns, houses, and strip malls, but this section of the city’s center was empty parking lots, single room occupancy buildings, and liquor stores.  Fernando showed up in the van and parked behind them.

    Over the past few weeks, he and Ewing had found four decaying buildings in the area from which the undead originated.  They set up shop in an alley from where they could see two of them.  Ewing found them a shadow near a Dumpster and they waited. Fernando had brought two looped metal animal wranglers with him.  He rested them against the Dumpster.

    “Back in the day, we would’ve gone in there and busted up the whole place,” Fernando said.  “Nowadays, you’d have to fill out a room of paperwork just to consider the possibility and you still wouldn’t get a warrant.”

    “Nowadays, we do things our own way.”

    “Back in the day, we did things our own way too.  ‘Intimidate those that intimidate others.’  We did good work.  Forget what the Report said.”

    “It’s hard to forget the Report when it takes your life away from you.”

    “No one has any balls anymore.  The city’s homicide rate is what it is because of the work we did back then.  Without the work we did at CRASH, the mayor and the police chief wouldn’t even be here today.”

    Ewing held up his hand to silence Fernando.  He’d seen an individual staggering out of the six-story building to the left.

    “Stay close behind me, son,” Ewing said.

    He got out of his crouch, grabbed one of the wranglers, and walked to the edge of the alley.  Fernando did the same.  Except for homeless camped out in tents on the sidewalks, the place was empty.  The undead was a male, mid-thirties, obese.  He walked slowly.  He seemed newly undead, unsure of exactly what he was supposed to do.  Ewing was a dozen yards behind the target.  The boy followed behind him.  Ewing whistled.  The undead turned and snarled.  Ewing and Fernando sprinted to opposite sides of the zombie.  Ewing whistled again and the target stepped towards him.  Ewing and Fernando used the zombie’s moment of indecision to hoist the metal wranglers around him.  Six-foot steel rods separated the individual from them now.  Ewing pulled the lever, tightening the wire loop around the zombie’s waist while Fernando tightened his loop around the torso.  One of the zombie’s arms was detained under the loop at its side.  The other arm was free and it reached out to its captors in vain.  When Ewing was sure that the loop was secure, he handed the handle to the boy.

    “You and Fernando are going to walk it back to the van.  Don’t let go.”

    Ewing and Fernando wrangled two more zombies, stuffed them into the van as well, and then unloaded all three of them into the kennels in Fernando’s backyard.  They shot all of them that night.

    By the time Ewing and Darius got home it was after 3 a.m.  The boy fell asleep immediately in his sleeping bag on Ewing’s bedroom floor.  Ewing watched the boy sleep, his brow furrowed in dream or thought, before lying down and trying to sleep himself.  When Ewing woke him up at 6:30 a.m., the boy didn’t complain or delay.  The boy got ready and dressed quickly.  When the boy’s father came to pick him up at 7:30 a.m. to take him to third grade, the boy gave Ewing a hug and headed down the hallway to the elevator and outside to his father’s car.

    #

    Over the weekend, Ewing asked Fernando to secure him a nine-millimeter from the property room, and the next day Fernando dropped off a Glock 17 Generation 3 that the two of them had confiscated in 2001 during a homicide that had gone cold. He took the Gen 3 to his gun guy to get a modified pistol grip and threaded barrel.  After math homework on Tuesday, Ewing placed the empty Gen 3 on the table.

    “You’re going to keep the weapon with me, but it’s yours.”

    The boy looked at but didn’t touch the pistol.  “Am I going to kill zombies with it?”

    “If the need arises, yes.”

    “Where are they coming from?  The zombies?”

    “You and me and Fernando are going to figure that out.”

    “So I’m going to be a cop like you?”

    “In the future you can go to the Academy, just like I did.  Just like Fernando did.  But for right now, you’re my deputy.”

    “What’s a ‘deputy?'”

    “Someone who helps me out.  Someone who follows commands.”

    “And the gun is mine?”

    “Yes.  But you have to keep it with me.  And use discretion about the gun when you talk to your dad.  Just like you use discretion when you talk about the zombies.”

    Ewing took Darius to the shooting range in Lake Terrace.  He’d taken the boy’s father here when he was the boy’s age but the boy’s father always had been skittish, too influenced by his mother, to stick with it.  He walked the boy through the specifics of the range, such as where to stand, where not to stand, what to do and not do during a ceasefire, and even what conversations were inappropriate while holding a gun in your hand.  When Darius had digested the material, he walked him through his Gen 3.  He showed the boy how to hold a gun and the etiquette for doing so not only in a gun range but at home as well.  The boy was quiet throughout but Ewing could tell by the boy’s focused gaze that he was taking the lessons seriously.  Whether it was math or guns or zombies, the boy was studious.

    When the boy had digested the lessons, he let the boy gear up and fire his weapon at the target.  The boy had difficulty with the recoil, stepping backwards with each shot, but Ewing reset his stance every time and let him go again.  After two rounds, the boy was fighting fatigue, but he persisted, and by the third round, he’d learned to absorb the recoil into his torso.

    On the drive back to Encino, the boy sat in the passenger seat with his math homework open on his lap.  He bit his lip and penciled in answers to multiplication questions, reading both the problems and answers aloud to Ewing so that Ewing could review his work.  They got home a tick before 6:30 p.m.  Ewing showed the boy how to scrub the gunpowder off his hands.  The boy finished cleaning them just before his father arrived to pick him up.

    #

    The boy’s father called him a few days later. He told him that Darius was going to be doing taekwondo three times a week, Tuesdays now as well, instead of just on Fridays and Saturdays, and so Darius wouldn’t be able to come over as much as before.  At the end of the conversation, the boy’s father asked Ewing how he was doing and Ewing said that he was doing great, just great, and returned the question.  It was the first time they’d talked rather than texted in weeks.

    “Do you like shooting?” Ewing said the next time the boy came over.

    “I like shooting, Granddad.  I want to go shooting again.”

    “How is karate, son?”

    “It’s not karate, Granddad.  It’s taekwondo.”

    “How is taekwondo?”

    “I like that too.”

    He thought about asking the boy which one he liked more, taekwondo or shooting zombies, but didn’t see the need for asking an obvious question.  Of course, the boy would enjoy shooting the undead more.  He couldn’t imagine how taekwondo or karate or boxing even could be satisfying when it was all for show, practicing for an imaginary opponent at some imagined time in the future, whereas the training that went into neutralizing the undead was tangible, conducive to real events in the present.

    “Finish your homework, son.”

    “I always do, Granddad.”

    Ewing tried to remember if the boy’s father had been as dedicated to his studies at the boy’s age but couldn’t remember.  Ewing had been at the Academy at the time, too busy to notice.  Ewing himself had never been studious, though.  He figured the boy’s father must’ve been an apt student.  The boy had to have taken after somebody.

    The following week, they started work on two- by one-digit multiplication, a lesson just introduced at the boy’s school.  The boy guessed answers rather than working through problems.  Ewing decided he would have to refocus the boy on math. When his father arrived to pick up the boy on Thursday, he walked downstairs with him.  Ewing opened the passenger door and Darius got in.  Ewing leaned into the car and extended his hand past the boy.  They shook.

    “Darius needs extra help with math,” Ewing said.  “They started two- by one-digit multiplication.  He’s shaky.”

    “Does he need a tutor?” the boy’s father said.

    “No.  I’ll help him through it.  Leave the boy with me on Friday nights until he gets it.  We’ll work through it. He can spend the night and I’ll drop him off in the morning.”

    “Maybe a tutor will be better.”

    “Granddad is a good teacher,” Darius said.  “I like the way he teaches.”

    “I don’t want Darius falling behind,” the boy’s father said.  “I’ll think about it.”

    The following Friday evening, the boy’s father dropped Darius off at Ewing’s condo after taekwondo.  Ewing had made pasta again for the boy and he asked the boy’s father if he wanted to come up for dinner but the boy’s father declined.  He had a screening to attend, he said, and it was actually a good thing that Ewing could look after Darius tonight.

    They spent two hours on two- by one-digit multiplication.  The boy was doing better by the end of the session and Ewing was glad that they’d carved out time for additional instruction.  No matter how constrained the world became because of the undead, math was going to remain a mainstay of life. The basics, such as multiplying in a person’s head rather than on paper or with a calculator, were going to become the way of the world again.

    By the time they met up with Fernando, it was close to 9 p.m.

    “Aren’t things getting a little dangerous for your grandson?” Fernando said.  “There are more of these things around now.”

    “He can handle it,” Ewing said.  “We’ve been hitting the range.”

    “How are his gun skills?”

    “Better than mine were at his age.”  Ewing handed the boy the Gen 3.

    “You can handle this, kid?” Fernando said.

    “I use discretion,” Darius said.

    Fernando laughed. “Handguns aren’t easy for kids,” he said.  “Most kids learn on rifles.  I did.”

    They staked out a building they hadn’t before, which amounted to the sixth one now.  They’d decided recently that rather than transporting the undead to Elysian Park and neutralizing them under the cover of avocado trees, they would have to terminate them in the streets.  The new plan was messier because it left a decaying body on Skid Row but that was the police chief’s problem, not theirs. They settled against a graffiti-laden brick wall next to a fenced off alley.  The night was cold.  The boy was better wrapped then he in a down jacket that the boy’s father had sent with him.  The boy carried the safetied, unloaded Gen 3 in his hands, using both of them to hold the gun pointed downwards at the floor just like Ewing had instructed him.

    “Come here, son.”

    Ewing readjusted the boy’s grip so that the boy wasn’t holding the gun so tightly.  If they had to wait a while for the undead, the boy’s hands would cramp and the boy would never be able to fire an accurate shot.  Darius demonstrated the new grip, and Ewing took the gun from him, threaded a suppressor, and handed it back.  He made the boy point the gun downwards at the ground again, check the safety, and inspect the chamber both visually and with his finger.  The boy did and Ewing handed him a nine-by-nineteen-millimeter cartridge.  Ewing reiterated to the boy that he should activate his pistol only upon his direct command.

    Ewing didn’t allow Darius to kill the first or even the second.  He made the boy follow them and mentally rehearse the movements.  The boy was patient and didn’t argue.  They rested after killing the first two, leaning against a Dumpster.  Ewing let the boy load his gun, and the boy did so methodically, just as if he were back at the shooting range.

    When the third of the night surfaced, Ewing said, “It’s yours, son.”  Although slight in stature, the undead was more agile than the other two they’d seen tonight.  He was middle-aged and thin enough to border on emaciated.  “Follow me out to the sidewalk, plant yourself, and aim for the torso.  Don’t be tempted by the headshot.  Double tap the body first.  Fernando and I will provide backup.  I’ll be at your side and Fernando will trail us.”

    Fernando holstered his nine-millimeter and unstrapped the shotgun from around his shoulder.  He set up at the front corner of the alley and waited for Ewing and the boy, nodding at them that he was ready.  Ewing watched the boy point the Gen 3 downwards at the ground with both hands and start walking.  Ewing walked near him, a single pace back, and they crossed the street to the opposite sidewalk.  The zombie hadn’t noticed them yet and had started to move down the street away from them.  Ewing waited to see if the boy would recognize that the target was getting away, and after a quick second, the boy did.  The boy ran down the street, holding with both hands the gun pointed downwards.  When the boy was twenty yards away, Ewing expected the boy to plant himself and fire the first shot, but the boy sped up into a sprint instead.  He closed the distance to fifteen yards, and then ten, and when the boy was only five yards away from the target and the target was already turning around towards him, he planted himself, and fired two successive body shots.  The zombie fell to the sidewalk.  He snarled on the ground, reaching for his exploded chest. The boy stood over him.  He leveled his gun at the target’s head and fired a single suppressed shot.  The bullet made a neat hole over the zombie’s temple.  The target stopped clawing and dropped his hands.

    Ewing waited to see if the boy would maintain his discipline, acknowledge that the threat had been neutralized, and hold remaining fire. When the undead threat became widespread and panic settled in, ammo would be one of the first items in short supply.

    The boy held himself in check.  He clicked on the safety, held the gun at his hip and pointed it down towards the ground.  He looked over his shoulder at Ewing for approval, and Ewing nodded, and he put his own gun on safety as well.

    #

    By the end of fall, Ewing felt comfortable with the boy backing him up and even Fernando had commented on the boy’s proficiency.  The three of them had chemistry in the field that only came with experience. When school let out for winter break, the boy’s father took year-end vacation time and the boy stopped coming over during the week.  Ewing spent several days without seeing the boy and found himself getting into a funk, much like he had after Rampart had broken through Internal Affairs and gone public.  He ran errands, cleaned the pantry, fixed a leaky faucet, and looked for more to do.  He considered staying on top of his gun skills but found that he no longer wanted to go to the range unless the boy was going with him.

    The boy’s father dropped the boy off on Christmas afternoon to visit while the boy’s father went to his office to catch up on paperwork.  Darius gave him two gifts, one from the boy’s father and the other from him.  The first was an expensive stereo receiver, the newest model of the same receiver the boy’s father had gifted him four years ago.  He didn’t use the old one much and figured he wouldn’t use this one either.  He opened the second gift.  The boy had gotten him a pair of high-range Motorola walkie-talkies.

    “We’re partners, Granddad, just like you and Fernando were.  I want you to call me on our walkie-talkies if you see any zombies.  And I’ll call you if I see any zombies.”

    “The airwaves on these radios are open.  People can hear us.  They won’t understand what we’re doing.”

    “When are people going to figure out about the zombies?”

    “I don’t know, son.  Whenever the powers that be get with the program.”

    “Should we use code?”

    “Yes, son.”

    “I have a taekwondo tournament in Sacramento coming up before vacation ends. Will there be any zombies in Sacramento?  Will there be zombies in the capital, Granddad?”

    “There might be.  A tournament sounds intense, son.”

    “I’ve never had one before.  But Dad thinks I’m good enough to go.”

    “You’ll do well, son.”

    “Our walkie-talkies won’t work that far away.”

    “You’re right, son.  They won’t.”

    Ewing handed the boy his Christmas gifts.  The first two were fodder for the boy’s father, a game for the boy’s handheld and a set of action figures, expected gifts that the boy could show off and play with out in the open.  The boy thanked and hugged him but even the boy knew that these gifts weren’t the real ones.  He sat patiently at the kitchen table and Ewing brought out the third gift, wrapped in red thrift store paper.  The boy tore into the wrapping and placed the opened gift on table.  It was a handgun combination lockbox.

    “I’m going to let you take your gun with you.  You’re going to keep it locked in this box at all times.  Keep the box close to you but keep it out of sight.  Don’t take it to school.  The box will set off metal detectors.  Your weapon will too.  And your ammo.”

    “I’m going to keep you safe and I’m going to keep Dad safe.”

    “Don’t worry about us, son.  We’re grown men.  We’re responsible for ourselves.  Just worry about yourself.”

    Ewing helped him set the four-digit combination and load the Gen 3 and two cartridges into it.  He helped him lock it.  They spent the rest of the afternoon doing multiplication, getting a head start on the lessons that the school would be introducing when the boy returned after winter break.

    #

    In the evenings, they spoke over the radios.  They spoke little if at all about the undead, and chatted instead about the boy’s day away from Ewing, his lessons at the dojang, and the shows he’d watched on television that night.

    When the boy and his father drove up to Sacramento on New Year’s Day, the conversations stopped.  He could feel the boy, though, on the other side of the radio, and so kept his walkie-talkie on even though he knew the boy was well out of range.  He hesitated that first night about calling them, not wanting to intrude but also not knowing what to say to the boy’s father.  And so he waited, slept poorly, and woke up earlier than he wanted the next morning.  He envisioned the boy at his tournament and realized that even though he didn’t understand martial arts, he wouldn’t have minded seeing the boy in action, bowing and kicking and doing whatever else they did at those things.  He kept the walkie-talkie on and listened to the silence all afternoon, and in the evening, when he thought that the tournament would be over for the day and the boy and his father would be unwinding in their hotel room, he mustered up the initiative to call.

    “Darius is doing great,” the boy’s father said.  “His instructor says he’s doing well for his first tournament.  He’s not scared or nervous at all.”

    “He’s a good athlete.”

    “He gets that from you.”

    “From you too.”

    “No, Dad.  You know I never got into that kind of stuff.”

    “You could have.”

    “It wasn’t for me.”

    “When is the boy’s next match?”

    “We have to be at the tournament at 8 a.m. and they’ll give us the schedules then.”

    “Is the boy there?”

    “He’s with the rest of his class.  The instructor and his wife took them out for ice cream.”

    “Okay.  It’ll probably be too late for me to talk to him when he gets back then.”

    “It’ll be late but I can have him call you.”

    “No, don’t do that.  I’ll see you and Darius when you get back in two days.”

    “Okay, Dad.”

    “You’re doing a good job with the boy, James.”

    There was silence.  “Thanks, Dad.”

    “Be careful out there.  Stay close to the boy.”

    Ewing held out a smattering of hope that the boy would call back but true to the conversation, he didn’t.  Ewing made himself a can of soup and tidied up the house.  He was supposed to go to Central City with Fernando but stayed home instead, not in the proper mood to kill zombies without Darius by his side, backing him up.

    #

    He heard it misreported on the news even before Sacramento police called him: an eight year old boy opened fire on a group of terrorists at a martial arts tournament. The terrorists had killed dozens of people before the boy had righted the situation and the police had come. The boy hadn’t been able to save his father.

    It was obvious to Ewing that the media were either in on the cover up or in denial about the facts.  He didn’t know which one it was but he did know that the boy would be staying with him for a while now, at least until he went to the Academy or at least until other factors beyond his control separated them.  He hoped for the former, a long and peaceful existence for the boy, but knew in his gut it’d be the latter, because the undead threat was burgeoning, and despite what he and Fernando and the boy had been doing to neutralize it, they were only three people.  Until the police chief stopped being a politician first and cop second, the threat was going to multiply.  Central City was already being overrun and now Sacramento was involved as well.

    Fernando called, offering to join him and split driving duties up to Sacramento.  Ewing took his old partner up on the offer.  Fernando asked one of the current LAPD detectives to phone Sacramento PD and County Child Protective Services to expedite the boy’s release to Ewing’s custody.  It would probably take a couple of days for the Feds to get involved on the BATF side, especially in relation to the origin of the boy’s weapon, but for now they were a nonfactor.  Ewing and Fernando packed light.  At most, they would be staying one night.

    Before they left, Ewing laid out blankets and pillows on the floor in his room.  The boy would need a bed but for now the floor would have to suffice.  He would need a desk too, his own, something on which he could work and sharpen his math, finish multiplication and get on to division.  He thought about the boy’s father. They’d reached some peace between them over the past few months because of the boy but they’d never known exactly how they were supposed to reconcile.

    He cleared space in the condo’s only bathroom for the boy’s things.  He couldn’t dwell on the imperfection of his relationship with the boy’s father because he had an eight hour drive in front of him and a boy’s life for which he was now responsible.  He would mourn later, with the boy, and he would do the boy’s father right by neutralizing as much of the undead threat as he could.  He put on his shoulder holster and fitted his gun.  The world was changing, and for once, it was changing to something that Ewing understood.

    ###

     

    About the Author:

     

    Xavier Braze is the undead incarnation of Hassan Riaz.  Hassan Riaz lived in Los Angeles before succumbing to the plague, where he was a physician, financier, and writer.  His work had appeared in Slice Magazine, Paragraph Line, andRetort Magazine, among others.  Xavier Braze’s work has most recently appeared in Tales of the Zombie Wars, The Dead Walk Again and Zombies Gone Wild, and is forthcoming in Imaginarium.  You can find Xavier Braze at xavierbraze.comwhile Hassan Riaz survives at hassaninla.com.

    15 Comments

    1. Wonderful!

      Comment by Kristen on June 22, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

    2. Very well written. Thank you for the entertainment

      Comment by BShinn on June 22, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

    3. Ooooh this was great! I don’t think i will be the only person to say this, but I hope there is more? I understand short stories are good beacause they are short and it’s part of the fun to leave the reader wanting more but with just enough answers they can walk away happy with closure. And this ended well, and I was very happy BUT i want more. I really liked the bit about the walkie talkies and leaving them on even knowing there would be no reply……Thanks for the shot of entertainment!

      Comment by Justin Dunne on June 22, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

    4. Nice work! Thanks for posting

      Comment by Brian on June 22, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

    5. Great story!

      Comment by John the Piper's Son on June 23, 2013 @ 1:49 am

    6. Leave a comment

      Comment by Rottenchesterluke on June 23, 2013 @ 10:28 am

    7. Ewing. What an arch and sly manipulator he is. Without his son’s permission or knowledge he takes it discreetly upon himself to mould his grandson into the man he couldn’t mould his son to be -to succeed with his grandson where he’d failed with his own son.

      In the context of this story and its promise of an undead apocalypse this action could be judged understandable, even forgivable – but in the real world – where we must also assume (for the sake of this tales realism) that these people exist, its also unforgiveable. I hope that makes sense.

      This was really thoughtful and well put together. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

      Comment by KevinF on June 23, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

    8. I agree. I like the intricacy and detail in this story and its skilful characterisation. Again, another nominee for a site award!

      Comment by Craig Y on June 23, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

    9. I enjoyed your story, well done.

      Comment by Gunldesnapper on June 24, 2013 @ 6:26 am

    10. Fantastic!

      Comment by Scott on June 24, 2013 @ 7:33 am

    11. It never occurred to me that the kid was only 8 years old.
      His behavior as described in the story was more like that of a 12 to 15 year old.
      Though the math lessons were a clue, i decided to ignore all that.
      Ive never met an 8 year old that disciplined and so resolute in the face of danger, really.
      I still liked the story a lot inspite of this.

      Comment by bong on June 24, 2013 @ 8:53 am

    12. This is such a quiet and controlled story with a slow build. It displayed a nice sense of restraint. Good work.

      Comment by rjspears on June 24, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    13. Great portral of a narcissist old man, who wants to relive through childern ……himself a real Zambi in fact. Wonderful story line., so close to reality. Thanks for sharing. Congratulation! Much success.

      Comment by Raihana on June 27, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    14. Very enjoyable read! A zombie story with heart – enjoyed reading about Ewing’s relationship with his grandson.

      Comment by Maeda on June 28, 2013 @ 12:23 am

    15. I agree with the sentiments of commenter Raihana above – the old man seems to be trying to make amends for his past shortcomings as a father by taking his grandson under his wing, but there is something manipulative and unnerving about him and his motives. Although, I do think it’s unfair to write him off as completely sinister – he is a complex character – neither totally good nor bad. He has some sort of a guiding moral code, even if it is misguided or askew by most standards. I’m not entirely convinced that the old man isn’t bonkers either – are they in fact zombies/Zambis he has been shooting or are they homeless? An 8 year old boy can’t make the distinction, so his inclusion in the story offers no perspective on whether they are indeed zombies – and I noticed that the descriptions of the zombies make no note of any characteristics that could not also be shared by the neglected and indigent. And as Raihana said, yes, the grandfather might in fact be the true “undead” – he is largely an unemotional being until he fosters a relationship with his grandson. He may not be dead, but he’s certainly not alive either!

      Comment by Haniya on July 3, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

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