Zombies Ever After chapter 1
by EE Isherwood
The zombies didn’t get up and run after him.
In fact, a couple of them waved.
Liam did a double take. The men—and a few women—were lying or squatting in piles of garbage stacked around the once-pleasant urban park. It was a long, thin park about one city block long with a crisscross of paved walkways and some glass-block sculptures that looked more like restroom walls than artwork. Old trees mingled with several telephone poles the length of the park. The dense canopy shaded the area.
He ran on for a few more yards but forced himself to stop. No real zombies were behind him, and whatever was happening here certainly warranted asking the question.
“What are you guys doing out in the open?” he shouted.
In response, several of the people shushed him, then waved him in. Seeing no immediate threats, he obliged. The closer he got, the worse the smell became. It appeared as if the group had scavenged through every dumpster in the city, and made sure to bring their prizes back to the park. Here he saw a huge mound of rolled up diapers. Next to it was a big pile of bones—from meat and fish, as best he could tell. Both piles were smothered by flies. Other stacks had bottles, cans, and newspapers, as if these people were conscientious about recycling. He tried to refrain from holding his nose, but when he got into…the trash fort, he had to pull his shirt over his nose to block the smell as best he could.
“Yeah, it grows on ya, lil’ dude,” said a man of unknown age. He was filthy beyond words, with a beard down to his sternum. It, and his hair, and indeed all of him, was covered in blotches of ketchup, mustard, blood, and much worse. Only his voice gave a clue to his older age, as it was rich and deep.
“You live here?”
“Mmm hmm. Since s’start.”
The man’s eyes were bloodshot and unfocused. Liam suspected the other people nearby were similarly affected. Perhaps there were toxins in the trash.
“How? Aren’t the zombies here?” He was sure they were. He and his mom had driven the tank not two blocks over. There were plenty of zombies around, though he didn’t see right then.
“Nah. Those sick dudes leave us…uh, alone.” The man pulled up his hand—which had been hidden—and put a hand-rolled cigarette in his mouth and took a deep drag, evidently satisfied. He puffed out the smoke, and Liam understood it wasn’t quite a cigarette.
He searched his literature. There should be no reason these people survived this long if they’d been in the park since day one. The thought of zombies staying away from trash didn’t add up. As time went on, they were becoming more and more filthy, too. Being out in the elements for three weeks, combined with never taking a second to clean oneself, would make anyone a mess. He’d been lucky he’d spent so many adventures in and along rivers, as that gave him the opportunity to “hose off” once in a while. Also, back in Victoria’s room, they capitalized on some of her cleaning products.
The man was no longer looking at him and seemed to have no intention of speaking more.
A slow turn. The man noticed him again. “Oh, yeah? I remember you. Got any papers?”
Liam looked around. It made no sense.
“No. I’m, uh, going to Forest Park. I saw you guys here and wondered why you haven’t been…”
A couple of flies bounced to and fro on the man’s beard. His eyes showed no hope that he would finish the thought.
“Well, you all should be dead,” he said with a tense laugh.
A couple of other trash people wandered over, including one woman—again, he couldn’t give her an age beyond older than him and younger than Grandma—wearing a full-length sun dress with faded paisley swirls. It might have been pretty at one time, but now it was covered in the same filth as the man’s clothes. Like she’d been collecting trash and rolling in what came out of each bag. But she also had something on her arm. A kind of big rubber band up near her shoulder. The lower part of her arm was purple. He was tempted to say something, but it was too creepy. Surely she had to know her arm wasn’t right?
The man stroked his beard, which revealed a couple cigarette butts, a shiny blue pen cap, and a moving bug or two. He tried to focus on Liam. “We dead. Been dead for a lonnnng time.”
Liam took a step back, into a nearby pile of empty trash bags. He jumped when one of them yelped. A small mangy-looking chihuahua hopped out. It fared no better than its humans.
“Well, thanks for talking. I should get going.”
“Wait. Have you seen ma’ husband?” asked the woman.
She cussed heavily, and angrily. The thrust of her complaint was that her husband took off with the drugs. Others nearby were similarly agitated by the story.
“Did you take his stuff?” she asked sadly.
“I don’t know about that. Sorry. I have to go, really.” This time, he purposely stepped into the pile of trash, through the same gap he entered.
“Wait, kid,” said the bearded guy. He’d trailed Liam to the outer line of debris, and made like he didn’t want the others to hear. After an impressive effort to steady himself, his eyes almost looked focused and normal. He expected to be let in on their survival secret.
“Do you have any papers?”
Liam had known a few stoners in school. The type of kids who smoked weed and partied hard on the weekends. Several of them, he found through friends, actually got their “agriculture” from their parents—because they saw no harm in it. But that was about the limit of his exposure to drugs. He’d heard about harder stuff—smack, spank, crank, or whatever it was called, but his friends weren’t in that scene. His group spent their money on Mountain Dew and monthly subscriptions to their online games.
But these people. They’d been afflicted in the worst way by drugs. He could see that now.
Do drugs make a person so dead inside even the zombies don’t want them?
The incident would have to go in his book. He’d try to get back here, someday, and see if he could figure it out. For now…
“Good luck to you,” he said in a normal voice. If any of them heard him—they were looking right at him—they said nothing to show it. The woman spoke to herself in low, angry tones, and the man continued to stare straight ahead. Others picked through trash or sat dejectedly on the benches. One man stood against a telephone pole and repeatedly struck it with his head.
He turned and ran into the street again, seeking cleaner air.