Spring: Year One

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It’s the things that you remember that keep you alive. I’d rather forget. But I can’t. I quickly lift myself on the counter of the abandoned gas station to evade the attendant that snuck up behind me as I was leaning over to check for any dead. This is where I am. Somewhere in Texas kicking my feet at what is left of a gas station attendant. My eyes skim over the word Bub on his name tag and I find myself wondering what Bub was like before he had half his face hanging off. Maybe he was nice. Maybe he was salt of the earth. But now he is less than two feet from my face. The only thing stopping him from eating half of it off are my two arms pressed against his chest as he inches closer to me, pinning me to the counter. I look around desperate to find anything to protect myself and my brains from Bub. Desperate but not hopeful I scan past displays of gum and candy. I look directly above my head and see cartons of cigarettes stocked and notice they are organized by color. It reminds me of the garment rack conveyer at the dry cleaners. I suddenly remember I never picked up Dad’s shirts from the cleaners almost a year ago. Bub moves in closer. I feel hot tears fill my eyes as I realize I am going to die while wondering where I left my dry cleaning ticket. Bub is so close I can smell the rotted skin hanging from his face. I turn my head from the stench and something on top of the cash register next to me catches my eye. A railroad spike that has been welded to stand up straight and hold spiked receipts. I take one hand from his chest and with it goes what is left of my strength. His body smashes against mine as his hands paw at my chest. The material of my suede jacket is the only thing keeping him from ripping me open. I grab for the spike and realize it is just out of my reach. I want to cry out but I know it will take too much energy and draw more of the wrong kind of attention. I start to hit the register with one hand hoping to knock the spike off while my other hand is stopping Bub’s face from eating mine. The spike doesn’t move. I look in his eyes. They used to be brown but have become the muddiest red like Georgia clay. I feel myself giving up. My mind starts to close out the horror that’s in front of me. It takes me to a different place. A better place.

I remember my mother’s face in the cold. Her cheeks would get so pink and her ivory skin would become paler in comparison. Like one of my sister’s porcelain dolls. Like a 1920’s starlet. She was beautiful. Even more so in my memories. I remember ice skating on Duck’s Lake two blocks from our house. They had an actual ice skating rink in town but mother would say “Why pay for what God gave us for free?”. No matter that there were signs posted everywhere warning against skating on the frozen lake because of thin ice spots. She pulled my sister and me through the snow covered streets in our rusty radio-flyer. She told us to pretend we were on the Oregon trail in the highest mountains with the worst terrain during the bleakest leg of our journey.  I can see her pulling us along only looking back to add excitement to the adventure she was weaving for us, the red waves of her hair coming loose from Dad’s furry hunting hat on her head and falling to her shoulders in single curls. She said “Remember girls, it is when the road is the roughest that strength is found. Courage is never pretty”. We skated for hours that day. Till our noses were red and our fingers numb. When the sun sat low in the sky Mother insisted we get home to start dinner. I begged her to let me go round the ice one more time. She leaned down and pressed her eskimo nose to mine and agreed. I remember wanting to make her proud so I decided to go as far out on the ice as fast as I could hoping that when I turned around she would laugh at me and wave. When I reached the far end of the lake I turned to find her yelling to me. She looked upset. I started to move to return to her and as I did I heard a loud crack. I froze and looked to my mother. She read my face and stopped shouting. I wanted to skate back to her. I wanted her next to me. I started to move again holding her wide eyes with mine. I will never forget the look of horror on her face. Pure fear. It’s the last thing I saw as I fell through the ice. That look. It’s etched in my memory. It haunts me. I know it must have been the look she wore before the dead took her from me. Pure fear. With that thought my mind brings me back to the present. I see her face as I punch the register for the last time. The spike wobbles and falls to the counter. I quickly grab it and lift it in the air above the back of his head. I remember that day on the ice. I remember her red curls. I remember and with all the strength I have left I bring the spike down into the skull of Bub the gas station attendant that once had brown eyes.

Somedays I feel just as dead inside as the lifeless eyes that lurk and follow waiting to catch their prey and make me one of them. Waiting to take away what little light I have left in my cold blue eyes. I don’t know what stops me from letting them have it. From walking into a herd of flesh eaters like they were oncoming traffic at Time Square. It’s the memories that will you to live even when life isn’t worth living anymore. Try and forget all you want but the life you lived is still there and as long as it exists in your mind, in your heart, in your soul; then the hope for having it again will never leave you. Like a dream that wakes you from your slumber when all you wanna do is sleep. Like a dream that keeps you awake when you’re so tired. I’m so tired. I remember being unable to feel anything but the ice cold water in my veins. I remember trying to kick but only sinking further and further. I remember the light from the day above the water starting to go dark. I was so sleepy. I forgot about fighting my way to the top. I stopped kicking my legs. Just as my eyes closed I saw hands reach in the water and grab a hold of me. My mother’s hands pulled me from the water to the shocking cold of the surface. She shook me awake, willing me to live. It’s the things you remember that keep you alive.

Winter: Year One

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They move slower in the snow. Their limbs freeze like the the tin man. I never liked the tin man. Snow falls from the sky in endless heaps and covers the dead until they forget what they’re looking for. Roads are covered, cars are buried, buildings wear blankets of white and the dead stop moving. Like bears in hibernation. You scavenge for food quietly careful not to wake the sleeping zombies. They are still there beneath the snow. It only takes one sound to make them remember, to awaken their want, to will their dead souls to move. Don’t be that sound. 

When I was little I had a babysitter that loved to watch Dr. Zhivago. She would just sit on the couch all day watching and smoking Virginia Slims. Sometimes she’d cry. I remember the house in the movie covered in snow. Snow everywhere. It was like a palace. I remember thinking that’s what heaven looked like. I would ask her why she was crying and she’d always say “It’s just so beautiful.” I hear her words in my mind as I stand in the dining room of a home that is not mine. The remnants of an unfinished meal are frozen to the grand mahogany dining table. Through the big bay window the yard is a flawless sea of alabaster only stopping to meet the bare trees of the surrounding forrest. The limbs of the trees look black in contrast with the field of white that washes up to them like waves greeting the sand. I can see my breath I’m so cold but for the first time in a long time I feel safe. The quiet is almost deafening except for the sound of my steady breathing. I savor it because I realize it is the first steady breath I have taken since that day. An amazing calm runs through me because for the first time I can’t hear the screams anymore. I feel the knot that has been in my belly for the past four months loosen. I move from the dark of the room into the spot where the afternoon glows through the window, lighting the floor. As I move closer the overcast sun shines though the clouds and reflects off the snow. It shines the whitest light into my eyes making me squint. In a second my eyes adjust. I am bathed in the white light. I feel the warmth of the sun on my face. It’s like what heaven looks like. I step further into the light. It feels like heaven. I think this as I hear my sister call my name in a loud whisper from the kitchen and I turn to look for her. When I meet her eyes she looks at me oddly and I realize I am smiling. She smiles back to me. We smile at each other. I cannot remember the last time I shared a smile with my sister. But it ends in a second when she breaks eye contact to look down to the kitchen sink she is about to turn on. Before I can tell her to stop I hear a loud knocking in the pipes and the house feels like it’s vibrating. The knocking gets louder and the pipes burst. In comparison with the earlier silence it is like the house is moaning.  Like the whole world is crying out in pain. She quickly turns the faucet off and I feel the knot in my stomach tighten again. I return my gaze to the blanket of snow wanting to find the heaven of just moments ago. I see something in the yard cause a blemish in the perfect sea of white and before I can wonder what it is four more blemishes pop up and destroy my heaven. The specks get bigger as their slow movements allow their shapes to take form. I look back to my sister who is white with fear as she turns her gaze from the kitchen window to me. This time we don’t smile. We share one instantaneous thought. We woke the dead. In the yard they start to rise from the snow. Moving towards the thing they now remember they need. US. I realize it wasn’t heaven at all. It was just hell frozen over. Ain’t it just like hell to trick you into thinking it’s heaven.

They are harder to kill in the snow. Like trying to break open a bowling ball instead of a melon. The roads are slippery. There is nothing to hold onto. It’s like trying to run in quicksand. They are angrier, hungrier, mad they forgot, mad they stopped looking. Like bears awoken from their slumber. It’s hunting time. It only takes one sound to make them remember, to awaken their want, to will their dead souls to move. Don’t be that sound. We head west.

Summer: Year Two

I always wanted to drive cross-country.  Get in the car and drive.  See mountains in my rearview one day and desert the next.  Feel the weather change while crossing a state line.  See Graceland, Bourbon Street, the Washington Monument, a sunset, a sunrise. All while sitting behind a dashboard.  It’s year two.  We have driven up and down this country.  I’ve seen it all, every place I have wanted to see and more.  I’ve seen it all…

…In ruins.  Cities halted.  Streets dead ended.  Homes burned down.  Tanks parked in laundry mats, laundry left in the washer.  Kitchen sinks left running.  Alarms still set to go off ring until they die out.  Lights left on burn out over time.  Leaves collect in gutters and signs rust.  I’ve seen it all…ruined.  Lives halted.  Souls dead ended.

And me still here to see the ruins.  Sometimes I wonder why the birds still chirp.  It’s like no one told them.  I once stood in the middle of an abandoned interstate when a horse the darkest shade of brown- almost black, but not quite- galloped past me so fast I felt a breeze hit me. I saw his black eyes, for one second they met mine.  They had a crazy calm.  A freedom that you can find when you’re right on the edge of fear.  I longed to feel the things I saw in that horses eyes.  He passed me faster than wind and the breeze that followed carried the stench of the Dead.   A herd was in the distance following the stench of the living.  That’s why you can never hide from them.  They can smell your soul.  It smells like everything they want, everything they need.  It smells like Life.  It’s like no one told them.  Nothing lives here anymore.

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