Chuck Wendig is still posting his awesome story prompts every week on his blog. This round, he gave a list of 20 subgenres and told his readers to go find a random number generator to get their story started – and pick two numbers to mash together.
I rolled a 17: zombies.
And then I rolled another 17.
Have I mentioned my absolute abject fear of zombies? Not even kidding. Even not-really-zombie zombie movies like 28 Days Later leave me an absolute mess, and here I am having to write about zombies and more zombies. This is not what I wanted to do at all. A Lovecraft-FairyTale-SouthernGothic mix would have been a dozen times easier.
I am nothing, however, if not determined.
And I wrote it. 974 words worth of it.
And here it is.
The scratching had become louder over the last six hours.
Marcie checked the shotgun shells tucked into her pocket and glanced around. Everyone else was still asleep, or faking it. Just as well. They all knew what would happen when the scratching stopped.
She shook her head, thinking of Halloween. Only three weeks earlier, and it seemed so long ago as to be some half-forgotten movie. That was the day everything went weird. What she first heard – what everyone first heard – as a modern day War of the Worlds turned out to be real: a zombie plague was cracking open the packed earth in graveyards across the country; half-rotted bodies crawling out faster than anyone could have ever imagined.
The first few waves were manageable; cement-encased graves broke bones and the big mowers that kept suburban cemeteries looking more like play yards than permanent resting spaces took out most of the creatures.
But they kept coming. Forgotten graves would split open subdevelopments in the dark of night; creaky bones reanimating and crawling up basement stairs, sending the fiercest guard dog cowering into corners as the newly undead feasted on sleeping families.
And then the families would reanimate. And go to the neighboring houses.
And those next families would go to their neighbors.
And they would go to their neighbors.
In one night, half of Oklahoma City was turned. In the following thirty-six hours, the zombie plague spread like an oil slick across the greater plains and along the Mississippi River. The west coast held a sense of smug satisfaction that they wouldn’t be hit until downtown Los Angeles tore open on Friday at 5:02PM. The traffic-snarled freeways became a feasting ground; the rest of the world watched in locked-on terror as news helicopters zoomed in on the bloody buffet that was once I-10.
The strangest thing, though, was where the graves opened – or rather, where they didn’t. Nothing more than a few miles south of Tiajuana, Mexico. Nowhere north of London, Ontario. Only the contiguous 48 United States of America seemed to be tearing themselves apart. Just to be safe – a false sense of security, really, but a sense all the same – the borders were closed. No travel was allowed into or out of the country after the ninth of November.
So the rest of the world watched and waited. The news reports grew fewer and farther between. Live cam feeds left up by news stations or college students all eventually showed the same horror show of blood and screams. Sometimes the bodies would rise up. Sometimes they were just left to rot. Members of hacker groups across the globe took it upon themselves to find each feed and shut it down as fast as they could after the world watched a turned child ripping the throat from her sobbing, cowering mother.
The few scraggling survivors that called in from boats and planes, from tiny cabins in the isolated wilds, all said the same thing. You could hear the zombies, they said. Their bodies seemed to scratch, almost like a needle pulling across a record. Nothing like the groans and moans in the movies. Just a tearing scratch out of nowhere. You couldn’t figure out what was making it. One gruff-looking man had called from a cabin in Idaho with a shaky phone recording.
“Problem is,” he’d told all of Edinburgh on the live feed, “You hear the scratching stop and you think they’re gone, that they’ve moved on. But they’re not. They don’t.”
When the host pressed for details, the man’s voice grew quavery. “When it goes quiet? They’ve found a way in.”
Someone across the room stirred. Marcie turned to see who it was. Joaquin sat up, rubbing his eyes, and nodded at her. She nodded back, sliding the shotgun toward him. “They’re still scratching.”
“Good,” he muttered, glancing to the sleeping bundle at his side. Joaquin’s daughter had survived the last wave; his wife hadn’t been so lucky. He was sure her bones were some of the scratching sounds they had been hearing since yesterday. A familiar pop from a surgically repaired knee, he’d said.
Marcie pulled open her backpack and peeked inside, then reached her arm into the bag. Her last beer. She twisted the top off and took a swallow, then handed it over to Joaquin. He nodded, taking the bottle and drinking deeply.
“Wow. Never thought lukewarm Bud Light would taste good.”
“To the victors go the spoils, eh?”
They grinned flatly at each other, then looked at the others in the room. Six adults in total, one child. None of them knew if there were any other survivors nearby – or anywhere. But they all knew they couldn’t give up.
“How far are we from the coast?” Marcie asked, taking another drink.
“About ten miles. If we can find a car, I know where to get a boat. My tia lives just outside of Valparaiso. She’ll help us get in.”
Marcie nodded, offering the beer again. Joaquin looked at the bottle and shook his head. “Go ahead and finish it. I gotta have a clear head.” Marcie shook her head and set the bottle down. “You’re probably right.”
They fell into an uncomfortable silence, listening to the scratching outside. Slowly, the rest of the group woke, one by one, talking quietly among themselves. Joaquin’s daughter played listlessly with a truck one of the other children had brought. Marcie couldn’t remember which one, only the sound he made when the zombie had grabbed him.
Everyone settled into their routine. Rations were handed out, a sheet was pulled up for a private corner to do business. The truck’s wheels grated along the floor.
Marcie and Joaquin looked at each other at the same time.
The truck’s wheels were the only sound they could hear.