They say everybody loves a happy ending. You know why? Because it makes people feel good, that’s why.
Do you know what else is true about a happy ending?
They aren’t real. At least as far as I’ve seen. I imagine my story isn’t any different from any of the others who have been infected. If I can take solace in anything though, it’s that at least my story might be told one day. I will have not been forgotten like the countless others who have come before me.
If you’re thinking, Hey, there’s still time. You’re obviously writing this, so why don’t you stop your complaining and go fix whatever is wrong, and then maybe you can still have your happy ending, let me just stop you right there. If you’re one of those people who think, as long as you’re not dead, there will always be time to change things… Well, again, let me just stop you right there because I am dead and have been for quite a while now… and I will be dead again in the conventional sense of the word real soon.
But let’s not dwell on the negative, I don’t have much time. Do you know what the most beautiful thing I have ever seen was? Give up? A pair of eyes… a pair of eyes so energetic and full of life you would never have imagined in a million years they were also dead. Those eyes belonged to Anna Hinsey and the first time I ever saw them, they pierced out at me like searing blue ice.
I had waited at a pavilion inside of Fireman’s Memorial Park, hunkered down under the protective cloak of darkness that the night provided. It was just past 1 a.m. when she walked up on me from behind like a stray cat on the prowl as I sat nervously on a picnic table. She had eyed me from the bushes for some time first staking me out and to make sure I wasn’t followed.
It was the first time I had ever seen one of my own. I mean another person like me—dead. Until that night, all I knew was I was the only living dead in existence. At least, the only living dead left in existence since the outbreak. Until that moment I had come back, the very notion of a zombie outbreak being real remained nothing but utter rubbish. Just an internet hoax brought on by a bunch of bored college kids studying graphic design at some liberal arts college. The videos of it, I recall didn’t even look real; all sketchy and shaky with grainy footage taken from afar. At least that’s how the videos posted online appeared before they were routinely taken down only to be posted again several weeks later by someone else.
But all that was years ago, the outbreak that is. Back when I still resided in Cresco, Iowa, with my parents. Back when I was still alive.
Looking back, I think I had first heard about the rising of the dead sometime around the summer of 2004. Maybe it even was 2005. It’s tough to remember. Word of it had come out of my friend, Joshua Callahan’s, mouth. His exact words, to be precise were, “Hey, guys, did you guys hear about the people coming back from the dead in Massachusetts?” The “guys” part of his question referred to not only me, but our other buddy, Wayne Keating.
Obviously we hadn’t heard of it, but we believed it instantly. We were all about sixteen at the time and very much still at an age where such absurd things were possible and even more likely than not. Such things like vast government conspiracies—9/11 being homegrown, an existence of a new world order ran by the Illuminati, Nazis hiding out in Antarctica, Bigfoot… you get the picture.
Joshua had heard of a new website that just went online recently. It was a site were average Joes like us could upload our own homemade videos for the world to see and leave comments on. The site I’m talking about, of course, is YouTube. But back in 2005, it was just a fledgling concept barely off the ground.
After having raced over to Joshua’s house, he played for us this sketchy, forever buffering video of what had him so excited. In it, several people stood around a sickly looking, incoherent man as they antagonized and made fun of him. They had all gathered in an open area, maybe a park or someone’s private land. The place had only one forlorn looking structure which stood in the background which could have been a garage with a picnic table stationed next to it.
The man in the video who captivated everyone’s attention stood gawking at his tormentors as he shambled around in a confused daze and moved towards them, looking almost as if in search of help from the very people who surrounded him.
As whoever was holding the camera moved about hoping to find better angles, they ended up violently shaking and distorting the footage as if making a piss-poor video was their main goal.
In the clearest shots, my friends and I were able to watch how random inhabitants of the circle would step up behind the man only to shove or kick him in the back causing him to fall. Roars of laughter would then erupt as the group’s bullying continued.
With each impingement on the man, he angrily moaned of frustration at his assailants. And, there was even one point in the short film… one moment where you could see him clearly… for just a second or two, an image that burrowed its way into my mind. An image I would never forget. It was his harrowed face, the jaundice of his skin, and sunken eyes. He had reminded me of my grandfather in the last few days of his life before pancreatic cancer had taken him. How he had become a shell of what he once had been, a blackening peel decomposing before our very eyes.
It took little else after that to make me believe that what I had been witnessing was real. And, at the end of the twenty-five second long video, you could hear a voice call out, “Enough, already, guys,” which I had assumed was coming from whoever was holding the camera. “Just end him already before someone gets bit,” he said, and with those words, a downward turn was made in the camera’s direction as it began filming the ground and a gunshot rang out. The video then cuts out.
Since then, I had come across similar videos, most debunked as fake. While others, well… not so debunked, but deemed to be anti-government propaganda all the same. After all, when it comes to zombies there can only be one source, right? The corrupt government. And when it comes to the reason the public has been left in the dark about the existence of zombies? Well, that, of course, much like the existence of aliens, would be just for our safety.
But, as far as any real zombie outbreak was concerned, it never happened. It was just an internet hoax backed by a bunch of fake videos produced by pranksters over the years since the birth of the original tale. There was no patient zero, no widespread infection that had taken over pockets of Massachusetts and the northeastern seaboard, no living dead that had ever risen to attack and consume the living. Zombies were, and have always been, just a figment of Hollywood’s imagination. The closest thing to one ever in all of humanity was Jesus Christ Almighty himself—and even he is doubted by many.
So how does that explain me? Or Anna?
Explaining me is simple. Not the zombie part, obviously, but the part of who I am and how I got to this point in my life, or death.
Going back four or so years now, back in Cresco, Iowa, the place where I’m from. I could be called just your typical all-American boy, twenty-one years old, in my junior year at Drake University, and running back home to the farm for mom’s home cooking whenever I could get the chance.
My old man was the police chief in our town which was small enough it didn’t really even need one. And when mom wasn’t tending to us kids, or the family dogs, cats, goats, pigs, and chickens in which we had, she was a part-time librarian at a library nobody visited.
I have a little sister that I really should mention. Her name is June, and she’s also a junior, only in high school. She wants to be a veterinarian when she gets older and plans on sticking around the ocean of corn that is Iowa, but for now she’s relegated to only practicing her future profession on our two dogs, Dax and Daisy.
At the time of my turning, spring break was in full gear. And, where most kids like to take off for the sunny beaches of Panama City, Florida, due to a lack of funds, I was heading back home for a week’s worth of sleeping in, watching TV, and maybe even a game or two of bowling.
The good thing, though, when you live in such a place as Cresco—the middle of nowhere—is that it doesn’t take long for your old high school buddies to know that you’re back in town. So, along with your arrival back home, comes about thirty invitations to get shit-faced out in some farmer’s field somewhere or, at least, meeting up at one of the local hole-in-the-walls.
Hey, Pete. Heard you were back in town for a bit. I’ll see you at Hangover’s tonight, okay? is what I would usually hear within five minutes of showing my face around Cresco. Or, Peter, how’s it hanging, dude? Good to see you back in town, kegger at Aaron’s place tonight. Joshua, Wayne, Brian, and all the rest of the retards will be there, kicks off at nine.
Well, I guess I could say that free cheap beer and a bonfire is better than nothing. Other than long sandy beaches, an ocean, ninety degree days, bikinis, and white T-shirt contests by undergrads, Cresco is just like Panama City, right?
I really wasn’t disappointed being home, though. It was always nice to see my friends again, and it was especially nice seeing Maria when I was back in town. Maria to me was that girl, you know the one. The girl who seems a little into you and you’re a little into her, but not really. The girl who is always good for making out with down at the pub, but you two are not really a couple.
A red solo cup filled with rapidly flattening brew, hanging out in a semi-circle with the guys while talking about cars or some other stupid nonsense, and a wayward smile from Maria when a fleeting glance turned to solid eye contact was all I needed to feel home again. Because, within an hour or two of being at Aaron’s party, I had already felt as if I had never left the place.
Soon, though, by the time the bonfire was growing unnecessarily large thanks to a stack of pallets being sacrificed, and the atmosphere was becoming one of drunken mischief and mellow lackadaisicalness, I was about ready for a little quality catching up time with Maria.
“Hey, Pete, you and Maria want the next game?” Adam Sekey called out to us as we passed by the Beer Pong table on our way towards heading down to Bluegrass Creek.
“Naw, maybe in a while,” I responded to Adam. “We’re going to head off down by the creek and get away from all this noise for a little while.”
“Alright,” Adam replied in a sly voice. “Gettin’ laid down by the creek. My boy works fast.”
I just shook my head dismissively as Maria and I walked away from Adam and the rest of the party.
To get down to where Bluegrass Creek snaked its way through the area, we had to do a little hiking and weave our way around the overgrown forest that had covered the creek’s banks. It wasn’t any secret why we were really going down there, but the fact was, without a fair amount of moonshine or a good flashlight, it was damn near totally dark down by the water. The nearly invisible path to the creek only became navigable by listening for the sound of rushing eddies below. Other hazards included the numerous rocks and downed tree branches that sat in our way, holes made by critters, and the threat of injury looming at every turn. But, if you wanted a place to be alone with a girl during one of Aaron’s parties, then this was the place you needed to go.
It didn’t take too long for Maria and me to get down to the water’s edge, and then it didn’t take too long for Maria and me to get down with each other. In fact, we were just a few moments into making out, and I was just beginning to take off my shirt, when we both noticed that it looked like we weren’t the only ones with the same idea of heading down to the creek.
About fifty yards away we began hearing noises, shallow at first, but then spiking with hostility. It was a girl, another one of my former classmates back in high school, Amber Lynn Doren. She was also down by the water’s edge with someone who was apparently getting quite handsy with her too soon. Maria and I soon heard Amber shouting cries of, “No!” and “Get the fuck off me!” as her voice took dominance over the sound of the flowing waters.
Well, needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to make my way over to Amber to see if she was alright as well as to set this guy—whoever he was—straight. As Maria and I quickly made our way over to where Amber was, I could begin to see the silhouette of the man with whom she was engaged. He was clearly drunk and staggering as he forced himself upon her. Another command of, “I said NO!”, came from Amber’s lips as I watched her try shoving him away without spilling any of the beer from the cup she still held in her right hand.
Nearing her, I could hear the drunken, horny bastard as he moaned something to the effect that I’m sure, in his mind, came out to be, “Come on, baby.”
Once upon them, I called out, “Hey, pal, what’s your problem?” and to that the jackass totally disregarded me. I had to hand it to him, though, he seemed really determined to get a little action. It wasn’t until I grabbed him by the shoulder, while Amber was once again calling out for help, that he finally let go of her. But, that was only because the force of me spinning him around had caused him to slip on the shore’s muddy bank where he then went down on one knee.
Even though it was dark and my eyes still hadn’t fully adjusted to the reflection of moonlight off the water, I could tell right away this wasn’t one of the average-age party-goers at Aaron’s shindig. This guy was damn near forty. But still, I wasn’t too shocked to see him with Amber. Someone at these parties always seems to bring with them their way-older brother or cousin. Or, maybe he is one of the derelict townies that found their way to the gathering looking to score free beer and a hot dog or two, as they claimed to know somebody at the party who had invited them.
“The lady said no, so why don’t you fuck off, pal,” I said to him as he looked up at me all slack-jawed and gawking.
Amber made her way behind me into the awaiting arms of Maria, who asked her if she was alright.
The man said something inaudible as he stood back up, but I stood my ground. I could tell even through the limited moonlight shining down upon us he was in no shape to fight. Piss himself, shit himself, vomit all over himself, sure, but if he wanted to have a-go at me, it would not be ending well for him.
“The damn scumbag kept trying to make out with me!” I then heard Amber say from somewhere just behind me. “The slob smells like shit, too.”
The bum tried to advance, but I put my hand up gently pushing him back. “You don’t wanna do that, pal,” I told him as I felt myself crack an almost mischievous smile. “Why don’t you go back where you came from and rub one out? You ain’t getting your dick wet tonight.”
Another incoherent gripe came from him, this one angrier than the last, as if he had just figured out that I would be what prevented him from getting laid, tonight.
He moved for me, right arm up, left arm stagnant as if he were trying to clutch my throat. I pushed his grasp away, grabbed him by the shirt, and threw him to the ground with ease. He then tumbled trying to get back up as his legs slipped off the slight incline coming from the edge of the water, with his lower half landing in the drink making his pants became soaked up to mid-thigh.
“Asshole, I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but I suggest you check your beer muscles before you end up with a broken jaw,” I said, giving him his final opportunity to submit.
Now truth be told, we could have just walked away at that point. He was no longer a threat to Amber, and once we made it a few yards up the escarpment, he would never have caught back up to us in his inebriated state. But, I wanted to look tough in front of Amber and Maria. Maybe the night would not turn out so lucky for this guy. As for me, though? I already had one gal in the bag, and after being Amber’s knight in shining armor, the possibility may arise that I might become the luckiest man on Earth tonight.
My new acquaintance didn’t adhere to my warning though, and once again he was back on his feet with a dour puss and looking to even the score.
“Come on, Pete, let’s just go,” Maria said.
“Yeah, Peter, forget him,” Amber chimed in with a clear nervousness in her voice, and I have to admit, I liked it when she called me Peter instead of Pete, which had a tone of urgency and a sincerity to it.
“Alright,” I responded. “Just head on up to the party. I’ll be right behind you. I want to make sure this guy doesn’t follow us.”
The girls had done as I put forth and turned, making their way back up the escarpment, and leaving me alone with my new friend.
The failure in life didn’t hesitate to come at me for a third time as he watched his hopes of getting laid walk away. But, yet, another outstretched arm became met with yet another thwarting of it away from yours truly. I then grabbed him by his shirt for the second time, yanking him down where he fell quite easily, having lost footing as he slipped on the creek mud that still clung to the bottom of his shoe.
“Should have walked away, asshole,” I told him as I made good with my threat and struck him in the face with a leveling right hook.
He hit the ground with a groan and I could tell that I must have rung his bell pretty good because this time he stayed down for a while. In fact, I was damn near all the way up to the top of the escarpment by the time I heard him get back up on his feet, shuffling about the brush and brambles.
“Hey, Pete, I heard you kicked some guys ass down by the creek?” is what I heard from my friend Wayne within thirty seconds of being back up at the party.
“All right, Pete,” Joshua Callahan then added as he walked up to Wayne and myself handing me a beer. “Amber and Maria said that you saved Amber from being raped in the woods, is that true?”
“I don’t know about being raped,” I said, flippantly. “But, yeah, there was some dick-wad down there trying to get in Amber’s pants. I don’t know who brought the guy to the party because he was about as old as my old man, but they sure as hell better get him out of here. Because if I see him again, I will mess him up even worse than I already did.”
“No, shit, Petey Demerath the killer,” Joshua said, chuckling and pointing an outstretched finger towards me with the hand he held his beer with. “Looks like you took a little flesh wound for your troubles.”
I glanced down at my hand and right at the knuckle of my middle finger was a small half-inch gash. I had imagined I had gotten it when I punched the son-of-a-bitch in the mouth and one of his incisors must have lacerated into me.
“Yeah, looks like he got me a bit, too,” I responded to Joshua before wiping the tiny streak of blood leaking from my knuckle on the waist of my blue jeans.
“What’s this I hear about a fight?” Aaron suddenly inquired as he came marching up to our gathering.
“Pete, here just whipped some dude’s ass,” Wayne responded. “Some guy who was trying to get fresh with Amber Lynn down by the creek.”
“It was nothing,” I explained, trying to ameliorate Aaron’s obvious annoyance to the possibility of an altercation having happened on his parents’ property.
“You alright?” he asked having been concerned.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Alright,” Aaron then said, seeming to simmer down. “You see this asshole back at the party, let me know because I’m not having any of this. My parents would kill me if they knew I threw a party, and the cops got involved over a sexual assault.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine, nobodies hurt,” I responded, trying to further ease Aaron’s mind.
“I hope so,” he retorted.
Being dead is easy, dying Isn’t
You ever have one of those hangovers where you say to yourself, what the fuck did I do last night? Yeah, well, that’s what the process of dying kind of feels like.
I had awoken the next morning after the party groggy and confused and feeling like I had just gotten hit in the head with a brick. My mouth was pasty, my bowels irritable, a fever within led to vomiting, and eventually, a trip to the doctor.
A case of the flu, which was most likely accelerated by my drinking too much and the stress of midterms, was the diagnosis. The prescription… the usual… stay in bed, drink lots of water and juices, and here’s a round of antibiotics to kill the pathogens.
So, having a few days worth of mom mothering me, and all the homemade chicken noodle soup I could handle, all sounded great. If, only, what I ended up having truly been an actual bout with influenza. But, after not recovering, and after I passed half of my body’s blood supply into the toilet three days later, my hopes of a solid week’s worth of R&R were flushed down the drain with it.
I would love to say that I handled the whole situation like a champ, but the truth is, I was terrified. My parents had rushed me over to Howard County Hospital as fast as two people watching their firstborn die could.
Upon admittance to the emergency room, tests were immediately administered to me and I became poked and prodded with more needles, swabs, tubes, and stethoscopes than an alien abductee.
Defecation of even more blood, fever spikes, seizures, waves of blackouts, and sporadic pains that could only be described as the feeling of being stabbed by a searing hot knife, all followed in the pursuing hours as I became ever weaker.
From what I believe I can recall, a whole battery of negative tests had come back stumping all the doctors and nurses at the hospital. So phone calls had gone out to bring in specialists as a last ditch attempt to save my life. My case was so mysterious, that it was one that even Dr. House couldn’t crack, and as a result, as the following two days unfolded, I progressively got worse.
As the end loomed, the really messed up thing about what was happening to me, the worst thing about dying that is, wasn’t the pain, or being scared about what comes next. It was the look. The look on my mother’s face as she cried herself sick watching me suffer with the life slowly withering away from my body as I went in and out of bouts of hallucinations. When I was lucid, I remember seeing her stand from afar as she looked at me through the window of an adjoining room. I had been deemed contagious by that point, which is just a five-dollar word for, we don’t know what you have, but we sure as hell don’t want to get it ourselves. So, from this point forward, you will never know what another human’s touch feels like.
And, in my last moments… that is the very last thing I can remember about my life—my living life, that is. I was saying something to someone who I imagine was one of the doctors adorned in a hazmat suit. Tell my parents I love them, I said and then nothing. Emptiness.
Now, as far as I know, nobody can remember being born, but many people who have died and come back do say they can remember passing on. They talk about white lights, and tunnels, and a sense of well-being falling over them like a veil. Some even claiming to have met God. Well, that’s all well and good, but that’s not me. I don’t remember any of those things happening when I died. In fact, I don’t remember dying at all. But, I do remember being reborn.
At first it was all surreal, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. I just remember a slight consciousness being there like I wasn’t completely gone into the void. I had thought for a while that this is what death is, some kind of limbo where my thoughts floated freely of my body, but that was not the case either.
What the case was… was that I had become quite stiff due to rigor mortis, and my awareness of my existence was slow to come back, like waking up out of a coma.
There were no awaiting, loving arms belonging to my mother ready to hold me for the first time after this second birth. She was not there to be found whispering sweet words to me and telling me that everything will be alright, even though I desperately wanted her to be. My proud old man wasn’t standing there gazing down upon me, the miracle he had created. And, I wasn’t kicking and screaming from having just gone through the most traumatic events so far in my short life. Although, once again, I did want to kick and scream desperately, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate.
I will, however, tell you what was there. At my rebirth, there were once again doctors, lots of them, and unlike my birth, at my rebirth there were armed guards standing over me, lots of them, too.
“EEG is really picking up,” said the very first voice I heard after having returned. “This isn’t normal. The activity is off the charts. I think we might have a thinker here people.”
I think I want to know what the fuck is going on? That was what I was thinking.
“Heart is still flatlined. Pupils won’t dilate. Patient doesn’t respond to being poked.”
“Electromyogram is barely showing any impulses,” a third voice said.
I slowly began to feel my jaw loosen up after a tremendous effort on my part to speak.
“Meredith, keep a safe distance.”
“I think he’s trying to say something,” I heard Meredith respond, and then I saw her. She came in close as if wanting to hear me better. It might be a little clique, but I believe I moaned at her.
“Ah, ah, Meredith. Safety protocol. You must back up from the mouth. That be an order, my dear.”
Now it would be awesome if my first words were something cool and epic like, What are all you punks looking at… ain’tcha never seen a dead body talk before? But, again, that wasn’t the case. My first words were more or less just sounds, and sounds reminiscent of a baby lamb being castrated. “Uggggggggh… yaba yee uhm umm…,” was more realistic as to what actually came out of me. That incoherent babble was soon followed by my first actual words, “Yezus Christ… what the hell is going on!”
The room stopped playing with all their gadgets and whatchamacallits and just stared at me. I, in turn, looked back at them, my neck now having broken free of its paralysis.
“Peter, can you hear me?” that nurse—Meredith—said, as she took a tentative step forward again.
I wanted to grab a hold of her and pull her close just to feel the security of someone near me, to be less alone. But my benign intentions were obviously deciphered as being much more sinister in nature because as I began to struggle in the restraints I found myself in. One of those military looking men who stood armed at the perimeter of the room stepped up and pulled Meredith forcefully back. He then shoved his pseudo-manhood, in the form of the gun’s barrel, directly in my face and said, “He’s turning! He’s trying to go for us. We need to terminate.”
We need to terminate, I thought, but then it became clear to me what he meant, my mind having still been a bit delayed.
“What? No!” I shouted. “Don’t shoot!”
“He’s fine. Fine, Michelson,” that familiar voice called out. And, now I could see it belonged to an older-looking gentleman, perhaps mid-fifties, with salt and pepper hair. “He’s not breaking those restraints. Why don’t we all just take it easy?”
Michelson retreated back to his corner wearing a scowl and I so desperately wanted to say, Yeah, get back to your fucking corner, Michelson. But, I was in no position to push for a confrontation, nor did I have the strength or courage.
“Alright, guys, why don’t we clear out for a bit and give Peter some time to himself to calm down?” the gray-haired doctor in charge said. The rest of the room, then acceded to his wishes with, “Yes, Doctor Chicavonov.”
Chicavonov was then the second to last person to leave the room and the last one to speak to me when he said, “Welcome back, Peter. I’ll come see you in a bit after you’ve had some time to take things in. We’ll have a nice little chat then, and maybe we can clue you in as to what’s going on. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions.”
I just nodded, and I believe I uttered, “Okay,” but I can’t be sure of that. Michelson then left right after the doctor’s exit, locking the room’s door behind him, but not before sneering at me through the small window. Fucking dick!
Death Sentence on Parole and I’ve Committed no Crime
Dr. Chicavonov by all accounts appeared to be a man of his word as just about an hour later, he came back in to see me. By that point, I had regained most of my motor skills and the stiffness I originally experienced, was now almost completely subsided.
Our conversation was interesting to say the least. Especially, when the conversation starts out with, “Peter, there’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it. Peter, you’re dead.”
After the joke moved on to proof, then denial, then more proof, and finally acceptance over the next two hours, Dr. Chicavonov filled me in on what I was. At least, what he thought I was, which wasn’t much of a scientific certainty, and it sure as hell didn’t put me at ease.
I had listened to him carefully, fully alert in my mind, albeit scared shitless, and yet I remained calm, mostly though because I still had severe trouble moving. I didn’t verbally respond much to his revelations because I was still finding it hard to speak. I had not yet become accustomed to how my lungs and voice box would coincide with one another now that I’m dead. When I tried to emit words, they were more like that of a ghost—weakly silent. Dr. Chicavonov had told me that I need to work on sucking in a lungful of air so I could properly work my vocal cords, much like how a balloon makes noise when releasing air. It was then when I had truly noticed that I was no longer breathing.
I could go on, but in a nutshell, like he said, I am dead. I’m sitting upright, I’m moving—which was happening a lot easier now that they had removed the restraints even though I was still foot-shackled to my bed—and talking, and am cognizant, but I’m a corpse all the same.
It was tough accepting my new reality. I didn’t know what the future for me would hold. Was I going to rot like the walking dead do in the movies? Was I going to lose my ability to think and become one of those zombies that stagger around looking for brains? Was I going to live forever? All these questions I had, but sadly they were all questions Dr. Chicavonov really didn’t have answers to. He did his best to put my worries aside, though, sharing with me the information he had culled about my kind.