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Dead On My Feet
(Book Two of the Zombie D.O.A. Series)
by J.J. Zep PUBLISHED BY: JJ Zep Copyright © 2012 www.jjzep.com All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.
____________________________________________ one The city shimmering in the heat on the horizon was Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not that it mattered, it could have been Beijing, China for all I cared. I wasn‟t going there. In the three years since I‟d left New York to look for Ruby I‟d learned some things. The first was that cities were to be avoided. Cities were the domain of the Zombies, or the Z‟s or Grunts, or whatever you chose to call them. The only ones brave enough, or stupid enough to go into the cities were the Resurrection Men. And while the rewards were great, and there were plenty of takers, that particular career was normally a short one. Not that life outside the cities was that much safer. There were Zombies here too. But you stood a much greater chance of being mobbed, or cornered and eaten alive, in a city.
So you took your chances with the road crews and the cutthroats and the cannibals. Or you took refuge in one of the armed compounds or fortified towns. That wasn‟t an option for me. After I‟d left New York, I‟d made my way south to Quantico, Virginia, then to Washington DC. I hadn‟t found Ruby in those places. So I‟d headed into West Virginia and from there, south into Kentucky, not knowing what I was looking for. Just knowing, hoping, believing, praying, that somewhere, somehow, I would find my daughter. Little did I know that while I was looking for Ruby, someone was looking for me, too. It was in Kentucky that The Corporation first found me. The car I‟d been driving had gotten stuck in the mud while I was trying to round a burnt out tanker. I‟d spotted a gas station a few hundred yards down the road and set off in that direction. I found a truck, fitted it with a new battery, siphoned some gas into it and then walked to a diner attached to the gas station to look for some provisions.
I was just about to leave when two men walked in. I‟ve since learned that standard attire for Corporation agents is black suits, skinny ties and shades. Back then it was kind of surreal to see two guys, looking like Jake and Elwood Blues walking into a deserted diner after the world had ended. I recall being relieved, pleased even, to see normal people and I may have opened my mouth to say “hi”. That was when one of the agents shot me. When I came round, I was still in the diner, cuffed to a chair, with the smaller of the agents, the Jake Blues lookalike, sitting across from me and the other, somewhat resembling Elwood, leaning against the counter, sipping from a cup. Jake was asking me something I couldn‟t comprehend. I felt groggy, and my neck throbbed from where I‟d been darted. He learned over and slapped my face. Then he repeated his question. It sounded like, “Where‟s the trigger?” “What?” “Where‟s the trigger?” he repeated. “What? I don‟t know what you…”
“This could go hard for you, you know,” Elwood said from the counter. “I really don‟t know, what you‟re talking about.” Jake half-turned towards Elwood, who shrugged. “Do what it takes,” he said. The Jake lookalike got up and walked towards one of the booths. He had his back towards me and when he turned he was holding a syringe. “Now, you might think this is sodium pentothal,” he said, walking back towards me,“ but it isn‟t. This is something infinitely more powerful. Problem is, the side-effects are somewhat unpredictable. Permanent brain damage is not unheard of.“ He sat down in the chair again, the syringe in his hand, a clear liquid contained within. “Last chance, where‟s the trigger?” “I told you I don‟t…” I started to say and that was when I noticed the Z rise from behind the counter close to Elwood. Elwood must have seen something in my expression because he dropped the coffee cup and spun around. As he did, the Zombie bit him in the face, and Elwood started screeching like a steam whistle.
Jake swung round and as he did I kicked out at him and he stumbled over the chair. He came up with the needle protruding from his cheek and a confused expression on his face. He reached inside his coat, probably going for a weapon, and then he collapsed. Next thing I remember I was running towards the door, crouched over and still bound to the chair. I crossed the forecourt without looking and didn‟t stop running until I heard the squealing of tires. I looked up to see a rust-colored truck sliding sideways towards me, smoke spewing from its tires as the driver stood on the brakes. I braced myself and felt the vehicle side swipe me. Then, as if in slow motion, I felt myself being lifted from the ground. I was airborne and the world seemed to stand still for a split second before I crashed into the pavement and slid towards the curb. I don‟t remember any pain – that would come later. For now, there was just blackness. two
When I woke I was lying in a bed in a room with muted floral wallpaper and lace curtains. The window was open a crack and a cool breeze crept in and rustled the drapes. I could see a porch with a neatly trimmed lawn beyond that. To the left ran a dirt track lined with tall tulip trees. I tried to rise and felt pain jolt through my side. As a fighter I‟d suffered a few cracked ribs in my career, so I was no stranger to that exquisite variety of pain and recognized it right way. What was worse though was the throbbing in my head. Nonetheless, I had to get up so I took a deep breath and forced myself into a sitting position ignoring the lightning bolt that exploded along my right side. I noticed a tube of aspirin on the nightstand, shook out two and dry swallowed them. I brought my hand up to my face and I could feel that it was bruised and tender, with a doozy of a lump on my forehead. I peeled back the covers and swung my feet to the floor. I was wearing a pair of navy blue pajamas a couple of sizes too big. My first attempt at standing was a dismal failure and I slumped back onto the
bed breathing heavily. On the second try I found my feet, tottered slightly but this time stayed up. The pajama bottoms chaffed the side of my leg and when I pulled it away, I noticed that the skin down there had been severely scraped and bruised. Someone had taken the time to apply a healthy dose of iodine. There was a dressing table with a mirror against the wall and I shuffled in that direction. The man who looked back at me was almost recognizable. Early in my career I‟d fought a catch weight contest against a guy named Ronaldo Holmes. Holmes had outweighed me and outreached me and had basically pummeled me for four rounds until my corner had thrown in the towel. I‟d gone to the emergency room with a broken nose, a cracked cheekbone and badly bruised ribs. This was worse. My face was a ripe shade of purple, turning yellow in spots. My right eye was closed to a slit, and the left was also blackened and bloodshot. The skin on the tip of my nose and on my chin had been scraped off and there was a blackened, goose egg sized lump on my
forehead. The worst of it was, I couldn‟t remember where I was, what had happened, or how I‟d got here. But I intended to find out. The first thing I needed was a weapon, and I saw the perfect thing slotted into the space between the dressing table and the wall, a Louisville Slugger. I can‟t tell you how I thought I‟d swing it, but I guess it gave me a measure of comfort. Leaning heavily on the bat, I shuffled down a dark passage, at the end of which was a hallway. The front door stood open, and through it I could see a man crouching down in a flowerbed. Further along I heard a woman‟s voice, a clear soprano singing something that sounded familiar, but that I couldn‟t quite put my finger on. I followed that voice and found myself in a large, sunny kitchen with a heavy, oak table as its centerpiece. The table was cluttered with the fixings of a meal and at the end of it, a grey-haired woman stood, stirring up something in a mixing bowl. She was intent on her work and singing to herself, so at first she didn‟t notice me. The woman poured the contents of the bowl into a mould and then she raised her head and started to bring her hand to
her mouth as though getting ready to call someone. That was when she saw me. The hand that had been headed for her mouth went instead to her chest and her eyes widened. She took in a couple of deep breaths and then she said, “Mister, you just took five years off an old woman‟s life.” three If it wasn‟t for Tom and Betsy Riley, I wouldn‟t be here telling you this story today. It would be no exaggeration to say that I owe them my life. Over dinner that night, Tom told me how I‟d come to be here. He‟d gone out on his weekly provisioning run and was heading home. At the last moment he‟d decided to fill the truck with gas, and that had brought him into the road where he‟d found me. “Usually, I‟d stay clear of the Parkway „cause it‟s so clogged, but I try to keep the gas topped up. There‟s a couple of stations down there where the wells are still fairly well stocked and you can drop a bucket in them.
“Back before all this happened, I‟d run that old truck on fumes before I filled her. But these days… Anyways, the point is, I wouldn‟t have even been on that road in the normal course of things. Guess it was your lucky day, Chris.” He paused for a moment then said, “Relatively speaking, of course.” Tom had come to the point in the road, where the burned out tanker had jack knifed, blocking the highway. “Except,” he said, “Some idiot had tried to go round her in one of those city SUV‟s and gotten stuck in the mud.” He‟d considered reversing and going back by another route, but he‟d already been gone too long, and didn‟t want Betsy worrying. So he‟d pushed the car out of the way, and had just rounded the tanker when he heard shots fired. “Now, I done some time in the military,” Tom said, “so gunfire doesn‟t spook me. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting shot up in someone else‟s fight. Besides, Bets and I, we‟ve got us a pact. When we go, we go together. And I wasn‟t about to break a promise, for the first time in forty eight years of marriage.” He gave Betsy a hug and kissed her forehead, and she snuggled into him.
“You a married man, Chris?” “No, I‟m not,” I said, too quickly, realizing as I did, that I was still wearing my wedding band. There was an awkward silence around the table and then Tom muttered, “None of my damn business, anyhow.” He got up from the table, “I‟ve got a pretty good bottle of Irish whiskey back here, sacrilege in Kentucky, I know, but can I tempt you? When I declined, he said, ”Probably not a good idea in your condition anyway.” He went off to pour his drink, while Betsy poured each of us a glass of lemonade. When Tom returned he said, “You know those fellers did you a favor strapping you to that chair. Cushioned the blow when you hit the curb. Wasn‟t for that you‟d be fertilizer right now. ” Tom had heard the shots and he‟d put his foot on the gas. A minute later I had run into the road in front of his truck. “I got to tell you,” Tom said. “I was tempted to just keep going. But, even in these times, a man‟s got to listen to his conscience. And I
got a conscience that bitches worse than a nagging wife, sorry Bets, but there it is. Pain in the ass sometimes, but there it is.” “Thank you,” I said. “Nothing you won‟t have done for me too,” Tom said, embarrassed. There was another awkward silence around the table, eventually broken by Betsy. “Look at the time,” she said, “I‟ve got dishes to do. Tom you can stay and help. Chris, you get yourself off to bed. You need your rest.” I struggled to my feet, leaning on the baseball bat. “You need a hand there, feller?” Bill asked. “I got it. Night Betsy, Tom. Thanks for…” “Oh hush,” Betsy said. “Get yourself to bed.” four I had the first of the dreams that night. I was in our old apartment, lying on the floor by the window, the warm afternoon sun making me drowsy. I heard the baby crying and I rose dream-like and stumbled
towards the bedroom. From within I could hear Rosie‟s tuneless rendition of “The Greatest Love of All”. I walked past the sideboard, brushing my hand against my boxing trophies as I did. Then I was at the bedroom door and I was suddenly very afraid. I wanted to run, but as happens in dreams my legs refused to obey, so I pushed the door open and bright light flooded through. I could hear the cries of seagulls and the swish-swish-swish of water gently lapping. As my eyes adapted I could see that I was on a beach. It was a gorgeous warm afternoon with a sky impossibly blue and untainted by clouds. Waves as placid as puppies trickled towards shore, carried on a breeze just cool enough to take the edge off the balmy day. To my right the coastline made a gradual sweep forming the outline of a wide bay. The land rose steeply from the shoreline there, terminating in a plateau. I could see a house nestled precariously against the cliff. A white house, three stories high with parapets and a red roof.
I suddenly heard the sound of a child‟s laughter and when I looked left, I saw a little girl of about three. She was wearing a blue one-piece swimsuit with a single yellow flower on it. She wore her dark hair in a plait that ran down her back. Even though I couldn‟t see her face at this distance I knew immediately who she was. I started running towards her and as I did she started walking away. I tried to call to her, to tell her to wait but the effort of running seemed to be using up all my breath and I was unable to form the words I needed. Just then there I heard the timpani roll of thunder and when I looked back it had clouded over. Forked lighting cut a swathe across the sky and it began to rain. I woke with Tom‟s hand on my shoulder. “Didn‟t want to alarm you,” he said. “But we got company.“ It took me a second to make the adjustment from dream to wakefulness, but when I did, I realized that it was raining outside, raining hard. Tom was at the window now, peeking from the side of the drapes. I started to get up, but Tom said, “Stay put, I got this.”
“What‟s out there?” I asked. “Couple of Z‟s,” Tom said, “They come by every once in a while. Usually we just wait them out.” Despite Tom‟s instruction I got up and went over to the window. Tom moved aside so I could peek through. Standing on the front lawn were a woman and a young boy. They stood motionless, staring at the house, oblivious to the pouring rain. “We call them Becka and Billy,” Tom said. “They‟re pretty harmless, drove off most of our livestock though. Had to move our laying hens into one of the upstairs bedrooms.” “You got any guns in the house, Tom?” “Just the one,” he said, then after a while, “for us.” Outside Becka and Billy continued their vigil. “I‟m heading on back to bed,” Tom said. “Close the shutters if you‟re worried about B and B out there. Night Chris.”
At breakfast the next morning I asked Tom about Becka and Billy. “Like I said,” he replied, “Just a couple of Z‟s swing by every once in a while, usually when it‟s raining. They don‟t mean no harm,
so we just leave them be. For the most part we prefer to just live and let live.” I mopped up the last of my eggs with a piece of bread and took a sip of coffee. “Not to contradict you in your own home or anything, especially over breakfast, but I‟ve yet to meet a Z that shares your philosophy.” “That may be,” Tom said cheerily, “but a man‟s principles are his own. Man starts flip-flopping on what he believes based on outside influences and he might as well run for congress.” He had me there, so I let it drop. We sat in silence for a while, then Tom said, “You were calling out for Ruby in your sleep last night. That your wife?” “My little girl.” “Sorry. Didn‟t mean to pry,” Tom mumbled. “That‟s okay,” I said. “It‟s just...” “Tell me when you‟re ready,” Tom said, rising from the table, “if you want to.“ five
I spent six weeks with Tom and Betsy. Six weeks during which it felt almost like the world was a normal place again. I healed and I joined Tom on his provisioning runs and helped him in his vegetable garden. Tom had a unique approach to dealing with zombies - he treated them as though they weren‟t there. He‟d walk into a deserted supermarket, grab a trolley and walk the aisles with his shopping list, picking items from the shelves. I almost expected him to whip out his credit card as he passed the check out. One time, when we passed a sporting goods store and I suggested stopping and picking up some weapons, Tom said, “Violence just begets more violence, Chris. We had the biggest military and the most weapons on the planet on look where it got us. I leave the Zs to go about their business, and I go about mine.” The funny thing is that it seemed to work. I saw very few Z‟s when I was out with Tom and the ones I did see, seemed to keep their distance. Eventually I did tell him about Rosie and about Ruby. He remained dead silent during the telling, rocking in his porch chair and sipping from his glass of Irish whiskey.
At the end he said simply, “You‟ll find her. I know you will.” Afterwards we sat quietly enjoying the cool evening. It was a cloudless night and a new moon illuminated the yard and the fields beyond. A breeze murmured through the tulip trees whispering secrets only they could understand. “So what about you and Betsy,” I asked eventually, “What are you going to do?” “Do about what?” “You know… all this.” He took a sip from his glass and sat quietly as though contemplating his answer. “You know, Chris,” he said eventually, “When I was in the Airborne, I had a feller used to bunk next to me, name of Quinton, Quinton del la Rue. Now Quinton wanted badly to be a writer. He always had his nose in a book, whether reading or writing. He reckoned he was going to be the next Truman Capote, and I read some of his stuff. It was good. He could have made it. Probably. Thing is, on our third training jump, ol‟ Quinton‟s canopy, she fails to deploy. I was out the door right behind him and I can see him
plummeting to earth, and I‟m screaming, „Reserve! Reserve!‟ but he never pulled her. “He was 18 years old and he got a burial with full military honors. But all those dreams about being a writer, they died between the deck of a DC3 and the cold hard earth. “Now I got fifty years on Quinton, and they been mostly good years. I sowed my wild oats, which in my case amounted to getting drunk on a six-pack I stole from my father one time, puking after trying my first and only cigarette, and trying to stick my hand down Sally Hinkel‟s blouse at the drive-in and getting my face slapped. “And then I met Betsy, and I just knew that this was it. This is what I was born for. To spend my life with this woman. You a religious man, Chris?” “No.” “Me neither, but I figure that if there‟s someone up there watching us, what he wants most of all is for us be with the one person that completes us. And for me, that‟s Betsy. “I got fifty good years on poor „ol Quinton de la Rue, so when my time comes, I‟m ready.”
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