John obeyed. The toilet was just a toilet.
You haven’t really experienced the full range of human emotion until you’ve cried your eyes out while hanging on for dear life on the back of a dirt bike bouncing across a cornfield in the freezing cold. Amy and John made it back to the shopping center, which was clearing out fast. They returned the motorcycle to the pickup, propping it up by the tailgate because they couldn’t get it lifted up into the bed. Maybe the owner would think it just fell out.
Cars were filing out and heading up the highway, because rumor was spreading around that they were going to expand the quarantine to include the shopping center and everything for a few miles on the other side of it, but who knew if that was true.
The Greyhound was boarding, ready to just dump everybody off at the stops where they had been picked up. Amy thought she could get the driver to let John on board—the guy wasn’t made of stone—but John thought that would make them too easy to find if that detective came after them. It made sense, and she got her bag and watched the bus lumber down the highway without them. It was the right decision, but they were now stranded.
Amy would never be able to eat at a Cinnabon again for the rest of her life. They sat there, at the same table she was sitting at when she spotted John an hour earlier. John was on and off his intermittently working phone, first trying friends in town to see if they happened to be outside of city limits when everything went crazy. Those calls wouldn’t even go through. Then he tried some people he knew outside of town, but the ones who answered had their own problems.
Amy suggested getting a ride to the airport about ten miles away and renting a car there, but John said he had some things on his driving record that would ensure he would never be able to rent a car for the rest of his life. Amy didn’t have a license, so that shot down that idea. It was just so freaking frustrating, David needed breaking out from a military zombie quarantine and his saviors couldn’t get a ride from Cinnabon.
John paused in his phone calls to shove the remaining third of the cinnamon roll into his mouth when his phone rang. He picked it up and mumbled, “Munch! Where are you?”
John’s friend Munch Lombard had not in fact fled the country in David’s truck as John instructed him, but simply went to his parents’ farm outside of town. He promised to come get Amy and John in fifteen minutes or so, but John wasn’t comfortable waiting at the shopping center that long so they agreed to meet him at the John Deere dealership a mile up the street. They took off walking. Amy’s left foot felt sticky and she was pretty sure it was actively bleeding in her stupid shoes but she said nothing because broken blisters were unimportant when the world was in crisis. She kept telling herself that over and over again, wincing with ever step along the highway.
Fewer and fewer cars passed them going north. More and more green trucks passed them going south. She was fairly sure that by sundown there would be more military personnel encircling Undisclosed than there were people inside it. All of that, between her and David.
Soon, John was driving David’s Bronco, Munch in the passenger seat and Amy sitting in the smelly backseat. The truck had stunk of rotten eggs for years for reasons no one could explain. They turned off onto a gravel lane snaking into dense woods, the canopy of trees blocking the sun and fast-forwarding the clock to the mid-evening hours. The lane was barely wide enough for one vehicle and Amy wondered what they did when two vehicles met going opposite directions. Did somebody just have to slowly back all the way out? Did they flip a coin to decide who?
Amy tuned in to the conversation between Munch and John to hear Munch say, “Yeah, I mean, they’re playin’ that clip of the reporter’s face getting eaten every five minutes.”
“What are they saying it is?”
“Some kind of virus. Maybe something the terrorists released. Eats your skin. Eats your brain. Makes you crazy.”
“Jesus. That’s the story they’re putting out there to calm people down? That’s really worse than just saying zombies.”
“My dad and grandad have been huddled around the TV since it happened. They think it’s Revelations. Though I can’t remember anything that messed up even in the bible. The face-eating part I mean.”
They rounded some trees and came to a closed gate, and behind it sat a shiny black pickup truck. Behind the wheel was a big guy with a dark beard and aviator sunglasses, who Amy thought looked like John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski.
Munch muttered a curse and got out of the Bronco. The guy stepped out of the black pickup, then reached inside and pulled out a shotgun. John got out and Amy followed his lead, thinking that it had taken society all of two hours to degenerate to the Shotgun stage.
To the shotgun guy John said, “Hey, Daryl.”
“Daryl” nodded curtly but didn’t answer. Then Munch said, “Come on, Dad, don’t embarrass me. Let us through.”
Shotgun guy, who Amy gathered was Munch’s dad, and whose name was Daryl unless John had gotten it wrong, said, “They’re from in town, right? They were in the city when the outbreak happened?”
“John was, she wasn’t. That’s his friend, Amy.”
Daryl Shotgun said, “Make you a deal. Drive him back to the National Guard checkpoint they set up outside town, let ’em check him over and if they give him a clean bill of health, we’ll talk. But until then he ain’t gettin’ past this gate. Him and nobody else. We already had refugees wandering around out here, tryin’ to see what they could steal.”
“Come on, Dad. They’re homeless. They can’t get back in town, they got nothin’, they left everything behind. Don’t be a dick.”
“Don’t push me, Mitchell. We talked about this.”
John said, “If it makes you feel better, if I was infected you’d know it. I saw a guy get it right in front of me and it took hold of him within one minute.”
“Who are you, again?”
Munch said, “Goddamnit, Dad. That’s John. From the band. You’ve met him half a dozen times.”
Daryl nodded and said, “From the band. Of course.”
John said, “Look, don’t let me in. It’s fine. But she needs a place to stay and she was never in town, she was on her way in when they shut down the highway.”
Amy was about to speak up. She wasn’t staying here with these nutjobs, the place had post-apocalyptic rape cult written all over it. Daryl rendered it moot.
“Maybe she wasn’t in the city, but she’s been with you all day. Right?”
Munch laughed, shook his head and said, “Unbelievable. Fuckin’ unbelievable.”
John said, “No, no, it’s fine. I’m not trying to sow discord in your family here. I shouldn’t have asked. We’ll be on our way.”
Daryl said, “That’s right, you will. And I’m gonna tell you the same thing I told everybody else who’s come up to this gate. ’Til a man in uniform comes and gives the all-clear, and maybe not even then, if you show up here again you ain’t gettin’ the courtesy of a warning shot.”
The look on John’s face said he was wondering if he could get the shotgun away from Daryl and smash in his nose with the stock. Amy was pretty sure John could do it, the guy looked fat and slow. But then John snapped out of it and they headed back to the Bronco.
As they did a three-point turn in the lane to head back out into the chaos, Amy sighed and said, “What now?”
“Back to plan A. We head north. Put some distance between us and the bullshit. If we get caught and thrown in jail or quarantine, it’s over. So for right now, the goal is to not do that.”
She crossed her arms and blew some dangling hairs out of her eyes and said, “I don’t like going farther away from him. I mean David could be hurt or running away or who knows what. And we’re just … leaving him.”
John was silent for a moment and Amy detected that there was something he wasn’t telling her. But either he’d tell her or he wouldn’t, she’d learned that she couldn’t press John like she could David. Every conversation took place on his terms.
John said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll be back. But we’re coming back strong. We’re coming back to veto all this shit. But we got to load up first.”
And Amy thought, he doesn’t believe that.
The Maps and Shit
As they drove, instead of the highway, John only saw blood and brains, splattered on a filthy blue plastic door.
PAGE 55 SCIENCE AND THE BEYOND DR. ALBERT MARCONI
For the concept of the zombie, we can thank two parties: ants, and a dog who probably died more than ten thousand years ago. Let us start with the dog.
First, you must imagine humanity as it would have existed at the time. Agriculture is a new concept, a radical practice that must have seemed like magic. Settlements are becoming larger. Humans everywhere are struggling with the transition from living in sparse, nomadic tribes hunting gazelle and gathering berries in the woods, to everyday life in close proximity to dozens of strangers in something that could be called a village.
All of this would have been a startling and hugely stressful change for our ancient ancestors. Yes, on one hand there is suddenly more food and comfort and spare time than the species had ever known. But maddening complexity arises at every turn. Language explodes. Man evolves the ability to think in words, essentially creating an entirely new schematic for his brain with which he will create abstract thought for the first time. And along with it, questions. Man needs to understand his place in the universe, and his relation to his creator. But this is not the beginning of science. It is the birth of superstition. What he does not understand, he fills in with this newfound cognitive power. The universe that this man inhabits will be one born from the astonishing new power called “imagination.”
Already at this point, superstitions about the dead would have arisen; decaying flesh is a playground for infectious disease and bacteria—man would have long realized that too much time spent in the presence of the dead means sickness or even death for one’s self. They find burying or burning the dead in a special place, away from the rest of the tribe, prevents this.