More stuff to read  

Some Days are Z-Days

Copyright Ian Buchanan May 2010

Ken has been waiting for this day for a long time.
Some days, when I get home, I'm too tired to even order takeaway. I just flop on the couch with remote, a beer if there's one in the fridge, and some chips if I'm lucky. Doesn't do much for my health, but my channel-surfing finger is at its peak.

I seriously didn't consider answering the phone when it rang, as to do that I would have to get off the couch. It's one of those wireless ones. It wasn't on the other side of the room, it was inside the couch, using the same escape-strategy the TV remote uses.

On my knees I delved into the surprisingly big space inside the couch. I pulled out $10 (hah!), a toothbrush, (what was that doing there?), three fossilised Cheezels, an unopened bill for the gas supply, (no wonder they were threatening me with cut-off), and finally, the phone. It stopped ringing the moment I dragged it into the light.

Grunting with annoyance I flopped back in the couch. After a moment, I picked up one of the Cheezels. "I wonder...." I thought.

Luckily, the phone rang again and I answered.

"It's started. They're outside...in the street," a voice whispered horribly in my ear.

"What?" I replied, "Who is this?"

"They're massing. Today's the day," the voice went on.

"Ken? Is that you Ken?"

There was a long silence.

"Yes. It's me, Ken. It's Z-Day, mate. Are you ready for it?"

Bloody Ken and his stupid Z-Day. I'm as entertained by Zombie stories as the next person. Yes, I love "28 Days Later" and can argue with the best of them about the merits of "28 Weeks Later". Yes, "Sean of the Dead" is funny and scary and a perfect film.

And yes, I've sat round with Ken, and others, discussing what we would do if Z-Day really happened. But it's a beer-fuelled discussion. I don't really think the Zombies we see in movies and stories are true. Before Romero they were just a weird "did-you-know" sort of thing.

Yeah, yeah, the Caribbean and zombies, the Golem, they tap into a deep-seated human species memory, blah blah blah.

But if you ask me do I 100% believe that one day a virus will unleash my zombified next-door-neighbour at me on a brain-eating frenzy, no, I am not a true believer.

But Ken is. He's always on about it, always planning for Z-Day, on the watch. He was talking about getting a job at the hospital, because he thought that would be the place for an early warning. If that had happened, I had told myself, I would be obliged to report him to the medical authorities.

But he couldn't do much harm working in a supermarket.

But it sounded like he had taken that step over the wavering grey line between a bit funny and full-on crazy.

"Ken," I said, "we've talked about this. Zombies aren't real."

He became agitated. "You say that," he hissed. "I've seen them! They are out in the street, now. Wait.....!" His voice dropped lower. "Here comes one, now. Listen!"

Not much happens where we live...Ken is around the corner from me...and once it hits evening the streets are pretty quiet. I could hear Ken moving and then silence. Not quite silence. An early evening owl called mournfully. "Listen", Ken whispered again, this time his mouth nowhere near the speaker.

I was just starting to think about going round to Ken's and see if he needed help, when I heard an odd noise. It was getting louder. A shuffling, slapping noise, and a gasping, wheezing sort of moan. The hairs on my neck rose as I felt an imaginary cold breeze blow down my spine.

The shuffling jog peaked, the gasping, asthmatic wheeze receding.

"Ken!"" I demanded, "What..."

He cut over me. "Another one...no...two more"

It was the same, but yes, it did sound like two, running at slightly different paces.

I got up, phone to my ear, and moved to the window.

There is a hedge in front of my place, so there is only a gate-wide gap where I can see the street, and that's on an angle so the line of vision isn't good. I eased open my window, to hear better.

Ken was talking, but I moved the phone away from my ear.....I could hear someone coming down the street, a noisy, floppy stagger, feet dragging. For a split second a skinny, elderly man lurched past the gap. Despite the cold, he appeared to be only partially dressed. I registered a bare arm and shoulder.

Stunned, I went back to the phone.

"...hammer. I wish I had a gun. The police will be overwhelmed first. It's up to us."

"Ken! Ken!" I hissed, then shouted, and mentally slapped myself. I quietly pulled the window closed.

"Don't do anything. There must be a sensible explanation." As I was speaking another one, two, three people flashed past the gap in the hedge, all lurching oddly.

I could feel my panic rising. This couldn't be happening.

"It's the unwary who die first," I found myself thinking, "Stop that! Now!" I said aloud to myself. "Grow up! You are an adult man. Get off your backside, go round and sort out your friend. He needs your help."

I scrabbled in the cupboard for my jogging shoes...hadn't used THEM for awhile...put on a black jacket and dark beanie, and eased myself out the front door.

I edged towards the front of the property. I could hear another Zombie approaching. The footsteps were fast, but I could hear how the feet were dragging in a sort of shuffle. The zombie's breath was ragged, wheezing. Overcome with panic I dropped to my knees, hiding behind the hedge, and I heard the steps get closer and closer, then a lurching shadow passed and the footsteps receded.

I lost my nerve. I couldn't go out on the street. There were too many of them.

"Think. Think!" I cursed myself. Ken's place was about 5 minutes walk on the street. But I could cut through my back neighbour's, and through the front yards of a few houses, and avoid the street.

If I was quiet, no one would see me.

I ran down the back and climbed the fence. It was a longer drop on the other side than I was expecting, and I wasn't expecting the rose hedge. I smashed through it, tearing clothes and flesh on the thorns, and hit the ground hard.

Directly ahead of me was a large, well-lit room. A man stood close to the window, staring out into the back yard. I stared. Was that...Bob Sheldrake, from the garage? He didn't live here...

As I watched, he turned, obviously answering someone. A woman came into view...not Mrs Sheldrake... and she also looked out the window. She looked for a moment and laughed, and drew on the man's arm, leading him away from the window. I had remained frozen for the whole time, then as he turned I jumped up and ran towards the front of their property, in a roundabout, curved path that kept me close to the edge and in the shadows.

I hit the next fence mid air, and was up and over. Behind me I heard a sliding door slam open, and the man was shouting "Come here, you pervert!".

I sprinted through one, two three yards, hurdling fences as I went. I wasn't quite sure where I was. I squatted down, gasping, next to a small fence. Was Ken's place three more doors down? I needed to see the street to orientate myself. I eased my head out, and looked up and down the street.

Towards me was coming a middle-aged man, maybe 35. He was running, normally, breathing ok but a bit puffed. He wasn't shuffling, or growling, or anything like that.

As he approached I showed myself. And called.

"Psst. Psssst!" I waved him over, towards me.

He veered slightly, towards me, but was still jogging.

"What's going on?" I called.

He gave me an odd look then glanced back over his shoulder. "Sorry mate, can't talk. They're coming. " He jerked his thumb behind him. And they were...a half-dozen shufflers staggered behind him. One of them gave an inarticulate moan. I shuddered.

He stopped jogging, and turned back. He looked at me, for a moment, crouched by the fence, then cupped his hands round his mouth.

"He's here. Hiding," he shouted. Again, a strange, inhuman call came from the crowd approaching.

Open-mouthed, horrified, I stared at him, as he turned without a word and ran off.

I fumbled, stumbled to my feet, and ran after him, my unfit, unhealthy legs complaining as I ran. There was Ken's, and sobbing, I ran up to his front door, pounding on it until he let me in. I collapsed on the floor, rolling out of the way so Ken could lock and double-lock the door behind me.

Shattered, I uncurled from the foetal roll and shakily sat up.

Ken, white-faced, round-eyed, gaped at me while I shuddered and gasped, the panic surging, subsiding, surging.

Before we had spoken, we heard footsteps approach, and a heavy knock on the door.

"Open up. It's the police!"

Ken squinted through the security peep, and then leapt to the door and unlocked it.

The two policemen stepped back when he hurled the door open, one of them moving his hand towards his holster.

The two coppers looked through the wire security door, at wild-eyed Ken and me on the floor, still gulping, torn and shredded from the rose bush.

"What's going on here, gentlemen?" asked the front policeman in a calm, controlled voice.

The words gushed out of Ken's mouth. He couldn't speak properly, he was so agitated, but the police looked at each as he rattled off 'Zombie'..'invasion'...'siege'....

-------------- ---------- -------

We sat on the couch, the two policemen stood over us. We both had a glass of water each. I'd gulped a little bit down, but had spilt most of it. Ken's was untouched.

The police had responded to a peeping-tom callout.

As our story rattled out, they went from sceptical and interrogative to calming. Finally, one of them said, "I think you need to come with us. Five minutes, it will all make sense."

Ken started to bluster. You know what happens in the movies. The cops don't believe there are Zombies, and get overwhelmed on their first encounter. The cops toughened up.

"Sir. You can come with us, and I promise we'll have you back here in five minutes, or we'll arrest you now and take you in for a psychiatric assessment. And you, " he nodded to me, "We'll take you in for your window-peeping."

Numbly we lead the way to the police car parked outside. Ken was making twitchy facial gestures. He jerked his head two times, pointing down the street. The policemen were old hands.

"Sir, I can run you down in about 15 paces. Please just get in the car."

We got in, and they drove us down to the train station car park.

'There! There they are!" Ken leapt forward, pointing between the two policemen at a milling crowd in the car park.

The car stopped. We sat.

"What do you see?" patiently asked the senior policeman.

What was I looking at? A crowd of old men, some women. All wizened and bony, grey wrinkled skin and hairy ears...wearing...athletic singlets and running shorts.

A breeze flapped the banner behind a card table, incongruously set up in the car park. The banner read, "Grey Power: Urban Orienteering".

I gulped. The police turned and looked at me, one arched his eyebrow, and said, "Well?"

"It's a running group," I said. "For old people."

My mind shifted gear, and I tried to process it.

"What about the guy they were chasing?"

"That's the idea. They were trying to run him down. They do it every four weeks. Keeps them fit."

I slumped back in the seat, ashamed, "Sorry," I muttered.

It took a bit longer to explain it to Ken, but he came round in the end, after the police introduced us to the organiser.

And now, every four weeks, Ken and I go for a run, and the old shufflers try and catch us.

Keeps me off the couch.

But I can't look Bob Sheldrake in the eye.


If you liked this short story, try The Jetty Journals: http://www.thejettyjournals.com
or tell someone about it:   Some Days are Z-Days  post about Z-Days



Stuff to read