I tried the engine again, with no better luck than I’d had the first four or five times. I should have been terrified, knowing that this was probably the end, but instead I felt a strange calmness settle over me. I guess it was because I’d already lost my family and friends; everybody really. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of reason to stick around, yet I’d been doing it so far. I was pretty apathetic over the whole live or die thing, though if I had to go, I could think of better ways than having the flesh ripped from my bones by the teeth of the dead.
I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed again that there were no zombies behind me. I guess the bed of the truck was a deterrent since they wanted to be as close to me as possible. The second thing I noticed was that I was parked on an uphill slope. With a zombie or two pushing on the front of the truck . . . I just wondered. I quickly shifted into neutral and took my foot off the brake. Sure enough, with all the pressure the zombies were exerting on the front of the truck, it started to roll backwards, quickly picking up speed. When I felt that I was going fast enough, I popped the clutch and, to my surprise, the truck started. I hit the gas, going backward as fast as I dared before taking a moment to turn the truck around and head home. I rolled down the window and yelled, “Thanks, guys,” though I don’t know why. There was nobody alive nearby to appreciate my warped sense of humor, but maybe it just made me feel more normal to talk to people, even if they were dead.
It wasn’t until I was safely inside the house that I started to shake. Reality hit me hard, and I helped myself to a shot of tequila, knowing that wine wouldn’t be enough. I’d had a few close calls before, but this one was the worst. I guess that was why I didn’t stop at one shot but just kept going and ended up having at least six or seven. I should have known better, but I’d had a terrible day, and I guess I wasn’t thinking straight. Normally I slept in the attic because I could pull the ladder up behind me and get a decent night’s sleep. No matter how well the house was reinforced, I was always on edge, waiting for a window to break or a rotting hand to settle on my shoulder. Tonight, I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly, and after finishing the last shot of tequila, I passed out in my bed, instead.
I don’t think that it was a coincidence that tonight was the night that my defenses were breached. There had to be more to it than that. Maybe it was the fact that while I was drinking those shots of tequila, I had cranked up the music on my computer. The speakers were blasting out Led Zeppelin when I finally fell asleep. Maybe the zombies didn’t like my taste in music. Maybe they knew that music equaled humans which of course equaled food. I’m guessing it was the music, though.
I woke abruptly around midnight, thinking I’d heard dead hands slapping on the window in the lull between songs. I lay in bed, not moving as I waited for the noise to repeat itself. When it didn’t, I assumed I’d just been dreaming.
The room was spinning from the tequila, and I sat up to stop it, but it didn’t help. It took me a minute to get to my feet, but I finally managed to stagger across the room, which wasn’t easy in the dark, especially since I was dizzy. I turned off the music, knowing that having it on so loud was just begging for trouble. I promised myself to be more careful in the future, but at least I’d had the sense to turn the lights off before I’d passed out.
Stumbling to the bathroom, I grabbed my bottle of treated water and drank it greedily, washing away some of the cotton in my mouth. After a moment, I took another drink, but I let it go down a little slower this time. I’d have to refill my water bottle the next day since it was almost empty, but that was part of my daily routine. I had just screwed the lid back on and set the bottle down when I heard the sound at the window again. This time I couldn’t pass it off as a dream. I felt the blood drain from my face as terror began to grip me. If something had managed to get into the yard, I was in trouble. The whole back of my house was practically all glass. I had two sets of French doors in the family room and patio doors in the bedroom that all led to the back yard. There were also two large windows in the family room and two little ones in my bedroom, though they were too small for a person to easily fit through.
I needed to know what I was up against. I wondered how many of them there were and how they’d gotten in. There was no easy way they could have breached the block wall since they don’t climb and I had a hard time believing they’d made it through the front door since it had bars on the outside and I’d reinforced the inside of it as well. It didn’t make sense unless they’d climbed over each other to get over the wall or they’d pushed through the front door by sheer force of numbers.
I slowly made my way to the patio doors in the bedroom. They were the sort that had blinds built inside the two layers of glass. Reaching up, I found the small plastic lever at the top and pushed it to the right so that I could look outside. I didn’t see anything out there. I began to wonder if it had just been the pomegranate tree slapping against the side of the house. That happened sometimes when it was windy. It made more sense than a bunch of zombies breaking through my block wall. Confident that this was the case, I made my way through the dark to one of the two narrow windows on either side of my bed. These windows started about three feet off the ground and were about two feet tall by one foot wide, with wooden blinds. I felt around until I found the two strings that turned the angle of the blinds. I pulled the wrong one, accomplishing nothing. With a sigh, I felt for the other one and pulled it, turning the position of the blinds so that they were perfectly horizontal. There, just a foot away, was half a face looking back at me, with milky white eyes and teeth bared by missing lips. I covered my mouth, stifling a scream as I backed away, hoping that the streetlight outside only allowed me to see him and not the other way around. Apparently, that was not the case because he began beating on the window, moaning loudly. It was less than a minute later that I heard more of them at the back door. I was in trouble.
I stumbled through the dark toward the hall door, slamming my toe into my cedar chest on the way. The last time I did that, the pain had been almost debilitating for a few minutes. This time I barely noticed it. I thought that it must have something to do with the adrenaline that was coursing through my body.
Grabbing the doorknob, I hesitated for a fraction of a second before yanking my hand back as if I’d been burned. I still don’t know why I didn’t turn the handle. Maybe God was watching out for me. Maybe my subconscious realized that if the dead hadn’t breached the wall, the only way they could have gotten into my back yard was through the house. Placing my ear against the crack of the door, I could hear them in the hall. I would have walked right into the arms of the dead, and that moment of hesitation had saved me. My hands were shaking as I reached out to lock the door as quietly as possible, not that it was going to help much. They knew I was in the room, and they would be through in no time. I decided that there was no reason to stay in the dark any longer. I flipped on the light and began to look around. I don’t know what I had hoped to see; some other forgotten door leading to another room that wasn’t already infested with zombies, maybe? No such luck. The only other door led to the bathroom, and if I locked myself in there, I’d die. There was one window, and it was solid glass block. Even if I were able to reinforce the door, the dead would wait me out once I was trapped inside the room.
I glanced at the fireplace, but I knew that it wasn’t an option. It was a gas insert and even if I managed to knock it out, it would put me right outside with the dead. My eyes scanned the room, frantic for a solution. I looked at my Lord of the Rings sword and knife above the fireplace and debated their usefulness. The sword was long, heavy and unwieldy, though I thought that the knife might be a decent weapon. It was a replica of Strider’s knife, and it had a wicked looking curved blade with a long sharp tip. It would be ideal for impaling the dead through their eyes if they didn’t overwhelm me first. I was sure the zombies would also be impressed by the Elvish words engraved in the side. I stared at it for a moment, wondering what the words meant, then I snapped out of my musings, realizing I needed to do something fast. I’m pretty sure my blood-alcohol level was still higher than I would have liked it to be, or maybe I was just in shock, but I was going to die if I didn’t get my head together fast.
I pulled the knife down and stuck the scabbard into the waistband of my jeans as I continued my search for secret exits. My eyes lit on the small vent in the middle of the room, but then they moved on to the bigger one that was in the ceiling right by the hall door. When we had remodeled the bedroom, the vent had been installed to ensure we’d get decent airflow in the room. The nice thing about it was the size, probably two feet by two feet.
I quickly began moving furniture to block the door and give me something to stand on so that I could reach the vent. The dresser was very heavy, and it was not an easy task to move it, but the slapping of numerous dead hands on the windows and doors were enough incentive to get the job done quickly. I knocked some ceramic figurines off of it in the process, but I didn’t care at the moment. The minute the dresser was in position, I hoisted myself up and undid the two little metal tabs that held the cover in place. I sent the filter flying and looked up into some duct work. I wouldn’t fit through it, so it had to go. Doing my best, I banged at it and pushed on it to no avail. My efforts only seemed to get the zombies even more agitated, like they needed any help with that. When I heard glass break, I knew that my time was about up. I glanced back to see that it was one of the little side windows. One of the intruders was trying his best to fit his large body through the small opening. The glass in the patio doors would soon follow and then the floodgates would open, spewing a wave of the dead into the room. I pulled out the knife and started prying at the ductwork with it. I was able to loosen the vent with a little effort, but about this time, I felt the dresser move as the creatures in the hall managed to crack the door frame enough to get the door open a few inches. They could see me now, and they grew more urgent in their efforts to get in, dozens of fingers reaching for me through the crack in the door as their moans increased in volume.
I shoved the vent as hard as possible and it finally moved, leaving just darkness above me. That was exactly what I wanted to see. The ceiling was high, but the dresser was four feet tall, making me tall enough.
I reached up and got my arms inside the square hole just as the zombies managed to move the dresser. For a moment, it teetered, and I was sure I was going to go with it. I used my arms and shoulders to pull most of my upper body through the hole as the dresser crashed to the floor with a loud bang. The undead flooded into the room, falling and crawling over the dresser. I felt cold dead fingers brush my foot as I jerked my legs up and into the hole. Looking down, I wondered if they’d be able to reach the ceiling if they stood on the toppled dresser. Since it was laying on its side, and it was little more than a foot wide, I thought that I was safe, at least for the moment.
I crawled away from the opening, staying toward the center of the room. My husband and I had started to install a floor but had never finished it, which meant that the outer edges of the attic were dangerous. I always had to be careful not to fall through the drywall, and it was even more critical now. I carefully made my way over to check the entrance that was above the hall, which was how I normally got in and out of the attic. I couldn’t remember if I’d left the stairs down or up before getting drunk the previous night. I found them folded up, which was an immense relief since I was sure that the dead could probably manage to climb up stairs. I crawled across the floor in the dark until I found my lantern and I lit it. There was a stack of plywood in the corner, intended for use on the floor. I took one of the pieces and laid it over the gaping hole that led back down to my bedroom. Falling through the hole would probably be a really bad move. Once that was done, I stacked as much heavy junk on it as I could find, just in case. When I was finished, I went over to the mattress and fell onto it. The smell of the dead was strong, even with the plywood covering the hole, but I couldn’t risk making an escape that night. I was still dizzy and barefoot, and I had terrible night vision. I decided I might as well get some sleep and then I could do some planning once it got light out. It was only a matter of moments before I was fast asleep.