Wounds deep down in the soul don't heal. Sometimes they fade to a mild twinge and only erupt into full-
blown agony when memories get jangled. Others, well. Others....
Others lay you open and writhing and wishing for an end. Ain't nothing no one can do in this whole world
to heal that kind of misery. You can either lie down and refuse to get up like a dog who's put in the good
fight and can't raise its head no more...
Or you can keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of the other and hoping like hell
you can make it just one more day 'cause folk need you to cope, need you to lead the
way, need you to be the anchor to hold on to.
Starting to get cold, he though with a shiver and picked up the crowbar that did service as fireplace poker,
door bar, zombie smasher and, well, actual crowbar. He'd vowed he'd stick to one log a night, no matter
how cold it got. He had to make the wood last. He opened the wood stove‟s feed door and jabbed at the
embers. Sparks flew up the chimney, and the log split and flames licked up its sides.
Better. Ban held his hands to the warmth before settling on the floor again.
Some folk might say I‘m crazier than a run-over dog, what with writing this to you when
you're likely dead and long gone. Don‘t pay them no never mind. You‘re the best teacher I
ever had, Ms. Carstairs. Lots of them let me talk my way around them and slide by, but not
you. You made me work.
You made me think.
See, when I write to you, I can imagine just for a second that the H7N1 outbreak never happened, bombs
never were dropped and the government never abandoned us to fight or die.
See? You‘re still making me think. And I want you to know I look for you—and Linds–every time I patrol. I
keep hoping. Someday, someday I want to see you again, shake your hand and turn over all these journals
so you can run your red pen through them and tell me I‘m too smart to be writing with such poor grammar.
Sometimes I dream about that day.
Don't know if I'd be relieved to know, finally, what happened, or....
I gotta say, never cottoned much to slogans, but when it comes to folk I know, they
Better dead than zed.
The rest of that night at the Facility is just a haze. I remember lights flashing and sirens wailing and
blood flying and... and that sound. You know that sound. Sort of like splitting wood, only muffled, a little
wet. The sound of the axe. And the Zed. That moaning. It's always slithering through my head.
Sometimes it gets so bad I can't tell the nightmare from the reality.
Sometimes, I think I might could be a little crazy. Just a might.
Probably a lot. After that night.
Anyways, surprised I didn't get myself turned around in all those tunnels, 'specially when the lights went out and the
generators kicked on.
Wasn't till I made my way to the elevator and up a couple floors that I ran into a group of techs holed up in one of them
rooms we'd passed up. Reckon the zombies didn't stick to just the infirmary. One of them told me they'd had all
the...the dead...on slabs in morgues for autopsies when the virus kicked in and they rose.
Part of me wanted to hate them. They may not be the brains behind this disease, but one word from any of them and
this place could have been shut down long ago. Then I saw them with new eyes. They were just folk trying to make
their way through, people with families same as me. Same as my father. I remembered how he‘d been scared his
family would be hurt if he came forward. In the end, reckon people look to themselves and the people they love first.
I told them I‘d help ‗em get out of there, but they was having none of it. One of their friends had got her cheek tore
open by one of the zombies. They was all acting as though she was like to die—crying, carrying on, that sort of thing.
She looked fine to me, a little beat up was all.
So the doctor told me. Told me that folk that get bit by a zombie never recover. That woman was infected now. Soon the
virus would run its course, she‘d be dead for fifteen minutes, half an hour tops, and then she‘d rise. As one of them.
Reckon I‘d be carrying on some, too, if that happened to someone I knew.
They were going to see this through, the doctor said. Alana—that was the injured woman‘s name—Alana was their friend
and co-worker. They weren‘t about to leave her to face this alone. And they weren‘t about to doom her to wander after.
I had to admire them for that. You take care of what‘s yours. That‘s the way the world should be. I would‘ve stuck around
to help them…after…but I had my own friends out there, friends I was worrying about more and more.
See, they didn‘t know what would happen if a zombie bit them. And that‘s why I made my goodbyes and walked away.
I dream about them sometimes.
Zombies were everywhere: in the halls, on the grounds, soldiers running round like idiots shooting at 'em
and each other. Then some fool up in the towers opened up with a machine gun.
That's how Daryl nearly bought it.
I was so busy fighting what was in front of me that I never saw the zed sneaking up
behind me. I'd of been a goner myself if Ida hadn't come up and shot its head clean off.
Somehow we all made it to the fence and clambered over--one of the zombies grabbed Tom by the ankle and like to
pulled his leg clean off trying to nab him, but we all made it out. Dana and Amber zoomed up in Dana's little sports
car. They were pretty hysterical. Best I could tell, one of the soldiers they'd been talking to got et. We all piled in and
hightailed it outa there.
I--we--we tried to make it back home. We did. But by then the military had put up roadblocks, even on the back
roads. I told them to let me out of the car--I'd make it home on my own. Lindsay was waiting. I‘d promised.
Dana yelled, ―Hell, no!‖ and floored it. I wasn‘t ‗bout to jump out of a car going 80.
Next day, all travel to my hometown was blocked off. There was no way I could get back to her.
I promised Lindsay I'd come to get her. That everything would be alright.
I broke my promise.
I let her down. And now---
We never said a word to no one. Why bother? They'd think we were plum crazy. And anyways, the government
would take care of things, right? They'd come in with more soldiers, clean everything up, get rid of the zombies.
And I got to admit none of us felt like becoming scapegoats for the government‘s screw-up. Valuable lesson
So fucking wrong.
“Twenty on SimState to take the whole thing!”
“Are you nuts? Those losers couldn‟t win a game if the ref gave it to them! The Llamas are gonna take it all!”
“Money where your mouth is, Wallie.”
“You are so on!”
We were so incredibly naive. Why the hell should we have expected the leopard to
change its spots?
It wasn't ‗til I overheard the first newscast warning of "Takemizu Rabies" that I realized
the government had played true to form: piss poor job and sweep everything under the
rug. Only this time, it was people's lives getting swept.
~ WBDZ interrupts its regularly scheduled programming to bring you this Special Report. ~
“Aw, man! Couldn‟t they wait until the half?”
“Who wants to make a beer run?”
“Nah. Wait till the half. It may not take long. You
don‟t want to miss any of the game.”
~ WDBZ takes you live to Joel Hutchins and Jennifer Gary for the latest on the Takemizu
Rabies outbreak. ~
“Good afternoon. The situation turned grim today in northern Cox County as the
CDC reported another 1,029 cases of Takemizu Rabies in the past three days
“At 2:05 PM, the Governor declared a State of Emergency. The Army Reserve
and National Guard have been called in to keep the peace and protect citizens
from looters and contain infected citizenry.”
“This latest has some pundits wondering just when—and where—it will all
“Well, Joel, I‟m certain you, for one, fail to see the necessity of protecting our citizens, but let
me tell you, as someone who grew up in Cox County, I‟m deeply concerned for all my family
and friends. These looters are dangerous, and the local constabulary spread too thin to
handle everything on their own.”
“Some politicians have called this newest escalation in government involvement
“Then I say let those politicians move to Cox County and walk a mile in our shoes.
Then tell us we‟re fascist.”
“So, you give credence to the rumors of violence among those
afflicted with this disease?”
“While I am sure some accounts have been blown out of
proportion by unreliable witnesses, we are talking about rabies.
Everyone knows about mad dogs. I think it highly likely that a
rabies victim could behave similarly.”
“Even though no footage has come to light to substantiate these rumors?”
“Even so, Joel. I would much rather listeners took proper
precautions than risk injury of any sort.”
“That is definitely one thing we can agree on, Jennifer.
“H7N1, better known as Takemizu Rabies, is highly contagious. Several deaths due to
complications have already been reported.
The CDC urges everyone to stay indoors. Do not—repeat—do not attempt to treat victims in
your own home. If you or anyone you know encounters a rabies victim and sustains injuries,
report at once to the CDC Emergency Base at Fort Tellerman for treatment.
“Local schools are closed until further notice. All concerts, conventions and sporting
events have been rescheduled. Ticket holders should contact Master Ticket to receive
refunds or new tickets for the even once it has announced a rescheduled date.
“Additionally, a curfew of 9PM has been implemented for all non-essential personnel. Anyone
found outside between the hours of 9PM and 7AM will be brought to Fort Cox for holding and
examination. Violators will be fined $100 and sentenced to 10 days community service.
Police and military have been authorized to shoot looters on sight.
Thank you for listening to WBDZ, your Live at Five news source. Stay tuned after the game for
the latest sports scores from around the nation with Skip Johanson and a look at the local weather
with WBDZ‟s weatherman, Brady Bunker.
Until then, this is Joel Hutchins—”
'Course, no one at our dorm believed a word of what we said. So what if some backward county five
hundred miles away had itself a rabies problem? Leave it to the hicks to get het up over a little flu bug.
Some of them got downright mean when I tried to tell them otherwise.
“Give us a freaking break, Abandon! No one believes that zombie crap. You‟re as bad as those idiot
reporters, making up stories just to get a rise out of people.”
“Excellent reasoning, Wanda. Not like you have any brains for the zombies to eat even
when they do come.”
“Fuck off, Tom.”
“With you? I think not.”
“Hey, you don‟t think there‟s anything to this rabies stuff, do you?” Stella Goodman asked the
Chuck barely looked up from his textbook. “We aren‟t living in a third world country. A few people
might get sick, sure, but no one‟s going to die from it. I hear it‟s not even real rabies. Nothing to
“But, over a thousand cases?”
“No way it will spread here. You can bet they have that place quarantined by now. We‟re good.”
Most everyone thought like Chuck. No one was worried. Sure, some of them might have been
scared they‘d get sick with ―rabies,‖ but no one believed they‘d die.
Much less turn.
They stopped laughing the day the zed broke into Channel WBDZ and tore up the news crew in front of
Looked like ‗Live at Five‘…wasn‘t.
That's when everything changed. Suddenly we had curfews and martial law, internment camps for the
infected and blockades. No one could get home.
By then, people were too scared to laugh.
When they heard about Sigma Alpha Chi House, they panicked.
Half of them were set on just getting the hell out of Dodge. Idiots. They‘d be zombie chow before they
got three steps out the door.
No one knew what to do. The government kept talking 'bout Sim City and Belladonna Cove and all the
places along the coast. No one gave a rat's ass about all of us stuck in the middle like the meat in a
sandwich. Something had to be done.
He‟d told everyone to meet upstairs—even Mr. Ogilvie, the cafeteria worker—to plan, he‟d said. Mama would
have called that a whopper. Ban preferred to think of it as an artificial truth. He had no intention of planning. He
knew what had to be done. All that was left was laying down the law and making sure they did it.
“I‟m seeing them through this,” he told Ida before the meeting. “Every last damned one of them.”
“They‟re not going to like it.”
“Don‟t care. If I gotta hogtie „em and hit them over the head to do it, then so be it.”
“You realize if you let them go, that leaves more food stores for the rest of us?” Tom seemed surprised when the
other two whirled on him. “What? It‟s a crime to be practical?”
“Unbelievable,” muttered Ida.
As predicted, some folk didn‟t cotton to the idea at all.
“Who the hell put you in charge, Abandon? No way in hell any of us will bow down and kiss your ass! I‟m
not staying here! I‟m going home—where it‟s safe!”
“Go on ahead. Leave. Try to get home. You‟ll die. But, hey, no skin off my nose.” Ban took his time making eye contact
with each and every person on the roof.
“These ain‟t people we‟re fighting. They don‟t care none if you chop off an arm or shoot them in the guts. They‟ll keep
coming. They‟ll keep coming and ain‟t nothing gonna stop „em except a direct hit to the brain. Any of you sharpshooters?
Yeah. Thought so.
“People gotta stop, gotta rest. Gotta eat and piss and sleep. These things don‟t do none of that. All they do—all they do—
“I just want to go home! My brother and his family are in Riverblossom. That‟s not too far. If I‟m careful—”
Ban shook his head, but his reply to the scared girl was softer than what he‟d given Josephine. “You think all them folk—
all them dead folk—walking around now and eating people were always that way? Oh, sure, some of „em came from
hospitals, dropped dead from the virus and rose. But most of them were just like you and me—folk that wanted nothing
more in this world than to get home, find their loved ones, hole up and not come out again until the nightmare‟s over.
“They met up with a zombie instead. Listen good. There ain‟t no such thing as one zombie. They come in packs. Even if
you are lucky enough to make your way home, chances are your kinfolk weren‟t so lucky. You owe it to them to see
yourself through this. It‟s what they‟d want, and it might be the last thing you can do for them.”
Somewhere, someone started sobbing. He ignored it.
“So, if you don‟t wanna be on the menu, this is what we‟re gonna do.”
One, anybody wanting to stay at the dorm will submit to a physical
inspection. Anybody with open wounds, bites, scratches can‟t stay.
Two, we barricade the doors and board up every window in this joint. It won‟t
stop „em, but lord willing and the creek don‟t rise, it‟ll slow the bastards down.
Muscles break down after death. Zombies don‟t climb too awful well. We‟re taking out those stairs
and replacing them with ladders.
We can sit nice and cozy up there.
That brings us to number three. We‟re all moving upstairs. We‟ll haul up extra beds and give
everyone as much privacy as we can. I don‟t think anybody will object much seeing as how they‟d
be sleeping with only a few puny boards between them and the zed if they stayed downstairs.
And last. We need to keep our eyes peeled if we‟re gonna make it through this. Classes are canceled, so we
don‟t need to worry about those. I‟ll draw up a schedule. Everyone takes his or her turn on the roof for
“Right now most of y‟all are thinking it‟s impossible. You want to crawl into your hole and hope like hell the
government or God or Superman or Oodles the Wonder Poodle comes to save you. That ain‟t happening.
Only thing that‟s gonna save you, is you.
So, listen up, and listen up good. We can beat them. We can beat them if we stick together and use
something they don‟t have—our smarts. We might not be as strong, as many, as single-minded, but we
sure as hell are more determined. I ain‟t about to be dinner, and I surely ain‟t about to let any of y‟all be
“This ain‟t about me. This ain‟t about you. This is about us and what we need to do to survive. Who‟s in?”
That‘s about all I have for now. Still gotta head up to the roof and clean out the water filters. Then one
more patrol and time to hit the sack. I‘ll try to write more tomorrow, Ms. Carstairs. You take care ‗til then,
Ban stretched till his joints popped. Damn cold seeped into the bones here. He looked at his closed
diary and not for the first time wondered what had possessed him to pick it up again. Ties to the past,
maybe. His smile was wry. More fool he.
Still. Funny how some things were as fresh as if they‟d happened just yesterday.
He smiled a little. There‟d been good with the bad.
“Thought I‟d find you up here, Farm Boy.”
Ban felt the familiar touch and leaned into it. “Ever found yourself thinking so damn
hard that your thoughts stopped spinning in circles and started up their own
demolition derby in your head?”
“Sounds painful…and noisy.” Ida settled next to him like she was there to stay. “Are
they telling you anything good? Your thoughts?”
Ban sucked in a load of air, looked out across the campus and didn‟t say anything for a
long while. Ida waited.
“Noisy. That „bout covers it. Had to escape up here just so‟s I could hear myself think.”
“Amazing how a week ago no one wanted to listen to you. Now everyone‟s your friend and can‟t wipe their
own butt without you telling them they need to do it.”
He snorted. “I‟ll pass that responsibility on to you, thanks.”
“No way. That‟s definitely a job for Fearless Leader.”
He was quiet a long moment before venturing, “…Reckon…reckon Linds is dead or…or one of…one of them.”
“You don‟t need to sugarcoat the facts. We both know the odds are against her.”
Ida shifted closer to him. “Maybe so. But there are some in her favor.” She squeezed his
hand. “You for one. It‟s not like you to give up without a fight.”
The tears her words sparked took Ban by surprise. He shook his head, angry at himself, and
turned away. Ida stopped him by the simple expedient of moving onto his lap and taking hold of
Ban was too stunned to do anything more than lay his hands on her wrists.
“Hey. Hey. Don‟t do that.”
“I told her everything would be alright. It would all be over just as soon as I got there. I let her down. Hell, I lied.
Everything wasn‟t okay. And if I leave to go look for her…. That‟s one more promise broken. I told the folk here I‟d see
them through this. I can‟t break another promise, Ida. I won‟t.” He stopped abruptly and shook his head. No sense
talking „bout things that couldn‟t be fixed.
He‟d never known his father to break his word, not once. Growing up, he‟d always wanted to be like his daddy, a
good man. A strong man. The kind of person folk relied on and came to when life needed fixing.
It took one night to show him the kind of man he wasn‟t. And Linds—
Ida shook him.
Her eyes were so blue, like the good lord himself had taken a slice of sky and
placed them inside her. He couldn‟t look away.
“I can‟t,” he told her wretchedly. “I can‟t do this any more.”
“Look at me. Look at me, Ban.‖ Ida‟s grip tightened, and she ducked her head until she‟d
caught his gaze once more. “You don‟t have to. We‟ll do it. Together.”
Together. What was she—?
Breathing, he reminded himself about the same time his heart began thumping like a freight
train in his chest. Breathing is good. “Ida….”
She punched him lightly on the shoulder. “I always knew you were an idiot, Farm
Boy. This,” she informed him, “is number 586.”
He sank his fingers into the silk of her hair as the world narrowed to just this
“Ida,” he murmured. “Ida.”
He was shaking like a half-broke colt first time under
saddle. She‟d kissed him once before, sure, but that
was in the heat of the moment when they were both
terrified and afraid they wouldn‟t make it out alive.
This was different. And if it wasn‟t different for her,
too, then good as it felt, he didn‟t want it.
Abandon pulled back just a little and searched her
face. Ida‟s pupils were huge, eyes nearly black with
desire. She murmured a protest and reached for him.
His heart couldn‟t stand any more heartache.
“I love you. So fucking much it hurts. Don‟t mess with
me if you don‟t mean it.”
“I can tell I‟m going to be the brains of this outfit,” she teased.
Then her eyes filled with tears and she threw her arms
“You made me leave you. You made me leave and I
thought I‟d lost you and I‟d never get the chance to tell
“I had to keep you safe—”
“Shut the hell up and let me finish.” Ida buried her face
against his neck and pressed kisses along his throat.
“You don‟t get to make that choice, Abandon. Never
again. We do this together or not at all.”
“Lord, this best not mean we‟re gonna throw down every
time I want to wander up to the corner and hang out with
the boys. Some thing‟s a man‟s just gotta do on his own,
She punched him on the shoulder.
“Serves you right for joking at a time like this.”
“You make me giddy as a hound dog running loose in the butcher shop, so don‟t be blaming me when I wag my tail.”
Ida pulled back and gave him A Look. “Don‟t think I don‟t know that you make up half the crap that comes out of your mouth.”
Ban raised his eyebrows and tried to look innocent, but she wasn‟t buying.
“Keep this up and I‟ll need to exact punishment.”
She laughed and kissed him again. “Did I hear mention of throwing down?”
He had to admit, He liked Ida„s definition a helluva lot more than he did his own.
Somehow they made it back to his room without leaving a path of clothing strewn
throughout the dorm.
“You sure „bout this?”
“What happened to that annoyingly confident Farm Boy I know and love?”
“Well, now,” he drawled, “he‟s still here, but he reckons it‟s smart to double-check „fore he exposes any
sensitive bits.” Ban dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose. “You hit pretty hard. For a girl.”
“For a girl, huh?”
He grinned. “Should I be hiding them bits „bout now?”
“I‟d settle for you putting them to a better use.”
He smoothed her bra strap off of her shoulder. “I was hoping you‟d say that.”
She pulled him closer. “Enough talking. Love me, Ban.”
“I do. Always. Forever.”
Any conversation from then on was far from coherent.