“So‟s this one,” replied Tom, apparently having decided to join them since he
couldn‟t beat them. “This is bad—really, really bad. We should leave.”
He looked around. “There should be doctors, nurses. Techs. Where is everyone?”
“Oh my god. It‟s a little boy. I think he‟s…I think he‟s dead.” Ida clamped
her hands over her face and stifled a sob. “Why are there kids here?”
“Why are any of them here?” wondered Tom.
“Ban? What do you…Ban?”
Jack‟s lips moved, but if he said anything, Abandon couldn‟t hear it. He bent closer.
“Daddy? It‟s Banny.” His father‟s face swam before him—damn fool fancy lighting—and he blinked rapidly
to clear his vision. “Daddy, you gotta wake up now.” He recollected all those times when his father had
rousted him up early for his morning chores, all those times Ban had longed for just five more minutes,
and what Daddy had always replied.
“Rise and shine, Daddy.” He forced the words past a raw and burning throat. “Time‟s a wastin.‟ We‟re
burning daylight.” With a shaking hand, he stroked his father‟s hair. „Wake up, please wake up. Please?”
Ban jerked upright at those barely audible syllables. “It‟s me, Daddy. Don‟t try to talk. I‟m fixing to get you out of here.”
“S‟alright. Don‟t you worry none. I just gotta find Mama.”
“Dan…ous. Out .
“We will. Where‟s Mama, Daddy? Where‟d they take her? She ain‟t in here.”
“S‟rah. Gone.” Jack Hope moaned low in his chest. “My Sar…ah.”
Abandon looked up. “Those bastards took Mama off someplace,” he translated “Dammit! They gotta
have another lab where they‟re stashing folk. Where‟d she go, Daddy? Where?” But his father swam
in and out of consciousness. If he knew the answer, he wasn‟t saying.
“Maybe they have another lab,” suggested Daryl, “or maybe there are more infirmaries through those
double doors behind you.”
Ban whirled around, mouth agape. He‟d honed in on the patients, not the location, and had
completely missed the other entrance. He lurched to his feet.
Daryl shrugged. “Just doing my part.”
“Oh my god. What‟s that smell?” Daryl clamped a hand over his nose.
Tom stared at the floor, practically chewing his finger off in the process. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap—”
“Is that—?” Ida never finished her sentence. She lost her lunch instead.
“Yeah,” said Ban. “Got it in one. Its—”
Tom looked like all the demons of hell were after him. “We seriously need to get out of here. Now.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Ban snarled. “We ain‟t leaving till I fetch Mama. We can‟t leave her here.”
“Listen, you stupid cracker! Don‟t you get it? They fucked up, fucked up big time. Every second we‟re
here is another second we risk turning into one of them.” He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder
towards the infirmary. “Sorry about your parents and all, but I value my skin a helluva lot more.”
“You saying my folks don‟t matter, Barton?”
“Cause if‟n you are, you‟re right close to having your precious skin devalued. I makin‟
myself clear or are you havin‟ problems deciphering my cracker accent?”
“No, I—uh—quite clear. But you don‟t—”
“Boy, you needing schoolin‟ on when to keep your mouth shut? We ain‟t leaving here till we find Mama. After that, we‟re gonna
find us every single person they got stashed here. We ain‟t leaving nobody behind, no way, no how. Hell, I wouldn‟t even leave
you, and you‟re the sorriest waste of skin I ever did see. You got that, Chief?”
“Ban.” Ida‟s voice flowed over him like cool water on heated skin. “That‟s enough. Tom is what he is. He can‟t help it anymore
than you can change how you are. We‟re all scared right now.”
“No shit,” mumbled Daryl.
Ida said nothing more, just held his gaze, her eyes imploring. Dammit. Abandon sank his fists into Tom‟s hoodie and gave him a
little shove backwards. “Fine. You‟re right. But he best keep his opinions to hisself from now on. I ain‟t usually this reasonable.”
Tom dusted off the front of his shirt, refusing to look at any of them. “Yeah. Whatever. Let‟s hurry things up so we can get out of
this hell hole.”
“Alright. Good.” Ban tried to ignore the pool of blood at his feet. He knew whatever was
beyond this door would be bad. But best he could figure, Mama had to be inside. He had to
He had to know.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Ban slammed the door back and stalked into the room.
And stopped mid-stride. Not another infirmary, a morgue, one with unnaturally…lively…residents.
“Toto,” Daryl squeaked, “I don‟t think we‟re remotely near Kansas anymore.”
“Uuhhhhhhnnnnn.” The…woman?...shuffled into the autopsy table, careering off
in a new direction, and shambled towards their group.
“Out of my way!” Daryl shouted, colliding into Abandon in his attempt to get away
from the creature. “She was eating that guy! If she‟s looking for a family reunion, it‟s
with us as the picnic!
Ida and Tom grabbed Abandon and jerked him back.
“Let me the fuck go!”
“Not on your life! Look at her! That‟s not your mother anymore!” Ida grabbed him by the hair and yanked it hard.
Daryl shoved Ban so hard that he rocked backwards. Ida grabbed the opportunity—and Abandon—by the arms and
hauled him into the hall.
“Goddammit! That‟s my mama in there. I—”
Tom got up into Ban‟s face in a bizarre parody of their argument minutes before. “Are you
retarded? Listen up, dumbfuck. Your mom’s dead. That is a goddamn zombie. All a zed
wants is to feed.
“You lying sack—”
“Your mom makes a habit of dining on lab techs?”
“Shut up! Shut the fuck up! I gotta think, I gotta—” Ban glared at Tom. “You. How come you ain‟t surprised? You knew
about this, didn‟t you?”
Tom stared at him solemnly.
Ida did a double-take. “Wait. What?”
“Fuck! Dammit all to hell! You and me is gonna have words, Barton. You gonna wish these critters ate you, scattered
your bones and ground you into dust before I get through with you.” He slammed his fist into the door jamb, just inches
from Tom‟s head, then turned to Ida.
“Alright. Alright. Let‟s grab Daddy and anybody else as is still standing and get the hell out of Dodge.”
“Y‟all check these other folk,” Ban shouted as they tore into the infirmary. “I‟ll
“Daddy! Shit, shit, shit. Shitfire, shit. What you doing out of bed? Please
be alright, please—”
Abandon skidded to knees, mumbling, “Don‟t let him, don‟t let him—” But deep down
he already knew. Didn‟t need no doctor to explain what that vacant stare meant.
“Why‟d you have to go and get up, Daddy? Why‟d you have to go and do that? You was just fine. I was fixing to get
us out of this mess. Why?”
“Looks dead to me,” Daryl answered. He shook his head sadly at the tableau before him. “Hey, man. I‟m sorry, but
we don‟t have time for this.”
“Get a move on! The world does not revolve around you and your sorry family!” Tom looked like he wanted to hit
something. “You think those zed stopped to smell the flowers? We seriously need to get out of here. Like five
minutes ago. Before he—”
It was too much, too damn much. First Mama, then Daddy. “You always told me to do, Daddy, not sit
on my ass. I tried. I tried so damn hard, but everything I did turned all catawampus and nothing I
tried‟s worked. I can‟t. I don‟t think I can do this no more.”
Body shaking, Ban buried his hands in his face and finally let go.
So he was the only one who failed to see the thing that had been his father slowly lift and turn its
head to stare, mesmerized, at his forehead.
“Watch out!” Ida snatched the IV pole attached to the patient nearest
them and hurdled over the bed in front of her.
“Idiot!” She slammed into Ban, sending him flying, then turned to face the zombie.
“Are you all insane?” Tom demanded. “We aren‟t the freaking Keystone Cops!”
Never turning round, Daryl reached back and floundered a bit till he felt Tom‟s
sleeve. He gave it a tug. “Um….”
Ban slammed into the floor and rolled to his feet.
“The fuck is wrong with you!” He stalked forward, intent on yanking that damned pole out
of Ida‟s hand and—hell, not hitting her over the head with it—but teaching her the error of
her ways, and that was damn sure.
“What‟s wrong with me? What‟s wrong with me?” Ida shook the pole, and the IV tubing
clattered against the metal. “What‟s wrong is that I just saved your worthless, stupid hide
from getting eaten! That‟s what‟s wrong!”
Behind her, what had been Ban‟s father shambled forward.
Tom grabbed his head as though it was like to explode and did a little dance of frustration.
“Oh, god, we‟re all going to die. Can we have this argument elsewhere, please?”
“People, I‟m serious. You might want to turn around here.”
“You really are the most clueless person I ever met.” Now that the dam had broke, Ida was going to get it all out of her
system. “There are things out to eat us. You know there are things out to eat us. But instead of, oh, I don‟t know—trying
to stay alive—you decide now would be a terrific time to crumple up like a silk hanky and have a little breakdown. Well,
I‟ve got news for you, Farm Boy, there‟s a reason why people treat you like you‟re a dumb hick—you keep acting like
one!” She stood there, panting into the stunned silence and shaking away angry tears.
“Um, people? Hello? Anyone listening to me?”
“Save this crap for later! We need to get out of here!” Tom shouted.
“So argue all you want, Abandon. I am not going to let you die on me!”
Ban seized Ida with one hand, hooked the IV pole with the other and yanked for all he was
worth. Ida tumbled to the ground, safe from grasping fingers.
“I got me no intention of dying.” He stepped between Ida and his…his dad…and brandished
the pole like a club. “And I ain‟t gonna let anybody else die neither.”
Daryl bobbed from side to side, his head whipping back and forth in his effort to watch the two
advancing zombies. “Will you people listen to me, dammit? We got another one here!”
Everybody stopped shouting long enough to realize their odds of survival
had diminished by a factor of three.
He didn‟t need to be no rocket scientist to know what he had to do. Ban took a firmer grip on
the IV pole and planted his legs. “All y‟all need to run. This is my fight. Go on, now. Git!”
“No! I‟m not leaving without you!” Ida made no effort to hide her tears.
“‟Member how you said you wasn‟t willing to let me die? Well I ain‟t „bout to let none of you
all get killed either. “ Especially you. “These are my people. They wouldn‟t want to be left
like this. I ain‟t leaving till I do right by them. But I can‟t do that less‟n y‟all are someplace
He ducked his head until Ida was forced to meet his gaze. “I promise,” he told her
solemnly, “not to let nothing happen to me.”
Ida stared at him a moment. “Damn you! You better come back to me, Farm
Boy.” Before he could say another word, she‟d captured him in a surprisingly
strong embrace and kissed him within an inch of his life.
“I‟m holding you to that promise,” she informed a Ban too shocked to speak.
Daryl tugged anxiously on her elbow. “Let‟s get out of here.”
Ida yanked her arm away. “Don‟t touch me. I‟ll go when I‟m good and ready.”
She took one last, long look at Ban, then whirled on her heels.
Ban watched until he was sure all three of them made it past safely.
Then he turned back to the problem at hand.
“Alright you sonsuvbitches, time to nut up or shut up. Bring it if you got it.”
He was blowing hot air. He reckoned his “club” could survive one or two hits before it crumpled like the aluminum it
was made from. After that, after that…well, after that he‟d have to punt some. „Sides, that wasn‟t the point. He
aimed to buy the others some time, and he‟d do whatever needed doing to see things through.
Truth be told, he didn‟t have a snowball‟s chance in hell.
That „s meaning to say he didn‟t have a hope in hell until…. He couldn‟t help it none.
He burst out laughing.
“Reckon this is as big an emergency as I‟m like to face.”
He made a mental note to thank Christy Gundstron for dropping the hint that she had a
thing for pole vaulters.
Reckon that summer he spent getting hisself bruised up in a sorry attempt to
impress her only to have her waltz off with the Varsity football captain was time
well spent. Who‟d a know‟d?
And he had the .313 batting average to prove it. Maybe he‟d get out of this after all.
He just hoped to hell Ida and the others were alright.
“We can‟t do this. We can‟t leave him. We need to go back.”
Tom leaned on his knees and gulped air. “We can‟t. Hope‟s right. Maybe not about
being the responsible, but we need to tell someone what‟s happened. Before it
Daryl nodded. “Dana and Amber are still out there. I‟m not putting my ladies in danger.”
“I know! I know! But we can‟t leave Abandon either. How the hell is he supposed to
fight off all of those things?”
The trio were still arguing when the emergency lights began flashing red and a klaxon high
overhead started to wail.
“I thought you disabled the alarms!” Daryl shouted.
“I did! The zed must have triggered the fail-safes. We need to book it. We only have
a few minutes before lock down!”
“You better hope he gets the hell out of there fast!”
He didn‟t waste no time. Once he‟d punched out the glass, he grabbed that ax, whirled right around and buried it
in the skull of the nearest zombie. It made a sickening but satisfying thunk. He braced his foot against the critter
so‟s he could give the ax a good yank. He like to lost his balance when the ax came flying outta the thing‟s skull,
spattering him with dark blood and gobbets of gore. The zombie fell to the floor.
Maybe in the back of his mind he wondered why the lights had started flashing in time to his heartbeat or why the
world had suddenly got a whole lot noisier, but he had more pressing problems.
Like things fixing to make him breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack all at once.
The follow-through carried him plumb around just as the doors flew open and the zombies from the
morgue poured in.
“Batter….” he met the dead, soulless gaze of the thing that had once been his mama. His heart like
to burst. “…up. Mama, don‟t you know me?”
“Unnnunnnghn.” Ban barely avoided its grasping arms.
“God forgive me.”
And he drove that ax into his mama‟s skull with all his might.
Abandon lost track of how many folk he mowed down after that. He was laughing and sobbing
together, and all the while he kept swinging that ax.
Somewhere‟s in there, he came face to face with his daddy. This time he hesitated only a moment
before splitting its skull with the ax. His daddy—the thing—crumpled into a heap, but Ban swore he
saw the light of relief shine briefly in his daddy‟s eyes before they went dim forever.
Or maybe he just told himself that so‟s he‟d keep from going stark raving mad.
He kept swinging.
Until they stopped coming and he let the ax clatter to the floor.
“I killed them. I killed them!” Mama and Daddy, all these poor, sad souls. He shoulda,
shoulda done something. Fixed it. “All the king‟s horses,” he giggled. “Oh, God. I killed
You certainly did not. None of these abominations were alive to begin with.
Ban felt the booming yet oddly hollow voice all the way to his bones. Just dandy. Now he
was hearing things. He was almost too spooked to look up and see who was talking at him.
Once he had, he wished he hadn‟t. Add seeing things to the crazy list.
Stop that whining. We haven’t much time.
“What—who are you?”
Why am I always assigned the ones who are intellectually challenged? Take your best guess. Hood,
robe, scythe. Death? The Pale Horseman? No? You really are dim.
However, you do have style. You can call me Reaper.
Maybe this was all some nightmare. He‟d wake up soon and pester Ida for a date, maybe invite her home when he
went to visit. He knew Mama was gonna like her and---
This is no dream, Abandon. You see me because you loved two of these husks. That’s all.
Ban struggled to his feet. He‟d heard stories around campus, mostly at the Camelidae League. He thought
they‟d all been blowing too much bubble, but here he had the Reaper himself in the flesh, well, bones.
“If you‟re Death, then you can fix this! Mama and Daddy aren‟t supposed to be here. They—”
That is incorrect. They ‘re on my list between Zombie Apocalypse and Scheduled overtime.
“But you can bring them back!”
No. There exist some rules that even I may not break.
The insolent Experiments conducted here have severed my connection to this plane. Until
that is repaired, I cannot return the souls of any entities, including those of your parents.
He‟d been a right fool to think he could save his folks, back when they was sick and now with Death.
Ban looked skywards and slowly allowed his eyes to fall shut.
Alright. That door was closed. He‟d find a damn window.
You are not the one to release me. That much I know. But your role in what is to come is
crucial. When the dead walk the earth, Abandon, people will require hope.