Emotional Outbreak: Joy

by Brandon

The first story in our Emotional Outbreak zombie short story marathon is from Kristi Richardson. The emotion she chose was joy (if you haven’t read up on the marathon’s theme, you can read it here). I personally loved this story. Big thanks to Kristi for sharing her talent with us.

Now that the introduction is done, I present to you…

By Kristi Richardson

I knew he was mine the moment I saw him. Golden, bright and shining, even under the dirt. There was no question. I didn’t pause, I didn’t circle the block and return, I didn’t give Fate a chance to change her mind and take him away from me by some random walking accidental death….I took him. I grabbed him fast; I told him to hang on, and I ran.

He’s grown since then. No longer a golden boy, but a young man, coming into his teens I would guess. He’s been with me for seven years. Seven years of wonder, seven years of salvation. Now, don’t get me wrong. There have been times that we’ve struggled; times that I thought we would be trapped, or too tired to run, or just too stupid; there were times I was probably a shaky breath away from a lazy mistake that would get him killed…or worse, get me killed, and leave him to fend for himself, hopeless and alone, until the inevitable happened.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? The inevitable didn’t happen. Instead, he grew. I grew a little older, but somehow lighter, now that I have my heart back. Now that I have a reason to wake up, a reason to move, a reason to fight a little harder. Seeing him playing in a creek, probably around 5 years old, after that first midnight run, watching the dirt and blood wash off in rivulets, and then just seeing him, blond hair darkened by water to brown, but those eyes of his, golden and shining in the morning sun, his clean skin bronze and bright. My heart nearly burst, and I knew the world wasn’t over yet.

We’ve mostly been on our own. We always look out for a small camp, but you have to be careful who you approach these days. Some people band together to protect each other from the Zs, but some band together to smite the hell out of anyone who comes walking, dead or not. So we are very, very careful. I always watch a group a long time, several days at least, before I make our presence known. I especially watch the women and children. If they seem scared, or beaten down, we take off.

The last place we sheltered was one of the best. A small group of five. They had taken up in an old horse ranch, which worked well because of the fences and good sight lines from the house and barn. Everyone pulled their own weight and were true individuals functioning in a group, not a bunch of weird cultists or abused, scared followers like we’ve seen way too much of. No, this group was good. I almost thought we’d found our home. Almost.

The thing that always happens happened around dusk. I was out gathering eggs in an old oatmeal container. I enjoyed the soft clucking, the smell of the dusty feathers, the sharp scent of their droppings.  Freddie was in the house, helping Remi cook supper.

This was the group’s second year, so crops had been planted and harvested. We were planning to have potatoes, beans, and new onions and lettuce. I was thinking about how sharp the onions would taste, how I missed that flavor, when I heard it. Just the smallest, slightest hint of a groan.

In earlier times, I would have thought it was the wind, soughing through the loose, weather-grayed boards of the old slanty chicken coop. But not now. No one alive now, these eight years later, mistakes that sound for anything but what it is: death come walking.

I threw down the container and ran for the house, stupidly blind to what was around me. All I could think of was getting to him, getting out. I was nearly tagged because of it. One Z had already made her staggery way around the chicken coop and was nearly on me before I cleared the yard. She was old, cracked, wheezy with dried-out holes in her chest. Her outstretched fingers brushed my back, and I sprinted faster for the house.

When I reached it, he wasn’t there. I had a moment of loud screaming silence, gibbering fear running through my head, deafening me, and then I realized they must have gone upstairs for better sight lines. I slammed the door and ran up the steps, grabbing my rifle as I rounded the second floor staircase and took my position at the front window. Freddie was to my right, down the hall in the little girl’s room. There was no little girl anymore; there hadn’t been when we arrived, but the room was still pink and ruffly. We all liked it that way.

“Ma?” he called.

“I’m alright,” I said back to him. “Is everyone here?”

“No. Jane and Nathan were down at the creek with the wash. They should have been back by now.”

“They should be fine,” I told him. No one was better with a gun than Jane; we all knew it.

I looked out the window again, and counted eleven this time. It was a strange thing, the way the Zs swarmed. We had seen it time and again, a random sort of convergence, and I still don’t know what causes it. All I know is, once it starts, you have to be the rock in the stream, and hope the tide flows around you, or run. Or I guess die. That’s always an option too.

We started shooting when they reached the old pig pen. No pigs anymore; they had been eaten by the living or the dead long before this group arrived. The Zs fell over the low fence, stumbled up and around, dusty like the old Peanuts cartoon, and I had a moment where I thought it might be ok. The damn things were so stupid, of course we would beat them. I heard Freddie laugh as he popped off three shots, pop, pop, pop, each bullet finding its home deep in a Z’s brainpan.

We took out about forty-five before we called it. We could all see more coming from the north, beyond the old horse pasture, and it was nearly full dark. No sign of Jane and Nathan; we just hoped they had gotten out when the Zs first started in. Remi didn’t answer when I told him it was over, that we had to leave, that the tide wasn’t breaking. I gave up and went to the other windows, where Beth and Donna were keeping watch on the south side. Nothing in our direct sight line; Beth and Donna had popped any that made it around the house.

I was afraid that the swarm was a big one, that they were making their way past the house further out, beyond our view, and that they would eventually close around it again, just like that water in the stream, around the rock. Parting and then coming together again. The trickle was gaining strength, becoming a creek. It was time to go.

Donna and Beth didn’t answer me when I told them we had to go. This group was tight. Freddie and I had only been there a couple months, but they had been there for two years. They were family. They weren’t going to leave, not without Jane and Nathan.

So I went to the girl’s room. Freddie was lying prone on the unicorn-patterned bedspread, rifle out in front of him, sighting through the window, pop, pop, pop. He looked up. I didn’t say anything. He slung the rifle across his shoulder, and we left.

I don’t know what happened to them. We’ve talked about going back, and maybe we will one day, but right now, we’re afraid. I like to think that they’re ok; that Remi is still doing his whittling on the porch in the mornings, that Jane is oiling the guns, that Nathan is combing burrs out of the mane of the last surviving horse, that Donna and Beth are still strong, holding together with a love fiercer than any I’ve seen but for mine and Freddie’s. Donna and Beth were lucky. They were one of the very few couples I’ve met that survived the rising. I just hope they survived the tide.

Freddie and I got out, though. And in the end, that’s what matters. Tomorrow we’re headed farther south, and he’s getting ready, packing our gear, plotting our course on the old battered map, and he looks at me, those strange, beautiful golden eyes glowing, and I know it’s ok. He’s alive. So I am, too.

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