By Godfrey Blackwell
The street outside the Avon Police Service Headquarters was eerily quiet. Thick pillars of greasy black smoke billowed upwards in three directions from unseen fires. It looked like half the city was on fire. Car alarms and screams sounded faintly with distance, but the immediate area seemed clear save garbage strewn about and a dozen or so bodies with head wounds. A wrecked car had ploughed into the L.C.B.O. across the street which appeared thoroughly looted.
“Look, guys,” Alex said. “I know you need to get out to Falsaff, Paul. Namest, I know your wife is in Toronto … I’ve got to get to my own family. I’ve left them way too long. I waited because I knew there was no getting through the s-show yesterday, but I’ve got to go. You get to yours”
“We should stick together,” I said.
“And then who has to abandon his family?” Alex asked. “If we stick together we can only go in one direction.”
“We’ll go get your family, then all of us head out to my place. It’s in the country, it’s more secure.”
“There’s already one zombie family out there, man!”
“He already killed it,” Namest said. “Paul’s right, we safer together, bro.”
“Look, you know my place is a good setup, and we have less of a chance of making it anywhere if we split up. Now let’s see if we can’t find a vehicle.”
“All right, man.” Alex sighed.
We found a police S.U.V. around the side of the station. A well-gnawed officer lay sprawled beside it, with an apparently self-inflicted head wound. I fought back my rising gorge and searched the body for keys. I found them, but as I rose, I heard Alex curse and saw a half-dozen shambling shapes approaching us from each direction.
Namest raised his fists and danced forward. “Get car started, bro!”
He punched one of the zombies right in the chin with a devastating blow that sent it hurtling backwards. I decided I never, ever, wanted to be punched by the former Olympian. Alex grabbed the keys from me and jumped in the driver’s seat.
“You’re a better shot than me!”
He cranked the engine and I dropped to a knee, taking aim at the former Avon residents approaching from the other direction. I shivered as I looked into those vacant stares and remembered Mohammed’s iron grip. I told myself to calm down and forced myself to stop shaking. With six quick shots, they were all down. Alex pulled the car around and Namest and I jumped in. The zombies he’d toppled weren’t “dead”, but they were still trying to get up as we tore out of the alleyway.
Out in the suburbs, things weren’t quite as bad. There were no bodies, and though there were a couple people frantically packing their cars, there were others out in their yards expressing confusion and denial. Alex’s wife and baby daughter were shaken but unhurt. Sparing a half hour to back some food and belongings, we had them bundled into the police S.U.V. and were speeding out of town.
I knew our luck had been way too good (since escaping the police station, anyway), and it did not hold long enough to get us out to Falstaff. Near the eastern edge of the Avon, a heavily-laden minivan suddenly caromed out of a side street and slammed into us, sending the S.U.V. skidding sideways and a wheel flying.
The airbag almost knocked me out and I sat dazed in the front passenger seat for several moments trying to figure out what had happened while Alex’s baby girl screamed in the back. I blinked to clear my view and fought the now useless airbag out of the way. I looked back; miraculously, despite a lack of car seat, the baby seemed more scared than hurt. The good old mom arms that we relied on back in the 80s worked, I guess.
I had to kick the door a good ten times to get it open and I spilled out onto the pavement. I was able to get up and reassure myself that I was just banged around but not seriously hurt. I wiped blood from my upper lip and saw that Namest was already over at the van that slammed into us. Its windshield was spider-webbed and the big ex-boxer shook his dead.
“He dead bro. Stupid kurva killed himself and almost us.”
I started limping over. “Anyone else in there?”
As if on cue, a woman started screaming from the passenger seat about her baby. She was nearly incoherent with hysteria as I reached the passenger side while Namest wrestled the driver’s side sliding door open.
“Ok, calm down, ma’am,” I said. “We’ll check her out. Namest?”
“Bozhe moy!” Namest cursed, jumping back.
At the same moment I heard a rasping growling sound coming from the second row of seats in the van and my stomach did a slow somersault. I crossed myself and rushed around the van dreading what I would see. Namest was cradling a bleeding arm, and strapped into the child seat behind the driver’s seat, thrashing around was what had once been a little girl, maybe three years old. Her skin was greenish grey and blood ran down her chin below those same horrifically glazed, dead eyes I’d seen several times now.
“Oh Lord,” I staggered back and put a hand to my mouth. If I had eaten more recently than two days before I probably would have been sick.
The woman in the van had stopped screaming and gotten herself unbuckled. I lunged back towards the van in an attempt to stop her, but as I reached the open sliding door she had the thing that had been her child out of the seat. I couldn’t watch. I grabbed Namest and dragged him back to the wrecked police vehicle.
“Paul, what’s going on over there?”
“You don’t want to know,” I said. “We’ve got to get out of here. Let’s grab everything we can carry, and start hiking. Even if we don’t find another car, we can get to my place by dark if we move.”
Alex looked doubtful, but he took his own toddler into his arms and started loading up. I had a look at Namest’s arm.
“Man, that doesn’t look good,” I said. “She — it … took a chunk out of you.”
A small half-moon about the size of a fortune cookie was missing from his arm and blood dripped down onto the pavement.
“I be okay, bro.”
I splashed peroxide we’d taken from Alex’s house on the wound and bound it. I had a pretty good idea by now that whatever was happening to people, it was some sort of communicable disease. I think we all knew. We grabbed as much stuff as we could; fortunately we’d found a few backpacks when loading up. As we moved past the van, I paused to fire two rounds into it. Then muttering “recquiscat in pace”, moved off.
After a bad spot where we had to outrun a large group of zombies, we decided to travel off-road through the huge fields of soya and corn that surrounded Avon, reasoning that there’d be less chance of encountering anyone or anything. We couldn’t move nearly as fast as I’d hoped, and by five p.m. I knew there was no way we were getting to Falsaff before dark.
Namestnikov put up a brave face and showed great perseverance, but I could tell he was in pain and his condition was deteriorating. He was sweating and staggering an hour after our ordeal with the minivan.
A half hour after that he fell flat on his face and slowly pushed himself up onto his elbows with a confused and scared look on his face. I brushed away his weak attempt to brush me off and checked his wound. It was livid and stank awfully. His whole arm was festering with infection and he was feverish. He put his good hand on my shoulder.
“They got me, bro.”
I reached up and squeezed his hand. Looking around, I saw a farm house about half a kilometre or so to the north. “We’ll find you a place to rest, Namest.”
“You and Alex, you both Catholic, eh?” The huge Ukrainian asked.
“Yeah, yeah we are.”
“I was raised Catholic,” Namest said. “Ukrainian Catholic. Not go to church for years though … I … I don’t think I have long left.”
“Let’s get you to that farm house.”
Alex and I practically carried the huge Ukrainian the 500 meters and were winded and exhausted ourselves by the time we got there. After pounding on the doors and yelling for several minutes, I kicked in the door and we dragged Namest into the living room where we laid him on a couch. Alex’s wife made him as comfortable as she could with pillows and blankets scavenged from elsewhere in the house.
“Alex, you and your family better wait outside” I said nervously.
“You going to be okay, Paul? What if he?”
“Just go. Pray.”
He nodded and stepped outside with his wife and their baby who was now sleeping in her arms. With a long exhale, I knelt next to Namest. His eyes were glassy and his lips parched. He could barely speak but he gestured for me to come closer.
“Maybe you better take care of me now, before …”
“No way, I’m not killing a human man like a dog.” I took his hand. “I’ll stay with you until … until …”
“Until the end. Bro, you think I go to hell?”
“You don’t want to, do you? God never abandoned anyone who didn’t first abandon him.”
“But I did … I wish we had priest here …”
At my job as a history professor at the Avon campus of Conestoga College — which felt like a thousand years ago now — I specialized in Medieval History with an especial focus on the Crusades. I remember reading about crusaders hearing each other’s confessions before battle when there weren’t enough priests around. It had been something I’d meant to ask my own priest about. From my own studies it seemed a theologically dubious practice at best, but on the other hand it could help stir up a true perfect contrition. I suggested it to Namest and he agreed. With his last breath we prayed the Act of Contrition together.
As his ragged breathing came to a stop I backed quickly across the room and brought the C-8 to my shoulder, thumbing off the safety. With my finger on the trigger I watched him, heart pounding, for several long minutes. Sweat trickled down into my eyes and stung them but I kept focused. He never reanimated though.
I don’t know if we’ll ever find out why he didn’t where so many others did. Did he have a certain level of immunity? Is only a certain percentage of the population “reanimated” by the disease? Or is there a supernatural aspect to the physical affliction? The latter is my own theory, but I haven’t found a priest yet to ask … even before the “Zombie Apocalypse” there was only one priest I’d consider valid in all of Ontario, my own pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows. I don’t know whether he survived. I pray he did; but the chapel was a two hour drive from my home in non-apocalyptic times. I’m going to have to wait for the zombies’ numbers to be thinned out by starvation, or decomposition, or whatever, before I attempt that hike. And even then, with the new barbarian hordes, I think I’d want my children older.
We buried Namest in the farmer’s back yard and spent the night in his house. Never did see a sign of the farmer or his family. We hiked all the next day and it was rough going, but we made it. Thank God, Nadejda had holed up good inside the house. Alex and I were able to clean off the zombies we found outside. As I said, Falstaff had maybe a hundred people living in it, and I was immensely pleased to discover — to my surprise — that my neighbour Joe two doors down was a closet prepper with a secret stash of weapons. And the Poulin family down the other street’s oldest son was a sci fi guy who saw what was going down and convinced them to batten down the hatches. So not everyone was dead, or turned, or whatever you might call it. And we had the beginnings of a human enclave.