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Promontory Point

January 18, 2013

Promontory Point

This is a story about love and zombies. As might be imagined, the two didn’t immediately strike me as at all complementary, but since Lazarus Day, it’s safe to say I’ve learned a few things. The most uncomfortable, most repugnant, most poignant, most powerful lesson: you don’t know the extent of your love for someone until you have to destroy them.

I suppose the first thing you would like to know is how the apocalypse began. This time, at least, there was no singular geographic point of origin, no undead tsunami roaring out of China, India, or America. There was no mutated virus or biological weapon, no supervillain mastermind. There was… I don’t even know what to call it. Some say aliens, some say God(s), while others insist that if there are any scientists left, they’ll surely put to rest all that metaphysical and superstitious nonsense; surely it is explainable by physics.

All I know is that there was… an event. A spectacular and wholly surreal event. One morning in October, not long after the Sun had left the Orient dreaming, the whole world began to shake. This is not hyperbole. The entire Earth vibrated and the sky went hazy and the Sun went out – or was blocked; I don’t have a damn clue. All I can tell you is that something beyond our understanding occurred.

There were no motherships, no chariots of fire, no strange rains or hallucinations. Throughout the duration, all the radios turned to static, the televisions fell gray, and the internet was offline. GPS, cell phones, everything. It was like the satellites didn’t exist anymore. Maybe it had something to do with the magnetic field or whatever. Anyways, besides the blackout, it didn’t seem that anything else actually happened. It was, perhaps, like the whole Earth was shut off from space for seven minutes.

That’s how long it lasted – seven minutes. Then it ended and the world recovered. That isn’t to say we didn’t reel from the trip: there was panic in the streets, and the scientists were baffled, wholly out of their depth; the governments were reticent and the militaries across the world stood on high alert. I should note for posterity that, for once, the world briefly forgot to fight amongst itself. But that was it. After a few days, people returned to work, the stock markets reopened, and the neighborhood of nations began to eye each other warily.

About two weeks later, overnight, there came those inevitable reports. I’m sure that with your understanding of zombies, you can imagine how the first reports came in. Isolated at first, skeptical at the outset, then suddenly extremely serious and from all around the world. Entire towns fell silent, the military moved, the people panicked. From what I could gather before the anchors abandoned their posts, and from what I’ve seen now – it’s worse than a virus, worse than the movies predicted.

The already-dead, the half-rotted shells, callously left behind by their previous occupants – they were the first to rise. It was exactly like the movies – arms bursting from the ground, but it was soon apparent they were possessed of some unknown strength and a drive wholly divorced from the mind. They broke out of coffins, ambled clumsily across the street like drunkards, killed the unwary, and moved on.

They are altogether uninterested in brains and shooting them in the head doesn’t kill them.

Surely, decapitation works, you say to yourself coolly. The truth is more interesting. Beheading them, I’ve found, works in that the zombies cannot directly sense you anymore, and perhaps that is a measure of success, but their bodies still crawl and squirm and move. It’s almost worse that way – walking down a hallway over the seizing dead. The only way to stop their inexorable march is to physically destruct them. You burn them, you crush them, or you run, or you die.

Now, here is the story I want to tell you about all this:

I was in Detroit International when the news broke. I called my wife and asked her if she was watching. She was, but she hadn’t heard of anything local. I told her I’d be home as soon as I could. I was still there, quietly awe-struck with the rest as the flights stopped and the footage followed and martial law was declared. Before morning, it was clear the military was losing. There was no precedent, no contingency, no organization, and the enemy was everywhere. The President came on TV at 6am and told the country they were doing all they could, that we were not alone, and asked us to hole up and wait it out – the last thing the military needed was for people to die needlessly and feed the fires of undeath. After all, every person lost was a conscript for the enemy.

The President still records messages even now – I know this because they are broadcast across the radio waves – but they’ve become increasingly erratic, almost insane. I fear he might be all alone.

Regardless, this tale isn’t about the government. As I said, I began in the Detroit airport. I stayed there as long as possible, praying for a flight home, until the screams echoed up from that psychedelic tunnel that connects the concourses. I fancied myself braver than most, so I edged ahead of the fearful and the women and the children, made my way down the escalators to where the colors overhead melded. Neon red, orange, yellow, green, blue – the whole rainbow put to generic electronic music and, more recently, cries of terror and death.

Again, it was almost absurdly cinematic – the living came first, running down the moving sidewalks and down the center, stumbling and screaming at us to run with them, some shouting for barricades and the police, others simply screaming. I, perhaps in some delusion about being a protagonist, took a few steps in the opposite direction, towards the terror, head cocked like some quizzical puppy. Then came the dead. They moved slower than those they chased, and there were only a couple dozen, at first, but they were coming. And with them came the most eery growl, low and guttural and incessant – a symphony of murmurs to comprise the dead hum.

As you might have guessed, while I work in Detroit, my family is in Chicago. I work in the auto industry. The company doesn’t matter much anymore. My wife and I were both born and raised in Pilsen on the Lower West Side. She never even left – went to IIT and became an architect. Despite growing up nearby and going to the same high school, I only met her the day of graduation. We happened to sit beside each other during the ceremony and our relationship started with a joke about the speaker’s mane of hair. Strawberry lightning, she called it. I remember thinking: what an amazing turn of phrase. Strawberry lightning. I must have let my eyes linger a few moments longer than I intended, because she followed it up with:

“What?” Her tone painted a slight defense across her face. I managed to laugh.

“That’s perfect. Ha, strawberry lightning. That’s exactly what it’s like.”

A half-hour of insufferable time passed. I bounced my knee and glanced over every few minutes. At last, just as the keynote speaker took the stage:

“What are you doing tomorrow?” And so it began.

Long story short, we were married two years later and moved to the city of Elgin, which is basically just a suburb of Chicago. That was a year ago and in that year, our marriage was challenged by the commute. My salary is – was – quite good, even after the Recession, and I loved the job. I flew every Monday morning to Detroit, stayed four and a half days and was home – without fail – for dinner on Friday. It was a late dinner, perhaps more accurately called supper, but I was there.

Nevertheless, the distance cost us. As time passed, we both grew dissatisfied. There was no talk of separation, only talk of changing our way of life. I could quit, or she could quit, and we could move; maybe we could both quit and move somewhere new. Unfortunately, she loved Chicago and I loved my job. There was an impasse, but the truth is, I was thinking about transferring to the Chicago office. I’d even drafted a letter to my boss, but of course, it’s a moot point now.

I could go on at considerable length about Madelyn. I won’t, but I could. I won’t, not due to reservation, but because it would only bring her down. What’s left of her is crystallized in my memories, arguably already decaying and I cannot bear to lose her anymore than I have. When I see her again, I want to know her.

So… just imagine who it is you love – that’s her.

I practically ran all the way from Detroit to Chicago.

This is where the movies you’ve seen know the truth but have taken significant artistic liberties. For instance, at first the heroes fly down the open roads, making their way out of the city, away from certain death and into some sort of hope. Inevitably, they run into traffic jams or highwaymen, are subsequently delayed and things happen. Et cetera. The truth is, the traffic jams come first, then the wide open highway. At least that’s what I imagine it would be like if I were in Nebraska or Idaho or some other fly-over state. Between Detroit and Chicago, there was hardly a quarter mile of open highway in either direction. It was as if each populace thought only to flee to the other.

I called Madelyn as soon as I was out of the airport, stood still shouting questions and assurances through the speaker as the cacophony sounded its arrival around me. Off to my left there was a shrill shriek and the fleeing wave diverted course, some of its constituents rippling back my way.

“I can’t hear a damn thing you’re saying!” I plugged one ear with a finger, squinted as though it might help.

“… Mrs. Crawford… door… Josiah… love you… ” Then she hung up. Josiah was our son; Mrs. Crawford lived down the street and watched him sometimes. She hadn’t even mentioned Simone. I didn’t know what to make of it, and I wasn’t going to get through where I was. The chaos continued and I pushed and shoved my way out of the crowd, back around the side of the building. The noise was somewhat diminished and I called back. No answer. Again. No answer. I cursed to myself, clenched my jaw, paced back and forth rapidly. I had no car, and there was surely no other recourse.

The thought suggested itself almost casually – I could steal a car. I nodded to myself and went back around the corner. There were less people. I sprinted towards the parking lot, looked about wildly for an avenue.

“Does anyone here live in Chicago?!” I realized how stupid a question that was; anyone from Chicago would be exactly in my predicament. But on the cusp came another realization. My car was in Chicago. Lots of these cars had owners in far off places. For just a moment, morality impeded me. Then a distant, blood-curdling cry reached my ears and I blinked. There were people running across the parking lot. I looked behind me, towards the scream. I looked harder – there was a figure stumbling.

I ran towards the cars, started trying driver’s side doors. Locked, locked, locked, locked, locked, locked, locked.

“Dammit, fuck!”

Locked, locked, locked, locked, locked, locked, unlocked! Some small sedan. I opened the door and scrambled around inside. Glove compartment, in the console, everywhere. No keys. The undercarriage? I got out and checked. Nothing.

“Dammit!” I looked around. Big parking lot. I noticed someone pulling out a few rows over. I took off in a full sprint this time, going over and not around the cars in my way.

“Wait! Wait! Stop! Waitwaitwait!” They almost backed into me. I knocked on the trunk – I know they saw me. I could see the driver’s head move like they were looking in the rear-view. Then they gassed the pedal and left me there.

Maybe I should have kept looking, or maybe I should have used what lessons I learned from violent video games and taken the next car I saw. But the reality of my situation hadn’t quite set in. I had seen the zombies, surging towards us through that many-colored tunnel like some rave-born nightmare, but they were mere phantoms, still, not Death.

I started walking towards the roadway when I realized my phone charger was in my checked luggage. My bag had been checked long ago, and all I had in my carry on, left inside, was CLEVERLY RELEVANT BOOK, my iPad, and a couple snacks. I had nothing to bring along besides my phone and my wallet. There was a moment of panic – should I conserve battery now or later? I chose to leave my phone on, and to call Madelyn again. I did, and again there was no answer.

The unknown was tightening itself around me like the Serpent. I could almost feel my throat begin to buckle. It began with a light rap-rap-rap of my fingers against my pocket, the subtle bounce on the balls of my feet. I couldn’t wait. The dead cries, louder now, were like the starting gun.

I took off.

I must have run ten blocks West, following the signs towards the interstate. Towards the end of the first stretch, I stumbled and tripped over a forlorn stroller, sprawling face first into the cement. Shaking it off, I rolled over on my back and blinked several times. There was no time for pain –

A dull growl nearby. I leapt up, whirled around, and there it was. It must have seen or heard me as I ran by the alley from whence it now walked. I stood my ground for a moment. It did not.

“Raaaghh,” it said to me.

“What the fuck… ” I agreed.

I looked around for something to hit it with, but I had nothing. MADELYN. JOSIAH. SIMONE. My heart screamed at me. I turned and ran.

Behind me, “Raaaaghhhh!” The zombie sang its woeful goodbyes.

My journey over the next four or five days was largely bereft of adventure, unless you consider hysteria and delirium adventurous. I saw lots of the living, none of which tried to rob or kill me, and none of which seemed at all self-possessed. I did get shot at once, I think, but I forgive the shooter, for they likely mistook me for a corpse. And rightly so, for I barely slept more than five hours over the whole journey. I only ran, walked, trudged, looted what was left from the groceries and convenience stores, and gulped greedily from streams like some animal. In the brief moments where my mind was not overtaken with thoughts of my wife and children, I felt a queer liberty in my plight.

I also encountered hundreds of the Risen. I’m sure some of your attentions have picked up, eager for tales of fights against the hordes. I assure you – those are coming, but as often as I could I ran or avoided them altogether. After awhile, it almost became something of a game. You see, if they’re after you, enough of them, you have no choice but to run. So when my will was lagging behind the whips of my motivation, I caught their attention and ran until I was out of sight and mind. That was the journey in a nutshell: run, walk, trudge, nap in a car or under a tree. Repeat. Every day, several times, I called Madelyn. She never answered.

At last, mere days into the apocalypse, moving as though I were pretty much dead already, I reached my exit. There were, like in Detroit, cars littering the whole highway, most abandoned. A few were occupied, no different than when they had crashed. It was puzzling, I thought, that they had not Risen. There had been others along the way that had been dead – actually dead. Several, even. But, I thought again, perhaps these things take time. I have since developed my own theories about the whole thing, but those are better left for their own treatment.

Exhausted as I was, I moved slowly, pleading with those voices in my head – MADELYN JOSIAH SIMONE MADELYN JOSIAH SIMONE – to be silent. Of course, they would not. So, instead, I went into the nearest gas station, searched in vain for some water to keep me going.

I wandered back out, breathing deeply, channeling my will for the homestretch. As I set off afresh, I briefly allowed myself some idle thoughts. How did I look? Would Madelyn even recognize me? The nights had been cold and my travel jacket had quickly proved ill-suited for the weather, so I’d taken a North Face out of a car I found in a ditch. I’d found looser pants and running shoes in a Wal-Mart and I knew my face was clothed in a stubble trying desperately to be a beard. She liked that, though. Said I looked rugged. Me, of all people. I didn’t even know who I was, but she did. I had to find her.

I wish I could describe the sheer surreality of my journey, especially those last miles. But, they were as a dream – hazy, temporal, and bizarre. Everything was blurred, colored oddly, but dark in nature, empty in form. All these familiar buildings and parks swept by me as I ran, soaked in sweat through my shirt and cold. Simone’s school, the Starbucks where I got coffee after dropping her off, the post office.

I saw as I passed, a strange flag hoisted atop her school. I almost slowed, wandering what retro-primitivist neo-tribe must have claimed it. The standard was white with a painted blue circle, and vertically aligned like you see in those Japanese paintings. As I passed, I caught a glimpse of a lone figure on the roof, watching silently. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I made a note to remember them when I found Madelyn and the kids.

The Starbucks, to either my surprise or expectation, was rather untouched. No one needs a latte anymore, and if the argument is made that you do, well, make it yourself. I was about to laugh – MADELYN SIMONE JOSIAH MADELYN – I started running again. Another two miles and I collapsed at our street corner, breathing so hard I couldn’t even tell if I was getting oxygen. I soon realized I wasn’t, or something, because my vision tunneled and I passed out.

I was up again after some indeterminate amount of time, no more rested, all the more panicked. Eyes peeling, I snuck down the street, house to house, unwilling to risk attracting any of the Risen. The caution was worth the delay. Barely.

I made it to the back door. My hand hovered in shakes over the handle. I felt my breath come to me in trembles. I exhaled, and turned the handle – locked.

“Fuck.”

I peered in through the bathroom window. Some perverse attachment to materials stayed my hand for a moment before I overwrote that absurdity and threw one of the stones lining the garden plot through the window. I paused a moment, listening over the hum of silence for that guttural growl I’d grown to fear. Nothing. I went inside.

Before I even left the bathroom, I knew Madelyn and the kids were gone, or worse. Otherwise, she’d have done something. She would have picked up the phone. I wanted to punch myself for even pretending it’d be so simple as worrying about how I looked. I noticed a foul stench. I felt the bile rise and I threw up in the toilet, half out of convenience, half out of habit.

I slowly, quietly, moved out of the bathroom, peered down the hallway, whistled softly. Just in case.

“Mad? Josey? Sim? Mad?” I stepped carefully towards the kitchen. I stopped in the doorway. There was blood and what appeared to be mud on the floor. The couch from the living room was in the other doorway, the one leading to the front door. I walked over and glanced around the couch. It was covered in blood. The front door was ajar. I turned around, looked for more clues. There had clearly been a struggle. Madelyn had barricaded the kitchen, then retreated?

I was just about to head towards the bedrooms when I noticed something on the counter. In slow motion, with retching dread, I reached out with a reluctance as if to shake the devil’s hand. I reached out hungrily, with rash hope, counting my chickens.

The note read:

Sam,

Was bitten. Mrs. Crawley.
Only a matter of time. Feel dizzy.

I’m going to do what I have to for the kids.

Forgive me, if you can.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

~ Mad

I swallowed, folded mechanically the note and put it in my pocket. The tears I could feel surging behind my eyes, but they were waiting. They knew. I shook my head, turned absently towards the hallway to the bed and bathrooms. It was the coldest walk of my life. I stepped by the bathroom doorway, headed towards the kids’ room when I noticed the smell again. My heart dropped, maybe even broke. I don’t know because a minute thereafter, I stopped feeling.

I stood for what felt like a long time by the bathtub, hand poised to pull back the curtains. Do it, I told myself. Do it. Just…

I did it.

In the tub lay a blanket the color of a robin’s egg, embroidered with Simone’s name. Beneath it I could make out the shapes of two small bodies. I fell to my knees beside the tub in sobs. I don’t know how long I stayed. After awhile, my exhaustion caught up to me and slowly my cries were laden with dreams.

I dreamt of a picnic by the lake. It was sunny, normal except that the sun itself was black. Madelyn and I sat happily over our spread, exchanging eyes and smiles over tea and scones. Off by the shore line, Simone was holding little Josiah’s hand, wading into the water. Suddenly afraid of some impending danger, I tried to get up and chase after them, but I felt a clawing on my arm. I looked back to where Madelyn sat and recoiled, falling backwards into the sand. Her face, still beautiful, was half-rotten, missing one of those gemstone eyes, her hair tangled like weeds.

“Saaaagghhh,” she droned.

I cried out and tried to tear away, eyes searching for the kids. Faintly, I saw them, up to their necks in the tide, buffeted by the waves and the wind. I called out to them and struggled to get away from Mad’s iron grip, but it was no use. I watched in suspended horror as they disappeared.

There was a moment where everything in the dream was still except the foam.

Suddenly free, I leapt up and away from Madelyn, running mad-doggedly for the ocean. I threw myself at it, screaming for my children, vainly trying to push aside the ebb and flow. They were gone. Numbly, with a strange consciousness, I turned back around. Madelyn was running towards me, dragging one leg, her arms outstretched as if to embrace me.

“I’ll bet you will,” I muttered in my dream, stepping out from the water towards her.

She neared and I raised my sword (suddenly in the dream I held a sword) and neatly split her face in two.

I woke up in a cold sweat lying on the floor of my bathroom. Sitting up slowly, feeling for the first time the effects of dehydration and hunger, I was already wincing when memory returned to me. The dream came first, bearing reality on its back like one of those horsemen from Revelation.

I scrambled to the edge of the tub. There yet they lay – peaceful and unRiseni. Gently, holding myself together by mere threads of will and Providence, I pulled back the blanket. I looked away and breathed away the urge to be sick again. I looked – I forced myself to look – and slowly, delicately, I leaned over and kissed each of them on their forehead.

“Goodnight, my sweet, sweet babies. Simone. Josiah. I love you, I love you both so much. Goodnight.” I started to withdraw, said, “I’m going to find your mother.” I paused, considering the world as it was. “I’ll see you soon. Rest easily. I love you.” I replaced the blanket and got up. For a long time, I stood over them numbly, lost and listing. Off in the near distance, the roar of a car engine coming and going roused me.

I remembered the dream. I knew what I had to do. I remembered her face in the dream, empty and drawing close, feeling for my flesh with her hands.

“I bet you will,” I muttered, voice cracking thickly.

With a newfound sense of purpose, I walked – steadier than I ought to have, considering – to the master bedroom. Before entering, I steeled myself, refusing to let the memories on the other side emotionally compromise me. That was foolish, oh, so foolish. As soon as I entered, her scent swept me and carried my stress away with it. I almost caved, in that moment. Almost gave up. Almost took the pistol in the chest under the bed, almost loaded it, almost shoved it in my mouth, almost squeezed the trigger in some sick desperation to escape. But, I didn’t. Instead, I retrieved the pistol, breathing shallowly the air so I might resist the pressing urge to submit. I changed clothes, glanced around once, pushed the sentiments to the back of my mind, and left the room.

Before I set out, I did something both immensely practical and equally surreal. I turned on the generator, drank several glasses of water, made a cup of coffee, ate five cans of green beans and half a loaf of whole-wheat bread. All organic, of course. Madelyn was like that. Always the best. For a few moments, as the coffee teased my nostrils, I felt almost normal. The truth lurked just behind, of course, like a demon outside a glass door, but it was outside, if only for those precious few moments.

I finished my meal, drank another glass of water, took a couple of the knives and stuck them in my belt, found a pen and pad. First, I wrote a list of places Madelyn might have gone. I put it in my pocket.

Second, I wrote her a note in return:

Mad,

I understand. Nothing to forgive.

Coming to get you.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

~ Sam

I don’t know why I wrote her a note. Maybe for posterity, probably for closure. I thought, idly, perhaps someone will find this and be touched by it and in that moment we will be reborn.

The first place on the list was our old high school, Cristo Rey, where we met. It was a private, Jesuit school, and I am forever thankful for it. How else could someone like me make it out of that kind of life?

In any case, making it there was no small matter, as we lived a ways outside of Chicago (in Elgin, if you recall) and both went to school in Pilsen, which is on the Lower West Side, much closer to the city proper and, under the circumstances, much more dangerous. I took my old bike from the garage, found a backpacker’s backpack and loaded it with water, canned food, flashlights, batteries, a couple makeshift weapons, the rest of Madelyn’s “secret” stash of cigarettes, and so forth. Right before I set out, I looked back at the house, in which I left my dead children, and knew I’d never return.

I whispered again my love for them to the wind and God, and pushed away.

The ride was long – about four hours by bike – and in some ways very soothing. I found my mind had arranged for itself some measure of oblivion; it seemed to accept the world as it was, in all the stark sorrow, all the rampant evil. My mind reason: this was the way of things, and therefore I ought to align myself with it and take things as they came. Or something. My mind was probably just in shock. I know I was. Truth is, my mind aside, I cried more than once, but was cut short when I had to outrace the Risen both on the bike and on foot, holding the bike aloft as I ran.

I encountered a group of survivors walking the highway, and I waved at them as I passed. A couple of them waved back.

“Is it better out that way?” One called to me.

Over my shoulder, “No! How about the Loop?” They didn’t answer, or if they did, I didn’t hear it. But I already knew. It was worse. How could it not be?

I reached Interstate 290 as it began its straight shot into the city, slowed to a stop. I couldn’t stay still for long – the Risen wandered around in droves. Even in my shock, I was appalled at how many there were. Had all hope faded? The voices in my head scoffed at my naivety. Off to my left, there were shuffles and groans; with disdainful reproach, I kicked off and wove through the streets towards Cristo Rey.

Here I’m going to save you the time – it was a dead end. I went into the auditorium, into all our old classrooms. She was nowhere to be seen. I went out front, took out my pistol, fired it into the air. The shot echoed all around and my ears rang. In the coming minutes, firing the pistol periodically, I watched the Risen flock towards me from my perch on the awning, but Madelyn was not among them.

I apologized to her quietly and went to the next place on the list – her studio.

Madelyn was not an architect by nature, but by trade. At heart, and by night, she was a sculptor. While her career was still on the rise, mine was already going strong and for Christmas one year, I rented her a studio, fully outfitted, in which she could work on what truly moved her. Marrying the likes of Mad was a tragic blessing, I was fond of thinking, for with all her depth, she couldn’t help but speak best through her sculptures. She was never at home socializing, even with those who also professed to artistry, though to her credit, most of them were in actuality artists by profession rather than nature. They went through the motions, and their work was often admirable for what it was, but it was always hollow. Even with me, she spoke most openly when I visited her as she worked

Her studio was on the sixth floor of an old building on the Northside, about half an hour’s ride on the El. Not much more on the bike, especially in this sort of traffic, and I made good time – and had to, as the Risen were a flood to the streets. I wasn’t quick enough, though, and nicked the edge of a bus, sending myself head over heels over handlebars onto the hard concrete. I had immediate déjà vu, as the dead’s grim hymns listed from all around, my head pounding in tandem with my heart.

As I struggled to rise, one set upon me. Like a wildebeast, I writhed and thrashed, bucking by instinct until the thing was thrown. They were all around me, suddenly, but I attacked them first, throwing punches, sweeping legs, and ducking through the mass of ghouls. As I broke from their ranks, one clutched fiercely to my jacket, and I had to wrest my way out. Just then, high above, the forgotten weather sounded off in thunder.

I ran the rest of the way to the studio, shut the door against the Risen, and bounded up the stairs. I turned the corner on one landing and ran straight into one of the bastards. The funniest thing happened. We both reeled, and I blinked, and he – it – blinked. For the moment, that eternal moment, we regarded each other dazily. I had the sense that this whole ordeal was some strange joke of God’s, or maybe a dream brought about by bad Mexican food. Then the zombie seemed to remember what it was:

“Raaaaaghhh!” it cried and lunged. I sidestepped, spun it neatly around the corner, and kicked it down the stairs. I continued on, up and up again until I reached the sixth floor.

“602…. 608…. 612… 614.” I stopped. The door was ajar. I peered in through the opening. The lights were off. There was no movement. I gently let the door creak open. No movement. I stepped inside.

“Madelyn? Mad?” I whispered. There was no response. I felt my heart drop again. The other places on the list were just filler. This was what I had banked on. If not here, then where? Could I have missed her in the house? What if she’d only gone to the neighbor’s or simply not made it? Was I a fool to trust my intuition? I walked to the window, looked out at the brewing storm and the buildings. I put a hand to the glass, almost pleadingly. “Mad, where are you?”

Subtly, as though the suggestion had to warm and simmer before boiling over, but quickly, as though rocketing through my atmosphere, came the answer. In my heart of hearts, despite my doubts, I knew where I would find her. I ran down the stairs and leapt clear over the hapless undead I’d knocked down earlier. I even shouted an apology to him over my shoulder.

Promontory Point Park. That’s where she would have gone. Whether or not she’d still be there, I didn’t know. But that deep-seated surety inside promised me I was doing the right thing. It’s where I would have gone. It had been our favorite place in the early days, and where we usually ended up on our anniversaries. I can’t believe I didn’t put it on the list. Point Park was – is – a small peninsula on the South Side, on coast of Lake Michigan. There’s a building often used for weddings and business events, the Field House, and the latticed edges overlooking the water offer a beautiful view of the Loop.

I rolled to a stop a couple blocks away and ditched my bike, taking only my gun and knives, running a long route around to lose the trailing Risen that were shuffling in tandem behind me. I rounded the last corner and approached the Point in a low crouch, trying to be as careful as possible. Night was falling, the moon was clothed in cloud, and my progress was slow. This was no time to attract undue attention. Overhead, lightning split the sky in seams and illuminated the field house, and some dark figures. I swallowed. MADELYN.

I reached the road, habitually looked for oncoming traffic, forced a grim smile, and bounced a moment before running fast and low across towards a tree.

‘Raaaaaaggghhhhh!”

I looked around wildly. Where was it?!

“Raaaagghhh!” I spun as it came from behind – how’d I miss it? Curses, Madelyn! Only one thing for it now:

I yanked a knife from my belt, ripping the loop, and slashed the thing across its face. It staggered, then swung its head back, almost as if it were turning to me its other cheek. With a look born of consummate repulse and bewilderment, I stabbed the abomination in the neck, then the face, again and again and again. I tackled it to the ground, slammed my kitchen knife through its skull until it felt more like a puddle than bone. Still its hands gripped me.

Splattered and horrified, I tried to wrench out of its grip but it wouldn’t let go. I managed to hold a foot against its chest and pushed as hard as I could. With a sound born of Hell, it scream at me through mutilated vocal chords, misting me with blood. Afraid of infection, I lost all semblance of control. As I had when attacked before, I resorted to the mindless bucking and thrashing of prey in death throes.

It worked, and I managed to crawl like a beaten dog away from the monster. I paused only a moment before that spitting hiss reached my ears again. With a half-sob sigh, I got to my feet and ran all the way to the Field House. The Risen were all around, slowly becoming aware of me, and the door was locked.

“Fuck.” I whirled around in the manner I was growing accustomed to. I spotted the window. “Fuck it.” I pulled out my revolver, pointed it, winced away, and fired. The shot rang out loudly, surely attracting all the bad things, but I didn’t stay to check.

Inside the field house, there were the sounds of movement. Shuffling movement. I gritted my teeth. At least the door to the room I was in was closed. I checked my pockets and realized I forgot my flashlight.

“Jesus, Sam.”

I sighed heavily, holstered my gun, drew my other knife, tip-toed to the door and pressed an ear to it. Shuffle-shuffle-shuffle. I closed my eyes so they’d adjust to the low light. She might have locked herself in here. Might one of those be Madelyn? And if so, how to do it? A clean shot wouldn’t cut it. Hell, if the one outside was any indication, it’d only make things worse. I thought I faintly heard its throaty hiss. Shivering to myself, I gently opened the door, pretending faintly it was a game of hide and seek.

‘Raaaaghhh?” The zombie’s tone was almost quizzical.

“Fuck me!” I swung open the door as violently as possible. It connected thickly and I heard the thing go down. My eyes somewhat adjusted, I could make out a couple other shapes down the hall. I ducked around the door, seized the fallen one, and peered at it. Male. I glanced down. Fat male. I dropped it, turned and went to meet the others.

I ducked into the first, kicking its leg out from under it. As it fell past me, I Spartan-kicked the other to its back. Though that happened in a strange combination of slow motion and fast-forward, time renormalized and I glanced at the one on its back – male. I turned to the other, lying on its face. Long hair. My heart thumped loudly, almost screaming MADELYN MADELYN MADELYN – with equal parts speed and trepidation, I turned her over. Male. Damn hippie male. I spat on it, kicked it back down, swung around and did the same for the other, glanced towards the one I hit with the door, still getting back up.

I proceeded to run throughout the whole building, which was small and therefore did not take long to accomplish. No Madelyn.

“Dear God, please,” I prayed. Behind, the Risen clambered over each other to grab me. I turned coldly and emptied a round into each of them. Two fell, one didn’t. My revolver clicked as I fired again. I backed away and went out the window by the front door. For an indeterminate time, I wandered around Point Park and the surrounding area, sneaking up on the Risen that loitered in search of my wife, but to no avail.

At last, I walked towards the water and stood there a few moments, staring out at the lake and the sky and the cloud-veiled moon. Lightning flashed again and something caught my eye. Puzzled, I turned to regard the tree I stood next to. There was a person against it. I stepped closer and my eyes went wide. The person, tied by the wrists to a rope that hung loosely around the upper trunk, hung just inches above the ground, arms raised as though subjected to some form of crucifixion. The person, a woman, was wearing my Madelyn’s favorite dress.

I dropped my empty revolver, absently drew my knife, and walked over to her. She moved. Her head turned to me, her eyes searching. I started to talk –

“Saaaaaaggghhhh…. ” said my wife. There was something, I thought, about the sound.

Tenderly, with fear and trembling, I reached out as if I were to embrace her. She gnashed her teeth and struggled defiantly against her bindings. I withdrew, my heart settling into a sort of resignation. For some reason, unlike with Simone and Josiah, I didn’t cry. I teared up, and I smiled, but I didn’t weep. She’d known I would come. Why else would she have strung herself up, here of all places? Oh, beautiful, mad genius Madelyn.

“I’ll be back, love,” I told her. And I was, about two hours later, with gasoline, a rag, and a lighter.

I stood before her, in the dark of night, reciting those vows I’d taken so long ago. I prayed with her, I told her how much I loved her, how much I admired her strength. I told her that her sculptures had survived the apocalypse, at least so far, and that I’d tucked in the kids for her. I thank her for her note and for her faith in me.

“Madelyn,” I said, “Madelyn, I loved you since we met and you made that joke about Principal Abasi.” I laughed to myself. “Strawberry lightning! Ah, Mad, I was never creative like that.” I beamed at her as she fought to get at me.

“Saaaaghhhh!” she said.

“I love you, too,” I said.

I picked up the gasoline, carefully poured it all over her. With the smell and the sight came memories of a story about a lynching I’d heard when I was a child. In Waco, they’d taken a black man accused of murder, dragged him through the streets, beaten and stabbed, cut off his genitals and his fingers, doused him in oil, hung him from a tree by a chain, raised and lowered him over and over into the fire below. They said he had tried to climb the chain, even in his semiconscious state, trying to escape the flames, but couldn’t because he had no fingers. Now, here stood I, a black man, about to burn his wife even as she writhed. I turned away. After all this time, I didn’t know if I could do it. She was dead, right? She couldn’t feel anything. Could she?

“Saaggghhh…” I turned around to regard her. She jerked, her head cocking like a bird of prey. I could smell the gas on the air. It was now or never. I looked down at my lighter, up at her.

“Goodbye, Mad. I’ll seen you soon. I love you.” I took the rag, dipped it, lit it, and threw it at my wife. Her screams sounded like orgasms in some terrible way. It was as if the demon in her was being exorcised and loved every moment of it, as though it were finally being welcomed into the kingdom. It didn’t last long, and soon what had been my Risen wife was a pile of black and bone. I poured more gasoline over her and finished the job.

Her fire kept me warm as the sun began to rise.

Then, my cross at last lifted, I realized that there was no one left to do the same for me. I looked out at the chopping waves of Lake Michigan, up at the gray cloud sky. As those soft rains began to fall, I realized the world was no longer for the living. The Risen were the saved, having triumphed over death. This was the Rapture; dying is the swiftest road to awe.

I suppose to some of you this will be anti-climatic – perhaps you would have preferred me, in delirium, have tried to kiss her, thereby allowing her to literally eat my face, or perhaps you’d have had me break down, screaming at God and Heaven, waiting until the last moment before she set upon me to fire. If I fired. Perhaps you would have liked to see me cut her down and free her to roam as one of God’s chosen people. No, I could not have done that. She went to great lengths to contain her evil.

I turned to Madelyn, comprised of ash and piled high, blowing away in the wind, and I loved her, my heart swollen full of pride that she had been among the chosen. I briefly wondered which I was. Would I rise as she had? She had always been the better one. Still, something like her ghost whispered in my mind that I, too, was to be saved. Of course, I am, like yourself, only human, and I was full of doubt. I did not realize at the time that everyone is saved eventually, just as everyone will someday join those Risen – it is only a matter of time.

Slowly, with a level gaze, I faced the city. Distant blurs shambled. This was some queer form of freedom, I thought. I breathed the wafting stench with relish, retrieved my knife, holstered my revolver, and started walking, waiting to die but willing to live.

Maybe, I thought, those folks at the school were still kicking.

iOnly rarely have I seen Risen under the age of fourteen or so. For reasons unclear, children were largely spared; perhaps they were always saved. I wonder, from time to time, if Madelyn would have made a different decision if she had known that.

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From → Short Stories

One Comment
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