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Authors: Bryan Smith

Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic, #Zombies, #Science Fiction

Slowly We Rot

BOOK: Slowly We Rot
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Bryan Smith




First Digital Edition

Copyright 2015 by Bryan Smith

All Rights Reserved


Cover design copyright 2015 by
Zach McCain


All rights reserved.   No part of
this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means
without the permission of the author.  All the characters in this book are
fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is

























This one is for Lashon Miller.


















































































The dead thing came up the slope
so slowly it hardly seemed to be moving at all.  Each shuffling, shaky step it
took brought it only a few inches closer to the cabin.  The thing’s withered, nude
body was rotted almost to the bone in many places.  A frailty Noah had once
associated with the very aged and infirm was evident in its every movement,
though what the thing’s true age had been at the time of its long ago death was
impossible to determine.  In life, the zombie had almost certainly been a man. 
This was obvious despite the missing genitals, which had probably been torn
away by an animal or another of the dead things.  Despite its decrepit condition,
the walking corpse was tall and possessed a large frame.  This had been an
individual of some considerable size and strength once upon a time.  But not
anymore.  Now the thing looked weak enough to be knocked over by a strong gust
of wind.

          Noah sat on the top
step of the cabin’s porch and chewed absently on a piece of jerky, savoring its
salty taste as his gaze shifted away from the zombie to take in the vista of
the valley below and the range of other mountains on the opposite side of the
river tributary where he did his fishing.  Winter had passed, but the tips of
some of the highest peaks were still snowcapped.

          Noah’s cabin was at a
low enough elevation that the last of the snow had melted away weeks ago.  The
temperature, however, was still at a chilly enough level at night to warrant
getting a fire going.  That would remain the case another week or two, he
guessed.  But right now it was the middle of the afternoon and warm enough to
comfortably sit outside in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans.  Until now, it had
been a nice day.  But now the vague good feeling he’d awakened to this morning
was tinged with some of the darkness that normally colored his thoughts and
emotions.  Enjoying anything on any level had become such a rare thing, and now
he felt bitterness at having allowed himself to trust that good mood.

          His attention shifted
back to the zombie, which had managed to trudge a few more feet farther up the
slope.  Noah took another bite of jerky and slowly chewed it as he observed the
creature’s lurching progress.  As it drew inexorably closer, he could hear the
creak of its brittle bones.  He put the odds of it actually making it up the
rest of the slope to the cabin somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty-fifty.  One
of its tibia or femur bones might well snap the next time it took one of those
halting steps forward, sending it tumbling back down the slope, never to rise
again.  But it would crawl.  Of course it would.  That was the thing about the
dead things.  They were slaves to relentless instinct.  As long as the spark of
pseudo-life animating it continued to burn, it would keep on coming.

          Noah felt sorry for it. 
You couldn’t blame a zombie for being a zombie any more than you could blame a
shark for being a shark.  It was what it was, and the drive propelling it
forward would never allow it to rest.  He wondered how long the creature had
wandered about in the wild in futile search of warm human flesh to consume.  A
very long time, from the looks of things.  The man it had once been had been
dead at least a year, maybe twice that long.  The bits of leathery flesh still
clinging to its bones were among the most rotted he had ever seen, though that
wasn’t saying much.

          Thanks to his father’s
preparations, Noah and his family had been safely stashed away up here in the
mountains when the rest of the world came tumbling down.  They had been spared
exposure to the worst of the chaos, though they were not spared devastating
loss.  Their mother succumbed to the virus not long after their arrival at the
cabin.  Until then, no one had known she’d been infected.  She had hidden it
from them.  Noah couldn’t blame her.  In the early days of the plague, there
had still been some confusion regarding whether the condition of apparent death
followed by reanimation was something that could be reversed.

          It wasn’t.

          Almost six years had
passed, but the memory of what his mother became moments after that last spark
of life faded from her eyes still haunted Noah’s dreams.  He’d held her hand
and tried to talk to her when she reanimated.  He had still been trying when
she lunged for his throat.  If his father had hesitated even an instant, Noah’s
life would have ended that day, too.  The loud bang of the gun and the image of
the top of his mother’s head blowing apart as the bullet penetrated her skull
were among the many other things that tormented him in his sleep.

          The zombie kept coming
closer.  By the time it reached the top of the slope, Noah had finished the
piece of jerky.  He wiped his mouth with the back of a hand and got to his
feet, frowning as he stared at the advancing creature.  Now that it was on
level ground, it was moving faster.  He had been hoping it would take that
tumble down the slope, but at this point he had no choice but to deal with it.

          He went into the cabin,
leaving the door open behind him.  The cabin was small, with a kitchenette, two
cramped bedrooms, a cellar, and an outer room that comprised the bulk of the
place.  He crossed through the outer room to the kitchenette, where he paused
at a table to pick up the canteen he’d left there this morning.  He took a long
swallow of warm water, sighed, and screwed the cap back.  Then he went back

          The zombie was halfway
across the clearing by then.  Its eyes were dead in their sockets, as rotted as
the rest of the thing’s body, but they nonetheless somehow seemed to track Noah
as he stepped off the porch and went around to the side of the cabin.

          An axe was embedded in
the old tree stump he used for chopping wood.  Noah planted a booted foot
against the edge of the stump, gripped the handle, and worked the blade free. 
Propping the handle on his shoulder, he returned to the clearing and saw that
the zombie had nearly reached the cabin.

          Heaving another sigh,
Noah lifted the axe off his shoulder and approached the zombie, getting himself
into position to take a swing.  The creature turned toward him and bared its
blackened teeth, a low wheeze of rancid breath escaping its mouth.  This was
one of the countless things about the creatures that puzzled Noah.  Their
hearts weren’t beating, but their lungs continued to draw in and expel breath. 
As he had so many times over the years, he wondered if some scientist hidden
away in a secure lab somewhere had ever unlocked any of the virus’s many mysteries. 
He supposed it was possible.  Not that it mattered anymore.  The world was
dead.  There wasn’t anyone left to benefit from the knowledge.

          The zombie was less
than a half dozen feet away.

          Noah tightened his grip
on the axe handle and swung it as hard as he could.  The blade chopped into the
creature’s rotten skull, killing it instantly.

          It was the first zombie
he had seen in at least a year.

          And the first one he’d
killed in almost twice that time.



























Noah returned the axe to the tree
stump, burying the blade deep in the wood.  He needed to get rid of the body. 
Unlike in the early days, there was no rush.  Back then the appearance of one
zombie often meant another might not be far behind it, and being extra vigilant
for a period of time was always advisable.  But there were far fewer people in
the world these days, either dead or alive, and the odds of another walking
dead man showing up any time soon were remote.

          So, instead of
immediately disposing of the corpse, he went back into the cabin and sat for a
few moments at the little table in the kitchenette.  He had a few more long
drinks from the canteen and chewed on another piece of jerky as he stared
through the open front door and thought about times gone by.

          Disposing of the dead
things was something Noah had done often during that first post-outbreak year. 
Quite a few other people, forward-thinking ones like his dad, had also
retreated to remote properties in the Smokies.   Many of them, however, had
arrived at their mountain hideaways already infected.  They all eventually
succumbed to the virus, of course, and a lot of them reanimated and set off in
search of food.  Inevitably, a percentage of them wound up wandering onto his
father’s property.  A few Noah had even known when they were alive.  These were
acquaintances of his father, fellow businessmen who also owned property in the

          His dad had dispatched
them with little discernible emotion, going about the task in a way that marked
it as just another job that had to be done, unpleasant but necessary.  When
Noah looked back on those days, he always wondered how much of that had been an
act.  Had his father really felt nothing at all when shooting or dismembering
the bodies of his former associates?  These were men he’d broken bread with and
drank with before the world died.  He must have felt something.  His father had
not been an emotionless robot.  He was a warm and caring family man.

          But he’d also been a
man who didn’t shrink away from the hard things in life.  Noah suspected he’d hidden
his true feelings about a lot of things.  He’d done this to toughen up his
children, particularly Noah, who, being a young man, needed preparing for a
return to the hunter-gatherer ways of their ancestors.

          In that regard, at
least, his father had succeeded.  The man was years dead, presumably, and in
that time Noah had put all the lessons he’d taught him to good use.  He was
able to tend to all his own needs without help from anyone else.  He’d become
adept at hunting and fishing.  The river tributary was a good source of food,
as was the surrounding wilderness.  Fortunately, the fish and wildlife seemed
immune to the virus that had wiped out most of the world’s human population.

          Noah went back outside,
seized the dead thing by the wrists, and dragged it out into the woods.  The
thing had lost so much of its body mass over time that this was not physically
difficult work.  He pulled it along with ease until he was some fifty yards
deep in the woods.  Judging this far enough, he let go of the thing’s wrists
and started back in the direction of the cabin, but he stopped in his tracks
before he’d gone more than a few feet.

          He turned around and
approached the dead thing again, frowning as he stood over it and stared at its
sunken, hollow-cheeked features.  The leathery skin was so rotted that it was
difficult to tell what the man had looked like in life, whether he had been
ugly or handsome, fair-skinned or tanned.  There was nothing there to
accurately guess what kind of person he had been.  He might have been an
agreeable, good-humored man with lots of loved ones and friends.  Or he could
have been a lone mountain dweller, a survivalist type who’d shunned the company
of others even before the fall of civilization.  He was just a blank.  A dead
thing.  Nothing more.

          Except that wasn’t
really true.  The withered dead skin was a mask, one that obscured the real
story about a human being who’d once lived, laughed, and loved like anyone
else.  This wasn’t a zombie anymore.  The axe through the skull had seen to
that.  What he was looking at here was what was left of a man, not some
monster.  He thought about his mother in those moments just before and after
reanimation.  She hadn’t been a monster, either.  Instead, like this man, she
had been a blameless victim, robbed of life and humanity by a goddamned virus.

          Tears blurred Noah’s

          These were the first
tears he’d shed in longer than he could recall.  They were silent tears.  He
didn’t descend into hysterics.  That wasn’t something that could happen
anymore, especially not over this man he’d never known.  He’d become too
hardened for that, but he nonetheless felt genuine sadness for the dead man. 
He felt he owed it to him.  No one else was around to mourn him.

          After a while, Noah
wiped the tears away and walked back out of the woods, but he wasn’t yet done
with the dead man.  He fetched a shovel from the shed behind the cabin and
traipsed back through the woods until he again arrived at the spot where he’d
left the body.  It had not been disturbed in his absence, not that he’d
expected anything else.  The remaining scraps of flesh still clinging to the
bones were too rotten to be of much interest to wildlife.

          He punched the shovel
blade into the ground, drove it in deep, and cranked the handle back and forth
until he had worked loose the first scoop of moist earth.  It had rained
recently, which made the work easier than it might have been.  The hole in the
ground grew larger in short order, as did the pile of dirt next to it.  The
work was strenuous enough to generate a good sweat and he had to pause numerous
times to wipe moisture from his brow.

          Had there been anyone
else around, he might have been asked why he was bothering to dig a grave for
this stranger.  It wasn’t something he’d ever done for the dead things, after
all.  A small part of it was related to granting this particular dead thing
some measure of dignity.  Mostly, though, it was because his days were largely
empty and this gave him something to do.  For at least a little while, he could
feel like he had some purpose other than just existing.

          The grave wasn’t quite
the standard six feet deep by the time Noah judged it good enough.  He climbed
out of the hole and rolled the corpse into it.  After filling it in and patting
the earth down with the back of the shovel blade, he returned to the cabin and
washed up.  The work he’d done had stirred his appetite, so he got the wood
stove going in the kitchenette and set about preparing a meal.  When it was
ready, he carried the plate of meat and vegetables out to the porch, where he
sat on the top step and ate in contemplative silence as he stared out at the
valley and the other mountain peaks in the distance.

          As he often did, he
wondered about the world he couldn’t see, the one outside the Smokies.  He
tried to imagine it as it might be now, rather than those last televised images
of chaos and destruction from years ago.  A part of him wanted to envision it
as rejuvenated.  He wanted to believe humanity had endured and pulled together
at last to triumph against adversity.

          When he was done
eating, Noah set the plate aside on the porch and stared up at the empty sky. 
He’d caught not even a single glimpse of anything man-made flying across it in years.

          He stared for a long time.

          The sky stayed empty.

















BOOK: Slowly We Rot
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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