Mother died today, or maybe it was yesterday; I wasn't there to notice. I brought her a jar of moonshine for breakfast, same as always, and her bed was empty. No way she could have walked off if she was still Mom, not all torn up from the zombie attack, so she had to have died and gone to join them.
Could have been worse. I could have been her breakfast. Or mid-rats. Depending on when she's passed.
Funny word, mid-rats. Dad told me once it meant mid-watch rations, bug juice and sandwiches in the middle of the night in Navy talk, but I always imagined sailors gnawing on skewered rats. It was good for a giggle when there wasn't much else to laugh about. Not with Mom converting Dad's pension into liquid assets: moonshine so raw it sat you on your ass just to smell it. Not with Child Welfare looking to take me away. I could not have stopped them from taking Mom if they wanted to; but wasn't nobody going to take me. Not from my house. If they had taken me from my bedroom, from Mom's kitchen, from Dad's garage, from the beans and the potatoes growing near-wild and the chickens running 'round, from the sweet gum logs in the woodpile and the woods out back, slimecap mushrooms poking out from between dead leaves and itchy-balls in the fall, and Blackjack and Bear, two yellow dogs too old to hunt and too smart to bark – who am I without all of that?
And then the zombies came.
I don’t know where they came from; lots of people say they do, and they all say different. I just know they promised immortality, and I said to Mom, wouldn’t that be great, Dad would still be alive, and you wouldn’t ever be dead, and she looked away and chugged what 'shine was left in the jar and tottered off to sleep. And I sat up and looked at the moon and listened to the possums rummage in the junk pile and pretty soon I saw Dad again. I'd fallen asleep on a haystack, and in my dream I ran to him to tell him he'd be back home soon, and he just shook his head and sighed and said, “Son, I don't think immortality is retroactive,” and I woke up to rooster crowing and the sky across the road pinking up just a little, though it was black and starry overhead.
I never brought up immortality again till zombies started showing up.
They are immortal, those zombies, and they carry the infection that makes you immortal – or dam near, barring shotgun blast to the head or getting burned to cinders. They all look young and pretty; that, and they don't feel pain or cold so they've let their clothes fall apart on them – ones that still have shreds clinging to them look nakeder than the ones that don't, which, when I thought about it, is a bigger temptation than immortality, and I probably would not ever have said “No” to them if they took “No” for an answer.
Which they don't.
They come at you with this great big smile and they try their damnedest to bite you.
Just like the child welfare people, except for the biting part, and the part with no clothes, but the smile is the same and so is the not asking if you want to do what they've come to get done, and the part where they tell you it's for your own good.
They came last night, and Mom took one look at me and one at them and took a swig of shine and said, “run, boy!” and charged them with a hoe that she picked up off the floor, that had been there since she shook it at the child welfare people, and I ran for the woods which I still knew better than anyone, and Blackjack and Bear took off, barking, in damn near the opposite direction. Them are two smart yellow dogs. And I came back to find Mom all bit and bruised and running a fever and put her to bed, and saved one jar of 'shine for if she was still here in the morning, as Mom I mean, and not a thing that walks when Mom is gone, and poured the rest of the 'shine on the floor to cover puddles of zombie blood, 'cause that's contagious, too, I guess, and I don't want to step in it, getting up at oh-dark-hundred one night, and turn into a zombie by accident.
No graves to visit: Dad lost at sea, Mom found life everlasting. Preachers made that sound so good, back when there were churches. Mom never came back; none ever do. None ever try to bite their own. I guess you don't need immortality through your kin when you can have it through not dying. Why do they spend eternity just wandering around? Guess they should have asked the aliens that, first, before climbing on board the No-Death Express.
The dogs came back, just like I knew they would. I wouldn't mind them living forever, but the infection don't work that way. I'll be here for as long as I can, and when the time comes, I'll go. I wonder if I can go to heaven. Heaven is where Mom picks eggs from under the chickens and fries them up with onions and bacon and tomatoes, and Dad's feet stick out from under the rusted Chevy when he's on leave, and Blackjack and Bear fly past you like two yellow streaks, yipping and panting. Heaven is where my family is.
I don't want to go to Hell. Hell is other people.
This story originally appeared in Penumbra.