The beginning of a novella I’m working on.
By Anna M Dobritt
My name is Jessica Andrews and I’m one of the forgotten. The world as we knew is dying and they’re leaving us behind. We heard the rumors from the neighbors and the snatches of news on the radio and the TV. The dead had risen; killing and devouring the living. The family they placed us with in the early days of chaos said they would take care of us no matter what. Hah! Where have I heard that before? Promise people extra food or money and they will do whatever you want. Once no one is watching them they buy themselves luxuries and fancy stuff to eat and we’re stuck eating hot dogs and beans or peanut butter sandwiches. Or worse yet, bologna sandwiches. How I despise those!
The six of us sleep in the basement, the door at the top of the stairs locked at night, so we wouldn’t wander around the house. What they didn’t know was our ingenuity. We figured out how to remove one of the basement windows and rig it so it looked normal. After the family went to sleep, we’d sneak out on foraging forays; grabbing what we could from the houses in the neighborhood. Most homes are abandoned, so all we had to worry about was the occasional zombie. They were slow and easy to dispatch when there’s two or three together. When there’s a large group of the creatures, they move faster and are more coordinated. An aluminum bat to the knees, then a blow to the head was our method of choice for killing them. Didn’t want to use the guns we had unless it became necessary. After all, the humans that are alive can be more dangerous than the undead. Once in a while we’d come across someone still alive, but they were easy to avoid and they didn’t seem too interested in talking with us.
We wanted to be ready to roll once the family upstairs left. We knew they were planning on leaving us behind, locked in the basement. You could hear them discussing it through the heating vents. But we would be ready. Storing the stuff we’d collected in the basement ceiling was Jerry’s idea. He’s also a whiz at fixing anything mechanical. On one foraging trip he found three guns left behind because they seemed to be broken. Damn it if he didn’t figure out how to fix them. Lucy, who is two years younger than me, collected all the books she could find on first aid and has been studying them. She told us she always wanted to be a doctor when she grew up and now is her chance. Greg is fifteen and built like a football player. He knows how to hunt and dress the kill and he’s good at cooking. They elected me leader of this group. My skills are organizing, and remembering everything I read or hear. I’m also the oldest in the group having turned eighteen six months ago. Not that birthdays matter anymore. The only thing that matters now is surviving each day and not getting your hopes up. Do what you have to do. The twins, Bill and Crystal, are the youngest at thirteen years old. Their parents disappeared during the first wave of the undead that passed through their home town in Georgia. The National Guard and the military was on the ball back then, they rounded up the orphaned kids and made arrangements for them to move to a safe town and stay with a new family. I got picked up as the wave of undead moved further north.
My parents died in the first wave, but I managed to escape and headed north. The way I dressed and acted, most thought I was a boy and more or less left me alone while I traveled. The Guard confiscated my weapons, which were all I had left to remember my dad by. They said I would get them back when they put me with a new family. Lies, upon lies, upon lies. Get put with a new family and they refuse to give me the shotgun and pistol back. To make matters worse, their son took a bracelet my mom made for me out of colored cords. She told me when I wore that, no matter what happened, I’d always have my own personal rainbow with me. Have to laugh and cry a little too. The rainbow had a different meaning for me, but was too afraid to tell my parents what I was. Now they’ll never know. No matter what, I would get the weapons and bracelet back from these people. Even if it takes me the rest of my life. Considering how things stand, it will be a short one.
The door at the top of the stairs opened and trays placed on the landing. “Time to eat, children. Tonight you have a special treat! Chocolate cake for dessert. Remember to put the empty plates and silverware back on the trays when you’re finished. Sleep well.”
Hearing the door lock Jerry headed up the stairs to take a look. He came back down, shaking his head. “They gave us twice as much food, Jess.”
“We’re not eating it. Break out the emergency ration bag and a bottle of Pepsi for each of us.”
Lucy looked at me. “Why don’t we eat what they’ve given us?”
“They probably poisoned it.” I told her in a cold voice. “Once we hear their vehicles leave the house, we’ll go through and take whatever we can use and get moving.”
“Jess, should I start filling the backpacks?” Crystal asked as she handed a bottle of Pepsi to each of us.
“Not yet.” I accepted the peanut butter sandwich with a nod of thanks to Bill. “I’m thinking we should wait one day after the ones upstairs leave. That will give us more time to go through the house here and the others in the neighborhood one final time. What I hope to find is some beat up car we can take, instead of walking.”
Jerry grinned as he devoured his sandwich, washing it down with the pop. “If you can find something that you can get started, I can keep it running.”
“Don’t you need a driver’s license?” Bill asked as he went to get us each a couple cookies for dessert.
“I doubt anyone will check to see if I have a license or not, Bill.” I looked around at the five. “Remember, once we leave here, we have to stick together and help each other. We don’t leave anyone behind.”
Lucy glanced at me. “Where are we going to go, Jessie?”
“Not sure.” I admitted. “Jerry, hand me one of the maps of the state.”
He dug around in the box that held papers and some books, before finding what I wanted. “Here it is.” He handed it over. “The way I see it, big cities would be a bad place to go. Maybe a small town or village or an isolated and abandoned farm. The zombies can’t last forever. The humans will get things under control and those that have a place set up will have right of ownership.”
I was surprised by what he said. Jerry had been thinking ahead. “Not a bad idea, Jer. For now, we need to survive long enough to find such a place. I don’t want to go too far north into this state. I’ve heard about Michigan winters and don’t like care for the idea of traveling through snow.”
“What snow? It’s just the start of summer, Jessie.” Crystal piped up.
“I know, but we have to plan ahead for the weather, Crys.” I unfolded the map and looked it over. “Hmmm. Here in Ingham County, a place called Dansville. We’ll take secondary roads, since the expressways are impassable.”
“Too bad we couldn’t ride a train.” Bill studied the map for a moment. “Why Dansville? You know anyone there?”
I shook my head as I folded the map up and stuck it in my pocket. “Heard Mr. Allen talking about it with his wife. He has a cousin or something that lives there. I bet they’ll head there.”
Before the others could say anything else, I heard footsteps on the floor above us. A voice drifted down through the nearby vent. “Finish loading the car and let’s get going. The last broadcast I heard reported a large group of undead following the service drive of the expressway and they’re heading in this direction. We’re leaving tonight.”
“But what about the children in the basement? Shouldn’t we at least wait until they are gone?” Mrs. Allen asked in a frightened voice. “What if they don’t eat the food I gave them?”
“Doesn’t matter, either way they’re dead. Our only responsibility now is to each other and our son. Now grab a box and bring it out to the car.” His footsteps faded away.
I could hear a box being lifted and the sound of sniffling, then Mrs. Allen’s footsteps headed for the door. I glanced at the others, seeing the shock on their faces and sighed. “Sorry you had to hear that, but now you know the truth. If you were hoping they would take us with them, well…”
Greg scowled. “Would love to take a baseball to their skulls.” He muttered hefting the bat in his hands.
I nodded in agreement. “As soon as they drive off we’ll split into two teams and search this house and the other houses. Keep an eye out for a car that we can use. Jerry, pass out the walkie-talkies, but don’t use them unless it’s an emergency. Don’t want to waste the batteries. That’s another thing. Gather together as many batteries as you can.”
“Jessie, will we be out of here before the undead arrive?” Lucy asked as she gathered together empty pillowcases.
“That’s the plan, Lucy. So we won’t be getting much sleep.” I finished drinking my pop, then went into the laundry room to rinse the bottle out in hot water and used a tiny bit of bleach on the inside. Empty bottles had a variety of uses and we had a nice collection of them to take with us.
Bill slid a knife into the sheath strapped to his thigh and picked up a crowbar. “I want to go with Greg.”
“All right. You, Greg and Jerry are one group, I’ll take Lucy and Crystal with me.” I holstered the Glock that Jerry had found and fixed. “Remember, bullets are for any human that tries to attack you. If you see any undead and can take it out fast, do it. If not, run the other way. Check in every hour and once you get your wagon and cart filled, come back here to the house.”
The activity upstairs was getting more frantic as the three continued loading their vehicle with the stuff they were taking. I knew it wouldn’t be too much longer before they left. Then we could get on with our business. We kept ourselves occupied with our own preparations, wishing the ones upstairs would hurry and leave.