This little game cropped up on my Facebook page thanks to an Australian friend, so I thought it would make a good flash fiction prompt. Here’s my first 1000 words story of the year. Happy New Year!
Beware the Flesh-eating Zombies
I smirked at the notice. Didn’t all zombies eat flesh? Maybe they just dripped flesh. I hadn’t read much about zombies; I had always steered clear of them. I’d been steering clear of them for months, now. Ever since the plague had come and gone, leaving two types of people in its wake. Those like me, who hadn’t been affected by it, and the ones that had survived it, although we didn’t call zombies survivors.
I’d walked on about half a mile, pondering the tautology, when a further thought infiltrated my brain.
Who would put a notice up to warn people of zombies?
My first thought was that someone like me had put it up to warn others there was an enclave of zombies beyond. You know, Beware of the Dog. That could be interpreted in at least three ways. The obvious was that the ferocious dog would get you if you strayed into its domain. That’s what the owner wanted you to think. Keep out, with a threat. In my experience the dog was more likely to lick you to death, and the notice was put up as a joke. The sight of a golden retriever bounding towards you, slobbering with its mouth wide open is just as terrifying as a Rottweiler silently stalking you. The third version was: beware of the dog so you didn’t step on it, because it was so small. Or maybe it would move suddenly and scare you to death, or trip you up when you didn’t realise it was there. One of my friends had had a ‘Beware of the parrots’ on his front door for all those reasons – ferocious attack, uncomfortable ‘loving’ nibbles, and always where you wanted to sit. I mused on my adventures with the friend, then puzzled over the sign again.
Why would a ‘normal’ person warn others of zombies? We are always on the look out for them – constant vigilance. We hardly need a notice. Are some zombies flesh-eating, and others not? I hadn’t heard that. I suppose contact with the zombies in my home town was more a kiss of death than flesh-eating, but the effect was the same. First the suppurations, then the loss of self, finally the dripping flesh and rotten-ness of the undead. I’d skipped town when I started to see people with suppurations, but I’d found enough information while we still had networks and electricity. At first there had been posts about safe havens, but then they realised that the zombies read them somehow, and that led them to food. Posters tried just giving map references for a while, reasoning that zombies couldn’t read, and couldn’t get hold of maps, and that map references were beyond their intelligence anyway. I wasn’t convinced. If intelligent people had become zombies, who’s to know the mindlessness wasn’t just an act. Was the best way to survive to go undercover and disguise oneself as a zombie? I should have checked out that fancy dress hire store I passed a month ago.
Would a zombie put up a notice like that to warn other zombies? Could there be some sort of zombie family who didn’t want to be disturbed, especially by the flesh-eating sort? But if not a zombie, then it must be a survivor – where had he or she gone? Where had the board and paint come from to make the sign? Who had put it in the ground?
Was it still facing the way it had when they set it up? What if someone had turned it round, like we used to as kids? I could be walking straight towards the flesh-eaters.
I carried on. It was the way I wanted to go; one of the last posts I got from the network suggested the climate and the hills in the southern midwest was a good place for survivors to go. Sow crops, eat berries and nuts till the crops grew. Get corn from the silos till it ran out. Not get eaten by alligators or wolves, depending on the direction you arrived from. I’d had no trouble with either. I kept to the wilderness, following old tracks, and dirt roads, not the old highways. Zombies liked highways. They had plenty of food from them. Rotten food, since it was already autumn, and the plague had hit in the spring, but they didn’t care how fresh things were. The birds would circle when there were zombies around. It was a good warning sign for me.
Beware of the Flesh-eating Zombies.
Another notice. Or the same one and I’d walked in a circle. I decided I hadn’t. Why would someone go to the trouble of putting such a notice a mile or so further on? Had both been turned around by a prankster and I’d just walked through the zombie-zone? I inspected the grass around the stake. The stake wobbled, but didn’t look as if it was more than the effect of the wind, ever-present in this open plain. I didn’t believe there were zombies behind it. It must be to keep strangers away. I walked forward, crossing the invisible line between the two signs.
She was a very sweet, but feisty, lady. Well, anyone who had survived got feisty pretty fast. She brewed some coffee, although she confessed it was roasted dandelion root, but it tasted good to me. She shared her bread and we talked about the rumours of the survivor groups. She was staying here, she said, where she had all she needed. Although if I could help her with the milking, she’d be grateful. Sure, I said, and followed her to the milking parlour.
Just hold her head still, she said as she took a stool and bucket and arranged herself to start milking.
I held the cow’s head and stroked her nose, and looked into her eyes, and realised what was odd about her just as she took a bite out of my arm.
© J M Pett 2016