I was standing in the middle of a Wal-mart, minding my own business when Sabrina the Teenage-Psychopath decided to try and take a bite out of her mother. It happened in a hospital across the country, where a mother stood over the bed of her sixteen-year-old daughter begging whatever higher power might have been listening to bring her back. The girl had been brought in hours before with that looked like severe flu symptoms; strange for the time of year but not completely unheard of, when everything happened at once. One moment the girl was lying in bed-- sick but hardly in danger, and the next moment she was coding.
Her vitals dropped in an instant, crashing so quickly the sudden screeching of alarms when there had been nothing a second before had the medical staff thinking there was some kind of malfunction in the equipment. The crash cart was brought in, they attempted to resuscitate the girl, but after ten minutes the Doctor on duty announced her dead, and gave her poor mother space to mourn.
When her mother let out a short gurgling screamed the staff thought it was the wailing of a heartbroken woman. When she went silent they figured she was sobbing so violently no sound was coming out. It wasn’t until the charge nurse came in an hour later to find the teenager crouching over the visceral sight of her ripped open mother that they knew something was wrong. If it hadn’t been for the CNA on shift recording the girl staggering out of the room after the nurse the whole situation might have been contained a little while longer. If it hadn’t been for the mass panic the uploading of the video brought things might have been easier to control.
If it hasn’t been for the video, however, I wouldn’t have known to grab every single non-perishable item and every bottle of water I could fit in my cart. I wouldn’t have known to stop by the sporting section to grab a shotgun, a pistol, and a shit-ton of ammo. I wouldn’t have been able to escape the store just in time for dozens of cars to come screeching into the parking lot in a hysterical search for supplies. Three people died that night simply from being trampled, and that was just by the time I had left.
It took the world hardly any time at all to descend into chaos, an already struggling country falling apart at frayed seams. It took little to light the powder keg that had been sitting uncovered for too long, but once it had blown there was no putting it back together. To survive the first two weeks was nothing but luck, and though the terror might have been fresh the beginning was hardly the hardest part. That came later.
After two weeks a knock came at my door, and with shaking hands, I pulled the blinds back enough to see a group of survivors waiting outside with whatever weapons they could gather before they too hunkered down. Going door to door they gathered everyone who still had their mind and brought them to the Town Center, promising them a better chance at survival if we all banded together. At first, I was hesitant, I had only moved to a town no one ever left two years before, and while I might have slowly earned their trust I couldn’t help but fear that if push came to shove I’d be the sacrificial lamb being thrown into the volcano.
Or were those virgins?
As it turned out, I was more valuable to them than they had originally anticipated. Their plan was a simple one, build a fifteen-foot-high wall out of whatever they could find and clear the town of the dead. As a master welder with a truck and a rig of my own, I had gone from being an interloper living on the outskirts of their community to a valued member as if I had been living there my entire life. Regardless of the circumstances of my arrival necessity breeds solutions, and it would seem I was the solution to their problems.
After a temporary fence was crafted the surviving members of the town were broken into three groups. One group-- the largest of the three, patrolled the hastily created wall keeping out all who attempted to come near-- undead or survivor alike. Back in those days complete isolation truly seemed to be our only chance at survival. Sometimes I can still hear the pleading cries of people begging to be let in.
The second group, the group I was a member of, was made up of craftsmen and artisans, each doing their part to craft the wall as quickly as possible. With a torch and a saw, I tore apart every car in town I could find, using every inch of scrap metal I could strip off of it to build my section of the wall. At first, there were quite a few old rednecks who wanted to deck me for ripping the hood off their rusted Fords, but the moaning of the dead held back by little more than chainlinks and barbed wire was usually enough to quell their discontent.
The third group was made up of the town’s police, ex-military, and whoever else was brave enough to go house to house clearing out the dead that remained inside. It was the worst job of the three, there was no doubt about that. Each two-person team took a street they themselves didn’t live on and cleared out all those who had been turned. None of them were truly the same after that. It was one thing to shoot a zombie with a face you didn’t know, but to kill someone you’d grown up with, someone you cared for, even someone you loved wasn’t something you could do and come out clean on the other side.
For a year things went on like that, every day a struggle for survival, every day a chance for another death. We lost so many back then we couldn’t bury them all, there wasn’t the room and there certainly wasn’t the time.
It’s amazing what humans can grow accustomed to. After a while, the scent of burning flesh and hair didn’t make my stomach turn. As months went by shooting the undead became less and less difficult. By the time the wall was finished, I had gone from hardly knowing how to hold a gun to practically being a marksman. When I put one of them down I didn’t feel anything, not guilt, not fear, not even pity, there were days when I felt almost as dead as they were.
But life goes on. Within the safety of our walls, our deaths dwindled until the only deaths that occurred were from natural causes, the way a person deserved to die. After a while, we stopped hearing the moaning outside the wall, and as the world around us died fewer and fewer survivors came calling for help. It was almost peaceful once the roads had been pulled up and gardens planted in their place. After four years of isolation, our food stores were plentiful, our surrounding woods picked clean of zombies, our people healthy and thriving. After five years of isolation the town unanimously decided it was time to open the gates, it was time to let people in.
After so many years of turning away those who came, and shooting those who wouldn’t, I figured it would take months if not longer for people to begin arriving, but after a group of traders happened upon us and heard what we were doing it took less than a week for people to start trickling in little by little. They came in small groups never more than four, haggard and starving, the word Serenity on their lips like a prayer. It seemed like a fitting enough title, and before long there were rumors of the safe haven Serenity floating all across the country as if carried on the wind.
After four long years Serenity had a name, and with new people arriving every couple of month, it seemed like we had made the right choice. The town came back to life before my eyes, as if everyone in town had been living in a trance without purpose or direction, survival being their only goal. The entire spirit of the town was lifted, even mine. For the first time, we had something to look forward to, something to hope for, helping people became our priority and for the first time in years we all felt like we were doing something good.
In the first year, twenty new people arrived at our gates.
In the second year I saw a face amongst the newcomers I thought I’d never see again, and everything changed.