It was a week ago when it happened.
Exactly a week when I heard the stomping on the front porch. I remember it sounded like someone was drunk. I opened the door and it was my neighbor. She lunged at me.
It lunged at me. Not she. I had the door slammed shut and locked before I could think, but as soon as I saw her, I knew she was a corpse. She looked like walking gangrene.
Eight days? A week.
I leaned against the door as the arms pounded on it and my heart thudded in my ears. The hinges were starting to buckle when it shuffled off. I crept to the window and saw a car slowing down. Then it accelerated, but it was already too late. The body had shuffled onto the road. I’d rather not remember the heavy, wet sound it made when they collided, or the screams of the man when he got out to look under the front of his car and my neighbor grabbed him. What was left of her, spread out on the road and under the car in a mass of white and red.
Perhaps I should have shouted, tried to warn him. Can they hear? Would it have crawled back toward me and knocked the door down?
The smell lingered all that afternoon and into the night. It wasn’t until the moon was up when the motorist struggled to his feet, the ghostly light bathing him in black paint which dripped from where his arm had been. He staggered off into the fields beyond my home. The thing beneath his car was still snapping its teeth. I could hear the clicking like tiny bones breaking in the moonlight, just like the moonlight whispering all around me now, as I sit with my back to a tree, glancing around every minute to make sure nothing is staggering toward me.
Been driving for three days. I’m exhausted and soon I’ll have to go lock myself in that wretched car so I can sleep. But I can’t close my eyes to the stark beauty of this moonlight, turning the night sky a pale blue flecked with diamonds. The soft iridescence plays on the rolling hills and makes them look as if they were in motion. The moon is so quiet and confident, a dead face grinning at the world as if amused.
I’ve been telling myself I’d just pack up and leave for years, and now I finally have, but it doesn’t feel like I’m going anywhere. I keep turning around, expecting to see my old house behind me. How can you go anywhere when there aren’t any boundaries anymore?
Night again and my eyes are drooping. I woke this morning to the car being rocked like a boat in a storm by eight or ten ragged bodies. It felt like they were going to turn it over. One was pounding against the glass on the driver’s side, and even though its hands were bloody and it looked like one wrist was broken, the glass was cracking. I kept the windows cracked during the night, and I could hear the wind whistling through the opening, and their moaning voices.
I got the key in the ignition and started driving forward slowly, stupidly hoping they’d take the hint and let me pass. The two at the front of the car just kept backing up. This went on for an idiotic minute. I saw a tall man standing off to the side, watching, but the Dead seemed more interested in me. Eventually a corpse climbed over the front bumper and started pounding on the front windshield. I squealed and sped up, and the sound of the things that used to be people getting crushed under the car was too much, and it was all I could do to keep the car on the road while I threw up onto the seat next to me. When I looked up, the thing on the front of the car had fallen off because of my swerving.
I kept driving in the stink of my own puke until I saw something moving on the seat to my right. It was a severed hand, trailing white strings of cartilage which floated in the air. Crawling toward me. I slammed on the brakes and grabbed my backpack and ran. I was lucky the car didn’t flip. Eventually the empty wheat fields broke in a small town with a car dealership. I let myself in and found a key and was driving again ten minutes later.
I wrote about their voices earlier, but that’s a lie. A voice is something you can laugh with. You have to have a heart and mind for a voice to come out of your mouth. The wandering wind is more human than the sound they make. And they don’t have mouths, just holes where their faces used to be. I opened the door and she came for me—not she, it, it. I keep wanting to call it a her, but the corpse in front of me was the furthest thing away from a “she,” the furthest thing away from the music between man and woman. A rock has more personality than the thing that pounded against my front door.
What was her name? She had borrowed sugar from me before. Was she flirting with me? Why can’t I remember her name?
I’m almost sure he was one of them. He was dirty enough, anyway, waving his arms around and shouting by the side of the road. I didn’t even slow down.
Corpses of animals, everywhere I go. Deer, rabbits, dogs. None of them moving. All rotting. Even saw a bear. What does it mean?
Drove past a graveyard today and saw the exploded earth in front of the tombstones. Something inside my head was yelling at me to just keep going, but I got out and looked around. I guess if they’re strong enough to knock down a door or turn a car over, they can dig themselves out of a casket. Some graves had undisturbed earth; some of the dead still slept. But I saw at least one from three years ago which had overturned earth in front of it.
I wonder if she’s found my ex. She always did go to her first.
She’ll never catch me. Ever.
Whenever I felt like this before, I would take another trucking job and leave, and when I returned I’d be able to stand my apartment for a few more weeks. But now I can move all I want and I’ll still find those things, staring at me without really looking and shuffling toward the car they’ll never catch. They’ve made every town the same: no matter the different layout or stores, as long as those bodies are shuffling around, it might as well be the last town I drove through. It’s almost like I’m the prodigal son they’re welcoming back.
So what’s the point of moving on to one more place when everywhere has become the same place?
Maybe without any home to come back to, all one can do is run.
But why doesn’t that make me feel better?
Lost track of the days since I last wrote. I’ve found a forest. I traveled south until I hit what must have been Arizona or Texas or something. I didn’t want to be in the desert—too visible. So I drove east. A couple days later, I had driven my latest car dry. I was somewhere green with mountains. I got out and walked into the scattered trees, feeling like I was the one standing still and the trees were all walking toward me in an ever thickening crowd. I was a child, walking away from his parents and getting himself lost and quite enjoying it.
I’ve found a nice little river and a slope with bushes at the top where I can sleep without being too noticeable. Cleared it of the bodies of birds and squirrels.
I’m out of food. Have to search tomorrow.
Finally back under the cover of trees. Never thought I’d feel so strange out in the open after so many hours in my truck. There’s a town just a little further down the road that will take a long time to bleed dry. I even found some barbed wire, which I dragged back to my camp and strung around the trees in an egg shape. My hands are bleeding from a dozen mistakes, but I doubt anything could get through it. I had to leave a little room between two trees for me to get in and out, but with some camouflage it will not be too noticeable.
I do not know what the town was named. The welcome sign had been defaced. I’m stealing from it, and I don’t even know what it was called. In fact, I haven’t found a single city that had an intact sign for its name. They’ve all been torn down. I don’t know how that’s possible.
This morning, when I set out, I walked past the car I had driven without even realizing it until later. It was already the car of a stranger.
I always told my students to write it out, if they were in pain, but it’s not helping. It makes it more real. But I can’t stay away from this cheap spiral notebook.
That hand, on the passenger seat, crawling toward me.
I’m sitting here with the notebook, trying to enjoy myself. In my old life, this would have been a perfect evening: camping, alone, with time to write and think and express the world around me through the words on the page. Hell, it doesn’t even hurt when I think about the teaching job I lost or all the useless degrees I’ll never use again. Instead I just stare into space. The forest is too quiet. Can’t hear any birds or that relaxed sound crickets used to make. The moon is only the curve of a fingernail now, but as I read these short lines, I can imagine a ghostly skull in the night sky keeps grinning at me. (That hand, reaching for me.)
But I’m under the cover of forest now. I made it this far.
Have to go lie down soon. Hopefully I won’t have that dream again. It’s so hot and muggy I probably won’t sleep anyway. I’m so tired I’ll just lie there, and the earth will spin beneath me, and I can think about the trackless globe I’m on, smooth and without markings like a skull, grinning at me. Maybe I can grin back at it, through these pages.
Dreamt it again last night: I’m lying on the ground in the forest, and suddenly I realize I’m asleep, but I don’t wake up. A face forms in the air above me and talks to me. I don’t want to hear what it is saying, but the air is rushing all over my skin, and I try to get up and run but I can’t. A whirlwind is above me, pushing me down and shouting.
I saw another one of them two days ago. (Three? Four? I don’t trust my memory. Time has gone fluid.) It was crunching its way through the forest. Green-brown skin and dead eyes and blood all over it. Walked by my camp a dozen feet away and never turned to look. It was like death had reached backwards through time and was working the body like a puppet.
Time stopped. I couldn’t look away.
An Asian man showed up yesterday. I think he’s in shock. His voice is too calm. He follows me around like a sleepwalker and does whatever I tell him. His name is Masaaki Shinogaido. He said the English name his parents gave him was Eric, but I don’t understand why anyone would cover up a perfectly good Japanese name, so I call him Masaaki. When he asked my name, I hesitated too long before deciding on Oz, but I don’t think he noticed.
The day after, a set of identical twins showed up, Jack and Selene. Selene has a beautiful pale face and jet dark hair but will not meet my eyes. She and her brother engage in numerous whispered conferences, but she talks to me only when she has to, and not much above a whisper. Now that I think about it, Jack is usually standing between me and her. Jack is pretty quiet too, with his short black hair and narrow shoulders and wide eyes, but he does anything I ask without complaining. Selene spends every moment she can reading, turning those pages as if her life depends on it. I told her it wouldn’t help and it might hurt. She didn’t even look at me. I shrugged and walked away.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of them the first day the four of us were inside the barbed wire, but then I laughed at myself. What was I worrying about, that they were secret FBI agents? That they were going to report me to... who?
I wonder if others will show up, and what it will take to convince them to go somewhere else.
In the evenings, we sit and sweat in the sultry summer heat and the dying sunlight. Nobody talks.
At least the camp is turning out well. We’ve each got our own sleeping areas and a system for boiling water. But we need more supplies. If our camp is going to be consuming three times as much food, then they should get their own. I can draw them a map.
Evening again. I am exhausted from the day’s work and want nothing more than to close my eyes, but I have been avoiding this notebook for more days than I can count. Now that I have had some time to collect myself, I must face facts: I very much want to leave, but it would be futile to do so. No matter how I fantasize about simply walking away, I’d only wind up hiding somewhere else, and more survivors would cluster around me, looking to me to lead only because I appear less homeless than they. And they would not understand that it’s only because I’ve been homeless longer. What to do?
The world, the same, everywhere.
And those things, roaming through their new home.