“Friendship isn’t about who you have known the longest. It’s about who came and never left your side.” –Anonymous
He turns and sees a zombie standing there.
Its skin is sickly and pale and is on its way to rotting and there is dried blood coating its broken, misshapen nose. The poor man that this undead creature was before must have been killed recently, perhaps a few days ago, as the blood that bled out from the gaping hole in the middle of its back has stained the white striped business shirt it wears. It has not yet seen nor heard him come into the store of the abandoned gas station. It seems pretty occupied with banging its fists on a door which he is sure leads to where the storeroom is. He wonders whether the small, battered, blue Ford Fiesta parked outside used to be the dead man’s car and whether he can fish the car keys out once he bashes it on the head until it is properly dead.
But now he needs to go into that storeroom. His supplies are running out. He needs more bandages, more medicine, more food to last for a few more days. To him, a storeroom is a gold mine. There are plenty of things to scavenge for and collect if he comes across one that has not yet been raided.
Silently, he adjusts his grip on the shovel he carries in his hands. He has other makeshift weapons that he has brought with him in his backpack but the shovel has been the most effective weapon against the undead and is therefore his favourite so far. The shovel’s blade has seen its fair share of zombie decapitations and has saved his life so many times that he lost count. He eyes the wooden floor between them and considers the possibility of whether creeping up on the creature may not be a good idea if the floor panes are likely to creak. Zombies can’t see or smell living things, he has learned a while ago. But they had hear you perfectly.
He considers throwing a random object to the other side of the room to distract the creature and draw it away from the storeroom door so that he could run inside but this plan is stopped when he thinks of the possibility that the door may be locked. Even if there is a second of hesitation, the rattling of a doorknob can drive the zombie’s attention onto him and there is no way that he is going to take that risk. Which leaves one possible plan: to charge forward, shovel raised over his head, ready to strike the zombie down before it has a chance to turn around and attack him.
Cry quietly takes a deep breath and braces himself for the upcoming kill.
Three weeks ago
It begins on an ordinary day. Except he misses out on what happens during the morning and afternoon hours of his daily life. His ‘day’ usually starts in the evening and carries on into the late night and early hours of the morning where he spends most of his time recording and editing videos.
He doesn’t know how he can sleep through an entire day without being woken up at all but once he does, he notices that something is wrong. The rest of the house lies in semi-darkness and he cannot hear anyone downstairs. On the outside however, he hears the muffled noises of blasting car alarms and people shouting and car engines roaring past. A dog barks continuously from the house two doors down from his and someone has set the TV volume on too loud from an open window somewhere, spilling out to the world the sound of the broadcasting News.
There is a yowling and scratching noise coming from the bathroom when he steps out onto the dark landing. Once he opens the bathroom door, he is almost knocked off his feet when his cat darts past him and flies down the stairs.
“Kitty!” he calls out in alarm because he has never seen her act like this before. He thinks he saw the whites of her eyes when she leapt out of the bathroom in a mad scramble. By the time he races downstairs, he hears the sound of the cat flap clattering against the door and knows that Kitty is gone.
He tries calling his sister and niece on the landline because it’s nearing five thirty in the evening so they should be back by now but freezes when he finds that the lines are busy. After trying half a dozen more numbers including the emergency services, he comes up with the same result. The mobile phone he retrieves from the folds of his bed sheets reveal that there is no signal. The last text message he received from anyone had been more than six hours ago, from Felix Kjellberg, who informed him he was heading to the airport to catch his flight home to Sweden.
It is only then that the beginnings of panic start to seep in. I can’t call anyone, he realises. I can’t call anyone. What the hell is going on? What the hell is going on outside? He wants to step out the front door and find out but the amount of noise that’s happening outside his house is worrying. Calm down, he tells himself instead as he pulls his gaze away from the front door. Calm the fuck down.
“The news,” he mutters aloud to himself after a while. His voice sounds hollow and scared in the empty room he’s in. It’s unnerving.
When he switches on the TV, he sincerely wishes he hadn’t.
“…We urge the public not to panic…”
“…Riots involving bizarre and violent behaviour– ”
“Phone networks are down, including internet connection–“
“Please stay indoors…”
“…The situation seems out of control…”
“People attacking each other–”
“…Evacuate to a safer place…”
“Stock up as much as you can…”
“…Please do not approach these people…”
Somehow he finds the words he hears from the news reporters fly over his head because he cannot believe what he is seeing. It is like a scene that is familiar in the movies. An aerial view of some part of the city which he vaguely recognises is shown and the camera footage zooms in on a mass of people staggering towards a line of riot policemen armed with shields and batons. The people in this strange group are deathly pale, their faces twisted, their eyes unblinking. From the couch he sits on, he feels a shudder go through his body. Something is terribly wrong about these people, something unnatural and sure enough, he almost startles in his seat when one of the group separates from her party, pounces onto the nearest policeman with such force that it knocks his helmet off and then sinks her teeth onto his bare face.
A fountain of dark blood shoots up.
“Oh my god,” he isn’t sure if he is the one who blurts this out because the reporter who is voicing over this footage utters this too before continuing to babble in disbelief and horror. All he knows now after that first bite is that the situation quickly turns into chaos. The line of policeman breaks and the mass of crazy, deathly pale people fall onto them and it is only when a policeman’s arm is torn off and two or three people begin to fight over it, ripping the flesh out of the arm to devour it, that the footage is cut short. The newsroom returns to the screen to reveal the newscasters’ stunned faces.
He takes off his glasses and presses the heels of his hands onto his closed eyes. He tries very hard to will himself to breathe normally.
For him, the footage he has seen is enough. He has seen enough images from movies and videogames and TV shows and comic books to guess what is going on. But this is surreal, he thinks, it’s impossible and it’s sick and it’s hard to accept that this is actually happening. Is this why the streets outside are loud and full of frenzied noises, of families leaving in their cars and zooming past to get to the main highway leading far away from here? Is this why the dog from two doors down can’t stop barking like mad and why Kitty ran away because they already sensed that this danger was coming? When did all this start? How can it happen when he spent the entire day fucking sleeping? And where the hell was– he gulps down his fear. Oh god, where the hell was his family? Are they okay? Did they try to call him like he did before and couldn’t get through? Where are they, are they safe? Where was his sister and niece? They didn’t get– Oh my god, where are they?
The next thing he knows he is pacing up and down across the TV screen, many questions dropping into his mind like weights, carrying with them a fresh wave of anxiety and disbelief. How can all this be happening? Is this a joke? A hoax? He checks another news channel on TV, ignoring the fact that his palm is sweaty as he grips the remote control. For almost an hour, he surfs every channel and finds the same kind of reports, watches the same images of random chaos, of people blabbering about what they saw (“Saw him attack old Mr. Grayson. Bit him in the neck like some vampire”). One news channel reports many cases of people looting stores and stealing things in a desperate attempt to stock up on supplies. Another channel shows a footage of a highway congested with honking cars leading out of the city. He can’t believe this chaos, can’t believe it is happening right now.
And here he is, alone and stupidly stunned and standing in front of the TV, having missed the development of this hell throughout the duration of the day all because he had slept through it.
Where was his sister and niece?
Panic keeps bubbling in his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. The thought of them out there, stuck in that traffic jam, thinking and worrying about him at home. The thought that they were rushing to get back to the house only to be ambushed by a mob of zomb–
“No!” he finds himself yelling. The remote control flies out of his hand and clatters onto the floor in several pieces. “They’re alive,” he tries to reassure himself, pushing the dreaded image away from his mind. “They’re okay. They could have escaped the city. They’re okay, they’re alive.”
In the end, he repeats this mantra over and over and again and again to stop himself from losing it completely.
Three days crawl by. He does not leave the house during those long three days except on the morning of the second day, when he opens the front door and is almost startled senseless at the sound of a piercing scream that fills the air. It’s distant and not anywhere near his neighbourhood but it nonetheless terrifies him enough to retreat into his house and lock the door. After that, he barricades himself in, pushes heavy furniture to block any points of entry around the house except his bedroom window, which presents the view of his neighbourhood.
He gets used to waking up in the mornings now because during the night time, it becomes eerily quiet and the dead silence unnerves him. In the daytime, he watches most of his neighbours leave, piling into their cars which are filled with suitcases and food and boxes before they drive off to join the long queue of vehicles all heading away from the city.
Apart from his bedroom window, the TV remains his only link to the world outside and after every hour, the situation worsens. He watches in a haze of disbelief and with a heavy heart of fear as panic and violence and blood descend upon the city streets. There are people being attacked and bitten and eaten alive. A helicopter flies overhead, passing a tall building spewing black smoke from an open window. There are screams and shouts everywhere, crowds of people running and pushing at each other in a desperate attempt to flee. He is horrified when he actually sees someone get trampled to death by the raging stampede. On another channel, they show a footage of some of the bitten victims turning and it is disturbing to see them stagger upright, their faces sickly pale, blood staining their clothes and gushing out of gaping wounds, their eyes blank and unblinking and with their rising, comes the craving for living flesh.
All throughout this, he tries calling again and again to contact any of his family members or friends until, on the third morning, he picks up the house phone only to find the line dead.
So far, he has been living on the food in the fridge and in the pantry and it’s enough to last him for at least a month. He worries about what will happen though once the month is up and considers that perhaps he should go out one day and scavenge for supplies in his neighbours’ homes now that they have left.
It is on his fifth day that he finally sees them staggering around in his neighbourhood.
His first zombie, he realises with a start, is someone familiar to him. The man used to live down the road and worked at a strip mall about a mile away from here. Now he watches him – it, lurch crookedly up the empty road. It is dragging its broken leg with it, the foot twisted at an awkward angle. Part of its face is falling off, the sallow skin around its lips sagging, revealing the bottom row of its yellowed teeth. From his window, he can faintly hear the creature moaning softly as it moves and after an hour of watching it totter from one house to another, more zombies follow after that first one and he slowly watches them take over his neighbourhood.
The situation, he realises, is becoming dangerous. The last thing he wants is to emerge from the house and face a hundred of these. It is best to leave the house, the neighbourhood, the city while there are still a few of them.
The five days of being holed up in the house has been difficult for him because he has been living on the hope that he is waiting for his family to come home. Now, the arrival of the zombies in his neighbourhood have compelled him to shift into survival mode. The movies he watched and the videogames he played gives him a sense of what he should do in these situations. He begins to think about which supplies to bring with him on his journey ahead and what kind of weapon he can take to defend himself. Canned food, bottles of water, bandages and first aid kit, flashlight and batteries, matches, booze (oh, definitely that), a Swiss army knife, his spare glasses. Maybe he should pop down to the basement and take a look in the toolbox. There might be a hammer or something sharp he could use as a weapon.
This new sense of purpose gives him something to do instead of worry endlessly about the wellbeing of his missing family. He gets to it as soon as he can so by the sixth day, just as the sun begins to climb up the clear blue sky, he takes his chance when the coast is clear to emerge silently from his house, supporting a large backpack on his back and a metal baseball bat in his hand, and gives himself thirty seconds to say goodbye to his house, to his previous life and to the world he knows and has left behind, before he sprints down the road as fast as he can and does not look back.
He does not remember how much time has passed since he left the house but he is grateful when he finally comes across people who are not undead and not trying to eat him. So far, he has run into trouble a few times with zombies and the baseball bat he carries with him as a weapon turns out to be strong enough to push them off but not solid and sturdy enough to really kill them.
There are three people in the group he meets. They happen to encounter one another when he decides to scavenge for supplies at a looted chemist. (He’s getting the hang of taking things from shop shelves without paying now).
“Oh ho,” says the middle-aged woman with a cowboy hat as she looks him up and down. Her eyes crinkle as she smiles. “We haven’t seen a living person for days!”
“Hi,” he greets, automatically returning a smile and relief and happiness soar in his chest. It feels great to speak to somebody alive at last.
“What’s your name?” asks the friendly looking older man with the bushy brown moustache standing beside the woman.
He opens his mouth and realises with a shock that he has forgotten his own name. He gives it a second or two to recall it and when it gradually comes back into consciousness, he can’t believe his own name sounds foreign to him. Almost a week of isolation, running away from things that can eat him and with almost no contact with actual live human beings have made him forget the basic things about himself. How old was he again? When was the last time he hung out with his friends? What was the last thing his mother said to him? What videogame had he planned to play and record for his Youtube channel? Wait, he has a Youtube channel?
He certainly remembers he calls himself Cry when he’s on the internet. And Cry – he realises with a start because how can he even forget – Cry is his gamer persona, Cry knows what to do in these scenarios, knows what the objective of the game is, knows that there are pieces of a puzzle lying around waiting to be solved. He thinks that if he takes on that persona, if he becomes Cry again (oh my god, how long ago was it when I played my last videogame? It felt like a hundred years to me), he is better able to handle the crazy world he lives in now. His mind-set will automatically shift into the appropriate one, the one that follows one route and one goal in mind, the one where he becomes focused and rational and purpose-driven and in control of himself. He thinks – it’s like playing The Walking Dead or The Last of Us. It’s just another zombie apocalypse videogame. The important thing right now is to stay alive and not die.
Because if you die, there is no restart button. If you die, you stay dead. Or worse – come back as one of them.
So the name he gives to this group of people is “Cry” and he deliberately tucks his real name back into the recesses of his mind.
There is one guy his age in this small group of three people he travels with. His name is Thomas and like him, he has lost his family and is trying to find a way to reunite with them. It’s amusing how Thomas doesn’t know him at all from Youtube.
“Marilyn and George found me the same way they found you,” Thomas explains as they collectively make their way across the thankfully deserted street. “Except I was hanging around my brother’s school, hoping to find him.”
“Did you find any clue where he could be?” is what he asks Thomas. He feels a buzz of worry in his chest and tries not to think about his missing niece.
“Not much,” Thomas sighs wearily. “There was nobody there. No school kids. But I noticed the school buses are missing so chances are the kids were driven away from the chaos. Maybe my brother went with them. I just don’t know where they could have gone.”
“Don’t you worry too much ‘bout that,” croons Marilyn, the middle-aged cowboy-hat wearing lady walking ahead of them. She cannot help but overhear their conversation. Beside her, the moustachioed man, George, carefully balances an impressive rifle on one arm. He isn’t looking back at them but they both know he is listening in on them too because he says, “They must have gone out of the city and headed to the next state. That’s where there’s help. That’s where it’ll be safe. It said so on the news.”
Beside him, something uneasy forms on Thomas’s face, as if he doesn’t look quite convinced and Marilyn shifts her crinkling eyes from Thomas to settle on him. “What ‘bout you, Cry? Where you headed?”
Cry. Oh yes, he is called Cry now. He needs to get used to actual people calling him this. To him, Cry has always been a nickname, a persona he wears when he’s online as well as a part of him that he keeps separate from real life. Now, he takes on that persona just so he can come to terms with a reality that he still cannot fully accept.
“Just out of here,” Cry answers. “Also looking for my family. They went missing so maybe they escaped the city while they could.”
“It’s good to hope,” says Marilyn enthusiastically. “It keeps us goin’. I’m expectin’ to see my grandson once we get to the next state. Fingers crossed.”
Cry finds that he rather likes Marilyn and George. They are optimistic, cheerful people. Although he is sure they are bothered about the chaos happening around them and are worried sick about their families, they don’t let this fact bring them down. Because of this, he finds their cheerfulness contagious.
The only thing that seems to keep the group’s morale down is Thomas, who remains immune to the couple’s optimism. He stays quiet most the time, looking distracted by his own thoughts. Even after Cry coaxes him to reveal more about himself, Thomas goes back into a daze after speaking a few sentences. Cry wants to ask him what’s wrong – what’s really wrong with him – because his initial assumption that Thomas is just worried about his family is shot down after the number of times Marilyn and George keep reassuring him that he will reunite with them once they get out of the state. It isn’t just that, Cry surmises. There’s something more.
Cry has a feeling that whatever it is that Thomas is thinking about, he does not want to share them when Marilyn and George are around.
Which is why he asks him one night when their group squat at an abandoned house and he knows that Marilyn and George are downstairs, counting their remaining supplies and therefore, cannot hear them.
“You can tell me, man,” Cry coaxes again, gently this time. He is willing to be patient for Thomas because he and Thomas are so alike, their ages, the similarity of their family members, their previous lives (alright, not really. Cry spends most of his ‘days’ from the late night to the early morning playing videogames and making videos) and he wants to help him out, help relieve some of the thoughts that are haunting his mind.
Thomas finally speaks. “I dunno,” he says hesitantly at first and Cry raises his eyebrows for him to continue. “It’s just… this is some crazy shit, man. I mean, zombies? Actual freaking zombies?”
Cry lets out a breath, laughing a little at the absurdity of it all. “Yeah I know, right?”
“And those two,” Thomas gasps. It’s obvious he is talking about the pair downstairs. “They just don’t care, don’t seem to mind. There are people eating people out there and they get over this fact and try to get out and leave the state like it’s a vacation.”
“But isn’t that kinda good?” Cry asks. “I mean – yeah, it’s fucking crazy that there are zombies running around and the world doesn’t make sense anymore but it’s good that those two out there have a plan. They know what to do.”
“Do they though?” Thomas says, scoffing weakly. His voice sounds bitter and defeated in Cry’s ears. “What happens when they reach there and the situation’s exactly the same? What then? Keep on moving to the next town, city and state and everywhere you go, it’s the same thing. People get killed, get bitten and come back. It might not get better at all. There might be no way out of this hellhole. So what’s the fucking point?” he doesn’t sound angry when he says this. He sounds tired, weary, beaten. Like he’s given up.
Thomas’s words are not new to him. Cry knows it too, understands what Thomas is saying because he has been exposed to enough zombie apocalyptic stories to know that nothing good really comes out in the end. It just hadn’t occurred to him that he is living in one of those stories until now. It’s unnerving and terrifying because it makes him think about his life before this, all the good experiences and bad experiences he’d gone through, everything he was and is now and this is where it leads him to – a world where none of that matters. He understands now why Thomas pushes away Marilyn and George’s reassurances. Because whatever they do now, the future will remain a bleak one. Either they die at the hands of the undead or continue the struggle of finding ways to survive. It’s a simple two-way choice and there is no third option.
Cry does not want to die.
“We keep going,” he says firmly to Thomas because he refuses to follow the dark path that the latter’s mind has gone to. “It’s still early days. We keep going and if we get lucky, we’ll see our families again. Don’t be like that. Don’t give up hope. We’ll get through this together.” He then adds with a cocky assurance and a playful punch on Thomas’s shoulder that his knowledge of zombie apocalyptic videogames will help them deal with what’s happening now.
Thomas almost smiles after his rambling and his pathetic attempt at cheering him up. “‘Cry’, eh?” he hums thoughtfully but his expression still looks a little sad. “What was your name before that?”
On a cool, misty morning a few days later, Cry sees Thomas step off the edge of a steep drop that plunges twenty feet down into a concrete ditch, right in front of Marilyn and George. They hear his body hit the ground at the bottom. With a gasp, his baseball bat drops from his hand and his feet carry him to the edge where he sees Thomas lying sprawled on his side, his neck bent at an unnatural angle. Waves of shock and horror run through him, the image of Thomas’s body disappearing over the side replaying in his mind on loop like a tape recorder.
“Oh my god!” moans George.
“Is he okay? He’s not moving!” Marilyn whimpers.
“Thomas, no,” Cry whispers. Despite their reassurances, Thomas continued to remain melancholic and unfocused throughout their journey. Cry never suspected his misery to be unbearable enough to result into this, that Thomas would choose death over the possibility of an uncertain future.
After a few minutes of silence and staring, George says, “We have to keep moving.”
For once, anger flares in Cry’s chest. “What about Thomas?” he says sharply, turning to the two people. “We can’t just leave him lying there.”
“There’s nothing to do,” George shoots back helplessly. “It’s looks like he’s broken his neck. He’s sure as hell as dead.”
“We can’t leave him lying there,” says Cry again because how can they? There are a set of stairs leading down to the ditch about a hundred paces away. They can still reach him. “He was our friend. He needed help. I tried to help him, hear him out, but you two…” this time he fixes his accusative glare onto Marilyn, who seems helpless and feeble as George is. “You two didn’t.”
There is silence once again and the cheerful charm Marilyn and George always used to exude is absent now, replaced by twin expressions of guilt. Now, they just look like a couple of lost children.
“What do you think we should do, Cry?” Marilyn asks, sounding subdued. It’s a little strange to have people much older than him look to him for answers but he enjoys the feeling of authority that he gets while he can. He relaxes a little.
“We should bury him,” he says importantly because it’s the right thing to do. It shows we’re still human, he justifies to himself. That we recognise the value of life, the sadness of parting, we know how to respect the dead. We’re still human in this crazy, inhuman world. He motions towards the flight of steps. “We can get down using those.”
George hesitates for a bit, turning his head to scan the road they are on. There is nobody around except for the trees, the grass and the wind. The sun is coming up, already clearing away the early morning fog. It is going to be a hot day.
“I think one of us needs to keep a lookout while we bring Thomas up,” George suggests. “We might run into some company if we continue to stay put here. Why don’t Cry and I go down to get him while you, Marilyn–”
“No, no, I’m comin’ down with you,” Marilyn suddenly interrupts to their surprise. She seems to have collected some of her composure. “I feel damn guilty about Thomas. We both didn’t notice just how bad all this is affectin’ him. Why don’t Cry stay up here and we go down?”
He watches as George and Marilyn carefully make their way down the concrete steps leading into the large ditch. He contemplates on Thomas’s suicide, hardly believing it had happened, mulls over Thomas’s words – “So what’s the fucking point?” – and wonders whether he would go down that road one day, when he is travelling halfway across America on his own, leaving a trail of dead zombies in his wake and realises that this will never end and what’s the point anymore, what’s the point of fucking living if what lies before him is another trail of zombies to cut through–?
But he sees Marilyn and George down there, walking towards Thomas’s body and wonders how long they have been at it, travelling together and seeing the chaos unfold in front of them. How many times have they seen someone they recognise pulled down and mauled by zombies? How often have they thought about their families? How strong was their hope in finding them, in believing that things will get better?
Somehow he thinks about his sister and niece and his cat and his family at home and his friends and his fans (his fans – the people he does not even know who thank him for posting videos and for making them happy and entertained and he loves that he’s doing good things in the world) and imagines them thinking about him too, hoping and praying that he is out there and surviving so that one day he will soon be found and saved. The very thought warms his heart, burns away the creeping dark whispers that have infected Thomas and taken him away. There is no way in hell that Cry will be their next victim.
Somehow, his musings lead his gaze to linger onto Thomas’s broken body and he realises with a frown that there is no blood staining the concrete ground anywhere. Thomas died when his neck snapped in half. His head didn’t break open, hence no blood. Which means–
His stomach lurches unpleasantly. He thinks he sees Thomas’s limp arm move.
“George! Marilyn-!” he calls down in alarm. Oh my god, oh my god, he thinks. Why am I so stupid? Why didn’t I notice this in the first place? I just told them to go down there. There’s nowhere to run if–
But by the time George and Marilyn turn their heads to look up at him, half of Thomas’s body rises from the ground and an arm darts out at lightning speed to grab the back of Marilyn’s jacket.
George lets out a surprised shout, “What the fuck–?”
Thomas – no, not Thomas. He’s no longer Thomas. It’s one of them now – sinks its teeth onto Marilyn’s leg. Dark blood spurts into the air.
Cry yells, “No!” and his voice echoes loudly around the concrete valley of the ditch and he stands there stupidly helpless, his baseball bat clutched tightly in his hand. He wants to get down there now and help them out, wants to rip the zombie off of Marilyn and drag George up the stairs with him and why the hell is he not moving why is he frozen on the spot and just staring down at them oh god that thing keeps burrowing its teeth deeper into Marilyn’s leg he can almost see bone and she is still screaming bloody murder and George is fucking freaking out why isn’t he using his gun oh god why is there so much blood and guts on the ground it’s pooling around them what should he do what should he do?
The sound of heavy, shuffling footsteps behind him startles him out of his panicked thoughts and when he turns around, he almost topples over the edge of the drop at the sight of at least half a dozen undead creatures staggering towards him, attracted by the noise coming from the ditch. Seeing this new danger so close to him, his mind suddenly becomes clear as water and he is presented with two choices that could mean life or death to him. It is like he is playing The Walking Dead again and he has to decide what to do within a fixed time limit.
Only his two choices are as follows: Go down the ditch and help George – or escape and leave him and Marilyn there for dead.
It takes only half a second for Cry to make a decision because he does not have enough time to contemplate on the possible repercussions of each choice. The zombie nearest to him stumbles and its pale, rotten hand which is missing two fingers reaches out, almost touching him.
Cry bolts from the spot.
Guilt rips through him the further away he runs from that place and he thinks, it was his idea that they should go to the bottom of the ditch to retrieve Thomas’s body. It was his fault he didn’t realise the danger of doing so. It was his fault that he got two people killed.
Marilyn and George’s screams continue to resonate from a distance. Cry imagines them cursing his name and wants to crack his head open.
The first time Cry kills a zombie, he lets his anger and guilt for leading George and Marilyn to their deaths become his power. He lets the hatred for these undead creatures, his anger at the unfair world he lives in to fuel the adrenaline running through his veins. He has long abandoned the baseball bat, which lays bent and crooked after many blows, and arms himself with a shovel propped against a fence nearby. He finds it to be much heavier than the bat but far sturdier.
He batters the zombie on the head again and again – he sees that it used to be a blonde woman and he can still see her pretty seashell-shaped earrings – until part of its skull crumples inwards and Cry brings the blade’s shovel down onto its neck, plants his foot onto the blade’s footrest and stamps on it hard until there is a satisfying crunch as head and neck separate. By the time he stands up and stares down at the gory mess he’d made, he realises there is blood on his wrists, on his face, in his hair, on his glasses.
I can get used to this, he decides, wiping his glasses clean with his trembling hands. It’s just like in the videogames. I think I can learn to handle this. I have to move forward and not look back and grieve over my mistakes.
He doesn’t know how long time has passed since he ran away from that ditch. He only knows he spent hours thinking extensively about what he had done, what he should have done and the thoughts circle around his head, stopping him from falling asleep. It is only then when he wakes up and is pounced on by a zombie that he snaps and resorts to violence. He feels more composed now that he has disposed the creature with his shovel. He tells himself that he can get back on track on his own, that he will stay in control, that he has to keep his emotions in check. The last thing he wants now is to lose what little sense he has left.
When he shoulders his backpack and picks up the shovel again, he turns and notices a dog watching him.
“Oh!” Cry blurts out in surprise. His voice sounds loud in the still, silent air and it startles the dog, making it retreat a few steps. It is a skinny dog with a dirty white coat and a wet, black nose. Cry can see it has been living rough on the streets. He’s surprised there are living animals still lingering around even when the place is crawling with the undead.
“No, no,” he says softly, approaching it. “Don’t be scared.” Poor dog, did its owner leave it here to die?
The closer he gets to it, the further away the dog retreats until finally, it turns tail and runs off. Cry watches it go with a heavy heart.
“There was a dog,” he finds himself saying. He doesn’t know who he’s addressing but he just feels like pointing it out. “A dog running around in this zombie world. Now that’s one lucky dog.”
He continues his path forward. By now, Cry has learned to move quickly, silently and inconspicuously, to avoid nearing objects which can conceal hidden zombies, to look and listen carefully for signs of their presence. He also avoids living people now. Once he spots a group of travellers in the distance who are going his direction and he forces himself to change course so that they would not meet later on.
He freezes when he thinks he hears a sound behind him and he grips the shovel in his hands and tentatively turns around, expecting to see a zombie. His eyes land on the dirty white dog from earlier on. It is standing a few feet away from him.
“Oh hello,” Cry greets, making sure his voice comes out soft and inviting. “Are you following me?”
The dog does not reply but continues to watch him. It does not seem wary or suspicious. It may just be curious of him because he is the first living human it comes across after how many weeks. After making sure the coast is clear, Cry crouches and extends his hand, “Come here. I won’t hurt you.”
The dog does not move. After some more coaxing and to no avail, Cry gets up to approach it only to have the dog run away from him again. He stares after it in disbelief as it disappears with a flash of its white tail behind a tree.
He turns, picking up the shovel again and continues on his way.
About an hour later, he turns around and sees the dog trailing after him, separated by a few feet.
“Why are you following me?” Cry asks it in mock-frustration. “What’s the point of trying to travel with me if we can’t even do simple communication? And how does communication look like? You let me pet you of course! We can build a relationship based on trust this way. If you just follow me around like this, it’s going to look weird and stalker-ish. I’m going to be looking over my shoulder and thinking there’s a fucking zombie behind me when it turns out to be you all along. Don’t run away every time I come near you, okay? Are we okay with this?” he takes an experimental step forward and stops when the dog backs away from him.
“No then, huh?” he mutters. “Aw, come on. What’s the worst thing I can do to you? No wait, don’t answer that, not that you could because you’re a dog. Just that I need to know your intentions for following me. Are you tailing me for food, to steal my food supplies? Sorry but I don’t tolerate stealing. I am willing to share food but we have to be friends. We need to communicate.” This is stupid, he thinks. Because the dog is staring at him like he’s the stupid one. Cry huffs and lowers the backpack from his shoulder and sets it on the ground. He fishes out a packet of beef jerky that he nicked from someone’s fridge and tosses a strip towards the dog. It catches the jerky with its mouth before it even hits the ground and hungrily devours it.
“Ohoho wow,” Cry laughs, impressed by what he sees. “You’re a great catcher!” he praises and proceeds to toss the rest of the strips of beef jerky towards the dog and it catches each and every one perfectly. Once Cry is done, he gets up and leaves – and the dog follows him from behind.
“Oh no, no,” Cry says, stopping and waving a disapproving finger at the dog. “I’ve got no more food,” he lies. “I may be impressed by that show you did earlier but if this is what you’re following me around for, then you should just scram – shoo. Leave me alone.”
The dog just stares blankly at him. He slumps his shoulders in defeat.
“Goddamn it,” he mutters, and turns back to resume walking.
The dog continues to follow him from behind.
Time has passed – Cry estimates about two days – since their meeting. Soon enough, he and his strange animal companion begin to settle into an odd arrangement. Although the dog continues to shy away from him whenever he makes an effort to move closer to it, it nonetheless continues to keep him company in his travels, like a stubborn ghost who trails after him during day and lingers around while he sleeps. It happily accepts any of the food Cry decides to share with it and he feels content just watching the dog catch any food item he tosses towards it cleanly in the mouth.
Cry doesn’t know the dog’s name. He wants to call it Hewie like the white Shepherd from Haunting Ground but somehow the name never sticks. He finds himself berating the dog most of the time, particularly at the simple commands he gives it because the dog doesn’t react to them at all. He also finds himself addressing it simply as “Dog.”
“Dog, were you really someone’s pet?” he asks one time while they walk across a bridge full of abandoned cars. He is careful to keep his voice low and his hearing sharp. “When I tell you to sit, you sit down. When I tell you to roll over, you roll over. When I say speak, you speak – or bark or whatever, like make some sort of noise. If we’re supposed to travel together, we’ve got to start working together. When I mean by working, we got to have each other’s backs. If you do good, I will shower you with love and beef jerky. If there is a zombie in front of us and I give the signal, you charge at it and take it down and you get more love and food. Just like Hewie. But no, no. You don’t do nothing but follow me around. Come on, Dog – we really need to learn how to communicate. Or something.”
The dog continues to remain silent, treading behind him like a shadow.
Eventually, Cry realises it is not too bad to have an animal companion like this, even though the dog never makes a sound at him or comes near him or follows his commands. For one thing, the dog certainly does make a good listener. Cry can praise or berate or cuss or complain at it for as long as he wants and, just as long as he continues to maintain their distance, it seems to stay and listen to whatever it is he has to say.
One night, they camp out in someone’s tool shed and Cry tells the dog about his life before all this, spills to it his secrets, recalls his best and worst memories and almost wishes he hadn’t. Talking extensively about his past life brings with it a terrible, overwhelming feeling of sadness which grips him by the throat and he wants to break down from the weight of it. He is stopped from doing so when he hears a low-pitched whine coming from the dog, who is sitting still on its haunches. It is the first sound he hears from the animal and he stares at it in surprise. Although they are always separated by a few feet, the dog’s stare right now seems different, almost reassuring, and the quiet whine that has rumbled out of it is the first message it sends to Cry, that it understands how he feels, that he should not be sad right now because he isn’t alone anymore.
Cry desperately wants to hug it, to wrap its arms around its skinny body, to put his face into its dirty white coat but he knows that if he makes a move, the dog will flee. Instead, he pulls out the remaining half of a stale croissant and tosses it and the dog catches it perfectly in its mouth like a pro.
“Good Dog,” he praises, watching it eat.
The next morning, while scavenging the tool shed for anything useful, he finds a revolver concealed behind a shelf full of broken jars. He examines it in his hand, fascinated by the look and feel of it, and checks its cylinder. About half of its cartridges have been used.
“Perfect,” he mutters, checking around the area for more ammunition but finds none. He pockets it along with a box of matches and then slips a lock pick set he finds in a toolbox into his backpack before leaving the shed quickly. The dog follows behind him as usual.
About an hour later, they run into trouble. Two zombies have heard them coming and begin staggering towards them, limbs swaying, jaws hanging open. They look like a mother and father and they must have died in the first week because their skin is already decomposing. There is a hole torn in the man’s cheek, revealing to them the inner workings of its mouth and jaw. Dried blood cakes the entire front of the woman’s dress and her arm is swinging crookedly by her side.
They haven’t come across any zombies since Cry’s first kill. Because of this, Cry wants to try using the revolver tucked into the waistband of his trousers but the need to preserve cartridges prevents him from doing so. He balances the shovel in his hands instead, ready to strike when the undead couple come close.
“Dog,” he says. “Brace yourself.” He peers over his shoulder and finds nobody there. The dog had bolted from the scene, leaving him on his own.
“Damn it, Dog!” Cry whines – and cries out in terror when he feels something grab him by the leg.
It is a little girl – a little zombie girl no doubt the child of the couple coming closer towards him, and it had crawled and sneaked up on him while he wasn’t looking and grabbed hold of his foot. Cry desperately tries to kick it off but its grip on him is strong. The child-thing is horrible to look at. One of its eyeballs are missing and its little legs were broken in two, jutted in different angles. A shuddering, clicking sound is coming from its throat as it continues to hold onto him. Cry swings his shovel hard to push it off. The first swing smashes its nose, the second kills it instantly. By the time Cry pries his foot out of those rotten little fingers, the undead couple descend on him.
Cry yells and thrashes, tries to push them away, swings his shovel to the nearest zombie he can reach. He is panicking now, moving on pure fear and terror, lashing and beating as he tries to push them off of him. It’s difficult, their combined weight is heavy. He is scared he’ll lose his balance and fall to the ground, expects to feel a set of hungry teeth rip through his skin and flesh. He yells again, louder, and swings his shovel once more with all his might.
It hits the woman on the side of the face and throws it off of him and he continues swinging until he hits the male zombie too. But he tilts, his balance lost following the swing’s momentum, his leg crumples and he falls to the grass. The shovel slips out of his grasp.
The male zombie attacks, hands aiming for his throat.
He has just enough sense to pull the revolver from his trousers, pull the hammer back and shoot the zombie right between its dead eyes.
Its face explodes. A mass of guts and brain spatter onto him. Cry flinches at the gunshot’s loud noise. His ears ring. His heart pounds hard in his chest.
The unmistakable bark of a dog. Dog! He thinks.
Cry kicks the zombie’s body away from him and quickly scrambles up to his feet. A few metres away, the gunshot has attracted the attention of the female zombie. It is trying to stagger towards him but is held back by Dog, whose jaws are clamped onto its ankle and who is trying to pull it away from him.
“Dog!” Cry exclaims, surprised and moved by the animal’s loyal gesture. Dog is trying to protect him, Dog really does care, Dog is trying to protect him right now. He feels warm, protected, loved.
We’re beginning to communicate, he thinks.
He needs to help Dog in return and quick. Jumping over the bodies of the two dead zombies, Cry goes to retrieve his shovel before a high-pitched, pained whine fills the air. He turns around and screams when he sees that the female zombie has turned against its attacker and has sunk its teeth into Dog’s back, ripping through the dirty white fur, into flesh and blood.
“Nooooooo! Nooo, no, no, noooooo!” Cry howls, grabbing the shovel and charging towards it. “Stop it!” he screams, swinging the shovel down onto its head. “Stop it, you fucking– stop it, stop eating him – stop, stop, get off of him, get the fuck off of him, you fucking piece of shit. No, noooo!” One more swing and it detaches itself from Dog and Cry yells as he brings his shovel down and stabs the blade into the middle of its face, feels bones crunching as it smashes into a pulp.
The shovel clatters to the ground. Suddenly, he feels exhausted.
“Dog, no,” his voice hurts, no his throat hurts, he can barely breathe, his eyes hurt, they sting as he sees Dog lying, dying there. Oh god, there is blood everywhere and Dog’s insides are spilling out onto the grass and she’s still alive yes Dog is a ‘she’ because Cry’s close enough to see it now and she’s breathing so hollowly it hurts just to look at her and she’s looking at him like she’s sorry she can’t be with him from now on and just why is this happening this is so unfair they were starting to get along so fucking well–
Cry gives a dry sob, “Dog, no.” It is the only thing he is capable of saying. He does not know what he can do, there seems to be no way to save her. He can’t bandage an open wound like that. He feels helpless again and this is worse than when he left Marilyn and George for dead in that ditch a hundred years ago. What can he do? What is there to do?
Dog whines again in pain. Cry brings up a hesitant hand – god, his hand is fucking shaking – and expects Dog to flinch as he leans closer to her. She doesn’t move as he approaches. Soon, his fingers touch coarse, matted fur. Her ears feel soft to the touch. She is trembling too, he can feel her warmth diminishing, growing cold. When he strokes her muzzle gently, Dog tilts her head a little and nuzzles into his palm.
Cry breaks down in tears.
He has never cried so hard like this before. He might have had done so in the past, in a life he used to know but that life now feels like a dream he cannot go back to. He cradles Dog’s head in his hands and cries into her fur, apologises into her ear, mumbles nonsensical things that mean nothing. When he feels Dog spasm in his arms, he pulls back to see her gaze. She is in terrible pain, he can feel it too and he doesn’t want her to die slowly like this. She is looking at him expectantly. He thinks he knows what she wants him to do.
The revolver feels ten times heavier now as he retrieves it and comes back to her. His whole body is shaking, his hands are shaking as he holds it up. I can’t do this, he thinks. His eyes are stinging again, his vision keeps blurring from the tears. I have to do this but I can’t.
Dog has no strength to lift her head but she is still watching him, waiting for him. Cry presses the barrel of the revolver onto the middle of her head. He hesitates for a long time. Dog whines in pain once more. A tear trickles down Cry’s wet cheek. His finger is tense on the trigger. Finally, he closes his eyes and manages to say, “Goodbye.”
And thank you.
He pulls the trigger and Dog isn’t the only one who dies that afternoon.
In the abandoned gas station where he passes a blue Ford Fiesta parked outside, he finds a zombie blocking the back door leading to the storeroom where he plans to scavenge for supplies. He takes a minute to decide what to do before he steps out and silently charges forward, his grip on his shovel tightening, the blade raised into the air. His quick footfalls land on the wooden floor panels, making them creak.
There is a loud clang as he forcefully swings the shovel across the zombie’s head. His movements are precise, timed, natural – coming from many days of wielding the tool as a weapon. He doesn’t flinch at the sight of the zombie’s head where its side and ear are dented in from the blow. He doesn’t feel horrified or disgusted as it lays there on the floor after being knocked off its feet. He stamps his foot onto its chest and doesn’t hesitate as he stabs the shovel blade onto the middle of its face with enough force to split it. It’s his signature move now. Blood coats the walls, his shovel, his hands. He steps back and exhales, relaxes.
And jumps when the doorknob of the storeroom rattles before it flies open and something charges out of the storeroom with a yell. Cry steps back and automatically raises his shovel to swing it but stops because the other person halts too, his yell dying in his throat.
It’s a man. The first living man he comes across for so many days. He is brandishing a battered, dusty broom in one hand while holding a metal bucket in the other. He is tall and skinny and his face is hidden behind shaggy blonde hair and a full goatee which is not bushy enough to conceal his bright blue eyes.
For a long time, they stare at each other in disbelief. Until the shaggy man opens his mouth and nervously says in a voice and in words that are entirely all too familiar:
“Heheh… uh, how’s it goin’, bro?”