Short Story: A Zombie Christmas 2

I guess you guys have noticed that I have been a bit hit or miss lately in this blog. Busy time of year with the family and the Poetry hasn’t been flowing like I like it to. Anyway, I thought I would fill in a few days of empty blogging by posting a few of my short stories that fit the holiday season. I know this is a departure from the normal blog activity, but I thought you might enjoy something a bit different and if you enjoy them feel free to support my self-published efforts by buying a couple of them. Might be a nice treat to fill up some of those new Kindles and E-Readers. Enjoy. Merry Christmas!

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A boy lost. A family desperate. It’s Christmas in a Zombie Apocalypse and Mike Beem is once again aiming for another Holiday miracle. His goal this year isn’t toys for the kids in the neighborhood. His goal this time is trying to save one small life so another family doesn’t have to suffer the way he suffered.

“5 Stars out of 5: I dearly love this author’s short stories, and these 3 were great.”

US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MF4WHII

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MF4WHII

AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01MF4WHII

CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01MF4WHII

December the 23rd

Mike Beem lowered his rifle, put his right eye on the scope, and closed his left. The zombie he was about to shoot was an ugly sucker. He stood about five feet tall, and was currently surrounded by 10 other zombies – all of them dead, rotten, and ugly. They were currently trying to kill a frantic man standing on top of a closed dumpster. He was waving a dying flare at them, firing an empty pistol over and over again in hopes that magic bullets would appear in the chamber the longer he kept firing.

Bam!

The five foot tall zombie lost his head. Blood and maggot filled brains splattered a nearby wall and part of the dumpster. Mike aimed again, and another zombie lost its head, then another and another and another until all of them lay splattered on the ground in front of the dumpster.

The man on top of the trash bin looked up at the top of the building as the flare died out, and waved to his savior, who was currently in the shadows. Mike waved back as another zombie shambled down the alley towards the man. Mike slung the gun over his shoulder and shimmied down the escape ladder, landing on the ground inches behind the zombie – a woman with dirty entrails dragging out behind her. She turned to bite, and Mike shoved a knife into her skull. He pulled the blade out, wiping it off as he let her drop to the ground, and made his way over to the man on the dumpster.

The man was just climbing down when Mike reached him.

“Hell of a night to be out,” Mike replied, as snow began to fall.

The man fell into Mike’s arms, and the two strangers embraced like long lost friends. Mike pulled the guy back and looked him in the face. He was at least in his mid-thirties, dirty, and dehydrated. His brown hair was matted to his skull, and his eyes were red from fatigue and worry. Mike felt a pang of sadness race across his heart when he looked into those red eyes. They were his eyes the night he lost his entire family. The first night of the zombies. The first night he ceased to be Mike Beem. The first night he became this new guy he was now.

“Thank you,” the man gravely spit the words out on a raspy voice.

“Name’s Mike.”

“Donny.” They shook hands. “We got trapped down here. We couldn’t go anywhere. We just -” He fell into a fit of tears, leaning against the side of the dumpster for support.

“We?” Mike asked, as the dumpster lid opened and the haggard face of a woman in her late twenties popped out of it.

Looking worse than the man, she shimmied out of the can and into the safety of her husband’s arms. They embraced – happy and safe until they realized something. A storm of worry simultaneously raced across both their faces.

The man rushed over to a nearby trash can, and ripped open the lid. He flung out all kinds of debris in his desperation to find whatever it was he was looking for.

“Donny. Where is he?”

“He’s not here.”

“How can he not be there,” Lisa Conswello replied to her husband of fifteen years as she went to the same trash can and peered inside. She then turned over a few more cans, but found nothing but emptiness inside them.

“He’s not. I told you.”

“Who’s not there?”

Donny and Lisa turned to Mike as a baby’s cries echoed around inside the dumpster.

“Our son, Tommy.”

“He couldn’t have gone far,” Mike replied, trying to remain calm as Lisa took the car carrier out of the interior darkness of the dumpster. Mike looked down at the dirty baby girl who couldn’t have been more than 4 months old, and then back to the man.

“He’s only six years old. He doesn’t know how to survive on his own,” Donny replied, about to cry again.

“Do you?” Mike asked, realizing too late that he had crossed the line.

Donny got up in his face. “What are you saying? I can take care of my family.”

“Sorry, I overstepped. All I’m saying is that you guys just don’t seem like you’ve been out here all that much.”

Lisa pushed Donny back and approached Mike with a much calmer head, the baby in her arms wrapped tight in a dirty blue blanket. The child had gone from crying to sucking its thumb, which was good, Mike thought to himself. Zombies like sound, and a baby is like the Holy Grail of sound.

“We were part of a group holed up in a building downtown. We got over run and had to split. We were there a while, kind of just got stuck,” Lisa replied, softly bouncing the baby with a mother’s touch.

“Time goes by fast even in a Zombie Apocalypse,” Mike replied, unable to believe that it had been almost a year since he had made that toy run to the mall. He had hoped things would be getting back to normal by now, but a year later and they weren’t getting better, they were getting worse.

“Can you help us find him?” Lisa asked.

“I will, but first I have to get you somewhere safe. I live in a neighborhood that’s fortified and strong.”

“Is that the light we’ve been seeing in the distance?” Donny asked.

“So, you’ve seen the star on top of my Christmas tree?” Mike smiled, glad the beacon had worked. “Come on. Let’s get you back to the Refugee Center. Hot food, clean clothes, formula, showers, and then we can find your boy.”

Mike watched as Donny took out a duffel bag from the dumpster. It was barely large enough for one person, let alone two people and two kids, one of whom was just a baby.

Donny put the bag inside the car carrier, picked it all up, and then ushered everyone forward. They started to walk towards the end of the alley, trudging slowly through the snow.

Lisa stopped about half way down, baby girl now resting and almost asleep in her arms. “I can’t.” They looked at her. “He’s out here, cold, alone, and afraid. I can’t go back to comfort until he’s with us.”

Mike stepped up to her. “You’ll do him no good out here in your current condition. The neighborhood I live in is just a couple of miles away. I’ll go look for him as soon as we get you guys settled.”

“But –”

“Lisa, he’s right, we have to get ourselves straight first,” Donny replied, trying to put the worry out of his voice, trying to stand strong for his wife and daughter.

Mike looked up and down the alley. He saw no zombies lurking about. He hated to do it, but he knew what she needed to do. “What’s your son’s name again?”

“Tommy,” Lisa replied.

“I wouldn’t normally advise this because noise attracts attention, but would it help to call out his name a few times before heading back?”

“Do you think it’s safe?” Donny asked, eyes scanning the world around him. It was spooky quiet, but he knew that could change in a moment’s notice if you made too much noise.

“No, it’s not,” Mike replied. “Who’s the one he responds to the most?”

“Me,” Lisa replied. “Since this started he’s been attached to me more than Donny.”

Mike took out a gun and handed it to Donny. “Do you know the basics?”

“I do.”

Mike looked him over. He was pretty sure Donny was lying, but he needed someone to be his zombie wing-man in case the corpses started popping out once Lisa started yelling. He had no choice, and no other options.

“Don’t shoot unless you have to.” Mike looked from Donny to Lisa. “Start walking. Call as you move. Now go. We’ll be behind you the whole time.”

Lisa bit her lip, looked around at the buildings, silent windows staring back at them, like empty soulless eyes. What was lurking behind those windows? What was waiting in the shadows? She had no clue, but she had to find her boy. So, she drew in a breath and yelled his name. “Tommy!”

Mike looked at her, and then at his surroundings as her voice echoed like it was running around inside a canyon. The alley was still quiet, no shufflers anywhere or any signs of movement in the heavy falling snow.

“You can be a bit louder. If he’s deep inside one of these buildings he may not hear you unless you do,” Mike replied.

She looked at Mike, and then to her husband Donny. He nodded his head that it was okay as he gripped the gun a little bit tighter, hoping he wouldn’t be put to the test.

Lisa looked around, and then just a bit louder screamed – “TOMMY!”

Movement, as Lisa’s reply echoed around them.

Mike’s eyes saw the zombie shuffle out of a nearby door. This walking corpse had an arm ripped off, and was wearing a bus driver’s uniform, hat hanging askew.

Mike holstered his gun and took out his knife. He approached the zombie with caution, caught it at the right spot, and as its teeth gnashed and bashed near his precious flesh, he put an end to it with a knife to the skull. He dropped the zombie to the ground and looked back at Donny and Lisa. They were frozen in awe and fear. Mike ushered them to the end of the alley. Once there, he stopped them from moving forward with his hands.

While they were paused, Mike stepped out onto the sidewalk and scanned the area. He saw a few shufflers moving about, but they were not alerted to their presence by Lisa’s screams. Mike leaned back into the alley.

“I think we’re safe to move.” Mike paused, and looked at Lisa.

She was strung out and worried, as any mother would be in this situation. “What about Tommy? I really can’t leave him out here,” Lisa replied, teeth chattering in the cold, tears streaking her face, baby somehow still quiet.

“Is there any place he might go?” Mike asked.

“Home or what used to be home,” Donny replied. “Before we went on the run, and got stuck, that’s all he’d ever known. I honestly think that’s the place he would go.”

“Where?”

“The Ritz Apartments. We lived in apartment 222,” Lisa replied.

“How about this? We go back and get re-charged and re-freshed. Then I’ll head over to The Ritz. I’ll see if he’s there. Deal?”

Lisa nodded her head.

“I want to go with you when you go look for him,” Donny replied, as a zombie dressed in a business suit shuffled towards them, slip-sliding in the snow.

“Can you handle yourself?”

“I guess so.”

“Then kill this one.”

Donny looked at the corpse moving towards them. He lifted up his gun, and aimed it.

Mike stopped his hand. “First mistake. When it’s quiet like this you have to use a sharp blade or something that won’t draw attention,” Mike replied, as he stepped up to the zombie and grabbed it by the shirt. He tossed the shuffler down to the ground, and put a knee into its chest. The male zombie reached and grabbed for Mike, teeth chomping away, ready to get at his flesh. Mike handed the blade to Donny, and motioned for him to try.

Donny put the gun away and got down on his knees in the cold wet snow. He gripped the handle with two hands and raised the steel above the zombie’s head. He brought the blade down and missed, destroying the face. Donny drew in a breath, looked at his worried wife, his child in her arms, and tried again. This time he got it right. The blade slipped into the skull with relative ease, and the zombie stopped moving.

“Good work,” Mike replied, standing up and helping Donny to his feet. “Sloppy but efficient. You’ll have to be sharper than that if we go out together.”

“You know you can’t stop me from looking for him.”

“Donny, please, he’s only trying to help. Don’t let your temper write a check your ass can’t cash.”

“Look, enough of that for now. We can grunt like apes when we get somewhere safe. It’s getting late. We need to get back.” Mike turned his attention to Lisa. “I promise. I will find your son if he’s still alive. I won’t stop until he’s safe.” Mike glanced back to the streets. Still quiet. “Now, time to move. Follow me or stay behind. It’s up to you.” He hurried on, leaving Donny and Lisa behind.

They looked at each other, then took one last look down the alley. They didn’t want to do it, but they followed Mike as quickly as they could.

December the 24th

Midnight arrived, and the snow reached a fever pitch. It fell down out of the sky at an inch or two an hour, blanketing the world in white.

Mike, Donny, and Lisa hurried through the frozen mess, slipping and sliding down a covered asphalt road toward a shut metal gate. The gate was connected to a metal wall that ran from the left and right, evaporating into the snowy distance in either direction. The wall, as well as the gate, stood at least fifteen feet tall, looming high and shimmery above them as they made their way towards it.

Mike took out a small walkie talkie and spoke into it when they were almost at the gate. “Cuckoo bird has come back to the nest. Three fledglings in tow. Immediate preparations are needed.”

“Copy that cuckoo bird,” a voice replied from out of nowhere, and then a second later the gate slid open, inviting all three of them into a world of safety.

Donny looked left and right, as they moved past burned out houses and cars. Through the darkness, he thought he saw something black moving fast, keeping pace with them. Donny turned back to the front when the black thing disappeared behind a house, and followed Mike into an absolute Utopia.

Once inside, Lisa turned around and watched the dead and decaying world disappear behind a solid gate of silver metal. Attached to the gate was a large green Christmas wreath, sparkling with silver and red tinsel. She turned back to the front, and looked at each home (though hard to see clearly in the snow) decorated in muted decorations. Doors and lawns and roofs all displayed some kind of Christmas cheer, and in the center of this peaceful oasis sat the largest Christmas tree she had ever seen. It was kept upright with wooden spikes and strings, and sitting atop of it was a large yellow star spinning like a lighthouse beacon. She looked from the tree to their path, and saw small bags depicting Christmas scenes lining their way. Inside each bag was a small candle, flickering bright in the snow and cold. She flicked her eyes from the candles to the baby carrier and the baby asleep inside of it, kept warm and safe by Mike’s coat draped over her, thankful Mike had given it up so her baby could rest comfortably.

They reached the Refugee Center that was just behind the massive evergreen. It was a small building with two windows and a door, all decorated with Christmas cheer. Lisa thought it was probably a club house or sales center before the zombies took over the world.

Mike ushered them up to the door, opened it, and hurried them inside.

Once out of the cold and chill, they shook the snow free from their bodies and tried to get warm. The room they were now in was square and small. It held a few couches, chairs, and a roaring fire in the fireplace.

Mike led them over to the couch closest to the fire. “Take a seat. I’ll see who’s around,” he replied, leaving Donny and Lisa in warmth and wonder as he made his way through a door set into a nearby wall.

They heard chatter, and then a small elderly woman appeared from behind the door Mike had disappeared into moments ago.  She held a small tray of cookies and cold water in front of herself as she walked over, set the tray down in front of Donny and Lisa, and made her way back to the kitchen.

Mike emerged a second later with a couple of mugs of egg nog, and made his way over to the couch. He set the mugs down in front of Donny and Lisa, who were currently devouring the cookies and water while their baby girl slept comfortably in the car carrier.

“What is this place?” Donny asked, mouth full of a sugar cookie that once resembled Santa holding a pack on his back.

“Home,” Mike replied, as the kitchen door opened. “Excuse me.”

Mike walked over to the older woman and stopped her forward progress. He kept his back to Donny and Lisa as he took out a small pack of powder. Tearing it open, he dusted its contents over their vegetables, mixing it together with a spoon, making sure the green beans looked green and not white.

The older woman scowled at him, but she knew Mike had done all this before. Newbies had a tendency to go a bit nuts when a loved one was still beyond the wall. Giving them a chance to sleep it off while he searched was always a help more than a hindrance.

Mike took the tray from the old lady and carried it over to Donny and Lisa. He sat it down in front of them, and they quickly moved from the cookies to the sandwiches and vegetables.

Mike took a seat in a nearby chair, and watched the fire for a moment. Finally, breaking the silence when he thought they were almost full, “Does she need formula?”

Lisa looked up at Mike. “Breast fed, but bottles work in a pinch.”

“Anything special? Any allergies?”

“No, regular formula works just fine,” Lisa replied, as she finished up her sandwich.

“Is she on a schedule?”

“She was.”

“Was?”

“Since we had to go on the run, schedules are kind of out the window,” Lisa replied, leaning back, watching the fire, letting the food settle.

“Best meal I’ve had in a while,” Donny replied, getting up and taking out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I step out and smoke?”

“Go ahead,” Mike replied, and turned back to Lisa.

Donny kissed his wife, and then made his exit.

“I wish he’d quit those things.”

“I guess he doesn’t see the point with all that’s going on.”

“His point exactly,” she replied.

“So, schedule?”

“Right.” Lisa gave it some thought, as Mike reached over and grabbed a pen and paper. He handed it to her. She started to write while she talked. “Her morning starts at 6. Then she eats every 3 hours after that. Usually she and her brother –” She paused, Mike let her linger. She shook the tears loose and continued. “– go to bed at 7. She needs a night cap around 10 or so, then she’s good till the next morning.”

“Naps?”

“Lots of questions tonight, Mike.”

“I like to have my ducks in a row. You also might need help while you get adjusted, so I will probably get you some help. Better to have all this down on paper so your help can just slide right in.”

“Makes sense,” Lisa replied, finishing up, handing the paper to Mike.

He took it and folded. “I also know of one pack n’play that I can get you if that’s okay.”

She nodded her approval as Donny stepped back inside, shaking off the cold and snow.

“You said this was home,” Lisa replied, as her husband took a seat beside her.

“This is where I was when it all went down. Living the dream, making a routine, you know the drill.” Mike got up and walked over to the fireplace. He warmed his front and kept his back to them. “Once it all went down, I stayed put even after I lost my family. It was hard to do, lots of memories in my home, but I stayed for them. I knew they would have wanted me to do that.”

“I’m sorry,” Lisa replied.

“It’s okay. I’ve danced with the demons so long that I’ve almost gotten used to the pain.”

“Who put up the wall?” Donny asked.

“We all did. It was a group effort. Lost a few souls in the process, but we managed to secure this place nice and tight. We built the wall in a square, not a circle. That way we can protect this place from the north, south, east, and west. We post guards on each wall, and they pace it for their assigned hours. It is strictly voluntary.”

“Can I help?”

“In time,” Mike replied, as the door to the outside world opened.

Wendy Jen slipped out of her coat, and dusted off the snow from her feet. She looked to be in her early twenties and in pretty decent shape.

Mike walked over to talk to her.

“How’s it going?”

“Three newbies. We need to help get them settled, and we need that pack n’play.”

“Way ahead of you. Greg’s on the way.”

“Awesome. You’re always one step ahead of me.”

“Somebody has to be.”

He handed her the piece of paper. “This is all you need to know about their daughter. I think Donna Jenkins would be best to help out.”

“Did you?”

“I had to. I had no choice. Donny wanted to go back out with me when I go look for his son.”

She took a breath. “Oh, that’s awful. Do you think he’s okay?”

“I don’t know. They were swarmed pretty badly when I found them. Lucky any of them made it through.”

“I guess you want the standard.”

“Clean bed, shower, clothes, you know the drill. If they work out we might be able to find them something permanent, but I have a feeling that’s going to depend on how it goes with their son. Liable to flip out if he’s no longer with us.”

“I’ll take care of them. You go back and get some rest. You look beat.”

“No more than usual.” Mike turned from her to the new couple. “Donny, Lisa.” They turned towards him. “Wendy is going to make sure you get settled. I’m heading home for a bit.”

“What about my son?” Donny asked.

“Once we rest up we’ll go look for him.”

“I don’t want to delay.”

“I don’t either, but this snow is going to make moving tough. Better to have some rest before heading back out. Let the storm clear, okay? See you in a bit,” Mike replied, making his exit, not waiting on a response.

Wendy took a seat in front of them with a clipboard in her hands. She took out a pen and looked them over. “What I have here are a basic set of entry questions we ask everyone who arrives. Just some things like what is your skill set, what can you do to help us if you stay, how long you’ve been out and about, can you shoot, how many zombies or humans have you killed, those sorts of things.”

“That sounds kind of rigid,” Lisa replied, shocked.

“It really isn’t. We’ve worked hard to make this neighborhood what it is, so we want to make sure whoever is allowed in will be a functioning part of our society.”

“We may not be staying long,” Donny replied.

“I understand. You are under no obligation to do so, but Mike wants you to have a good shower, clean clothes, and a place to regroup before you decide on staying or not. These questions are just a part of all that.”

“Is he the leader here?”

Wendy chuckled. “No, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. He is just the guy with the ideas. We just help him see them through. He helped my kids have a proper Christmas last year with his toy run to the mall. I’m forever in his debt for it.”

“Toy run?” Lisa asked.

“He, along with a couple of the guys in the neighborhood, decided to try and save Christmas last year the best they could. Their efforts went a long way to erase some bad times, at least for that one morning. It was the spring when we decided to put Mike’s wall idea into place, and by the summer we had it built. Thanks to Mike, we’ve been able to have a Fourth again, Memorial Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.”

“Now you guys are onto Christmas.”

“A bit overkill out there, I get it, but we’re just trying to spread a little joy around. Mike had us put up the tree with the light so he could bring in anyone that might need a soft place to fall.”

The door opened and two small petite frames walked into the room, dressed all in black from their combat boots to their ski masks. They dusted off the snow and stripped off their protective layers revealing youthful features and long jet black hair. Donny and Lisa turned to face the twin girls who couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old.

“Mike’s angels have returned safe again,” Wendy replied.

“Mike’s angels?” Lisa asked.

“He found these girls out and about, parents gone, no sense of survival, just barely hanging on. They were among the first group of refugees. They are sort of the secret everyone knows about, except for Mike, we think. We all kind of suspect he knows, but just doesn’t say anything about it.”

“Hi, I’m Double,” she replied, offering her hand out.

Donny and Lisa shook her hand.

“And I’m Trouble,” the other replied.

“I saw one of you when we were coming here,” Donny replied, feeling a bit groggy, but still able to pull up that recent memory.

“Double Trouble hang close to Mike while he scours the city for survivors and supplies. He won’t let anyone go out with him, even though he insists the others do when they go out for their runs. He likes to go at it alone, so we make sure he has help just in case.”

“You know, make sure he doesn’t get cornered or trapped,” Trouble replied, munching on a cookie that looked like a stocking.

“Has he ever?” Lisa asked.

“No. He’s pretty sharp, but we like to be there for him if he needs us. It’s the least we can do for all of his training and hospitality,” Double replied, warming herself by the fire.

“All right. Why don’t you guys run along now. Donny and Lisa need to get some rest.”

“Cool. Just wanted to pop in and say hey to the newbies,” Double replied, slipping on her coat and making her exit. Trouble followed after.

“Double Trouble?”

“Kind of silly, but the girls won’t tell us their names. They just go by that, so we allow it.”

Lisa yawned.

Wendy took notice. “How about we skip the Q&A tonight? If you decide to stay we’ll go over it later,” she replied, putting down the clipboard. She pointed behind them to a door. They turned to look at it. “Inside that room is a hot shower, clean clothes, and several beds. No one is in there tonight, so the room is yours. Donny, you can sleep until you have to leave. Mike will swing by and get you when its time. Lisa can sleep it off, if she wants to, until Mike and Donny get back.”

“I’m not sure I can. Having both my boys out there,” Lisa replied.

“Come on. A hot shower will be nice for a change,” Donny replied, taking her hand, yawning and helping her up.

“Five minutes a piece. Water goes cold after that,” Wendy replied, as a tall guy arrived with the pack n’ play. She walked over to him. “That goes in the room with them, Greg.”

He took the bed into the room, set it down, and walked into the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Lisa replied. “I really mean that.”

“Sure, and don’t worry, Mike will find your son. He’s got a nose for tracking, and a knack for surviving.”

Donny picked up the carrier and led Lisa to the open door, which led into a room that looked like a small hotel room with a double bed, beach pictures on the walls, TV/DVD combo, and a bathroom complete with shower and chemical toilet.

Lisa followed Donny into the room, and a second later he closed the door.

Wendy smiled and hoped they would get some rest, hoped they wouldn’t be too upset with Mike when they finally woke up.

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Mike lay in restless slumber, haunted by this world, haunted by the memories of those who had fallen, haunted by the ghosts of his past.

Donna Marie snuggled in close to him and stroked his long grey hair, trying to soothe him, trying to help him sleep. As she looked at him, lying there, she couldn’t believe she had fallen for a man who was just past 40-years-of-age.

Mike stirred, and opened his eyes. He turned his face to meet her eyes. She might have been 32, but her eyes carried the worry and trouble of so many who now lived in this world. “Couldn’t sleep?” He asked.

“I worry about you when you’re out there,” she replied, as Mike held her close. “We’re working clogs operating in a broken clock.”

“Are you worried about me going back out for that kid, Tommy?”

“Not just that. Every time you go out I worry about you. I wish you could just stay here and let everyone else do the running. Lord knows you’ve done more than most in this world. Building this place alone qualifies you for that,” Donna Marie replied, rolling over and sitting up. She slipped out of bed and covered her topless body with a house robe. She walked over to the window and looked outside. The snow was no longer falling, but the ground was covered in a heavy layer of white. Somewhere close to a foot, maybe a bit more, she guessed.

Mike watched her for a moment, and let the cool air of the room settle in on top of his bare chest.

“In the world before all this, Christmas Eve morning was full of so much hope and promise. So many of us just couldn’t wait for this night and the next morning.”

“Is it morning, already?”

“Yes.”

“I better get dressed,” he replied, climbing out of bed naked.

“Do you have to go?” She asked, turning away from the window, looking his lean body over. Mike didn’t answer her, so she dropped the conversation. She knew him, and she knew there was no changing his mind. He was as stubborn as they come when he wanted something.

Mike suited up. He put on his thick wick-away sweat wool socks, water proof black combat boots with steel toes, long thick black pants with a winter lining inside of them, heavy long sleeve wick-away sweat shirt, a vest with many pockets, a hat, and gloves. He loaded two pistols and put them in holsters that rested on a gun belt. He loaded the rifle, and put smoke bombs into several pockets on his vest. He also packed a couple of snacks, bottled water, extra ammunition, silencers, hand sanitizer, and a small flashlight into a small white bag, easily carried over a shoulder or on your back. The last item he grabbed was a large knife. The knife was large enough to look like a small sword in a young child’s hands. He attached it to his gun belt.

Finished, he looked from the mirror to her. “When I get back we’ll have either a nice Christmas Eve Dinner or a nice Christmas Morning Breakfast,” Mike replied, leading her out of the bedroom and into the hallway, walking its length until they reached the front door. They stopped and turned to face one another. He looked into her eyes, and felt ashamed that he had allowed himself to fall in love after what had happened to his wife and kids. He was still alive though, so survival not only meant staying alive, but falling in love again as well.

“Do you think you’ll be out all night?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Mike replied, looking at their Christmas tree in the living room.

“Just take care of yourself, okay?”

“Will do. Be back soon, promise. I love you,” he replied, and opened the door. Cold air and piled up snow crawled into the house. Mike looked out across the lawn and could barely see his Christmas decorations.

“Hey, love you too,” she replied, turning his face to hers. “Don’t forget that.”

They kissed, and Mike made his exit. He glanced back at the house when he heard the front door close, and then made his way over to the Refugee Center.

Wendy was asleep on the couch, but didn’t stir when Mike entered the room. He walked over and checked in on Donny and Lisa. They were tucked away in slumber inside their beds. Mike smiled, the sleeping powder had been known to knock people out for a day or more sometimes. What he’d found out was that survivors who had been out for a bit were not only exhausted, but battle fatigued. A good long rest always helped to get them through, and gave them a much clearer head.

“Sleep tight,” he replied, as he looked down at the baby, sound asleep in the pack n’ play. “I’ll bring Tommy back, promise.”

He closed the door, made his exit, and walked down to the gate. He stopped when he reached it.

Fred Walg looked down from atop the wall. He punched the walkie attached to his arm. “Going out?”

“Yep,” Mike replied, after punching the button on his walkie.

“How long?”

“Not sure. I have to try and find that kid of the newbies who arrived last night.”

“Which part of town?”

“The Ritz Apartments,” Mike replied.

“Heavily infected over there. Be careful. I’ll make a note of it in case you aren’t back by tomorrow. We’ll send out a search party.”

“Good to know,” Mike replied, thinking of his angels, knowing they would be there if he needed them. They weren’t as secret to him as they thought.

As the gate slid open, Mike watched the green Christmas wreath move slowly to the left. When the gate clicked into its open position, he looked out onto an undisturbed snow covered landscape with no zombies shuffling about. The destruction of homes and vehicles now buried under a calming layer of white.

“Merry Christmas, Fred.”

“Merry Christmas, Mike. Hurry back.”

“Will do.”

Mike made his way forward on the snow covered road, and just beyond the walls of safety, he stopped. His eyes shifted to the right as the gates slid slowly closed behind him. He thought of Jim Wells for a moment, looking at the spot where he was swarmed while working on the wall. Mike had tried to save him, but the three zombies had already sunk their teeth in by the time he got there. A ghostly boom suddenly echoed throughout Mike’s mind. The final gun shot to Jim’s head just before he turned, eyes pleading for mercy, eyes not ready to be inside a dead man. It was Mike’s fault for letting his guard down, and he swore from that day forward to never do it again. He said a prayer for Jim, for peace, for safety, and then got moving.

Fred watched Mike move on down the road, and then tuned his walkie to another frequency. He punched the button. “You there?”

A second later a woman’s voice came on the line. “This is Double.”

“Cuckoo bird has left the nest.”

“Where’s he flying to today?”

“Heading towards the Ritz Apartments to look for that kid of the newbies.”

“Roger that. Me and Trouble will get right on it. Thanks, Fred.”

“Anytime. Just keep my boy safe. He’s one of the good ones.”

“Yes sir,” Double replied, giving the thumbs up to her sister, who was just getting up from her twin bed on the other side of the room.

Fred took his finger off the button and let the silence take over. He paced atop the wall, breathed in and breathed out cool white breaths of air, and watched Mike fade further and further into the distance.

+

Mike stopped when he reached the alley where he’d first encountered Donny and Lisa. He peered into the darkness between the buildings, half expecting to see Tommy shamble out after him, but he didn’t see him, or any movement at all for that matter, coming from the tight confined space. The snow was undisturbed, no signs that anything human or zombie had been down here in a while.

Mike took out his knife, and with a cautious ease slipped into the alley where dark shadows seemed to be lurking wherever he looked, despite the bright morning sun.

He started flipping through the same stuff Donny and Lisa had flipped through in their frantic search the day before, though not as noisily as they had. Finding no signs of Tommy, he stopped, and stood there a moment, looking at a door that had three steps leading up to it. He decided to see what was lurking on the other side.

He kicked away the snow, and made a path for himself through it as he climbed the three steps. When he reached the landing, he cleared it off the best he could, making sure he had enough footing to fight off anything that might come out of the building. He drew a breath, exhaled it in a white cloud, reached down for the handle, held the knife tight, and grabbed the knob.

He turned it.

Click, click, click, seconds ticked, ticked, ticked.

The unlocked door popped open, and three zombies shambled out of the darkness onto the landing, which was caged off by two rails attached to the wall, with one way up and one way down.

Mike (thinking quickly) stepped sideways, and tripped the first zombie, who stumbled and tumbled down the steps, cracking and breaking all sorts of things in its fall. The second zombie (a lady that once wore a shapely dark dress that was now covered in filth) pushed Mike up against the rail and pinned him there. Mike managed to get the blade up in time to push it easily into her soft skull. He pulled the blade out, and lots of plump maggots oozed out of the wound, along with a healthy dose of blood. The zombie fell towards him, and he used her light dead body as a battering ram against the third zombie, who was currently trying to attack Mike from behind the woman. He shoved her into the male zombie (wearing construction clothes), and with all of his strength managed to dump both zombies over the rail. They crashed hard onto the ground in a puff of white powdery snow.

Mike quickly moved down to the zombie he had tossed down the steps. It (dressed in shorts and a “We have fun at the funhouse t-shirt”) moved and clawed at him, but with a busted body all it could do was reach out. Mike quickly pushed the blade into its skull, as the construction worker zombie came up on him. They tumbled to the ground. Mike underneath, the zombie on top, gnashing and mashing those discolored broken teeth inches from his flesh.

Mike reached for his knife, which had fallen out of his hand during the attack. Inches away seemed like miles as he clawed for it. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he grabbed it, and as his strength was about to go, he pushed the blade into the zombie’s skull. He removed the blade, and dropped the lifeless body to the ground beside him. He looked at the creature that had almost taken his life. He then looked up at the sun and blue sky. Tranquility in the midst of chaos.

Mike stood up a few minutes later, and did a quick scan of the area.

Nothing was lurking, not even a mouse.

He made his way up the steps, and with knife held high, entered the building, closing the door and locking it once he was inside. He took a momentary pause, used a bit of hand sanitizer on his hands, and then had a small meal.

When he was rested, he took out his light and scanned the place over. He noticed he was now inside a place they used to call “The Funhouse.” There were all kinds of arcade games and pin ball machines around him, just sitting there, silent and dark, collecting dust, waiting to be played again.

Mike walked up to one of his favorites, a game he used to play all the time as a kid. He grabbed the plastic joystick and pretended he could see the frog on the screen hopping its way through traffic. That’s when he heard the shuffling. But it wasn’t like normal zombie shuffling. It sounded more rhythmic in nature, almost coordinated, like the zombies making the noise were in sync.

He walked over to the spot where it was coming from, and found himself standing at the entranceway to a large round circle. He shined his light on one of the walls, and saw a phrase written there in bright neon green letters: WE HAVE FUN AT THE FUNHOUSE.

Mike shined his light from the phrase to the center of the circle, where two zombies were currently doing some kind of disco dancing, standing under the big silvery ball, acting like it was spinning brightly to their favorite Bee-Gees tune.

“I’m so glad I’m a metal head,” he replied to himself. Then to the zombies. “Excuse me guys, disco sucks, and its dead.”

The two zombies stopped doing the hustle, and started to move towards him.

Mike readied his blade, and managed to decapitate both of them before they could leave the dance floor. Their heads made a thump, as their bodies walked a few feet before crumbling to the floor.

Finished with the disco zombies, he made his way to the back of the building, where there were a few bathrooms, a sitting area filled with cheap tables and chairs, a small booth for ordering food, and an office.

He pushed open the half closed office door, and shined his light around inside of it. Typical office, desk, chair, filing cabinets, pictures on the wall, and dust. A year’s worth of dust at least. It looked like the place hadn’t been touched since this whole zombie thing started.

Mike walked over to the bathrooms, and peaked into each one of them. Again, the dust on the sinks and the mirrors and everywhere else told him no one had been here for quite a while. He took a whizz in one of the urinals, and then made his way back out to the small eating area.

He scanned the tables (yes, more dust), and then walked up to the concession area. He peered over the counter, scanning the small space behind it with his light. He saw no signs of Tommy, but he did see something a bit strange. He walked over to the door that led into and out of the small room. He turned the handle and pushed the door inward, knife tight in his hand, light shining forward. The door came to rest against the wall, and Mike slipped inside the tight space.

He stopped when he reached the white cabinet, kneeled down, and shined his light around inside it. Cups, chips, bottles of water, and a few things in cans were all that he found hiding in its shadows. He stood up, and shined his light onto the empty bags of chips, and bottles of water on the floor.

“Could have been him, but it also could have been anyone,” he replied, returning to the cabinet, reaching in for a few bags of chips and a couple of bottles of water. He closed the door that led into the room, and sat down for a moment munching away.

After he finished, he decided it was best to check out the upstairs and get moving. The day was quickly going from morning to noon, and he knew that if he didn’t hustle, night would be upon him before he realized it. He didn’t mind being out alone. But he did mind being out in the dark because it was a lot harder to see your surroundings via a flashlight than the sun.

The upstairs proved to be nothing but a gigantic storage area filled with old broken equipment, files, and lots of stuff in boxes. Mike didn’t see any signs of Tommy, and, thankfully, no zombies either.

He made his way outside, and stopped on the landing for a moment. He looked across the alley to the other building. A large high rise apartment complex with lots and lots of cold dark windows. Mike didn’t want to venture into such a spooky place alone, and he figured that if he didn’t want to, then a six year old boy wouldn’t want to either.

He made his way down the steps and moved up the alley, pausing at the spot where it led out onto the street. He scanned the downtown area, and tried to game plan his next move. He saw a lot of shufflers moving about, pushing their way ever so slowly through the thick white snow. There were enough of them that he would need his guns instead of his blade. He un-holstered his pistols, screwed a silencer onto each one of them, and with a gun in each hand made his way onto the sidewalk. He picked up his pace and headed towards the Ritz Apartments, popping zombie heads, silently, in the now mid-day sun.

+

Mike reached the Ritz Apartments somewhere in the later part of the afternoon, and now stood on a hill overlooking the parking lot in front of the building.

It was an absolute nightmare. One filled with lots and lots of zombies, shambling and shuffling about, clearing the parking lot of snow by just moving around in random patterns.

“Not good,” Mike replied, as he looked from the parking lot to the two story apartment complex. He sighed and sat down with his back against a thick Oak tree. He rested for a moment, and munched on a quick snack while drinking some much needed water, talking out loud to himself.

“First, you don’t even know if Tommy is in there. You could be risking your life in order to save no one.”

He thought on that for a moment as he looked back at the building. That’s when he saw something he hadn’t seen before, something tied to one of the lobby door handles. It looked like a white shirt, flapping in the soft cold breeze.

“Sure, it’s a shirt, but it could mean anything,” Mike replied to himself, as he leaned back against the tree and tried to think about his next move. That little voice inside his head kept telling him to trust his instincts, instincts that were telling him the kid was inside, and that he needed help.

“Dammit, Mike. Why do you always have to be a hero? It’s going to get you killed.”

He stood up and dusted the snow off of his clothes. He looked around to see if his angels were anywhere in sight. He didn’t see them, but if they’d been there, he wouldn’t have seen them anyway. They liked to stay hidden.

“Double Trouble, if you’re around, I might really need you this time,” he replied to the trees, hoping maybe they were up in one of them, watching over him. He stared hard at the trees until his eyes nearly split from the strain. Not seeing or hearing anyone above him, he turned back to the task at hand.

“Okay, Mike, here’s how it’s going to go,” he replied to himself, as he made sure both pistols were securely strapped and snapped in place inside their holsters, fully loaded, no silencers. He made sure his rifle was held tight to his back, also fully loaded. He tightened his pack, and then said a little prayer. He stepped out of the trees and descended down the hill, thinking back to his old High School Football days as a Fuquay-Varina Bengal Tiger. He was a star running back way back then, and he hoped that athletic skill would come in handy today.

He took his stance when he reached the edge of the asphalt, held the knife tight in one hand, and then blasted out across the parking lot after counting to three. He stiff armed one zombie, rotten tendons in its neck snapping as he pushed it to the ground. He lowered his shoulder and hit another zombie head on, knocking it into four others. They all stumbled, tripped and slipped, scattering out of his way. His path opened up then, just a couple of zombies between him and the open door. He grabbed one of them by its dirty red hair, jammed the blade home into its skull, and then slung the corpse into the last zombie in his way. Both tumbled and fumbled into the snow as he reached the lobby doors and ran inside, stopping for just a second to game plan.

He quickly scanned the dark lobby. Zombies were everywhere, and they started to swarm.

“Exit, where’s the damn exit onto the stairs,” he replied to himself, as he grabbed a zombie by the hair and slung it over the lobby desk. Whatever was behind the desk crashed to the floor when the zombie tumbled over it.

Two more came at him on his right.

He whipped out one of his guns and splattered their heads across the nearest wall, showering a picture of a tranquil beach in blood and brain matter.

This gave him a brief second to reach into his vest pocket and pull out a smoke bomb. He exploded two more zombie skulls with the gun, popped the ring on the smoke bomb with his teeth, and then rolled it to the left. He pulled out the other smoke bomb and did the same thing, rolling it to his right this time.

The zombies scattered, and this gave Mike just enough time to grab his flash light and shine it around. The light caught the silver EXIT letters on the door that led into the stairs.

He put the light in his mouth and ran towards the stairs, firing off every round in the gun in his hand. He holstered the empty weapon and pulled out the other one. Heads exploded and limbs shredded as he moved towards safety.

Mike reached the door, and flung it open without any thought of a zombie lurking behind it. He ran into the dark, and didn’t hesitate or slow down as he mounted the stairs one by one and two by two and sometimes three by three.

He reached the first floor landing and didn’t pause as he turned and hurried up the stairs to the second floor landing, flashlight now in his hand trying to show him the way in the thick black darkness where anything or anyone could be lurking.

He paused when he reached the second floor landing, inches in front of the door that lead into the hallway. He holstered his empty pistol and slung the rifle over his shoulder. He grabbed the brass door knob and turned it slowly. When the door was ready, he pushed it open, gun held tight with one hand, flashlight in the other. He stepped out into the hallway and quickly scanned his surroundings with the stairwell door hanging slightly ajar behind him.

The hall was silent, cold, and empty. A window at the end of the hall let in just enough of the late afternoon sun to show Mike the floral pattern on the floor, pictures on the wall, and apartment doors. Some were open and some were closed. There wasn’t a zombie to be seen up on this level.

He started scanning the doors for room numbers, careful and mindful of the open doors and the dark spaces they were revealing.

Apartment 222 appeared on his left.

He stopped, and reached down for the door knob.

Locked.

“Tommy, if you’re in there, can you open up?” Mike asked the locked door, and waited for a moment. No one arrived to let him in, so he put his ear to the door and listened. There was no sound coming from inside the apartment, he was sure of it.

He started to think about his next move when he heard a door slam against a wall. He shone his flashlight back the way he’d come, towards the direction of the sound, and what he saw froze him in place for a moment. The zombies were coming out of the stairwell like ants out of an ant hill. They were clogging up the hall, heading directly towards him. A tidal wave of corpses.

Mike pulled up his shotgun, stepped away from the door that led into Apartment 222, aimed, and blasted the door knob off the door. He then hurried inside, pausing for a second in a small living room area.

He quickly scanned the place with his light, and found one room that had to be Tommy’s. He made his way into it as the zombies started to pile in, choking up the living room like an undead party.

He slammed the bedroom door closed and locked it just as the zombie surge crashed into it. The door and wall shook, but no shuffler broke through.

He scanned the room with his flashlight, and saw no signs of Tommy. There was a closed closet door. He hurried over to it, opened it up, and slipped inside. He took a seat on the floor and listened to the zombies trying to get into the room. He caught his breath and tried to relax. It was time to game plan.

A flashlight popped on beside him revealing a six year old blonde haired kid dressed in jeans, tee shirt, and jacket. He was covered in dirt, but looked to be unharmed as he sat in front of a stack of comic books, empty bottles of water, and junk food wrappers.

The kid looked up at Mike. “Got you cornered?”

“Yeah,” Mike replied.

“What brings you out?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“I’m here to rescue you,” Mike replied, smiling, as the door to the room busted open. “Your parents sent me. I’m supposed to bring you back.”

“Are they mad?”

“Just scared and worried.”

The zombies started pawing at the closet door.

“How do we get out?” Tommy asked, brave and terrified at the same time.

“We stay quiet, and keep the lights off. Eventually they should go away. Once they’re gone we’ll find a way out,” Mike replied, putting his back to the wall, bracing the door with both boots.

Tommy turned off the flashlight and set his back against the door.

The zombies pawed and clawed.

The doors held.

The night passed.

Christmas arrived.

DECEMBER the 25th

On Christmas morning, Mike woke up, slumped over, Tommy’s head resting on his legs. He yawned and stretched, and that’s when he realized the building was quiet. He was slightly puzzled, thinking he was still in the dream world – a world where he’d been thinking about all the wonderful Christmas Eve nights and Christmas Mornings he’d had with his family before this new world set in.

Mike laid Tommy down on the floor and placed his coat over him. The kid stirred, but didn’t wake. Mike took out a pistol and gently loaded it (he didn’t do it the night before because he was afraid of making too much noise). Gun loaded, he gripped the door handle, stood up, and turned the silver knob until it clicked open. He pushed forward, gun aimed, ready to fire. What he saw sent him into momentary shock.

Every zombie in the room had been slaughtered while they slept. He stepped over the bodies and made his way to the door. He peered out. Every zombie he could see in the living room area was also dead. He looked back at the closet, and then ventured over to the front door of the apartment. He peered out into the hallway, and again there were no zombies alive. He holstered his gun when he felt Tommy step up beside him.

“What happened?” The kid asked, looking around. Blood coated the walls, the floors, the ceiling, and undead body parts were strewn about everywhere he looked.

“Don’t know,” Mike replied, as a sound rose up in the still air.

They both looked up towards the roof, trying to place the sound.

“Santa,” Tommy replied, half joking, but a bit unsure.

Mike looked down at the boy, and then up to the roof again. He had a brief moment in his head where he pictured Santa in full combat gear, and an army of lethal elves laying waste to this place while he and Tommy slept. He pushed that thought aside with a smile, and turned to face the boy. “Anything’s possible, kid. Let’s get our stuff and get out of here.”

“Can I take my family something? We left in kind of a hurry,” Tommy replied.

“Do you guys have wrapping paper?”

“We do.”

“And a couple of boxes?”

“Probably.”

“Okay, let’s wrap up something for your sister and something for your parents. You can deliver it to them when you get back,” Mike replied, trying to wash away the scene around them with a little holiday cheer. It was Christmas morning after all.

About thirty minutes later, they ventured out of the apartment with a little happiness in their souls, and fully stocked weapons. Every zombie they encountered on their trek to the lobby was slaughtered, every zombie in the lobby was slaughtered, and when they reached the doors that led outside, every zombie they could see in the parking lot was also slaughtered, dead and drying in the bright morning sun.

There was a fresh eight inches of snow on the ground, so Mike boosted Tommy onto his back and together they made the journey back to his neighborhood.

+

Afternoon was settling into the world when Mike radioed ahead to the guard on duty.

“Cuckoo bird is on his way back with a baby fledgling this time,” Mike replied.

“Glad to hear your voice. Merry Christmas,” Fred replied.

“Still on duty?”

“I couldn’t leave until my boy got home,” Fred replied.

“Thanks, and Merry Christmas to you. Can you tell Tommy’s parents he’s safe and sound?”

“Will do,” Fred replied.

“See you soon,” Mike replied, letting their conversation drop.

Five minutes later, the gate slid open and Mike and Tommy walked into the safety of the neighborhood.

Instantly, Donny and Lisa rushed up to their son.

Tommy hugged them, and kissed them back while Mike held the presents in his hands. When the family moment was over, Mike handed Tommy the presents and he in turn handed them to his parents. Lisa took them, and ushered her son back to the Refugee Center. Donny took a moment to glare at Mike, who stood there with his fists clenched, ready for what may be coming because it had happened before. Donny decided to let it drop though, plenty of time for that later, and followed after his family.

Mike ventured back to his home and when he was close, he looked up at it.

Donna-Marie was standing there in the doorway, wearing a robe he had found for her not long ago, Twister Sister’s version of “I’ll be home for Christmas” blaring out of the open door. She looked left and right and not seeing anyone, dropped the robe, revealing her naked body underneath.

Mike picked up the pace.

THE END

HAPPY ZOMBIE CHRISTMAS!

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