I’ve been changing around the zombie novella a bit. In particular, I’m doing an overhaul of the Jerm/Micah story arc. Here’s a revised chapter and a new teaser chapter to whet your appetite:
Jerm keeps pushing the CD into the Buick’s deck.
“Micah… hey Micah!”
“CD player’s busted!”
“Shouldn’t be. Just got it installed last year. It’s probably the CD.”
“Well, keep better care of ‘em, jackass. I keep telling you that you need one of those books to keep all your CDs in it.”
“Hey, if you want music, then just sing something. Give me a break there, man. I’ve been drivin’ since Oklahoma.”
“Hey. Don’t worry about it, boss. Yer doin’ such a good job innyway.”
“Fuck you, man. Take the wheel. I gotta take a piss.”
“Ahh, bullshit. We should open a lemonade stand, we got so much stored back there.”
“You know we can’t take any chances openin’ the window, Jerm. One bug flies in and we could be zombies, too. So just take the wheel and shut yer trap for a sec.”
“Man, yer paranoid.”
“You gonna take the wheel or do you want to hold my junk for me while I go?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it.” Jerm sighed, awkwardly switching over to the driver side and almost taking the car off the road.
“Careful, man! Keep it straight while I’m going or this car’s gonna smell even worse than it does.”
“Yeah, okay, Micah. Whatever, man… hope we can get to New Mexico soon.”
“Desert’s the place to be, Jerm. Not enough life around there to be zombie food.”
“Speakin’ of, we got ourselves a hitchhiker.”
“Just drive by.”
“But she’s hot.”
“Dammit, Jerm! Just drive!”
“What are you, gay?”
“At least let me put it back in my pants. Hand me the gun.”
“What? She ain’t a zombie.”
“She still has teeth, don’t she? We don’t know if she’s turning or what. Just hand me the gun.”
Without opening the windows, Jerm signalled for the woman to crawl into the passenger side.
“You guys are life savers. Name’s Jaclyn.”
“Jeremiah. This one’s my brother, Micah.”
“Kinda queer bein’ stuck all the way out here,” Micah said.
“Only one queer is you,” Jerm mumbled.
“My car ran out of gas a few miles back. I’m from Odessa, but I hear North is the way to go right now. I still can’t believe it, the dead walking around and everything. It’s crazy. I mean, I keep thinking it’s all just a bad dream I’ll wake up from… thanks for picking me up, guys. I was worried I wouldn’t see anybody out here.”
“Me an’ Micah are both comin’ outta Little Rock. Damn skeeters are turnin’ people into flesh eaters! Desert’s dry enough so they don’t breed at all, but Micah’s still paranoid. That right, Micah?”
Micah fishes through under the back seats for water bottles with actual water in them. “Yeah… so, Jaclyn. You up here all by your lonesome?”
“Well, I have some family headed up to the Northern states, see if they can get into Canada. I took longer getting out ‘cuz my boyfriend wouldn’t leave. I don’t know. Guess I was bein’ dumb wanting to stay with him in zombie country.”
“Naw. We were the same way. We all heard about it in other places but we thought we could all just shoot ‘em all dead and have a few beers to celebrate. It wasn’t like the movies, though. Even covered in DEET and holed up with boxes of ammo, we knew we weren’t gonna last against a third of Arkansas.”
Jaclyn pulls her sleeve down over her arm. “It’s terrible out there.”
“Here’s some water,” Micah offered.
“That rash on your arm… that’s from the heat?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s nothing much.”
“I can take a look at it.”
“No. Don’t worry about it.”
Micah pulled out his gun. Jerm swerved the car over to the side of the road. “Whoa, Micah! Holy shit! Quit playin’ with that thing!”
“I ain’t playin’. That’s a bug bite.”
Jaclyn shook her head. “No. It’s not–”
“Don’t lie to me, bitch. Our daddy had a bite like that before we found him gnawing on one of ma’s arms.”
“It’s just a little bite! I mean, it probably wasn’t even infected. Most bugs are just normal bugs, okay? I mean, if I start gnawing on people, you can shoot me.”
“Yeah, Micah! Maybe it’s not the end of the world. Just hold off for a sec!”
“Can’t take any chances. You and I both saw what happened to Little Rock, how fast it all happened. Jaclyn, please get out the car. You can keep the water. Here’s a few extra bottles, too. It’s not water, but you’ll thank me when you get thirsty enough.”
“You can’t be serious. Please! Just drop me off in the next town.”
“Shut it, Jerm. Just step out of the car and there won’t be no trouble. You’re better off than when we found ya. Just be thankful for that.”
Jaclyn removed herself from the car, sobbing and cradling bottles of water and urine. When the door slammed, she dropped the bottles and put her hands on the windows. “Please!” she wailed through the glass.
Jerm looked straight ahead, not starting the car.
“I ain’t talkin’ to you, man.”
“Just drive, Jerm. No more hitchhikers.”
A bottle of piss hits their back window as Jerm pulls away.
“I’m gonna turn this car around.”
“Jerm, we did what we had to.”
“I’m not talkin’ to you.”
“You already said that.”
“I don’t like it, man. I come back home from fightin’ in one desert and now I’m out here in another. What the Hell, man? I’m back home and the killing just don’t stop. I don’t want to keep murderin’ people, Micah.”
“It wasn’t… Jerm. Listen to me. Back in Little Rock… that wasn’t our family out there. They were tortured, man. We had to put them to rest. And that girl was as good as dead, too.”
“Does that make it right?”
“They were already dead. We did what we had to.”
Jerm slams on the breaks.
“But she—Jaclyn—that girl back there? She was a human goddamn being! She was still alive, you jackass! You, me—we’re gonna have to live with that so don’t try to hide what we did with pretty words. It’s an insult to her and everyone else we left behind.”
“We did what we had to.”
“You already said that, Mikey.”
Jeremiah clicks on the only FM station running in the area and starts driving again. He keeps his eyes on the road; Micah stares out the window, looking at the barren landscape and the pink sunlight fading into the horizon. James Taylor is singing about fire and rain.
After about fifty or sixty miles, Jerm clears his throat. Micah looks ahead to see a buzzard with only one wing hobbling across the road. With the high beams on, they can see it only has one wing and its beak seems cracked and hanging slack.
“That thing dead?” Micah asks.
“Looks like it.” He starts to swerve toward the bird.
“Don’t… I don’t want to be scrapin’ bird parts off my car.”
“Whatever, man.” Jerm turns the while a little and they can hear the beak scrape along the side of the car.
Micah gives Jerm a look like he’s chewing on old gum and wants to find somewhere to spit.
“What? Just paint. Don’t worry so much, man. Take a nap for a while. We’ve both been up for a day and a half at least.”
Micah still has trouble sleeping but he’s able to fade away after not too long.
“Wake up!” Jerm swats at Micah. “It’s five in the morning and I think I’m seein’ things, like zombies outta the corner of my eye.”
“What the Hell’re you talkin’ ‘bout.” Micah rubs his eyes and stretches in his seat. It’s pitch black out but it will be morning soon. They awkwardly crawl around the seats to switch places. Micah grunts as he rolls the seat back up to the steering wheel. It sounds like a spine cracking.
“Where are we?”
“We just hit Colorado about thirty minutes or so back.”
“All right, Jerm. I got it.” He starts up the vehicle again and starts back down the highway.
The sun had just started peaking on the horizon. Something shadows were moving on the horizon. “Uh… Jerm?”
“What? I was just starting to drift off.”
“You know how you said you were seein’ things?”
“Yeah?” Jerm took a second before he bolted upright. “What? Zombies?”
Micah pointed his finger toward the side of the highway. A large group of people were stumbling along the road, though it became increasingly obvious they weren’t people at all. They all had working legs, but some had chunks missing from them in most other places, maybe from the buzzards. The silhouette of a woman and child tripped over and pulled themselves back up to follow the group.
“Where the Hell do they think they’re going?”
“I’d reckon same way we are: North.”