North of Armageddon

Chapter One: Travis and Sarah

Hindsight. They say it’s 20/20. But looking back, Travis still couldn’t remember what made him think they’d be safer up in Canada.

Just last week, the radio said that the Vancouver area has had a huge escalation of break-ins, robberies, and murders in the last month. They say it’s desperate squatters and refugees killing homeowners and making it look like zombie attacks, some even going so far as eating parts of their victims. Of course, the military has been cracking down on this, but there’s usually only enough of them to protect the more populous areas and some of the richer suburbs.

In response, the Canadian government closed off their borders. They hired armed guards and put Mounties on a constant rotation along the Canada-U.S. border. Recently, the patrols have been instructed to arrest or shoot refugees on sight.

But getting shot is the least concern for Travis and Sarah. If they had stayed in the States, they’d have risked being infected, too. Even the pigeons could become zombies. Even the spiders. Zombies could be anywhere or anything.

One day, driving down the road toward Prince George, Travis saw a moose just standing there, its ribs all exposed and its face torn off its jaw. It was missing an eyelid, eyeball frozen solid. Its tongue spilled out of where its cheek used to be. A man sees something unnatural like that, it’s hard for the mind to grip at first. Travis swerved too fast and lost traction, almost making his truck a permanent part of a spruce tree.

At first, the tires couldn’t get grip on anything but slush. Lucky for them, the moose was so eaten up, one leg barely had any muscle holding it together. Still, it was fast enough to scrape its rotten teeth and exposed ribs all over their passenger window.

The truck found what little bit of friction it could and shoved them back onto the road. Now, it’s all dented up from stray deer and moose attacks.

After that day, they never drove faster than thirty miles an hour. Even if they didn’t have snow to skid on, they didn’t want to total the car flying into a zombie moose and be stranded out in the wilderness with no car and no shelter. Sarah still has nightmares about the moose, but neither of them likes to talk about it.

Sarah always keeps the night watch because she said she has better eyes than Travis. She told him she likes to go to sleep watching the sun rise in the morning, but Travis thinks she’s too afraid to sleep at night.

Travis has trouble sleeping sometimes, too, knowing that those creatures are out there. But if he woke up dead, he woke up dead. And he trusted Sarah to keep him safe during the night just like Travis looked out for her during the day. His mother would have been proud that he found someone who loved him back. Mother didn’t have much luck in that department herself, not with any of her boyfriends.

Straightening his lucky blue baseball cap in the rear view mirror, Travis eyes the passing branches with distrust. They had plenty of warning once people started getting sick and eating other people, but it’s stressful not even being able to trust that birds aren’t going to fall out of a tree and savage your face. You wouldn’t think a flock of geese dropping dead out of the sky and flopping around on your car hood, but it happens.

Travis heard there’s folk farther up north that have to deal with zombie polar bears. He didn’t envy them at all, but he couldn’t help but think it was better than being suspicious of the trees.

Worst of all is the mosquitoes in the Bayou. Apparently any one mosquito bite can put a formerly healthy person at risk of turning into a zombie. On the radio, they said the swamps were one big dead zone. Sarah has become deathly afraid of bugs, especially with how many mosquitoes BC gets up here in the summer. She always wears gloves and tucks in her sleeves. Neither of them goes out at sunrise or sunset, especially around water.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but that’s a trap. There’s nothing to do about the past now. Better to head north and wait it out. Good things come to those who wait—they say that too, don’t they?

 

 

Chapter Two

“Oh sweet baby Jesus,” Sarah says over and over to herself, teeth chattering “It’s f-f-fucking freezing!” Sarah never liked to cuss, but she found a swear word here and there raised her temperature a bit. Spending so much time with her husband is making her vulgar.

Travis’s old pickup truck never did insulate heat well enough, even with the blankets they stuffed throughout every corner of the interior. She looks out of the little peephole in the passenger side window, but her heart sinks once again when all she sees is snow and shadows.

It was stupid that they had let themselves run out of gas, even though they always hovered close to main roads just in case. But Travis promised he’d be back by sunrise with gasoline. By sunrise, everything would be better again.

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus,” she repeats, huddled up in the old quilt her mother had made her when she was a child, the one with the cute baby lambs painstakingly sewn into the fabric. She shivers and rubs the warmth back into her arms.

“Travis, please be okay out there.”

Nights are the worst. Sarah sees creatures in the shadows, ones that are real as often as not. She never knows for sure until she can see the creatures well enough to hear their hooves or paws crunch through the snow.

One time, a squirrel fell onto the windshield and tried to chew through the glass to get to them. It could barely lift its head and likely had a broken back. Sarah thought, in a situation like that, that she would have screamed hysterically. But she just sat there, dead still, gun pointed at the squirrel, heart hammering against her ribs. She didn’t feel fear, at least not for herself. Sarah just felt angry. Ever since she and Travis fled up here, it had been a constant struggle to keep her wits in the midst of dead woodland creatures. And she had come to her wits’ end.

Sarah rolled down the window just enough to get a gloved hand through. Lunging like a snake, she grabbed the little monster and squeezed. At first it tried to bite at her. She squeezed it harder. It just stared at her, its hideous little buck teeth pointed at her. She squeezed it harder. The squirrel stopped went limp and her hands but still, she squeezed it hard until she could feel it collapse in her hand and see the blood ooze from its eyeballs.

Sarah realized she was clenching her teeth and relaxed her jaw. Her husband was rustling under his covers in the back of the truck. The night air was disturbing him. Sarah opened the door and rolled up the window. Then, silently she closed the door and carried the squirrel off into the woods to bury it in the snow. Her glove was coated and gore and smelled a mess, so she tossed it as a grave marker for creature.

She had never told Travis about the incident. He did ask about the glove, though, but Sarah said she must have dropped it somewhere.

There is enough terror in the daytime without Travis hearing about what goes on at night. Like the sound the owls make. Sarah hates the owls. When undead birds sing, there’s no music in it. There’s just a low, long whistle like they’re deflating. Sarah thinks that the night owls sound sadder than anything she’s ever known.

Nights are far more terrifying than the day, but Sarah chooses them for herself. She couldn’t sleep at night if she wanted to. Some nights she prays to God to make the day come faster, and sometimes she fancies herself as the moon goddess Diana. She shoots an imaginary arrow at the moon and pulls it closer to brighten up the night for her and her sleeping husband. Then, when the sun comes out, she can finally rest her head on his chest, knowing that they are both safe.

“Where are you, Travis?” the warm air leaves her mouth like a ghost. The moon is obscured by clouds tonight. It’s been hours since he left to look for the gas station that was supposed to be nearby.

Sarah huddles up in her animal blanket she had since she was little. It’s warm in her mother’s patchwork. If the zombie outbreak had never occurred, she and Travis would be celebrating Christmas at her parents’ house in Michigan. They’d all be eating ham and listening to wild turkeys gobble outside the back porch. One of their family traditions was to roast up chestnuts and eat them by the fireplace listening to Bing Crosby. She would always fall asleep there, wrapped up and toasty.

* * *

Sarah is following a star, almost as bright as the sun. It looks pale and lonely in spite of how brightly it shines. There is a barn where she can take refuge. The men and animals inside are all standing still, looking in quiet reverence at something on the ground.

“What are you all looking at?” No answer. No movement. Sarah leans forward to see Joseph and Mary sitting over their child, looking every bit like the ones in her parents’ nativity set. “He’s our Lord and savior,” says one of the wise men without moving his mouth. They’re all standing still and staring like in a painting.

Sarah leans forward to look at the tiny child in the manger. Its jaw hangs loose off its face. Its eyes are gray and dead.

The dead baby reaches out to touch Sarah. She jumps back in disgust. Mary’s neck is broken. Joseph’s jaw is missing. His tongue hangs loose onto his robes. One of the wise men, eye holes bleeding, lunges at her. Shocked and repulsed, she backs into a llama with filmy eyes and crooked teeth. It hisses and bites her.

* * *

Sarah wakes up to a tapping on her window. Her heart thumps hard and she convulses into wakefulness. By instinct, her hand reaches for the glove compartment to retrieve the pistol they keep there. She slowly pulls a blanket aside to check through the peephole.

“Christ, Sarah!” Travis knocks off his blue hat trying to duck away from the gun. “I’m not a zombie yet! Put that damn thing down!”

Sarah says nothing. She spent so much time worrying that Travis might be dead for her to believe he is here now. As soon as her brain processes reality again, she pops open the lock. Travis climbs in and closes the door before hugging her. They breathe deep into each other’s shoulders, taking in their scent. Travis smelled like gasoline. He breaks off the hug and smiles big enough to show his chattering teeth.

“It was a little farther than I thought it would be. But look! It’s a Christmas miracle!” He holds up the gas can. “I think we have as much as three gallons, but the station’s tapped out now. We’re lucky that there was anything at all. People probably just haven’t used this one because of how far away from the city it is.”

Sarah tries to listen to him, but scenes from her nightmares keep rolling through her head: the Virgin Mary, her head bobbing loosely; Joseph drooling blood onto his shirt; red entrails stretched out on white linoleum, wrapped around the man eating her mother; her father’s head on top of…

“Hey! Sarah!” Travis looks into Sarah’s glazed over eyes. “Are you okay?”

Sarah blinks absently, shaking her head. “Yeah. I’m okay. It’s just been a long night.”

Her husband runs his hand through her hair and puts his lips to her head. “Check me for bite marks,” he whispers to her forehead. She shrinks back from his touch, pushing him away.

“Stop that! I don’t care if you’re turning or not.”

“Don’t say that.”

“No! Stop!” she swats away an arm aimed at comforting her. “You think I can’t trust you to tell me if you’ve been bitten? I spend all night worrying about animals flying out of the trees and tearing my face off and you think I want to spend the rest of my time worrying about my husband is lying to me?”

“Sarah. This is important. It would kill me if I…”

“Just drop it, Travis.”

“Sarah. We’ve talked about this…”

Drop. It.”

She takes a few deep breaths, her whole body shaking. Travis nods and wraps his arms around her. Outside, the sunlight grazes over the treetops, peeking through the car’s insulating blankets. The cab glows an effervescent yellow. It’s finally morning.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“For what?” Travis asks, kissing the top of her head. Sarah has never apologized after these arguments, so she can understand his confusion. But then she wasn’t apologizing about the fight anyway. She knew she wasn’t wrong about that.

“I’m sorry about pointing the gun at you earlier… I was asleep when you got back. I had a bad dream and I was a little freaked out.”

“It’s okay. I’m glad you’re being cautious. You just spooked me is all.”

She nodded. For a second, when she was pointing the gun at him, she thought she might still be in a nightmare, that Travis had already died and come back for her.

“Sarah, I’ve been thinking about something,” Travis says, dodging the subject. “I don’t think we can live out here anymore. It’s getting dangerous, and not just the zombies. We need to make good use of this last gasoline that God has blessed us with.”

“Hmmm?”

“Sarah. What do you think?”

“About what?”

“Civilization.”

Sarah stares at Travis for a while, not really sure what he means by the word. She wraps her mother’s quilt around them both. “I think… I’d like to sleep together without taking shifts. I’m just tired of worrying about every little thing, Travis. I always feel like something’s about to spring out at me. I just want us both to sleep together tonight. Can we do that?”

Travis is cold and his eyes are drooping. He doesn’t seem like he was in a mood to argue. “Yeah, hon. We can do that tonight.”

Travis fiddles with the car keys and turns the radio on. It’s set to a station from Juneau they’ve been driving toward since last week. While before, they could barely make out a few words, now they realized that it’s a zombie survival station. The host had a voice with the gravitas of a television voiceover:

“…beautiful white Christmas out there. This is North of Armageddon and I’m your host, Kevin Harlow. By my side is my radiant co-host Rebecca Allen. How you doing, Becca?”

“Oh, good,” Becca sniffled. Her voice was feminine and silken, but a bit nasally today.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve got a cold.”

“Well, I brought you a present, Becca.”

“Really?”

“Here you go.”

“Ooooh. A box of tissues. Thanks, Kevin.” Sarah could hear the sarcastic laughter in her voice.

“The entire box. And those are the name brand ones, too.”

“How thoughtful.”

“Well, I’m going to be stuck with you all day. I’d rather not get your germs all over me.”

“That’ll be my Christmas present to you, Kevin.”

“Oh, it’s good to have friends on Christmas.”

Laughter floods the truck. Travis kisses the top of Sarah’s head.

“Merry Christmas, darling,” he whispers.

“Merry Christmas.”

Outside the window, the sunrise gives the snow a golden hue. Just this one time, Travis pulls the quilt over their heads so they can both dream sweet dreams instead of worrying about monsters.

 

 

Chapter Three: Micah and Jeremiah

Jerm keeps pushing the CD into the Buick’s deck.

“Micah… hey Micah!”

“What?”

“CD player’s busted!”

“Shouldn’t be. Just got it installed last year. It’s probably the CD.”

“Well, take better care of ‘em, jackass. I keep telling you that you need one of those books to keep all your CDs in it.”

“There ain’t no radios running in this area no more, Jerm. 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 anyway.”

“Fuck you, man. Take the wheel. I gotta drain the lizard.”

“Aw, bullshit. We should open up a lemonade stand, we got so much of your piss back there. Call it ‘Micah’s Special Blend.’ Let’s just pull over right, just this one time, at least to empty the damn things.”

“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.”

“There ain’t no mosquitoes in the desert, man! Yer paranoid!”

“You gonna take the wheel or do you want to hold my junk so I can piss and drive?”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it.” Jerm sighs, awkwardly switching over to the driver side and almost taking the car off the road.

“Careful, man! Keep drivin’ straight while I’m going or this car’s gonna smell even worse than it already does.”

“Yeah, okay, Micah. Whatever, man… hope we get to New Mexico soon.”

“We gotta find someplace safe to hide out for a while. That’s the most important thing right now.”

“Hey, Micah. We got ourselves a hitchhiker.”

“Just drive by.”

“But she’s hot.”

“Dammit, Jerm! Just drive!”

“What are you, a faggot? We can’t just leave her out here.”

“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 signals for the woman to crawl into the passenger side.

“You guys are life savers. I’m Jaclyn.”

“Jeremiah. This one’s my big bro, Micah.”

“Kinda queer bein’ stuck all the way out here,” Micah says.

“Only one queer around here is you…” Jerm mumbles, putting the car back in drive.

“My car ran out of gas a few miles back. I started out in Odessa—that’s where I’m from originally—but I hear it’s safe up in Canada.”

“Pleased to meet you, Jaclyn. Me an’ Micah are both comin’ outta Little Rock ourselves. Damn mosquitoes are turnin’ people into flesh eaters! Desert’s dry enough so they don’t breed at all, but Micah’s still paranoid. We figure maybe bugs don’t breed too much in the cold. He won’t be happy until he’s in an igloo with a cradle full of Eskimo bastards eating whale-flavored snow cones. 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 yourself?”

“Well, yeah… but I have some family headed up to the Northern states. We’re gonna meet up in Calgary if we can all get across to Canada. I took longer getting out ‘cuz my boyfriend wouldn’t leave. Ex-boyfriend. I don’t know. Guess I was bein’ dumb thinking he’d change his mind about staying in zombie country. I hope he’s okay…” Jaclyn scratches at her arm. “I still can’t even believe it, the dead walking around and everything. Thank you so much for picking me up, guys. I was worried I wouldn’t see anybody out here. At least nobody alive…”

Jerm reaches out for her shoulder and Jaclyn shrinks away, smiling politely. “We were the same way. We all heard about zombies in other places but we didn’t take it serious too much, y’know? Thought we could all just shoot ‘em all dead and knock a few beers back to celebrate. But even covered in DEET and holed up with boxes of ammo, we knew we weren’t gonna last against a third of Arkansas. Didn’t really go as we planned.”

Jaclyn pulls her sleeve down over her arm. “It’s terrible out there. I can’t even… I just… don’t know. You guys have some water? I been walkin’ all night and all day now and I’m about ready to keel over.”

“Here,” Micah offers.

She guzzles half the bottle in three chugs. “Thanks,” she says, taking a mostly-eaten granola bar out of her pocket. “I wasn’t even that hungry, it’s so hot out there.”

“Sure is. It’ll be nice to be in Alaska. I’ve always liked the winter.” Micah says.

“That reminds me. You want to hear a joke?” Jerm nudges Jaclyn with his elbow.

“Nobody wants to hear your jokes, Jerm,” Micah scowls.

“Wasn’t asking you. Anyway, what did the Eskimo know about history?”

“I don’t know,” Jaclyn smiles. “What?”

“Nothing. He never went to school.”

“Why was the Eskimo crying?”

Micah groans.

“Because his wife was an Eskimo.”

Jaclyn nearly spits out her granola bar. “That’s so terrible!” she giggles, covering her mouth. “How is that even a joke?”

“’Cause it’s funny, that’s why. Okay, this one’s good. What’s the hardest part about being an Eskimo rapist?”

“Jerm! We’ve got a lady in the car. Stow it.”

“Man, you’re no fun.”

“Where do you come up with these?” Jaclyn asks, scratching her arm nervously.

“I was in the army. Not much to do in Iraq except sweat balls and tell jokes about Eskimos.”

Micah leans forward points a finger at Jaclyn’s arm, waving it around in a circle. “I noticed you’ve been itching your arm a lot. That a rash from the heat?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s nothing much.” She pulls her sleeve down over her arm.

“Can I take a look at it?”

“No. Don’t worry about it none.”

Micah leans into the front seat, gun pointed at Jaclyn’s head. Jerm swerves over to the side of the road. “Whoa, Micah! Holy shit! Quit playin’ with that thing!”

“I ain’t playin’. Let me take a look at it. 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 sitting in the living room, gnawing on Mama’s leg bone.”

“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 look like I’m gonna start turning into a zombie, you can just shoot me.”

“Yeah, Micah! Maybe it’s not the end of the world. Just hold off a sec!”

“Can’t take any chances, Jerm. You and I both saw what happened to Little Rock, how fast it all happened. Jaclyn, please get out of 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. I won’t be no trouble. Please!”

“Micah—”

“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 removes herself from the car, sobbing and cradling bottles of water and urine. When the door slams, she drops the bottles and put her hands on the windows. “Please!” she wails through the glass.

Jerm looks straight ahead, not starting the car.

“What?”

“I ain’t talkin’ to you, man.”

“No need to. Just drive, Jerm. No more hitchhikers. Let’s just go.”

Jerm looks back to see the gun pointed at him.

“You gonna shoot me?”

Micah looks at where he’s pointing his weapon and points it at the floor. “No. I’m sorry. I’m just tired. Let’s just get out of here.”

“We’re going to Hell for this. You know that, right?”

A bottle of piss hits their back window as Jerm pulls away.

“No more hitchhikers, Jerm.”

 

 

Chapter Four

“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. First Little Rock and now this.”

“It wasn’t… Jerm. Listen to me instead of bein’ a damn drama queen! Back in Little Rock… that wasn’t our family out there.”

“I know that! But—”

“That girl was good as dead, Jerm. We couldn’t do anything for her.”

“Does that make it right?”

“We did what we had to.”

Jerm slams on the breaks.

“ ‘We did what we had to.’ ‘We did what we had to.’ Shit, Micah! Stop ‘n listen to what yer sayin’! She—Jaclyn—that girl back there? She was a human being! She was still alive, you jackass! You, me—we’re gonna have to live with that so don’t try and hide it with empty words. It’s an insult to her and everyone else we left behind.”

Micah looks away from his brother, choosing to stare out at the desert shrubs and watch the pink sunlight fade into the horizon.

Jeremiah clicks on the only station running in the area and puts the car back into drive. James Taylor is singing about fire and rain.

After about fifty or so miles of only choppy radio and car noises, Micah clears his throat. He points to a buzzard hobbling across the road. Clicking the high beams on, they can see it only has one wing. Its beak is 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 wheel a little and they can hear the beak scraping and rattling loudly along the side of the car.

Micah frowns at Jerm.

“What? You need to spit or something? ‘s just paint. Don’t worry so much, man.”

“…I’m gonna take a nap. Figure you’re gonna run us off a cliff eventually and I’d rather go in my sleep.”

“Suit yourself…”

“Wake up!” Jerm swats at Micah.

It was still dark out. “What time is it,” Micah asked.

“We’re just about past the buttcrack of dawn, man, but I think I’m seein’ things. Like zombies outta the corner o’ my eyes. Switch with me before I start driving off into the desert.”

Micah rubs his eyes and stretches in his seat. They awkwardly crawl around the seats to switch places. 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. A line of shadows scuttled beyond the edge of the headlights. “Uh… Jerm?”

“What? I was just starting to drift off.”

“You know how you said you were seein’ things?”

“Yeah?” Jerm takes a second before he bolts upright. “What? Zombies?”

Micah points his finger toward the side of the highway. A mass of people are stumbling down the road, though it becomes obvious by their jerky movements that these aren’t people. At least not ones that are alive. They all have working legs, but some have chunks taken out of them in most other places, maybe from the buzzards. The silhouette of a woman and child fall over and pull themselves back up to catch up with the group.

“What is this, a zombie parade? Where the Hell do they think they’re going?”

“Looks like the same way we are: North.”

Thanks for reading this excerpt of North of Armageddon! If you enjoyed the story so far and would like to buy the complete book, please follow this link: http://theundeniables.org/publications/

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