Jimmy wondered how smug they would be now. He would have loved to run into any or all of them just to see the looks on their faces. He wouldn’t even say, “I told you so,” or anything like that. He wouldn’t have to. He would just look at them and smile, and they would know that he’d been right all along. More than likely, though, they were all dead. There would be no running into them, no basking in the glory of his self-righteous portentousness. That’s the problem with predicting the end of the world- when you’re right, there’s no one left to gloat over.
Jimmy had always loved horror movies. Even as a child, while all of his friends were watching the Disney classics, he was watching the horror classics- Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, or anything else that looked like it had the potential to give him nightmares. One day he saw a commercial for a movie that looked far more frightening than anything he’d ever watched before. It was a film so horrific that it couldn’t be shown during the daytime hours when Jimmy was awake and free to watch the relatively tame monster films he’d seen up until that point. As soon as the commercial was over, he ran into the kitchen to ask his mother for permission to stay up late that night. His mother didn’t answer, only raising a dubious eyebrow.
“I want to watch a movie, but it’s not on ‘til late,” Jimmy explained.
“Oh, and what movie would that be?” his mother had asked.
Jimmy looked at his shoes. He could see the way the conversation was headed. He mumbled something incoherent.
“I’m sorry, what was that, James?” She’d called him James. No, the conversation was definitely not going the way Jimmy had hoped.
“Night of the Living Dead,” Jimmy repeated. “It doesn’t start…”
“NO,” his mother cut him off. “You are nine years old. There is no way you’re staying up late to watch a zombie movie. End of discussion.”
Jimmy had opened up his mouth to argue, but thought better of it. When his mother said, “End of discussion,” ending the discussion was absolutely the best course of action.
Losing that battle hadn’t deterred Jimmy from fighting the war. He’d forced himself to stay awake that night, listening intently until his parents also called it a night. After giving them an ample amount of time to get settled and fall into a deep sleep, Jimmy had snuck out of bed and went into the living room as quietly as he could. The television had an old-fashioned on/off knob that also controlled the volume. He turned the volume all the way down before pulling the knob out to turn the set on. After looking over his shoulder to make sure he hadn’t been detected, he turned the volume up to a point that he could just barely hear it. Once he was satisfied with the volume, he went about the task of changing the channel. He was three channels away from where he had to be, which meant three clicks of the knob that could possibly startle his parents awake and alert them to his unapproved nocturnal activities. The clicks weren’t really very loud, but to Jimmy, they sounded like bombs going off in his dark, quiet home. He meant to check over his shoulder again, but was distracted by the black and white scene on the screen before him, and the bespectacled man’s grim warning to a frightened-looking woman named Barbara.
By the end of the movie, Jimmy was hooked. He’d had nightmares for a month afterward, but was hooked, nonetheless. His fascination with zombies had begun. He started sneaking every zombie movie he could, dressing like a zombie on Halloween, and even began writing stories about zombies. When he was sixteen, he wrote his first zombie book. Back then, no one really published zombie books, and self-publishing wasn’t a very realistic option for anyone who didn’t have gobs of expendable cash, but James held onto his book, and even wrote a few more.
When Jimmy was in his mid-twenties, something called “the internet” became a sweeping force across the world. Although his computer skills were lacking, Jimmy thought there was opportunity for him in the World Wide Web. He purchased a computer, got on-line, and found a plethora of like-minded individuals. The chat room he started quickly developed a huge following and, as Jimmy became more computer savvy, morphed into an e-zine. As technology advanced, so did the world of self-publishing. Jimmy put out a few zombie books and his followers bought them up as quickly as he could churn them out. He didn’t become fabulously wealthy, but he earned a nice living and was finally able to marry his high school sweetheart, Andrea, in a zombie-themed wedding, of course.
Life was idyllic for Jimmy and Andrea for quite a while. However, a few years after Jimmy’s thirtieth birthday, he began to talk more and more about zombies as if they weren’t fiction, but an inevitable reality. Prepping and survivalism became the focus of his writing, where they were normally the sideshow to his storytelling. They also became a focus in his personal life. Jimmy became consumed by the idea of a zombie apocalypse, and he wanted to be ready. At first, Andrea looked at his growing gun collection and fortifications of their home as a hobby, something she considered good for a man without a steady work schedule. As the weaponry became more and more sophisticated, and their home began to resemble a military installation, Andrea realized that his “hobby” was actually an obsession. Friends and family members noticed, as well. People stopped coming by, and Jimmy was often referred to as “creepy,” by people he knew when they were asked about him. Andrea quickly grew tired of the situation. She started to voice her objections to his outrageous purchases. Her objections became arguments. The arguments became fights. Finally, after twelve, mostly perfect, years of marriage, Andrea packed up her bags and left. With no children involved, their divorce proceedings were fairly simple. He kept the house, which she no longer had any interest in, due to the modifications, and she got most of the money.
“He’d have just spent it on a tank, or some other crazy crap like that, anyway,” she’d told a friend on the way out of the hearing.
In the months following the divorce, Jimmy was a cauldron filled with bitterness and paranoia. He broke ties with the few friends who still kept in touch with him and spent all of his time, and any remaining money, on his goal of being one-hundred percent prepared for the coming apocalypse. When the first zombie showed up at his door, Jimmy was surprised to feel a strong sense of relief wash over him. He’d assumed that he would feel vindicated more than anything.
He was cleaning his M-4 when he noticed movement on the screen that monitored his front yard. It was Mr. Jenson, who lived down the street and was on the city council. He was one of the small handful of people that still bothered with Jimmy- not because he cared about the man one iota, but because he was looking for a vote and a handout. On that day, though, Mr. Jenson wasn’t coming up Jimmy’s walkway to press the flesh, but to consume it.
Normally, Jenson’s appearance was meticulous and he walked with an arrogance that made Jimmy hate the man. The thing approaching Jimmy’s front door had no such attributes. Its suit was disheveled and stained with dirt and blood. Its gait was clumsy, but determined. There was a thud as it hit the door, followed by a series of bangs as it pounded its fists against the thick wood.
Jimmy wondered what he should do. His home was fortified to withstand a lot more zombies than the one that was out there now. If he went into the shelter in his basement, he’d be fine for months. He had enough food and water to last a very long time. Mr. Jenson’s corpse was making a hell of a racket, however, and Jimmy didn’t like the idea of a huge group of zombies being attracted to his home by the noise. He didn’t think they’d get through the front door, much less into his shelter, but decided it would be best to nip the problem in the bud while it was an easy fix. Even one more zombie could complicate the situation, so he pulled his knife and prepared to deal with the lone invader.
His hands were sweaty and shaking as he grabbed the doorknob and listened to the unnerving sound the ghoul’s barrage of strikes made. He took a deep breath in an attempt to compose himself. He yanked, but his hand slipped and he stumbled backward. Jimmy couldn’t help but chuckle and shake his head, embarrassed by the fact that he hadn’t undone the deadbolts.
Outside, the zombie stopped hitting the door as it tilted its head and listened to the sound of the deadbolts being disengaged. Its arms came up to attack as Jimmy swung the door open and grabbed its tie. He pulled and shot his other hand forward in one deft motion, putting his blade through the zombie’s left eye. It twitched once and collapsed in a heap in his doorway.
Scanning the area for more signs of the undead, Jimmy dragged Mr. Jenson’s body onto his porch. There were sirens in the distance as he was closing his front door. Somewhere nearby, a woman screamed.
“Not my problem,” he told himself. “It’s not like I didn’t warn them all. They should have listened to me instead of giving me crazy looks and talking behind my back. Just get in the shelter and wait it out. That’s the plan.”
Jimmy pushed a button on the wall to put his shutters down. Every entryway in the house was equipped with motorized roll-down shutters designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. Once they were down, he’d be completely cut off from the rest of the world and safe from the coming hoards of the undead. The shutters were almost completely closed when there was another scream. This one was a child and closer than the first.
“Is that what you’re gonna do? Get in your shelter while kids are being slaughtered out there? Yeah, maybe their parents are a bunch of assholes, but that ain’t the kids’ fault.”
The shutters were down all the way. He was fine. He was safe. The undead couldn’t get to him, but he knew that if he went into that shelter, the screams of children would haunt him for the rest of his days. He pressed another button, and the shutters began to roll back into their housings.
“The best laid plans…” he said aloud as he went to his armory.
It was hot and bright outside. The summer sun beat down on Jimmy’s bald, white head. He was overdressed for the weather, and carrying too much gear. His M-4 was slung across his back. He held a suppressed semi-automatic .45 in his sweaty hands. His body was covered in sheathed knives and holstered guns. He stopped at the sidewalk in front of his house and listened, unsure of where to go first. It was eerily silent on the deserted street.
“The world really does end with a whimper,” he said just before the woman screamed. It was from the Davis’s home, across the street and three house north. Jimmy took off in a run.
The front door was slightly ajar. Jimmy pushed it open slowly and could see the Davis children in the living room. Their eyes were white, their clothes torn and stained. The boy’s throat had been torn out, which made him the lucky one. His sister had been eviscerated, and had no other visible wounds. Her death had been slow and painful. Just as they were noticing his presence, Jimmy fired two quick shots and gave them both the mercy that the undead had refused to show them.
Jimmy’s gorge began to rise. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“They weren’t kids. They were monsters,” he told himself and hoped that their dead faces wouldn’t torment him for the rest of his life. “Dad’s probably at work, but Mom is here somewhere. Get it together.”
Mrs. Davis was in the house, and was still alive. She walked into the room and looked at Jimmy almost quizzically and smiled. It wasn’t a friendly smile, but a nervous, defensive one. Her eyes went right, and she saw the bodies of her children on the living room floor. Her hand shot up over her mouth and she made a noise that Jimmy had never heard before. It was a gagging, whining sound that broke Jimmy’s heart.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “It had to be done. They weren’t your kids any…”
She took her hand away from her mouth and let out an anguished scream.
“Oh, God. You have to stop that,” he said, partly because he didn’t want any zombies attracted to the house, but mostly because the sound made him want to crawl into a hole and die. He felt horribly for doing what he knew had to be done. She screamed again and he took a step toward her, but stopped. Jimmy saw that she’d been bitten. There was a chunk of flesh torn from her left forearm. He raised his gun.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. She took a step backward, as if the coming bullet wouldn’t be able to cover the extra ground. Jimmy squeezed the trigger and she fell.
It was all that he could take. He doubled over and vomited, cursing himself for going off-plan and walking out his front door.
“Some fucking hero I am,” he said and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
Jimmy heard moans behind him. Sure enough, the screams had attracted zombies the way blood in the water will undoubtedly attract sharks. There were at least a dozen in the Davis’s front yard. He looked toward his house. If he ran across the yard at an angle, there would only be three or four zombies that he would need to take out to escape. The problem, however, was part of an argument that had raged in the zombie community for years; he didn’t know how fast they could move. He hadn’t seen one run yet, but it didn’t mean that they were unable to. If they were runners, he’d be taken down before he got his front door open. Jimmy decided that standing his ground would be the best course of action. He pulled another pistol and opened fire with both guns.
Jimmy was a great marksman, even under duress. Within seconds, half of the group was on the ground with their brains leaking out of huge exit wounds. Then, something very odd happened, something that Jimmy had not expected whatsoever. The remaining zombies stopped and stared at him for a second before turning around and running off. Jimmy was so perplexed by the turn of events that he didn’t even shoot any of them as they ran off. Were the undead more sentient than anyone had thought they would be? Did they realize that a man with a gun posed a threat to them?
Jimmy decided to ponder these questions in his bunker over a bottle of whiskey. He was emotionally and physically drained and just wanted to be alone. He started walking home as three police cars pulled onto his street with their sirens blaring.
“Good,” he said. “Have a few drinks and let the professionals handle this.”
One of the cruisers flew by Jimmy and spun sideways as it came to a stop. The other two came to a screeching halt behind him. As the two officers were getting out of the car in front of him, Jimmy had to shake his head and rub his eyes in disbelief as he wondered if the sun hadn’t fried his brain during the short time he’d been outside. He pulled his hands away from his eyes, but what he was seeing didn’t change at all. The boys in blue were zombies, their skin rotted, their uniforms tacky with dried blood.
Jimmy’s mouth fell open. “They can drive?”
The zombie-cops raised their guns. “Put your fucking hands up,” the one who had been driving screamed.
“They can talk? What’s…” Jimmy shook his head and grabbed his M-4. It occurred to him that humanity didn’t stand a chance against these super-intelligent zombies.
“Don’t do it! Drop the fucking gun!”
Jimmy raised his rifle and six guns fired. His body danced in the street for a few seconds before dropping to the hot asphalt. The officers approached cautiously with their pistols pointed at the dying man. Jimmy looked up at the sun in the cloudless, blue sky as they slowly entered his field of vision.
“There’s a bus on the way,”
“Won’t do any good. This guy’s a goner,”
“Isn’t that the writer? The zombie guy? Fucking nut. Everyone knew he’d flip his shit eventually.”
Their words didn’t make sense to Jimmy. He said a silent prayer and asked God to somehow give any survivors a fighting chance against a horror that none of them had seen coming. The sun was eclipsed and the sky went black.