I’d never been able to sleep on those big jumbo jets. I don’t know what it was about them. Maybe it was because they flew so high up. I remember one time I flew redeye to Dulles from San Francisco in a 747 and didn’t sleep a wink. Then we flew from Dulles to a small airport in Pennsylvania, in a little mudskipper. We’re talking a fifty passenger, two prop plane. I slept like a baby the whole flight. Maybe it was the adrenaline come-down, or the safety of my father. My dreams were vivid:
I saw it happening in front of me, the whole terrifying experience of dying. The pain, the gore, I imagined myself on the hospital bed, bleeding out, burning out and choking on my own breath until it all went black.
…Then waking up again like it was some bad dream. I saw the astonishment I felt reflected in the nurses’ faces. I wondered if I were ghost. I felt as if I were replaying something that already happened when I looked over and saw the others tearing the room up. I already knew to hide. I watched as people ran past me screaming, only to be brought down and eaten. I scrunched myself down in a storage bin and closed my eyes. All around me I could hear people screaming, pleading for their lives, suffering…. I covered my ears so I couldn’t hear and prayed.
From somewhere else, I could hear Clive telling dad that’s when I found him. In my haze, I struggled to come to; I was almost too tired to move. The car had stopped; I felt like we were still waiting for George. Then I remembered, the images of his burning truck coming back. I wondered which killed him: the truck rolling over, or the subsequent fire.
As I climbed back into the cabin, I noticed my ankle was feeling a lot better.
Clive turned around and asked, “Did you sleep okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, “But I don’t think I really slept. I think I dreamt what you were telling dad about what happened.”
“How long have we been stopped?” I asked.
“Maybe about fifteen minutes,” Dad said.
We all looked at each other for a moment. I felt like I had interrupted the flow of things.
“So. . .” I began awkwardly, “Why are we stopped here?”
Dad let out his breath and shrugged. “I don’t know . . . . I just wanted to rest, I guess. Try to get a grip on what just happened.”
“Oh,” I said, “Watch out, Clive, I need to stretch my legs.”
I pushed Clive out of the way, pulled the latch and flopped out of the door, onto my back, in the dirt. The cool earth greeted me and I savored the feeling of calm and serenity, the pine scent, the dirt. I took a big whiff of dirt-smell and looked at the sky. I cocked my head to the left and looked out over the lake. In the distance, I could see a thin trail of black smoke rising from where we left George…
We were in front of the coffee shop, three doors up the street from the gas station. The sky was bright blue, except for the horizon, where I could see the last thin strips color before the sun would to peek over the hills. My watch showed sixty forty-three.
The road we were on was a two-way; one lane larger than the unmarked dirt roads we had escaped on. The shoulder of the north side being nothing but wood. There was the rise of another valley hill maybe five hundred yards off. The place was a ghost town, just like I thought. It didn’t look like anything had been open in a while. The window of the coffee shop had a thick layer of dust. As I pressed my face against the glass I could see everything inside was coated as well.
“Dad,” I said.
He came over and stood by me. We were both looking at the smoke now. I wanted to tell him not to feel bad. But I kinda wanted him to tell me that. The incidents at Bloody Rock were so fresh I couldn’t think about them without breathing heavier. And then there was Clive. I found myself spacing out for a minute, thinking about what would happen, eventually. Then I wasn’t really thinking about that, I was just staring out.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dad said quietly.
When I turned, he was looking at me solemnly. But somewhere in his eyes I saw a glint.
“What is?” I asked him.
“How are you so calm?” Dad asked me, “Are you just pretending? What Clive told me. . .”
He left off there, probably realizing he didn’t need to tell me. I took a few seconds to think about what I would say. I wasn’t really calm inside. But we were away from it. We had that much. How long would it take for them to wander? Or chase the others into the woods? Do they even need to eat?
“I don’t know,” I said to myself, as much as him. “I just took it at face value, took it like I had to.”
He looked at me.
“It was really just self-preservation,” I told him.
Dad asked, “How’s your ankle?”
I shifted my weight back and forth on it. It felt really stiff, but I could still use it, for the most part.
“It’s okay, I guess.” I told him, “Could use some ice, though.”
When Clive came over to tell us we were forty-five minutes away from the highway, I noticed his eyes were a little paler. They looked like a gray instead of blue. And he used to have brown eyes. Dad and I both shared a look before examining the route. It was different from the way we came, but it would shave off fifteen minutes. And the road looked fairly flat, once we hit the ridge.
The winds shifted direction, a dry heat wafting over us. I could have sworn I heard something humming in the distance. Clive was looking at me.
“Who do you think called Dr. Robertson?” He asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “All the phones I tried weren’t working. And we didn’t get cell phone reception.”
“Maybe he was just crazy,” Dad offered.
I couldn’t argue with that. The little asshole was probably bunkered up in his office, talking to an imaginary person on the phone. I let out a low chuckle at the thought.
“Let’s get out of here.” Clive said.
“You don’t have to twist my arm,” Dad replied.
So we mounted up and drove away. The road was deserted. Only a couple SUV’s passed us. Then we turned on the freeway. By the time my stomach started to gurgle uncontrollably, we’d been driving for two hours and were in Santa Rosa. Dad spotted a McDonald’s and told us it was time for breakfast.
The first thing that Clive and I did when we walked into the McDonald’s was wash our hands. Mine were stained the color of the earth outside the hospital; they looked like I had been digging in red clay, if one didn’t know better. I tried not to notice as I scrubbed errant bits of hair off my fingernails. After my hands, I scrubbed my face. I was tan, normally. But my face was covered in a thin layer of grime. More from camping than anything else; I smelled, too. The smell of the hospital had eased since I changed clothes, but the smell was still stuck in my hair; and it felt like it clung to my skin.
After I dried off, I took Clive’s pulse, hoping. . . . But his skin was cold. And he still didn’t have a pulse. His eyes were still the lightest, dullest blue I’d ever seen. Enzyme packages my ass, I thought. This is some voodoo bullshit.
When we walked out, Dad had gotten us a pile of McMuffins.
“I hop you brought your appetite,” He said.
Oh man, I thought.
I tore into the food with a reckless abandon.
Running for my life had me hungry. Dad was more conservative, and I noticed Clive just sniffing at the food. In between a gulp of orange juice and giant bite of egg, sausage and muffin, I took the patty out of Clive’s sandwich and squirted a bunch of ketchup on it, so it looked bloodier.
“That’s not funny,” He told me.
“Get used to it,” I told him, “You can’t eat the dog.”
“’m not hungry,” Was all Clive said.
I laughed anyway. A kind of desperate, denial-laugh.
“Seriously, though,” I told him, “Eat the fucking burger.”
“Don’t talk to your brother like that!” Dad snapped. My dad was scary when he got angry sometimes.
“Sorry, Clive,” I said.
“S’okay,” He mumbled.
Clive picked up the patty, then, and nibbled at it. I watched him think about the taste, the texture. I was kind of alarmed when I realized his nostrils were flared and he was looking at the other people eating. I could tell he really wanted them. Or us, for that fact. I tried not to think about it, so I just concentrated on eating. Dad tried to make small talk, but he could kind of tell Clive and I were both in our own little worlds.
When I finished, I got up, balled up my wrappers and shit, threw it in the trash, washed my hands, wiped my face and walked outside. I did all of that while I tried not to focus on the very real fear of my brother rising in me. Clive wasn’t my brother. Rodney wasn’t my friend. Those things in the hall way weren’t my friends. Even that woman, the one I crushed the head of…. She wasn’t really a woman.
I shook my head and lit a cigarette; the conflict between what I saw and what I knew was the truth simmering just below the surface. I hoped that my brother and my dad finished soon.
Sooner or later, I thought.
I could already see the battle to the death. I don’t know why Rodney didn’t lift me up by the eye sockets, too. Or even tore out my throat or hit me with an EKG monitor. Why didn’t he? But Clive was definitely capable of something like it. Dad should have asked him how he could be so calm. How did it feel to be a zombie? How was any of this possible?
And if we killed him, what would we do with the body?
“Jesus christ!” I said aloud, “I can’t believe I’m actually thinking about this.”
A mom with two kids walked out. The kids were tyke, pretty much unaware of their surroundings. The mom looked kinda tired as she herded them to the wagon. It seemed so wrong. If I’d left him, would he have turned on me? If I had killed him, I was sure it would’ve felt much worse right now. But I had to take him with me.
God damn it.
When Dad and Clive came back out, I asked to drive. Dad gave me the keys and I hopped in. Man, I loved driving the Toyota; and I drove it fast, too. I rolled the windows down and turned on some oldies to get my mind off everything. I knew Clive would have to be dealt with. It was something that I had made my peace with. In the moments after I snuffed my cigarettes out, I resolved myself to taking the matter into my own hands. I would make him kill himself.
Or maybe not; I still didn’t know what to do with the body. I mean—“alive”—Clive is a zombie. Dead, Clive is just a dead kid. And cops are going to want to know why there’s a dead kid in your house. There’s gonna be an investigation. Someone has to be blamed, and it wasn’t gonna be me.
If we didn’t kill him: then what? Would we let him decompose until he couldn’t move? Would he be completely conscious during the rest of his decay? Frankly, would he like for us to bury him alive? As I rolled over the Richmond Bridge, I considered dumping him in the bay. A cement coffin might do well. The body would decompose inside of it; and no one would find it because it’s at the bottom of the bay.
But then I remembered that this wasn’t just a body. The whole situation seemed a reversal of all of those hide-the-body dreams I’ve ever had. This wasn’t just a fit of passion. But he’s a zombie! I thought, but I can’t prove it when he’s completely dead!
It frustrated me, not having an answer. I needed to have an answer. I felt like I was on the verge of popping. But I regained my control, and decide to confer with my father later. I didn’t know what he thought of the situation. From what I’d seen, my Dad was pretty much in denial. He was being kinda vacant, not really bringing attention to anything. I wondered if he was afraid of Clive, too. If, maybe, he thought that bringing the matter up would spur an attack.
At the toll plaza, at the Bay Bridge, I jockeyed my way through cars. Dad gave me the toll money and I made the hop, skip and jump to our exit. Sometimes it was convenient living in the middle of the bay.
When we got home, everything was how we left it. Everything seemed so normal. I let out a huge sigh of relief when I opened the front door and the cool air hit me. We didn’t worry about the stuff in the truck yet. As Dad and Clive started opening the windows, I dropped my backpack on my bed, turn my computer on, and stood out on the front porch and looked at San Francisco. I could hear Dad messing with the television.
The day was clear. It was about eleven now, and it was unseasonably warm for November. And, with only a couple hours of sleep, it was incredibly early. When I turned around and went back inside, Dad was watching channel two. I remember this part clearly:
“…And the breaking news: Bombs Destroy the Francis E. Seymour Children’s Research Hospital in an Apparent Terrorist Attack. There are no survivors,” Was what the lady said.
I said, “What the fuck?!”
Dad said, “Clive!”
Clive came running and we all looked at the screen. It was a hill, with a smoldering pile of brick and metal rubble.
“That’s the hospital!” Clive exclaimed.
The image cut to a pan over some dead bodies in the wreckage, burning R.V.’s.
“Officials believe several bombs that were planted inside the hospital exploded earlier than planned. The explosions completely destroyed the hospital. What you see behind me is the rubble. Some of it is still on fire, but fire crews say they have it… [I could hear the sounds of a jet soaring overhead] ninety-percent contained.”
We looked on in disbelief as they played interviews with someone in camoflauge.
“This is bullshit,” Dad said.
Clive and I just looked at each other in disbelief. The television told us there would be more information at noon. Fuck, I thought. Dad jumped up and started screaming cover-up.
“You can’t show anyone those CD’s now,” Dad told me. “If they find out we were there. . .”
He looked at Clive. I could see the light turn on. Clive looked at both of us like we were going to kill him. And who knows? Maybe we were.
“Go to your room, Clive,” Dad said. “We need to talk about you.”
“Are you going to kill me?” He asked, obviously afraid.
But Dad didn’t answer. Clive went to his room, and slammed his door. Dad turned the television up in the living room, and we walked into the kitchen, where we wouldn’t be overheard. He poured a glass of water.
“Have you been thinking about what to do, too?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” Dad says, “But this completely changes everything.”
I took out the first aid kit and started to wrap my ankle. It was very stiff, and very swollen, but not broken. I brought Dad up to speed on what I had already considered. Dad nodded and sipped his water.
In the background, I could hear the reporters talking about “assassination.” One of the African diplomats who were supposed to in attendance was running for re-election. He was very unpopular, the report said, and lots of people wanted him out. It was amazing how deep the lie was.
They already had people in jail for orchestrating the attack. I wondered what the omnipotent “they” would do if they ever found out we were alive. My only regret was that I couldn’t be there to witness the spectacle. Those things were exterminated. At least, I hoped they were.
“Whatever happened there,” Dad said, “People aren’t supposed to know there were zombies. And we definitely were not supposed to get away.”
I wondered how they did it. How the government decided to destroy everything. Even though the footage was heavily edited, I was sure the jet in the background was a fighter. They probably called in the air force, I thought.
“How many of them do you think escaped?” I asked.
“I don’t know…” Dad replied, “They had a few hours to roam. Those other two got pretty far…”
“Do you think they’ll get to civilization?”
Then I asked him the real question, “What do we do with the body?”
Dad’s face went through a series of emotions, the first being shocked anger. I thought he was going to hit me, honestly. Then he took on the look he has whenever we play chess and I’ve just backed him into a corner. He looked at the backyard, probably sizing it up for a burial.
“We could just bury him under the house,” I cracked.
“Don’t be morbid,” Dad told me, “This is already bad enough without you being so insensitive.”
That hurt. I didn’t say anything after that. We looked at each other, trying to come up with an alternative.
“There can’t be an autopsy,” Dad said, “That’s just going to expose us. And so are those discs. You should destroy them immediately. We need to burn those clothes. How long do you think we have with Clive?”
“I don’t know,” I told him. “Compared to Rodney and everyone else . . . he’s lasted for quite a while. When Rodney attacked me, his eyes were yellow. I don’t know if that’s the benchmark, but Clive’s eyes have only been getting paler.”
“When do you think it’ll happen?” Dad asked.
“Probably tonight,” I told him.
Dad asked, “Do you think we should ask for his opinion?”
“You can,” I told him. “I’ve had my share of murder.”
Dad gave me a concerned look, “You don’t think it’s murder, do you?”
He said, “The doctors checked him. He’s dead. They’re all dead, Kenny. If we kill him… Well, we won’t be killing him.”
“But how do we explain his disappearance? How do we just live knowing he’s out there?” I motioned to the backyard.
“The disappearance is easy,” Dad told me, “He died in the hospital, okay?”
“Okay,” I agreed.
But that still didn’t help the fact that my little brother’s body would be buried on our small property, “just waiting to be dug up by some future homeowner.” How long would it take a CSI team to track his body to us?
Even if we could explain what happened . . . it just wouldn’t work. It would be easier if we let him scratch us . . . or bite us; at least it was self-defense. But then, weren’t we as good as dead, too? I should have just left him in the hospital. It was so fucking ironic how one zombie was suddenly more of a problem than a hospital full of zombies.
I followed Dad to the gun case and watched as he opened it and prepped his Sig Sauer for my brother’s execution. My heart rate went cyclical as he took the silencer out of a shoebox in his closet. We only needed one bullet, but he popped three in the magazine, and chambered the first round. I tried not thinking of him doing all of us. (You know: murder-murder-suicide.)
He turned around and looked at me, his face was desperate. I could tell he wanted there to be another way. But we’d worked ourselves into a corner. No, I put us here. This whole thing was my fault. Dad could look as pathetic as he wanted to, but I knew in my heart of hearts, this was my fault.
Clive must have heard the sound of Dad chambering his Sig, because he popped his head out of the door. His eyes had taken on the color of old mayonnaise, opaque, and yellowed around the edges. We looked back at him like the family dog who had reached his time. I tried not to be afraid as he came toward us. When he noticed the gun in Dad’s hand, he looked at us with a determined gaze.
“Just do it,” Clive said, as he stepped forward bowed his head
Dad gasped and gripped the pistol tighter. I watched it quiver in his hand. My stomach was twisted in knots. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Clive was closing his eyes tight, but he looked calm.
Clive muttered, “We all know you have to, dad.”
When we didn’t move, he looked at us accusingly.
“Do it!” He screamed, “I don’t want to be like Rodney! I don’t want to wait until I fall to pieces to finally rest. I can’t feel anything. I’m not hungry. But I want to…”
He grimaced and clenched his knuckles white, growling lowly. Dad and I both took a step back. Clive was changing before our eyes. His eyes were rapidly turning yellow now. I could see a hint of foam at his mouth. When he locked eyes with me, I felt a quake go through my whole body.
This is it, I thought, as Clive lunged towards me.
Dad peppered Clive across the back with all three bullets, but he didn’t even flinch. I could hear the sounds of ripping. Ribbons of red hit the floor between us as he grabbed my outstretched arms. I tried to break free, but he was much stronger than I expected. He threw me down to the ground.
I brought my knees up and kicked him away from me. There was blood pouring from the holes in his side. But I knew it didn’t matter to him. Dad tried to catch Clive, but Clive almost caught him. It was frantic.
“Don’t get bit!” I yelled at Dad.
As Dad wrestled with Clive, I marveled at how strong my little brother had become. Even Dad was having a hard time fighting him. It looked like they were evenly matched. I looked over at the gun rack and felt a calm rush over me. Dad had left the keys in the case. I watched them as I fumbled with the locks to the Mossburg.
“The head!” I told dad, “The brain or the brain stem.”
Dad lightly slammed Clive’s head against the table. I could tell Dad didn’t really want to hurt Clive. His look said it all, shock and horror. When Clive turned around, I could see the corner took a piece of his eyebrow. As they fought, Clive would lean in every once in a while and try to bit Dad. Dad was trying to get him to calm down. But Clive was behind reason.
“He’s beyond the grave,” I muttered to myself.
I’ll never forget the sound his teeth made against each other. I pulled the shotgun out and loaded the steel shot. Clive whipped around immediately when he heard me chamber the first of four shells. I flipped the safety on and got ready for Clive’s attack.
It made me feel good to have the shotgun in my hands; even though I wasn’t going to shoot Clive. I planned to beat his brain in the backyard.
When Clive charged me, I stepped back and raised the butt to his chin. Then I shoved the muzzle in his stomach, pushing him back. He was fighting and scratching, but I was calm. I kicked him into the kitchen.
“Open the door, Dad!” I yelled. “Get outside.”
He did as he was told, slipping behind Clive, who growled and tried to scratch him. I took the opportunity to butt him in the back of the head. Any normal person would have been unconscious. But Clive just turned and screamed. I gave him the final kick and he flew out the back door and hit the dirt a few feet away. He tried to get up, but I ground my boot in his face until he just laid there. I thought it was over then.
But he looked up at me like that girl in the Exorcist and said, “Do it!”
Dad was standing to the side, shocked, as I stood over Clive and gave him the final blow. It was one more shotgun butt, to the center of his forehead, straight down. My knees followed through and the whole butt went through to the back of his skull with no more than a crunch and a wet slapping sound.
When I removed the shotgun from his face, I tried not to look. But he was my brother. His head was caved in, a mess of purple skin, shattered bone, blood and hair. His eyes were laying in the center, completely yellow now. The smell was unbearable. It was so bad I could almost see the fetid, curling trails of stench rising from his lifeless body.
I dropped the shotgun and heaved until McMuffin was spurting out my nose. Then I started to cry for my dead brother. I puked so hard, my throat grew raw. And the ragged breaths that I was taking in between sobs were filled with the horrible taste of my own bile. I gave one last heave and laid out on the grass, rolling into a ball in the vomit and blood.
Dad dropped beside me looked at Clive. The look of shock and horror was displaced by the disgust . . . and the sorrow.
It was over. My brother was dead. And what was it worth? I looked at the blood on my clothes, on my hands, and wondered if there was anyone to blame for it. Besides me.
“Get the shovels and a trash bag to cover him.” I choked out.
“What are we going to do now?” Dad asked.
We did what any good murderers would do. We bought some lye, dug a hole and planted roses.