Tue, 5 May 2009 - 8:57 pm

The ‘z’ word

I don’t like to go to sleep on an argument. I’m not alone in that feeling, and that’s part of why we were up so late last night.

We tried to make sense of what we saw, but there was no reason or rhyme to it. Nothing logical we could unravel and learn from, except a few basic truths.

Being caught by someone like that is a bad idea. Sally’s arm muscles are all torn up under fingermark-bruises, and Ben’s shoulder has vicious teeth-marks in it. Sax was strong, far stronger than he should have been; it took three of the guys just to pry one hand off Sally, and most of us just to keep him from grabbing anyone else. Masterson said that it was probably due to the insensitivity; Sax didn’t seem to feel any pain, and the human body can do amazing things when it ignores all its own warnings. On the plus side, he didn’t move very fast, so it wasn’t difficult to stay out of reach once we figured out that it was the best thing to do.

We’ve been hearing stories about these mindless attackers for a few weeks now. Unstoppable, people said. They just kept coming, no matter what. They tore others apart with their bare hands, intolerably slowly. I can feel my stomach curling up and trying to hide at the thought.

No-one could answer the question of whether Sax was still in there or not. Masterson was more grim-faced than I’ve ever seen him; I don’t think he likes the conundrum. He said that it seemed like a drug fugue, but we all know there aren’t any drugs around here for that. He’s certain that Sax was dead when he announced it, and he doesn’t know if there’s any way to bring someone back from the state our friend was in.

Our ex-friend. Sax is dead. It’s too upsetting to think of it any other way.

It went quiet, and then Dillon piped up, darting glances between us as if hoping that someone would smile and tell him that it was all some elaborate joke he hadn’t understood. “So, Sax is really a zombie, then?”

I wasn’t the only one to stare at him, though most of the group avoided looking in his direction.

“Don’t be ridiculous; there’s no such thing,” Thorpe said.

“You sure?” Matt asked.

“The sky is orange and it rains acid every day,” I said. “Is anything ridiculous now?”

No-one was laughing. I wished someone would; I wanted Thorpe to be right. I wanted this to be something that we could breeze past and leave behind, one of those silly little thoughts that comes and goes because someone has seen too many movies. But it wasn’t like that.

There was no answer to my question and Dillon was looking around hopefully, because his hadn’t been answered either. I caught his eye and couldn’t glance away without saying something.

“I don’t think we should call them that.”

Zombies. There’s a twitch in the corner of my mouth whenever I hear that word, either in my head or on someone else’s tongue. I’m afraid that I’ll laugh at the worst moment when I hear the name. Because it is ridiculous. They’re a made-up thing from books and horror movies and our own nightmares. They don’t exist in the world.

“Someone must know more about them.” That was Ben, all taut jaw and a gaze that refused to rest on anyone.

There was only one person we knew who had seen them before. One person who had had her own group fall sick, die, and then be devoured. It turns my guts over to think that they might have devoured each other, friendly faces risen into something twisted. I don’t remember which of us said her name.

Alice.

The decision to try to find her formed quickly. We were all relieved to have a purpose, some way to chase this thing down and make a difference. The promise of answers, or at least confirmation of what we fear, is bright and reassuring. We’ll seek it out like magpies, and we’ll line our nests with it as if shiny means comfortable.

I don’t think we’re all looking forward to answers. Some of our number still blame her for bringing this to us. There’s revenge behind some of our hearts and I don’t know what to do about it.

A part of me hoped that we wouldn’t know where to look. But Dillon spoke up, the person that Alice was closest to, her friend from before and after all of this happened.

“She went to the mall,” he said. “She went to join the Rats.”

So that’s where we’re heading, heading backwards so we can move forwards. There’s going to be more blood before this is over, and more of the ‘z’ word, I know it.

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