I stepped away from Parker, wrestling with the wash of emotions that being with my old friend stirred up. The night was silent except for the soft voices of the others talking in the RV. The darkness and quiet didn’t press in on me and for once I wasn’t afraid of being out in the open, exposed to the world. Walking to the front of the motor home I sat on the rocky gravel ignoring the sharp points and leaned back against the cool metal of the grill. Parker joined me and quietly, without any prompting, started to tell me about his experience with the zombie apocalypse.
Parker knew something wasn’t right when mainstream media didn’t cover the fire that had destroyed the village that my unit, that I, had eradicated. He heard about it when one of his online “friends” showed him footage of the incident. He or she had somehow gone unnoticed by us (or perhaps it had been one of my own people) and had taken cell phone pictures of the aftermath, of the fire and apparently had even caught the source of the blaze – the pile of bodies before it became just flames and nothing discernible. The person posted the images on an underground doomsday blog Parker subscribed to. He tried to dismiss the first post with the blurry images, taken at a distance and lacking detail but there was a follow-up post the next night with a video that looked like something out of a bad found footage horror film, making what he watched that much worse. The video was shot on a highway, on the highway that Holly and I had emerged onto after leaving her cabin. I didn’t interrupt Parker as he spoke because I wasn’t ready to tell him that I had been at both events.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It couldn’t possibly be real. The footage was shitty, shaky cam and the sound was muffled and filled with so much noise that I didn’t want to believe that what I was hearing could be screams. Regardless, you got the gist of what was happening pretty quickly. It was the blood everywhere that made the situation clear.” Parker turned away from me for a moment before continuing, his voice quavering and unsteady.
In the few steady images of the video he was able to see the horror of people tearing one another apart as smoke billowed from the forest beyond the asphalt. Parker watched the video several times, the images getting clearer after each viewing, and then he turned to mainstream media thinking something had been on the news. There were so many people in the video and there had been fire trucks, police and ambulances present. All of these things plus the fire surely would not have gone unnoticed by the public and should have been reported somewhere. It wasn’t and the only news Parker found was of a fire in the forest and road blocks on the highway to the border crossing to keep people away from the spreading flames. Not surprisingly, there was nothing about people attacking and eating one another and leaving blood and body parts sprayed across the asphalt. The panic didn’t start at this news for the general public but Parker knew that it was the beginning something much worse and more threatening than a forest fire and traffic jam.
“I just knew something bad was happening and it would get worse. But part of me couldn’t believe it was actually zombies; at least not until I left my apartment.” I felt Parker shutter and heard the sharp inhaling of his breath as he tried to calm down.
“What happened when you left? You said the panic hadn’t spread yet, what was it like out there?”
“Have you been out in the woods this whole time?”
Of course Parker wouldn’t have known that I had been at both locations he saw on the blog. If I hadn’t been hesitating about telling him my part in the village fire, I may have stopped to question the remarkable coincidence of me being in videos and photos he was shown. But I had worked up the nerve to tell him the truth of my involvement, still fearing it would damn our rekindled friendship, and let the coincidence fall to the back of my mind.
“I’ve been out in the woods since, I guess, about a day before the outbreak. I don’t know for sure. I can’t seem to keep track of time. I was at base camp, we went on a mission, then returned and all hell broke loose a few hours later.” I considered, and then continued. “I think I was on the highway that was in the video you watched.”
I couldn’t see Parker’s expression clearly in the dark, just the outline of his sharp features but what I heard told me he was probably shocked; the sharp intake of his breath and barely whispered – you were there – stung me with guilt and remembrance of what I had done. I didn’t know if he was putting together that I meant not only the highway but also the village and I didn’t offer anything further in way of an explanation. I didn’t want to say more than he wanted to know.
“In that village, with the body bonfire, I thought I saw blurry images of soldiers in the pictures.” He paused, I couldn’t breathe. “I thought it was my old notions of conspiracy theories acting up again. It wasn’t though was it, you were there too?”
I thought I could hear a queasiness in this voice as he realized that I had been a part of the massacre of that village. I sensed his shock and the bubbling up of questions he wanted to ask. I couldn’t stop myself; no matter how much I wanted to be quiet I told him the sickening truth.
“I was there.” I didn’t want to justify my participation but I tried to anyway. “I didn’t know what we were going to do. We were just soldiers following the orders we were given by god knows who.” I stopped. It was becoming real again, the killing of those people because regardless of what they had become, they were still people. “I didn’t refuse. I didn’t want to do it Parker but I didn’t know how to disobey. Not until the world collapsed around me in blood and fire. And it was too late to save anyone except myself by then.”
I wiped away tears, a little surprised that I had even cried in the first place. Since this started I don’t recall having shed tears for my lost platoon, for the village, for Holly or anyone else I had come across and gotten killed. Less than an hour with Parker and I let myself have emotions again and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I said I was sorry to Parker and we both knew what I meant as he put an arm around my shoulders to comfort me.
“I can’t imagine what that was like for you, any of it. The guilt must be tremendous but I guess that’s your burden to carry. I don’t hold it against you, what happened. The fire and all. You really are a survivor Louis.”
We sat in silence; me stewing in my guilt and Parker, oddly, humming and fidgeting. I needed a distraction from the memories of all the death that surrounded us. I asked Parker how he got out of the city and made it out to this area, why here in the first place? Shining the flashlight down the gravel path leading to the campsite, I saw no sign of a vehicle. It occurred to me that he hadn’t actually said what happened when he left his apartment.
“We walked from the highway. My car broke down about 10 miles from the turn off down here. About 20 minutes after it stalled and after a dozen or so zoms had surrounded me they just suddenly left. I couldn’t hear anything but some sort of noise must have gotten their attention. They were well out of sight heading one way and out of the bush in the opposite direction came Marla and the others. And why here? I came out here last fall and remember how peaceful and secluded it was. Meeting up with them and you, it’s like fate or something.”
“If you had said that a week ago I would have laughed and called you a fool or something but now…it seems too impossible for it to be a mere coincidence.” I paused not really sure what I was getting at. “Anyway, I guess all that doesn’t matter. With you and your survival skills adding to ours, I think we have a good shot of getting somewhere safe. We just need to make sure we don’t get separated again.”
“What happened anyway? Heidi mentioned something about getting split up from their group but they didn’t get to tell me anything else because we ended up here.” Parker squeezed my shoulder and moved closer. “They did mention they had been with a soldier though.”
Parker’s closeness was making me uncomfortable. I didn’t usually let people touch me. Not from any real reason, I just wasn’t use to it and it made me jumpy. I squeezed his hand before removing it from my shoulder and stood up to tell my tale. I didn’t know what time it was and I didn’t care. I was wired, so I decided to start at the beginning even as shameful and painful as that was, I needed to give my full confessional. Pacing back and forth keeping my voice low, I told Parker the story starting from the orders to get in the truck that rainy morning so long ago, then about the field and the bodies on the pyre, then the village.
I faltered but continued and told him about the outbreak in the camp and meeting Holly. I didn’t gloss over any detail and explained that we had killed a father and his son before going to the highway. I told him I killed Holly, I told him about Marla’s brother Langley and the sheriff. I couldn’t stop talking and he didn’t interrupt. Heidi, Cal, and the others who died in that house because of Cal’s cowardice. Sadly, I couldn’t even remember their names now. They were just bodies. Forgotten. The cave. More bodies forgotten as we continued the struggle to survive.
“And here we are.” I sat back down, hanging my head, reeling from the memory of what my life had become. Death, so much death.
“I love you Louis. We will get through this one way or another.”
I believed that he still loved me despite me leaving him years earlier and I wanted to believe there was safety if we continued going north. I threw out my ideas of what to expect. We would get in the RV and we would drive. We would fight and we would kill if we had to. But for what little night we had left, I would let Parker comfort me and try to just let the fear wash away with my tears in the darkness and the embrace of my dearest friend.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti