I won’t call this a diary. I’m too old for that. So I am a journalist. I’ll report to you the things I’ve seen, what I’m doing and where I’m going.
Maybe you will come to know me.
I plan to survive this.
A drunk driver killed Mom last December. My sister, Sarah, and I were crushed. It left just the two of us. We got stacks of sympathy cards. We heard from people we hadn’t even thought of in years, like Eric Weir.
Eric’s a guy we grew up with. He was always nice but constantly picked on. Sarah and I tried to look out for him because he’s retarded. He never made it past that silly, clumsy stage all eight-year-olds go through. The kid had this funny habit of just getting into cars – he didn’t care who was inside. He loved taking rides and it didn’t matter where he went. One day it got him into trouble. After that he mostly stayed inside, didn’t talk much.
But he showed up at my Mom’s funeral. He sat silently with us for the entire service and when it was over he smiled and said, “You’ll see her again.”
He seemed so sure of himself.
It’s just been three days since the first pictures popped up on the Internet. Most were grainy and out of focus, like the photographer was moving. You couldn’t be sure of what it was.
But the first screamingly clear image – a video still – showed up on CNN. It was a perfect picture. You could even read the name on the tombstone - Jeff Loveless.
The picture was of a corpse trying to climb from its grave.
Trying? It was doing an awfully good job. In the background behind it were police with their guns drawn.
The anchorman mumbled something like “very upsetting…try to confirm” and quickly went to commercials. When they came back everyone was grinning. I guess they thought it was a joke.
Then the news director got his approval – and they rolled the whole damn video.
The commentators didn’t say a word. For almost two minutes. Even during 9-11, they discussed what was happening and tried to explain it.
They didn’t even try. Not this time.
I suppose it didn’t matter. Because soon you didn’t have to speculate about what was happening on TV. All you had to do was just step outside.
Sarah’s birthday was March 14th. So we decided to spend it here at Mom’s house and catch up. If we hadn’t I doubt we’d have ever seen each other again.
We knew we’d have to sell her place eventually and have an estate sale. Mom lived alone and we used to laugh about all the things she squirreled away. Not to mention all the trinkets but the food: Canned peaches, tuna, beans, pasta, pudding and diet soda. Most of the stuff was out of date. Thank god we didn’t get around to trashing it.
If we stretch it there should be enough food to last a week or more. After that if help doesn't arrive we’ll have to risk going out again. You never know what you’ll run into. Sometimes you won’t see a corpse for hours – it almost seems safe. But it never is.
We play a demented version of “hide-and-go-seek” with them. The corpses stumble around the yard aimlessly and we stay away from the windows. But if they see the slightest movement or hear anything they go berserk. Enough of them could break in and end our little game.
There may be food and guns at our neighbors’ house; I think we could make it there. They lived about a mile down the road. That’s the joy of country living - there are not a lot of people around.
There are not a lot of people around anywhere.
So when I see something coming I’ve learned to avoid it.
Is this the end of southern hospitality?
The question on everyone’s lips is WHERE THE HELL IS EVERYBODY? THE FIRE DEPARTMENT? SHERIFF’S OFFICE? THE FEDERAL FUCKING GOVERNMENT?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about our predicament:
In 1980, the federal government created something called the Social Security Death Index. Obviously when you died, you got listed. It had a database of over 76 million people.
A dead body is referred to as a cadaver. When it re-animates we call it a corpse.
It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been dead, if not disposed of properly they'll come back. I’ve seen things stumbling around out there that were nearly skeletal. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
A few hours after death, rigor mortis settles into the muscles and stiffens them. But the recently deceased overcome that. Quickly.
They’re not smart but they retain some memories, basic things. Don’t let them surprise you.
To paraphrase Hemingway, “One corpse just leads to another.”
The friendly population here in Dothan, Tennessee, has dropped to maybe a few dozen. The phones are usually out so most of us stay in touch with these little walkie-talkies. Occasionally someone is brave enough to stop by here.
Ten days ago we were a thriving metropolis of 8,330 souls. I won't try to guess how many people left and who became corpses. Those of us still here plan to stay. So we must deal with the graveyard. It was supposed to be the final resting place for about 600 local residents.
I know it’s crazy but we hoped that most of them would just stay put. Now they’re making so much noise down there it’s insane. I guess the vocal cords are the last thing to rot. With all that shrieking and groaning it almost makes you wonder if somehow they’re burning down there.
Someone thought of dumping a huge mound of soil over the place. There’s no gas left but we’ve got a bulldozer juiced up with diesel. It would take a lot of dirt to cover everything and who knows how far a zombie can dig. Maybe forever.
The first night, when we had only 20 or so rise, we had four guys with shotguns posted in trees at the graveyard. But they all lost their stomachs for guard duty. Everyone knew or loved someone lying in there. I’m not volunteering for the squad, not with mom buried there.
Yesterday word came that the government finally had a plan, maybe even an explanation, for why the hell this happened. They scheduled a special broadcast last night, at 7:00pm, to announce it. There hasn’t been a signal for days, but I always keep the television on – just in case.
So around an hour early I started flipping channels and suddenly, there it was - the great seal of The President of the United States. I glanced at it occasionally until about 6:30. After that I stared at it. Sarah and I watched it for hours and nothing happened.
When I dozed off I almost missed it. The picture of the seal never changed but suddenly there was a distant, crackling static.
Then a faint voice, “I urge Americans to protect themselves by all means necessary.”
That’s it. That was all we got.
Just one sentence from a man who didn’t even sound like the President.
Then they played our national anthem. Over and over and over.
We’re going out this afternoon.
Haven’t seen any corpses today. Not one. Thank god for small miracles.
The tap water is still clear.
But it’s slowed to a trickle.
Wegman’s Grocery was the first store in our neighborhood to board up their windows. Today it was the first building that we broke into. There’s no fear – or hope – that someone of authority will show up.
We hooked up with about 20 people. I only knew a few of them. The ones I didn’t recognize came up from Atlanta, some big city folk with a sudden yearning for our "country solitude."
The whole damn thing almost turned into a party. Someone passed around a bottle of vodka. We peeled the wood off the windows to let in some light and then we smashed in the doors. We made a hell of a racket and everyone was laughing – until we got inside.
The stench of rotting meat and dairy was almost worse than the corpses. So everyone held their noses and raced straight to the canned food aisle. That’s when things got ugly.
The shelves were barren. We scattered around like ants in search of something. Anything.
Soon there were brawls between best friends over stale bread and a few cookies. I remember some guy who’d found a bag of coffee, he ran with it like a fullback through the crowd.
But most people just walked around with their hands on their hips. I found a pot of dead flowers and wondered how they’d taste.
Suddenly a woman began screaming her lungs out. I decided that whatever was left in there wasn’t worth fighting over, so Sarah and I headed for the exit.
That’s when I heard the corpses.
When this thing started they showed up in singles or pairs. If you didn’t panic, you could either outrun them or put them down.
A few days later they started to form in groups of around a dozen. They flocked.
After that they swarmed. You could turn a corner and suddenly find yourself among fifty of those things.
A mob of corpses attacked us. There had to be 200. They appeared out of nowhere and didn’t bother with the door. They came crashing through the windows.
I grabbed Sarah and we scrambled for a way out, but the corpses had us cornered. Soon they started to catch people.
It’s shocking how quick and vicious they can be, especially the ones who’ve died recently. When a corpse gets you down, 8 or 10 others immediately pile on. Then they go for your guts. I saw five people die that way. Each one screamed, “Please, no!” – as if those things might actually stop to consider it.
Old Mayor Stuckey almost got me – he suddenly came hopping around a corner. He's been dead over a year, one of his legs had rotted off below the knee. But he’d learned to do pretty well for himself. He got a grip on my arm and was Jolly Roger ready for a bite. But I sidestepped the fucker and he hit the ground.
I gave him a solid kick under the chin and half expected to take his head off. Sometimes you can do that. I would’ve taken another shot but the stench and screams jolted me into reality.
During moments like that you have to look after yourself. And Sarah made me proud. She wasted three zombies with a hammer! But one of them brought her to tears, he was a little kid, no more than 5. I doubt that he ever had the chance to whisper his first curse word. Now he’s damned to hell.
We finally found a way out and left that slaughterhouse behind.
Just outside Mom’s house we were jumped again. He charged at us from behind and shrieked a mouthful. It almost sounded like he said, “Dirty Sallies!”
Sometimes, when a corpse screams, with all the gurgling, it sounds vaguely familiar.
We almost pounded the thing. But after I saw the look of terror on his face I knew he was human. We brought him inside with us.
I’ve never seen so many corpses in one place. One of them is wearing a FEMA shirt – the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Someone finally showed up.
Our new companion is an Englishman named Paul. For letting him inside and saving his ass he shared the rest of his food with us. And he did scream, “Dirty Sallies!” In Merry Old England when you die, you’re a “Sally.” You become a “Dirty Sally” when you acquire an appetite.
Paul’s got five pistols and, of course, no bullets.
He said that the dominoes tumbled overseas the same way they did here. But a few people tried to rationalize the whole mess.
The Queen of England assured the country that it was just “people who appeared to be dead” that were committing all the mayhem. As if believing so would make everything that much easier to swallow.
The Vatican had the balls to suggest that it was just the “bad” Dirty Sallies that were getting all the press. They believed that if you were good in life you’d be good in "the resurrection." The faithful went to Pope John Paul’s burial place to prove it. They planned to haul away that heavy cement block and open his tomb. But they heard him inside and he didn’t sound happy. They lost their nerve and left him with the lord’s prayer.
There were big plans about an organized response but nothing happened. About a week into the rising the highways got clogged and the power dropped off. As the dead waded through civil defenses, people evacuated, locked themselves inside or became corpses.
Paul said he always wanted to see the states – so he caught the last flight out of London.
The crazy fucker wants to backpack across America.
We have to go out again for food – we’ll try my neighbor’s house. We won’t take anything to slow us down; speed is the key, no weapons. There’s usually something heavy lying around if we need it.
This afternoon we’ll pick a moment when they’re spread out. Then we’ll run for our lives.
Pay dirt, bananas and warm beer! And freedom - out there, as we raced past the corpses – it was wonderful.
Obviously we’ve made it to my neighbors. Their door was unlocked. Usually that’s a bad thing. If I had a pretzel for every time I’ve heard a corpse jiggle a door handle! They’re not that dumb, they always check.
When we got settled, it felt like I was back in college. I never had much to eat, but I always had beer.
There were two cases and we drank all of it. The bananas were black and mushy, but tasty. We found a boombox and listened to AC/DC. We played “Hells Bells” a million times. It almost killed us.
After our little party we all passed out. I knew we locked the doors – I’d have bet my life on it. And I know we shouldn’t have listened to music. But we kept the volume low and the corpses were just scattered around out there.
During the middle of the night I woke up in a bedroom to the sound of smashing bottles. For a second I really thought I was back in college, at my fraternity house. I thought, “We fucking drank it all!” It was on the tip of my tongue and I almost blurted it out.
But when I heard the corpses stomping down the hall I remembered where I was. The room was spinning but Sarah and I managed to crawl under a bed.
Not so for Paul. He passed out, wouldn’t wake up.
It wasn’t about being angry with him. Or frightened. I just became resigned to it happening.
So I covered my ears and closed my eyes.
And I decided to let Paul die.
Then I realized that when he was sober he was an asset. And with all the thrashing around the corpses could knock the bed and spot us anyway.
I reached out and grabbed Paul around the collar, Sarah and I pulled him under the bed with us.
The corpses were in the room before we got his legs completely under. Then Paul started gagging. Even if they didn’t hear that, if he vomited, I bet they would’ve smelled it. But Paul swallowed his puke.
The corpses kicked around in there forever, they knew something was up. Eventually things got quiet again.
The lock on the back door is broken, but somehow we didn’t notice it. It’s boarded up now, along with most everything else. Last night this little town became a death trap; the corpses were all over the place. They’re drawn to the carcass of society. But today’s better.
There must be a well on this property because we all took long showers and drank heavily. But the bananas are gone and there's nothing to eat.
We’re beginning to think that the key to surviving is to stay on the road, be mobile: find some guns and bullets; grab food where you can; sleep on rooftops or in trees.
I think we make a good team. Paul is a stout guy, and I can tell he already cares for Sarah. If something ever happened to me I think he’d break his back to keep her safe.
Backpack across America? It doesn’t sound crazy any more. I suppose we could find some place that’s safe, walled off or hidden from this nightmare.
Sarah suggested we head north. What would the cold do to a zombie? It would be fun to see those things frozen solid.
Minnesota is probably a two-month walk. We can grab sleeping bags and heavy weather clothes the further north we go. Until then, we’ll travel light.
If there’s another lull in the action tomorrow we’ll leave. Sarah and I may sneak back to Mom's house and pick up a few things, just what’s important – our pictures.
I’m excited. Is that the familiar twinge of optimism?
Let me tell you a few things about my mother.
She was a single parent of two at 19, a woman who buried 2 husbands and divorced a third.
At 40 she graduated from Law School. At 44 she beat ovarian cancer.
She never lost faith in Sarah and me.
My mom always had some sort of sixth sense for getting out of sticky situations.
I should have known she’d be waiting for us when we came back home.
As we jogged onto the porch, she caught us from behind. For a split second, the three of us just looked at each other – it barely resembled my mother. That’s when I recognized her burial dress. She used to call it her “Sunday Style.”
Mom attacked at us like a freight train. I never saw her move that fast, not when she was alive. Hunger is one hell of a motivator and she was ravenous.
She snapped at me then jumped right on top of Sarah. Mom used to joke that she loved her more.
She put Sarah flat on her back, but Sarah got her hands around its throat. I was going to tackle it, but Sarah looked at me calmly and said, “I got her, go get something.”
I ran into the house. I was gone for twenty seconds, it had to be.
But by the time I got back with the shovel my mother was riping into Sarah like a rabid dog.
Sarah had pretty much stopped struggling. She was just kicking a little. There were huge gashes in her neck and chest. Blood was everywhere. I never heard her scream.
I swung that shovel as hard as I could and clipped the corpse on the back of its head.
It just knelt there, dazed.
Another shot put it on the ground.
Several more opened its skull.
I gave Paul most of the food and water and wished him good luck.
I’m staying here with Sarah.
A little while ago she tried to tell me something.
Maybe she’ll try again.
How long does it take for the dead to rise?
They used to say that it just depends on the circumstances, how the person died. Whether or not you were bitten.
I’ve never had the chance to judge.