The Road Not Taken
It’s been two months and a day since the zombie thing began. When it happened, Twitter exploded with people excitedly relaying their zombie escape plans. They played Shaun of the Dead on Channel 4 continuously, with wry commentary. Kids from council estates rammed cars into the walking corpses and we cheered for them.
We boarded up our windows. We realised that all the rakes and knives and baseball bats in the world couldn’t stop the press of two, fourteen, fifty zombies smashing through the glass of your living room window; a bolted door could only resist so much pressure.
We killed our dog in the third week, and I know it sounds stupid but that’s when I realised it wasn’t really a game. Sure, I’d seen grisly reports on TV. I’d seen ogrish sites with close-up video of people being eaten alive, but this was my little dog. I’d been held back by my brother as dad snapped his neck. He barked too much. While we cowered in silence as the zombies shuffled through our garden and crushed mum’s prize chrysanthemums underfoot, the dog barked and whined and then there would be the angry scrabbling at the door, the terrible moments as we fought off the monster and smashed its dumb brains in.
The internet went down. Or the phone companies did, I don’t know. The router doesn’t work and we can’t get a signal for our phones. The BBC channels all went down, and the radio. Channel 4 keeps playing Shaun of the Dead on a loop. I don’t know if anybody is working the controls there, if it’s the work of an unfunny studio runner, or it’s just that they’re dead. Hell, I don’t know if our neighbours are dead. We daren’t even knock on the wall to hear if Joanne and Tommy are okay next door. What if they’re zombies? What if they remember somewhere in their decaying minds that there’s a flimsy little gate separating our properties out back and they come crashing through that?
Sometimes a helicopter goes overhead. This fills me with rage; they never stop. They’re safe up there, but their flashing lights and the unearthly noise overhead brings the zombies to our road.
We sleep up in the attic now, for safety. If those idiot zombie things break through the house, we’ll be safe up here. If they somehow manage to set the place on fire as they stumble around, we’re screwed, but better smoke inhalation than brain gnawing.
I am still refusing to sleep to mum and dad, and I snarl at my brother as he comes near. I won’t forgive him.
But of course, I do forgive him. I need him. I need all the family, our little army against the invading undead. And when he talks, I listen to him, though he’s 15 and always says stupid, irrelevant stuff. Like now, for instance.
‘Do you remember, Alison?’ he says softly. ‘We went to that paintball place up in Crosby.’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Most traumatic experience of my life.’
He gives me a look.
‘After this one, I mean.’ I purse my lips. ‘And after what you bastards did to Benji.’
‘Let’s not talk about that,’ he says, pained. Of course, he loved the dog, too.
‘What about the paintball?’
‘I gave you such a hard time about it, didn’t I?’
‘You said I was a coward.’
He smirks. ‘You were.’
‘Those paintballs hurt,’ I say crossly. ‘Did you see how one hit Carl, and his hand started bleeding? And then they said we had to take that stupid fort but all you lot got splattered good style, didn’t you?’
‘It wasn’t much of a victory, was it? You crawling from the bushes like an hour later and saying you’d won because you’d just been in the grass all that time.’
‘I survived, didn’t I?’ I say hotly. I don’t know why I always get so mad at this argument. Maybe it’s his smugness.
He nods, sombre. ‘Yes. You did.’
‘If you think creeping to me about paintball is going to make me forgive you, you can just–‘
‘Dad asked me if I wanted to go with him and scope out the area tonight,’ he says.
‘What?’ I gasp. ‘Like, outside?’
He nods miserably. ‘That’s why he’s not speaking to me. He said he’d only go if he had someone to cover his back, and I said no.’
‘You don’t know what’s out there!’ I protest.
‘I know,’ he says. ‘He called me a coward.’
‘He’s wrong,’ I say, angry. How dare dad say that?
‘Alison,’ he says. ‘It’s like paintball. I thought — I should be a hero and stuff, shouldn’t I? That’s what mum and dad probably want. But I don’t want to die, Alison. I don’t care if they say we survived by hiding. I just want to live.’
‘There’s no point in going out there,’ I say. ‘I mean, what would we do, anyway? We’d probably end up somewhere less secure, or other people without food will turn on us. I know what they get like when stuff like this goes down. I’ve read The Road.’
‘I tried to watch the film,’ he says thoughtfully. ‘But it got a bit boring.’
‘Like this doesn’t get boring.’
He laughs. ‘Boredom tinged with fear or something.’
‘It’s still boring.’
‘God,’ he says. ‘I wish we could go out in the sun. I wish I could go to school – never thought I’d say that.’
‘I wish I was in the rain.’
‘I wish I had an ice cream.’ He shakes his head. ‘I’d kill for an ice cream. It’s so bloody hot in this stupid attic.’
I bite my nail; a nervous habit. ‘There’s a cornetto in the bottom of the freezer,’ I admit. ‘I was saving it, but…’
‘Alison, really? You’re okay with that?’
‘Go on,’ I mutter.
He clambers past me, down the stairs. I hear him opening the freezer door gingerly. He won’t put the lights on, of course. Boredom tinged with fear.
The thing is, sniping in paintball works because you let the rest of your team do the dirty work while you sit back and wait for everything to end. If everyone did my trick, we’d be stuck there forever in the grass, too afraid to move.
I don’t cry. I just sort of sink to the floor and curl up in my blanket, and go to sleep.
For more amazing art by Alina Sliwinska, please visit her Deviant Art page (lady-amarillis.deviantart.com). Stay tuned for Anne’s answer to this prompt on Friday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Artwork © Copyright, Alina Sliwinska 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission.