I was stuck in a tree for the last two nights. I can tell you that climbing a tree with broken ribs is not something anyone should experience.

After I finished writing the other day, I did what I could to clean my cuts, but without water, it wasn’t easy. I thought about using the alcohol wipes in the kit to clean the cut, but knew that it would hurt worse. The hardest cut to clean was the one in my side. Every touch created waves of pain. Every time I tried to work on it, spots appeared in my vision and my breathing became shallow. I did what I could anyway and changed my clothes, hoping that the bandages would stop the blood from ruining them.

Then it was time to get ready to leave the house. I found my old backpack in the top of my closet. I grabbed a bunch of canned food, mostly vegetables, the can-opener and a couple of utensils, and then hunted for my thickest sweater and a set of spare clothes. The clothes joined the first aid kit in my messenger bag. I tested the weight of both bags and knew I could carry them with relative ease. My plan was to stop at the gas station a little over three blocks from the house to get a weapon and stock up food that didn’t involve cans.

Finished packing, I realized it was too late to start out. The sky was already darkening and small flakes of snow bustled about outside. I tried to go to sleep on the couch, but I couldn’t fall asleep. First, my ribs kept hurting and I didn’t dare lay on them for fear that they would keep me awake because of pain. Second, my mind was too active. No matter how hard I tried to turn my thoughts off, I kept running through what happened with Anubis. If it wasn’t Anubis I thought of, I would wonder if my parents were still ok and imagining the horrible things that could have happened to them.

The first problem I solved by digging out a bottle of pain-killers, which I added to my bag after taking a couple. The second, I started listing off the things I wished I could take with me. I did grab a picture of my family and put it in my bag. If I could find other survivors, I may be able to show them what my parents look like. The hope was that other survivors would recognize my parents, and if not, they may run into my parents and tell them I was alive and ok.

Trying to keep myself busy I mentally told my parents off for not getting me a car for my sixteenth birthday. I know they promised to buy me a car for my next birthday, but you are only sixteen once. The sweet part of a sixteenth birthday is the ride. Then I felt guilty for telling them off when I didn’t even know if they were alive.

I heard a huffing sound at the bottom of the front door. It sounded eerily like what Anubis used to do when he wanted inside. I thought about sitting up to peer out the window, but decided against it. The human zombies may not have figured out to break the window, but an animal might jump to look inside. The chances that his attempt to jump and see into the room would break the window discouraged my curiosity.

Still trying to keep my mind busy, I dug a book from one of the bookshelves and settled in to read. Only I couldn’t focus on it long enough to read more than a few sentences. My attention slowly diverted from the words in the book to the sound of the police cruiser’s siren. It surprised me that the sound had become familiar, like the rumble of the trains as they sped through town. What caught my attention was the fact that the sound was becoming distorted. Each rotation of the siren took longer to achieve and the tone itself warbled. It sounded like it was sick.

I put the book down and carefully stood up. I avoided going into my parents’ room since I came home. Their room was the only room in the house with windows overlooking the street. The windows were also the biggest in the house. I would have a clear view of the police cruiser. The down-side was that anything outside would have a clear view of me, as well.

I hesitated, my hand on the doorknob and took a deep breath. I opened their door and stepped inside. The tiny, almost non-existent ray of hope I felt vanished when I saw their room. The bed was still made. I knew that realistically they couldn’t sneak into the house with both doors being locked, but part of me was unrealistic. Seeing their room devoid of them was a harsh blow. Weight settled on my limbs, making them almost unbearably heavy. If I let myself, I could easily sink into a pool of sobbing parts, but I couldn’t let myself. I needed to stay focused, to stay in control.

I almost forgot the reason I went into the room, but the siren claimed my attention again, giving off long warble. I inched closer to the window and saw the back end of the cruiser parked in front of the neighbors’ overflowing garbage cans. The driver’s door was sitting wide open. I could hear the slight coughing purr of the engine from where I stood. The car was running out of fuel. Would the battery outlast the fuel? From the pathetic sound of the siren, I doubted it.

No one was near the car. I wondered if I would be able to get to the car in time to drive it to one of the service stations. The car must have sensed my thought because the engine gave one last cough before falling silent. The siren continued its wail though it was much softer.

I sighed and started to turn back to the living room when I saw Anubis walk slowly toward an apartment complex a little farther up the road. He was limping. The zombie woman must have done a number on him. Before he could vanish from my line of sight, he stopped. He lifted his nose like he was scenting the air, then he turned and strolled back down the street.

I couldn’t stop the pained gasp that tore through my chest. His entire side was matted and ragged. There was a big enough hole that I was pretty sure I could see his rib bones. He walked down the street until he vanished from my sight.

The hair on the back of my neck shifted before rising, sending a cascade of chills down my spine. I didn’t have a chance to wonder about the sensation before the glass in the window shattered. I jumped back knocking over a decorative lamp. A sharp stab of pain lit my side, left me gasping.

The zombie woman’s head floated above the window sill and she shrieked, her face stretching gruesomely with the movement of her mouth. Within seconds, Anubis reappeared, racing toward the house. He was closely followed by a couple zombie friends. I scrambled from the room, slamming the door shut.

In the living room, I looked wildly around for something to barricade the door. But there was nothing.  It didn’t help that the door opened into the room. Anything that I could use to block the door would be light enough for them to move. I couldn’t move the piano or the couch, not with my side being the way it was. I heard something thump against the bedroom door. I squeaked and backed away from the door, my mind revving into a frenzy of half-formed thoughts.

Then it hit me. With the zombies climbing into the front of the house, I probably wouldn’t get a better chance to get away.  I ran for my room. When I slung the backpack over my shoulder, I managed to smack my ribs with the can-lined bottom and the pain stole my breath. I struggled to catch my breath. I wouldn’t have long. I slid the strap for my messenger bag across my chest and started to make for the back door.  Then I remembered my journal sitting on the nightstand, I doubled back for it, shoving it into one of the pockets in my messenger bag before turning and hurrying to the back door.

I started fumbling with the locks on the door when I heard the door to my parents’ bedroom crack explosively. I only had seconds to get the door open. I fumbled faster. I had the back door open as the zombie woman was staggering through the kitchen. I didn’t wait to see where Anubis was. I closed the door behind me before tripping down the back steps.

My first good look at my next door neighbor’s house left me silently thankful that the zombies left me alone until that moment. The back door stood wide open, blood splattered across its white surface. The glimpse I had of the interior told me that the house was in no better condition than the door. I stumbled to a halt, staring at the scene in shock. The can of fruit I had for breakfast suddenly didn’t like its residence in my stomach. I doubled over and threw up.

The zombie woman’s shriek pulled me back to myself. The zombies were still inside the house, but I doubted they would remain there for much longer. I ran to the rear fence, tossed both bags over it, and dropped to my stomach to squirm through the gap underneath. The bottom of the chain-link fence scraped along my back hard enough that I was certain the marks would bleed. And my ribs screamed in protest, but I managed to get through.

I grabbed the bags and started jogging. With every step, pain shot through my middle. I needed to keep moving. Especially since I didn’t know where the zombies were past the fence. I ignored the sights and sounds around me as I moved. I kept hearing someone grunt and realized that it was me. The pain was more intense with each step. I hoped that I would reach the gas station as quickly as possible.

I rounded a corner and skidded to a halt, staring into the gray face of my dead math teacher, Mr. Abernathy. His hair was mussed and dirty. Dirt streaked his face and his glasses were askew. Patches of blood littered his clothes along with dirt and other things I didn’t want to name.

He stood frozen, almost like he was as startled by my sudden appearance as I was with his. Then he opened his mouth and bellowed. I swung around him and broke into a run. Dark spots swept around in my vision and my breath came in short pants. My head was starting to hurt from the exertion, but I only ran a few steps before I stopped again.

At least ten zombies littered the street between me and the service station. Several of my classmates were among the ranks, including the blond hair and gray eyes of Randy Newman. I guess playing video games with zombies in them does not prepare someone for the real thing.

Mr. Abernathy bellowed again and every zombie in the street turned to look at me. I recognized more than half of the faces that peered at me but was more surprised to see several animal heads rotate as well. There were at least half a dozen animals mixed in with the human zombies. I counted three dogs, two raccoons, a deer, and a skunk. All of the zombies turned as one and began to shamble toward me, the animals moving at a much quicker pace.

I looked wildly around for somewhere to go, some way to hid. My heart merged into my throat as my body tensed, prepared to run again. The doors to the closest houses were broken, one torn completely off its hinges. Windows were shattered. The houses weren’t safe. There was nowhere to hide.

Something dropped onto my shoulder and clamped down. I screamed imagined teeth tearing at the fabric of the sweater, trying to lay claim to my skin. Then I realized that there was no pain in my shoulder, just pressure. It was a hand. A hand that continued to tighten its grip. It belonged to Mr. Abernathy.

Without thinking, I swung the backpack around, hoping it would hit something important. My torso twisted, causing another flash of pain. I felt and heard the cans in the bag connect with Mr. Abernathy’s head. Something crunched sickeningly. Suddenly the pressure eased up and Mr. Abernathy dropped to the ground.  A strange sense of satisfaction rolled over me as I looked down on his still form. The question was whether the satisfaction came from defeating my first zombie, or because I finally hit the math teacher.

One of the dogs caught up to me. I used the backpack again, swinging with everything I had. The dog dropped as well. I scrambled back from the rushing zombies, thankful that the movies got some of it right. The humans were much slower than the animals, but the animals weren’t much better off. The dog zombie I killed was the only zombie in really good shape. The rest were still shambling toward me. Another glance around informed me that my options hadn’t changed. Then I caught something I didn’t notice before. It wasn’t the best thing in the world, but it might save my life.

I sprinted toward the giant pine tree, untangling the straps on the backpack. The messenger bag went across my chest again, thumping painfully against my ribs. I stopped just short of the tree. Keeping my grip on one of the backpack straps, I swung it around the base of the tree and caught the other strap. Then I started to shimmy up the tree, moving as quickly as the bark, bag, and my ribs would allow. I couldn’t have gotten very far when my vision started wavering and I was gasping for a breath that didn’t come. I felt when the zombies hit the trunk of the tree. One enterprising zombie’s fingers slid into my shoe next to my heel. It started tugging, dragging me back down several inches before I managed to kick the shoe off.

I could feel the bark cut through the thin fabric of my sock, but quickly regained the lost inches and a handful more before pausing. Fighting to catch my breath, I looked down. The zombies gathered around the trunk, their arms reaching into the air to grasp at nothing. I thought I gained several more inches, but really I was just out of reach. It took several minutes for my breath to catch and even longer to shimmy further up the tree before I reached the lowest branch. By the time I settled onto the branch, my side felt like someone was lighting firecrackers in it. Sharp bursts of pain that sent my nerve endings reeling and my teeth on edge.

When it was full dark, the crowd of zombies below me had grown to include Anubis and several others, nearly doubling the number of zombies there were before. I couldn’t explain how Anubis got to the other side of the fence so quickly. But he was below me, snapping at any other zombies that brushed against him. My breath fogged the air in front of me. The cold cut through the fabric of my jacket and bit into my skin as if it wasn’t there at all. I huddled into myself, but I couldn’t do much since my legs were dangling over either side of the branch. I used the bags to cover as much of me as I could, but my legs were unprotected.

I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I managed to doze off, my back braced against the jagged bark of the tree. I snapped awake when I thought I saw a light flash on my face, but I couldn’t locate the source. Another time, I was jerked awake by someone calling my name.

I woke up again as the sky started to lighten. Fat snowflakes drifted lazily down onto the upturned faces of the zombies below me. I was safe from the snow, but the canopy of pine needles seemed to trap the chill air. The zombies were still shuffling around the base of the tree. Some of them still had their hands raised like if they can reach just a little farther they could get me. The numbers expanded again. I tried to count heads, but gave up when the zombies kept moving around. Their attempts to figure out how to get at me would have been humorous if I wasn’t the one they were after.

Another two zombies shuffled their way up the road toward me. It was like they could sense me. Well, it was more likely that the strange cries of those already present were calling others.

I dug a can of fruit and the can opener from my bag. As I opened it, my numb fingers lost their grip and the can-opener slid from my fingers. I nearly toppled after it as I jerked to try and catch it. I missed and it fell into the mass of zombies below. Unfortunately, the can opener didn’t drop onto the crown of one of the zombies. Apparently, my luck just wasn’t that good.

The can was opened enough that I pried it open further with a fork. I ate the contents of the can before flinging it down at the zombies. To my disappointment, the can didn’t hit any heads either. For a moment, I found myself thinking about seeing if I could sink the prongs of the fork into a zombie, but after a furious mental debate, I slid the fork back into my backpack.

By afternoon, I was thirsty. I couldn’t open any of the cans that were left, not that green bean juice would have been that appetizing anyway. It wasn’t hot or cold out thanks to the snow. I almost wished that the snow landed closer to me. At least if I could get a handful, I could chew or suck on it to help keep the thirst at bay.

When my lip split, I nearly gave into frustrated tears. I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs. The only thing that prevented me from following through was the fact that I really didn’t want to draw any more zombies to my hiding place. Though, thinking back on it, I somehow doubt that sitting in a tree above the heads of around thirty zombies could really be considered hiding.

When night fell for the second time, I was seriously considering unloading my arsenal of canned goods on the screaming, shouting, yelling, howling, bellowing, and otherwise obnoxiously loud mass of zombies. I was exhausted, my bandages were in desperate need of being changed, and my tongue felt like it belonged to a cat. Not to mention the fact that I had been sitting in the same position for going on twenty-four hours. I couldn’t even open my mouth without my lips starting to bleed.

I finally couldn’t handle the moans, groans, and various cries. “Just go away!” I yelled at them. A gust of cold wind swept over me, only there was no wind. I could feel goosebumps break out over the skin of my arms, and a cold spot settled in my chest. The zombies continued to moan and groan. If anything, my shouting seemed to make them louder instead of chasing them away.

Again I managed to fall asleep in the tree. I woke up feeling stiff. My body was unused to the lack of movement and I could barely feel my legs. The sun shone in my eyes and the remnants of the dream where my mom called my name drifted away on the chill breeze.

Then I noticed it. Silence. I was tired of the nearly constant noise of the zombies, but the lack of sound was deafening. I dropped my gaze and almost fell out of the tree. The zombies were gone. Except for Mr. Abernathy and the corpse of the dog, who were apparently permanently dead.

I considered waiting to see if they would come back, then wanted to kick myself. Of course, they would come back. I started to get to my feet, but my legs didn’t seem to want to function. The only thing I could think of was to rub my legs in an attempt to get the circulation flowing again. As I rubbed my legs, my side spasmed. I gasped but couldn’t get enough air for what felt like minutes but couldn’t have been more than a few seconds.

I carefully stood up; wincing at the sleepy needle feeling that spread from my hips down, and slung the backpack around the tree. Shimmying down was actually harder than shimmying up had been. The backpack kept snagging on the bark of the tree, so I would have climb back up in order to break the bag free. Another round of coughing caused me to slide several feet down, allowing the tree’s outer surface to tear into the soft sole of my shoeless foot.

It felt like it had been ages since I last touched the ground. I pulled my sock off and winced at the sight of my foot. The sock was completely useless. There was very little of the sole left. But my heel looked like it had been sliced horizontally with a knife and pieces of bark were sticking out of the cuts. I gritted my teeth and started pulling the bark out, ignoring the tears of pain that welled into my eyes and blurred my vision. A small handful of snow rubbed against the cuts forced me to swallow a whimper.

When I was done, I stood up again, careful not to put too much weight on the wounded foot. The cold stung the cuts, but I figured that it would help keep the wounds semi clean.

I didn’t see anything as I hobbled toward the convenience store. What bothered me was the lack of sound. There were no shrieks from zombies, no sirens (the battery must have died in the cruiser in front of my house), no bird calls, no sounds of people… nothing. It was disturbing. The snow helped to muffle everything and it was nearly impossible to see the houses that lined the street on either side of me. The only good thing about it was that if I couldn’t see the zombies, they couldn’t see me either.

It took me a while to reach the front of the store. The front door was locked. Peering inside the windows, I couldn’t see any movement. I knocked on the glass, just in case. There was no answer.

The store consisted of two buildings connected together. It was obvious that originally a gap was between the two, but the gap was removed by further construction. The front building was a small store that faced the highway in front. Large windows dominated the front of the store, but I guessed the windows were either bullet proof or extremely thick. The door was also glass. As I stood there waiting, I toyed with the idea of breaking the door, but ruled it out. It may have gotten me inside, but then anything else could join me. At least if the door was in place, no one would really consider coming inside.

The rear building served as an auto-shop and faced the houses and street I had come from. A large garage door sat nearly in the center of the building, but a smaller door stood to the side. The garage door had those tiny windows that maybe a hand could fit through, but not a body, so they were out as far as an option. I tried peering into them, but they were covered with so much grime it was impossible to see inside the shop. On the off chance that I had some form of luck, I tried pulling the garage doors up, but they wouldn’t budge. The smaller door, too, was locked.

I leaned against the wall next to the garage door and considered my options. It was while I stood there that I spotted three vehicles parked along the fence, a truck, a jeep, and a car. I moved to toward them, hoping that if nothing else, maybe I could hide in one of them for a night or so. I checked the jeep first. But the doors wouldn’t open. The truck and the car were in the same condition.

My stomach rumbled audibly as I moved back to the garage. The sound surprised me enough to look around to see if it caught any zombie attention, but there was no movement.

There was a small section of the garage doors that kept attracting my attention. I finally focused on the spot, trying to figure it out. After a few minutes of staring at it, I realized that it was a slightly darker shade of green than the rest of the garage doors. A quick look around to make sure that there were no zombies cruising the area and I went to it.

I studied it for a moment. It was big enough that with a little work, I would be able to get my body through it, but it didn’t look like much more than a darker green patch of paint. I placed my hand against it and gave out a startled yelp when it swung back from my touch on squealing hinges. A dog door? Maybe my luck was changing.

I was right, my shoulders and hips fit with a lot of wriggling. It scraped against the wound in my side, causing me to cry out as it burned. I ended up lying sprawled on the floor until the pain subsided. When I could hear past my pain-filled heartbeat, I remained still, trying to hear for anything moving. There was nothing. It was harder to breathe in shop mostly because of the scent of grease and grit clogging my nose.

I sat up, trying to see through the darkness for any movement, but there was nothing. The dog door squeaked with a gust of wind. I needed something to block it. There were some boards leaning up against the wall. I ruled them out because I didn’t know where a hammer or nails were and it would take too much time to find them. A stack of tires sat in one corner of the room. Seeing the tall toolbox that rested against one wall, I considered the boards again. Again I discounted them. Banging nails into the door would cause noise and that would draw zombies. The toolbox itself wouldn’t work because it was missing the wheels on the bottom. There was a small collection of filing cabinets sitting beside the door that I assumed led to an office. The tires looked to be the only things that might work.

Sighing, I got to my feet, waited through a bout of breathlessness and checked the tires out. They were hard to move. By the time I moved the second tire into place, I was breathing like I just finished a marathon race. I sank down next to the tires and fought to breathe. I used the hem of my shirt to wipe at my sweaty face.

When I finally caught my breath I made my way through the door that opened into the store. I rested a few minutes in the doorway, orienting myself in the darkened room. There were several different kinds of bottled water, about ten or so jugs of water, and a variety of sodas, beers, and other drinks. I grabbed an armful of bottled water and deposited them on a table near the front of the store. A quick tour later and I was sitting at the table with a package of doughnuts, a package of jerky, and a handful of candy bars.

When I used the water on my forehead, arm, side, and foot, I thought my body would stop working for the thunderous stings that stole through me. Then, I realized that I was being an idiot. I pulled my first aid kit out of my bag, along with my bottle of painkillers and went to work patching myself up again. I finally talked to myself into trying the alcohol wipes. They were no better than the water. Ok. They were worse. But at least the wounds were clean. The one in my side was still oozing blood. I knew it wasn’t a good sign, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Now that I am sitting here, writing everything down, I can’t help but wonder why those zombies left. Their numbers were still growing when I went to sleep last night. I know I wasn’t counting, but it was pretty obvious. What could possibly draw off a bunch of zombies from their prey? Were there other survivors? Did someone else draw them off by accident?

I think a zombie is outside the store.

Go Back to Day 2 – or – Go to Day 5

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