I cleaned myself up as best I could, dropping the rest of my stuff by the stream. I knew the next thing I needed to do was find a place to sleep. I hadn’t slept in two days. It was what I had to do and once I got to sleep, I knew once I woke up that I needed to find food. I was beginning to border on delirium, something I figured out once I had begun to hallucinate.

It began as I worked to gather up some branches. I figured if I could just build a small fire to warm myself up for a bit that I could then work on sleeping. I walked along the stream, I was so terrified of losing water again. I found small branches and some twigs that I gathered. I bent down to get the best stick I had seen the whole way and when I stood back up again, I saw him. I saw him watching me from across the stream.

I dropped everything. I wanted to run back to my stuff and just keep running. He stood there, staring at me. Almost through me. I knew that look, he had had it so many times before. In my life before.

“You’re still mad at me,” he says as he digs his hands into his pockets.

I nearly fall backwards. I have lost my god damn mind. It has finally happened. It only took the Undead, killing my students and then getting kidnapped and raped almost daily for me to finally fucking lose my damn mind. Dealing with John’s indifference seemed like one of the easiest things I had ever done in life. But, he was right, I was still pretty fucking mad at him. I don’t respond, I just stare at him.

“Your man, he’s a good man. He loves you.” John takes a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, lights one. He’s next to me suddenly, offering me one. I refuse in shock and fear. “Come on, we always used to smoke together.” He hands me the one he already lit. I take a long drag, letting it completely feel my lungs. I can taste the tobacco, smell it. It tastes so good. I exhale slowly. John lights another one and joins me.

We sit down next to one another. I feel like I’m in the middle of the fucking twilight zone. I keep taking long, slow drags of my cigarette, enjoying it more than I should. “I know he’s a good man,” I finally say.

“You deserve him, Lizzy.”

I feel my heart skip a beat at the sound of my name on his tongue. I breath in. God damn it. “Yeah,” I finally manage to say.

“You have to let me go. You have to let go of how fucking terribly I took you for granted.” He’s staring straight ahead at the water.

It’s taking every bit of me not to burst into tears. “I loved you,” I blurt out despite my best attempts to not go that route. “I loved you so much. And all I really wanted was your attention. That was it.” Fuck, now I am crying.

“I know.” He finally looks at me. His eyes are filled with regret. “I was stupid, I was young and there you were, this beautiful girl filled with so much love and kindness. And you wanted to give it all to me with no expectations.” He takes a long drag, exhales, letting the smoke billow out around him. “That was one thing I wasn’t used to. What I was used to were girls that always wanted something, my money, just the label, the image – whatever. You were the first girl that was in it, just for me. And that was scary, that was big and I didn’t know what to do with it so I fucked it up so bad that by the time you did ask me for something as simple as my time, the whole thing…us were already in pieces and I hadn’t even realized it.”

It took him dying…to realize this now. Fucking guys.

“So I did what any guy would do, I pushed you away. And I hurt you again and again.”

I nod, sucking hard of my cigarette. I’m scared if I try to talk I’ll just be a hot mess. He’s pressed every button and opened up every wound he gave me in the years that we had dated. I wanted to hate him, so badly.

“John, it’s another lifetime at this point.” I keep my gaze locked with his. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“But it does, Lizzy. I loved you too. I loved you so incredibly much that there were days that you were all that I thought about. And I need you to know that I mean that and that happened. You matter, Lizzy. You matter very much. And if nothing else, I need you to know that, believe that and when Javier finds you – which he will – I want you to stop dwelling on me.”

I look away to stub out my cigarette. When I turn back, he’s gone. I promptly burst into tears, big heaving sobs. I tuck my knees into my chest and I just want to die. I fucked it all up, I fucked up keeping my kids safe, I fucked up basic survival and I have been fucking up my relationship with Javier too.

John’s Story

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John Reardon was what I thought going to be the love of my life. He liked beer, movies and cars. He used to drive me crazy with his indifference towards me and how it always seemed to be something else. He was born on November 8, 1983 and before he died he was working as a copywriter for a small PR firm in New Brunswick. What I loved most about him were those moments where he would show how kind he truly was like when he would lovingly talk Mouse down from her place atop my pillow. He ran hot and cold and I found a thrill in trying to figure that out. He died trying to get to my school the day that this shit all hit the fan. I buried him in the kickball field along with some of my students and my boss after Javier beheaded him.

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I was about halfway up the hill when I heard the sound of static. White noise. At first I thought I was going crazy. Then, I thought I was in my head again, in moments that have long since passed in my life. This time, I wasn’t though. I was very much in the present. I am very much aware of just how friggin thirsty I am and how endless this hill seems to be.

It’s not white noise, it just sounds like that. I start thinking back to girl scouts. I remember this sound. I start walking faster, my swollen legs hurting with each rushed step. I remember what that sound means. I know what it means. I’m only a few feet away from the top of the hill and when I’m there, I am going to look over and see exactly what I need.

Water. It’s there, sparkling up at me. I fall to my knees, I am just so happy. My mouth is trying to water at the knowledge that I am so close to finally having something to drink for the first time in two days. Then, I realize that to get down to that water, that I’m going to have to climb down from the top of the ravine that I have found myself on. If I could, I would probably cry, but my own desire to live is what gets me back up onto my wobbly legs and slowly over the edge.

Three points of contact. You always need three points of contact. Where did I learn that from? Nannying. The father always used to say that to the kids I nannied and I thought it was so stupid. He let his kids climb some of the most dangerous places and would always remind them, three points of contact. I guess he’s helping me now.

I get down faster than I thought that I could. I slide down the rest of the way, cutting my hands as I go. I don’t care. I am just so thirsty. My mouth is dry, it hurts to swallow. I straighten up and stumble over to the stream, plunging my face into the cool water. It’s incredibly painful to gulp it down, but it’s all my body wants me to do. There is no controlling it. Eventually I can drink and it’s not hurting anymore, it almost feels good.

When I can’t drink anymore, I pull my head back and sit back. I start cleaning the blood and guts from my hands.

I need to rest now and then I need to find something to eat. I have to take care of myself because I don’t know how long I’m going to have to do this for, this being on my own. It’s scary. I was one of the lucky ones when this started, I was with people, but now I have to figure it out. I have to figure out my survival and all I have with me is a dumb blanket.

I’ve been separated from the group for about a day and a half. I’m starving, but more so incredibly thirsty. All I want is a drink. I’m deep into the woods now. I think our old house is somewhere behind me.

The hordes have thinned out. It’s the strangest thing. At first there were what felt like hundreds and then the more I ran and the more I worked through, the thinner the groups got until I was back out into open ground. The family of deer that crossed my path may have had something to do with helping me get this far. Sorry, Bambi.

My legs are so sore and swollen. I just want to sit, but if I stop it means they can come back. I don’t have it in me to deal with a horde.

I have to find water and a place where I can rest. I’ve thought about tying the blanket up amongst the trees and sleeping for just a little bit, but then if I fall that will be the end of me. I need water.

I need to focus on the water. At least I’m focusing on me and survival now and not my crappy life I had before.

I never realized just how crappy my life really was before all of this. There have been nights since this all started where I used to lay awake and think about my perfect life before, but it was far from perfect. I actually had started to hate teaching. I hated every moment of it. And as much as I wanted to believe that my boyfriend loved me and was my happy, fairytale ending…in all reality my boyfriend didn’t even really like me and probably just used me for comfort and companionship when he needed it.

I don’t know what’s worse, having been secretly holding onto that behind Javier’s back this whole time. Romanticizing the whole thing. Or actually even missing that perfect life I never had.

God, I am so thirsty. I just want water. I would kill for water.

And as crappy as life had gotten after all of this happened, it actually got better in a lot of ways. I have Javier. I have kids. I have a life that I wanted.

And I’m not teaching, though now, I actually find myself missing it.

I’m so damn thirsty. I wish it was summer. If it were summer there would be leaves and even though there would be minuscule amounts of water in them, I would be pulling them off left and right until this super cotton mouth went away.

I feel like I used to feel after a very long night of binge drinking. Only at least before feeling this way, at least I got to have some fun and not have to fight for my life. This wouldn’t be so hard is this was up hill.

Damn it, I wish I listened to Javier all those times he tried to tell me how to find things out here. I wonder where he is. I wonder if he’s looking for me. Of course he is. And he’s probably worried too. I know Javier loves me. John would have left me out here to fend for myself, giving me some lame excuse about a hang nail stopping him from rescuing me.

Enough. I’m not doing the comparing men game now.

By the sun I know it’s past noon. I have to make it up over this hill. I need to find water. You can’t live without water after what, 3 days? Shit.

I’m laying in bed, staring at the ceiling. My head is still swimming from the beer I had with my friends earlier. My phone will not stop dinging. I know who it is, it’s John. It’s been John all night. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. He could have spent the night with me. We had plans to see a movie and go out to dinner, but just like he’s always done, he cancels on me about an hour before he was supposed to be here. Another lame excuse about a migraine or was it the drinking plans with his buddies that he had forgotten about?

I can’t remember. The beer has gone to my head. That last minute decision to go out instead of sitting home, wallowing in my hurt feelings…again is going to make tomorrow very long. I probably should have stayed home. It just made me drink too much and made my friends hate him even more, for blowing me off…again.

It’s a shitty feeling to constantly be pushed aside. How have I become one of those women that gets so wrapped up in a guy she rides it out even though she knows the inevitable outcome?

Because you love him, stupid. And because you think that one day it’ll be different and he’ll love you too.

I exhale, long and hard. I roll over and pick up my phone. I read the messages since I had stopped answering. His apologies and explanations and how it’s always someone else’s or some circumstance’s fault, not his. He’s worse than my students. And then he’s calling me and before I stop myself, I’m answering.

And then he’s saying something like, “Why do you always think I don’t want to be around you?”

Maybe because you never are. Or you makes plans with me but then blow me off all the time. Or you just push me aside like I don’t matter to you, like it’s everything else and then me and maybe I’m just to the point where I no longer believe this is all done because of baggage from an old relationship.

I close my eyes really tight. I don’t want to cry. I squeeze them until I see stars.

And then I open my eyes and in front of my stands another one of the Undead. I just keep swinging the branch I had picked up. I’m exhausted. My arms are covered in rotting blood and bodily goo. I’m just so sick of this shit. I know I’m surrounded, and alone. And I realize just how angry I am.

I’m angry for what I had to leave unfinished in my life before this. I’m angry for what’s happened to me since then and I’m sure as hell angry that I’m separated from everyone, in the woods and dealing with an endless swarm of these flesh eating assholes.

As I push on, each one of them begin to look like John or McGrady or some insane hybrid of them both. I just keep beating them the way that they had beat me down, each in their own way. I feel better each time my branch just rams one of them straight across the face. Each time, I feel as though I’m claiming a part of myself back, so I keep fighting because I know that I have to and because for the first time since I killed McGrady, I actually want to.

With one sweeping movement, he had her pinned to him, his mouth completely covering hers. In her mind, she screamed for him to let her go, but her heart wouldn’t let her. It had been six months since she had left him the last time and she had missed him more than she had imagined.

Her head wins out in the end and she pushes herself from him.

“No! You don’t get to do this again,” she yells, on the verge of tears. She’s too proud though to let him see her cry. She chokes them back with elongated breaths.

“Baby, don’t,” his voice filled with tenderness and love, both endearments she knows are fleeting.  “I love you, I want you with me.”

“It’s never with you, it’s behind you, it’s under you, but it’s never with you.” She begins to walk away and he grabs her by the arm, pulling her back. “I know how this plays out. I’ve lived it be played out twice already.”

“It’s different this time!” She’s wrapped around him, his hands running through her hair, kissing her forehead and cheeks. “It’s different. Baby, I want you with me. Beside me, next to me.”

“Bullshit!” She fits against him, both wanting the comfort of being close to him, but at the same time hating him for even trying to offer it to her and hating herself for even wanting it. “Bullshit! This has been two years of the same shit! You can not just jerk me around and tell me all of this shit and confuse me again. You don’t get to hurt me again! I’m happy now. Not with you. I’ve lived through the excuses and the bullshit and everything else that never made me any real priority or obligation to you. Maybe I found someone who doesn’t do that. Who calls when he says he will, who takes me out and doesn’t cancel on me, who spends time with me, who never makes me feel like I am any less than I am!”

He let’s her go. He steps back from her, realizing that she hasn’t been waiting for him this time. “What’s his name?”

She stops. “ Just fuck you, John. Just, fuck you.”

She’s up by her front door now. She’s away from him. It’s tearing her apart to do this again, but she knows that staying with him isn’t for her. She knows coming in second or even a third between his failing career and friends is not what is going to make her happy.

She has lesson plans and stuff to do for work and dealing with his melodrama is not how she wants to spend her Saturday afternoon.

That was my life before though. That was nearly two years ago. John was dead now and I’m standing in someone’s front yard armed with an axe trying to fight my way to a car with my things strapped to my back.

Javier is yelling. The walkers are everywhere. If I don’t keep fighting, they will tear me to pieces. I need to focus, but right now all I can think of is my life before. The mistakes I made in my life before and I judge myself in that moment because there is no need to even be thinking about it.

I just need to keep fighting.

“What? What’s coming?”

My mom is already running around her room, throwing things into a bag. Armand’s screaming has gone down to a dull whimper.

“Mom!” I grabbed for her arm to stop her. She’s in a panic, that is clear. “What’s going on?”

My mom stops, bag in hand. “Armand did this when you were…away. He would do this with the hordes. It was almost like he knew, like he’s just that sensitive.” She goes back to throwing anything she can into her bag, grabbing Armand to do the same in the boys’ room.

Javier comes in, he has Shelby wrapped up like a package in his arms. Vincent is behind them.

“Who knew about Armand?! Who knew that he could do that?”

“We all did. We were all there when McGrady figured it out,” Vincent pipes up.

“And none of you could tell me? Just like your top secret experiments in the woods! Or even Shelby,” I turned on them both, angry for everything that has just happened. “Is that what we do in this family! Huh? Lie and hide shit!”

“Leez, calm down! You have’n t exactly been in the best mindset since we left your house. Things needed to happen and we made them happen. Don’t yell at the kids because of that.” Javier stares at me, clearly angry. Vincent leaves the room.

“Oh whatever! We have a fucking horde to deal with now, don’t we?”

Javier nods. He puts Shelby down on the bed my mom had. Burying her would require too much time and time was one thing we knew we didn’t have. We pack what we can carry. The clothes that we managed to find, the food that we had and we throw it all into the car that we stole from the road. I go back into the house to grab the warm, down comforter that was on my bed. It’s too good of a thing to leave behind. I’m grabbing it and rolling it up when I turn and look out the window.

In the distance, underneath the gray cast of the moon, I can see the first of the horde coming. I am stunned, it is probably the biggest one that I have ever seen and it is headed straight for our little encampment. In the back of my mind, I prayed that we all were going to survive this one. I grabbed the bag of guns we found in a cabin not far from our house and with the blanket, I begin the mad dash down the stairs and out of the front door, only glimpsing in on a still dead Shelby as I went.

Today. I killed a student. And now I’m running from a mob of hungry zombies.

In this world, these moments of comfort and consistency are few and fleeting. It’s hard when we are in them to remember that nothing, absolutely nothing lasts. It doesn’t matter how bad we want them to, they just won’t. 

And unlike life before, when we are in these moments, we are in danger. The world is still spinning around us, bringing flesh-eating danger to our door. These moments take our guard away and puts us into a non-existent safe place that just sets us up for hurt and failure. As Javier and I slept, that is exactly what happened. We weren’t exactly fortified in the house that we had taken over, but we had felt that we were secluded enough that we would be okay until the spring came. Then we had planned to either fortify or to move on. 

The moon was big last night. It shined through the parts of the windows that we hadn’t covered, casting everything in gray. I awoke to the sounds of feet on the floor. I stirred slowly, letting my eyes adjust to the room. Javier was still asleep beside me. As my eyes adjusted I could see Shelby’s blond hair gleaming in the moon light. 

I thought she was having trouble sleeping again. I moved to make room for her, but as I lifted the blanket to let her in, I realized that something wasn’t right with Shelby. I shot up and stared at her. It took me several more moment to realize that Shelby was dead. I could see the gray of her skin, smeared with what I was hoping was her own blood. Her arms reached out for me, only this time not for comfort, but for my flesh. 

I shot out of bed, pushing Javier as I went. “Holy fuck,” I scream as I try to both gather my wits and grab something to take her out with. Javier, still oblivious to what’s going on, finally wakes up. “What the hell, Leez? What’s going on?”

He looks from me to Shelby. “Oh God,” he mutters and moves to grab something. 

As if the scene could not get anymore complicated, Vincent comes bursting into the room. “I’m sorry,” he’s screaming. “I just couldn’t do it to her! She asked me not to!”

We have Shelby in the middle of all of us. She’s dragging her feet and reaching for each of us, unsure of what her next move should and would be. 

“What the hell do you mean, Vincent! We talked about this,” Javier is slowly becoming infuriated.

“Never mind that, how the hell and when the hell did this even happen,” I interject. 

“This morning, when we went to look for food. There’s a group of them…in the woods.” Vincent looks down at his feet, knowing hiding that information has put us all in danger. 

“Oh my God.” I grab a lamp off of one of the nightstands and I hit Shelby as hard as I could, completely separating myself from the part of me that loved her in life. She goes down and stays down with ease. Vincent is staring at Shelby’s body in awe. “Are you bit,” I ask with more calm than I actually have. 

He shakes his head. “It was just her.”

Javier is beside himself. When I turn to him, I can see the tears welling in his eyes. No one has time to say anything. Armand starts screaming, an ungodly, stomach-churning wail. I push past Vincent and I run to my mom’s room. 

I find her trying to calm him down, but he just keeps screaming. I run my hand over my face. What’s happening? Before I can even figure it out, my mom fills me in.

“They’re coming, Lizzie. He does this when they’re coming.”