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.”

I’m not sure how long it was that I sat there. I know that it was dark, very dark when my mom finally came in. She whispered to me in the soft soothing tone that she used to use when I was little and I wouldn’t or couldn’t stop crying. She led me by the hand into one of the bathrooms. I could hear Javier speaking somewhere between spanish and very broken english.

He had heated water and was dumping it into the bathtub. My mom undressed me and much like when I was a little girl, she eased me into the tub and gently washed the Man in the Ice from my body. She let me sit in the warm water for awhile, as she rinsed soap from my arms and hair. It felt so good.

She helped me out of the tub and dressed me in one of the nightgowns we picked up along the way. It was two sizes too big, but it felt good to feel almost human again. My hair hung just above my shoulders now. I could feel the now cold water dripping down my shoulders and my back.

Somehow I get upstairs to the room I share with Javier. I sit on the edge of our bed, my knees drawn tightly to my chest. A part of me wants to cry, but the stronger more dominant part will not let me. I hear Javier come in. He sits behind me. He doesn’t say anything to me. He takes my brush and like he’s done so many times before when he felt that I needed him to comfort me without words, he softly and gently begins to brush my hair. It relaxes me. It calms me. It makes me feel so safe with him.

Gently and with hands that suddenly feel smaller than I know they are, he braids my hair into a loose braid. He hasn’t done this before and I am surprised that he knows how to do it, but I guess having had so many sisters, it was a craft that he probably did pick up.

He draws me to him and we lay down. I lay my head of his chest as he cocoons us in the big, down blanket that we were beyond lucky to find.  This has been and is the only place that I feel safe anymore. I hear Javier’s heart beating, warm and steady against my ear. I drift off to sleep quickly, feeling at peace on the inside for the first time in a very long while.

I stood and waited for Javier. I stood by the lake, watching the Man in the Ice wiggle his bloated corpse-fingers through the growing hole in the ice. I half wondered if he was just going to fall apart with every movement. He had been in there for a long time.

It didn’t take long for Javier to return. He came back down from the woods, his secret place with Vincent, with a bag swung absent-mindedly over his shoulder. He almost seemed excited as he walked. When he reached me, he brushed a kiss across my forehead, setting the bag down at my feet.

“You will be so excited to see this, Liz.” He bent down and started to open what he brought as I awkwardly stood there with my hands in my coat pockets. “This was one of Vincent’s ideas. He is so smart. Was he good at science at school?”

School. I hadn’t really talked about school in forever. I nod. Vincent not only did well in science, but he also loved it. He loved every minute of that period of the day. It was where he thrived.

“We thought we could use a net to catch food. To see what was in the lake, you know, before we saw…him. But now I think this will work even better. If we can get it underneath him, we can pull him out and deal with it finally. Maybe he hasn’t poisoned the whole lake. Maybe we can save it.”

Javier was always an optimist. I watched as Javier untangled a net made out of plastic six-pack holders. It was a good idea, nothing could destroy those things. Together, we moved towards the Man in the Ice, his bloated finger still sticking out from the hole that it had made. The first thing we did was break the top layer of ice which agitated the Man in the Ice to no end. He wanted our fingers, in his mouth and he was fighting to gain some footing in his sloshy, slushy ice-cocoon.  Carefully, we manage to get the make-shift net underneath his bloated body. Javier wraps his side over the Man in the Ice and we put our ends together. We pull and pull and pull – the fucker is heavy, like super heavy.

Javier keeps pulling and I keep pulling. I can feel my footing slipping as the water that’s wetting the ice is making me lose my footing all together. The Man in the Ice is free, wrapped in a plastic net – kind of. I slip backwards, falling on my back, hitting my head on the ice. It’s throbbing. I’m blinking, but everything is doubled. Javier, the net, the Man in the Ice. I can’t make sense of anything and then suddenly I feel the bloated weight of the Man in the Ice on top of me.

I feel my arms go up to stop him. I feel myself pushing at him, but then all I can see is McGrady’s face. I keep blinking. McGrady is dead. I killed him. I killed him months ago with a shank. And I ran and ran to my house. And Javier found me and McGrady found me and there was a fight. There’s McGrady’s face though, hardened and terrifying, on top of me, forcing himself into me. I just can’t.

All I see is red now. Deep, pulsating red. I feel myself pushing back even more. I feel my hands wrap around his decaying wet arms. I feel my hands go into him. All I can see is red.

I push harder and I can feel the weight finally leave me. I can feel him off of me. I can hear myself screaming, but I don’t feel myself speaking. On the inside everything is just red and silent. I’m tearing at him, I’m tearing him to pieces. He’s coming off into my hands as of he were made of play dough. I just can’ t stop, I want to kill him. I want him to be nothing more than pieces of what he once was.

And I make him so, but he lives still. He’s in three distinct separate pieces on the ice, but his head still moans and moves, trying to bite at me until I take my foot and as hard as I possibly can, I drive my heel straight through it, almost enjoying the feeling as it crushes and shatters underneath my own weight.

Javier stands speechless. I am covered in the Man in the Ice. I stink of rot, of death, of old water, but none of that matters. I meet Javier’s eyes with mine and I shrug my shoulders. I don’t feel like there is much more to say than that. Javier goes to clean up the Man in the Ice from the ice and I go back into the house.

I sit in one of the chairs in the living room until I see the sunlight disappear from behind the trees.

It’s been beautifully warm and then bitterly cold. Last week, we even saw our first real snow storm since this all began. We were trapped for the entire weekend until we were able to dig out our little house. It reminded me how in my life before I should have been more appreciative of public services like snow plows and snow removal. 

It was bitter and cold and we were thankful for it because it meant that we did not have to deal with The Man in the Ice. But then, it started to get warmer out. We had days where it felt like spring. I would stand with the children and we would stop doing chores. We’d put our faces to the sun and just feel the renewal that was coming.

It amazes me how much more in-tune we have become with the natural world since ours lives changed. Our moods align with the temperature and the weather. It was so nice for those few days. It made all of the snow melt and made it easier for us. Javier though paid close attention to The Man in the Ice. 

One morning we could see the ice beginning to break up. We both stood there watching him, as his fingers began to slowly protrude through the ice. It was disgusting and stomach churning to watch these purple/brown bloated fingers worm there way through the weak parts of the ice. If we helped to pull him out we knew he would break apart. If we let him struggle to get out we figured the same would happen to him. 

His eyes said that his mind was muddled, probably both with decay, his unceasing hunger and the temperature of the near-freezing water. 

“If we leave him in there, he will spoil the lake. If he hasn’t already,” said Javier as he drew me closer to him.

“But how to we remove him?”

“A really big net.”

“Even if we had one of those, we’d still have to get it underneath him.”

“I know.”

Javier was already half way up the hill towards the woods before I could respond. 

Shelby’s Story

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Life Before
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I find it very hard to talk to the kids about their life before. It’s different for them then it is for us. As adults we expect things to come at us. We’re usually never ready for the big things like the death of a parent or the loss of a job, but we expect those things to happen at some point. Kids don’t think like that. Kids though sometimes I think more resilient than most adults, just don’t expect the worst because normally they haven’t experienced the worst and haven’t lived long enough to see how surprising and upheaving living can actually be sometimes.

So, here’s what I know about Shelby van Horn.

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Shelby’s Story

Shelby was ten years old at the time of the apocalypse. She was born on March 10, 2001. Her parents were both doctors and she was an only child. From what I knew of them, they adored Shelby and catered to her a lot. Shelby is quiet and often shy. In school, she found it hard to make friends and often liked to read more than she liked to be around other kids. This worried her mom, probably more than it should. I always admired the inherent gentleness that Shelby has and her quiet ways. She was often a calming influence on our class at Alcott Elementary.

On career day, in our life before, Shelby spoke about wanting to be an artist or a writer. She said she liked to create and live in worlds in her mind. She found fantasy to be her favorite genre. And now look at us, all living together in some fantasy world it feels. Sometimes I wonder if we live in Shelby’s head and that one day she’ll wake up and this bad dream will end for all of us.

One can dream…

My mom’s name is actually Cindy. I don’t think I’ve ever told you all that, but then again to me she’s my mom so I would never really call her Cindy. Well, except for the years in college when I thought it was the cool thing to do. So here it is, Cindy’s story of her life before.

Cindy’s Story

frances-conroy

Cindy Burton started her life in Edison, New Jersey on February 4, 1955. She’s an only child. Her parents were artists and as she will tell you, over-indulged her in every whim she had. When she was younger, she wanted to be a ballet dancer, but she never made it past Thursday night dance classes at her neighborhood studio. She taught dance for years, up until she had me. Then she married my dad who though lacking interest really in either one of us did manage to set her up nicely and finances never really were a worry for us, even after the divorce.

In her life before, my mom was trying to open her own daycare. In some ways she got that even after life changed because she takes care of Armand as if he was her own.

Image  —  Posted: January 30, 2013 in Life Before
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I was never good with writing about myself. I liked to write stories. I liked to record things, but when it came to writing a paragraph about myself I would freeze, but I want you to know who I was in my life before all of this happened to us. Before the world just fell to pieces, leaving us to pick up those pieces and try to move on as best we can.

Liz’s Story

Miss Burton

I was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey on December 16, 1983. My brother Ryan followed me four years later. It was just us and my mom since I was a teenager. My parents had divorced after pretty much never getting along. We barely saw him after that. It didn’t matter though, we both had always been closer to our mother.

I always wanted to be a teacher, it was the one big dream that I had since childhood. I was hired right out of my masters program to work at Alcott Elementary. I started out as the kindergarten teacher, but after doing it for several years I found that I liked the older kids better. I was happily enjoying my time in fifth grade.

In my life before, I was looking forward to marrying my boyfriend John. Had things been different, I would probably be planning my wedding right now, but that was…life before.