Last night when we had battened down for sleep, Javier crawled into our makeshift bed next to me. I was still annoyed with him for what had happened earlier in the day. He usually slides in beside me and wraps me in his arms, but tonight was different. He slid in next to me and remained very much to himself.  After awhile, I rolled over and found him awake, staring straight up at the ceiling.

“I could tell you didn’t like me very much this morning,” he said, still staring up and away from me.

“You’re right, I didn’t.”

He rolled over, laying his head on his bended arm. “We don’t talk much about our old lives.” I nodded, agreeing. “Maybe we need to.”

 Javier’s Story

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 Javier was born on July 14, 1979 in a poor, rural area of Spain called Extremadura. He was the youngest of eight children and the only son. He never knew his father and his mother passed away from cancer when he was only 18. When he was eleven, he had gone to work for the farmer that his family rented their home from. At first it was simple things, small errands that he would do for a barely existent wage. Then it built into him slowly becoming more and more important to their landlord.

At thirteen, he was moved to Madrid where he helped run all sorts of crime rings. They liked him for it because no one really would suspect a young boy to have such connections. His mother, on her deathbed, made him promise that he would get away from his life in Madrid and clean up. He left for America and to his oldest sister’s within a few months.

He worked minimum wage jobs and helped his sisters the best that he could until he was finally hired at Alcott Elementary ten years ago.

The closer I got to him, the faster I seemed to be walking. I was furious by the time I reached him and I think that he knew that. He put down the machete and the sac of small animals that he had found and no doubt killed. There was a small part of me that wanted to kill him in that instance, we had been through so much, seen so much and had been forced to do so much I just couldn’t believe he would let Vincent experiment on walkers like that.

“Leez, you seem upset,” he said, putting his hands on his hips as he absent-mindedly kicked at the dirt in front of him.

Upset?! You’re damn right I’m upset, you big Spanish jerk! I exhale, slowly before I even try to talk to him. Since we became whatever it is that we are, we always were able to talk about things. Why was I finding it so hard to talk and not yell about this? Because it’s disgusting and I’m disappointed that we would do that shit. I shake my head.

“Is this about, Vincent?” He reaches out, running his hands over my arms. His touch is both calming and warm, but I refuse to let him win like that.

“Of course it’s about Vincent! You’re mutilating walkers? THAT’S what you two do out there?”

He draws me closer to him. Oh, he’s good. “He’s curious. I’m curious. We need to figure them out. They’re dead, it’s not like they feel it.”

“You don’t know that. Just like The Man in the Ice, we don’t know what—”

“You’re right, we don’t. But you still have been out there for the past two days staring at him. He makes you curious. It’s not like it used to be Leez, we have to teach them to be survivors not shelter them.”

“But he’s just a kid.”

“He turned eleven last month. When I was his age I was already working to help my mother. We were not all as fortunate as you were. Childhood doesn’t exist in this world, anymore.”

He kisses me on the forehead, picks up his things and starts walking back up towards the house.  I watch as he goes. I look towards the lake. I am curious about The Man in the Ice. I wonder what would happen to him if we left him in there. I wonder what would happen to him if we took him out. Should we take him out?

I wonder over towards the lake and pick up Vincent’s bag. I look down at The Man in the Ice. He looks like he’s almost sleepy. His movements are pronounced and angry anymore, instead he looks like he’s just floating, minimally aware of what’s going on around him. In an eerie way, it’s almost peaceful.

I went down there again this morning after my mom and I had finished trying to cover one of the big picture windows in the house that we’re currently “borrowing.” I stood over him again, The Man in the Ice. He didn’t move much like he did before, probably because last night dipped into wait felt like single digits. His tomb is now too small for him to move and trash around in. Instead I stood watching as he laid there, his head tilted to the side as if he was just merely listening for my footsteps.

Today, he seemed all together docile. Vincent found me there, fresh off of his morning gathering session with Javier. Much like yesterday with Shelby, we stood side by side staring at The Man in the Ice. Until Vincent finally said, “Do you think if he’d froze solid and then we thawed him out that he’d come back again? Or would he just stay dead this time?”

I shrugged. I didn’t have the answers like I used to. I had gone from teacher to student in this world we now lived in. I was figuring it out just as they were. “I think the cold will kill him and make him stay dead,” I finally said.

“Yeah? I don’t know. Javier and I found one in the woods the other day. We pinned it down, cut off his arms, his legs – we waited for him to die and stay dead, but we kept trying to bite us. He was still alive. How can anyone stay alive after that?”

I turned and stared at him blankly. Javier hadn’t told me that their gathering missions had extended to experimenting and mutilating the Undead. What was that about? Does he want our kids to grow up and become the next John Wayne Gacey? What was next mutilating cats to see if they could turn THEM into one of the walkers? Before I could say anything, Vincent just went on, his words pouring out in complete word-vomit.

“I cut off his jaw. I thought maybe if he couldn’t bite us, he’d lose interest in wanting to. I thought maybe we could use him for something. We’re going back in a few days to check on him. See if we really didn’t kill him. Cool, right?” Vincent set down his bag of stuff they found for me to go through like I usually do. I watched as he walked back up to the house. I saw Javier then, coming out of the woods, his home-made machete slung over his shoulder. There was blood on his shirt.

“JAVIER,” I yelled, more shrill than I would have liked.

I stood over him today, The Man in the Ice. I knew that the ice was thick, having frozen to a near solid. The Man in the Ice is almost cocooned down there with just enough room around him to allow him to move his arms and legs. I stared at him for what felt like hours, I watched him as he sensed me get closer. It was other worldly. The man is dead, has been dead for sometime and since the water is both destroying and helping preserve his purple bloated corpse, he has no eyes left. I doubt he has very much soft tissue left inside him at all, but there he was, bloated and floating, scratching and snarling at me through his ice tomb.

He doesn’t fight to breath because he no longer has to. He could stay under that ice until he rots to a point where his corpse can no longer be held together. And then he’ll just disintegrate and infect the lake. That is if his presence there has not already done that.

I wonder who The Man in the Ice was. I wonder if he was kind and good in life or if he was a horrible person missed by no one. Shelby came down and sat with me for awhile. We don’t say a lot to each other. We haven’t for months. She’s very close with Vincent now. They’ve bonded throughout this entire ordeal. Armand is glued to my mother. Javier and I struggle with whatever our relationship with one another is everyday. And if anyone knows what happened to Bonnie after the escape from…that place, we would all like to know.

I’m sure just like The Man in the Ice would like to know how he’s still alive without air or food and a rotting, purple almost grey tinged corpse.

We’ve seen and done a lot since we left Alcott Elementary School nearly a year ago. We’re still moving around and hoping from place to place, always hoping that we stay at least several steps ahead of the herds. The cold has come and with it, it has made the Undead almost sleepy, but at the same time even angrier if we get too close.

The Man in the Ice was by far the thing that has unnerved me the most. We’re trying to reach more desolate areas because Javier believes that if we can find a place out in the country to stay that we will be safe for awhile because there were less people there before the dead started to rise.  I’m skeptical. We’ve seen what a good, strong pack of them to do to animals. I can only imagine what they could do to use if we got cornered in a remote area alone.

We’re by water now. A lake to be exact. At first we thought it would be a great food source for us, but once we caught a fish we realized how much it no longer looked like what it was supposed to. Has this plague destroyed everything? That was were we first saw the Man in the Ice. He had clearly been long dead. His face bloated and purple. So bloated that it forced his eye sockets to pucker over into each other, leaving this slights where his eyes had once been. His hands like pudgy, dead gobs still trashed at the ice that held him down.

Had he been alive, he would be fighting the ice to get out, to live, to survive, but not now. Even trapped down there, he still sought to fill that insatiable hunger that runs deeply in all of them. That realization made me realize how bad this all really is.

I’ll never be Miss Burton, fifth grade teacher ever again.

We woke up this morning to a biting cold that seems to have gotten worse as the day has warn on. The snow started recently. We haven’t moved much, Javier and I have decided that it’s best we wait out the storm before we start moving again. The Undead are worse than we’ve ever seen them.

Yesterday, Javier and Vincent went out to see what could be salvaged from the few houses we haven’t picked through. I’m not sure how, but they got separated and somehow Vincent wound up face to face with a Walker. He was quick to put it down, but when he came back to camp we could all see how shaken he was. He told us how much more vicious the Walker was. He said it was slower than usual, probably because of the cold, but that it had been much more aggressive and agile once Vincent was within its reach.

Much like us, they are starving. We haven’t encountered anyone since the escape from the bunkers. Other survivors aren’t moving around which means the herds have less to pick off. We were lucky last year with such a soft winter, but it seems that this year will be cold, very cold and very difficult.

My mom and I were doing the wash. We finally talked about our lives in the bunkers. It’s something we have both avoided talking about. It hurts too much and it scares me how far I had to go in order to protect myself and my family.

“I am just thankful his plan didn’t work out,” my mom said absentmindedly.

I stopped soaking the kids’ shirts and looked at her. I swallowed hard, I often think about how different our circumstances would be if he had succeeded. “I am too,” is all I can manage.

“Javier came and sat with us everyday. He watched Vincent like a hawk. He was terrified that McGrady to turn him into one of his boys. I wanted to kill McGrady myself, but Javier told us it was best to wait so we could make sure you got out alive. I just never thought by waiting we would have put you in that position.”

My jaw was on the floor as I listened to my mom. She continued.

“Javier made me promise not to tell you, but he had a plan too. He had slowly been poisoning McGrady. Javier was his right hand man by the end and every night they would have a drink. It was easy for him to slip nightshade into it each time. He just wasn’t using enough because he wanted it to make it look like McGrady just got sick one day and died. Don’t say anything to Javier, but I think he will always blame himself much like I do for letting McGrady do what he did to you and then putting his blood on your hands.”

She put the last of the wash in a basket to hang in what used to be an upstairs bedroom. She kissed my forehead as she brushed passed me.

I walked out the back of the house we set up in, towards the farthest corner of the yard and I stood there crying for the first time since we got out. I cried for a good twenty minutes.

 

We were spoiled for months in the beginning of all of this shit. We had our school and then my home. Since I killed McGrady we have had nothing, but each other.

The internet has been down for months which scares Javier more than he is willing to admit at times. There hasn’t even been a blip on my computer until last night. My mom and I had put what is left of the kids to bed. Armand was right out, Shelby followed and Vincent stayed up too late with Javier as usual. We have had the roughest week yet.

A hurricane tore apart what was left of New Jersey and with it, the deep, bone-chilling cold has come with it. We stayed held up in an abandoned house in a neighborhood that I had never been to. That’s all we’ve done all summer, is move from house to house to neighborhood to neighborhood avoiding the herds of the Undead and any outside person. I don’t trust anyone anymore other than who is with us.

At night now, it gets so unbelievably cold again. What we had for clothes are torn and worn beyond repair. Nothing can keep out the coldness that sneaks up on your body like long, cold fingers eager to grip at your skin, your nerves and even your bones. Shelby wakes up crying at night because she is freezing.

We’re going to need to get moving again, but we have even more concerns now. The hurricane tore down already dilapidated buildings, homes, leveled woods and I am sure flooded other areas. It’s going to be even more difficult to move about now and I can only imagine how this has affected the Undead. I have seen how this week among us humans has made us irritable and mean, I can only imagine what it has done to a bunch of flesh-starved Walkers.

God help us.

I write this as Javier holds me, kissing my neck and shoulders – making me feel as if I am all there is in the world.

But there’s a story as to how we got here. One that I have wanted to write for you, but I was silly to think the internet would hold for so long amidst this undead ending.

I should start with, I guess, hoe I killed or in the very least helped to kill McGrady and the merry band of “good old boys” we found ourselves surrounded with. I waited for McGrady to make that one slip he would regret down to his grave. I waited for him to both be so pissed off and so trustful that he never thought I’d rise against his demands and wants for what I was.

I waited for the storm that sent guards, prisoners and workers deep down into the bunkers that we were kept in. I waited for the thunder and lightening to crack so vehemently against the sky that I would have the best cover that nature could provide me with. He had come to me that day, like he always did – filled with hate, rage and an underlying disgust for me that made me shudder to the most inner-part of who I am.

He came to me, sitting on my cot looking at me through eyes that deep down visualized nothing more than my brutal death at his hands. I wanted to hurt him, I wanted to feel my hand in him as I felt his life drain from him, but I held back – waiting for that moment where everything and anything was possible. He came at me, caressing and feigning a pretend love that even the most immature of 18-year-olds could have seen through.

I waited for him to feel comfortable enough to climb on top of me, undoing his clothing as he moved. I heard the storm growing more intense in the background, I heard the water splashing against my floor as it flooded down. I felt my hand reach beneath my mat, pulling out from between it the dagger that I had crafted earlier our of the motherboard of the laptop I had to sacrifice to protect myself.

I felt my hand push into his side with ease as he glare changed from eerily domineering to a questioning child. I felt as I was watching myself from an outside vantage point as I plunged my shank in and out of him, coating myself in his blood as I watched the life drain from him, becoming bleak and less aware. Afterwards I ran for my life from my cell, screaming and covered in deep red splotches and a spray of pink –  wanting to put as much distance and space between me and the first person I would ever kill.

Somehow, this is going to end.

And I will be the victor.

For now though, I used that nifty Draw Something application and here you can see what I deal with. The x’s are the gaurds, the red one is where McGrady spends most of his time. Bonnie is across from me now. We’ve started gesturing to each other. I hope she gets the message….

Map of my cell

I have a lot of time to think and even to listen these days. I try not to think of my old life, the one that was happy but lonely, stressful but rewarding. Most days I lay here and I think of how I can get out of the one that I am currently in.

McGrady visited me this morning reeking of stale cigarette smoke (where the hell does he keep getting them from), dirt, sweat and zombie. I was terrified for several moments that it was one ofthosevisits. But once he sat down on the foot of my cot, I knew it was one where he wanted to have one of those weird conversations with me.

“Elizabeth,” he began, is his usual authoritarian tone. I kept my eyes on the floor. “I know you don’t like me very much.”

That’s an understatement.

“But, I hope that we can at least be friends. I watched you grow up. I went to your birthdays. I was there for you and your mom when your dad left.”

Can I hit him now?

“This doesn’t have to be like it’s been for the past few months. If you show me I can trust you, you don’t have to stay here.”

Ka-ching. I look up at him. “What do you mean?”

He lit a cigarette, taking a long drag. I watched as the smoke billowed up into the hair, hanging there heavy and foreboding. “You can be moved to where your mother stays, if I can trust you.” He caught my gaze with his deep blue, penetrating eyes. It was almost a dare the way he said it, almost as if he was saying, “I’m moving you, but cross me and you will never forget it.”

I played stupid. “How would I do that?”

He was at me before I even saw him coming. His hand wrapped around my throat with such force that I could feel the air being squeezed from it. I felt the back of my head hit the stone behind me. I felt dazed and unclear, but he held my gaze.

“It’s been two fucking months. Your friend has already fulfilled her deal with my son, but you have yet to. You want your mother, you want more freedom than you better fucking give me what I want or things will get a lot worse.The world is very different now. There are no more rules, just the ones that the stronger men make. You live in my world now.” He released me, and I fell forward gagging for air.

I watched his feet as he hovered over, probably debating whether or not to kick me for good measure. My blood boiled. I have always hated men like him, but now I was at the mercy of one, one that had lived under my nose for years, ate dinner with me and my mom and had even came over my house for a drink or two when I had moved out. My hatred for him thickened, coating myself in a thick mask that bore resentment and a deep-seeded anger.

“I understand,” I choked out. I watched his feet as he left the cell. I shuddered as I heard the lock turn behind him.