Jack and the Zombies:
A Short Story by C. A. Verstraete
Sometimes the kids do know better...
Photo: © Chance Agrella, www.freerangestock.com
"They're going to get you, Billy. The zombies are coming. ROWR! Run!"
Jack ran after his little brother, his hands curled like claws. Maybe it was kind of mean—okay, it was mean—but the scared look on Billy's face made it worth his mom getting mad at him again. Anyway, Billy knew he was just kidding around, didn't he?
Five-year-old Billy ran into the house screaming at the top of his lungs. "MOMMM! Jack's scaring me again!"
Meredith held her youngest son and soothed him until he stopped crying. "Honey, none of it is real, okay? Honest. You don't have to be afraid." She kissed his forehead. "Now go play with your Legos. I'll talk to your brother."
Jack watched the two of them knowing what came next. He began the countdown, five, four, three, two…
"JACK! Come in here. Now. We need to talk."
Jack slunk in, his head down. "Mom, I didn't mean anything. Honest. We were just playing."
"Honey, how many times do I have to tell you to quit scaring your brother? If he has nightmares again, I'm going to make you sit up with him. I wish your father would quit bringing all those zombie books and movies home. It's getting out of hand. Maybe it's time to pack this stuff up and give it away."
"Give it away? Mom, no, we need it! It'll help us when the zombies come. I have to know what to do to be ready! You can't do that."
Once the words left his mouth Jack knew he'd gone too far. He saw how his mother pinched her lips and frowned, giving him the "look," the one she used when she was really angry. Like now. But this was important!
Meredith folded her arms and stared at him. "Really? Tell you what I can do." She opened the closet and took out a big box. "I can tell you to march into that room and start packing every single zombie thing up in this box. All of it."
"But Mom-m-m . . ."
"I was going to say, I'll put it away for a while until you behave. You're thirteen now, you need to stop this nonsense. Or if you prefer, we can give it to the library. I'd rather not have any other kids reading this stuff, but I'm not going to throw it out, either. You decide."
She held out the box.
He took it, knowing there was no other choice. "Okay-y-y, I'll do it."
Head down, the box dragging behind him, Jack shuffled into his bedroom trying to think of a way he could keep some of his favorite stuff. He could hide the comics under his mattress. She never looked there. Maybe he could roll up the magazines and put them in his backpack. Yeah, that would work.
"Don't be hiding anything, Jack," his mother called out. "I'll be checking."
Jack's eyes widened. Wow, she reads minds, too?
He muttered a curse under his breath and spun around just as fast to check the door. He'd really be in trouble, like grounded forever, if she heard that.
Jack sighed and began tossing pieces of his collection into the box: zombie books, the original Night of the Living Dead movie on DVD, his favorite Walking Dead figures. Movies, games, toys, comics . . . The box filled up fast. He had more stuff than he realized.
With a sigh, he opened his dresser drawer and took out a couple more comics he'd stuffed there.
Oh, no. Not his T-shirts, too? She couldn't mean those!
His mother came into the room and patted his shoulder. "No, keep the shirts." She picked up the box. "I'll put these in my room until we decide you can have them back. Go wash your hands and come help your brother set the table for dinner. Your dad will be home soon."
He went into the kitchen and sniffed. The urge to whack his brother on the head faded as hunger took over. "Mom, what's for dinner?"
"Meatloaf, baked potatoes and carrots. Sound good?"
Yes! His favorites!
He nodded. "Yeah. I'm hungry."
His mother hummed as she dished out the food. She was in a better mood. A good sign. Maybe later he could ask to get a few things back like the newer comic books. He hadn't finished reading them. If he behaved himself… He vowed to sit quietly, eat all his dinner, and clean off the table without being asked. Yeah, that could work.
"Anyone home? Hey, something smells good in here!"
Billy ran to the door first to greet their dad. Jack hoped his brother didn't start crying and make things worse.
"Dad-Dad!" Billy ran and jumped at his father. "Dad, you know what Jack did?"
Jack groaned. Great. Already?
His dad tousled Billy's hair before urging him to sit in his chair at the table. "Hey guys." He gave Meredith a kiss and winked at Jack. "No tattling until dessert. I'm going to wash my hands."
Jack tried not to laugh at his dad's little hint since he knew his brother would probably forget what he wanted to say by then and would be in bed not long after they finished eating. His mother gave him another look as she filled their plates. Jack knew she wanted him to know all was not forgotten.
Dinner over, Jack helped clear the table and put the dishes in the sink. He curled up on the couch, hoping there was something good to watch on TV when a loud beep-beep-beep filled the room. The announcer's voice came on over a video showing people running and screaming. "This just in: Police in Wichita to Chicago have reported sudden outbreaks of looting and vandalism. Police warn everyone to stay indoors. Reports have come in of people being attacked by marauding gangs. Bystanders reported seeing groups of dazed people attacking others for no apparent reason. Some described the attackers as dazed and zombie-like . . ."
That was all Jack needed to hear. "MOM! DAD! You have to see this!"
"Your mom went to get the mail," his dad called from the kitchen. "She'll be back in a minute."
Jack jumped from the couch in panic and ran to the kitchen where his dad sat at the table reading the paper like nothing was going on.
"Dad-Dad! It's happening! The zombies are coming!"
His dad looked up and grinned. "Jack, what movie are you watching?"
"It's not a movie, it's not," Jack insisted, his frustration growing. "It's real. The news said it's real! You have to see!"
His dad got up and went into the other room. He watched the channel a minute, switched to another, and then shut the TV off before heading back to the kitchen. "Jack, I know they're making a couple movies in the area. Earlier, I heard the announcers say they'd be airing old movie footage all day in celebration of National TV Month."
Jack stamped his foot. "No, no, it's real. It's the zombies. They're real!"
"Watch that temper," his dad warned in a stern voice. "I'm sorry I gave you all that stuff. Your mom was right. This has gotten out of hand. Get ready for bed."
"Dad, you have to listen, you have to. The zombies. They're—"
His father shook his head and pointed down the hall. "Jack. Enough I said. Brush your teeth and get to bed. NOW!"
Not fair, Jack thought and stomped down the hall. No one will listen! He was right, he knew it. They had to get ready before the zombies got here!
Plans went through Jack's head as he brushed his teeth. He could barricade the outside, string up some of the Christmas bells and stuff so if anything came near they'd know it. That could work . . .
His father interrupted his planning. "Come on, time for bed."
"Dad, don’t you think—"
His father bent down and kissed his forehead. "Goodnight, Jack. See you tomorrow."
Jack sighed in defeat. "Okay, 'night Dad."
He watched his father go into his brother's room to say goodnight before he crawled into bed, his mind awhirl. He'd have to stay up until his parents went to sleep, then get the flashlight and go find the stuff he needed down in the basement. Plus he had to be super quiet. Could he do it?
Jack settled under the covers, trying to keep his mind on what he needed to do but it was hard when he kept drifting off to sleep. Pinching his hand and pushing the covers off to try staying awake didn’t work. He was losing the battle.
Sometime later, he blinked and jumped awake at the sound of yelling coming from his parents' room. Ugh, he'd fallen asleep. Uh-oh, he bet they were fighting about him again. A wave of guilt hit.
Jack burrowed under the covers, tears pricking the back of his eyelids. He hated when his parents fought. They usually did that when his dad drank too many beers after dinner.
He heard another yell and a loud thump before everything went quiet. He stayed under the covers, listening, when he heard noises in the hall.
THUMP! He gasped when something hit the wall. THUMP! There it was again.
He hated to think of bad things, but maybe his dad had fallen in the hall. He'd done that once a long time ago. Or…He sat up quick. Did something else happen? Was his mom hurt?
Feeling more uneasy, Jack slipped out of bed. He put his ear to the door and listened. It remained quiet. What was going on? Not sure what else to do, he eased the door open, careful not to make a sound. Better to not get his dad or mom madder, he figured.
He peeked around the door, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the dimness. His brother's bedroom door was still shut. The door to his parents' room stood open, but he didn’t hear or see anyone. Maybe his dad got up to get a drink of water or something.
Billy listened, and not hearing anything else, slipped back into his room and went to the window. Nothing moved outside. Something white, like an envelope or piece of paper, lay on the ground in front of the open mailbox. Maybe his mom didn't know she'd dropped something.
Dad was right, he thought, and let out a big sigh. That stuff on TV was just an old movie or something.
Wait! He looked again, realizing other pieces of paper lay on the sidewalk leading to the garage door. No, it wasn't paper, but mail. Why did his mom leave mail all over the ground? Jack began to panic. Something was wrong, he knew it!
He ran to the door again and peeked out. Seeing nothing, he tiptoed down the hall and hurried to his brother's room. "Billy, get up!"
His brother cried out and pulled away. "No, leave me alone, I’m shleeping."
"Hey, Billy, get up. You can sleep in my bed. Put your slippers on. C'mon, shhh, don't make any noise."
Billy finally took Jack's hand. Opening .the door, Jack told his brother to follow and stay quiet.
"Owww, Jack, I lost my slipper!"
"Shh, quiet, don't cry."
Jack helped Billy put his slipper back on and pulled his brother toward his room when something clanked in the kitchen.
He heard more shuffling and moving around, but something wasn't right. Why didn't she say anything?
Jack jumped at the sound of glass breaking followed by a long, low moan.
Billy began yelling. "Mom! Jack got me out of bed. He won't—"
"No, quiet!" Jack hurriedly clamped his hand over his brother's mouth. "Something's wrong. That's not—"
"MOM-M-M!" Billy screamed.
Jack's yells joined his brother's as the thing that used to be their mother but no longer was rounded the corner. Dragging one foot behind the other, she shuffled toward them, her hands held out like claws. She stared at them from white eyes. Black spots of mold and decay dotted her once fair, and now gray, skin. A long white worm poked out a hole in her cheek.
"No, Mom, No!' Jack cried and backed up, keeping his brother behind him for protection. He held out his hands in defense as they backed into a corner. "No, help, Dad, help!"
Jack flung out his hands and began swinging as something grabbed his shoulder. "No, stay away. Get away from us!"
"Jack, wake up, son."
Breathing hard, Jack opened his eyes and stared at his dad. "Dad-Dad! You-you're okay?"
"Hey, sport, yeah, I'm fine. You were having a nightmare."
Jack shook his head. "But it was so real! Where's Mom?"
"She's out on the deck," his dad said. "Go back to sleep."
Jack heard footsteps in the hall. "Mom?"
He looked up as something thumped outside his door. The door creaked open. Then there was a long, low moan
Jack began to scream.
Story: © 2017 C. Verstraete/CAP. All Rights Reserved. Cannot be reposted or reprinted w/o written permission of author.