Maureen F. McHugh




Cahill lived in the Flats with about twenty other guys in a place that used to be an Irish bar called Fado. At the back of the bar was the Cuyahoga River, good for protection since zombies didn’t cross the river. They didn’t crumble into dust, they were just stupid as bricks, and they never built a boat or a bridge or built anything. Zombies were the ultimate trash. Worse than the guys who cooked meth in trailers. Worse than the fat women on WIC. Zombies were just useless dumbfucks.

“They’re too dumb to find enough food to keep a stray cat going,” Duck said.

Cahill was talking to a guy called Duck. Well, really, Duck was talking and Cahill was mostly listening. Duck had been speculating on the biology of zombies. He thought that the whole zombie thing was a virus, like Mad Cow Disease. A lot of the guys thought that. A lot of them mentioned that movie 28 Days Later, where everybody but a few people had been driven crazy by a virus.

“But they gotta find something,” Duck said. Duck had a prison tattoo of a mallard on his arm. Cahill wouldn’t have known it was a mallard if Duck hadn’t told him. He could just about tell it was a bird. Duck was over six feet tall, and Cahill would have hated to have been the guy who gave Duck such a shitty tattoo, ’cause Duck probably beat him senseless when he finally got a look at the thing. “Maybe,” Duck mused, “maybe they’re solar powered. And eating us is just a bonus.”

“I think they go dormant when they don’t smell us around,” Cahill said.

Cahill didn’t really like talking to Duck, but Duck often found Cahill and started talking to him. Cahill didn’t know why. Most of the guys gave Duck a wide berth. Cahill figured it was probably easier to just talk to Duck when Duck wanted to talk.

Almost all of the guys at Fado were white. There was a Filipino guy, but he pretty much counted as white. As far as Cahill could tell there were two kinds of black guys, regular black guys and Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam had gotten organized and turned a place across the street—a club called Heaven—into their headquarters. Most of the regular black guys lived below Heaven and in the building next door.

This whole area of the Flats had been bars and restaurants and clubs. Now it was a kind of compound with a wall of rubbish and dead cars forming a perimeter. Duck said that during the winter they had regular patrols organized by Whittaker and the Nation. Cold as shit standing behind a junked car on its side, watching for zombies. But they had killed off most of the zombies in this area, and now they didn’t bother keeping watch. Occasionally a zombie wandered across the bridge and they had to take care of it, but in the time Cahill had been in Cleveland, he had seen exactly four zombies. One had been a woman.

Life in the zombie preserve really wasn’t as bad as Cahill had expected. He’d been dumped off the bus and then spent a day skulking around expecting zombies to come boiling out of the floor like rats and eat him alive. He’d heard that the life expectancy of a guy in a preserve was something like two and a half days. But he’d only been here about a day and a half when he found a cache of liquor in the trunk of a car, and then some guys scavenging. He’d shown them where the liquor was, and they’d taken him back to the Flats.

Whittaker was a white guy who was sort of in charge. He’d made a big speech about how they were all more free here in the preserve than they’d ever been in a society that had no place for them, about how there used to be spaces for men with big appetites like the Wild West and Alaska—and how that was all gone now, but they were making a great space for themselves here in Cleveland, where they could live true to their own nature.

Cahill didn’t think it was so great, and glancing around he was pretty sure that he wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t chuck the whole thing for a chance to sit and watch the Sox on TV. Bullshitting was what the Whittakers of the world did. It was part of running other people’s lives. Cahill had dragged in a futon and made himself a little room. It had no windows and only one way in, which was good in case of attack. But he found most of the time he couldn’t sleep there. A lot of times he slept outside on a picnic table someone had dragged out into the middle of the street.

What he really missed was carpet. He wanted to take a shower and then walk on carpet in a bedroom and get dressed in clean clothes.

A guy named Riley walked over to Cahill and Duck and said, “Hey, Cahill. Whittaker wants you to go scavenge.”

Cahill hated to scavenge. It was nerve-wracking. It wasn’t hard; there was a surprising amount left in the city, even after the groceries had been looted. He shrugged and thought about it and decided it was better not to say no to Whittaker. And it gave him an excuse to stop talking to Duck about zombies. He followed Riley and left Duck sitting looking at the water, enjoying the May sun.

“I think it’s a government thing,” Riley said. Riley was black but just regular black, not Nation of Islam. “I think it’s a mutation of the AIDS virus.”

Jesus Christ. “Yeah,” Cahill said, hoping Riley would drop it.

“You know the whole AIDS thing was from the CIA, don’t you? It was supposed to wipe out black people,” Riley said.

“Then how come fags got it first?” Cahill asked.

He thought that might piss Riley off, but Riley seemed pleased to be able to explain how gay guys were the perfect way to introduce the disease because nobody cared fuckall what happened to them. But that really, fags getting it was an accident, because it was supposed to wipe out all the black people in Africa, and then the whites could just move into a whole new continent. Some queer stewardess got it in Africa and then brought it back here. It would kill white people, but it killed black people faster. And now if you were rich they could cure you, or at least give you drugs for your whole life so you wouldn’t get sick and die, which was the same thing, but they were still letting black people and Africans die.

Cahill tuned Riley out. They collected two other guys. Riley was in charge. Cahill didn’t know the names of the two other guys—a scrawny, white-trash, looking guy and a light-skinned black guy.

Riley quit talking once they had crossed the bridge and were in Cleveland.

On the blind, windowless side of a warehouse the wall had been painted white, and in huge letters it said:

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming.

Isaiah (ch. XIV, v. 9)

This same quote was painted at the gate where the bus had dumped Cahill off.

There were crows gathering at Euclid, and, Riley guessed, maybe around East Ninth, so they headed north toward the lake. Zombies stank, and the crows tended to hang around them. Behind them the burned ruins of the Renaissance Hotel were still black and wet from the rain a couple of days ago.

When they saw the zombie, there were no crows, but that may have been because there was only one. Crows often meant a number of zombies. She fixed on them, turning her face toward them despite the blank whiteness of her eyes. She was black and her hair had once been in cornrows, though now half of it was loose and tangled. They all stopped and stood stock still. No one knew how zombies ‘saw’ people. Maybe infrared, like pit vipers. Maybe smell. Cahill could not tell from this far if she was sniffing. Or listening. Or maybe even tasting the air. Taste was one of the most primitive senses. Primitive as smell. Smelling with the tongue.

She went from standing there to loping toward them. That was one of the things about zombies. They didn’t lean. They didn’t anticipate. One minute they were standing there, the next minute they were running toward you. They didn’t lead with their eyes or their chins. They were never surprised. They just were. As inexorable as rain. She didn’t look as she ran, even though she was running through debris and rubble, placing her feet and sometimes barely leaping.

“Fuck,” someone said.

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