Chapter 1: Lost and Found
Some time after his death, President Adam Chambers opened his eyes. Lost in limbo, he had fallen asleep again. By that point, there was no telling how many hours or days it had been since he’d ended up there. At first, he was terrified and confused, but those stages had come and gone. Now, he was just bored. He was stuck as the sole audience member in what felt like a movie theater; only it played a constant stream of unfocused visuals and nonsense sounds.
His seat was towards the back of the theater, properly centered, which made the whole situation just that much more aggravating. Once in awhile, he would see something on the screen that was sharp and clear: a beach littered with dead bodies, a couple of seconds of the full moon. The images were always ominous and the focus always slipped right back out as fast as it had come in.
Chambers had already grasped that he was dead. He knew he wasn’t dreaming. Dreams are much more active than this. No, he was in the afterlife. Although he was the kind of guy who’d always believed that nothing followed death but non-existence, he now knew better. Despite the best efforts to help others throughout his life, it seemed he hadn’t earned a place in a cloudy paradise. On the other hand, there weren’t any lakes of fire or pitchforks held by little horned devils either.
That hell would have at least been interesting.
This limbo, this hell, was a place where he was tortured by a sick and twisted combination of monotonous boredom and headaches. Sometimes the headaches would throb. Sometimes they would just buzz, but after the first couple of hours of watching and listening to chaotic blurry flashes and garbled noise, there was no escaping them. Except through sleep. Sleep was still an option and a refuge, when he could manage to get there.
Minutes after waking up President Chambers heard a distinct sound from the speakers for the first time since his arrival. It was the crying of an infant. The cry snapped him out of his thoughts, and he leaned forward to try and find its source. As soon as he did that, both the screen and the speakers became clear. Before he knew what was happening the theater disappeared, and his consciousness repossessed his body.
The process was as seamless as the flick of a switch turning on the lights of a room.
Chambers found himself devouring the brains of a woman, driven by a deep and desperate hunger. Her skull was split like an eggshell before him. Emerging mid-chew, he had already eaten all of her frontal lobe and was currently working on the midbrain. Ravenous, the joy of eating consumed him. At first, he refused to process the context of what was happening and simply continued to eat with pure satisfaction.
Another shriek, closer and more frightened.
He sat up and jostled the body by her shoulders. His brain felt slow; similar to being extremely drunk, only worse and with a completely different kind of buzz. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was, what was happening, and what he was supposed to be doing.
There were several other zombies in the room. Five of them huddled around the remains of a man, who was long since dead and at least half-eaten already. The glowing white of bones peeked through some parts of the red meaty mess.
They were in a beach store; surrounded by a variety of flowery dresses, floppy hats, and bright plastic toys. Chambers looked down on the freshly exposed brains that dangled seductively in front of his face. A half-chewed piece fell off and he almost dove after it. He felt like he should want to vomit as the pieces slowly came together, but instead managed to swallow one more time with a guilty gulp. The taste was much more satisfying than he could have expected.
Another cry rose from below his feast, reminding him once again that something had caused him to emerge from limbo.
He grabbed the body by the shoulders and lifted up what remained of her head and torso to see a terrified baby girl no more than six months old shielded in the space between her mother’s crossed legs. The eyes of the other zombies opened wide when they saw the fresh meat exposed before them. Chambers scooped it up immediately and kicked what was left of the parent towards them and left the store. The zombies descended on the mother’s remains in a swarm, forgetting the infant which continued to sob with the powerful, intense loudness that all newborns possess.
They escaped through the back door. Alone on the small patch of concrete that separated the store from a solid wall of dense thorny bushes that marked the property line. Adam’s hands were already beginning to decay, but he still could feel the squirming, brand new life that dangled in front of him. He tried to shush it, but what escaped his lips was more of a rasping hiss. The infant began to quiet down anyway, looking up at him with pure uncertainty.
Chambers rounded the corner and saw about two dozen zombies littered throughout the street. Some were eating loudly, some were wandering, and others were just standing there, staring up at the sky. For the moment, none of them seemed to notice the baby. The longer he could keep his squirming but currently quiet package a secret, the safer it would be.
He walked through the crowd of zombies anonymously. Not one of them stirred or lunged at him or the baby. Expecting for it to start a fresh round of cries any second, Chambers looked down to see it smiling up at him. So far, so good, he thought as he lumbered slowly up the road. What remained of his mind continued to slowly put together a series of successive realizations about who he had become and what was going on. None of the realizations were good.
The full extent of being an undead murderer with a craving for human flesh was something that he couldn’t quite wrap his mind around just yet. There were other things to think about. Like how to walk in a straight line. He was failing pretty hard at that, but at least they were going forward. Although most of his mental power was being used for motor functions, he held onto one thought, one goal, one current agenda: the baby had snapped him out of limbo and didn’t deserve to be left out there. Somehow, some way he had to find it shelter and help.
Chambers was looking for signs of the living. He hoped for a wet nurse or doctor, but anyone who wasn’t already dead would stand a better chance of taking care of her. He knew he had to atone for the unimaginable atrocity of what his body had done before his mind had regained control.
The only problem was, as he kept walking, there were no signs of life and plenty of signs of death. He passed by a seafood restaurant with broken windows. A pile of polished bones sat in a puddle of dried blood mixed with the broken glass. Chambers could almost see the struggle that had been fought and lost already. The carnage all around him was not the sort of sign he had been hoping to see. As they walked past, Chambers realized his sense of smell was still very dull, which was probably for the best.
They approached a neighborhood, and to his delight, he saw socks hanging from some of the doorknobs. That was a sign of survivors. Those houses had been evacuated. He walked on, looking at each house for one that would be marked with a towel hung from a window. That was the marker he’d ordered survivors to use to indicate where they were gathered. He’d laid out that plan days ago. A lifetime ago.
There were plenty of doorknobs covered in socks, but not on all of them. Still searching for a towel marker, Chambers heard a click from behind him and swung around just in time to see a man two houses down aiming a hunting rifle straight at him.
Chambers felt his adrenaline kick into high gear and instinctively turned his back to the gun barrel, protecting the infant in his arms from the blast. The gun exploded and the bullet tore through his back and then came out his chest, mere inches above the child. He expected for blood to flow out of the hole in his torso, but none did. Thanks to his diminished nerve activity, the shot felt no more painful than if he’d been hit by a paintball.
He staggered behind a nearby tree while shrieking at the top of his lungs, partly out of reflex, and partly to mask the sound of the screaming baby in his arms. He hoped the noise was enough to scare the shooter off. Numerous zombies cried back from a distance, whether as a result of his call or the sound of the shot, he couldn’t tell.
An angry female voice cried out from inside their house. “Clarence! Goddammit! Just what in the hell are you shootin’ at now? You’ll draw even more of ‘em right to our front door. Get in here!”
‘Clarence’ called back, “Alright, alright. Why you always got your panties in a bunch? If another big group of ‘em does come out-”
“If? What if? Of course they will, dummy!”
“-then we just gotta lay low for awhile. Ain’t like they’re gettin’ inside nohow, Maggie. Can’t a guy have some fun?”
“I thought we was laying low! What’s the point in laying low if you’re gonna find some excuse to use that thing every three hours? Huh? I don’t know how many times I gotta tell you the same-” The voices cut off as Clarence slammed the door shut behind him, but presumably their bickering continued within.
It wasn’t exactly the best environment for the crying baby in the arms of the dead president, but it was better than nothing. Chambers peeked around the tree, wondering if he was being lured into a trap. The couple was nowhere to be seen. The man’s voice could be heard faintly from inside the house, but the brick construction and tightly boarded-up windows helped to quiet most of it.
He knew he had to act quickly before any other zombies showed up. Placing the baby gently on the stoop, he rang the bell; then got out of sight as fast as he could manage, to avoid being shot again.
The baby began to howl like crazy the moment he stepped away from it. After a few seconds, the door opened and he heard, “What in the-? Mags! Come on; you gotta see this! Well lookit you, ain’t you just adorable? Where’d you come from, huh?”
Chambers smiled as he heard the woman approach.
“Are you crazy, Clarence? You need to shut that door right now! What about the zombie outside? If I have to tell you one more time-” A gasp stopped her words for a moment, and the edge of her voice instantly dissolved into a delighted squeal. She picked up the baby and cooed, “Oh my God, well who are you, angel? Where’d you come from?”
Clarence replied, “Ain’t no zombie out here. Don’t know about this pretty little thing though. Just left on our doorstep by God himself, I suppose. That, or someone lost their damn minds and couldn’t handle the responsibility.” Clarence hollered, “You hear me out there? You can’t handle this shit?! You just gonna cash in your chips and leave your baby to strangers? Well, fine! She’s ours now and don’t you even think about coming back later, you cowards!”
“Clarence! Hush up and close that door! You’re not helping here. Now come on in and let’s find her some-” Once again, the door cut Chambers off from their continuing chatter, but he felt confident that he’d done right by choosing this couple to help the baby he’d orphaned. At least they were alive and seemed to be decent people, underneath the arguing.
Zombies started to show up in the neighborhood. Chambers walked on, not wanting to interact with anyone at the moment, either living or dead. The house seemed well barricaded. He stumbled off towards the beach. None of the zombies that he saw walking his way seemed to pay him any attention whatsoever, which was just fine by him. It was refreshing, since the last time he could go by unnoticed was before he began campaigning for his current (or was it now previous?) office.
Two more zombies approached while making eye contact with him, but then they brushed on by and kept walking towards the house as if he didn’t exist. He turned back around to watch them go and saw there were no less than eight already clustered around the door of the house, howling and crying out among themselves, and pounding the solid oak door with a relentless abandon.
A compulsion to help the survivors out came over him. Most likely this wasn’t the first time that zombies had tried to break down their door. It looked like it was solid enough to withstand a bit of abuse. At the same time he knew that if Clarence hadn’t shot his gun, the cluster wouldn’t have been drawn to that house in the first place. The last thing he wanted was to cause three deaths in his effort to save one life.
He looked around to see what kind of distraction he could make and saw a shiny luxury sedan that was close. He picked up a big rock and smashed the passenger’s side window with it after a few hits. The sound of the alarm was piercing and didn’t help his throbbing head, but it was a good enough distraction to lure the horde towards him and away from the house. He turned and began to walk out of the neighborhood to get as far away from the noise and activity as he could manage.
Chambers plodded on towards the beach access nearby. He got far enough for the alarm sound to be covered up by the soothing noise of crashing surf. The alarm had made his headache worse.
He had to think things through, which meant he had to get off his feet. He was a series of actions housing a consciousness that was baffled and confused and new beyond anything he had ever known. Every step he took was jerky and awkward. Every movement that his body made felt as if it echoed a bit behind the mental commands that he delivered. Every thought in his head felt delayed, disjointed, quieter against an ever-present hunger that felt deep enough that it might consume him at any moment.
Adam collapsed in the sand and began to sob, but no tears would flow. There was a lot about his new condition that he would have to get used to.
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