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Incirlik AB
I’ve started transcribing the copy of the “Zero Journal” we intercepted. It’s been through a few generations, and of course, due to its nature, passed through many, many hands. Apocryphally the Zero Journal was started by a Turkish soldier who was party to the Incirlik response. It has been passed from individual to individual since then, with each adding their own experiences before passing it on (often posthumously). The questionable translation and amount of blood and other damage are making the project slow-going.

Zero Journal 016

I’ve been called a liberal pussy. Even a hippy, once. I suppose getting a degree in journalism didn’t help the argument. But still, I’ve never been all the way against guns. I understood there’s a time and place and purpose for them, and I had a reverence for the part they’d played in our nation’s history.

My friends and I always used to talk about doomsday scenarios; it’s funny, a decade ago we’d have been talking about the inevitability of nuclear winter, and how ducking and covering under your desk might somehow help. Anyway, these conversations always ended up with us holing up at the Merrick compound.

The Merricks were a band of redneck übermensch with beer for blood who hucked tree stumps for sport. They were an extended family of body-building Rambos with enough arms to turn back a small country. And they were always a lot of fun, though whenever I was there I felt like a field mouse at a bull moose party.

The compound had been razed to the ground. The grass was burnt, and a line into the brush had been roasted out a hundred yards in every direction. The Merricks may have already played out their Alamo; perhaps they’d retreated, and were employing a scorched-earth tactic. Or maybe the delicious berry distillery had finally blown up. Whatever the case, I needed another place to stay.

And really, there was only ever one other place, a place I was more than loathe to go. They’d always been a lovely family, and really, they’d welcomed me more than they probably ever should have. But my reluctance came from having dated one of the daughters; frankly, I had to pause to weigh the benefits of surviving with her versus oblivion.

It had been a while since I’d been around; I rode round back, checking the perimeter, I told myself. Her father opened the sliding glass door, and his dog Chester bounded out towards me. He squared a few feet from me, smelling the air, unsure if he remembered me. He looked back to his master, waiting for some cue. I kicked the stand on my bike and climbed off. “Hey, Chess,” I said, holding out my hand. He smelled at the glove, then stroked himself underneath it.

“She’s not here.” I looked up, frowning. “She’s in Portland. She’s got an apartment with her boyfriend.” His face was worried- he was concerned the news she was dating would hurt me; I almost made the mistake of saying that, for me, that was a good thing, before he added, “She’s trapped.”

“Shit.” I whispered. “What was the last word?”

Zero Journal 017
“They were both okay, they’d squirreled away some canned foods in the apartment. But the city…”

“The city’s burning. You can see it from the highway. And even if they’re lucky enough to avoid the fires,” I stopped myself.

His eyes were stern but very tired. “I have no right to ask you this,” he stopped, and looked at the horizon, “maybe I shouldn’t. But she’s my flesh…”

I wish I could tell you I thought about it, that I weighed the situation, planned- but I didn’t. “I’ll need a rifle with a sling, as much range as you can give me without making it hard to ride. And a sidearm, a .45 if you’ve got one.”

“Let me check.” He disappeared back in the house. Chester stayed outside, but when the glass door slid shut, his senses became raw. His tail stopped wagging, and the muscles in his back tensed; I felt exactly the same. He came back a moment later, with a Springfield .30-06 and a Kimber with a holser. He helped me slide the rifle under my backpack, and I put my arm through the sling. “Loaded them myself,” he said, shoving two boxes into my backpack, “and a box of ammo for each.” I slipped the Kimber’s holster on my belt as he shuffled uneasily.

“Why don’t you come in and say hi to everybody?”

“No; last thing any of us need right now is another goodbye.”

“At least let me get you supplies.”

“You’ve got a family to feed. I can stop at the station down the road.”

“I’ll go with you, I can watch your”

“You’ve been staying for your family; you’re still staying for your family. Keep them safe.”

Neither of us acknowledged what we knew: I was probably going to die. Gas stations had become notorious; dark, small aisles, plenty of places for an ambush. And every person who died in one doubled the odds against the next unfortunate soul. But I’d need supplies, and compared to the insanity of riding into the heart of Portland, this almost made sense. “See you around,” I told him, not sure that I actually would.


Zero Journal 018
A shiver went up my spine the moment I stopped at the station. It was dark inside. I opened my pack, and my hand came to rest automatically on the flashlight. I wasn’t about to waste the battery. A man pulled a knife on me in the parking lot of a GI Joe’s to try and get it away from me two days ago- he didn’t get it, but I knew how precious it was.

My lighter still had fluid in it, and I lit a tealight candle. The little flame danced in the wind, and I covered it with my hands to protect it.

The door to the gas station was open; the door hadn’t been broken into, which probably meant the owners were dead inside. One or two shamblers wasn’t going to be too much trouble. I pulled out a Bowie knife I’d bought for what seemed like a joke of money now, but flicked off the safety latch on the Kimber holster- bullets were precious, too, but bullets are no use to a dead man.

The first of them wasn’t stealthy. I thought it better to take care of him than watch over my shoulder the entire time I was there- and maybe a little of my Christian upbringing nagged that I might be saving someone else down the road (though if Christ wasn’t sated with my insane pilgrimage into the belly of hell, well, I don’t know that a murderous good deed was going to tip his scales).

He was making snorting, snarling noises, like a rutting pig, bent over in a freezer that hadn’t been freezing for weeks. I tiptoed behind him, planning on slitting his throat, then cutting until the head came off. I’d actually seen a head survive being cut off from the body, but without any muscles to move around, it was pretty harmless; unless you were dumb enough to put your hand it its mouth, you really couldn’t be hurt by it.

But my foot hit a can of nacho cheese bean dip, and it rolled right into the fat bastard’s foot. And he was fast. It meant he was newly dead, or different from everybody else (though I suppose he’d been eating, maybe it was just a sugar high). He had his hands raised up at me, reaching already for my throat.

And I shouldn’t have fucked with it- I should have shot him in the face right then, but I froze, just an instant too long, so the only defense I had was to jab the knife in his side,

Zero Journal 019
twisting, stabbing, in and out. A cascade of horror spilled onto my hand, but it didn’t even slow him, and his beefy fingers curled easily around my throat. We fell back onto a chip rack, and my arm bent painfully, almost making me lose the knife as we hit the linoleum.

He screamed at me through a mouthful of Neapolitan spittle. He was sitting on my chest, and he was heavy enough I could barely force air back into my lungs. I kicked him in the back a few times, and he looked behind himself, swinging with one arm ineffectually at my shoes. But he didn’t take the other off my throat.

I’ve only been choked one other time in my life, by an asshole friend of mine who snuck up behind me while I was wrestling someone else (his girlfriend, if you must know, though that wasn’t my idea- she was just about my size, so for some reason everyone figured I wouldn’t be able to completely own her- though I should say sorry, Liz- I didn’t mean to hurt your back). Anyway, he put me in a sleeper hold, and I refused to tap out. When you’re strangled the world gets black, but you can almost feel painful light at the edges of it. I would have let him choke me into passing out, but as my body went limp, I realized I was dangerously close to losing bowel and bladder control- and I really didn’t want to shit myself in a friend’s living room.

Anyway, he lost interest in my shoes, not that I could see at this point, but I felt both hands on my throat again. Somehow, as I was losing sensation throughout the rest of my body, my hand continued to throb. But through the throbbing I realized the knife was still in my fingers, and I could move my hand. I couldn’t see to put the knife where I wanted, so I shoved it hard at the stink of rotten milk and chocolate.

He fell on me, screeching and flailing, and I fought the burn in my lungs to keep from opening my mouth. He collapsed, vomiting to the left of my face, and I turned my head and took in panicked little breaths.

From his rainbow shirt he was either retarded or eccentric, and his face and neck were brown from messily eating fetid ice cream sandwiches. I rolled him off me. I put my boot on his forehead and yanked the knife out of his cheek. It went back in its sheath, and I took out the Kimber. Having lived through that I was at least temporarily over my self-loathing; I didn’t want to die today.


Zero Journal 020
Most of them don’t breath anymore; whatever metabolic processes are at play, they’re largely anaerobic- though I heard on NPR before it went silent that doctors believed this was leading to a build-up of lactic acid in the dead people’s muscles, which caused them pain and difficulty moving, and was one of the reasons they moaned so damn much.

I could hear the next one breathing, deep, and low, labored. I found my mind wandering to the name of the place; if I’m honest, it was because I was wondering what that gaudy damn sign out front that was likely to be my grave marker said.

Then I saw him. On his shirt was a name stitched in- Earl- same as the store. He’d been dead a long time, and most of his muscles, and organs, had melted. Their decomposed muck had him stuck to his swivel chair, not that he probably had the muscle mass left to get out of it anyhow. Raisin eyes too dry and shriveled to possibly see flicked across the room from habit, and he began to quake; he could hear me, and I felt a little pang of guilt knowing that I scared him. I put the Kimber to his forehead, paused a moment to angle it to destroy as much brain as possible, and pulled the trigger.

Only then did I notice a door behind Earl marked “Private.” I could tell there was no light inside, and no way of knowing who or how many there could be. I couldn't think of a single thing that would make me open that door.

And then I hear the sound, faint as a whisper, the gasp of a girl no more than six. I kicked the magazine out of the Kimber, slid another bullet in and pushed it back up inside.

I set the candle down on the desk in front of Earl; I realized too late I’d set it down in brains, and that I wasn't picking it back up again. I turned the knob and pushed the door in just enough to clear the latch and stop. I pulled back as far as I could, and nudged the door open with my foot; I was a little too far back, and the door creaked open slow.

She’s standing there as if posed at the edge of the candlelight, enough to make her out, but not the details, a little girl- younger even maybe than she sounded- but she’s not alone. I put a round in every black shape with a center mass. Two of the five slump to the ground and groan from the floor; from the sounds of the impact, I hit two boxes and a wooden post, too. Two left in the Kimber. I cup my fingers around the flame, trying not to touch brain; the flame kicks up and burns my hand, but I don’t let myself drop the candle.

Zero Journal 021
And there she is. Blonde, pale blue eyes, and a face that would have been very pretty when she was alive. She doesn’t rush me, but blinks, trying to understand.

“Goodnight,” I tell her. I don’t close my eyes as I pull the trigger; I think I hoped the horror would overwrite it, but I know I’ll never forget her eyes, pale, pale blue, like the summer morning sky through a sheet of fog. My cheek's wet. I don’t know when I started crying, but I don’t have time to reflect on it; I don’t trust what the fat man spat on my shoulder, so I wipe my cheek with a napkin from the hotdogs.

I reload the Kimber, using Ed as a shield from anything that might rush from the aisles. I close the door; the two I hit are inside somewhere, but it isn’t worth the risk to flush them out, and I’ve wasted enough bullets besides. I lock the office door, roll Earl in front as a further deterrent, and gather supplies.

In the earliest days of the outbreak, there was still gas in the pumps. Most people didn’t know how to turn them on after the credit lines went down. They're dry now. But there’s an old Blazer out back nobody siphoned, and I’ve still got my length of hose. The taste of it makes you want to puke, but at least this time I remembered to grab some gum to push the flavor out.

There’s a moment, every time I start my bike, when I think it won’t work. Back in the world, a dead vehicle was an inconvenience- maybe even a calamity if the fix was going to cost more than you could scratch together, but here, a vehicle that wouldn’t start was more than that- it meant you were stranded where you were.

Though I suppose there were worse places. Food. Shelter. With enough time, I could probably figure out which wires to stick together to get the Blazer running. And I guess I was still close enough, I could have walked back to their home, borrowed his truck to come out again- of course a second time I don’t think I could have talked him out of coming with me (even if it meant somebody riding back in the bed).

I flick the starter and she purrs like a kitten; despite the cold she’s still warm. I shift out of neutral and I’m gone.


Zero Journal 022
The backroads out of Camas are clear, at least compared to the main roads; I dodge a Subaru half in a ditch, but I don't even bother to slow up- driver looks to've been dead a while, but I don't want to take chances the door will pop open and surprise me.

Of course, Portland's across a river- the Columbia, a filthy damn river made that way because half the civilization in Washington owes its power and livelihood to the river. And it's strong; no way in hell I could swim it with my pack- especially not at this time of year, besides which I don't want to be stuck in Portland without transport.

Which means the bridge. I-5 is a two-lane, which is almost certainly fucked- that bridge backed up for miles every day of the week, so something told me apocalyptic conditions would only have made it worse.

Which left the 205. More lanes, and it meant I didn't have to make it as far down SR-14. I took 164th through Vancouver. There were still people holed up in the bigger stores, like the Fred Meyer's, barricaded in there. Stumblers were sprawled across the parking lot, sleeping on the asphalt, splayed across cars. It looked like a homeless camp, and it seemed peaceful, until one of them noticed me driving by. He moaned, and others looked up. I gave it more gas and was gone before I got any more interest out of them.

14 was pretty well and fucked, too. There was a nasty accident at the 205 exit, and people frantically trying to get through had only made it worse. And there were a few stumblers wandering in between cars, too. Even the shoulder was full, but there was a thin strip of grass on a slope, and if I took it slow, I could slip by.

Except, that, of course, there was a car that had jumped past the shoulder, smashed into the dirt on the other side of the incline. There was a little gate that was clear, and opened up into the neighborhoods behind the fence and a line of blackberries. I didn't like my options, but a stumbler with a mouthful of blood crawled out of the passenger side of a parked El Camino, snapping a car seat in half as she fell out of the car. Gate it was. I closed it behind me, and the woman thrashed against the fence, snarling, but harmless.

The neighborhood was quiet enough- out of the beaten path enough that there didn't seem to be anyone around. And less than a mile down the road, right before the 205 exit, someone had smashed through the fence.

Zero Journal 023
It wasn't as nice as the gate, and the blackberries had rebounded to nearly their full height. But fuck it- if I went around it cost me time, and fuel, and the other direction might be blocked, not just inconvenient, which would mean doubling back, and more time, more fuel.

I flipped around, got enough distance to get speed. I put on my leather gloves, checked my clothes for anything that might be infectious; the crap from the fatman had dried up, what I hadn't been able to wipe off, anyway. I gunned it. The leather jacket worked just fine; the gloves tore off a thorn, but it didn't touch my hand. But one of the thorn's snagged on my jeans, then on my leg, and tore; it hurt enough I wanted to stop, but those who didn't survive the pile up took an interest in me, so I went a mile down 14 and kicked the stand down.

I took down the jeans far enough to examine the damage. It wasn't as bad as it felt, but bad enough, because it was a vulnerability. I poured liquid band-aid on the gash, to make a seal, then covered that with a normal bandage. That I covered with seran-wrap, which I duct-taped in place. It was probably overkill, but I figured it was better to be overcautious than dead.

Only one of the stumblers had taken enough of an interest in me to try and follow the mile I'd gone down 14. A chill ran up my spine as I went the wrong way back up the freeway, but for all its menace, the line of cars in front of me were standing still. I almost felt sorry, as the creature's shoulder's slumped as I turned towards the exit, carefully swerving around the stalled and parked cars leading to the ramp.

205 was messy, but passable; I imagined pile-ups like the one I'd woven through on the ramp kept most of the damage in the city streets. There was a line of cars where a mass-accident occurred, crammed in tight on the Washington side; but a vehicle, had to have been a large truck- had smashed its way past, leaving a small passable section along the shoulder.

There was a place, just above Government Island down in the Columbia, where no cars were stopped for a hundred yards, and I paused. I didn't dare shut off the bike, but I left it on the stand and looked down at the water, listening to the calm. Sprawling before me was Oregon, eerily silent for the afternoon. I got back on the bike, and started into Portland.


Zero Journal 024
The sun was already starting to sink by the time I hit I-84, which I needed to go west. I imagined the road would be just as bad as 205 had been, the going just as slow, so I passed the exit, and got off at 21. It was an exit I knew because there'd been a Winchell's there, before they were bought out- one of the last Winchell's in the area.

I drove slowly through the side streets. I needed a garage, but one with a high window so I could break in without compromising my safety. It took me a couple of hours to find one, at least, to find one in a house that didn't look occupied. The sun was already setting, so most of the inhabited houses had some kind of light going- a fire, a candle, something.

This house was dark. I wrapped my hand in my jacket, and used the small prybar I carried to smash the window in. I cleared as much glass as I felt I had to, laid the jacket over the frame, and climbed up and in. I flicked on the flashlight- this was one of the times I needed the light more than the batteries, and unholstered the Kimber.

The garage seemed clear, and there weren't any sounds at all. I checked beneath an old Datsun, then inside, before reaching for the handle on the garage door. There was still enough light outside for me to shut off the flashlight. I wheeled my bike inside and pulled the door back down.

I knew I should check the house, in case there were stumblers, but I was tired, and it wasn't worth the batteries. I leaned an empty beer bottle against the door handle to the inside. I didn't want to unroll my sleeping bag, because if something happened I'd have to leave it behind, so I pulled the entry mat to the wall and put my coat over my lap.

I'd barely fallen asleep when the bottle fell. My hand was already on the Kimber, where I'd set it when I'd started to doze; I knew it could have just been lousy balance. The door handle jiggled, and I thumbed off the Kimber's safety. The door creaked open, and stopped.

A kid in little blue footy pajamas padded onto the cold concrete. He set a kerosene camping lantern down in the door, keeping it open, and giving him just enough light to see into the garage. He snatched a juice box, and started to pull at the plastic straw on the outside when he noticed me, leaned against the wall.

I felt like shit as the kid peed himself, and ran back inside, snatching the lantern. In this kind of a situation, you can expect one of two responses: either the family barricade the door and hope you go away, or a very angry parent gets into your face. I didn't want to be halfway through leaving if the latter happened, so I waited.

Zero Journal 025
My head rolled back as I fell asleep, and it smacked against the wall. I checked my watch; I'd been waiting nearly forty minutes. Nothing was going to

And then he came out. The kid must have been adopted, because his father was easily six and a half feet tall, bearded and built like a lumberjack if not a bear, and he had a big over-under pointed in my direction. I still had the Kimber in my hand beneath my coat, but it didn't seem the time to tell him he was in a standoff.

“I didn't mean” I tried to start.

“Shut up.” I recognized that look in his eyes; I'd seen it enough with people trying to summon the courage to kill people they used to know.

“I thought the house was empty.” That had him half-calmed. “I can leave right now if you'd like.” He sighed, and lowered the gun. He sat down on the hood of the Datsun, and the car nearly touched the ground. I realized that the door was still open, and light was leaking from inside; his wife brought the lamp out and set it down at his feet, then went back inside.

We started talking. He was a preacher man, who had been in town for some religious conference when the outbreak hit. His family was visiting from Tennessee. The house belonged to a Baptist minister he'd gone to the conference with; he'd buried the Baptist in the backyard after the minister tried to kill his wife.

I tried not to scoff when he told me that he expected God had a plan, or that the lord had a way of providing for his family, like getting them the house they were sheltered in. Then he said that the house was almost out of food. I don't know if I'm cynic enough to think he'd spotted my bag bulging with supplies, but even if he hadn't been preaching at me for the last half-hour I knew I'd have pulled the damn thing into the light.

I loaded him down with 2/3 of my hard-won supplies; still, there were three of them to one of me, so I was still being greedy. He said all kinds of blessings, and smiled, even offered to let me inside with his family. I told him I needed to sleep, to be off early in the morning, because I had someone yet to find. He shook his head, grim, and offered to pray with me. I closed my eyes and sat silent as he said a few words. As he went inside, I told him it wouldn't offend me if he locked the door behind him; he smiled, glowingly, and said nonsense, and let the door shut behind him.

Once inside he hesitated by the door; he turned the lock very slowly, trying not to let the bolt make noise. I wasn't offended; I slid the Kimber back into its holster beneath my coat, but left the safety off.


Zero Journal 026
I left at first light. I wasn't sure how things might have turned with the preacherman, and I didn't think it prudent to stay for simple curiosity. But I needed more supplies. There was a Plaid Pantry behind the old Winchell's, and I'd noticed the night before that the parking lot was empty. I parked my bike at the far end, and watched the store through the iron sights of the rifle for twenty minutes; the Plaid had nice, big windows, so not only could you see in, but there was light. When there wasn't movement, I decided to eat while I waited, and opened a can of beans. They were cold, but they weren't bad enough cold to be worth the effort getting them hot.

There was still no movement at all, so I set the rifle against the bike, took out the Kimber, and walked inside. The Plaid didn't have the same half-grocery selection as Earl's, but there were enough staples I figured I could get by, at least for a week on my own. Anyway, it would have to do until I found some place else to “shop.” My bag was full again as I left, though it was mostly full of junk food; man may not be able to live on Cheetohs and Butterfingers alone, but he can survive longer than you’d think.

The hairs on the back of my neck noticed it first; I shivered, and was nearly ready to write it off as a breeze I didn’t remember feeling when I saw him. He was hunched over my bike, holding up the rifle in his hands. If he just had the rifle, I’d probably have cut my losses and let him walk with it, but the bike- I needed the bike.

I crept up quiet as I could, got to within ten feet, knowing that the further I was away the more of an advantage the rifle would give him, before I yelled for him to put the rifle back down. He didn't respond- didn't even acknowledge I'd spoken. I could tell from the color of his hair, the sag and waste of his body, that he was an old man. I yelled again, and no response.

But I didn't want to just shoot him; maybe he was deaf, or at least an old man who was practically deaf. I circled around, slowly, keeping him in the Kimber's sights. My shoes scraped on gravel, and he tensed, and slowly he looked up. The skin on his face, from the center of his chin to his cheek, was missing on the right side; the wound had aged enough that the blood was dry, but drool still poured freely out of the hole. His mouth came up, preparing a snarl; I fired before it had a chance to form, and he fell.

Zero Journal 027
The rifle lay across his chest, resting on his shoulder in a military carry. I wondered, for a moment, if he'd been a veteran, and if that was why he held the rifle like he had. But I had places to be, so I scooped it up, and slid it back behind my pack.

Time passed quickly; in four hours that seemed like four minutes, I was crossing the Morrison Bridge. I wish I could say Portland was better off than I'd imagined, but it was worse. Portland's majestic skyscrapers were hollow, gutted by fire, their windows smashed, leaving only charred skeletons reaching out for the gray sky.

Bodies were everywhere, littering the sidewalks along Burnside. I slowed enough to recognize that most of them had been trampled in the panic, crushed beneath the feet of their fellow men. Bodies were stacked against the front door into Powells, but bright looters had just smashed through the windows; I imagined most people, holed up in their homes or whatever borrowed place they could find, with nothing but their anxiety and fear to occupy them, envied people who'd thought to steal books now.

The Taboo adult store, with its barred windows, had fared better. In fact, only one of their windows had been smashed, and even then it was a section only a few inches across. The sheets over the doors rattled, and for a moment I imagined an army of stumblers locked inside, trying to shake the doors open. Then I recognized the slender but healthy fingers, a woman's, and recognized, too, the passionate rhythm to the thumping. I'm sure I blushed, though it wouldn't have shown for the cold on my face.

And then I reached St. Clair. I told myself that it was the steepness of the road on the hill that had kept the stumblers mostly away from it. Mostly. The apartment buildings had fared better than the rises downtown, anyway. Of course, this meant that there was a wall of stumblers at the bottom of the hill, frustrated, and angry. Some were halfway across the street by the time I sped away.

It was simple enough to cut back up a section where the hill was less steep. I kept at speed, and kept to the center line, to stay from whatever danger might be lurking near parked cars or trees.

And I arrived. The apartment building looked larger than it should have; but I suppose that was because I knew that every apartment, on every floor, was likely filled with trapped stumblers, awaiting an excuse to test the strength of their doors. I left my bike behind the building in the raised parking, and walked around to the front.

Normally, a visitor would have to buzz in and wait to be let in, but obviously there was no electricity, and someone had already smashed a metal trashcan through the glass walkway. I took a deep breath- I knew it would be the last clean air I had for some time- and stepped inside.


Zero Journal 028
Immediately there was movement to my right. I heard the slow, horrible scrape of fingernails along the bottom of a small metal trashbin. I thumbed the safety off the Kimber, but left it in the holster- the Kimber would bring out everything in the building- and pulled the knife.

She must have been the building manager. She had a kind face, or at least she used to. Her skin was flaking off in sheets, and her eyes were closed; I assumed she was blind.

Her fingers were worn to bone, and she dragged them across the bottom of the bin, and came out with a handful bloody meat, fur, and bone; it looked like all that remained of a cat.

She perked up as my feet crossed the threshold into her office, and the bin dropped with a ringing clatter. She stopped, and turned around the edge of her desk. I raised the knife, keeping it between us in case she made a blind run for me.

Instead her eyes opened. Keeping them closed had preserved some of their moisture, and they were saggy water balloons she had to squeeze with her eyelids to keep from pouring out of their sockets. But she could see me, and let out a terrified wail- I ignored that moment's guilt and jabbed the knife beneath her jaw. I stabbed too much and slashed too little, and the blade embedded itself, not quite at her throat.

She tore at my arms, but couldn't get through the leather. I kicked her, once in the calf, again at the knee, and she buckled, fell, held up only by my hand on the blade in her chin. She grabbed my wrists, and from her half-fallen position almost seemed to help as I twisted the knife, trying at the same time to kill and retrieve the weapon.

When she finally keeled backwards I knew better than to keep hold of the blade, and it fell back sheathed in her jaw. I paused. She didn't move for a very long time, so I stepped over her. To be certain, I stamped down on her windpipe, which collapsed like wet cardboard. Using my foot still in her neck for leverage, the knife came free.

Back in the lobby, I retrieved the flashlight from my bag; any further in and the light from the windows wouldn't penetrate. I quick glance around the lobby confirmed that there weren't any stairs here. Beyond a row of mailboxes was a tighter hallway, ending in a door with a small window smashed out.

Zero Journal 029
The door was locked, and I could only light a small sliver of the room, which seemed to be a utility and storage room. I sighed, and put my hand through the broken window. I felt like I was putting my hand in a lion cage, that some day this would be the story of how I lost my fingers (I couldn't help but chuckle- as if the bite somehow wouldn't kill me).

I found the handle and turned it, and from the other side the door opened. I pulled my hand back, quickly. Once inside, I passed the flashlight quickly over the room; my eye caught something beside the door almost as an afterthought, and I'd taken a step inside before turning back to focus on it. A woman, probably middle-aged, lay on the floor beside the door.

From her state of decay she'd been infected early, and left here a long time. Most of her body was gone; only the skin still hung over her bones; her organs had dissolved into a yellowed pool that drained through pours and orifices and collected in a sickening lake around her. But there must have been some muscles left undestroyed, because she moved, just her chest; I think she was trying to breath, though her lungs had disappeared long ago.

There were footprints through the yellow pool; people had chosen to leave her like this. “I'm sorry,” I told her, and raised my bootheel above her forehead. Her chest rattled one last time, a sigh, I imagined, then I pushed my foot down. Her head caved in like a pumpkin after Halloween, almost no resistance at all.

I walked on. The room was shorter than I thought, and on the other end a door opened up into a stunted hallway of apartments. The yellowed bootprints went inside the first door in the hallway. My hands balled, but I walked passed the door.

After eight apartment doors I came to another door with a window; light shone through it, and inside I could see a concrete stairwell. I opened the door, only after stepping inside thinking about caution. I checked beneath the steps, but there was nothing lurking. I looked upwards, at the squared spiral of stairs, and felt a tinge of vertigo.

Sixth floor. The steps went quickly, but at the fourth floor I stopped. A dark-skinned man, fifties, balding, was breathing heavily, staring at the door into the fourth floor. Blood, dripped from his fingers, had painted the door in impressionistic slashes. There were no markings on the door handle; he'd apparently forgotten how to open it.


Zero Journal 030
My foot scraped along one of the concrete steps, and he turned to face me. Still gripped in his fingers, instinctively, was a crescent wrench. He had weight, momentum, and the high ground. I unholstered the Kimber; I figured it might be worth the noise.

Then I stopped, and stepped back. The maintenance man tried to follow, but his feet missed the step, and he tottered, on the brink of loosing his balance. I reached up to him and pulled, shoving him passed me down the stairs. The stairway wasn't long, and his momentum carried him into the wall with a terrible sound, but he kept moving, falling down the next, and another.

I slid the Kimber in place, smiling a little. I was moving for the next step when I heard him moan, a gurgled cry on the edge of a scream, still human enough that I froze. I walked back down the stairs. He'd finally landed in the corner three sets of stairs down. His neck was bent in an unnatural position, one leg twisted too far around, his back almost certainly broken, because his head was nearly laying flat in his lap. Still gripped tightly in his hand was the wrench. From the noise he made I think he was weeping.

I pulled the wrench from him, and perhaps he understood, because his grip slackened immediately. The wrench pierced his skull with little effort, and his body relaxed. The wrench suddenly took on an unearthly weight, and I let it slip from my fingers; it struck the concrete stairwell with a sound like a church bell that echoed up the concrete shaft.

Because of the adrenaline the trip back up the stairs was lighter,- I almost ran past the door marked “6th floor.” I pushed my way inside and stopped.

The complex was nice enough that the carpet was flush with the doors- no light leaked in from underneath the doors, even though there was still light outside. I flicked the light back on. Most of the doors were still closed. I couldn't help but picture the scene from Old Boy, a hall filled with violence I'd have to smash my way through (or stab, since I had a knife instead of a hammer). But unlike the movie, my hallway was filled with virulent monsters- a single bite, a drop of blood, and I was dead.

I wanted to turn back; for an instant, I seriously contemplated it. I tried to remember the look on her father's face, or how much she had meant to me once, but self-preservation was too damn strong, and my free hand was already reaching for the stairway door behind me when apartment 614 opened slowly.

Zero Journal 031
A young woman, no more than seventeen, peered out. She was terrified, but hopeful enough that someone had come for her that she still had opened it. “Bolt your door,” I snapped, then immediately felt bad for doing it. She did, pleased at least that I wasn't trying to hurt her, and she had a chance to.

The walk down the hallway was slow. Every creaking floorboard and flicker of shadow was immediately monstrous. 609's door was open, and I paused there, watching. Through the windblown drapes I could make out a man sleeping against the windowsill. There was a needle in his arm; perhaps he wasn't asleep after all.

I didn't trust him, so I leaned in just enough to seize the knob, and pulled the door shut. It wasn't ideal, but it put the room roughly where the others in the hall were- and I didn't want to sweep the entire floor if I didn't have to.

I tried to fight back the shaking of my hands as the adrenaline wore down, while trying to relax enough that if I needed the rush again I'd be ready.

In front of 606, my feet sunk into moist carpet, and instinctively the light pointed to the floor. The carpet itself was crimson, but I could tell from the color that whatever it was soaked in was darker, staining it. I thought, faintly, that I could hear the whine of running water. I tried the knob, but the door was locked- which was insulation enough for me.

Despite the movement of shadows in my mind, I made it to 603 without incident. At the door I hesitated. All of the monsters, and horror, and even the paranoid imaginings I'd faced coming down this hall, all of it paled in comparison to what I was about to find.

I thought, perhaps, I should just rescue the girl from 614 instead- she probably deserved it more, would appreciate it- and found myself idly trying to recall if she was pretty enough to fall in love with (even pausing a moment to wonder if that were even relevant anymore).

And I realized it would be relatively easy to find her dead, or better stumbling- far easier to deal with- because I knew I could handle that, knew how to handle that. I wasn't sure I could handle finding her alive.

I drew the Kimber and knocked on her door.


Zero Journal 032
He opened the door- her boyfriend, I mean. Don't let my obvious bias confuse you- he was a bigger loser than I'd have ever imagined. Obviously a drug addict (as opposed to a casual user), probably high at the moment, actually.

“Where is she?” I asked, perhaps a little abrupt with him.

“Where's who?” he asked stutteringly; I pushed the door, pushed passed him- the drugs had sufficiently slowed his reaction to the point that he didn't put up his arms until he smacked back into the entry wall.

I strode into the front room (rather than push passed him a second time towards the bed and bath rooms). I scanned quickly, sofa was empty save for a blanket, chair unoccupied (unless you counted a cat). I spun around, the kitchen nook, such as it was, was empty- and most of the cabinets were open and bare.

I walked back to the entry. He was on his feet, and his animal instincts were up. His eyes were focused, face red. I wanted desperately for a reason to bludgeon him in the nose with the Kimber, and his balling fists looked to be working to that.

“Leave him alone.” She was sober, which surprised me- that she took his side did not. She was wearing a black hoody peppered with cartoony goth characters- probably from Hot Topic; for a moment none of the shit between us registered, and we still liked each other and maybe cared- but that stare she fixed me with brought it all back like a sledgehammer to the temple.

“I'm not here to hurt anybody,” I said, holstering the Kimber.

“You're tracking blood on my carpet,” she said.

“Only some of it's blood,” I replied- and I might have smiled, but no one else seemed in a smiling mood.

“My dad sent you,” she said, no longer a question (though I think that's how it started), staring at the Kimber. I nodded. “Why'd you come?”

It felt like we'd had this conversation before- and it was something I hadn't been able to explain to her then, either. “I just did.”

Zero Journal 033
“You can't stay here.” My eyes flicked to him; he was completely off-balance, now, painfully aware that he wasn't even a factor in the conversation anymore.

I looked around, measured in the apartment that had obviously been lived in hard since the outbreak hit, looked at the empty kitchen, and paused. “Who the hell would want to?”

“You should go.”

“You should come with me.”

“She can make up her own mind.” I looked back to him; he was an idiot. He'd moved between her and the door- still open with his back to the hall. And he was squaring to me like he didn't notice the knife and gun on my belt. Even she was scowling at him- by standing up for her, he was implying she couldn't assert herself.

Of course, since he had his back to the door, I saw the stumbler before either of them did. At first I took it for the man with the needle in his arm, but she was smaller, thinner- sister, cousin, maybe wife. I slid the Kimber slowly out of its holster, and he did the dumbest thing he possibly could by backing into the hall.

She had him in an instant, like a cat grabbing a mouse stupid enough to walk around a chair between its waiting paws. Through circumstance or his bad luck, she pulled him backwards and off balance, so he had to fight from falling over with her on top of him.

My eyes flicked back to the entry. She was paralyzed- it meant she'd been in this apartment since it hit, had been insulated from everything that had gone on, everything everyone had done to one another. Which probably meant he hadn't- had been getting her food, supplies. Fuck.

I fired the Kimber.

It wasn't what I wanted, but what I wanted technically constituted murder- and would still have made just as much damn noise.

The stumbler fell. So did he, but only because he was still too damn high to get his balance after that. I stepped into the hall. Bullet went in the cheek, below the right eye, out the back of the skull, painting the wall with most of the brain. My ears rang, but I tried to listen for sounds of movement from her.

I helped him to his feet; he was too numb from shock to understand, so I spoke to her, slowly. “Get inside. Bolt the door. Wait for my knock.”


Zero Journal 034
As I walked down the hallway, several of the apartment doors bolted- good news, actually, because it meant there were still people alive behind them. 609 was open, and I walked in, slowly.

The man with the needle in his arm was still there. The layout to his apartment was the opposite of 603. To the left was the bathroom, a closet, and the bedroom. I closed the doors, pulled the handle to make sure the lock caught.

I didn't have to get close to know he was dead; the stink filled the main room- of course, that didn't tell me whether or not he was still dangerous. I looked over my shoulder, to the kitchen, but there was no one there. My eyes paused a moment, bottles of formula, rancid, sat by the sink. A baby. Christ.

I turned back towards the man with the needle in his arm. His long hair covered his face. I watched his chest, and the hair on his lip: he wasn't breathing. I kicked him, hard, in the side of the neck, and his body fell over. I put my foot in his neck and took a handful of hair and yanked backwards until enough of his vertebrae snapped I was sure he wouldn't be able to stumble even if he wanted to.

Then I turned back to the entry. That was when I noticed it, a faint trail of blood, small- too small. In the blood were a child's hand and knee prints, a crawling baby, moving from the bedroom into the bathroom.

I opened the bathroom door; this was stupid, if anything came in from the hall or the bedroom, I'd be fucked in the tiny bathroom- but it was reason versus a million years of evolution. I had to find the baby.

He was sitting in a pool of water in the tub, tinted slightly red. He had curly blond hair, and almost seemed to smile at me; if it weren't for his eyes I wouldn't have known he was infected. He was healthy, only just turned- hours, probably not even a day. The bottles of formula would have gone bad just after they lost power- she'd been breast-feeding him while infected.

I knew right then I wasn't cruel enough to leave him there. My first thought was to take him to the big front window, let six floors of gravity do the work. But the fall might not kill it, and besides, it was bad enough I had to see it; it seemed crueler still to make every passerby see how cruel this goddamn world had become.

I moved slowly, trying to smile calmingly; even knowing what I was about to do, I'd have felt worse if I made him cry. I holstered the Kimber, knowing I couldn't lift him one-handed. At first he cooed at me, and his tiny fingers wrapped around my wrists. Once out of the water, the smell of the diaper hit me, as rotting feces spilled down his legs.

Zero Journal 035
Then his toes left the frigid water, and he squealed, and began to thrash, and tried to bite at my wrist around the jacket. I turned quickly, half-throwing half-bashing the child against the edge of the toilet.

I panickedly started to kneel by the child, worried about the smeared blood oozing from his head- fucking evolution. I unholstered the Kimber, and lifted him by the diaper against the edge of the tub (and I prayed it was only shit squeezing between my fingers)- but it seemed a small mercy that he seemed to be unconscious.

I put the Kimber to the back of his head and I was about to pull the trigger when I realized how stupid that was. A .45's a big round with a lot of oomph- it might not stop until it hit the foundation- and God knows if it might hit somebody on its way through the five floors below. I holstered the Kimber, and pulled the knife.

The baby was still limp from the toilet-smashing. I held its chest against the edge of the tub with my soiled left hand on his back. When I felt confident he was balanced enough, I slid the hand up to his head, palmed his scalp, and pulled the head back just enough to give the knife room to land.

The baby was only dazed, and as the knife sliced too easily through his throat, he made a sound like a baby never should, part gurgling whimper, part cough. The head fell backwards, and it's unreal little doll eyes fixed on me. I dropped the knife and let go of the child; it's weight dragged it slowly to the outside edge of the tub, until the severed neck caught on the edge where he dangled for a moment, lynching on an invisible rope- but the last slice of baby skin on his neck was no match for the weight, and tore, and the body fell at the base of the tub, while the head fell inside with a splash.

I grabbed the knife, swearing, putting my hand too damn close to the head; if it had still been alive it might have bit me. I couldn't stand to be in the same room with it any longer, so I took a handful of towels and the soap, and went into the kitchen. It wasn't until I was drying my hands, trying not to wonder how long the man had been dead that I realized there was still the bedroom to clear. I tore open the door, ready to be attacked by a dozen horrors at once, maybe even welcoming the prospect; the bedroom was empty.

I ran down the hall, and knocked out “shave and a haircut” and waited. Waited. I knocked again, and the bolt opened slowly; the door opened slower. She was shaking. He was vomiting loudly in the bathroom. There were a lot of questions in her eyes, about what I'd done; she knew me well enough not to ask them.

I stepped inside, and bolted the door behind me.


Zero Journal 036
She still refused to go with me- but the stumbler in the hall had at least aroused her self-preservation instincts enough she wasn't demanding I leave anymore. He was starting to look like something God shat out after a Tijuana bender, but at least he was spending more of his time in the bathroom instead of in my face.

I'd been there the better part of the day. She wasn't budging, not this soon. They were sitting by the front window; it served as both entertainment, and the closest thing they had to security, because they could watch the street below. I asked her when they'd eaten last; she didn't say, but the fact that she wouldn't look me in the eyes and glare said enough. I opened my pack and handed it over to them.

They were hungrier than I'd imagined. It must have been a while since the boyfriend had been outside. I should have stopped them- at least tried. Instead I skipped dinner, and figured that would make up for some of their gorging. She found some instant coffee in my pack; I'll admit I didn't get it for myself. She built a fire in a skillet with scraps of paper from her wastebasket, and boiled water in a pot.

She took care to follow the instructions on the package to the letter, even waiting impatiently as the coffee bag brewed. When she finally took her first sip she closed her eyes, and leaned back against the edge of the couch; for the first time since I'd arrived she smiled.

I gave her a few minutes to enjoy her coffee before I interrupted; “We should take turns at watch. It's important one of us always be alert. I'm still awake enough I can take the first watch.” Not that I wanted to, but something told me if I didn't show them how to do it right it would never get done.

“Zombies can't get in here- not without waking us up anyway.” I knew he couldn't help being stupid, but I couldn't understand why he also insisted on being so proudly wrong.

“I'm mostly not concerned with them. But people-” I stopped.

“Well, I'm going to bed,” he said. He looked at her, but she had her hands around her mug- that was answer enough for him.

We sat in silence, I'm not sure for how long. Then the bastard came back in the room. “I can't sleep with you out here; you should come to bed.”

“She really shouldn't.” She glared at me.

“I'll go where I want,” she said, stamping her foot as she got up.

“Wait,” I rubbed the bridge of my nose as I stood up. “Can I talk to you for a second?” He stopped as she walked into the bedroom. I walked over to him. I played it through a dozen ways in my head, and maybe some other way would have worked, but none would have been as satisfying.

I grabbed his forearm, just below the elbow and twisted til he was off balance; with my free hand I grabbed the hair on the back of his neck and smashed his face against the doorframe. “Fuck!” she screamed, running at me.

Zero Journal 037
She stopped as I dropped him to the floor. “You didn't have to do that.”

“You're pissed at me. You'd have fucked him, and done it as loud as you could to get at me. I know you.” I paused; she was pissed off, mostly because I did know her, and she really hated being known. “But under the circumstances, it would have hurt you a hell of a lot more than me.”

“And why's that?”

I sighed; I couldn't believe she didn't see it herself. “He's infected.”

There was a moment where I think she knew it- understood it, where she realized she'd known for a while, before she could refuse to know what she knew. “He... he probably just has a cold.” Jesus.

“And we probably could have worked out.”

“Fuck you.”

“So long as you don't fuck him.” She was angry, which was at least a little my fault; things were not going smoothly. “Seriously- it's nice to see that your ability to fuck with my head hasn't diminished over time, but if you so much as kiss him it could kill you- and frankly, making me feel like an asshole isn't worth that.”

“You couldn't have just told me?”

“Would you have listened any other way? I'm not sure you'll listen even now- but at least you have to wait for your biohazard boyfriend to regain consciousness before doing something irrevocably stupid.” I sighed. “I've been through quite a bit to get here, quite a lot just to try and keep you alive. If you're determined to moot that effort, could you at least wait twenty-four hours?”

“Help me carry him to the bed.” I did; least I could do, I figured. I left her there; after a few minutes, she closed the door.

After a half-hour, I had a thought, and knocked on the door. “I hate to be a further buzzkill, but even staying in the same room with him has risks. The infection is at a minimum passed through bodily fluids, which means if he gets a good cough out in your direction- well,” I sighed, and went back to the front window. A few minutes passed, and she came out of the bedroom with a blanket, and curled up on the couch without a word. It was a small victory, but sometimes those make all the difference in the world.


Zero Journal 038
Several days passed. I kept at her, but she was nothing if not stubborn. Surprisingly, he started to get better; stopped vomiting, and color returned back to his cheeks. She even moved back into the bedroom with him.

And then he got up. I'd been up twenty hours; when I wasn't on watch, I found myself having to keep an eye on her. I knew the combination of her libido, her desire to twist the knife and her own self-loathing would probably eventually win out over my scare tactics- especially with him getting better.

He stood in the entry hall; he looked clearer than the day I arrived. “I feel... better,” he said, to no one in particular, then, as if noticing I was in the room for the first time, “You're a fucking asshole, man.”

“I'd cripple you to keep her alive,” made it to the tip of my tongue, but I didn't let it out, and simply smiled- well, until this made it out anyway: “For the record, I still think you're dying; if you do anything to pass it to her, I won't wait to find out- and I'll make sure your death is excruciating.”

It was half a lie- I wasn't sure anymore. I'd never seen anyone get better like that; the infection usually just made you die faster from whatever else you caught. “Fucking asshole,” he said, as if all I'd done was confirm what he'd said.

But I seemed to have gotten through. He stayed back from her; when she tried to kiss him, he turned his head. I knew he was right about me being an asshole, but maybe I’d been wrong about him. That night, we ate dinner. It was the last of our food, a can of chili with cheese already mixed in; we figured it was a special enough occasion that we went to the trouble of heating it. He ate half his food, and tried to be noble and give her the rest. I put my hand between her spoon and his bowl, “contamination.”

“Shit,” he said. She glared at me, then at him for concurring, even in spirit. She started to move her spoon around my arm, but he pulled the bowl away defensively. “He’s right. Shouldn’t chance it. We’ve been good this long- safe- let’s not fuck it up now.”

“He’s fine,” she said, no longer talking to him. “He looks better, sounds better.”

Zero Journal 039
I took my time, letting the sound of him scraping the last of his beans up with a spoon fill the moment, until he slopped them into his mouth. “Probably. Unless he isn’t. If we can get out of the city, maybe we can find someone who could tell us for sure; hell, a thermometer would have more authority than just declaring him okay because he feels better.”

I’d overstepped. I knew it before I stopped talking, but it was all the speech I had left in me. And she was done. I could tell from the look in her eyes; she was going to fuck him out of spite for me and goddamn the consequences of it.

And then the boyfriend spoke again; “He’s right.” For once her anger gave way to confusion. “It isn’t safe here. And every time we go out for supplies, it gets worse. And it’s my fault, I know, that we’ve stayed this long. I- I think I’ve been clinging to this place because it was our life- and I didn’t want to let go of that. But our life isn’t there anymore; our jobs, our friends, the world we lived in- it’s unrecognizable now from what it was. I don’t know if we will work now, but I’m ready to try, to find out.”

He was actually sweet, lying the way he did- they never went out for supplies, that much was obvious- he did. I almost felt bad for being such a bastard (with the caveat that it had probably saved her life); and it was a shame, really. Now that I knew he wasn’t such a bad guy, I knew he was dying. Because that’s the way the world is. Maybe he was rebounding just long enough for his death to be poetic, or maybe he was forcing himself to be well long enough to speed her away to a place she could be safe, but he was going to die. I’d seen it play out too many times, now, to pretend naiveté.

“We need supplies,” I said. “If things go right, we shouldn’t need them, but if things go wrong”

“Better to have and not need than need and not have. We’ll go in the morning, when it’s light.” Certainly less dumb than he’d first appeared. It really was too bad he was going to die.


Zero Journal 040
Is it still called wishful thinking if what you think is going to happen is horrible? Neither of us could stop her from sleeping in the same bed with him- though I heard the argument they had through the wall when he wouldn’t fool around with her. I slept fitfully; every squeak of their boxsprings made me sit up, but they were always lonely- the lonesome complaint the mattress as platonic lovers shifted in the night.

By the time the sun was up I was haggard. I must have dozed after that, because he woke me up, dressed and ready, smiling a little at having me at a disadvantage. She was still asleep (or I imagined she might have been pouting in the bedroom). I shifted slowly off the couch, and slipped into my boots. “Hurry up,” he said; “we don’t want her trying to tag along.” I grabbed my pack and we left. I made a point of setting the rifle and its box of ammunition at the foot of the couch the night before; it’s still there as I step through the door.

He sighed, a weight off him, as the door closed. “She hates it,” he said, still speaking just above a whisper, as if she’d hear and charge after us as she shoved on her boots. “I don’t care if it is sexist.” I didn’t nod, but I knew exactly what the hell he meant.

We started down the concrete steps. I was still waking up; I hadn’t even thought of the potential for something coming at us from one of the other apartments. As stupid as that was, we’re lucky to be alive; I scowl, and turn to him. “Can you ride?”

He pauses. I feel a little badly for him. “Like a motorcycle? Can't we take a car?”

“No. The roads are choked with cars. Bikes can make it through- or at least, they could on my way here.”

He hesitates, before, “I can- I can make it”

“since your life depends on it,” I say; he doesn't seem amused. “You got a preference on the bike?” He stares blankly. “Bigger bike will use more fuel- and you're siphoning your own so keep that in mind. Bigger, up to a point, means more oomph, which usually comes at the cost of acceleration- beyond that point, the extra power goes entirely to moving the extra metal.” He doesn’t say anything. “We’ll steal what we can, then.”

He’s silent the rest of the way down the stairs. Through the lobby. Onto the street. Then he turns to me. “Do you think I’m going to die?"

Zero Journal 041
I stop, look him over, to gauge whether he wants the truth, whether I’d give it to him anyway, whether I still think what I thought- changes in evidence to the contrary. “Yes.”

He swallows. “Because of who I am, or because?”

“Because you’re not as big of an asshole as I thought you were. Because that’s the way the world seems to work; if you were a bigger asshole, I might think you had a better chance.”

He laughed, and I could tell from his laugh he thought the same goddamn thing; “You don’t know me that well- I can be a pretty big fucking prick.”

I unholster the Kimber, hand it to him. “Whatever happens, she’s going to make it home.”

“Yeah,” he says; he kicks back the slide, looks in the chamber to make sure there’s a round in it, ejects the magazine, to be sure it’s full, but he fumbles getting the slide back, and then I see it in his face, that as resigned as he sounds, he isn’t ready, or wasn’t. I help him with the Kimber, set it gently back down in his palm.

“You sure you know how to use it?” He shakes his head, numb. “All right. Where’s a store?”

“I had been going to the Fred Meyer’s, but the nearest is down the hill,” he starts. I stop him, shake my head. “Right,” he can see the stumblers at the foot of the hill, already starting to try the incline, most of them felled by the sharp slope; the most desperate crawling along their bellies. “It’s worse than the last time I was out; we should probably stay off Burnside.” He starts up the hill, and I follow.

“It was getting kind of slim pickins at the Freddy’s, and I was always leery about the closer place, since it was dark in there and, there were noises. The Commodore is kind of a hole in the wall, but I’m hoping that means it hasn’t been picked clean. If it has- I don’t know where we can go from there.”


Zero Journal 042
The road was steep, and it was slow walking. We tried to stay to the center line, away from corners and cars, where stumblers could have been hiding. At the intersection of Yamhill there were four cars nose to nose in a bent-metal swastika. I pushed past him, and put my hand on his chest to stop him. I moved to the edge of the building, and poked my head around.

The stumbler must have smelled me; her hand was already reaching for my face as I saw her. I jabbed my knife in her hand but she didn’t retract it, only continued forward. “Fuck,” I said, as she fell on me, reaching for my face with her other hand. Her fingers had decayed to the point that they were sharp at the end, where the bone threatened to tear through the skin; her fingers were water balloons filled with poison surrounding bone ice picks. Momentum was on her side as I tried to fight to stay upright, fight to keep her fingers from my eyes.

He smashed her in the head with the butt of the Kimber. It was a glancing blow, but it stunned her enough that she fell away from me; her hands went down on instinct, and the plump sacs of her fingers burst as she landed, spewing putrefied blood and meat across the concrete, dripping down the curb. I pulled her body into the street, so her head and neck were positioned awkwardly against the sidewalk’s end, and stomped on her skull. He flinched at the slightly sharp smashed melon sound.

I didn’t look up at him to say, “Took you goddamned long enough.” When I did I noted his raised eyebrow, and how he was unable to scrub a smile off his lips, and it took me another moment to recognize why- it was the way she would have reacted. I stamped off up the hill; trying to glare at him only would have confirmed the comparison.

Zero Journal 043
We took Park up. From that vantage we could see a little more of the city, and the dark smoke gathering from a dozen different places. I’d hoped the fires would have died down, but it seemed they were spreading, instead. If we hadn’t been in lousy moods by then, we certainly were now.

I saw a bike down 20th, so we went down. I didn’t like getting that close to Burnside, but I figured this might be the only bike left in the area. I could tell by the halfway point it wasn’t ideal; the bike was beat on, so who knew how reliable it might be, and bigger than we’d want. But beggars can’t be choosers. I stepped cautiously to the bike. Everything seemed to be intact, despite deep grooves scratched into either side where it had been put down. So I checked the tank- empty. “We’ll leave it here. If we don’t find anything better, we can grab it on our way back.”

Going back up 20th, I looked at the bars on the PGE stadium, and my mind drifted; it seemed like it would be a wonderful place to hole up, plenty secure, but with enough room that you wouldn’t go stir crazy. But it would also have appealed to too many people. As if to confirm this, a stumbler pressed himself to the bars, reaching out- even though we were several yards away. I grabbed the arm and applied pressure; the elbow gave before the arm, and flesh tore as the bone came out of the socket. The stumbler didn’t even seem to notice the injury, but stared angrily at me as it tried to will the broken flesh to grab me.

As we went around the back of the stadium, I stopped. “Where do people park?” He stared at me, not understanding. “There’s no parking structure, and there aren’t enough spaces on the street, so for games, events, where do people park?”

He thought a moment, staring at the street as he searched his memory. “Structures. Three of them, I think, in this direction- somewhere.” At least they were on our way to the Commodore- or at least in the same direction.


Zero Journal 044
It was weird, having a few streets of calm, but that’s what the rest of the walk was. And calling the Commodore a hole might have been kind, but it was enough out of the way, hidden down a side street, that it had fared well enough; maybe, being this close to Burnside, the locals had simply got gone or got eaten earlier than elsewhere. He held the Kimber like a half-assed actor on a cop show, and asked, “You want to wait outside?” It was a nice enough gesture I stowed the urge to tell him I couldn’t trust him to get the right supplies.

Place was dark, but enough that you couldn’t see. “Hold up,” I told him, and took the flashlight out of the bag; I’d learned my lesson about scrimping on the important things, and ran the light up the aisles, starting closest to the door. The aisles were empty with the exception of some scattered cans of food on the floor- but the shelves were still stocked (at least, as well stocked as they’d ever been). The area behind a counter opened up to a stock room and office, and I handed him the bag. “Stay away from perishables. Canned foods are your best bet, things that can be eaten without heat. Stay away from anything bulging.” He took the bag and trotted down the aisle, a little huffy that I was treating him like an idiot again- but I didn’t know how big an idiot he actually was- I was just erring on the side of caution.

I froze when he kicked a can of bean dip; I thought I’d heard a stir from the other room, and the clack-clack-clatter of the bouncing can ensured that whatever I’d heard had now heard us, as well. And he still had the gun. I slid my knife out of its sheath, and waited.

A woman, short and squat and old, stepped slowly out of the office. Her breathing was heavy, and she stopped to grunt at the effort every time she took a step. I waited where the counter ended, standing still, patient, even, and I imagined I could hear an impatience to her breath- an exasperated worker in no mood to deal with customers. When she reached the opening, within a few feet of me, she stopped.

She would have been trollish before she died, and the decomposition of half her face hadn’t helped. “Shhhh,” I told her, with my finger to my lips; it seemed to confuse her, and she gurgled as she tried to understand. I didn’t move quickly or threateningly, just brought the blade up naturally. It wasn’t until the last minute that her eyes flicked to the shine off the blade, and some distant memory informed her of its danger. She tried to reach for it, tried to push me back and away, but I was too close by then, and the knife slid up under her throat at an angle. I grabbed the back of her hair for leverage and pushed the blade out the front of her neck. Her hand at my shoulder went limp, and fell to her side as her body lost its balance and fell with a clatter.

Zero Journal 045
“Fuck!” came the cry from the other end of the store, and he came clattering through the debris spread across the linoleum.

“Just me,” I said. “Had a stumbler. She’s taken care of.” Instinct forbid me from going into the stock room, but I edged close enough to pull the door shut. Then I walked over to him. He was still shoving things into the bag; I noticed he was shaking, and took it from him, handed him a couple of plastic bags I’d snatched from behind the counter. “Light supplies- bags have to hold for the trip home.” He shoved a few boxes of crackers and chips, some candy, gum, and I shouldered the bag, heavy from all the cans. On our way out he double-taked at the jerky, and then took the big plastic cylinder with us.

He put a piece of it, local Tillamook stuff, in his mouth and then turned back up the hill. “Just remembered, there’s a couple of parking areas just off 20th.”

There were- only, they were off 20th Place, a small street branching off 20th, and less than a stone’s throw off Burnside. I hated the idea of getting that close, but by the time we were there, my shoulders ached from the full pack. I set the bag down at the street corner- worst case, I could abandon it for now, come back when the stumblers lost interest.

The lots were a lost cause; pretty much anything drivable had been taken before now, with the exception of an old Ford that looked like it needed life support, and a Ninja. Now, all things equal, a smaller bike’s a better option, but it was on a donut; a flat at the wrong time could kill the both of them, and probably me, too, since I'd almost certainly do something stupidly heroic and not leave them behind. And with the rim bent the way it is, it isn’t likely to get us home. So the big bike's the best there is.

We take turns siphoning fuel out of the Ninja; he fucks up his first drag and ends up imbibing it. I slap him on the shoulder and snark about how he wasn’t supposed to swallow. Then we headed back to 20th, and the beat-to-hell bigger bike.

He wants to use the gas we siphoned, ride it up 20th. But I don't want to waste the fuel. Better to walk it up the damned hill- though it’s possible I just wanted him to share in the heavy uphill work, now that the pack’s straps were digging into my shoulders again. But maybe the coward was right.


Zero Journal 046
A group of stumblers off Burnside had noticed us; started walking after us on 20th Place. When one stumbler notices something, usually a whole bunch will follow, curious, or bored, or just odd pack impulses reasserting in the absence of a commanding rational mind.

20th Ave is a gradual slope, far more so than the surrounding streets- and not nearly enough to prevent stumblers from at least starting up it. And I blame myself, because he was whining, and I didn’t make him shut the fuck up- and that’s why they got so close.

If only the wind had been at our backs, we’d have smelled them a mile off, but it was blowing in our faces, and I think the smell of us made them move faster. But the first we knew they were there was when one grabbed his shoulders and pulled. He cried out, not in pain, just surprised, dropping the plastic bags of junk food off the handle bars. A second was on him instantly, and the two of them played a moment’s tug of war.

He was lucky- neither of them seemed to be biters- at least not the deadly kind that bite first- which bought him a moment, long enough for me to slash the throat of the first, and kick the leg out from under the second; its knee crumpled and broke away, and it fell, lopsided, onto the stump of the limb. It grabbed his leg, this time raking sharp, bony fingers along his jeans and biting, but the fabric held.

I dropped the backpack straight to the ground, hoping he hadn’t packed any glass, and stabbed the stumbler in the cheek. It screamed and gasped, staring at me with unbelieving eyes as its tongue flicked across the sharp edge of the blade still jabbed through its mouth. It squealed again as the blade sliced into its tongue, and I pushed the blade forward, until the cheeks were completely severed and there was just the hinge of bone keeping his jaw from falling to the ground. Then I pushed its head under my boot to the ground, and held it there as I pulled the knife back away; I considered leaving it alive, since it was mostly harmless without a jaw, but it started whimpering, an animal noise, inhuman yet similar enough that it sent a shiver up my spine, and I pressed the boot down hard, until the skull caved in, and it went silent.

But there were still four more, in close enough that, between them and the bike, running was not an option. “The gun,” I said, waving the knife between the stumblers and us, which didn’t seem to give them much pause at all. He tried to peal the Kimber out of his belt, but it stuck, and I had to lunge to intercept a woman as she made for him. She had been pregnant when she was infected, and the child had gnawed its way out of her womb, and the child, dead from some combination of trauma and road-hauling, still dangled limp from its umbilical cord on the street behind her. The thrust, panicked as it was, went low, bounced off her ribs and buried in her belly; I jabbed the blade in further and pulled it around her torso as her hands crawled towards my throat. I sawed at the muscles lining her torso, hoping to cut enough that she wouldn’t be able to hold herself up. “The gun,” I said through her tightening fingers.

Zero Journal 047
He dropped it.

I sighed without realizing it was the last of my air; she was squeezing tightly enough that all I could see of the world was a sparkling black, a child’s conception of a starry sky, and I thought that was that- I was going to die.

To my surprise she cried out as her torso collapsed forward; she wasn’t strangling me anymore, just hanging onto my throat in a vain attempt to stay upright. Apparently my fingers hadn’t got the message that I was dying, and had kept sawing at her stomach, until the remaining muscles were too weak to keep her up. I gasped for air, and the strained breath I got made me hungry for more; I jabbed the knife up under her armpit, slicing through tendons and meat- then the arm went dead. She tried to hold on with just the one arm, but I pealed her away with ease and she fell away to the ground.

I was immediately set upon by two more, males, and there was a fury in them I wasn’t prepared for; as they yanked on either of my arms I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d loved the pregnant woman in life, and if that distant memory fueled their rage. But their fury made them stupid, too- they were trying to tear my limbs off (though all they had hold of was the jacket) and I pulled my arms forward, and they stumbled into a collision with one another, and landed in an akward pile. I stabbed the one who landed on top first, through the back of the neck, and twisted; he was still moving, so I rearranged my grip and gave it another turn- and with a wet pop he went limp. I took my time with the other, because he was pinned, and made sure the spine was severed and all that kept the head attached was a thin flap of skin in front.

I looked up, fully expecting to find her boyfriend eaten. One of the stumblers stared at me, already half a block away. She’d seen what I was capable of, and some distant flicker of self-preservation had told her to run; I’ve soul enough yet that I let her. And for a moment I don’t see him, but the street isn’t nearly big enough to have lost him- and then I realize he’s not standing anymore, but curled into a fetal ball at the foot of the bike, whimpering. The gun, what should have been easy salvation, lays where he dropped it; the last stumbler’s moving in, about to bite him, probably about to gut him- I know I can’t take chances, slow as it’s moving. I make a running leap over the bike, slamming the knife with all the force I’ve got into its skull- and because of it I land awkward, rolling my ankle, nearly dislocating my shoulder. And the blade snaps off, but deep enough inside the stumbler's skull that he hits the road about when I do.

I pick up the gun, slide it into the holster, and stand over her boyfriend. He’s sicker than we thought- sobbing and coughing up blood- way past pitiful, though I'm finding my reserves of pity running low. “I should fucking kill you here, and tell her you died a coward.” I don't; maybe I'm a coward, too.


Zero Journal 048
We don’t talk after that- not at all. I think he gets that he’s one wrong word, one sideways look, away from a bullet, and probably knows he deserves it, too- but he doesn’t want to die- like most people once they’re face to face with it.

The rest of the trip’s uneventful. He’s too weak to get the bike all the way up 20th, so I take it over, with the pack and the bags. It makes me tired, but being sore only pisses me off more. Woe to whatever goddamn thing crosses my path at this moment.

But nothing does. We get all the way back up to the 6th floor when I stop, and tell him, “Get back in the apartment, bolt the door. There’s something I have to do.” I wait until he’s inside, and I hear the bolt slide home.

I stop at 614 and knock on her door. There’s still a large part of me that wishes I’d saved her when I could, and sidestepped all the goddamned drama of the last few days. She doesn’t answer. I knock again, hard enough it echoes up my arm, hurts my knuckles; I realize I’m punching the door- but at least I’ve got my gloves on, so it doesn’t open the skin. The pain actually makes me feel a little better.

I wait for a response. Nothing. I tap the door. It’s soft, hollow, made of cheap wood; they figured anybody on this floor had already keyed passed the heavier doors downstairs. I kick the door beside the handle, and it snaps like cracker. My foot hurts when I put it down, but not as much as I thought it would. I draw the Kimber, and push the door open.

Room’s clean- surprisingly so. She’d been keeping everything tidy, even making sure she kept her trash in the cans, and, once they’d been used up, replacing the food in the cabinets with it. There was no perishable trash at all in the apartment- which either meant she’d been throwing it outside, or that she’d actually been making runs somewhere to dump it. But because it’s so clean, and because the apartment’s so sparsely furnished, it just takes a moment to recognize that she’s gone. Main room’s empty. Bathroom’s dark but open, and a glance in the mirror show’s there’s no one inside without having to go in. Bedroom’s just a bed and a mattress, with a dresser pressed against the window, no places she could be hiding. I grit my teeth, open the closet, prepared for a body hanging off a belt, or maybe something much worse- but it’s empty, and she’s gone.

Zero Journal 049
As I close the door (at least as closed as a kicked in door gets) I hope she didn’t go out on her own and get eaten, or worse, get snatched up by some raping bastard who figures in a world gone to hell there’s no point keeping his demons locked away anymore.

I know I’m self-flagellating. Young, scared thing like her, she had to be waiting for someone- she had to have plans- someone coming to help her out. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t take her along; at worst I could have just shot the boyfriend and given her his food- and I know now there were solutions, probably dozens, that I was blinded to when it mattered. I hate myself but all I can do is sigh and hope she’s got herself someplace safe, despite me.

I don’t let my disappointment turn to pity, and walk back down the hall, with purpose. My senses are keen, this time, listening for movement, breathing- or any combination of bastards to jump into the hall and need dealing with- I think I’m hoping for it. I could really use someone to break my hand on- but the fates are never that convenient, and nothing happens all the way down to 603.

I knock on the apartment and she lets me in. She’s mad, but mostly at him- even if I was his co-conspirator. I walk past her, without acknowledging her fury, and my ears perk up. I hear the sound of tearing fabric, and tell her, “We’ll talk in a minute, sit in the front room.” She pauses, but she’s tired from being angry all morning, and complies, and once she’s around the corner I unholster the Kimber.

Stumblers are ill-tempered. One of the first things freshly turned stumblers often do is destroy things- like a puppy upset about being left home alone, they’ll tear open anything they can get their hands on, including their clothes. The bathroom is dark, in a corner of the apartment protected from light. I open the bedroom door a bit, just to try and gain some visibility from reflected light.

I knock on the bathroom door, but all that comes back is a whimper. I push the door with my foot, aiming the Kimber. He turns, not surprised by the weapon. He’s wiping at his eyes with a torn section from his sleeve. “Didn’t- didn’t want her to see me like this,” he says, punctuating with a phlegmy chuckle that tries to become a sob before he pulls it back with a ragged gasp. “So what happens now?”

I sigh, and holster the Kimber.


Zero Journal 050
Of course, he couldn’t hide it for long, and I sure as hell wasn’t willing to help. She figured it out when he snuck away during dinner, and she caught him coughing up blood. It’s just as well, because he passes out, and when he comes to, he’s too weak to stand. She says we can’t leave; I argue that that was the point- to get them somewhere he might get medical help, rather than wait for him to die- even though I know I’ve already lost.

I browbeat her into sleeping in the front room, but still, she's been sneaking moments with him, just holding his hand, visiting. I tried to enforce a “never in the room while he's asleep” policy- since it’s harder to notice if he dies- but of course she bucked against that. I’m asleep on the couch when a cry from the other room wakes me, and I’m on my feet before things stop blurry, and as I open the door I realize I left the damn Kimber in the front room.

She’s screaming; I don’t have a moment to steel myself against the inevitable, and maybe I love her just enough to still be a fool, and I rush into the room. He’s crushing her hand in his- he’s barely conscious, just waking up to his new existence. But that docility won’t last- and her scream ignites animal fires in the back of his brain. He lunges at her, teeth out in the open in a tearing motion, heading for her throat; with her hand pinned she can’t stop him, can’t move away.

Our bodies collide with the audible sound of bones and meat, but he lands against the wall, taking the brunt of it. He’s still got her hand, still squeezing and tearing with his fingernails, but he doesn’t have any open soars on his hand, so I ignore it. I use my forearm to pin his head against the wall just as he decides to try and eat me. I pull out what’s left of the knife- it’ll have to do.

The first stab goes into the shoulder, and the arm goes limp; she falls, nearly passing out from the pain, and vomits. I pull the knife out and jam it in the near side of his neck, and drag it across, tearing out a bloody ditch in its wake, but cutting shy of the throat.

The loss of blood causes him to pass out. I turn angrily to her- angry I almost got her killed because I wasn't man enough to murder him when I should've. “He's not dead yet. Leave.” She pauses a moment, wanting to argue it- wanting to will reality back into something she can handle, but I don't flinch and neither does reality. She goes.

Zero Journal 051
I jab the blade into his exposed trachea, shove it hard, until it juts out the back of his neck- then I push it out the other side, cutting the rest of the jugular. I may have ended there, but the head falls flat, and the eyes roll open. They track me, and the eyelids blink, trying to clear collecting blood. Then he recognizes me, and his lips curl to a snarl. I stab the knife down into the center of his head, and his eyes roll back.

I close the door behind me and she's there; I try to stand between her and his blood I've just left on the doorknob.

She's crying, though she refuses to let her face show it. She can't move, but when I get close she falls into my shoulder. “You never want to go in there,” I tell her. She cried for a long time, until her body started to go limp; I help to the couch, cover her in a blanket.

I slept on the floor. I woke to sun streaming in the window. She was packed and ready to leave. I glanced at the door to the bedroom; the handle had been wiped clean. I didn't ask if she went in; I doubt she'd have told me if she did.

And that’s when I notice it, though it’s probably been there all along, probably hiding just behind my self-loathing, how much I hate her because I can’t stop caring about a woman she hasn’t been for a long time. I shut my eyes, at first because I want to make sure I’m not asleep, or at least that’s what I think, but then I can’t open them, and I realize it’s because my eyes are filling with tears I’d never have thought I had left. “I’m sorry,” I whisper, because I don’t have the strength to say it louder.

She stops, spins around. She’s breathless, a moment; I wasn’t known in our time together for apologizing. At first she doesn’t understand, and when I open my eyes, she assumes I’m being sympathetic, that I’m sorry I murdered her boyfriend. I am, I suppose, since for all his antagonism he wasn’t that bad a guy. But I’m selfish, and it only makes me feel worse about it. I was happy, not to have him gone, but to have her alone, and unencumbered, without the pretense of others judging her- I’d thought just maybe she’d be decent to me, if only in fits and spurts.

But her breathing was ragged, just a little wet, like there was phlegm accumulating in her lungs. So I told her, “I think you’re infected, too.”


Zero Journal 052
I expect her to hit me, to shove me, call me any of the dozen horrible things I know she has on the tip of her tongue. She doesn’t. Doesn’t argue. Doesn’t even flinch. She sits next to me on the floor, still too proud to lay her head on my shoulder, but she leans against me.

After a long time, she asks, “What do we do?”

“I’m taking you home,” I tell her, without hesitating. I can tell in her eyes there are questions, doubts, and to be honest, I have them, too, but I know if I indulge them, even for a moment, they’ll overwhelm me- that I’ll stop acting stupidly and start acting pragmatically. And I don’t want to- not now.

I stand up, and pull her before she’s ready to her feet. She teeters, and I can tell that she just wants to cry, to curl up in a ball and we don’t have time for that. “Pack what you need into my bag and we’ll go.” She takes a knife her father gave her, and a beaten stuffed rabbit, and a few clothes. “Put the knife on your belt,” I tell her.

I remember she hasn’t been outside, isn’t prepared for this- but it’s the best I can do for her. She picked up her dad’s Springfield, checked the chamber. Then she put the box of .30-06 bullets in her sweatshirt pocket. She wants me to believe she’s ready- she probably wants to believe it, herself, but she’s shaking visibly. I put my arm around her and squeeze; I want to tell her everything will be all right, but I can’t bring myself to tell that lie.

Eventually she pulls away, and opens the door. The hall is dim and shadowy- the clouds overhead are choking what little light could squeeze through the windowed door atop the stairs. She asks if we should use the flashlight, and I put my finger to my lips; who or whatever might enter the hall will have the same disadvantage, except they won’t be accustomed to the lower light- and if it’s a stumbler, their night vision is even worse. We walk slowly- I’m listening for movement inside the apartments, telltale signs of impending ambush, or the methodical, uneven pacing of a stumbler.

The door opens too quickly, just behind us, so quiet it must not have been shut all the way. I know immediately from the stumble the woman’s dead on her feet. Her dress dangles half-off, probably trying to cool from the fever that finally took her, and long, fake fingernails reach out towards us. I step back, pulling the Kimber, but before I can take a shot the stumbler has her in half a half-nelson. I’m neither confident nor reckless enough to take the shot.

Zero Journal 053
What I do instead is dangerous and stupid- the Kimber drops with a clatter on the carpet as I move forward, taking the distance in three widening steps. I’ve learned from experience that hairgrips on stumblers only leave you with a clump of hair in your hand, so I smack her with my elbow, hoping the blow only glances without opening a wound. The stumbler’s grip slackens enough I can grab her clothes and pull her away, slamming her into the doorway she came through. I grab the back of her skull and push it sideways against the frame, again, again. Her temple cracks like a watermelon hit with a hammer, and the stumbler finally falls.

I pick up the Kimber, slide it back in its holster; we don’t ask one another if we’re all right, because we both know the answer already.

We get to the stairwell and wait. It’s a concrete echo chamber, so anything moving would be obvious. But there’s no noise, so we start down. She pauses over the corpse of the utility man; “I- I met him.”

I don’t even break stride (perhaps hoping she won’t linger on the gaping wrench hole in his head) but tell her, “He went peacefully.” She leaves it at that- though I’m afraid to look back and see what she’s thinking.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs I had her stop. I retrieved the flashlight, and poked it into the electrical room. The yellow pool was still there, but there were no new prints through it. I told her to follow me through the room, “and don’t look down.” In the lobby she recognized her landlady, and her mouth fell open, only an instant later to cover it by pretending it had been the smell that surprised her. I left her in the glass pre-lobby with the Springfield, while I ran around the back for my bike. I probably should have taken it slower- but with every step I imagined the things that could have followed us down the stairs- besides, I was fairly certain I could outrun whatever might chase me.

Nothing did. She was still standing where I left her, looking genuinely disinterested. As soon as I pulled up she walked out, shouldering the backpack, then sliding the Springfield behind it. She say behind me and put her arms around my waist. She didn’t say a word, but after a moment’s pause, squeezed my sides. “Hold on,” I said, and we were gone.


Zero Journal 054
I’ve learned my lesson about Burnside, so we travel up St. Clair, but once we get up to Vista there’s a fresh accident. The driver survived just long enough to be torn apart by stumblers. Most are still milling about. So we keep straight ahead towards Washington Park. But I only just remember Washington Park from when I was a kid, back when OMSI was across from the zoo. I get us lost, and we spend a bit of time driving past the same damn signs; to her credit, she doesn’t complain, not once.

I noticed it earlier, but I didn’t say anything, but the second time her fingers tense and she digs her fingernails into my ribs I look back at her. Her eyes are closed, and I can’t be sure, but I think she’s crying. Her grip on me weakens- too much- I can feel her body teetering back in slow motion. I elbow her, thinking she’s falling asleep, or distracted, but it makes her start to fall to the side. I reach to catch her, but the bike leans. I look back up in time to know two things: there are stumblers within 50 yards, and the bike is going down- and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.

I don’t think I’m out long- because when I come to, I’m still not dead yet: the stumblers haven’t come twenty yards. But she’s still down, dark hair over her face, her neck pressed unnaturally against the curb. I assume the worst.

I’m on my feet before I realize my ankle’s sprained, at a minimum- it might be fractured, but it’s strong enough to hold me up, so I keep moving. Her chest rises and falls, the sound of it deep, wet- definitely blood in her lungs. The instincts that kept me alive this long tell me to leave her a moment, because she might be playing opossum- and I tell them to go to Hell.

I call out her name, unable to be self-conscious when my voice cracks. When she doesn’t respond I hit the wall, my body becomes heavy, and I move nearly as slow as the stumblers. I try her name again, weak, defeated. She breaths in deep, and rolls over, and I freeze. She pushes herself up on her hands, weak smile on her lips, and I run to her on the busted ankle.

It’s good that I do, because she falls as I get there, not so much into my arms as against my torso. I shake her, but she’s out again. I want to check her head and neck, make sure she’s alright, but the stumblers are too close, now. I look back at our pack and our hard-won supplies scattered across the street. I put her over my shoulder in half a fireman’s carry, and run.

Zero Journal 055
But the stumblers are close enough they’re excited, mumbling and moaning- and the sounds of them (and likely the sounds of our crash) are brining more by the moment. Something in my shoulder begins to grind, and the pain of it sends me to one knee; I shift her to an underhanded over-the-threshold style carry, and I’m moving again.

There are reservoirs to our left, so I go right, and suddenly I recognize where we are, the damnable Rose Test Gardens. I’m a little surprised how many stumblers are milling about the gardens- apparently still drawn to beauty or perhaps something they remembered from their lives- but I can’t spend a moment on it, and with us here suddenly they lose whatever pleasure the foliage might have given them, and start towards us.

She begins to stir in my arms. “What’s,” is all she really has the strength to ask, which is just as well, as I haven’t the breath to answer. Her head bobs as she tries to force it up so she can see, and I shift my arm so it props her up. “You’re running,” she says, in an awkwardly matter-of-fact way.

I run past that stone sculpture that looks like aliens tried to emulate the skeleton of a framed house, pausing just a moment to keep from rolling my angle on the edge of the pool beneath it. The incline of the hill had slowed our earliest pursuers, but the stumblers from the garden are becoming more numerous, closing in, and suddenly, at the edge of the gardens, I stop flat-footed.

There’s a wall of rosebushes taller than I am. The stumblers are moving together now, not so much in packs as in flocking waves, circling around on this side, dumbly closing in around the edges of aisles. They’ve cut off the last easy route of escape.

My eyes narrow as I look straight ahead: the bushes are thicker, here- planted closer together to form a barrier, but I can see enough through to think I can make it through to the other side. I take two steps away and reel back. “This is going to hurt,” I tell her.

She smiles weakly. “You always do.”

I jump.


Zero Journal 056
Thorns grab and claw at my skin, though I can’t help but think she’s getting the brunt of it since she’s in front. I’m lucky that I see one of the branches a second before it tears my eye out, and shut the lid tight. It rips a bloody gash from my eyelid towards my temple, and it hurts like only getting punched in the eye does, but I’m not blinded. For a second we’re stuck in the branches, and I feel stumblers’ fingers reaching through for us (or maybe it’s just more branches), but then there’s a bramble’s snap and we’re free. We stumble forward, and I barely manage to kneel without throwing her to the ground.

She’s a little more alert, now, and sits up on her own. There’s a gash from a thorn across her forehead, with some of her hair still sticking into it. “Shit,” I tell her, wiping blood from her forehead, pushing the hair away. “Brace yourself,” I say, and pull the thorn loose. There’s the sound of more branches snapping, and my head spins to see more stumblers forcing their way through the bush, slower, and more caught up, but making too much progress. I don’t ask if she can walk (she’s already beginning to sway again)- just pick her up and we’re moving again.

I scan the first street parking, cars, all cars. I hate cars- no telling what’s in them, no guessing how difficult the anti-theft devices will make stealing them. But I can see another street just passed it. Surreally, there are stumblers trapped in the tennis cages- not chained, just unable to work the simple flip lock that keeps them inside. I almost laugh at one, caught up in the net, a tragicomical farce in ultra slow motion.

But there’s something resembling a god, because there’s a bike parked between the tennis cages, not too big (but not too small for a passenger). I set her on the ground beside the bike. I look behind, and there’s enough distance between us and the stumblers that I have a lifetime to hotwire it- which is easy, because at some point it had already been hotwired before it came here. I get her balanced precariously on the bike, and manage to lash her arm around mine with my belt. With the engine going, I can see we have enough fuel, probably, to make it, and we’re gone.

By the time we get back to the freeway I can tell we aren’t going to make it before dark, but 26 is clear enough to 99, which gets us to 84, and we make it up 205 to Airport Way before I pull off. She protests, “We could make it before dark.” I’d tell her 14 is fucked, but she wouldn’t hear me over the howling wind.

I pull into the Best Buy lot, and she points to the Ikea. “Probably beds and couches and things there.” I shake my head.

Zero Journal 057
“It’s a maze in a box- no natural lighting. It would take all night to clear it- which we couldn’t do since we lost the flashlight. And there’s almost certainly stumblers left in there- if only because they can’t follow the signs to get out.”

There’s no power to the automatic doors, but the outgoing door has been pushed out off the hinges, so we walk in. The place has been looted, with racks overturned. There’s a little blood on the floor, but not so much as you’d expect. I motion for her to wait in the entrance for me.

I’m tired, and it’s getting dark, so I don’t want to fuck around, so I push one of the DVD racks over. It makes a loud metal crash that I figure will bring any and every thing left in the store my way. I’m almost disappointed when it’s a single employee (easily distinguishable by his blue shirt). He waddles to me slowly, though it’s mostly down to his decaying muscles rather than his doughy physique. He doesn’t seem hostile- might not even be, at the moment, and I walk right up to him. His name tag says his name is “Walt.” He blinks quizzically at me, and I flash a smile that he blinks at. Then I grab him by the collar and smash him temple first into the edge of the service counter. He falls to the ground, staggering on his flat palms. On the counter is a monitor, and I rip the cords out of the back, then lift it high into the air before bringing it back down on his head. The head cracks and so does the monitor, but Walt flops around on the ground like a stranded fish. I pick up the monitor a second time, and this time really lean into it, using the unbroken edge as a blunt object on his already open skull. The wound collapses in, splattering me with dissolving brain slush and blood.

After that I make a quick walk through the store, but it seems to have largely avoided the carnage I’d become accustomed to. She’s still waiting patiently by the entrance, and I bring the bike inside the doors and shove them closed again best I can. Then I shove four minifridges over by the door- I figure that’s enough should a stumbler try to get in. When I finish that she’s standing with her arms crossed: she’s cold, lonely, vulnerable. She hugs me. It’s a nice moment. She starts to reach for my belt, but I stop her. “Not with a stolen dick,” I say, and kiss her forehead, “and that has nothing to do with your being ill, and everything to do with you being you.”

She smiles, bittersweet; come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve seen her smile any other way for a very long time. She doesn’t look at me, afraid to see recognition of how vulnerable she sounds in my eyes, “Will you hold me?”

I want to be funny (even though she wouldn’t laugh) and say, “So long as you promise not to bite me.” But I don’t, and I tell her exactly what she wants to hear: “Of course.”


Zero Journal 058
I’m a goddamned moron and I know it, the moment I wake up. She’s curled against me, “for warmth” is the best lie I can tell myself. If she turned in the night I’d

I force myself up to shut my mind off. The floor’s done my back no favors, but that’s when I realized it isn’t light, and I’m awake because I heard something. I take out the Kimber, walk slowly. There isn’t much of a moon through the clouds, so the store’s black save for the silhouetted outline of the counters.

And suddenly my feet hit something slick, fly out from under me. I know I’m rushing for the ground, but I went enough around that I’m not sure which direction to reach out to break my fall. I smash face-first against the hard marble floor. I taste blood in my cheek, and realize I’ve landed in a pool of it, cold. Walt’s blood. My tongue searches my cheek frantically, to see if there’s a hole and I’m dead or if there’s just a cut- but I swallow by mistake and realize it’s warm as it goes down. It’s a deep gash and now my teeth hurt, but the blood in my cheek is my own.

And then I hear it, low, guttural, and at first I think it’s just my stomach growling. Then the animal’s lips curl back, and I hear it clearer- at first it’s just the grumble of a tired dog, but it raises in pitch and fear. I realize my hand is splayed out- the hand that had been on the Kimber, the hand that ought to have saved me, and that it’s on Walt’s leg- only Walt’s body is behind me several feet.

My eyes have finally started to adjust enough that I can make out a coyote, rail-thin, its back curled and its hair on end, teeth bared less than a foot from my hand- sitting on its hard-chewed-off meal. My mind races back- I’ve never seen an animal turned, and I don’t think they can be infected- but then I realize it doesn’t matter, because his entire mouth is lousy with Walt’s blood- and he’s a fraction of an instant from biting me.

I am good and fucked.

I don’t have a clue what I want to do- if there’s anything I can do; I’m not even frozen for fear, but because there is no option that doesn’t result in that canine biting me. And that’s when it happens, a barrage of CD cases from the darkness behind me. The first one startles the coyote, and he almost lunges at me because I must somehow be to blame, but then one clatters near his legs, and he shuffles quickly backwards, urine splattering the ground as his own terror becomes evident.

Zero Journal 059
Several more land wide, but the coyote’s losing interest, shuffling ever so softly towards my hand, still unmoving on the severed foot, when one CD (I find out later it’s Avril Lavigne, and take back everything I ever said about everything about her besides how hot she is) hits him square in the nose. He squeals, and runs back several feet, and I throw myself off the ground (nearly tripping again in the blood puddle).

From my feet I’ve a fighting chance, since my boots and jeans provide decent enough bite protection- but the coyote’s not interested in a fight. He cowers behind an Entertainment Weekly rack, whimpering. After a moment, I take pity, and fling Walt’s foot in his direction. He sniffs at it, then decides it’s worth the risk, grabs the foot and runs to the door. There’s a funny sound as he leaps once and scrapes against the minifridges, unable to make it over with the foot in his mouth, and falls to the floor with a yelp. On his second time he barely makes it, and leaps out into the night.

My foot brushes the Kimber and I pick it up as she walks over to me. She’s still holding a handful of CDs- I think a little shaken that it’s the only weapon she has. “Thanks,” I tell her. She smiles, and for a moment I think she’s happy.

“What kind of an asshole drops his gun?” I can’t be sure if she means it as an actual dig or a joke (comedic delivery was never one of her strong suits)- but I could honestly give a shit at that moment, and I hug her tight.

“Thank you,” I say again, because I want to be sure it sticks. She wants to say something, anything, I think, to dilute the moment, but every time I hear her inhale, I squeeze her again.

“Are you okay?” she finally asks. I laugh, tinny, hollow.

“Of course not. You?”

She tenses up. She doesn’t want to be vulnerable- least of all in my arms. “No.” I’m not sure I even know what the hell she means, or what she’s not okay about, but admitting that at all, for her, is pretty big stuff.

And immediately I miss her, because I know this moment, this woman- won’t last. My shoulder’s shrink, and before she can ask me anything more, I pull away and say, “We should try to get some more rest.”


Zero Journal 060
Come the morning I’m full of more doubt about last night. Tearing off Walt’s leg left a hell of a messy stump behind- I think the coyote must have been bigger and meaner than I’d let myself see. By this time she’s been up several hours; I imagine at some point in the night she realized she didn’t want to wake up in my arms.

She’s collected a handful of CDs and an old discman and batteries, and is listening to music as she goes through the impulse snacks near the register for breakfast. And she’s happy for a moment, before she realizes that I’m awake, and I smile. She nearly drops her Boston baked beans when she notices; I tell her, “I kind of hoped I’d never see you again,” though I know that doesn’t really say what I mean.

But she stumbles and ruins it, and at first I think she’s stepped in Walt’s blood, but when I jog to her I realize she’s still four feet from the puddle. I steady her, but she tries to pull away, and needs me to steady her a second time. “Don’t be proud,” I tell her, “and don’t be stupid. You might just have pneumonia, and if you fell over onto Walt and smacked your head then…” I don’t finish it, because my throat tightens.

I’m almost surprised when she doesn’t mock my optimism, only I think she wants to be optimistic, too. I think she needs it. Because the alternative now is horrible. I hold her a moment, then lift so she’s completely on her own feet again and tell her, “Gather your things. We need to head out.”

She tenses up at that, like I’ve interrupted something precious, then she pushes away, giving her weakened equivalent of the shoulder bump. She’s already packed everything she thought we might need into a Badtz-Maru satchel- and we both pretend that she didn’t pick it because of the angry little penguin on the side.

I help her over the minifridges, trying my damnedest not to notice the weight and the softness of her thigh in my hand, trying not to take in the smell of her (well, okay, the faint hint of the artificial smell of her deoderants and shampoos and detergents, lotions and conditioners- beneath the BO our rank species naturally shoves out there when we can’t bathe on a daily basis). And for a moment she’s almost graceful rolling over top of them, until she almost falls- and my heart skips a beat- only for me to remember how naturally klutzy she is. I laugh out loud, in fact, when I remember that ice storm, when she slipped on the ice and landed on her ass, and she gives me the same, irritated feline look now as then, and I shrug.

Zero Journal 061
Once we get to the bike I take off my belt, and she eyes me strangely. “Lash your arm to mine. I don’t want you falling off when we’re on the freeway. As it was we were lucky neither of us got seriously hurt last time.” She was out for that, and I’ve only told her pieces- the ones where I thought there might be lessons, but not the ones I thought would just upset her. She wants to react badly, but she looks at me, and I realize I must look like shit, like the days have taken a harsher toll off me than I realize, because she looks quickly away.

“All right.”

And that worries me. I think she feels something, now, that something’s coming. I think she’s trying to make peace with it, and make peace with me. And I hope I’m wrong, I hope I’ve been wrong, but I know either way I need to shut the hell up and be strong, because if I’m not she isn’t making it home.

I throw a leg over the bike, and she lithely climbs up behind me. I can’t ignore the press of her jeans as she slides up close, puts her arms around me tightly. “Hold on,” I tell her, though she already is, and I start the motor.

I loop the long way out of the parking lot, through the middle through the entire shopping complex; on the off chance anyone was watching us, it would have made us harder to catch. And it let me take a survey of the area: all strangely untouched- which I suppose made some degree of sense, since urban development hadn’t had a chance to catch up to it.

Airport way is clogged most of the way up to our exit; probably people who thought they could fly to somewhere safe, only to be told to wait, and wait, until the line backed up for miles. But we’re going in the other direction, west, towards 205, and while the road isn’t entirely clear, it’s nearly there; I only have to slowdown once, at the entrance, because of three cars that never got their green light.

And the freeway’s clear on the northbound side; I guess more folks figured it’d be safer to hold up in cities than in the boonies of Clark County (or maybe there’d just been more people trying to get back to their homes in Portland). But the sun catches the Columbia’s crystal surface, and reflects the blues of the sky with a greenish tint. And suddenly I’m full of anxiety, and I’m finding hope hard to find, because I know this is nearly the ending. My delusions, wishful thinking, are running out of time. No matter how things happen from here, I don’t think I’m going to like tomorrow.


Zero Journal 062
I take it easy on the way back. Whenever we get the chance to pause some place secluded, we do, get her a chance to lay down. She’s weaker, barely conscious, usually propping herself against me every chance she has. By the time we reach 192nd she isn’t holding on anymore, just laying unconscious against me. It isn’t safe, I know- leather jacket and the helmet only protect so much, but that tiny, tiny hope I have somewhere inside me says that maybe if I can get her to her parents, maybe…

I can’t, even in my moment’s fantasy, imagine how that ends well. I know it isn’t just the flu; I know there’s nothing approaching treatment, let alone a cure. Maybe I’m just hoping that so I can give her parents a chance to say goodbye, give her a few last moments of happiness for the pain I know I caused her, intentional or not.

She whispers dreamily into my neck, and she says, “I loved you,” and I want to ignore the past tense, but I force myself to hear it, to know it, to understand what that means- maybe only because I know that it doesn’t matter, anyway. I don’t bother telling her I know, because it’s something I said before, so fucking long back, now, when it seemed like whether or not she had was an argument worth having.

And I’m thankful for the sounds of her snoring, because it means she isn’t going to talk anymore, isn’t going to make me feel like there’s hope when there isn’t, not for her or for us or probably for anyone. She snores all the way through Camas, until we hit the back roads, and even then I think it’s only the added groan of the bike’s engine as it climbs out of a valley that she stirs, snorts. Her fingers grip me, hard, with more life than they’ve had, then relax, as the shock of waking up at 40 miles and hour in the open air fades.

Then I catch it, just a moment in my mirror, as she looks around, dazed. There’s nowhere to pull the bike out of the way, and tall grass on either sides- too dangerous to stop here, no place to go. She bites into the shoulder of my leather jacket, clamping down again and again as her mouth traces towards warm, exposed flesh. I elbow her 8 times before she goes limp against me.

Zero Journal 063
I close my eyes for a moment and say “Fuck” that’s a prayer aimed at God, only he knows where he can stick it; I’m close, less than a mile from her parents’ home, just one turn then their driveway. I consider dumping her and the bike in the ditch, running on foot the rest of the way, coming up with a story about how they’d left, that there were signs in the apartment they were heading for more defensible ground, with a plan and supplies. But I can’t do it, and before I know it, before I can reason any other way around it I’m pulling into the driveway.

Her father hears the bike, and he's waiting in the backyard by the time I pull around. His smile fades when he notices his daughter unconscious, kept on the bike only because she’s tied to me; I untie her and she falls until my belt tightens in my hand; her hair falls back, and he can see it in her face.

“Why’d you bring her back like this? That’s not my little girl.” He’s angry, but for all the world it isn’t at me, and when he finally looks in my eyes he sees right through me. He heaves a heavy sigh, and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Yeah. You’ve done enough. Go inside. I’ll take care of it.”

He picks her up gently; she still looks and feels enough like his daughter that he can’t do anything else. I reach for the Kimber, to hand it back to him, but he’s got a Glock tucked in his jeans, and no free hand for the Kimber. He starts walking towards the back of his garage, and I turn towards the house.

I go inside just long enough to grab a bottle of Jack and a glass. I wish I flinched when I hear the gunshot, but I don’t. It takes him a long time to walk back to the porch.

Neither one of us are as stoic as we’d liked to be; he pulls off the bottle without acknowledging the glass. “Come on, let’s get inside,” he says. “Night’s coming.”
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