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The morning of my last day of summer found me anxious and nauseated at the thought of going back to the red-brown public school I attended two blocks from my house, but the afternoon found me in much worse condition.
I had spent a fair share of my day with my two closest friends in an attempt to distract myself from the haunting realization that my summer was coming to a high-speed close. Between watching movies, wandering through the mall, eating hot dogs from the food truck in my neighbourhood and sitting on the bridge of the abandoned playground, I had almost forgotten about the saddened end. Once I dropped Kate and Genevieve at the bus stop and headed home, I had been left alone to dwell in my thoughts of this upcoming year: stressful, challenging and taxing, for sure. I had been so absorbed by my thoughts of the school that I had walked straight to it, waking from my disturbing thoughts once I was standing in front of the red-brown building. The school was quiet from the outside, only I and another girl wearing a baggy black jacket were stalling outside. Inside, summer school was wrapping up, public school students were lined up outside of the office, clutching paper schedules and cafeteria ladies were preparing for the rush of hungry students.
I lingered behind the chain link fence, staring at the community gardens, the soccer field, the tennis courts and the courtyard. My attention turned to the girl sitting on the bench. She’s leaned forward, nearly folded in half with her hands in her pockets. I watch, pulling my varsity jacket closer to my chest against the chill, as she stands and begins to lurch back and forth towards the front doors.
Suddenly, those very doors slam open. Three girls run out, screaming loudly. They stop dead when they come to face the girl in black and their pitches rise, pointing and shuddering as they stare at her. Her hood drops, revealing black hair sticking to a scalp in curled patches. She pulls a hand out of her pocket and I move closer, past the gate, to get a better look at the rotting skin.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” One of the girls’ eyes roll back in her head and she sinks to her knees. The girl in black extends her hand – pale green skin, sections peeled back to reveal grey flesh and splintered bones. Black mold seems to spread over the gash on the back of her hand, making her hand resemble a moldy pear.
Another girl of the trio holds out the book she’s been hugging to her chest and swings, batting the girl in black away from her friend with grunts of excursion. Two boys run out of the doors, followed by a teacher in pointed heels, clattering down the front steps. One of the boys grabs the girl with the book by her wrist, pulling her away from the zombie girl. I can’t peel my eyes off of the scene as it explodes: students, teachers and staff escaping through any exit, being swarmed by decomposing creatures with teeth like stained fangs. The girl who fainted has been ripped apart by the girl in black, who is sucked pieces of tissue and brain from her long fingers, looking around hungrily for her next victim. Her eyes land on me.
In an instance, I’m running around the other side of the school, breaking through crowds of preschoolers, being lined up by frantic and sobbing teachers. I get to the abandoned playground and my sneakers grind to a halt as a group of zombies exits the gym doors, tilting and wavering back and forth with each step. One points at me, groaning and grunting. His tongue is swollen and black in his mouth, voice deep, lips flapping uselessly, but everyone but me seems to understand, the humans running towards the chain link fence, the zombies advancing. My heart is about to explode as I dart towards the tennis courts, where a group is cowered behind the fence and locked gate. I slap my hand against the links, clawing at the metal to be let in.
“Are you one of them?” A girl in a white tennis skirt asks, pointing her racquet towards me.
“NO!” I yell, “Jesus Christ, just let me in. Do I look like one of them?”
The girl looks me up and down: dark brown hair, pale skin, red tank top, varsity jacket and black sneakers, and bites her lip.
“I know her, let her in,” My old Biology teacher, Mr. Wallace, pulls open the gate. I stagger onto the court, falling onto hands and knees. I press my forehead against the cool green ground the smells like tennis balls, taking deep breaths.
“Hello, Beatrice,” He says.
“There are zombies,” I murmur to myself, “There are dead human beings and they were chasing everyone. Where did they even come from? How did they get here? Is this some sort of trick? April fools in September?”
“She sounds delirious,” Someone says.
“It’s almost a world-wide pandemic now,” Mr. Wallace plays a hand on my shoulder, “But we only got word of it yesterday. Nobody thought they would reach us so fast, so we’re vastly unprepared.”
“What are we going to do?” I sit upright, racking my brain for how to kill a zombie.
“For now, we’re trying to stay alive. They can smell us, though, and they’ll be here soon.”
“Wait, how did they get here? You said nobody expected it,” My eyes are towards the school, where zombies have huddled around the exits. A boy jumps through the third-story window and I look away when he hits the ground.
“It began in Africa and spread through small villages, zombies infecting normal people. We’ve now learned that it’s a virus that turns people and the virus has come to us now, through our water source. Everyone assumed that only a zombie biting you could turn you, but now we realize that if the virus even touches your skin, there’s a great risk.”
A hush falls over the small group, about two dozen people, and I glance towards the gate. The girl in black is yanking mindlessly on the chain, pushing against the fence with decomposing hands. I move away immediately.
“We can’t stay here, it’s not safe to be gathered like this,” Mr. Wallace says, “They’ll break the fence down eventually, and then we’re done for.”
Glances pass between the twenty-four people, those with rackets clutching them to their chests.
“Maybe just staying here until the police arrive will be better,” A boy says, clearing his throat, “They can just gun them down.”
“I don’t think that’ll kill them.”
Mr. Wallace points at me, “She is right. You must cut their heads off. Our police force isn’t prepared for it.”
I glance towards the back of the tennis court, to the shed that stands there.
“Let’s check in there,” I say, jogging over to it. It’s locked, but the wood is so old that when I kick it, the entire door comes off of its hinges, splintering. Inside, there are buckets of tennis balls and racks upon racks of tennis rackets. I push past them and locate the gardening tools.
“I think there’s some good stuff there,” The girl behind me calls. Mr. Wallace pushes through and I step carefully into the back, popping a plastic bin open. There are branch clippers, a few hatchets, even a rusty ax. I begin to hand them back towards Mr. Wallace – a shovel, another ax, a hoe. In the corner, I find a metal baseball bat and allow myself a grin as I pick it up, testing its weight.
Outside, the lock on the gate is clattering as a group of five zombies shake the fence, that entire section swaying. One of the boys is panicked, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“Treat it like football practice,” Mr. Wallace advises, passing him the garden hoe.
“Go for the head, cut it off or hit it as hard as you can,” He continues, walking towards the gate, “And under no circumstance allow skin to skin contact between you and the creature. Yes, pull those sleeves down.”
“You’re going to let them in?” A girl shrieks, “That’s all the advice you can offer?”
“I just told you everything you need to know. If you see the opportunity, run.”
With that, he raises the rusty ax above his head and brings it down on the lock, taking a step back as the gate swings open.
Raleigh, North Carolina
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