1: A Living Undead
I: The Last Refuge
Experience: that most brutal of teachers.
But you learn, my God do you learn.
“We’re confronting a threat unlike any we’ve faced before,” the lead speaker, Thomas Gilford, said. The tightly-packed audience leaned forward, eager to hear the details and possible solutions. “While in the past we’d get surges of the undead, the latest seems unparalleled. There are not just hundreds of them, but thousands. What’s more, they seem particularly responsive, meaning they’re quicker to react, and likelier to attack. Faced with these numbers, given our limited resources, we’re facing a dire situation. We need suggestions folks.” He wiped his brow before continuing. The small enclosed meeting hall, like the rest of the compound, concentrated the sun’s heat. That feature made the compound ideal for raising crops and animals, while the building was used as a meeting hall because it contained few doors and windows exposing the participants to the fields fed with animal waste. “Anything anyone can think of which might—in the very least—buy us a little time.”
The Collective was a small community, totaling twenty-three individuals—though that made it one of the largest functional communities in the region. The fact they focused on farm work, augmented by research into perfecting plant species which produced well in restricted areas, allowed them to supply many groups with the goods needed to survive. The compound was a walled village, though most of the area was composed of fields, animal enclosures, pastures and communal facilities like medical and blacksmithing operations. That made the buildings and human habitations incredibly crowded—and the farm smells ever present—especially since they relied on human and animal waste as their primary fertilizer.
The compound was so crowded that the residents, including men, women and children, regularly volunteered to engage in dangerous combat missions just to escape the monotony of life within its walls.
“We’ve each faced the same dire consequences before,” a woman in the back said, “and each time we’ve won out. The zombies might be unrelenting, but they’re as bright as turnips. Once they get bored, they’ll move on.”
“It’s decidedly different this time,” Thomas warned. “They’ve been congregated in one group, shifting and pulsing, but they’re not heading anywhere. They migrate from one area to another, only to have others take their place. As far as we’ve been able to tell, none are leaving the vicinity.”
“What about the other groups nearby? Surely they’ll provide assistance.”
“We’ve sent someone to David’s Pump Brigade to the north,” Thomas offered. “The other groups are too difficult to reach, but it’s possible David’s group could include them. With luck, they’ll launch an attack, drawing the undead away, allowing us to initiate a counterattack. Between us, we may whittle the zombie masses down.”
“Whittling doesn’t sound like much of a solution,” someone else argued.
“It doesn’t, but we’re hop—”
The door was flung open and a panting man entered, holding his hand up while he regained his breath.
“We ... have a ... situation. We need you to ... return to the front gate and ... evaluate it.”
“Damn!” Thomas swore. “I figured this would happen soon, but hoped we’d have more time.” Heading towards the door, he turned, walking backwards, issuing instructions as he went. “Prepare your weapons. If we need you, we’ll sound the bell. If this is what I’m expecting, forget about saving the children. If the adults die, they’re unlikely to escape. Frankly, we need everyone we can defending us in order for anyone to survive.”
Exiting the meeting hall, both men took off at a trot, the cool breeze blowing across Thomas’ perspiration a brief relief from the heat—which wouldn’t last long. “What’s the situation?” Thomas inquired.
“Sorry sir, but I can’t do it justice. You need to see this to comprehend what we’re confronting. It’s ... frightening.”
“Worse than what we were facing earlier? You’re right, this I’ve got to see!”
Climbing the steep ladder to the compound’s front overlook, the two men hurried to the edge.
“Damn! This is bad.”
Below them, the numbers of undead had dramatically increased from the previously overwhelming multitudes. Instead of hundreds meandering aimlessly, they were now packed shoulder to shoulder, moving together as a force, their voices united in a consistent moan.
“When did these new additions arrive?” Thomas demanded, wiping his brow.
“They just marched in, just as you see them. As they did, the ones already here fell in with them, joining the others and adopting their behaviors.”
“Shit! This is terrible. They’re acting in unison, something they’ve never done before. If one rushes the front gate, the rest will follow. There’s nothing which would keep it standing.” He turned. “Someone get Fredrick. We need to discover what’s happening. I’ve never seen zombies so organized. We’re facing something unprecedented. We need to comprehend what’s controlling their behavior.”
“We’ve called him. He should arrive soon,” Jefferson, the Collective’s second in command and military leader, said.
“I can answer a few questions for you,” Red said, stepping forward and raising a rifle. While guns and ammo were in short supply, they kept at least one rifle at the main gate, in case someone approached needing refuge. While they couldn’t fire many shots, they could slow those pursuing to give them time to enter.
Red braced the gun’s butt to his shoulder, resting his elbows on the wall’s rim. “I’ll take one down and we’ll see whether they respond in unison, or scatter. I’m guessing they’ll trample each other once they start moving. Such behavior isn’t natural for them.”
“They might also surge, en masse, towards our front door,” Jefferson cautioned. “You might be opening a can of worms we can’t close and which might kill us all.
“Relax,” Red said, closing one eye as he sighted. “I’ll target one along the fringe. If they rush him, they’ll move away. If they charge forward, they’ll crush each other.”
“Or, they may rush the sound,” Fredrick cautioned, stepping off the ladder to stand beside the others on the barricade. “If you fire you mig—”
The shot rang out. Everyone jumped and Fredrick winced. “Jeez, Red, what the hell are you doing?”
“We’ll see in a second,” he said, lowering his rifle. Everyone turned to observe the massed zombies. As usual, they’d all perked up, alerted by the sound, but so far, they hadn’t responded. As the humans waited, not daring to breathe, the wall of undead began to surge towards the compound’s walls before a lone voice shouted from below.
It was clearly a human voice, a woman’s. As the people along the barricade pushed forward, searching for the source, the zombies packed shoulder to shoulder parted, creating an opening. Into that clearing, leading towards the Collective’s citadel entrance, strode a woman with long blond hair. Most striking of all, she wore a bright white dress with large red, green and blue dots—the last thing you’d expect if you wanted to remain camouflaged. Yet the zombie’s didn’t respond to the visual provocation. Instead, they turned as one, awaiting her arrival as if part of a royal coronation. Not a one moved other than to shuffle aside to make room for her.
Without pausing, the woman advanced, waving her arms.
“Don’t shoot! They won’t hurt—” She began coughing, stopping to clear her throat while both the quick and the dead awaited her next words. “Excuse me, it’s been years since I’ve spoken, but they won’t harm you.”
Glancing around, expecting pandemonium to erupt any second, Jefferson leaned over the railing, his eyebrow arching. “Who the hell are you? Who do you represent?”
Instead of answering, she continued forward. As she progressed, the zombie’s stepped aside, even turning to observe her passing. Rather than speaking, she began humming loudly enough for her voice to carry. As she did the zombies resumed their familiar moans, only this time they were all in unison.
“Holy...” Fredrick said. “They’re singing!”
As the woman neared the gate, she turned and still singing, waved the zombie horde back. They hesitated a moment, and then thousands of mindless undead turned and began an organized movement, heading away from the compound.
Seeing her plan successfully executed, the woman turned. Thomas stepped forward, opened his mouth, but the woman held her hand up, palm first, silencing him as she continued singing what sounded like a dirge. As the zombies began to withdraw, she glanced over her shoulder. Noting they were a suitable distance away, she turned to the barricade.
“Excuse me, but loud noises disturb them.” She spoke so softly, those above had trouble making her out. She adjusted her speech, speaking a little louder. “That’s why fast movements and gunfire are such a bad idea. They ... sorry, I haven’t used English in years ... it agitates them and provokes anger. I didn’t want to shout. It would defeat my ... purpose.”
“The zombies are your friends?” Red asked, observing them slowly departing, moving farther apart the further they got from the woman.
“I’ve lived with them for years. Hell, it’s got to have been, what, five or ten years now. I was this tall,” she said, indicating about four feet with her hand.
“And they understand you?” Fredrick inquired, pushing the others aside to speak directly with the woman.
Fredrick was an unusual survivalist, wearing thick frame glasses, cleanly shaven, with long bangs hanging in his face. He seemed like a college professor, minus the elbow pads on his non-existent jacket. Now, his eyebrows were raised and his eyes opened wide, as if not believing what he observed before him.
She giggled, though she was too distant to determine what she looked like. “Not only do they understand; they speak too. Despite what everyone thinks, they’re fairly intelligent.” When the humans above her pulled back, she rushed to explain. “They’ve all suffered the same brain damage from their deaths, so they’re more akin to slow dogs. They comprehend my words, but prefer order to disorder. Since I give them directions and assist them, they follow my lead.”
“So they followed you?” Jeffery pressed. “You’re the reason they’re here?”
“Not all of them. My group is large, but we came here because we saw the others. As I said, they prefer order and structure, and recognize good ideas and results. Essentially, I’m eager to help as many as possible. We’ll all do better working in unison.”
“Excuse me, but who the hell are you?” Thomas demanded, pushing Red aside so he could join the conversation. “We’ve never heard a zombie speak, and they’ve never responded to voice commands.”
Instead of answering, the woman turned to gauge how far away her zombie friends had gotten. Raising her voice, she sang for some time, but the human’s couldn’t make out what she was saying. It sounded like a nonsensical tune, but the zombies turned, stopped and waited, taking a more relaxed posture, some even sitting or wandering around, checking out the objects surrounding them. As the humans stood agape, the woman turned back, speaking English again.
“My name is ... Leza, and yes, they’re both my friends and my family. The reason they’ve never responded is because you shout, which angers them. You’ve got to speak in a low tone, and they respond better to music.”
Fredrick glanced between Leza and her ... companions. “And that’s why you sing to them?”
“Exactly. Now you’re getting the idea.” She glanced back again, noticing the zombies were growing restless, wandering around. Turning, she began backing up. “Sorry, but I need to return. If I’m not there, they’ll get into trouble.”
Jeffrey motioned to her, indicating the safety of the compound. “You don’t want refuge, to join the human race again?”
Leza laughed. “Hell no! They’re my friends, and I can do more for them than you can for me. You’re locked in a concrete cage, without the freedom to move or breathe while I’m free and welcomed for who I am, not what I can do for others.”
She glanced back once again before speaking faster.
“A couple things: we can smell the animals. I assume you have a farm to support them. If you could, leave some raw vegetables outside the compound. If you’ve got some meat, we’d enjoy that as well, or at least I would. My friends would appreciate fresh blood, animal is preferable to human.” Glancing back, she waved. “I’ve got to go. I’ll stop back in a few days and we’ll talk again.” She turned and ran back, singing as she did, leaving the humans scratching their heads, staring at each other, wondering whether they were all dreaming.