It took Felix a long time to process the shambling undead thing before him. It didn’t occur to him to run. Not immediately. His brain, confronted with this weird creature, had to put all its efforts into rebooting. Survival instincts took a backseat. If the zombie had been only a step faster, she would’ve pounced on him, buried her teeth in his throat, torn his tender flesh from his bones.
But she wasn’t that fast, and once his senses came back, she was easy to outdistance by backing away slowly.
His first thought, when he finally did find one worth holding onto, was to deride the situation as ridiculous. He’d never found the lurching undead very terrifying, and this decayed creature struck him as more comical than threatening. Not ha-ha funny. More pathetic and accidentally goofy kind of funny.
If he hadn’t spent the last few months hiding from killer robots that he might have taken this thing more seriously, but one zombie was hardly anything to panic over. Felix appraised the situation with the level-head that had kept him alive this long.
Zombies in fiction (and up to this point those were the only zombies he had any experience with) usually died if you destroyed their brain, but he was unarmed. He deliberately didn’t carry weapons. A gun might make him feel better, but against robots, it was useless. A moment of panic, a pointless gunshot, might give away his location. Rather than risk it, he avoided them. It kept him from acting foolishly.
Right now, a gun would’ve been nice. Or a bat. Something capable of putting down the zombie dragging itself toward him. His next best option was to lead her away from his apartment and ditch her somewhere safe. The monster might be able to track him down. He had no idea how it functioned. But it would buy him time to think of something.
“Want a bite?” he asked. “Follow me.”
The zombie grumbled, sounding terribly annoyed, but she followed. It was going well until he stepped outside and noticed another person trudging down the middle of the street. He’d seen enough movies to know what to expect, and he wasn’t disappointed. This too was a member of the walking dead. The guy looked a little fresher than the woman. He didn’t bear any obvious wounds, but gray dirt covered his jogger’s jumpsuit and his eyes were vacant. The new zombie noticed Felix and wasted no time shuffling toward him.
He didn’t panic. The zombies were too slow and dull-witted to be much of a threat. It was easy to stay a safe distance ahead of them. It was, in some strange way, like a relaxing stroll with some unpleasant company. After a few blocks, he started talking to them.
“So being dead must suck.”
The jogger zombie groaned.
“Did the robots send you? Or is this just some weird side effect of that?” He pointed to the red clouds overhead.
The pair moaned.
They did respond with some manner of noise when he spoke to them, making this the closest thing to a conversation he’d had in a long, long time.
A third zombie announced itself with an angry howl from the roof of a thirty story building.
“How the hell did he get up there?” asked Felix.
The female zombie gurgled.
“Good point.” He hadn’t understood, but he didn’t want to offend her.
The roof zombie shambled dangerously close to the edge.
“He really should be more—”
One misstep sent the zombie hurtling earthward. The creature didn’t make a sound aside from the dull thud when it hit the sidewalk. Felix ran over to check on the thing.
The man, dressed in a tattered business suit, was in bad shape, even for a living corpse. His legs had been mangled by the landing and his head had cracked open, spilling some of his brains across the pavement. He didn’t move, appearing to be genuinely dead. Although Felix elected to avoid getting too close to the thing.
It had to be the brains. It was always the brains. He filed away that information.
He continued his directionless stroll through the city. He needed a good place to ditch a zombie. Ideally, he could drop them in a pit or something from which they couldn’t escape. He could lock them away someplace, but it seemed a risky proposition. Any place he could trap them in was just as easily a place he could wind up trapped in himself. He would be damned if he survived the robot apocalypse only to die like an idiot. Getting ripped apart by killer robots, he could live with that. Dying at the hands of these shuffling morons, he wouldn’t let that happen.
It wouldn’t be hard to get his hands on a gun. Every door he’d ever tried in this city had been open. The robots hadn’t just abducted every other living thing. They’d also given Felix run of the place. All he had to do was go into any of a number of gun stores or pawn shops, pick his weapon of choice. He’d never fired a gun before, but it couldn’t be difficult to shoot the shambling undead at point blank range.
He didn’t have it in him. He put aside fear that gunshots might draw robots to him. There hadn’t been a trace of the bots in the hour he led the zombies through the city. Not even the little hovering drones that served as sensor sweepers. Even if the robots came investigating, his tinfoil hat and months of experience left him feeling confident he could handle it.
He couldn’t shoot these people. He knew they weren’t people anymore, but they were close enough for a man who’d been alone for so long. The odds of Darlene and Gordon snapping out of their stupor and wanting to be his friend were slim to none, but he could hope.
Giving them names didn’t make it any easier. That’d probably been a mistake.
His best option was to trap them somewhere they couldn’t get away. Somewhere not too inconvenient in case he wanted to check on them. And he would want to check on them because the apocalypse was boring as hell and it’d give him something to do.
A jail cell would work best, but leading zombies into a small room with only one exit could go wrong very quickly. He wasn’t sure he trusted locks to hold Darlene and Gordon in check. Zombies always seemed to get through those in movies and books. He felt a bit silly relying on fiction to deal with this problem, but it was his only frame of reference.
A pit would work best. Something they couldn’t climb out of. And he knew just where to find one.
There was a fitness and sports club he sometimes visited. It was the kind of place he could never afford before the end of the world.
Darlene and Gordon followed him into the Olympic swimming pool area. He plucked the long pole with the net off the wall and tried to use it to push Darlene into the pool from a safe distance. She was uncooperative.
“Come on, Darlene,” he said. “Work with me here.”
She growled and clawed at the pole with her stiff fingers.
It took a surprising amount of effort to get her to fall, considering the sorry state of her rotting body. It didn’t help that Gordon kept advancing, forcing Felix to back away and regroup several times. They’d almost completely circled the pool when her foot slipped on the tile, and she tumbled into the water with a splash. Funnily enough, he hadn’t even pushed her. She sank to the bottom like a stone, proving zombies couldn’t tread water, much to Felix’s relief.
Getting Gordon was a bit of a chore. He was even less cooperative, but it was one man versus one zombie, which put the odds more in Felix’s favor. He tried gentle coaxing, then more insistent prodding. Finally, he gave the corpse a few good whacks and in Gordon went, joining her at the bottom.
Felix sat on in one of the poolside chairs and waited. Just to be sure either zombie couldn’t get out. They only trudged around aimlessly. Little bits of gray flesh and hair floated to the surface. He wondered if they’d bloat, rising to as the internal gasses of decay built up. The idea of roly poly walking dead trundling after him made him smile. He pictured popping them like balloons, though in reality, it would probably be less cartoonish, more gruesome. But he spent his days dodging robots and pushing zombies into swimming pools. Reality wasn’t a major concern.
Darlene and Gordon stared up at him from the depths. Darlene seemed especially hurt by his rejection.
He left them to their watery restlessness. His walk home didn’t go smoothly. Three times, he crossed path with more undead. A lone zombie dressed as a clown because there was always a clown zombie. After ditching that one at the pool, he was halfway home before running across a group of three hungry dead that proved a little more troublesome. They refused to stay in a tight group like Darlene and Gordon had been polite enough to do, but he was careful and kept them from flanking him. They went in the pool easily enough. He mastered the technique of sticking the pole between their ankles and with a twist, he could send the most stubborn undead falling in. The final zombie group was a couple of kids, maybe ten years old. He dumped them into the water like an old pro at this point.
After that, he made it home without further distractions. He went back to his apartment and for the first time in months, locked the door. He’d never bothered before because the tin foil on the walls did more to protect him from robots than any flimsy lock. Now that zombies were in the equation, he wondered if he should board up the small windows in his basement apartment.
It was nice to have a project to work on.
The cat looked up from its nap and meowed once at him.
“Honey, I’m home. You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve been having.”
He sat beside the cat and petted it. It rubbed against his hand, gently kneaded his jeans with its claws.
In a way, he felt more alive than he had in a long time. Yesterday, the cat. Today, the zombies. After months of living in a perpetual, unchanging robot nightmare, anything new was something worthwhile.
For the first time in ages, he was actually looking forward to tomorrow.
He fed the cat, fixed its litter box, played video games. Before going to bed, he watched Night of the Living Dead, both the original and the remake. Far from being terrifying, he saw it as a how-to guide on what not to do during the zombie apocalypse.
Thus prepared, he fell asleep more soundly than he had in months.