“Aw shit. We’re out of beers,” the old man said. He swung his neck back, shook the remaining few drops of booze into his gullet, and chucked the crushed tin over the terrace onto thousands of zombies. They swarmed around the beer can expecting human flesh. Then; a collective grumble after realizing it was inanimate. “Ah quit moanin’, you’ll have fresh meat once ya bust that door down.” The man spit over the terrace at the groaning mass, and slumped back into his lawn chair, adjusting his rifle. He was out of breath from the ten foot walk from the edge of the terrace to his seat. He was appalled at how he had gone from being a war hero in ‘Nam to waddling around like a three hundred pound penguin with ketchup stains on his shirt. He hoped to God he wasn’t a burden to his dear nephew. On second thought what could God do for his dear nephew, who didn’t even believe in Him? He sighed for what would become of Jesse’s soul after the zombies got them.
Almost in reaction to his uncle’s thoughts, “Aw come on Uncle Shane don’t give up just yet. I just finished nailing those boards up, no way they’ll get in now.” Jesse said. Shane picked up an orange cloth and began wiping down his rifle as gently as a mother would wipe her newborn’s buttocks. Hunched over the weapon, Shane said “I ever tell you about this rifle son?” He had. Umpteen times, Jesse had heard about his triumphant veteran uncle jumping into a yurt in a Cambodian Village to save a little native girl from a landmine that would have gone off if it wasn’t for his lucky Browning Auto-5. Landmines everywhere else in the village had gone off killing hundreds but where his beloved Browning was, no siree, the landmine was miraculously dead. According to his uncle, this had happened several times. A trip wire was stepped on by a fellow soldier and just when the proverbial shit was to hit the fan, it didn’t; Shane was wearing the Browning. A Khmer Rouge soldier had a gun ready to shoot into his uncle’s profusely sweating forehead and as the trigger was pulled, there was an empty click and two very confused soldiers. Shane quickly emptied the Browning into the Cambodian before soiling himself. Jesse had heard many such variants of the same story, never knowing which to believe, if any. He ran a hand through his curly mat of hair and looked out into the fading sunlight. Once the sun went down, the zombies owned the world and had every advantage over them. He spun around to face his uncle and conceded,
“Look Uncle Shane, there’s a real chance those zombies are gonna break the door down. We need a plan.”.
Shane abruptly stopped cleaning his rifle and tilted his head in disbelief. “Now ain’t that what I been tellin ya since those maggots done ran into town from every which way?”
Sure, Jesse thought, it’s what you’ve been saying since right after you shot that damn Browning of yours into the sky. “A soldier’s salute to our new home” Shane had drunkenly slurred before thrusting his rifle into the air and before Jesse could stop him, the deafening shot had gone off and Jesse’s heart sank. The gunshot meant to celebrate this new haven they’d found high above the infested streets of Atlanta would ironically be the end of them. The noise had attracted every zombie in a five mile radius and although they were high above the streets, there was no way out if the rotting things found their way inside the building. No way to escape and get supplies which they were already out of, courtesy of his portly uncle’s eating habits. In the sweltering Southern heat, they wouldn’t last another day. The only saving grace would be the CDC helicopters they saw circling back in Abel Township three months ago. Wishful thinking of course, seeing as the CDC thought the state was cleared after their makeshift town was overrun. They were the only survivors, Jesse and Shane. Nomads now, in a world where staying alive was all the average person thought about. Not that there were other people still living in this sad excuse for a world.
Shane of course, was thinking of his precious gun. And probably about how his soul was sure to be stuck in purgatory when he died. Apparently, if the dead have inherited the earth and you’re still alive, it means judgement day came and left you behind which invalidates your ticket into heaven. Jesse scoffed at his uncle’s primitive beliefs. He didn’t believe in all that nonsense, he was a proud atheist. He also didn’t believe in luck or karma or any of that hippy dippy shit the kids these days came up with to absolve themselves of their foolish antics. In his thirty-eight years of life, Jesse Sinclair had learned that you got what you wanted by working for it, and if shit happened to you well that’s life. Jesse gazed distantly out at the horizon. He removed his prescription glasses and polished the dust off of the frames with the edge of his now faded Armani button down shirt. He passed a thumb over the engraving on one of the arms of the shades and chuckled nostalgically. “Michael Kors” it proudly read. It was the first of many brand-name items he had gotten before becoming obsessed with showing off his law degree in any way possible.
Sophia had gotten him those glasses after he made partner at the firm, although she didn’t know the first thing about the brands he always went on about. She would always smirk at him when he rambled excitedly about Gucci this and Vitton that. Hours would go by talking and cooking in the million dollar kitchen he had gotten built for her. She’d be chopping something and Jesse would hop up on the counter and go on and on about the shit he could buy with his next bonus. Soph barely ever got a word in, but in between stirs of a steaming pot or chops of a zucchini, she’d look up and laugh at his immaturity. It was a beautiful sound that always took his breath away.
She would joke that maybe she was just a trophy wife too, a law degree with a pretty smile. Every time she made this joke he’d wrap an arm around her waist and pull her towards him. “Soph, you know I love you more than any of this money. Right? I like to show off that’s all.” He would kiss her forehead and brush the hair out her face. She would smile and shake her head as if to say “what do I do with you?” They spent many a night on a terrace like this one, drinking 1951 Port with John and Molly, other Wesleyan Law survivors. They would drink under the stars as they went on about the cars they would add to their collections. They sounded like complete douchebags and they knew it. So what? At least money was tangible, dependable. There is no amount of praying that will get you what a million dollars could get you. And plus, Jesse thought, if God really existed, Sophia wouldn’t have gone out the way she did. An image of bloody intestines smeared across kitchen tile flashed through his mind and Jesse clenched his jaw.
There was scratching and groaning at the terrace door. Maybe it was John and Molly coming over for dinner. He suddenly remembered that the world had ended and his friends would not come over to drink and brag about their new Ferrari. He chuckled nervously at the ridiculous thought.
For a moment Jesse was overcome with desperation and felt like praying to whatever Shane believed existed above those orange and pink wisps of sky. He had stared at the sun for too long and when he looked back at Shane, spots of blue littered his vision. He rubbed his eyes in annoyance and put his Kors back on.
“Uncle Shane I think that damn rifle of yours might do us some good after all.” Shane stopped polishing the Browning and looked up with at Jesse with understanding; a type of tacit agreement that had never occurred between the two men, usually worlds apart in their thinking. The rhythm of the scratching got faster and the door was trembling now. The things had made their way up the stairs and were banging their dead fists against the terrace door like they were drowning and there was air on the other side.
The lethargic groans had turned to angry shrieks. Shane rose out of the lawn chair and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He gingerly handed the rifle over to his nephew. With a swift soldier’s movement, the old veteran suddenly stood up stick straight. It almost comical on his short, pear-like frame. He saluted his nephew proudly. Jesse saluted the old man back, looked up at the door as a bloody hand burst through the weak wooden boards, and shot his Uncle Shane in the head. Shane wore the proud expression on his face as he fell flat on his back, still stick-straight as a corpse. Jesse looked at the sunset until the blue spots came back and positioned the barrel under his chin. “Long live the Browning,” he said and began to pull down on the trigger.
“STOP! HEY STOP!” Jesse’s body went numb at the sound of a human voice and let the rifle hit the floor. He shuffled to the edge of the building, a man was getting out of a helicopter stationed on a terrace a few buildings down. He must not have heard the helicopter over the shrieks of every zombie in the state shuffling in the direction of the Browning’s dinner bell. “We heard your gunshot while we were circling the area! Woulda passed straight o’er Atlanta if ya hadn’t signaled us! We’re comin to get ya son, you stay right there!” Jesse dropped to his knees. A sinking feeling grew in the pit of his belly.
The man on the other terrace was filling the tank on the helicopter and Jesse was told to pack his things in the meantime. But how could Jesse explain to the man that even after three months surviving on their own, he had no things? He had had beer but that was gone. He had an Uncle who was gone too. At least he had his Kors, Jesse chuckled. And the Browning too. Jesse thought about what Soph would say about mercy killing his Uncle. “Maybe he was always a trophy. Dead weight and a Browning for protection” He heard her laugh reverberate through his chest. He had not allowed himself to think about Sophia for too long since a zombie shred her in their own kitchen until she looked like her famous barbeque pulled pork. Jesse and his wife were preparing their usual Sunday brunch when one of them burst through their door and Jesse grabbed a knife and he had not meant to but he was flustered and he had turned around and the knife had buried itself into his wife’s gut and Soph was dead before she hit the floor. He had forgotten what the news had said about how everyone comes back no matter how you died. The disease was in the air and everyone was already exposed. And after Jesse had pushed the zombie away and got ready to run out of the house, the thing had gotten his wife and she had turned and her beautiful brown eyes were green now and the zombie, unaware that she was now undead, continued to shred her like pork on their granite countertop where Soph had a rule not to prepare meat, only vegetables.
Jesse felt a lion dig his fangs into his jugular and rip out a chunk of his neck. It was not a lion, it was his Uncle and he had vomit-green eyes.