Dead of Winter: A Short Story

Note: This turned out longer than I originally anticipated, still, I like it for the most part. The ending was the most difficult part for me to write and I’m not sure it’s quite there but one has to keep trying in order to get better. And I wanted to finish it so here it is.  

 

Daniel had wanted to be a sheriff ever since he was in middle school and had watched the TV show Eureka. Enraptured with Sheriff Jack Carter, he loved the idea of working with smart people and taking care of those who needed help, of doing something with true value. Plus, it just looked like fun. So he worked hard in school, got his police badge, and proved his worth until that one day when he was elected sheriff. It was one of his best achievements.

Although he never got to be sheriff of a town like Eureka, he still enjoyed his job and the people he met and served. It was fulfilling for him (and did involve a bit of fun every now and then). He had been sheriff for almost 10 years when the zombie situation went down.

Daniel had been chasing a David Garcia all over Minnesota for over 5 months, always getting close, but never close enough to catch the fraudulent accountant. It was only a matter of time though, and one day, David slipped up, giving Daniel enough time to seize the man. They were on their way back to Saint Paul when everything went to shit. All across the country, people had been acting weird for weeks. Claims of murder and rage and strange behavior were reported on the news daily. But it was on this day, a Wednesday in late fall, when the first zombies truly appeared. Some think it was the change in weather (it was a particularly cold day) that caused the switch, but no one really knows. They only knew that on Tuesday everything was fine and on Wednesday, people started attacking, biting, and not responding to pleas for help.

Traffic  jams caused impassable roads, so Daniel did the best thing he could think of, he took David to the local prison to wait out the mess. But the mess didn’t clear after a couple of days and soon Daniel realized this problem wasn’t going away, in fact, it was getting worse. He had a decision to make, he could leave David in the prison and let him fend for himself, or he could take David with him and try to survive. Daniel thought back on his childhood years. What would Sheriff Jack Carter do? And he knew right then that he couldn’t allow David to suffer. David was in his custody when all this craziness began, it was Daniel’s responsibility to take care of him, even if he was a criminal. The handcuffs went off and the two made a pact to stick together and strive to survive until everything was sorted.

Years passed and the two fought zombies side by side. Throughout all the turmoil and destruction, Daniel and David grew closer. Daniel learned that David had been embezzling money in order to help those with illnesses pay their medical bills. It had started with his sister when she got pancreatic cancer and had led to him helping others that he had met through her. He ran from the police because he was still trying to get money to those in need. David learned that Daniel loved baseball and was on an intramural team back in Saint Paul. Their relationship grew from acquaintances, to friends, to partners. Eventually, they met up with other survivors, those mentally strong enough to kill their loved ones and not go crazy. Those caring enough to aid and protect others. Those who had nothing else to lose. Together, they created a colony and together they made a life for themselves.

It was a good life. Not like the lives they used to have, but a new kind of life. They were all close and they all cared for one another. They killed zombies that encroached on their space and on quiet days played games and had potlucks. Daniel helped lead the group that killed zombies while David helped run the colony. They had a system and it worked well. Life was fairly normal.

Three years went by when the colony got a message from another settlement. The zombies seemed to be dying out. Zombies were moving more slowly, making them extremely easy to kill, and those that were bit didn’t turn as quickly. Some even died instead of turning. It was great news and the colony hoped it was the truth. This would change everything. They could expand their small compound. Hell, they could even leave it after a couple more years if the message was true.

But the group took the message with a grain of salt. It was better to test these theories themselves before making any plans. They spent three months enticing zombies, watching and observing, killing when they got too close. All agreed by the end of the third month, it did appear that these zombies were on their last days.

The colony was ecstatic and decided to celebrate with a feast. David wanted to go through the grocery store again to see if there was anything salvageable left. No one had been there in a while since the colonists had stockpiled the majority of the food and began growing their own. But this was a special occasion and perhaps there were some nice plates or decorations that could be brought back. If nothing else, David wanted to step outside the fences and feel a glimpse of what freedom would soon be like.

Daniel agreed to go with him. David had stopped going outside the colony once he became one of the council members. Colony life took up too much time to allow him to go on the killing raids with his partner. No zombies had been spotted for over a day so Daniel told the rest of the killing crew to do what they needed, the pair would be fine. The grocery store was about two miles away and Daniel didn’t expect any trouble.

They were grabbing the last of the streamers when David accidentally tripped on the floor. It wouldn’t have been a problem, but David reached out to steady himself and ended up trying to lean against a shopping cart. He pushed it to gain balance and the cart moved down the aisle to hit a display of party favors, causing toy cars, noisemakers, and plastic tiaras to topple over. The resulting sound of falling toys and doodads echoed in the store. Daniel cringed instinctively, knowing any loud sounds attracted the zombies.

“Whew, thank goodness there aren’t any zombies nearby,” David said toward Daniel as he went to go pick up the toys. Daniel nodded, “I’m going to have another look around just to be safe,” he responded as he began to walk the perimeter of the store. Daniel spotted a zombie about a thousand feet away from the store, ambling slowly towards the building, nothing else was in sight. He knew he could take care of it on the way back home. As Daniel returned to see if David was ready to go, he found a zombie holding onto his partner, biting down on his shoulder.

Daniel shouted and ran towards the pair, tearing the zombie away from his beloved. The zombie, mouth biting savagely, bit onto Daniel’s own forearm. With a scream of pure anger, Daniel swung his bat into the zombie’s head. The zombie fell, dead for the final time.

The sound of wood smashing into brains still rung in Daniel’s ears as he knelt by David, looking him over. “What happened?” David asked, staring at the blood on his shoulder, the gash where the zombie had ripped flesh. “I didn’t see him Dave…I didn’t see him. I’m sorry. We’ll get this fixed up, though, don’t worry. I’ll make this better.” Daniel began to search for anything that could stop the bleeding and laid eyes on a pack of streamers. As he went to reach for them David grabbed his arm, “You were bit too?” David whispered. Daniel looked at David, and the two locked eyes. Daniel sighed.

“We can’t go back, can we?” David asked. His eyes downcast, tears began to well. “Damnit, why did I want to get decorations? That’s so stupid, so pointless.”

“It’s not pointless,” Daniel responded, grabbing David’s hand, “you wanted to bring joy to the colony. That’s not pointless. That’s thoughtful and kind. I just wish it hadn’t meant we got bit by some stupid-ass zombie. How did I miss him? I must be getting worse at this as I get older.”

David squeezed Daniel’s hand in response. “I should have been just as aware. It’s silly, that we’re going to turn now that the zombie infestation seems to be at an end. I was really thinking we’d get to go back to Saint Paul one day, see how it fared. Or maybe go to the ocean, it’s been so long since I’ve seen it.”

“I would have loved that. I’m sorry we won’t be able to go. I love you David. I know this whole zombie thing has killed us, but it also brought us together, and I don’t regret that. I never would have learned what an amazing man you are. How caring and wonderful you are. I’m glad I got to spend these few years with you. You’ve made my life so much better. I’ll tell you one thing though, I’m not going to let the zombies get us. They’ve taken enough from us already that I won’t give them my body,” Daniel pulled out his gun.

Tears ran down both their cheeks as they hugged and kissed each other one last time.

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

Daniel and David held each other’s hands as Daniel put the gun against David’s head. The trigger sounded and David slumped against the shelf. Daniel moved the gun against his own head and shot himself while looking at the one person he loved the most. There were worse ways to die.

 

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