By Felix Morgan
Looking For Someone To Love
Having always been fond of westerns, it seemed natural to Kate to become a Zombie Herder. She had a horse, a gun, and at any given time about a hundred zombies in various states of decay. She herded them from her ranch outside Lubbock, to the edge of the quarantine in El Paso, where she smuggled them out in exchange for supplies unavailable to the quarantined area.
When the infestation had first started, people assumed the zombies had to eat brains to survive, and that when the supply of brains dried up they would eventually starve. It turned out brains were more of a delicacy and less of staple to the undead Texans. Many people tried to hole up and wait until they died, only to discover that live people tend to starve much more quickly than dead people. So these people died. Then they got up, and started looking for brains to eat. It had been almost six years to the day since the quarantine walls had gone up around Texas, and there will still plenty of zombies. Or at least enough to make a living off of. Kate smiled behind her gas mask and signaled the rest of her team to stop and make camp for the night.
Bubba, one of the new hands, sat down next to Kate by the fire and offered her some trail mix. Kate took a handful. They crunched in unison for a few minutes.
“How long before we see the wall?’ he asked
“Tomorrow evening, if we keep up this pace.”
“Is it true it glows in the dark?”
“It’s really quite a lovely shade of green”
“So what’s the plan after that?”
“We find my contact, hand over the herd, and get our fresh supplies,” Kate said “Then back to the ranch for the winter.”
“Who in the world would want to buy a load of zombies?”
“Who wouldn’t?” Kate threw a stick into the fire. “Scientists, doctors, but the really good business is the circuses.”
“No business like show business.”
“That’s what they say.”
“How much you figure we’ll get for the rock star?”
“We’ll find out in couple days.”
“That was a mighty fine bit of work there, ma’am, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Get some rest, Bubba, we got a long ride tomorrow.”
“Yes ma’am.” Bubba lifted a finger to his hat and wandered back over to his sleeping bag.
Kate stood up and dusted off her jeans. She walked over to her tent and unzipped the door. She zipped it up behind her and took a deep breath, enjoying the smell of the relatively fresh air.
Kate got in her sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep listening to the melodic sound of a hundred zombies groaning in the night.
She opened her eyes, disoriented. Someone cleared their throat outside the tent.
“Ma’am, we could use your help out here.”
“Its one of the horses.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Kate pulled on her boots, wrestled her long red hair into a tie and fixed her gas mask in place. She put her hat on, and stepped out of the tent. She paused a moment, then reached back inside for her gun. This was her least favorite part of the job.
She walked up a small hill to where the horses were tied. Most of the hands were there, looking grim. One of them held the rope of one of her favorite horses, a gelding she called Odin. Odin’s eyes rolled around wildly. His skin had a pale green tint and was rippling slightly. There were sores on his back from where he had tried to chew out the pain. He looked at Kate as she walked up and to her his eyes seemed pleading.
Kate calmly approached the horse, murmuring quietly to him.
“Hey old boy, you just relax, everything’s going to be fine, you and me been through worse times than these.”
She scratched behind his ears and gave him some dried fruit from her pocket. When she saw that he was calm, she stepped back a pace, lifted her gun, and shot him between the eyes. She didn’t even bother to wipe the gore from her clothes. Some of the workers were superstitious about infection, but Kate knew it didn’t matter. Everyone in the quarantine was infected. As soon as they died, they’d be walking corpses like the rest of them. Kate just spent her time trying not to die.
She wore a gas mask while she worked to keep out the smell, and others had picked up the habit thinking it would make them safe. She didn’t feel like it was any of her business to tell them otherwise.
Kate walked back to camp and got a shovel. She walked back to Odin’s corpse and started digging a hole. Silently, some of the hands joined in to help. She felt her chest contract every time she looked at the sickly flesh that had once been her favorite horse. She was thankful that whatever the sickness was, it didn’t resurrect most animals. You never knew how much time they had: a few months, a couple years. Whenever it happened, it happened fast. They died in pain, and they stayed dead.
It was late in the day by the time Odin was buried. Still, everyone saddled up. The dogs ran around the zombies, barking and nipping at them keeping them in a tight formation as they shuffled on. Kate rode in front of the herd and gave the signal to move out. The procession lurched forward and moved slowly.
Tom rode up beside Kate. He had been with her five years, almost since the beginning, and knew her better than anyone.
“Hey Red, we were planning on reaching El Paso this evening. Any ideas where to make camp between here and there?”
“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”
“I’m sorry about Odin. He was a damn good horse and I know how you felt about him.”
Kate didn’t say anything.
“I need to talk to you about our contact,” he said finally.
“Earl? What about him?”
“Well that’s the thing. Earl ain’t coming this time. He’s sending a new guy. Seems now that he’s made all his money, he’s thinking it’s a bit too dangerous to come himself.”
Kate rolled her eyes behind her mask
“Well he always was a sleezeball. So who’s the new guy?”
“Well I don’t know much about him except he calls himself John.”
Tom nodded. He checked to make sure no one was looking, then pulled a cell phone out of his pocket
“You know how it is, I can only get the messages, can’t send nothing.”
“So Earl expects us to ride up to that god damn radioactive wall, pay off all the weirdoes they call guards, and then what? Call out ‘John? Toodle-oo! We have an illegal shipment for you?’”
“Well. I don’t know if we should say ‘Toodle-oo.’” Tom tried unsuccessfully to keep a straight face.
“Well we’ll figure it out. We always do.”
“Yeah.” Tom said, his smile fading. Kate kicked her horse and resumed her place at the front.
The sun was starting to set, and there was a town on the horizon. Kate didn’t know anything about the town. They had taken a different route this year, but nowadays most people were friendly. Texans had always been pretty good to their own kind, and since the walls went up there were only two kinds of people to meet: live Texans and dead ones. Kate called out to Tom to stay put with the herd and rode ahead to see if her team could find lodging there.
The town looked like it had been a small tourist spot before the sickness came. The streets were deserted but some of the houses and stores had obviously been lived in recently. Kate rode past a gift shop advertising authentic Native-American cutlery.
“Hello? Anyone here?”
Suddenly a cry erupted from one of the buildings. Kate grabbed her gun from its holster on the saddle before she the sound registered. Another cheer went up. It sounded like a crowd at a football game.
Kate kicked her horse and rode around the corner of the city hall building. About fifty people were sitting on the steps. In the middle someone was playing the piano. Kate pulled the horse to a stop. No one had noticed her yet. She pulled of her hat and mask to get a better look at the spectacle.
It looked like an old fashioned picnic. People lounged around on blankets, eating and talking. The music from the piano was lively, and some kids were dancing up and down the steps. Kate squinted at the piano player.
He was a young man, handsome, with a thick head of dark hair. He was dressed in astonishingly clean clothes, that looked to have been recently and meticulously ironed. As he played, he smiled at the audience, and when the skin of his face creased, it cracked a little. At one point he got so excited he laughed, and when his mouth opened, a piece of flesh fell from his face and onto his lap.
Kate stared. Upon closer inspection, she saw scars all over his face and hands where someone had neatly sewed his dead rotting flesh back together. Kate smiled. With a gimmick like this she could live comfortably for the rest of her life.
The piano-playing zombie finished his tune to resounding applause. Kate dismounted and weeded her way through the crowd. When she reached the center and got a good look at the zombie, she stopped short.
Many people fantasize about being reunited with their high school sweetheart. Not many people fantasize about their high school sweetheart becoming zombies. After the initial shock of it all, Kate was rather pleased to see William, especially after discovering that, although he had joined the ranks of the undead, he was still more or less the same person she had loved almost ten years earlier.
“How is this possible? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of zombies recently, and none of them could so much as form complete sentences.”
William scratched his chin. Kate remembered this gesture well, and her nostalgia was only slightly diminished by the blue-tinged skin that fell off onto her jeans. They were sitting pretty close together.
“How much do you know about the wall, Kate?”
“Enough to know there’s something fishy about it.”
“I’m pretty sure it contains a good deal of nuclear waste.”
“That would explain the guards.”
“I was one of them. Pulled out of the air force and put on duty there. I -um- died before the really odd mutations started. Regulations on the wall weren’t very strict. We usually just tossed the dead into the quarantine. I assume I mutated too, although I still have my usual number of appendages, and that’s why my brain didn’t shut down when I died. I’ve spent my time trying to find others like myself, but…” William shrugged “So how about you? I assume by the outfit you’re one of the cowboys now.”
“Yeah, I have ranch just a couple miles out of Lubbock”
“So you stayed. I always wondered, I figured you for a big city career woman by now.”
“Listen William, I have to get back to my team, we still have to put all the…uh…the herd to bed.” Kate smiled “Why don’t you come back with me? We can talk more.”
William smiled as charmingly as he could with dead lips.
“I’d like that.”
William decided to join the team on the last leg of their journey. By twilight the next day they could see the wall, glowing softly green, illuminating the desert around it with an eerie radiance. The herd was restless, moaning and stamping and beeping. Kate had always wondered what they sensed about the wall that made them so uneasy. Now she guessed she knew. She spent a moment wondering weather dead cells were affected by radiation. Tom and William rode up beside her. William was looking rather uncomfortable. The horse he was riding didn’t like the smell of him and kept trying to shrug him off.
“You ready?” Tom asked, obviously tense.
“I’m coming too,” William said decisively.
They approached the wall slowly, looking out for the guards. They spotted one pacing near a tower to the left. Kate pulled a green scarf out of her pocket and waved it above her head.
“What was that?” William asked.
“The color of money. Didn’t you ever take bribes when you were a guard?”
“No one ever tried, it was all running and screaming in my day. Besides I was stationed on the east side of the state.”
“Well, that explains it.”
They negotiated with the guard by way of shouting. Eventually he let them through the gate for a carton of cigarettes, Tom’s hat, and some nine-millimeter ammunition. They had to try several times to throw the bundle up high enough for him to catch it.
“I guess the supply lines have broken down.” William whispered.
“Sometimes I wonder about the state of things outside.” Kate said.
The guard pulled a lever on the top of the wall with one of his several arms, and a gate the size of a garage door opened.
On the far side of the gate several semis were parked in a half circle ready to take the zombies off to auction. A thin man in a suit stood next to one of the trucks. He was wearing a surgical mask and trying fruitlessly to brush the dust from his expensive suit.
“You must be John. I’m Kate and I have your shipment.”
“Alright, then.” John shifted around uneasily. “I have the supplies you requested.” He edged up to the horses and handed Kate a clipboard. He winced as their fingers brushed.
Kate looked over the checklist to make sure everything was there. Livestock, farm equipment, medical supplies. She handed the clipboard back to John, who dropped it.
“I have something extra for you too. Tell Earl he owes me big time for this one and I’ll expect payment next time.”
“Um, okay.” John shuffled around some more. “Can we do this now?”
“Certainly.” Kate nodded to Tom who rode back to the team.
William pulled Kate aside as her men drove the zombies into the trucks.
“I have to go with them, Kate.”
“I know.” Kate sighed. “Be careful of John and Earl though, they’d sell you to a traveling circus in a heart beat. Just don’t go around shouting that you can play the piano okay?”
“I’m going to go to the auction, try and find some scientist type.” William took her hand. “I’m going to figure this all out, Kate, or find someone who can. I’ll come back for you.”
“You better.” Kate smiled, but her eyes were sad.
William pressed his cold lips to hers, briefly, then walked away and was lost in the horde of zombies.
Kate turned away, and looked instead at Tom who was handing over the prize zombie to John. John seemed to forget his germ phobia in his excitement. The hot sun glinted off the horn-rimmed glasses of the shuffling corpse of Buddy Holly.