don’t know how we made it through that first summer. At first, when there were
just a few of them out there, they were pretty easy to get away from. But as
the death toll of our own grew, of course, the numbers of the walking dead grew
as well. I mean, it’s easy enough to salt, and burn, and chop off the heads of all
the corpses you can see, but you can’t take care of the dead you don’t know
all put up a brave front at the very beginning, thinking we could win. We
formed zombie-killing posses, blew up buildings housing dozens of zombies—we
hoped—came up with new ways of disposing of the dead. But it wasn’t long before
we were all holed up in our basements with our families and as many supplies as
we could rustle up, fire and firearms handy, ready to protect our own to the
bitter ol’ end.
a particularly optimistic period, we ran a primitive network of crank-powered
ham radios between each house so that we could communicate with one another.
For a while—like, two or three weeks—that was great, because it helped to know
that you weren’t the only family in town left alive. The kids really liked it,
because then they could blab to their friends about how their parents were
driving them crazy, and how they wanted to go outside and play, and all that
kid stuff. Some kids started making up their own radio shows, like they were
running some sort of network with plays and music and even a mock call-in show.
It’s just amazing how kids can bounce back from things, even something as
horrible as being chased by hordes of bloodthirsty zombies. Absolutely amazing.
the radio was fun for a while, then someone’s—I don’t want to remember whose—house
got overrun, and zombies tore up the floor trying to find the people inside. We
could hear the zombies groaning and ripping at the wood with their nails and
teeth over the staticky airwaves, and you can’t just turn off the radio when
someone you care about is about to die on the other end. It went on for hours,
the lurching, the stomping, the sound of floorboards and walls splintering. The
only noise from the family was the baby’s muffled wailing, which was probably
how the zombies found them in the first place. I turned the volume of the radio
way, way down, and took it to the corner to listen to so my wife and kids
wouldn’t have to hear the eventual screams. After that, the radio wasn’t nearly
as much fun.
though, life in the basement was pretty tolerable, and was probably going to
stay that way so long as nothing bad got down there with us. When June and I
first got married, we lived in a tiny studio apartment with a bed in one corner
and a hotplate and beer fridge in the other, and we were darned happy. You
don’t need a lot of pretty things when you’re in love, and you don’t need a lot
of silly things when you’re trying to stay alive. Me, my wife, and our two
girls were just fine living in the basement, which was nearly twice as big as
that studio apartment fifteen years before had been. We had food and water, we
had shelter, and, with a little luck, we had the time to wait out whatever was
going on with the world. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing ever is.
one thing we hadn’t taken into consideration was the cold. We spent the whole
summer sweltering in the basement, the humidity in the closed space just about
unbearable, the smell of mold constantly in the air, to suddenly being cold.
That’s how we knew winter had come. We were cold all the time, and there was no
way to build a fire in the closed-up dank basement.
After about a month
of huddling together under piles of blankets and dressed head-to-toe in our
deep winter gear, I decided to risk prying the boards off of one of the windows
so that we could have enough ventilation to light up the stove. June and I
figured that between the four of us, we could move the wood stove over to the
window—with the pipe hanging out, so that if anything tried to get in that way,
it’d get torched. Zombies didn’t seem to like fire too much, and we hoped that
a red-hot iron pipe would cause the same kind of aversion in them that an open
It was something
else to pull those first boards off of the window and see the sunshine for the
first time in months. Four months, to be exact. I mean, I could tell that the
days and nights were passing from watching the tiny holes in the boards
covering the windows, but I hadn’t seen a whole windowpane’s worth of sunshine
since we’d gone into the basement. It was beautiful. The glass was so cold it
hurt to touch, of course, but the pale blue sunlight reflecting off the snow
outside was beautiful.
And there were no
zombies outside the window. Nothing was moving. It was as still as winter in
Minnesota should be, without even squirrel footprints marking the hard white
“June!” I said. “Mary!
Allison! Come here!” I waved furiously at my girls and made them come from the
corner they were huddled in to look out the window with me. “They’re gone!”
“They can’t be
just gone,” said June, always the pessimist, but almost always right.
“Maybe they’re just on the other side of the house.”
After much furious debate, we finally decided
that June and the girls would stay in the basement with one of our shotguns,
and I would take the other and head upstairs to see whether the zombies were
truly just hiding on the other side of the house. This was my proposal from the
beginning, but it took some talking to get June’s permission.
“You better not
get killed out there,” warned my wife as I pried open the board nailing the
basement door shut as quietly and efficiently as I could. “Don’t forget to say
something intelligent and human-sounding when you’re back at the door, or I’ll
shoot you,” she added, patting the rifle stock menacingly. “If I think it’s a
zombie coming down here for one moment, I’m just going to shoot.”
“Yes, dear,” I
said, tugging at the boards a little less quietly. Four months together in the
basement was more than even a couple deeply, deeply in love could take, much
less a couple that had been married for as long as we had been. I finally ripped the last nail loose and
carefully turned the door handle, rifle cocked and ready to shoot at anything
that moved. June stood on the step right behind me, ready to shut and lock the
door as soon as I stepped out.
“Any password I
should ask for?” she asked as I turned to say goodbye.
“Just open the
door for anyone speaking English,” I answered, feeling a little giddy with
anticipation. “I won’t come back here if I’m being attacked or chased, either,”
I added, feeling more than a little
guilty for saying it as soon as I did. “I won’t be gone long, but if they’re
out there, and they see me, I just won’t come back here.”
said June, shutting the door. Yep, she was pretty pissed off. We both knew that
I wasn’t so much going outside to see how the world was doing as I was
stretching my legs and taking a walk.
The house was as
quiet as death—I mean, real death, not the shambling death that groaned
and howled over our heads all summer long. It had been pretty cold in the
basement, but a solid month of huddling with my family wrapped in blankets was
no preparation for what was probably a fifteen below degree day in the sun. I
could feel the mucus inside my nostrils and around my eyeballs growing sticky
and hard, and I quickly pulled the scarf up over as much of my face as I
I picked my way
through the living room nobody had lived in for almost half a year, trying not
to trip over the overturned and shattered furniture that covered the floor.
Whatever had been in here had been real mad. I wondered if the zombies could
smell us living people right beneath their feet, and whether or not they had
been trying to find us specifically while they had been in here.
The house was
completely empty. I poked my rifle into closets and under beds, kicked at piles
of ripped clothing in case something was hiding underneath them, and even
tramped through the attic a bit before giving up. So far, so good. I checked my
rifle before heading out into the front room, and out through the gaping front
door. I was so riled up from the sheer tension that I almost took the scarf off
my face so as to see better, but a tiny bit of remaining sanity made me keep it
on so as to not lose the tip of my nose to frostbite. My hands were shaking so
bad that I’m not sure I would have hit a zombie if there had been one waiting
for me outside, but luckily, there wasn’t.
The only thing
waiting for me outside was an endless, unbroken field of pure white snow,
frozen so hard that you could have skated right across it. The only thing that
was out of place were all the new trees and bushes that had sprung up all over
“What the hell?” I
said aloud after a couple of moments of just staring. I mean, we hadn’t been in
the basement long before for a forest to spring up around our house. I kept the
lawn pretty damned clean of debris during the summer, and one season of
negligence shouldn’t have produced so many damned trees. I stepped off the
porch and headed over to the nearest white clump, curious as to exactly what
kind of tree could take over so quickly.
As I grew nearer
to the tree, I could tell that maybe it wasn’t a tree. The gray hand poking out
through the snow was a dead giveaway, in fact. I stopped in my tracks and
raised my rifle at the thing, waiting to see if it moved, or made a sound, or
if any of the other hundreds of trees around me were going to do anything. If
those things could have moved at all, I was shit out of luck, because I could
now see that probably all of the trees were really zombies, and they were
But they didn’t
move. Not a single one of them. It was so quiet and still out that I cold have
heard a bird sing a mile away, and I heard nothing. It was kind of like I
imagine space would be, and it was too much.
“Hey!” I shouted,
more to hear the sound of something than to actually get anything or
anyone’s attention. I lifted the rifle up and held it at the ready. “Hey!” I
shouted again, demanding some sort of reaction. And I got none. I went over to
one of the zombies and kicked it as hard as I could, shaking loose pretty much
all of the snow that covered that ugly thing. Still nothing. It just stood
there, eyes crusted over with ice, glistening from the ice crystals covering
its skin. I kicked a little harder, and its arm came off.
Again, said for my benefit. Nothing moved, spoke, moaned—nothing. I turned back
to the house and shouted, “June!” Now I was running, despite the pain in my
lungs from moving against the frigid air. “June! Mary! Ally! June!” I tore
through the house and back to the basement door. “June! June! Don’t shoot!” I
shouted, pounding at the door. “They’re all gone! You’ve got to see this! Open
“Mark?” called my
wife through the basement door. “I hope to God that’s you out there. I’ve got a
“Come on!” I
called, a little quieter now. “Get dressed and come on out! It’s so cold out
here it killed the zombies!”
I heard something scratching
on the other side of the door, and a few moments later, the door slowly swung
open. My wife stood there, her rifle cocked and ready to go, Mary and Allison standing
behind her, dressed in mismatched winter clothes from head to toe and wrapped
in blankets. “Oh, my God, it is you,” said June when she saw me, lowering her
gun and carefully putting it on the ground. She threw her arms around me, and I
could tell that she had been crying.
“I swear, this is
all worth it,” I said, laughing, leading her and the girls through the house
and to the front door, trying to distract her from the torn-up state of the
house. “Those are our zombies,” I said,
gesturing grandly at the landscape outside peppered with frozen corpses. “They
can’t move. They’re all frozen, “
“What the hell
does that mean?” asked June. “Does that mean that if we get a good thaw, we’re
going to be living in the basement again?”
“I don’t know the
answer to that,” I said, truthfully, tugging at my wife’s arm to get her to
move. “All I know is that right now, they’re frozen stiff, and there is
absolutely no reason why we can’t be outside, breathing fresh air and enjoying
“And the -45
degree wind chill,” grumbled Allison, shivering. Still, even she couldn’t help
but turn her face up to the sun, blinking against the brightest light any of us
had seen for months.