Chapter 3: Dave Henry, September 12, Year 0

The five stages of grief are well known; the three stages of joy are not. The first stage is anticipation. Any kid waiting for Christmas absolutely understands what anticipation is. The second stage is ecstasy—that’s when you’re opening the presents and find that perfect gift. The third stage of joy is boredom; a couple days after Christmas—a week tops, you’re already bored by your presents and you’re anticipating something else.

Anticipation is always the best part of joy. Ecstasy has a very short half-life, and can only be experienced live—it never replays with any fidelity in your memories. Boredom sucks.

I went through all three stages of joy about being the double-thick crème filling in a cheerleader Oreo in exactly four minutes and twenty-two seconds. I know this because I timed it with my phone. I’m a nerd, metrics is everything to me.

My mattress was a broken-down piece of crap. Someone must have donated it to the school instead of trashing it. Even before Jessie and Carolyn joined me, my ass compressed the springs enough so that if I shifted just right I could feel the floor. With the two girls’ added weight, my ass and lower back made full contact with the floor. As I sank, the girls rolled toward the center of the mattress and ended up lying mostly on top of me.

I spend a lot of time on the Internet and of course, I’ve watched porn. I’ve seen enough of it to have a good idea what’s supposed to happen when two cheerleaders invite themselves into your bed. That must be what they’d been whispering about, so I decided to let them take the lead. I waited. Talk about anticipation—it was UNBELIEVABLE. Seconds passed, then minutes. I waited some more, and then Carolyn put her hand on my thigh. I achieved ecstasy. Two seconds later, I realized she wasn’t starting something glorious; she had just rolled over in her sleep. Jessie was asleep too. It was truly a bummer to realize I wasn’t going to get any.

I’d forgotten the rules of the human herd: Good-looking popular guys get romance, ugly fat guys get used. Right now Jessie and Carolyn were using me as a human waterbed. They’d found my big, warm, soft, cushiony body so comfortable they’d fallen asleep in seconds.

I fought off the urge to blame the girls for leading me on. As the scorpion said to the frog, “Of course I stung you; DUH, I’m a scorpion.” People and things follow their nature. It’s the nature of pretty girls to use men. Every person with even a hint of observational skills knows this. The guys who get used deserve to get used.

Thinking back over the day, it was clear to me I’d broken my rule of not allowing girls to innocently touch me, starting from the time Carolyn wrapped her arm in mine. Using me as a mattress was the culmination of the girls’ daylong campaign to turn me into a ‘he’s-such-a-nice-guy’ asexual friend. Soon they’d be telling me how they wished their boyfriends were more like me. These girls are very good; the best I’ve ever met.

I was cool with being a human mattress when I’d thought Big Daddy was going to get some action. Instead, I had a pair of one hundred pound-plus sacks of inert girl meat on top of me, and it was uncomfortable. I got up as gently as possible to avoid waking them—I try not to be a sore loser, and there’s no point in being rude. I used my cell phone to light my way to the other mattress. It had slightly better springs than the one I’d left. As I fell asleep, I promised myself that I’d reset my relationship with the girls in the morning.

“Are you awake?” When I didn’t answer, the annoying voice became a hand that shook my shoulder. “Are you awake?”

I rolled away from the hand, “No.” The hand shook me again. “No, I’m not awake.”

“Dave! It’s noon already. Get up!”

Wow, it was that late? I hadn’t slept for more than five hours at a time since Mom died. The girls had propped open one of the cafeteria doors so it wasn’t quite as dark as it had been when the power went out, but it was still plenty dark. I turned on my phone; it was a little past noon and I was starving. Aw shit, I only had a quarter of my battery left. What was I going to do when it went dead? I turned off my phone, sat up and rolled my neck a couple of times to get the kinks out.

Jessie asked impatiently, “So what do we do today?”

“Let me get something to eat first.”

She shoved two bananas and a plastic bottle in my hands. I stood up. “Let’s see what the zombies are up to.” The girls followed me out into the hallway. Jessie raised an eyebrow when I put the bananas and bottle of orange juice under my arm and locked the double cafeteria doors.

I answered her unspoken question, “The school’s not secure and it’s dark in the kitchen and cafeteria. When we come back, I don’t want to be surprised by a zombie.”

She nodded.

We were on the stairs when Carolyn said, “You switched mattresses.” She sounded mildly offended. It was me and the girls against a city full of zombies. My life would be more difficult if we weren’t friends, but being at the bottom of the totem pole doesn’t work for me and I’m sure as hell not asexual, either. The next time one of them joins me in bed, it’d better be for a whole lot more than ‘I’m scared and I can’t sleep.’ I ran a couple of different replies in my head ranging from not answering her—she hadn’t actually asked a question, after all—to telling the absolute detailed truth. I tried something that wasn’t rude and wasn’t strictly a lie. “I’m really not into sharing beds.” It was the perfect response; Carolyn stopped talking about it.

The fourth floor was high enough for us to get a good view of what was going on in Boise. Abandoned and wrecked cars clogged most of the streets and all of the intersections. SUV or not, there was no way to drive out of the city now. It was eerily quiet. I was sure that the zombies I saw in the distance were making that high-pitched wail, but distance and closed windows rendered them mercifully silent. There weren’t any gunshots or explosions anymore, but there were plumes of smoke far out on the horizon.

Yesterday, zombies had been traveling in small groups of ten or twenty. There’d been about forty of them at the gymnasium. I saw six different groups of zombies swarming like ants on three-day-old road kill. Bronco Stadium at Boise State holds thirty thousand people; based on the crowds I’d seen at the stadium when it was at full capacity, I estimated that there were ten to fifteen thousand zombies in each horde.

We could see six different hordes, all with roughly the same number of zombies. We watched one swarm of about ten thousand mill around a house some distance to the south of us. The people in that house were doing something wrong because the zombies weren’t losing interest, and more of them were heading in that direction. What was going on in that house?

When the answer hit me, it turned my stomach. It had to be a barking dog or a crying baby. Killing the family dog to shut him up would be hard, but still doable. But what can you do about a baby that won’t stop crying? Jesus, I was glad I didn’t have to make that decision.

I walked out of the classroom and sat on the stairs. In all the horror movies I’ve seen, girls have no problem with wandering off by themselves. It turns out that horror movies are every bit as realistic as porn. Jessie and Carolyn followed me like we were chained together. Carolyn sat next to me and then leaned into my shoulder. She didn’t say a word. So far, I’m doing a fucking awesome job of not letting the girls touch me.

I jumped up and faced them. “This might be your last chance to get out of here. I’m betting that in an hour or two pretty much every zombie in Boise is going to be south of us. If you guys head north, you’ll probably be able to get out of the city without a problem.”

Jessie asked, “You don’t want to go?”

I put my palms up and shrugged. “I’ve gone camping a lot, but always out of a car. I don’t know how to get water unless it’s in a tap and my food comes from the store. If I make it into the wilderness, I’ll probably be dead in three days from dehydration or in a month from starvation. I don’t see any point in leaving here for anywhere else, right now.”

The redhead smiled, “Well that describes me and Carolyn, too. So I guess you’re stuck with us.” Carolyn nodded and then they both started laughing. I don’t know why—the situation wasn’t funny—but I started laughing too.

I waved for the girls to follow me. “Come on guys, let’s turn the power back on.”

Both of them said, “What!”

“Yeah, a public school this size has to have a backup generator.”

Carolyn sprinted past me and called up, “What are you waiting for? Come on!”

I ate the bananas and drank the orange juice as I walked down after her—running isn’t my thing. I didn’t know where the furnace, hot water boiler, or backup generators were, but I was sure where they weren’t. A door labeled, ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ led to a flight a stairs that descended into the basement. At that point, we had to go back to kitchen to grab the flashlight from the janitor’s toolbox. I’ve never been afraid of the dark, and I was relatively certain that there were no zombies in the basement, but I still kept my hammer out when I walked down the stairs. I shined the light into all the corners before I actually entered the room, and then the girls followed me in. The manual for everything down there—the furnace, hot water heater, and backup generator—was in a clear plastic bag taped to the equipment.

Boise High School has a natural gas generator, and it was already running when we got to it. I went over to the electrical panel box and flipped the circuit breakers all the way off and then all the way back on, one at a time. I walked over to the string light switch and tugged on it. The light came on, and the girls cheered like I’d done something impressive. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good.

This time Carolyn asked, “Dave, what do we do next?”

My smile froze as I considered her question. There’s no such thing as woman without an opinion. Why are they acting like I’m some sort of apocalypse professional? What kind of game are they playing? “What do you want to do, Carolyn?”

She smiled, “Well now that we have power again and we can turn on the kitchen lights and cook, I’d like to eat a hot lunch, but I’m willing to do whatever you want.”

“Why?”

Carolyn turned to Jessie who was starting to blush. Carolyn shook her head. “Jessie, I told you I’d tell him if you didn’t.” Jessie turned completely red and narrowed her eyes at Carolyn. “Carolyn Millicent Roberts, I will never tell you anything ever again—ever!”

Carolyn shot her an enormous grin as she continued. “Well, because Jessie’s thought you were a genius since the first week of sophomore year, and after seeing you in action yesterday and today, I agree with her.”

What? Why would Jessie think I was a genius?

Carolyn stared into my face. She put her hands up to her mouth, bounced up and down and shrieked, “Oh my God, Jessie. I didn’t believe it but it’s TRUE! He really thinks he just met you yesterday!” She slapped me in the chest with both hands and started laughing so hard she began hiccupping. “You have to be a genius—hic—only a freaking genius could be so clueless. Hic. Hic. Oh my God, I need a drink of water.” She turned and walked up the stairs giggling and hiccupping. Jessie gave me a helpless look and ran after her friend.

I slowly followed. I’m almost certain that I’ve never seen Jessie before, but then again, I go out of my way to NOT know my fellow students. There’s a good-looking redhead in my Calculus class. Like always, I’ve never paid her any particular attention. Was Jessie that redhead?

When I got upstairs, Carolyn was slurping from a drinking fountain while Jessie slapped her back. Jessie looked like she wanted to slap Carolyn upside the head with the wrench she had in her other hand.

When Carolyn straightened up, her hiccups were gone. “I’m starving guys. Let’s eat!” She headed back to the cafeteria. Jessie and I walked side-by-side after her. I examined Jessie’s profile; she did look kind of familiar. Without turning her head she said, “We’re in the same AP Calculus class. I introduced myself to you at the beginning of the year. We were also in the same Computer Applications class in sophomore year.

Well at least I’d gotten the class right. I wonder if Jessie ever had an ugly guy not notice her before. That had to be embarrassing for her. I could totally see why Carolyn was laughing. “Don’t laugh.” I told myself, “Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.”

When we caught up to Carolyn at the cafeteria doors, she and I made eye contact and we both lost it. I was laughing so hard my ribs hurt. After a few seconds, Jessie began to laugh too, but she didn’t sound like she found the situation especially funny.

The only meat in the freezer was chicken tenders and hotdogs. We’d had both of those yesterday, so we opened up a can of vegetable beef soup and had it with some toasted hotdog buns. I still couldn’t figure out why the girls trusted me so much, so I asked, “Jessie, I get we had a couple of classes together, so you know I’m good with computers and math. Why would that make you think that I’ve got any clue about what to do about the zombies?”

She wouldn’t make eye contact, shrugged her shoulders, and kept eating.

Carolyn giggled, “She’s had a crush on you since sophomore year. She thinks you’re good at everything.”

That makes no sense at all.

Carolyn dropped her smile. She gave Jessie and me a sympathetic look. “Yeah, yeah, we all know you’re not a classically handsome guy, but it’s refreshing to meet a guy who isn’t hanging all over you. And there’s nobody who’s better at not hanging all over you than a certain dude, Dave Henry. Then there’s the whole Jared Kingston thing. Here’s this humungous, muscle-bound, steroid abusing bully; he picks you as his next victim, and then for some unknown reason he throws himself down the stairs. No one knows why but the word is that you had something to do with it. After that you were” Carolyn made quotation marks with her fingers, “El Mysterioso. In my opinion, if you really did throw Jared down the stairs, you’re this close” she held her thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart, “to being psycho, but—Jared deserved whatever he got, and” she glanced at Jessie with a grin, “there’s no accounting for taste.”

Carolyn put her hand on my arm. “I’m really sorry about your mom. You’ve seemed so lost since she died. And you didn’t even tell anyone. We had to find out through the obituaries.” Carolyn started ticking off her fingers. “You’re a really smart guy who doesn’t give a girl the time of day, who’s mysteriously dangerous, and who’s silently suffering after an awful tragedy.” Her eyes lit up and her face broke into a grin. “To be honest, I always thought Jessie was crazy but I can see how you could grow on someone.”

I could feel my face getting hot. What was up with these girls? I’ve never blushed so much in my life. I didn’t know what to say. Jessie had a crush on me?

We ate the rest of the meal in silence. Every time I looked up Carolyn was smiling. I didn’t have the guts to look at Jessie. After we’d finished eating, Carolyn touched Jessie and me on the arm. “I’ll do the dishes while you two talk in the cafeteria but first, Dave was it you? Did you have anything to do with Jared’s fall?”

Jared Kingston was a kid in my class who was a combination of big, mean, and stupid. He discovered anabolic steroids in the ninth grade, and by junior year, he was six foot six and weighed three hundred pounds—almost all of it muscle. He hated anyone who was smarter than he was—which was just about everybody. That year, he seriously injured two kids on the honor roll; he broke one kid’s femur and dislocated the other’s shoulder. He claimed they’d accidentally fallen down the stairs in front of him, and the two kids he hurt were too scared to say otherwise.

He decided that I was sufficiently smart enough to merit his attention, so he started in on me. Jared liked to psychologically torture his victims before he assaulted them. Whenever he passed me in the hall he’d bump his shoulder into mine or shove me into the lockers. For the first time since fifth grade, everyone in the school knew who I was; I was the next kid who was going to have an accident on the stairs.

Jared thought he was softening me up. All he did was give me time to plan. I approached him like a programming problem. He was too big and strong for me to take on head to head, and he was too dumb to be a coward—you have to be smart enough to anticipate adverse consequences to be frightened of them. I had to neutralize someone who was much bigger and stronger than I am, I had to hurt him badly enough that he’d no longer be a threat, and I had to do it in a such a way no one would know I was responsible.

I was still fine-tuning my plan of attack when I saw him coming up the stairway I was heading for. The smart thing would have been to scurry out of his way. For some reason, I didn’t play it smart.

I sped up and got to Jared just as he reached the top of the stairs. I swung my left hand into his crotch and squeezed with everything I had. He screamed as I yanked up on his balls, he got up on tippy-toe to follow them, and I continued the motion as if I was throwing a bowling ball. To keep up with his nuts, Jared launched himself up and backwards.

All this happened in a split second, and I was three steps down before he hit the landing headfirst. I kept going, and by the time someone called for help, I was already in next my class.

The fall seriously fucked him up. Jared was out for the rest of that school year with months in the hospital and months more in physical rehab. He couldn’t remember anything between the time he walked out of his third period class and the time he woke up in the hospital.

There were plenty of witnesses in the hallway when I sent Jared flying. A couple thought that maybe I’d pushed him; everybody else swore that for no apparent reason, Jared had screamed like a madman and jumped backwards down the stairs.

Jared refused to believe he’d jumped the stairs on his own. Even though he didn’t remember what had happened, he was convinced that he’d been thrown. The cops asked him if I’d done it. He said it couldn’t have been me because I was a pussy, and I didn’t have the strength or the guts to do it. It had to have been a bigger, stronger, tougher guy. The cops had nothing. They talked to me once, but I was just another witness. The consensus was that Jared was crazy, and that the incident was a weird, messed up cry for attention. A few people still suspected that it had been me, but all they had were suspicions. It was interesting that the girls thought I’d had something to do with Jared’s accident.

Before this, Jared had thought he was invincible and invulnerable. He learned better. He knew a lot of people hated him, and he was certain that someone had hired a killer to throw him down the stairs. When he came back at the start of this year, most of his muscle had turned to fat, and he was way too busy darting from cover to cover and looking over his shoulder for that ninja hitman to start back up with me.

This episode still bothers me. Not about what happened to Jared, he did deserve everything he got. Everything had worked out perfectly, but I had acted on instinct and just got lucky. I want to know why I did that. I’m methodical and analytical; I always have a plan. I’m not spontaneous, and I hate depending on luck. I’d like to think I know who I am; what I did to Jared makes me wonder if I do.

Carolyn stared expectantly at me. Yeah, like I’m going to tell her everything. I turned to face Jessie. She wanted to know what happened too. I smiled. “If I told you guys, I wouldn’t be El Mysterioso.” I cocked my head toward the door. “Jessie, let’s go talk.”

Jessie and I walked into the cafeteria. I motioned her toward a table. I pulled her chair out for her like a proper gentleman and then sat opposite to her.

I studied her face and decided she was totally stressed out. I don’t know why but seeing how nervous she was made me comfortable. I said, “Nice friend you have.”

Jessie turned bright red. There was agonizingly long silence—to the point where I began to wonder what in hell had I done? And then she started laughing. With relief, I joined her.

“Dave…” She clearly had no idea what to say next.

I thrust my hand out toward her. She took my hand; I gave her a nice firm handshake. “Hi. I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Dave Henry. I’m the idiot who didn’t notice you for two years. My only excuse is I’m brain damaged.”

She gave me a tentative smile. “Hi Dave. I’m Jessie O’Neil.”

I kept hold of her hand. “I’d like to apologize in advance for being so forward.” I noticed she didn’t pull her hand away and her smile got less tentative. “But I’d like to ask you out on a date.”

“Really?”

“Yes, and the date is going to start immediately and it’s going to be a working date.”

She tilted her head to one side. She had no idea where I was going. “I’ve never been on a working date before. What’s a working date?”

I let go of her hand and thumped the tabletop with both hands to emphasize how shocked I was. “You’ve never been on a working date before?”

Jessie shook her head.

“A working date is when a guy” I pointed at myself, “asks a girl” I pointed at her “to help him screw doors shut all day long so zombies can’t enter their building and eat them. It’s all the rage. Everybody wants to get in on it but only the coolest kids are allowed.”

“Really?”

I nodded my head. “And even better…”

“Yes.”

“Your best friend Carolyn who just ratted you out is going to chaperone us the entire time. It’s going to be amazingly romantic. I have no doubt it will be” I used my fingers to make quotes “THE DATE you will remember the rest of your life.” I absolutely did not know where this line of patter was coming from. I couldn’t believe the words coming from my mouth—Jesus! A ‘working’ date? When did I start making air quotes like a girl? How cheesy could I be? Fuck! It was too late; the words were already out of my mouth. The best I could hope for is that Jessie had a high cheese tolerance.

Jessie gave me a smile—a real smile. It was amazing. For the first time since I’d met her, she didn’t look stressed, scared, or embarrassed. “Dave, that sounds lovely. Let’s go on a working date. But…”

Oh shit, the dreaded ‘but.’

“But let’s leave Carolyn out of it for a long as possible.”

Jesus Harvey Christ on a stick. An ultra-cute girl had just agreed to go on a date with me. Admittedly, I was the only living man alive in this building and maybe this entire city—but still, it was way cool.

We sat in silence again, but this time it was comfortable. She actually put her hand on top of mine. I decided this was as good of a time as any to ask her something that’d been bugging me ever since Carolyn spilled the beans. “Jessie, about Matt” her face tightened and she pulled her hand away, “he’s gay isn’t he?” Her face relaxed and she stared at me like I’d grown horns; she didn’t shake her head or say no. “I thought so.”

“H…how do … how did you know that?”

I shrugged. “You guys were acting like boyfriend and girlfriend when I first saw you guys and I can tell by how you guys argued that both of you really care about each other. But he didn’t stay here with you and you didn’t go with him. That’s kind of fishy. Finally, I have this feeling” I waggled my index finger between us “that you’re not the kind of girl that’d send a real boyfriend out into zombie land one day and then start dating another guy the next. So it just follows; Matt has to be gay and you were helping him stay undercover. How long have you known he’s gay?”

She still looked shocked. “Two years.”

“And Carolyn is the only other person you’ve told.”

Jessie started stuttering again. “Tha…that’s…”

“Completely obvious. Anyone who spends any time with the two of you can see you tell her everything.”

Carolyn came through the door and walked up to us. “What’s up?”

I stood up. “Jessie and I are going to spend our date screwing all the first floor classroom doors shut and you’re going to chaperone.”

Carolyn giggled. “You just said screwing.”

I was able to grin back at her without blushing because my conscience was pure. Yes, that was the word I’d used but I was sure I hadn’t made a Freudian slip. Things were going way too well for me to mess up by being a smutty perv. Who knew I could be so Rico Suave? I turned to Jessie and gestured toward the double cafeteria doors, “Miss O’Neil, our date awaits.”

As the girls headed toward the double doors, I realized I didn’t have my tools. “Um, guys” Jessie and Carolyn stopped “wait a sec.” My ego experienced major shrinkage as I thought how stupid I would’ve looked trying to screw a door shut without the tools. I made myself walk slowly to the toolbox next to my mattress. Jesus! Were chicks this hard for everyone or was it just me?

I picked up the toolbox and as I sauntered back like an extra-large model on a catwalk, I threw out my best fake confident smile at the buyers. Jesus, why had I called this a date?

I opened one of the two double doors for the girls. Like before, I locked it after us. We didn’t have far to go to get to the nearest classroom door. It was solid core wood door with a metal jamb. I put the toolbox on the floor and tried to figure out the best place to drill a pilot hole to screw the door shut. The sheet metal on the jam looked like it was thick enough to hold a screw.

Carolyn said, “Dave.”

“Yeah?” It was probably best to use at least two screws, one above the latch and the other below. I opened the toolbox. Yesterday we’d used up two boxes of concrete screws. We only had one box left and it was only a third full. There were other boxes with one inch and one-and-a-quarter inch screws—those screws weren’t long enough. God dammit! We didn’t have enough screws.

“Dave, do we really have to screw the doors shut?”

What do I do now? Dammit! We had to secure this building!

“Dave?”

Crap! Fuck! Shit! Where was I going to get more screws? “That was the plan. We got a problem though; we don’t have enough screws.”

She grinned. “Why don’t we just flip the door knobs around? You know—so the doors lock in the right direction?”

Jessie grabbed Carolyn’s arm with excitement. “That’s a great idea!”

Was that possible? Could we do that?

I examined the doorknob. I didn’t see any screws or an obvious way to take it apart. Maybe there were screws on the other side. “Guys, I need to open this door. Jessie, would you go unlock the cafeteria doors? If zombies see us, we’re going to need to get through those doors quick.”

Jessie went over to the cafeteria doors and unlocked them. She left the keys in the lock so it’d be easy to relock them.

My throat was dry. It was time for the big reveal, but I did not want to open this door. What if there were zombies waiting by the windows? What if the locks couldn’t be reversed? My hands were clammy with cold sweat as I turned the knob and slowly cracked the door an inch. I peered inside with one eye. The sunlight was blinding.

I blinked rapidly and felt my eyes tear up but I forced my eye to stay open. I HAD TO make sure that there was nothing moving outside the windows. There were no zombies. I looked down at the inside doorknob. Yes! There were screws on the doorplate on this side. “Carolyn, can you keep an eye out for zombies while I work this? Let me know if you see anything moving outside.”

“Sure Dave.”

I took out the two screws and then pulled on the knob. It slipped off exposing two straight metal prongs. I pulled the other knob off just as easily. Reversing the doorknobs was just a matter of switching the knobs and then tightening up the locking screws; it took less than a minute to get it done. I locked the door and tested the classroom side knob. It wouldn’t turn. I closed the door and gave my blonde genius a bear hug. “Carolyn, that was a great idea!”

Jessie put her arms around both of us.

I wasn’t nearly as freaked out when I opened the next door. Again, I peered through the inch wide crack. Again, there were no zombies. While Carolyn and Jessie kept watch, I switched the doorknobs.

Jessie wanted to switch the doorknob on the next door. Carolyn and I stood watch. We could have gone faster if we’d worked on two or even three doors at the same time, but we decided that to be safe, we needed at least one person watching for zombies while another worked. With there being three of us the numbers just didn’t work.

We’d been at it for a while, and it was around dinnertime when Jessie said, “Guys, I’m hungry. After this last door, let’s eat.”

Carolyn replied, “Sure.”

I opened the door a crack. It’s funny how fast you can get used to anything. The first time I opened a classroom door today, My heart had been pounding. I was back to being Mr. Smooth as I put one eye up to the crack to check out the room. When I caught sight of the windows, I almost lost control of my sphincters. Between our last door and this one, a horde of zombies had come up on the street in front of our building. A solid wall of lurching zombies filled the windows.

I slowly—very slowly closed the door. Jessie and Carolyn were staring at me. They could tell by my face that something was wrong. I said in a low voice, “There’re zombies right outside the windows. Let’s go eat now.”

I picked up the toolbox and started walking quickly back to the cafeteria. It wasn’t like anything had really changed. I’d seen them before from a distance, but there was an enormous difference between seeing thousands of zombies from a couple miles away versus many, many, many from less than fifty feet. I had to struggle to keep from running.

I opened the cafeteria doors. Man, I was glad the lights were on. It would have sucked to have shadows I couldn’t see into right now. After we were all inside, I locked the doors and felt some of the stress release from my shoulders. Carolyn gave me a curious look. “Dave, how many were there?

I gave her a tight smile. “A whole shitload of them.” I walked toward the kitchen and glanced at the cafeteria windows we’d boarded up with tabletops. Earlier today, they seemed so secure. I wondered how long it’d take for thousands of zombies to tear them down—weeks, days, hours? Zombies aren’t that strong but then they also don’t get tired or discouraged. My optimistic best guess was that it’d take zombies a couple days to break into the cafeteria. I felt my shoulders tense up again.

Jessie came up behind me and Carolyn and put her arms around our shoulders. “Guys, how about tuna fish sandwiches for dinner?”

Carolyn turned to face her, “That sounds great.”

They went into the kitchen and I slowly followed them. Where in hell were the police or the National Guard? What was I going to do if the zombies figured out we were in here?

Yesterday zombies had been pounding on the door the girls and their friends had come in. We’d gone by that door a couple times today and I hadn’t heard anything. How long had they stayed outside that door? How long did it take for them to lose interest?

While Carolyn and Jessie started rattling pans for dinner, I turned on my phone and dialed 911. I didn’t get an ‘all circuits are busy’ message but no one picked up. I wasn’t even sent to voicemail. I didn’t have much hope but I called my dad. This time, it went straight to his voicemail. “Dad, it’s Dave. How’re you doing? Where are you? I’m holed up at school and I’m fine. Call me back soon…I…I love you.”

The girls stopped what they were doing as soon as they heard me talk. Both of them pulled out their phones. Carolyn got sent right to voicemail too. I heard her leave her mom a message.

Jessie said, “Mom. Mom, you’re okay! Oh my God! You’re okay!…I’m good. I’m with Carolyn and another student, Dave. We’re safe inside the main building at school. How’s Dad and Jason?” Her happy squeal told me the rest of Jessie’s family was fine.

Jessie switched to speakerphone.

“Sis, I wish we were at school with you! It sucks here at the shelter!”

Carolyn screamed, “I’m so glad all of you are all right!”

“Carolyn, how are you?”

“Jessie, you’re school hasn’t been built up to resist zombies. How are you keeping them out?”

I was happy for Jessie but hearing her talk to her parents—especially her mom—made me feel like I had a hole inside of me.

Jessie’s family was at Timberline High School. The government had put up steel shutters on Timberline’s first floor windows and replaced the glass doors with solid steel ones. They’d been fortunate enough to be some of the first people to get to the shelter, so they’d gotten in without a problem. But from the sounds of it, the people in the shelter were not happy campers.

Yesterday morning, a group of men locked all the doors while living people were still trying to get in. Mr. O’Neil tried to prevent them and got knocked around for his troubles. He thought the men who’d locked the doors were murderers. About half of the other survivors in Timberline agreed with him; the rest thought he was a bleeding heart that almost got the shelter overrun. Emotions were running high.

Jessie and her family probably would have talked for hours if her cell phone hadn’t beeped to let her know that her battery was out of power.

“Dad, Mom, my battery is almost dead. Please call me tomorrow. Use Carolyn’s number. I love you guys.”

Her mother started crying. “I love you too, hon.”

“Sis, keep it tight.”

“Honey,” Jessie’s dad’s voice broke “be safe. I love you.”

Jessie had tears running down her face as she turned her phone off. Carolyn took Jessie in her arms.

I had a scary thought. I turned my cell phone ringer to vibrate only. “Hey Carolyn, do me a favor. Make sure your cell phone is on vibrate. It’d suck to have it ring at the wrong time.”

Carolyn let go of Jessie. “Oh sure, that makes sense.” She pulled out her phone. “But, I don’t know if it’ll matter for much longer.” She made eye contact with Jessie with a frown, “My battery is going to die soon too, but I’ve got to keep it on in case my mom calls.”

Shit. Carolyn was on the verge of crying too. “Um.” I got their attention. “After we eat and after we finish up with all the first floor classroom doors, we can start searching through all the lockers in the school. There’s bolt cutters in the Janitor’s room that should take the locks off. I think the odds are good that we’ll be able to find a charger that will work on at least one of our phones.”

Before I could react, Jessie ran to me and kissed me on the cheek. I don’t know how she did it—she was taking sponge baths from a bucket just like me—but she still smelled great and her lips were warm and soft.

During dinner, I learned the definition of giddy. Before this, I’d never seen anyone drunk with happiness. If I hadn’t known better, I’d of thought Jessie had downed a six-pack. Carolyn wasn’t much better. I could tell she was still worried about her mother but she obviously knew and really liked the rest of the O’Neils; she was almost as stupidly happy as her best friend. I noticed that neither of them mentioned Carolyn’s dad. I was curious why, but I didn’t want to harsh their buzz. The girls were so entertainingly goofy that I almost forgot about the horde of zombies just outside our building. I was sorry when we finished eating and we had to get back to work.

We went up to the third floor again I took a peek out one of the windows, and the girls did too. The zombies had moved off, but it wouldn’t take much to stir them up and bring them back.

Jessie and Carolyn wanted to work on two doors at once to save time but that would have meant that one of us wouldn’t have a lookout. I really had a problem with that. We stayed with our original system.

We had nine doorknobs left to reverse, and it took less than an hour to get them done. Damn, it felt good to have more than double paned windows between us and the zombies. Carolyn wanted to open lockers so bad she actually started jumping in place. We ended up running to the Janitor’s office.

I went to the closest locker from the office and cut off the lock.

Jessie said, “Dave, do three so we can all look through lockers at the same time.”

That made sense. I cut through two more locks.

My first locker was owned by a guy and all he had in it were some books and toxic waste level stinky shoes. I cut off another lock and went through another locker.

“Oh my God! Jessie, Heather Little has a pack of condoms in her locker.”

Jessie started giggling. “So much for her being a virgin.”

“Yeah, Miss Holier-than-thou has protection.”

Did this conversation mean Jessie and Carolyn weren’t virgins? Did I want them to be virgins?

I was probably getting ahead of myself but I really starting to like both of them. It was unbelievable that I was kind of on a date with Jessie. Who knew what was going to happen tonight? I could feel my palms get clammy as I thought through the possibilities.

“What was that?’ Jessie had her head turned down the hall.

Carolyn said, “What are you are you talking about?”

“Don’t you hear that?”

Now that I was paying attention, I could hear something pounding on the glass doors next to the cafeteria. If zombies got between us and the cafeteria, we were fucked! I ran toward the sounds.

As soon as I saw that zombies weren’t flooding in through the doors, I slowed down to a fast walk. As I got closer, it was obvious that someone or something was slowly pounding on the door. The rolls of paper we’d taped over the entryway made it impossible to see who it was.

Jessie whispered, “Oh my God! Who is that?”

I shook my head. I whispered back, “It’s a what not a who. Someone alive wouldn’t just hit one place like that or hit that door so slowly.”

Carolyn put her hand on my shoulder. “What do we do?”

Jessie whispered again, “Wait here guys, I have an idea.” She ran back toward the Janitor’s office. I noticed she ran on the balls of her toes to try to keep the sound of her footsteps down. It was working because the zombie outside wasn’t screaming like they always did when they were after prey.

I wanted to see if the zombie was damaging the door ,but to do that I’d have to uncover some of the glass.. If the zombie saw me, it’d kick up a fuss and draw more. I just stood there wondering how long it’d take for the zombie to do some real damage to the door.

Jessie came back. She kept going up the stairs and motioned us to follow. At the top floor we went into a classroom that overlooked the entryway. She went up to a window, slowly lifted the blind a few inches, and then slid the window open the same amount. “Dave, do you have something that’ll cut through the screen? It’s comes out, but to do that we’ll have to put the blinds up all the way and I’d rather not.”

God, I hoped the zombie didn’t see her. I took the multi-tool from my belt and cut an L-shaped slit in the screen.

Jessie pulled a small makeup mirror out of her pocket and carefully angled it out the window so she could see the entryway. “It’s Mr. Johnson.”

“Can I see, please?”

Jessie handed me the mirror. Before I stuck my hand out, I took a quick look for any other zombies. I put the mirror out the window and angled it down. Yeah, Jessie was right. It was Mr. Johnson, my computer teacher—the only one in this school who wasn’t a complete moron. He was never all that good looking, but I’d seen him look better. All he had on was boxers, and his skin was pasty grey. A sixty-plus-year-old potbellied bald guy in his underwear out on the street should have been funny. It wasn’t. He kept hitting the door with his right fist over and over like a slow metronome.

It was hard to tell because the mirror was so small but it didn’t look like he’d done any damage to the door yet. I pulled my hand back in. I knew what I had to do.

I turned to face the girls. “We’ve got to take him out.”

Carolyn asked, “What’d you mean?”

“Exactly what I said: we’ve got to take him out.”

Jessie said, “Dave, let’s just wait until he loses interest and goes away.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think he’s going away. I don’t know if you guys noticed but zombies always scream when they’re chasing people.”

Carolyn scrunched her eyes as she thought out loud. “Yeah, now that you’ve mentioned it, you’re right.”

“Mr. Johnson’s not screaming. He doesn’t know we’re in here. He just wants in. I don’t think he’s going to lose interest. If he keeps bashing against our door, he’ll eventually break in. We need to take him out now.”

Jessie slowly nodded. “Dave, I think he probably will lose interest, but I’m okay with getting rid of him. How do you want to do this?”

“Even before he turned zombie, Mr. Johnson wasn’t all that fast, coordinated, or strong. Let’s just open the door. As soon as he comes in, I’ll bash in his head.”

Jessie looked shocked. “You’re going to bash in his head. Aren’t you and him…?”

“That thing isn’t the Mr. Johnson we know, not any more. It doesn’t think. It doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t know us. All we are to it is food. I can do this. We need to do this.”

I handed the mirror back to Jessie and walked back down to the entryway. Mr. Johnson was still banging on the door. I whispered, “I’ll stand flat against the door on this side. If you guys open the door on your side and then stand behind it, I think he’ll just head straight in. I’ll take him out while you two close the door.

Jessie gripped my arm and brought her mouth to my ear. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yeah.”

The girls brought out their weapons. Jessie had the hammer and Carolyn the wrench. My heart was pounding and my mouth dry as Jessie got ready to pull the door open and Carolyn got behind her.

When they looked at me, I gripped the crowbar like a Louisville Slugger and silently mouthed, “Go!”

The door opened and Mr. Johnson shuffled in. I let him get three steps inside, stepped forward, and put all of my weight behind my swing. The girls closed the door as soon as I moved, and the crowbar crushed his skull with the sound of a watermelon hitting the pavement. I put too much into the swing; I overbalanced and landed on top him when he went down.

His head had deformed around the crowbar. At the time, I didn’t know how lucky we’d been that there’d been almost no splatter. He was cold, and he didn’t so much as twitch.

Jessie said, “Dave.” It was hard to make anything out clearly because of my tears. “I think he’s dead.”

She was right. I was on my knees when I said, “I’m sorry Mr. Johnson. I’m sorry I never told you how great a teacher you were. I should have told you when I had the chance.”

Jessie put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. Her hand made me feel like I wasn’t alone. You’d think that stop my tears—you’d be wrong. It was pathetic, deep broken sobs came out of my mouth. I missed my mom. I was fucking worried about my dad and I’d just smashed in the head of the one teacher I ever liked. I couldn’t believe I was being such a pussy in front of Jessie and Carolyn but I couldn’t stop.

Go to Chapter 4: Ari Levin, October 2, Year 1.