Year of the Dead-Chapter 1
Chapter 1: Mark Jones, September 13th, Year 0
My name is Mark Jones. I’m a 46-year-old trust-fund baby, living in Sugar House, Utah, an older suburb of Salt Lake City. I lost my parents when I was 22 and ever since then I’ve had a trust fund that paid me 300 thousand dollars a year.
The only reason to work is because you need the money. I don’t need the money. I’m not interested in getting a job and I am always looking for something to distract me. One of the ways I distract myself is by taking on projects that use up a lot of time, like running a 100-mile race. The most famous 100-mile race in Utah is the Wasatch 100—a hundred-mile, 5700-feet-of-elevation-gain-trail run that goes from Layton to Sundance every September. My goal was to run the race in less than 30 hours.
For the last six months I had been spending from 30 to 50 hours a week running the mountain trails around Salt Lake and Park City. My respect for the guys, who do this kind of stuff, while working and having families, went up a lot. After eight hours of running in the mountains surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, all I wanted to do when I got home was to eat a huge meal, drink one or two beers, watch a documentary from the History Channel that I had TiVo’d, and go to sleep. It was one of the most Zen periods of my life.
While I was training, I didn’t read a newspaper, surf the web, or watch the news. When I needed a break I’d call some friends and go out to a B-grade action movie and or a sports bar. There wasn’t much call at a movie or a sports bar to talk about current events.
On September 10th and 11th, I ran the Wasatch 100. I had heard great things about how well-supported the race was. It wasn’t. There was hardly any support and there were surprisingly few runners. It took me 25 hours and 32 minutes to complete the race. I had trained properly so the lack of support wasn’t a big issue. After the race I went home and slept almost continuously for 48 hours.
My home was built in the 1950s. It’s one of those post-World War II brick homes with real hardwood floors, a detached garage, and a small fenced-in back yard. I had 1000 feet of finished space on the main floor; a small cubbyhole of a finished attic that could have been, but never was, used as a guest bedroom; and a finished basement that I used as my bedroom. I bought the house ten years ago and for the first six years I spent all my time working on the house.
In the basement I have no windows. I generally sleep whenever I am tired, which as often as not is during the day. After the Wasatch 100, all I did was sleep, occasionally getting up to drink some Gatorade, eat some cold pasta out of the can, and go to the bathroom. Two days later I felt human. I looked at the alarm clock and it was 10 a.m. I’d gotten enough of the darkness and wanted to see the sunlight. I got out of bed, threw my robe and went up to my upstairs kitchen. The only place I have to sit up there is a single stool next to the island. I have a coffee maker, along with a small laptop that I sometimes use to surf the news. These two appliances were the only two things I use on the main floor.
I made some coffee and started up the laptop for the first time in months. My Yahoo homepage didn’t come up. I checked my local wireless signal strength and it was good. After working on this for a few minutes and getting frustrated for the first time since I’d walked upstairs, I looked out my windows. What the fuck! My entire neighborhood looked like a set from a zombie movie. There was a car turned over in front of my house, multiple car wrecks, a house three doors down from me looked like it had been burned, and I saw two of my neighbors in zombie costume wandering in the street.
Because of where I live, I couldn’t escape the fact that all three High School Musicals were filmed in Utah. It is cheaper to shoot films here than in California but it had to be expensive as hell to set up a zombie scene on a residential street, much less burn down a house. I couldn’t get my home page to work or log on the Salt Lake Tribune or Deseret News Websites to find out what was happening, so I put in a Google search for the terms zombie and Sugar House, Utah. The only thing that came up were articles that had been cached and all those articles were about zombie outbreaks. I was thinking that this had to be a joke. I couldn’t get connected to any news sites. I’ve got some acquaintances who had the IT know-how to mess with my home network, but we weren’t good enough friends for them to bother playing an elaborate prank on me. I read some of these articles. It was an incredibly detailed batch of fake archived news stories about a zombie outbreak that had started earlier in Africa and then spread throughout the world.
These articles were intense. They were labeled as being from Fox News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and bunch of other papers whose names I didn’t recognize. I remember when that indie movie, “The Blair Witch Project” came out. One of the coolest things about that movie was the Website that gave the background to the movie. This Website had eye witness reports, blogs, newspaper articles, and everything else you could think of, giving the appearance of a real documentary. Everyone I knew that had checked out the Website before the movie went to see the movie. Some production company had obviously decided to do “The Blair Witch Project” with a lot more money. This was too involved and cost too much money to be a prank.
One of the first things I did when I started working on my house was to install one of the best surveillance systems on the market. The cameras outside my house are all disguised. I have enough hard drive space dedicated to these cameras to hold about a week’s worth of video.
I thought it would be cool to observe the movie crew setting up in my neighborhood so I logged on to my laptop and backed up to the surveillance tapes on September 11th to when I had come home from the race and then fast-forwarded the video from then. September 11th; hmm, I thought the producers of this movie were pushing the boundaries of taste in choosing this date. An hour into the video replay, I realized I had just missed being awake for the show. I saw neighbors coming out of their homes with their bags and loading up their cars and trucks within minutes of each other.
Wow, this was realistic. I wondered why I hadn’t been contacted to take part in the filming. Everyone was leaving at the same time. There were quite a few people who looked sick, who were moving slowly, or who were getting help from relatives to get into their vehicles. I saw a traffic jam form in a cul-de-sac in a quiet residential neighborhood street. I couldn’t believe the amount of detail that was being put into this movie. None of these people were professional actors. They were clearly my neighbors. I was really surprised by the quality of the acting. Everyone, including little kids like 6-year-old Sarah from a house a few doors down from me, were in character.
Even though there was no sound, I was really enjoying the show. I made a note to myself not to overwrite this footage. The traffic jam had cleared and there were only a few neighbors left in their homes. Most of those were also packing up their cars and getting ready to leave when the zombie attack started. It occurred over a period of minutes, but all the people who looked sick started attacking everyone else. With all the biting and the screaming, it was just like a Romero movie. One lady— Mary somebody—was swarmed by five zombies and was knocked off her feet right in front of my house. The zombies started devouring her. This was hilarious and really well acted. Most surveillance cameras take such low quality video that facial features can barely be recognized. My cameras take high-def video that matches the quality of some of the best home video equipment.
Because the zombies were all over Mary, I was having problems seeing all the details of the attack. I expanded the screen shot so I could see her face and part of her right shoulder. I didn’t know her too well. I’d say hello when I saw her in the neighborhood. I didn’t know she was a professional actress. I couldn’t believe she was an amateur because she really looked hysterical. Then I saw it. One of the zombies bit off her nose. This was sick; I mean it’s ok to bite a neck or an arm, but disfigurement of someone’s face, even in a movie? That’s just wrong. This was sick enough to watch again.
As I was watching the scene again, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. This wasn’t the fascinated, entertained sick feeling I’d had moments before. I had this kind of sensation just once before in my life, when I was in college. I had walked into a party at a friend’s apartment. The first thing I focused on was two guys with facial hair on a couch, French-kissing. I had grown up in Ohio; and this was the first time I had ever seen two guys making out, and man, were they making out. I must have stood there for a few seconds before my conscious mind could remind me that what they were doing was ok and that I was personally ok with it and I needed to move on, but to this day I remember that feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. Since then I’ve seen other gay men making out without ever getting the same response. This was the first time since then that I had experienced that same sick feeling.
I reversed the video again, watching the zombie bite off Mary’s nose one more time. I no longer felt sick; I was terrified. The kind of special effects it took to simulate the blood coming from Mary’s wound and the appearance of that wound could only be done with CGI. This wasn’t CGI. This was real.
I focused my eyes away from my laptop to the street outside my window. Less than 50 feet from me, there were two zombies walking slowly on my sidewalk. They looked like my neighbors the Harrisons, but a deadened, deranged version of that retired couple. For the last hour or so I had been sitting in my tighty-whities and a bathrobe, less than 50 feet away from the zombies, with just a couple of double-paned, thermally efficient windows between me and them.
So why hadn’t they seen me? I don’t have curtains on any of my windows. It dawned on me that the sun was shining on my windows facing the street. The glare from my windows was probably making it difficult to see into my kitchen. Shit; I had come upstairs around 10 a.m. My laptop now said it was 11:12. The closer it got to noon, the less glare I would have on my windows. I had to get out of here but I had to do it silently and make sure that I didn’t have to come back up for awhile. I reached over to the coffeemaker and turned it off. Instead of turning off my laptop with my mouse through the start menu, I pulled out the power cord. I didn’t think the zombies could hear my laptop powering down but I didn’t want to take the chance. Zombie eyes are probably like humans in being drawn to motion. My sitting here unmoving in front of the laptop was probably as important as the glare from my windows in keeping me hidden from them.
As slowly as I could, I moved out of my stool and back toward the door to the bedroom stairs. When I hunt, I try not to look at the deer directly. Instead, I use the corners of my eyes to keep them in sight for as long as possible. You would think it wouldn’t matter how you looked at an animal, or for that matter, a human, but a lot of hunters will tell you that animals can tell if someone is staring at them. If you stare at a woman in a bar, she will almost always meet your gaze. All I know is that I have a better chance of bagging a deer if I track it with my peripheral vision than when I stare at it directly. I don’t know if zombies are the same as deer, but why take chances? I kept an eye on the zombies in front of my house through my peripheral vision.
For the first time since I had gotten upstairs, I scanned all the windows of my house on the main floor. It is basically one room, so the windows on all sides of my house were visible. My backyard and two side yards were empty. I had left the door to my bedroom stairs open, which made it easier for me to slip inside. I closed the door slowly, moving it a couple of inches every minute. I had no place to go, so I had all the time in the world to get this done right. Visible motion was my enemy. If I was seen, I would die.