Chapter 10: Jim Wright, October 8th, 4 p.m., Year 0

After I finished my business, I called out, “Frank, Ryan, get your asses here. I just got off the phone with Mark Jones. He wants us to call him back.”

I met Mark for the first time about a month after I’d gotten divorced. I had a lot more free time so I hooked up with the Wasatch Mountain Club and went on a couple of club-organized Tuesday evening mountain bike rides. Mark and I hit it off and ever since then we go out every couple of weeks or so for some beers or to a movie. The best and shortest description of Mark was made by Ryan, who met Mark for the first time in early June when he and Frank moved in. I had invited Mark over for some pizza and beers with us. Mark only lives a couple streets over. Ryan commented after Mark left “that fucker is a real-life Bruce Wayne.” Ryan was right. Mark is rich. He doesn’t work. He has an underground hideaway that you can get a car into. He even fights crime. He is Batman.

Shortly after I met Mark, he made the local newspapers. He and I had gone downtown to see a local Ultimate Fighting Championship fight. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is huge in Utah, with weekly bouts in a couple of different venues downtown. In the 1990s, Mark used to compete. He never talked much about it but I heard from other guys that he kicked ass. We had stopped for gas and were in the convenience store when two Tongan gangbangers tried to rob the store, and us. A bunch of Tongans converted to Mormonism and moved to Utah. It is a common story of ethnic migration. Hardworking parents move to the US for a better life. Some of their kids, instead of taking advantage of their parent’s hard work, wasted their opportunities and became gangbangers.

These guys had the gangbanger look down. Both were covered with tattoos and both had that square block Polynesian look, six foot tall and about as wide. The one with the shaved head went up to the clerk, pulled out a gun, and told him to open the cash register. The one with the flat-top haircut walked toward us with one of the largest bowie knives I’ve ever seen. The blade had to be over a foot long.

I’m 6’3” but I weigh 175 pounds on a good day. I’m an average lover and I’m a much worse fighter. The last time I was in a fight was when I was twelve, and I got my ass kicked. Mark is maybe 5’9” if he is wearing shoes and he weighs less than I do. The flat-top guy had to weigh close to 300 pounds and it looked like a lot of that was muscle. When gangbanger told me to give him my wallet, I said “sure” and reached into my pocket to give it to him.

At the time, Mark had the door of the cooler open and was reaching for a can of Bud Light. Instead of saying what I expected him to—like “Sure, I’ll give you my wallet”—Mark said something completely off the wall, “You think your friend wants a beer?” Both the Tongan and I paused, like you do when someone says something that makes no sense at all and you’re trying to figure it out. We were both thinking “Did he say what I think he said and why would he say that?”, Mark proceeds to winds up like a major league baseball pitcher and throws that can of Bud Light at the shaved guy’s head. The can must have been going close to eighty miles an hour when it hit the back of his head. It exploded and the guy just collapsed. I read in the Salt Lake Tribune that his skull was fractured and he was in a coma for three days.

The one with the knife, not surprisingly, then decided to stab Mark. Calmly, like he had all the time in the world, Mark stepped to the outside of Flat-top’s arm, grabbed his right wrist with his own right hand, then pushed his left palm into the back of the guy’s right elbow while it was straight. I heard a crack and then saw the gangbanger’s right elbow bend the wrong way. The poor guy screamed, dropped the knife from his right hand and reached for Mark with his left. Mark then did the same thing to the guy’s left elbow and then, for good riddance, kicked Flat-top’s left knee and broke it.

The Salt Lake Tribune, the more liberal of our two local newspapers, had an editorial recommending that Mark be prosecuted for use of excessive force. According to the Tribune, Mark should have given the gangbangers his wallet instead of permanently harming them physically. Utah is one of the reddest states in the Union; no prosecutor who wanted to keep his job was willing to take this case.

When straight guys meet Mark, they have one of two reactions. 1. They hate him because he is an arrogant, cocky son-of-a-bitch and, as a friend of Mark’s, I have to say they are right; or 2. They get a man-crush because “Dude! He is cool”. He’s the closest thing to a real-life superhero that most guys will ever meet. I’m a 33-year-old guy that reads comic books and plays with air guns. I had a man-crush. Ryan had an unusual reaction. He both hated Mark and had a man-crush, explaining the term “fucker” and the comparison to Batman.

Mark and I weren’t that close. On average we’d see each other a couple times a month. Mark came over to the house when Frank and Ryan moved in with me. We all went out for beers to a sports bar a few times afterwards. After hanging out with Mark a couple times, Frank and Ryan were convinced that Mark was a mutant. You have to understand that, in June, everyone in the US was panicking because of the zombies. People in the US split into three major groups: the largest group thought it was a possibility that the US would be overrun by zombies and procrastinated preparing; a smaller group thought that an outbreak in the US was a real probability and started preparing; and the smallest group, which kept getting smaller, refused to believe that an outbreak in the US was possible.

People got uncomfortable talking about their disaster prep, because you didn’t want to brag if you were more prepared, or to get jealous if you were less prepared, or stress out someone who thought the government was going to protect them. Regardless of what you were doing or what you believed, it was stressful. Almost all social gatherings were tense. My house was the only one on our street with boarded-up windows. Our active LDS neighbors planned on holing up in the ward. Our non-LDS neighbors had plans to leave the city for cabins and homes in more rural areas, or kept on talking about how they were going to board up their windows, but never got around to it.

I’m a computer programmer, Frank is a mechanical engineer, and Ryan is a lawyer, so we all made a decent living. None of us would have ever considered moving in with each other if it weren’t for zombies and the need to have each other’s back. It was a nerve-wracking time. Frank, Ryan, and I were all single guys without families in Utah who didn’t go to church. We ended up with each other because we didn’t know anyone else and because we felt better off being in a small group where everyone was competent than being in a large group potentially filled with idiots. Ryan can be annoying but he’s definitely not an idiot. I used to be a Temple-recommend member of the LDS Church; I know all about being forced to spend time in groups with a decent percentage of idiots.

I’m not saying that all Mormons are idiots. The LDS Church was one of the few large organizations that actually had its act together in terms of disaster prep and I was a practicing Mormon until three years ago. By definition, fifty percent of every large group that lets anyone join is below average. I’m a computer programmer. I know how much an idiot can screw up a group project; every group is as smart as the dumbest member. I didn’t want my life to depend on someone who had at least a 50% chance of being below average.

We knew that Mark had a house that was completely energy- and water-independent, so a certain degree of comfort with all the craziness was reasonable, but it was clear to us that Mark wasn’t worried at all. He acted like he didn’t even notice there was a zombie problem. Ryan just couldn’t grasp how Mark could be so comfortable going solo, and kept asking Mark if he planned on getting any roommates. I think Ryan was trying to finagle an invite for all of us to move into Mark’s house. I knew Mark well enough to know that wouldn’t happen. On occasion, Mark would smile and say that living with others wasn’t his style or would just look mildly annoyed and ignore Ryan. It was amazing that Mark seemed more concerned about running the Wasatch 100 than preparing for a zombie outbreak. It figures that of all the people in the world, it would be Mark who would be the first to call us.

Once Frank and Ryan got to me, I pulled out my cell and called Mark. He answered right away.

“Mark it’s me. I’ve got you on speaker phone. Frank and Ryan are here.”

“Hey, guys, how you doing?”

“Mark, you saw my ass hanging out the window. How you do you think we’re doing”.

“Ok, enough of the small talk. The part of you that I saw looked pretty healthy. Are Frank and Ryan doing Ok?”

“Sure, why?”

“You probably noticed that most zombies wandering around outside weren’t bitten. If any of you gets sick and begin to vomit, you need to tie that guy up quickly because that’s a warning sign of a zombie conversion.”

“None of us have been sick. Mark, we’re going to run out of water soon. You have any ideas?”

“Yeah, I’ve got some. I bet you about half the population of Salt Lake got turned into zombies within a couple hours on the 11th. That means that there are about 500 thousand zombies around here.”

“Shit, that’s not good”.

“It’s actually better than you might think. Most of them are gathered by the tens of thousands around the LDS wards. Zombies are attracted to sound and the wards have been shooting off rounds like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve been scoping out your house for a couple hours. I saw Ryan using an air rifle to take out a few zombies. Whenever one of you comes into sight, zombies start screaming and in few minutes there are a couple thousand of them in front of your house. When you guys are out of sight, the number of zombies in front of your house thins out to a less than a thousand.

I know the number of zombies in front of your house seem endless, but if you take out a couple thousand of them, you will have gotten rid of most of the zombies in your neighborhood. Then it will be safe for you to leave your house and come to mine. My house has plenty of water. Whatever you guys do, don’t use real guns. Keep on using your air guns. The sound of a gunshot will bring zombies for miles around.”

“OK, we’ll start right away.”

“One other thing, and this is important. You got to do everything in the daylight or be within ten feet of at least two 100-watt electric blubs at all times.”

“Why?”

“The fun doesn’t stop with zombies. We also have to deal with vampires.”

“Mark, you’re shitting me.”

“Wish I was, Jim. I killed a vampire a month ago. It was a tough son-of-a-bitch. I got lucky. It should have killed me. I’ve been playing around with its dead body and if you expose it to sunlight, or to the equivalent of two 100-watt bulbs, its flesh starts to melt. It’s around four now. It’s going to get dark enough in three hours to be dangerous. Close up all your windows then and board them up temporarily. Turn on every light you have in your house and stay in one room. It takes at least 15 minutes of exposure to strong light for a vamp’s skin to start melting, so being in the light is not absolute protection. You got enough power in your generator to make it through the night?”

“We got enough gas to last a month but I wouldn’t want to depend on it for more. Wait, if we start having to use our air-compressor to constantly fill up our scuba tanks, which we’ll have to do if we need to shoot a couple thousand zombies, we’ll have enough power to barely last a few days.”

“Well, if you guys use up all the daylight possible for the next three or four days, you should be able to wipe out most of the zombies around your house. Get all the stuff you want packed and ready to be moved quickly tonight. Give me a call when you clear out all the zombies. I recommend that you call me instead of driving or walking to my house. Traveling outside is a little tricky now and it’d probably be best for me to pick you guys up.”

“Alright, Mark, we’ll get started on the zombs now and call you tomorrow.”

“Ok, I’ve got some errands to do while it’s light out and then I’m headed to my house. See you guys in a few days.”

I closed up my cell phone. I looked up at Frank and Ryan. I shook my head. Ryan said, “That fucker killed a vampire and is now out in the middle of zombies doing errands. Does that make any sense?”

I said, “Sense or not, it sounds like Mark. Let’s get as many zombies as we can today, while it’s still light out.”

Chapter 11