Pushing Up Gravestones – Chapter 8

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Denise used to wonder what the end of the world would look like, though she never imagined for it to look like this. Ferrah’s house had been looted just like everyone else. Now what was once a home looked more like a dump. There was nothing in the house. It was completely empty. The walls were covered with graffiti, the carpet was covered in ash and broken glass.

The house smells like a mixture of alcohol, smoke, and blood. Her home was filled with an eerie silence that made Denise wonder if they would ever be safe again. The taste in Denise’s mouth was a mixture of vomit, fear, and sweat. Denise vowed to herself she would never show the fear she was felt inside, nor the sadness that was squeezing inside her gut. It strangled her so much she could just curl up in a ball somewhere and cry. She fought the urge because that would just be embarrassing.

Ferrah ran her hands across the walls of what used to occupy her family room. Denise watched as Ferrah’s pained face slowly fell into something she had never seen before. Ferrah didn’t look like the same curly red haired, blue-eyed princess who pranced around like she owned the school anymore. No, now she looked shattered and broken. Like she had finally just realized the life they all had was gone.

The life they used to know was just a past memory and this was their future, a very bleak future. Denise watched Ferrah as she slowly walked down the hallway like she had stumbled into a nightmare that she could not wake up from. Denise just watched her helplessly not knowing what she could do. She couldn’t help but feel somewhat happy to know that the evil witch queen bee was dead, but immediately felt guilty at the thought. Denise couldn’t tell her everything was going to be okay because she didn’t know if it was. She didn’t even know if she wanted to be nice to the girl who had made her high school life more annoying than necessary.

Tina and Denise made their way around the house collecting whatever survived that could be of use. The kitchen cupboards were left with a few tins of baked beans, soup, and spaghetti, the living room was bare but they were able to find a lighter that someone else had left behind and cigarette butts.

Tina sat on the carpet of the living room and put her legs to her chest curling up in a ball and Denise sighed. Denise left her in the living room to find Ferrah. Denise cautiously walked through the house, not knowing who or what could still be in this house now. She suddenly could already hear the soft sobbing coming from an unknown room. Denise followed the sound and found Ferrah sitting by her bed in what Denise guessed used to be a bedroom. The room was just like what Denise imagined a prissy school brat’s room would look like. It was covered with posters of attractive guys, pictures of her with her friends, and filled with white furniture, now broken and damaged.

Black mascara was running down Ferrah’s face and that’s when Denise noticed the burnt clothes over the bed and the photos scattered across the floor. Denise didn’t say anything as she sat down next to her. Ferrah was staring at a photo that had been burnt along the edges and Denise glanced at it. The photo was of two older people holding a baby, they smiled up to the camera happily while the small baby giggled in their arms.

“Is that you?” Denise asked quietly.

 It was a stupid question to ask, she knew that as soon as it exited her mouth. Of course, it was Ferrah, this was her house, this is where her family would have lived her whole life and now it was ruined. Everything was shattered, tarred, and burnt. Denise couldn’t help feeling much the same. Ferrah nodded handing Denise the photo so she could look at it more closely. Ferrah rested her head on Denise’s shoulder. Denise couldn’t describe how weird that was for her to have a girl she hated resting her head on Denise’s shoulder like she was her friend. Denise definitely was not her friend, but she didn’t know what else to do so she let Ferrah lay there wiping the stray tears from her eyes.

“They’re vermin,” Ferrah hissed causing Denise to turn a little to face her.  

“The zombies,” she answered the question that was rolling around Denise’s mind, “They’re the enemy… they’ve done all this…”

“Those zombies used to be our friends Ferrah, our families, and the people we knew in our neighborhood. They’re not the enemy.”

“Then who is!” she exclaimed, “If they’re not the enemy why are we killing them without even giving it a second thought? This is a war, Denise. The sooner you recognize what side you’re on the better!’

Denise went silent at that because she didn’t know what else to say. Denise knew Ferrah was right of course, but that thought still didn’t give her comfort. These were the people they used to live with, the people they used to go to school with, the people they knew and now they were supposed to think of them as an enemy?

A long silence stretched between them as they both stared down at the photo that was now in Denise’s hands. Suddenly, a piercing scream echoed through the house. Ferrah and Denise glanced at each other before jumping to their feet and running to the source of the noise.

They found the source just down the hallway outside Ferrah’s room. It was Tina. She was standing in the doorway to the bathroom and all the color had faded from her face. Tina was trembling, her hands were shaking and her eyes seemed unable to blink.

“What’s wrong Tina?” Denise asked softly as she bent in front of Tina.

She looked deep into Tina’s eyes but they had gone completely hollow like she had seen a ghost. Tina slowly raised her arm with her hand pointing at the thing that had made her scream.

Denise’s head slowly turned to the source of Tina’s terror. Then she saw it, wishing that she had the will to look away. Ferrah stepped around Denise to see what we were all gawking at and immediately a second rippling scream went through the house. There, lying in the bathtub was a body of a zombie. The zombie body was lying in the bathtub. It had been shot in the head; its blue eyes were still wide open staring up at the ceiling. Blood had oozed from the open wound on its face and spread across the rest of the body. The translucent skin was white as snow and its lips were blue as ice.

Denise immediately covered her nose to block out the stench. An eerie silence filled the air as everyone became speechless. Ferrah made her way over to the body without saying a word, but her face matched Tina’s. Her hands went out to touch the body and that’s when Denise finally found the ability to speak again.

“Don’t touch it!” Ferrah’s head immediately flung back to Denise, “We have to find a way to get rid of the body; you don’t want to get infected do you?”

“No, no one else is touching him,” Tina said with more tears springing in her eyes.

Denise looked back to Tina with a confused expression on her face. Denise tried not to think of this zombie as a person, but it was. The boy had blue eyes and dirty blonde hair, he looked about ten. His eyes looked scared and the rest of his body was pale and lifeless. I turned back to Tina to see little tears were pouring down her face and Denise rubbed her arms up and down as she asked the question that Denise hoped wasn’t true.

‘Do you know this boy Tina?’ Denise whispered gently and she could feel Ferrah’s eyes were also on Tina waiting for an answer.

 Tina slowly nodded as she lowered her head to look at her shoes.

“He’s my brother.”

*****

It was the middle of the night when they had finally filled their packs as much as possible and buried the body in the backyard. Denise was hugging Tina as she watched the fire that was flickering in the middle of the living room. They ate from the cans of soup they had found in silence. Ferrah was the one to break the silence.

“What happened to your family Tina?” Denise shot her this-is-not-the-time look but she just shrugged, “What? We have a right to know.”

“Ferrah!”

“No Denise, it’s okay,” Tina replied as she sad and unwrapped Denise’s hands from around her, “My mother was a full-time doctor while my dad stayed home to look after my brother and me.”

Ferrah and I both nodded understanding. I couldn’t help wondering about my parents at that moment. Denise wondered if Tina’s mother and her parents knew each other or if she knew where her parents were.

“Even though my mother had a busy job we still managed to all have time together… we were a really close family and I knew they loved me.  My parents loved each other a lot, so when my dad became infected we tried everything to help him…”

 Denise wondered if her parents had done the same. If they were safe somewhere trying to make an antidote that would take this nightmare away.

“My mum tried everything to find an antidote but nothing would work. The people in our neighborhood started turning against us, saying we should just kill him… but my mother… she just couldn’t do it. She loved my dad too much…”

“So what happened did someone end up killing him?” Ferrah pressed.

Denise through her another dirty look, but she just shrugged again.

“No, she wouldn’t let anyone touch him… except her,” Tina immediately broke out in sobs, “After my brother got bitten by my father, she was afraid for both herself and my safety. So she decided to do the unthinkable…”

Little tears started rolling down Tina’s face and her whole body started shaking, “I watched my own mother kill my father right in front of me!”

Her cries became louder and more desperate as she put her head in her hands to hide how much the whole thing had affected her. Denise could already feel her stomach turning uncomfortably and Ferrah’s face went flat with emotion, resembling something unidentifiable to Denise. There was a long silence between them where no one knew what to say. The only sound was the fire flickering in the middle of the room and quiet sobs of Tina’s crying.

Denise took Tina’s hand gently, “What happened to your brother?”

Tina sighed and wiped her dripping nose with her right hand.

“After my brother also witnessed my mother kill my father he went feral. He actually seemed perfectly calm at first. When my brother turned into a zombie, we kept him locked in a room so we could observe him and he didn’t act like anything we’d expect a zombie to act like. He walked around gloomily and sat in the middle of the room while small tears came down his face. I don’t think zombies are always evil; I think my brother was still my brother until something made him feral… when he heard that gunshot it changed him. He wasn’t my brother anymore, he was an animal. It felt like I didn’t just lose my dad, but I lost my brother as well.’ 

Denise never imagined zombies could be like that. She never imagined that the ones who got turned weren’t just savage monsters from the beginning, she genuinely thought they were. Denise never imagined that maybe they weren’t a monster at all. Maybe the zombie was just a cage that the real human inside was trapped in.

Denise couldn’t help thinking about the zombie she had killed at that moment, maybe she didn’t just kill a monster like she had tried to justify to herself, maybe she had killed an actual human, a human that was trapped inside a zombie body. Don’t think about it, Denise.

“My brother broke out of his room as soon as he heard the gunshot, he latched his teeth on to my mother and tackled her to the ground and before I knew it he had sunk his teeth into her neck. I remember screaming and begging him to stop and promising him we could all be a family again and that we would find a way to help him. He had already turned though.”

“When he looked at me then, it was like he saw right through me. It was like he didn’t even remember who I was anymore. He didn’t care who I was anymore, all he cared about was killing.”

There was another silence as Denise watched Tina’s head turn to me. “What I will never understand is why my brother spared me, why he didn’t turn me when he had the chance because after he bit my mother he ran off and I never saw him again.”

“And your mother?” Ferrah finally asked.

Her voice was croaky and sad like she had finally cracked Denise had never seen Ferrah like this.

“She told me to save myself,” Tina shrugged as she got off from the ground, “So I ran off… And now my brother is dead in the ground.”

She wiped more stray tears from her cheeks as she walked away from us and Danelle listened as her footsteps echoed through the house and the back door slam shut. She knew Tina was going outside to cry alone and that made my stomach churn even more. Danelle felt the vomit rising in my throat and her own tears threatening to escape from her eyes.

“Good riddance is all I can say,” Ferrah spoke up sternly.

That’s when Denise jumped from her seat and grabbed Ferrah by the collar tightly. Ferrah looked at Denise, her eyes nearly bulging out of her sockets. Her face went a scared shade of white.

“Do you still think they’re the enemy Ferrah?” I hissed as she looked up at me with her piercing blue eyes, not making a sound.

I let go of her collar, making her fall to the ground. Ferrah unsteadily walked away in the same path as I just seen Tina take.

But if they weren’t the enemy, who was?

Denise still couldn’t answer that question as her head lay on the torn carpet of the living room. She kept tossing and turning wondering if something or someone might just break through the window and kill her – just like that. After a while, Denise went looking for Tina and Ferrah.

She found Tina almost asleep lying out on the grass in the open, and picked her up, bringing her into the house with her. She wrapped her arms tightly around Tina’s frail, tiny, scared body. She had cried herself to sleep that night.

As for Ferrah, it looked like she had gotten to sleep hours ago. Unlike them, Denise couldn’t get her eyes to close as more and more questions ran through her mind and more and more faces of loved ones she had lost haunted her each time she tried to close her eyes. Denise was scared and for the first time since this began, she began to cry. Maybe it was just in fear or perhaps confusion, but all Denise knew was that this wasn’t going to her last sleepless night.

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