Mind of the Zombie
by Edmund de Wight
jackson tripped over the half eaten corpse of a woman in a yellow sun dress.
He could hear the uneven shuffling of the zombie pursuing him. He tried to leap to his feet and continue his flight but a stabbing pain in his ankle threw him back to the litter strewn pavement with a scream. A cliché; he was going to die as the worst zombie movie cliché ever. He began to crawl, cursing himself the entire way. Why didn’t he watch where he was going? If he hadn’t turned at the last moment to see how far ahead he was he could have hurdled that woman’s corpse and been half way to his shelter by now.
Zombies weren’t fast. One on one, Jackson could outdistance any zombie within a couple blocks but at a crawling pace the undead creature was gaining ground like a sprinter chasing a snail. The smell of mold and rotting meat enfolded Jackson as the zombie caught up to him. He rolled onto his back to face his attacker and grabbed the hammer hanging from his belt. The creature had been a man once. It wore a blue sport coat crusted with blood. The fabric was shredded in places and the left sleeve was missing. Its eyes were a bilious yellow color with irises the color of blood. The zombie’s skin was a waxy gray with gaping wounds, probably received when it was killed and turned into an unnatural creature by others of its tribe. Drool flew from its gaping mouth as it dove onto Jackson, clawing and snapping like a rabid animal.
Jackson swung the hammer with frantic strength. He missed the head and hit the zombie in its shoulder. He might as well have hit a brick wall. The creature tore at his skin, unfazed by the repeated blows Jackson rained down on it. Jackson screamed and redoubled his efforts when the monster locked his head with a grip like iron and pulled itself up until its mouth was above Jackson’s forehead. The pain as the teeth ripped into the flesh of his scalp was worse than the time he had cut his palm to the bone with a fillet knife, worse than the burns from the exploding firework on his thigh when he was a teenager, worse than the boiling radiator water that had hit him in the face on a road trip during Sophomore year in college. He screamed so loud that his voice cracked and ceased to provide sound to accompany his agony. He felt and heard a grinding crunch as the zombie’s undead jaws cracked the bones of his skull. The world contracted to a small circle of pain and blinding light surrounded by encroaching darkness. The pain stopped; everything went black.
Jackson sat up. He searched his head and face for damage. The last thing he remembered was the zombie noshing on his gray matter. Had it been a dream? No. Jackson remembered waking up just before dawn and working his way past the quiescent zombies to the supermarket where he had raided supplies for the past month. He remembered gathering supplies. Then there was that stupid zombie who was moving around when all the rest still stood like the corpses they were. It wouldn’t stop pursuing him. His normal tricks to lose the undead failed to shake it from his tail. Jackson remembered the fight and then his defeat. His dreams were never that structured and vivid, it had to have happened. If the encounter was real, where was the zombie? Why wasn’t he injured? Where was he for that matter?
Jackson stood. His ankle also seemed to have magically healed. The ground was black and smooth. All he could see was black. Was he blind or just in unrelieved darkness?
“Hello,” he shouted.
His voice was absorbed by the darkness. No echo returned. The space he was in must be quite large. He stretched out his hands and walked hesitantly forward. After three steps it occurred to him that he could see his hands clearly in front of him, he wasn’t in pitch blackness, every surface of this space must be black – blacker than night – but he could see. He did a quick inventory. Everything he had been carrying was gone or had been taken from him. He had only the clothes on his back. The zombies were mindless. They couldn’t have disarmed him and brought him here. There had to be some other agency at work. Maybe the government was finally taking action and had brought him here after he was attacked. If it was the government, where were the guards, doctors or any sort of official either to tell him what was happening or demanding information?
Jackson continued walking, still moving cautiously in case there was some hidden danger he couldn’t see. After counting a thousand steps he stopped.
“Where the hell am I,” he screamed.
Jackson saw a flicker of light far to his right. The light winked out but then returned. He sprinted toward the light. He wanted to reach it before it winked out again. Jackson had been an athlete before the zombie apocalypse and had run many races. He knew how to gauge distance as he ran. His internal odometer told him that a mile had passed beneath his pounding feet. He wasn’t even breathing hard. The light remained stationary and appeared to grow larger as he neared. He could see that the light source was shaped like a circle. Its scale expanded as he raced onward until it towered over him; twenty feet across. Jackson came to a stop before the circle of light. It appeared to be some sort of screen. The entire circle was filled with a dim gray-blue light. He was torn between the mystery of the enormous screen and the fact that even after running full out for more than two miles his heart was not beating fast nor was his breath labored. He was in shape but not this kind of shape; nobody was in this kind of shape.
Jackson reached out to touch the screen. His hand stopped at the surface of the circle of light but he felt nothing. It was as if he were touching nothing more than the air before him. He felt resistance as if the air grew denser and would not allow his hand to press into the light. He walked to the edge of the screen and tried to view the reverse side but the blackness to the sides likewise resisted his passage with an annoying lack of sensory feedback. He had at least found one boundary of his prison.
Jackson sat on the black ground. Even the ground felt as if he were sitting on nothing other than air. What kind of place was this? He would be damned if he would let his captors see him panic or plead. Jackson was determined to out wait his captors. After an unknown time of staring into the blackness he began to count; partly to occupy his mind and partly to keep track of how long he was waiting. Seven thousand, one hundred and twenty seven Mississippis later the dull uniformity of the screen changed. The gray-blue light winked out then on. It flickered twice more and then an image filled the screen. Jackson knew the view on the screen. He recognized the warehouses and dilapidated buildings of Wyck Street, not far from where he had been hiding the last two months. The sun was just rising and long shadows filled the trash strewn streets. He could make out the rotting half consumed corpses of his fellow citizens scattered like toddler’s toys after a tantrum. A dozen zombies stood like statues, locked in the torpor they all entered during the darkest hours of the night.
There must be a camera, probably in a doorway from the line of brick he could make out on the right edge of the scene. Why would his captors show him a view of the horrors he had been enduring every day for the last few months?
The view shifted right and then left and then moved forward. Was some poor bastard out there with a camera?
“Why are you showing me this,” Jackson shouted.
The darkness swallowed his voice and gave no reply.
The cameraman continued onward from his station. The view tilted as he stepped over debris and bodies. The view pivoted to focus on zombies as he passed, they were still quiescent, but with the sun rapidly climbing in the east that would soon change.
Jackson saw movement to the left. A zombie shook itself and began to move. Didn’t the cameraman see it? The camera continued forward as if the cameraman was out for a stroll in the park rather than walking into the middle of a zombie horde about to awaken. The zombie to the left continued to close then the camera pivoted to stare directly at the face of the approaching creature. The zombie tilted its head and opened its mouth in a silent scream. The cameraman continued to focus on the zombie for several more seconds and then turned aside as if nothing were wrong and continued past the creature. It never attacked; somehow the cameraman was safe from the zombies around him.
All around the seemingly invulnerable cameraman zombies came alive. They moved singly and in groups; there was no logic to their movements. Jackson observed zombies poking at both corpses and rubble as if either might be potential food. It was repulsive yet fascinating at the same time. The monsters moved among each other without recognition. Jackson had been to New York once during the morning rush and the crowds racing along to their jobs exhibited the same attitude. They were unaware or uncaring of anyone outside their own little bubble of existence. They brushed past each other, occasionally colliding, without a care.
Jackson witnessed zombies feeding on long dead corpses and puzzling at the refuse of civilization. A zombie held a hat it found on the pavement and repeatedly turned it over in its gray hands like it was an alien artifact rather than a piece of clothing it may have worn every day when it was a living man. The view had progressed with the crowd onto the walking mall where storefronts were shattered and the corpses lay thick on the ground. When the zombies first descended on the town the shoppers had fallen like wheat before a scythe. Jackson still did not understand what caused some bodies to remain dead while others rose to prey on the living. Perhaps it was a function of how intact the body remained after attack. He had heard that the only way to stop one of the walking dead was to destroy the brain. Maybe those who did not rise again had suffered too much damage to their brains.
The view jerked left. Jackson saw that every zombie within view had pivoted and was staring in the same direction. The cameraman and the zombie pack took off at a fast shamble, which was the closest the dead could come to running. Jackson felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. There was only one thing that caused zombies to move in such a coordinated fashion; living meat.
The horde staggered down the mall and turned a corner. A middle aged man lay on the ground at the base of a chain-link fence. He had a large backpack strapped to his back and his right leg was twisted at an odd angle. Jackson could see blood and the tip of a bone where it punched through the man’s pant leg. He must have fallen while climbing the fence; he wouldn’t stand a chance against the zombie pack.
No less than a dozen zombies surrounded the cameraman and together they closed on the man. Jackson could see that the man’s bald pate was coated with sweat and his eyes bulged from his head in terror. He lifted a shotgun from the ground beside him. A bloom of fire erupted from the gun and the head of the zombie to the right of the cameraman exploded into black ichor and pulp. It was surreal watching the zombies attack in perfect silence. Jackson knew from experience that the alley would be filled with the sounds of moaning and gnashing teeth. He could see that the man was screaming, probably hurling curses at the zombies or prayers to God. He tried reloading another shell into his weapon but the pack reached him first.
It reminded Jackson of a shark feeding frenzy. Zombies all shoved past each other to rake torn fingernails through the man’s skin and rip chunks of flesh from his body with their unnaturally hard teeth. The camera view was in the thick of it. Jackson recoiled as the view drove intimately close to the man’s belly and blood erupted across the image. A gray hand moved into view and pulled a loop of intestine toward him. It disappeared just below his field of view. This wasn’t a cameraman; some psycho had strapped a camera to the head of a zombie and set it loose. What kind of person would want to see the depravity of the undead up close like this?
Jackson turned from the screen and dry heaved. He couldn’t bring himself to look any longer. He wanted to find the maniac who thought it was a good idea to imprison him with this perverse video and hand him over to the zombies.
He didn’t know how long he sat there feeling ill and angry but at some point the screen became bright again. Afraid to look but unable to resist, Jackson turned to the screen again. The zombie was moving across a park. There were a handful of parks around the walking mall but Jackson had rarely allowed himself time to visit them; he was too absorbed with climbing the corporate ladder to appreciate the simple things in life. He had no clue where the creature was walking. Other zombies moved into view; wandering to and fro. The camera zombie moved toward a large bush and then leaned down. Jackson saw that a leg was wedged in the branches of the bush. It was covered in blood and appeared to have been torn from its owner.
“Why are you doing this?” Jackson screamed.
He couldn’t take it any more. He had to find a way out of this torture chamber. Jackson moved to the side of the screen and placed his hand on the invisible wall. He still felt nothing there but his hand refused to pass beyond the plane of the screen. Turning aside from the revolting images he began to move to the right of the screen using his hand to trace the boundary. Someone had put him in here so logically there had to be an entrance. He would move around the perimeter until he found it. If nothing else, he would learn the extent of his prison.
Jackson moved along the wall until the screen became a distant dot. The wall remained maddeningly invisible and unfelt but held him at bay as if it were solid steel. Even the ground was as unknowable as the wall, only the evidence of its ability to support him proved it to be a solid artifact.
His internal clock, which he was beginning to doubt in the unchanging black expanse of the room, told him that he had been walking for hours. He felt no sense of fatigue, or hunger, or thirst. Hours couldn’t have been passing without some physical discomfort. Was he in shock? Had his captors done something that was affecting his system?
More time passed with the invisible wall continuing to flow by beneath his moving hand. He walked for so long that he eventually lost track of time. He may have been walking for a handful of hours or even days.
There’s no end to this place.
Jackson stopped, frozen, and a creeping shiver of horror pulsed through him.
Maybe I’m dead and this is hell.
Jackson pinched himself; it hurt. He had never been so happy to feel pain.
I’m alive. I feel. I’m a prisoner and when I find my captors I’m going to make them pay. Onward, must press onward.
Jackson continued along the wall. He had no sense of direction. He may have been traveling in a straight line or in a curve; he had no visual reference to orient himself. After an eternity Jackson saw a dim light ahead. He checked his impulse to run toward it and continued his measured tread along the invisible wall. The light grew in size and Jackson felt a sinking sensation in his gut. The light became a large circle of dim bluish gray light. It was another screen, or possibly – God forbid – the same screen. There was nothing on the ground or wall to indicate if this was the same screen he had left behind a lifetime ago. Jackson hung his head, defeated.
He didn’t know how long he stood there feeling sorry for himself before his head snapped up, driven by a furnace hot flash of rage. He would not give in. He had to know if this was some new screen or if he was trapped in a featureless circle. Jackson clawed open the buttons of his shirt, removed it and then wadded it up in a ball. He placed the shirt on the ground immediately in front of the screen where he could not miss it and then set off once more along the unseen wall. Time became a distant memory as he walked. He tried to count steps but after several thousand steps he began to lose count and then gave up the effort as futile. His mind gibbered at him and then began playing tricks, phantom pains and itches raced over his skin.
I’m going insane.
The wall stretched on forever. He again saw a light in the distance.
Please God, don’t let my shirt be there.
The circle of light grew in scale. Soon it revealed itself to be a screen. Jackson collapsed to his knees as he reached the screen; his shirt was lying exactly as he had left it.
It’s a circle. It’s a fucking circle.
—End of the Preview–