ALL WE CAN DO • by Brian J. Hunt

I finish tightening the final clamp securing Sara to the rack, and step back.

The light summer sundress clings lovingly to her figure just like I remembered, but all the holes and dirt smears take away from her attractiveness rather than enhancing it. The same with the blood and other matter crusting her fingernails and mouth.

I look into her eyes, the cornflower blue eyes I could stare into for hours, now dull and clouded over but still looking into mine. Was some of Sara still in that dead body? The eggheads would say no, but I’ve seen evidence to the contrary, not that the eggheads would ever listen to a grunt like me.

I brush a stray lock of hair away from her forehead so it won’t get matted in the fluorescent paint of the number stenciled on her. Her hair feels gritty and I suddenly have an irrational desire to wash it before she is shipped out. I don’t know why I care, but I just know she would be irritated by it if she could see herself.

Her head leans towards me and for a moment her cold cheek brushes over the back of my hand, just like she would do in the few private moments we could steal. I feel tears trying to leak from my eyes, but for some reason they just won’t come.

I’m not surprised when she tries to bite me. Disappointed, but not surprised. The dampening field the eggheads generate to retard the infection makes her slow, almost lazy, but even at full strength it can’t totally overcome her new instincts.

I’ll have to find a way to thank the captain for allowing me to prep her for shipping. He found out about us of course, but didn’t rat us out to the base commander. A lowly private and the daughter of a general. It never should have happened, but it did.

I hoist her rack into final shipping position with the other packages being sent back east to the labs. All tired out, I rest for a moment and stare into the shipping container full of zombies. The smell of ruptured bowels and bodily decay is heavy in the air and I imagine it will only get worse on their week-long ride.

The thought of them experimenting on Sara kills me inside. What the Einsteins need with so many guinea pigs I don’t know, but standing orders are to capture and ship any intact subjects. I’d ask for an exception for Sara, but I know the captain’s sympathy will only go so far. He has his duty. We all have our damnable duty. A war where your defenders fall only to join the other side is an unwinnable war, and despite all the propaganda the defense department is churning out, I don’t think we’re winning.

I press my head against the cool metal of the shipping rack. I’m going to be glad to get back to my bunk; the events of the day have given me a massive headache.

“All finished, private?” booms a voice behind me.

I snap to attention, or at least I try to. I feel wrung out and drained, but the captain pretends not to notice. “Yes, sir! All packages secured and ready for shipment.” I notice a smear of blood where I rested my head. Unfortunately, you get messy on this job. After a while you don’t even notice it anymore.

“Good, good… However, we do have one more,” he says with sympathy in his voice.

I quickly stifle a moan of disappointment. I feel so damned tired and empty inside. All I want to do is get rid of this headache, but duty comes first.

He leads me over to the final shipping rack. Two other grunts from my unit are standing there and I look around for the package, but don’t see it. Then they grab my arms.

“Sir, I don’t understand…”

“Easy, son, just get in the rack.” I stare at him in horror as my friends secure my arms first, just like they taught us.

“The Science Corps is very interested in you. No other soldier infected under the dampening field has ever lasted as long as you have, but we can see the signs; you’re starting to turn.”

Realization dawns on me and my mouth falls open in disbelief. A groan escapes me, the same groan we’ve all heard every day from the beginning of this tour. A groan echoed and multiplied by those in the racks around me.

I try to catch the eyes of my friends, but they efficiently go about their duty and won’t meet my gaze. I squeeze my eyes shut; I can’t look at them anymore. “I’m not one of them! I can’t be!”

“I’m sorry, son, if it’s any consolation; the boffins think they will get a lot of intel from you. They say it might be a new strain of the disease. Personally I think they’re full of shit and it’s because you cared so much for your girlfriend that you couldn’t let her go even after she caught you and chewed up the back of your head. You don’t remember that, do you?”

I’m shaking my head back and forth and can’t seem to stop. As strong hands grab and hold my head, I hear the hiss of a spray can and feel wet paint on my forehead.

“Goodbye, son, it was an honor serving with you.” The finality of the captain’s words fill me with despair.

I open my eyes and see he has had me positioned across from Sara. Watching him leave, I don’t try to say anything more; I’m not sure I could say anything even if I wanted to, so I thank him silently. He’s a decent man.

Sara and I stare into each other’s eyes like we once did on a warm and sunny day on a hillside all to ourselves. It’s all we can do.

Brian J. Hunt is the editor of several books on vintage art including The Outlandish Art of Mahlon Blaine and the series of GB Graphics Tijuana Bible Archives. This is his first fiction sale.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • A well-written piece, but I must say I thought the literary Zombie War was over!

    Anyhow, a good story.

  • Ah, but once a zombie story infects a budding author…

  • Sheila Cornelius

    An enjoyable read. I began to suspect he would become become part of the cargo, just before the men seized him. I wonder if it might read even better if we don’t find out his fate until the very end.

  • ajcap

    Good stuff. Raised just (be careful of that word) enough sympathy to make the last two lines really hit the heart.

    Great opening line. Good suspense, imagry, characterization, dialogue, voice. Do not understand the fascination of this subject matter, but that’s just me. Still a very good read.

  • Dee Streiner

    I love zombies. Thank you for beginning my day with them. 😀 Very well written and enjoyable.

  • I was confused at first until I realised it was a zombie tale.

    This revelation came quite well into the piece so I was floundering around for quite a while before I settled into it.
    I thought the sentence “A war where your defenders fall…” was good.

    Not being a zombie fan, I thought the situation of making him a prisoner might have been used before.

    I liked the ending. It was very poignant.

    very entertaining.
    thank you.

  • Love in Zombie-land, how can’t you like that?

    I liked the gradually unfolding of this tale of love, and the fact that zombie instincts overcome love every time. Isn’t it true? You can take the zombie away from the other biters, but you can’t take the bite out of the zombie. Sara certainly proved that — much to our MC’s chagrin.

    Great story for a rainy day. Four big stars from me….

  • George

    I’ll start by saying that I simply cannot understand the zombie fascination that moans, grunts and staggers its way through popular culture. Therefore, my thoughts on this story are probably jaded from the outset because of the cliché subject matter.

    I don’t see any new ground explored in this piece, or really any new twists. The lowly private in love with the general’s daughter comes very close to setting off my cliché alarm and I wonder why it was necessary to establish this in the first place, given that it adds nothing to the narrative.

    The MC comes across as a very likeable guy and his love for his un-dead girlfriend is clear through his actions (shown, rather than told. Thank you!). Like #6, I liked the sentence, “A war where your defenders fall…” as well. It was simple, yet conveyed its message effectively.

    Congratulations on your first fiction sale!

  • JenM

    This was a great story. The ending really suprised me as I wasn’t expecting the ending at all. At first I thought our protaganist had killed Sarah and this was going to be a serial killer story. It was definitly pleasant to discover something different.

  • Stephen Rosenthal

    Great read! 5stars.

  • I loves me a good zombie tale, and this was thoroughly enjoyable. Well done!

  • Eli Katz

    Very fun read.

  • S.E. Gaime

    Ah, enjoyed the unfolding of this story. At first I thought he had killed the girl, but when she tries to bite him – ha! Zombie story! Very well done.

  • I’m not a huge fan of zombies, but i do like the apocalyptic view of all of it. The twist was great. But I do think that people don’t think so much about feelings, its felt and shown by actions; its nearly an instant process; you see something, you feel, you react and that shows how you feel!

    Perhaps you should explore the brutal nature of human feelings, instead of romanticizing them so much.

    5 stars for you! Congratulations, very good for a first piece.

  • kathy k

    Good story, very well done. A five from me.

  • A good and interesting love story.
    At this point assume there’s nothing that hasn’t been used before. Just use what you use well. No one mentioned this, and I’m just asking, but did she see her bite, upon his concern, as assuring that they come alive together after their own private apocalypse, her way of showing concern?

  • In my mind, she sought him out and he knew it subconsciously. I don’t think I would subscribe higher motives to her than a few neurons still saying “I want to be with him”.

    With only having 1000 words, I had a number of details in my mind when writing this that had to be left out or just couldn’t be developed adequately. I’m liking flash fiction because it makes me reduce my story down to the bare bones of what I am trying to say. Then if I’m under my word count, I can add a little fat back onto the story.

    BTW, thank you all for your kind words and feedback. Look for my next story “Mr. Quiet” in the October 2011 issue of 10Flash Quarterly.

  • Linked back here from the new Friends and Supporters page. Nice story.