Some woman gave me a funny look today because of the machete that hung from my hip. I smiled at her, but she turned her head and acted like she was looking at something real interesting on the other side of the road. That’s when I noticed that I was the only one around who was still carrying a weapon. I was ashamed; I tucked the blade away in a drawer for the duration of the workday, hid it in my briefcase for the walk home. I stood in my kitchen and looked at the blade and tried to figure out what to do with it.
The police reinstated the various gun laws a few weeks after the last zombie was killed, but they never said anything about all the other weapons. People went around with crowbars tucked under their arms next to their umbrellas; hatchet handles jutted out of purses. I didn’t feel right without the weight of the machete tugging on my belt, the blade bump bumping my leg with every step. Leaving home without it gave me that weird empty feeling, like when you touch your butt pocket and realize your wallet’s not there.
I suppose I held onto the machete a little longer than I needed to. It wasn’t just protection — it was the symbol of that other life, the other life that everyone lived for the five months of the outbreak. I liked that life.
I’m a telemarketer now, just like I was before the outbreak, but I’m not well-suited to the job. I get antsy after half an hour behind the desk. I want to move; I want to feel the blood rush in my veins. I was born in the wrong century, I think. I should have been a Mongol, swinging a polearm in wide arcs over my head, cutting down my enemies by the hundreds; or an Indian in the old West, creeping through the woods, tomahawking the white men and bringing home their scalps as prizes.
When the zombies were running wild out there, people shut themselves up: in their houses, in the mall, the church. I stayed in a Wal-Mart — lots of food, ammo, other survivors. We called it Fort Wal-Mart.
I killed zombies by day. They were slow, uncoordinated things. All you needed was your shotgun and your machete and an open area, and it was like fishing with dynamite. At the end of the day, my shoulder was bruised, a pleasant, warm rawness from the kick of the shotgun. My arm was tired, the muscles worn and tingling with the satisfying crunch that comes when the machete’s blade cracks the zombie’s skull. I’d go back to Fort Wal-Mart and all the refugees would cheer for me. The store was our castle, and I was the king. The women loved me, and getting laid was easy, back there in Fort Wal-Mart’s mattress section.
The military showed up in force four months into the outbreak. I went out and found someone in charge and told him I’d help, that I’d been killing zombies for months now, and he told me to stay inside. He sent a couple of grunts to make sure I did.
The military cleaned them all up. We could hear them outside Fort Wal-Mart, eighteen-year-old soldiers cheering and slapping high fives over impressive kills. The city was declared zombie-free in a week. My subjects left me and went home. Two weeks later, we were back at work.
I mounted the machete on my living-room wall. Now I walk unarmed to and from work and wherever else I have to go, all the time with that naked feeling. I miss my machete, my old life. I find myself longing for the rush I felt when their cold hands — always colder than you expect — grabbed at my throat. I’ll hang up the phone sometimes and look around and notice that Carl, two cubicles over, is dozing, and I find myself hoping that he’s dead from the virus, about to reanimate. Then I could find something to crunch his skull with, and Tammi the secretary would ooh and ahh over me, and I could feel something again. But Carl just jerks awake, blinks his eyes a few times, and goes back to work. I pick up the phone to make another call.
At night my house is empty and dark. I sit and stare at the machete all alone up there on the wood-paneled wall. The machete stares back.
I can hear them outside. The shuffling, the groaning. I can see their milky eyes burning cold in the distance. Carl is with them. Tammi is with them. Their numbers grow as I sit idle, my hands empty, my fists clenched.
From its perch on the wall, the machete calls to me. It sings songs of heroism. The Ballad of Fort Wal-Mart. I stand and take it off the wall.
The machete is alive in my hands. Its life runs through me like napalm.
Brock Adams‘s fiction has been published in many journals, including The Sewanee Review, Acapella Zoo, and Barrelhouse Online, and has won several awards, including second prize in Playboy’s College Fiction Contest. His first collection of stories was released this year in America, under the title Gulf, and in Italy as Cose Che Puoi Fare con un Barattolo di Zuppa Campbell (Things You Can Do with a Can of Campbell’s Soup). After receiving his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida, he moved to Spartanburg, SC, where he teaches English at the University of South Carolina Upstate.