This story is by Amanda Peters and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Jason frantically pulls the boat up on to the shore and covers it in branches. He made it to the island. He hides the boat on the western side so no one can see it from the mainland to the north. The three-acre island is one kilometer away from the mainland shore on Colt Lake. He walks to the northern side of the island to see what he’d left behind across the lake. More of them have gathered at the dock where the others had chased him, trying to figure out where he went.
Jason spins around at a sudden sound behind him—just the branches. He’s getting paranoid. He takes his axe with him to make sure there isn’t anyone else on the island. It’s clear. He runs to the cottage, in the middle of the island, and looks for the key under every rock he can find. There it is! He gets inside and barricades the door. He’s safe.
Jason had first heard about what’s going on about six months earlier. He doesn’t know how the first victims contracted the disease, nor does it matter to him. It’s a zombie apocalypse. More and more people have been turned into zombies and more and more people are dying. Everyone he knows was packing up and leaving town. At the time, Jason knew he had to get to his family’s cottage on Colt Lake, a three-hour drive from where he lives in the city. The island is an incredible oasis that his parents had inherited from their parents and now it was his. It’s covered in trees and shrubs, and has a small beach of hard sand and rocks around it. There’s a large clearing in the middle where his grandfather had built the family cottage; it was small and exuded a rustic charm. It has winding stone paths from the cottage down to the shores on each side. His mom had created a garden outside. She planted every possible vegetable and herb she could think of and now it was his to keep up. She passed away three years ago; he was glad she wasn’t around to witness what was happening in the world. There’s a dock on the mainland shore for fishing boats. There were still six boats when he left and eight dead bodies of those who tried to make it.
Jason wakes up the next morning with the sun in his face—he’s still alive. His window is open and he can feel the cool breeze blowing through. He sits up and stretches, he hardly slept through the night; he had been kept awake by intermittent screams from the nearby shore. People were trying to leave the mainland and get to one of the islands on the lake, but the presence of zombies has been growing along the tree line, making it difficult to escape. It’s open shore for 100 yards from the tree line to the water. People have some shelter in the trees, but once they get out in the open, it’s a life-and-death race to the boats. There’s an abandoned shack near the trees, a place to buy fishing tackle and snacks. The windows are now broken and the awning is fallen to the ground. It’s desolate—a sign of times to come.
Jason puts a sweater on and goes to the kitchen. He turns the kettle on to make some coffee; that will help wake him up for sure. He had brought everything he could from his pantry at home and there are still some vegetables in the garden to be harvested, but he knows it won’t last forever. He finishes breakfast and goes outside with the rest of his coffee. He walks down the stone path to the north end of the island. The wind is picking up from that direction and he can see storm clouds on the horizon. “If this keeps up, that storm will be here tonight,” he thinks to himself. He sees the bodies near the dock; the poor souls were just trying to escape. Jason knows it will only be a matter of time before someone reaches his island and he wants to be ready. The only weapons he has are his bow, a dozen arrows and a small axe.
On his way back to the cottage, he picks out a few weeds from the garden. It looks like he can harvest a few things soon; the carrots and turnips look ready. He grabs his bow, a couple arrows and his axe for some target practice. He goes out to a spot in the trees where he has set up a few targets. He takes an arrow and sets it in the arrow shelf on his bow. He positions himself with his feet at 90 degrees to the target, relaxes his grip on the bow and pulls the string back with three fingers until his index finger is touching his chin. He looks down the arrow, aiming at the center of the target and inhales. He exhales and, in the moment of silence at the end of the exhale, he relaxes his grip on the string and allows his fingers to slip back to release the arrow. He watches the arrow cut through the air and pierce the target, right in the center. Jason smiles at his success. He uses the same targets for throwing his axe, though he isn’t as proficient at that. He decides to stick with chopping wood.
As Jason is relaxing in his rocking chair on the porch reading a book, he hears a loud scream from the mainland. He runs over. He watches a woman run from the tree line towards the dock. Two zombies run from the tree line towards the woman. “Oh no, not again,” he says, jaded from seeing so much death. As she runs, she trips on one of the bodies on the dock. She frantically finds her footing and unties a boat while glancing back at the oncoming zombies. She unties it, jumps in and, instead of messing with the engine, she starts rowing away. Jason thinks she may actually make it. The zombies run to the end of the dock and jump. They both land in the boat causing it to lurch farther from the shore. “NO!” says Jason; he can’t watch. The woman’s screaming quickly stops as the zombies finish her off.
The wind and rain are picking up and begin to push the boat closer to Jason’s island. He runs to the cottage for his bow, arrows and axe. Once he gets back, he sees that the boat has reached the shore and the two zombies are getting out. One is huge, almost seven feet tall and built like a tank, covered in blood and missing half its face; he knows he has to kill that one first. The other one is average build, like Jason. It’s covered in blood and open wounds. They both have dead white eyes and the sight of them makes his stomach turn. He watches them look around and knows he can’t lose the element of surprise. He hides behind a tree, twenty feet from where they are, takes a deep breath and gets an arrow ready. He puts the big one in his sights and fires. He hits it between the eyes and it goes down. He ducks back behind the tree and readies another arrow. The rain is coming down hard and it’s getting tough to grip the string. He gets ready to fire again, but the other zombie is gone. He frantically looks around.
He hears growling from behind. Jason spins around and shoots the arrow, only missing by a fraction. The zombie comes at him, grabs Jason’s upper arm so hard he thinks it’s going to rip it off.
“Let go!” cries Jason.
As they fall to the ground, he manages to get on top and punch the zombie in the face. Stunned, it loosens its grip. Jason gets free and runs to the cottage, gets inside the door and locks it. He’s breathing so heavily, he can hardly think. The boat! He had left it on the west shore. If he runs out the back door, he can make it before the zombie knows where he went. Suddenly, the front door bursts open and the zombie comes in. Jason runs out the back door and slams the rocking chair under the handle to slow the zombie down. He runs down the path towards his boat; it’s still there! Something bursts out of the trees beside him and flings him into a tree on the other side. He looks up, it’s the zombie.
“How did you…?” yells Jason, not finishing his sentence as he scurries backwards into the trees, but the zombie leaps towards him. He puts his arm on its throat to keep its teeth away from his face as his other hand searches for something to hit it with. He feels a branch, grabs it and swings. It doesn’t do much damage, but it gets the zombie off of him. He runs. The zombie is right behind him. Jason grabs for the axe on his belt—it’s still there. He stops and swings blindly behind him. He feels the axe go into a tree, but not before cutting cleanly through the zombie’s neck. Its body falls to the ground in a heap and Jason collapses in exhaustion. He lays down facing the sky, letting the rain wash over his face. He starts to laugh.
Jason wakes up again to a bright morning sun. He sits up in bed and recounts what happened the night before as he rotates his shoulder; still sore from where the zombie grabbed him. He knows he got lucky it didn’t break the skin. He puts the kettle on and tries to figure out what to do with the bodies.
Jason walks out to the garden and picks some carrots and turnips for dinner. He grabs some thyme as well and walks back to the cottage. He sets the food on the counter and picks up a cloth to bring with him to the tree that’s holding his axe. He pulls it out, wipes it off and puts it back in his belt. He drags the zombie’s body and head to a small clearing. He wipes his hands on the cloth and starts walking over to the north shore to get the other one. He’s relieved when he sees that it’s still where he shot it the night before. There’s a part of him that was afraid that one of them wouldn’t be where he left it.
“Thank you very much,” he says, to the dead zombie as he retrieves his arrow and wipes it down. Jason drags its body over to the clearing and leaves it beside the other one. He spends the next two hours digging a hole big enough for the both of them. He knows he can’t just leave them in the ground so he rolls them into the hole, gets an old jerry can of fuel and starts to pour. He goes back to grab a pack of matches and another cup of coffee. He leans over the sink with his head down for a moment before going back to the hole.
“Burn in hell,” he says, as he lights a match and throws it into the hole. A flame erupts as he sits in a chair. He sips his coffee and watches the flames. He says a prayer for the souls that left the bodies before they became “undead”. He lit the fire during the day so it wouldn’t draw attention at night. The smell is a horrible mix of gasoline, burning flesh and rot so he backs away a little. He feels like he’s doing the world some good. Jason walks back inside as the zombies become ash and knows that this is just the beginning.