“Where am I?” I mumble.
“Duh! It’s my room!”
I scan my room and look at my white and brown decorations. On my bookshelf, there are all sorts of antiques like mirrors, old video game controllers, and newspaper articles from when the world was more peaceful. I turn around so much that it feels as though my head were making a 360 degree spin. Ouch! I get up from my bed and walk down the hallway. No matter how quietly I step, the wooden floor boards always let out a loud creak. I check the windows. It’s really bright and sunny out.
Oh no! I didn’t brush my teeth! In the bathroom, my brown, highlighted bed head is sweeping all over my face. Annoyed, I brush it off with my fingers. I lift my head up, look into the mirror, and, to my surprise, there is a dead, horribly disfigured face behind me. I whip out two hand guns and blast its head to kingdom come.
Zombie Training 101: Mirrors are your best friend. In the orphanage I grew up in, we were practically trained for any zombie-related emergency. The caretakers were all… eccentric old farts who would always moan about how they “knew this time would come”, that “the Zombie Apocalypse would come upon us all someday”.
Where could that zombie have come from, I wonder? I creep through the house and check every door and window. At last, I spot a hole in the living room window. So that’s how he came in. Damn it, now I have to pay the extra cash for the replacement glass. And I was actually saving up some of that money for a decent vacation this year. See, I work at a weapon manufacturing shop down the block. Here in this part of Arizona, there isn’t anything fancy around, but you get what you need.
The phone rings. I put my guns away in my hostlers. I pick up the phone and say, “Hello?” “Hey, Ed! It’s me Claire!” the voice answered. Claire and I have been friends since grade school.
She calls me Ed because she knows I hate my girly-sounding name, Eloise.
“Oh, what’s up, Claire?” I answer back.
“Guess what, Ed? I got my license!!” she cheered.
“What?! Awesome!” I say happily.
“Now we can go to more places together! This is great!” I think to myself. “Hey! Come with me! I wanna’ take you somewhere!” she says suddenly.
“Uhhh… sure. Are you sure your parents are ok with this, though?” I ask cautiously.
“Yeah! Come on down, crazy!”
I get changed and head to Claire’s car. You’re probably wondering where my parents are and if they’re okay with me running around on my own with zombies at every turn, aren’t you? Well, I would be wondering the same thing if they hadn’t died when I was old enough to be in pre-school. It feels nice, safe even, to be living in this apartment. It’s spacious and neat, sturdy, too.
But it does get lonely. It’s nice to have people like Claire to talk to every now and then to keep the loneliness from driving you crazy, because that’s what loneliness does to people. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of people here. I step outside and see the street sign on the corner that reads “Montero Drive”. It isn’t the greatest street to live in, but when I was house hunting, I had gotten the place for a sweet deal. When I reach Claire’s car, I notice her hair is dyed green, her favorite color.
“What’s with the green hair?” I chuckle.
“I needed a change of pace, that’s all…” said Claire. And with that, we ride down the disheveled Arizona desert road.
“So, where are we going?” I ask.
“You’ll see,” she says playfully.
“What made you decided to do all of this all of a sudden?”
“I just decided that I needed a little more adventure in my life, you know?” she answered.
“Uh-huh. I can understand that.”
After about 20 minutes chatting and joking with one another, she pulls over by a decrepit wooden shack in the middle of nowhere. There’s even your typical decorative cactus to the side.
“What is this place?” I ask her.
“It’s a biker joint!” she answers happily.
“Why are we in a biker joint?” I ask flatly.
“You’ll see! I’ll explain we get inside!” she says, tugging on the sleeve of my tattered polymeric T-shirt.
Suddenly, we hear the sound of a window breaking.
“What was that?” I think to myself. A woman lets out a bloodcurdling scream.
“Are you hearing this?” Claire turns to me and asks.
“Yeah!” Let’s go check it out!”
Before we can get near the building, a horde of zombies busted through the window. The smell of their dead, rotting flesh permeates the air. I pull out one of the guns I was holding from its holster and give it to Claire. “Claire! Here!” I yell as I throw it to her. She and I back away quickly and aim. “Jeez! More of them? They’re spawning like crazy!” Claire exclaimed. “Tell me about it,” I grumble.
We rush into the old shack with our guns held out far in front of us. One of the brain-eaters jumps in front of us, grabs me by the shoulder, and starts to choke me. I elbow it in the forehead and kick it out of my way, knocking it into one of the wooden beams. Claire shoots it down from behind and rushes after me.
“You’re losing your touch!” she teases. Claire has a point. When the invasion had started, she was almost like a helpless newborn; she couldn’t fend for herself at all. Now it seems like she’s catching up to me.
It makes me wonder for a minute where she could’ve been getting the practice.
Just then, she stumbles and trips. One of the zombies pulls on her green hair and drags her. She struggles to get away when a bullet flies through its eye.
“What were you saying about me losing my touch?” I teased back and stuck my tongue out.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever! I could’ve shaken him off!” said Claire.
Another zombie grabs my leg and tries to bite at it, but I shake it off and give it good punch to the face, knocking off its rotting jaw. The zombie gets knocked back a bit, but then it grabs hold of my neck. Then, I see Claire come up from behind him and whack him with some sort of blunt object. At this point I’m too oxygen deprived to pay attention to what type it was. At least it’s down.
Claire and I burst through the door and scan the room for more zombies. “Coast is clear,” she says.
“A lot less than I was expecting,” I mutter.
I let out a long sigh and grab the nearest chair. I stare up at the ceiling and notice the paneling is old, gray and cracked. The dining and pool tables are dusty and falling apart. The windows are shattered; the table cloths and knick-knacks are tattered and broken.
“Geez… this place is a dump…” I think.
“Wow… this place has really gone to hell….” I tell Claire. “Yeah. It sure is a wreck. It was like this the last time I came in here, too,” says Claire. “Why the hell are we here again?” I moan.
“Don’t worry, Ed, you’ll find out soon enough. It’s a surprise!” Claire chuckles almost sadistically. I’m beginning to get the feeling she’s enjoying stringing me along like this.
Claire suddenly walks off. She grabs one of the bottles of liquor that was in the back of the counter. She playfully drops it onto the table next to me. “Here, drink’s on me,” she teases. “Cute. You’re the only one of us that’s of legal drinking age here,” I feel the need to comment on this because Claire is two years older than me. I’m 20; she’s 22.
“It’s after the end of the world! I think that calls for a drink or two,” she chuckles.
“Thanks but no thanks. Someone has to drive your drunk ass home…” I remark dryly.
“Oh, come on! You know what day it almost is!” Claire beams eagerly. She insistently pours me a glass, and I surrender and take a sip.
A half hour later, a sip becomes several shots. Before we know it, we’re both extremely drunk. When I finally decide to put down my glass, I say to Claire, “So… when are you going to tell me why you brought me here?”
“Okay, okay, fine!” Claire grumbles in a slurred voice, “The reason I brought you here *hic* was because I wanted to give you something. But, this something is something you’re gonna’ have to look for on your own.”
I scowl and my eyes droop in frustration. “You are a sadist, you know that? How am I supposed to find this thing drunk?” I ask her.
“Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out!” Claire sticks out her tongue childishly.
I childishly stick my tongue out back.
I stagger through the room in my drunken stupor, rummaging through the tables and knick-knacks, trying to find this gift that Claire had given me. I can barely contain my annoyance as Claire chuckles through my struggles. “Shut up, already! I’m looking as hard as I can!” I snap at her after a while. “Keep looking! I hid it in a place you wouldn’t expect!” Claire smirks.
I search behind the cash register. Nothing.
I rummage through the rubble by the entrance. Still nothing.
After a few more minutes of searching, I spot a rusty object amongst a shelf of champagne bottles. “Aha! What’s this?” I say to myself. I see a rusty, wooden music box. I turn to Claire and say, “Hey! Is this what you were talkin’ about?” “Yeah! You got it! Happy Early Birthday!” she cheered. “E-early birthday?” I stammer. “I can’t freaking believe it! I had forgotten about my own birthday! Well, it was in a week, but still. Who forgets their own birthday?” I frown. “Hey. It’s this whole zombie-infested world. It does things to you. It could’ve done much worse to you, you know,” says Claire, “I found it in amongst the wreckage when I first came here. I know how much you love old creepy looking antiques like this one, so I just had to get this for your birthday.”
“Has this zombie thing done anything to you?” I ask in a concerned voice.
“What do you mean, Ed?” Claire asks and tilts her head.
“You know what I mean. Come on, Claire. You don’t think I haven’t noticed? The green hair; the drinking; you’ve been driving, apparently. You used to be terrified of the idea of driving! It’s all totally not like you. What’s been going on with you lately?” She grimaces. That tells me enough.
“What happened?” I ask.
When Claire is about to speak, she tries her best to put on a brave face, but I could tell she was fighting back tears. She pushes her glass to the side and begins to spill the whole story.
“Last month, my parents and I were in the city waiting for our car to be fixed. We went to eat at our favorite restaurant, Jenny’s,” she starts to say.
“Jenny’s? You mean the one that had to be demolished…. Last month? Oh my god, Claire. What happened?!” I start to get really worried.
“Then… it was terrible, Ed… The zombies attacked the whole restaurant! They… They got my parents. Yeah, they got my parents… And… I had to…. I was so scared… I didn’t know what else to do…It was either me or them…”
Already this starts to feel too familiar. Claire’s hands start trembling. The water in her eyes breaks free and trickle down her face like water gushing out of a dam. My eyes widen with horror before I move my chair closer to hers and embrace her. She continues on.
“The minute I saw their faces begin to rot, I just made a break for it. But as soon as I reached for the door, I tripped on my own feet… my own freaking feet, if you could believe it! Then, I saw them and some other ones coming for me. I crawled away as fast as I could until I had reached this tight corner. I… I just grabbed the closest thing to a weapon I could find and started smashing at them. Then I ran into…. Them… my parents…. I tried, you have to believe me, I tried to back away from them, but I was backed into a corner… I wanted so much to just not hit them… to just run away… but I was backed into a corner…”
I pull out a pack of napkins from my travel holster and give it to Claire. From there, she just bursts into uncontrollable sobbing. She leans over to me and continues to try to say more, but at this point, her speech is completely unintelligible. I shushed her and let her cry on my shoulder for a while. Suddenly, I think of my own parents.
The day I was separated from them, I was devastated, and as scared and helpless as Claire is feeling now. Though, I was really young at the time, and I spent the remainder of my childhood in an orphanage, so I never really had as much of an attachment to my parents as Claire had to hers.
After about a half hour she stops crying, and I whisper in her ear, “Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”
Claire sniffed and replied hoarsely, “Didn’t get the chance to. Too busy killing zombies and trying to support myself.”
“Well, guess what? Now I have an early birthday present for you. You’re not going to have to suffer on your own anymore. You’re coming to live with me!”
“No… That isn’t….” Claire resists initially.
“I’m not taking no for an answer, damn it!” I said fervently, getting up from my seat with urgency.
“You don’t have to…” Claire starts to say.
“Yes, I do. You’re my best friend! What kind of friend would I…?”
“If you say so…” says Claire.
As I stood, I poured myself another glass of champagne. When I returned to my seat, I push her glass and the bottle of champagne close to her and said, “To overcoming harsh struggles.”
“To overcoming harsh struggles,” Claire repeats, smiling weakly.
Claire drops her glass and takes a big gulp. I smile a bit and rub her head comfortingly. “I’ll drive us home, okay?” I tell her. She nods her head, and then lays it down over her arms, which are now resting over the table. For a while, I look over to her contently. It’s been a while since I’ve had some company at home. For as long as I can remember, it’s just been me in that big apartment of mine. It’s nice to know I’ll finally be getting some company.
I end up driving her to her house. The last time I saw her house, it had a much livelier vibe to it. Now it just seems depressing and lonely. I can only imagine how lonely Claire has been all this time. Claire gets out the keys to the front door and unlocks it before we enter. We reach her bedroom, which is full of rainbow decorations and stuffed animals. It hasn’t changed since middle school. She’s definitely still a kid at heart, I think to myself.
Claire goes to her closet and grabs a few very colorful suitcases and starts to put her things into them. I look around her room and notice all of the stuffed animals on the shelves. Several of them are old stuffed animals I had given her for numerous birthdays as a kid. One of them stands right next to a crystal clear, framed picture of Claire with her parents. She’s wearing her college graduation uniform. This was taken when she graduated from Arizona University. Just moments later, I notice Claire picking up the frame and removing the picture from it. I try to say something comforting, but even though I see them all the time, I never know what to say in these sorts of situations.
We finish packing and head back to the car. When we finish putting her things in the trunk, we drive back to my apartment. On the way there, I ask Claire, “Hey Claire. Do you remember that team name we came up with?” “What are you talking about?” Claire asks. “I mean, when we were kids? Remember? We would go off into your backyard and pretend to be these zombie-fighting superheroes?”
I tell her.
“Oh, right! We even had a team name! What was it again?” Claire giggles.
“Umm… I don’t remember… Hey, why don’t we make a new one?” I smile.
“Like what?” Claire asks.
Just then, we pull into my driveway. As I pull in, I notice the street sign again. “Montero Drive”. I turn off the car and Claire and I get her things from the trunk. “Well, what should our team name be, Ed?” Claire asks excitedly this time. “Hmmm…. How about…. Team Montero!” I reply with vigor.
“Hmm… Team Montero, huh? Sounds very Old West! I like it!” says Claire.
That’s right. From this point on, Claire and I form the beginning of Team Montero, the best Zombie Hunting team in the business.