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Waiting for the Great Leap Forward (Cities of the Dead)
 

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Waiting for the Great Leap Forward (Cities of the Dead)
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

  By William Young

  Copyright 2011 William Young

  Liepvre, France – Day 159

  They were just three, now, down from eleven a week earlier. Remy hated life now more than ever before. As the only man in the group, Syrah and Yvette expected him to be able to protect them. And create fire. And find food. And figure out directions to wherever it was they were going. Scratch fire – that was what had gotten so many of them killed the week earlier: apparently, smoke and the smell of cooking food attracted zombies, and before anybody had had a chance to eat, dozens of the undead were trampling through the parking lot the group was in.

  And then they had become dinner. Well, Nicolas, Martin, Valerie, Marie and Gerard had become dinner. Everyone else had run full-steam out of the lot and down the railroad tracks. The six left had holed up in an abandoned train station the next few nights, making no noise and attempting to sleep in shifts, but someone had fallen asleep on shift one night and they had all awoken to the shrill screams of Bernadette being bitten on the arm by a zombie, and Remy had had just a split-second to grab his shoulder bag before sprinting out the emergency doors with Syrah and Yvette, Luc and Pierre right on their heels.

  But they had gotten stuck in a traffic jam on a clogged road outside Nancy, picking their way quietly through the parked cars. Some of the cars still had the real dead in them, collections of bones and moldering clothing, but some had the undead in them, laying motionless, waiting for something living to walk by. Pierre had been taken almost immediately by a faded-gray, skeletal goth queen in her early twenties, a girl any of the three men would’ve found attractive in her pre-undead state, her dark hair streaked with purple, her lower lip pierced, the hint of a tattoo on her shoulder. She must have known it, too, some leftover memory from her alive life, because Remy had watched as Pierre paused to regard the undead girl and consider her before-death beauty, preserved in pseudo-death and only slightly altered by her skin’s discoloration and the amount of blood drool on her chest.

  Remy had meant to shout a warning to Pierre to move, but Remy, too, had been transfixed at the left-over female attractiveness of the zombie girl. That moment had only lasted a few seconds, the zombie girl almost-but-not-quite smiling at Pierre before she lunged at him and bit a chunk of flesh from his neck. Pierre’s startled yelp of pain had roused a score of other somnolent zombies from their hidey-holes among the automobiles, and it was all Remy, Syrah, Yvette and Luc could do to escape with their lives, the pleas for help from Pierre ignored and drowned out by the pounding of their footsteps.

  Luc had been their group leader during the two weeks they’d been on the run after leaving from the university dormitory in Rheims. At twenty-four, Luc was slightly older than Remy and the girls and was the only person Remy had ever met who had actually served in the military, spending two years in the Army as an infantryman. Plus, Luc had a machete, the closest thing to an actual weapon anybody had. So everyone had agreed, tacitly at least, that Luc should be the leader of their group. Remy would’ve voted against it had they actually voted on it - he distrusted the military and the kinds of warmongers who joined - but he had grudgingly admitted to himself since then that Luc was the only one among them who knew how to read a map, hotwire a car or cut the heads off the undead. And, in the end, it had been his prohibition on fires of any sort that had kept them alive the first week.

  But that had all ended two days ago when Luc lost his balance while climbing up a utility pole to get a vantage point on the road ahead. He had fallen thirty feet from the top rung of the pole and cracked his skull on the asphalt, his body twitching as the life ran out of him. At least he got to die all the way, Remy thought as the girls begged him to do something to save Luc. But Remy knew nothing about first aid or medicine, and Luc didn’t last long enough for Remy to have been convinced to try. Luc’s eyes glazed over while he stared up into the blue sky and cumulus clouds, and Remy had turned to look up at them, as well, curious what Luc’s last visual input had been. Given the final visage Pierre had seen, Remy figured Luc had gotten off lucky, the sky his last image of life on planet earth.

  They had covered Luc’s body under a make-shift grave of branches and small rocks before moving on down the road to Liepvre, only knowing that’s what lay ahead of them because of the signs along the road. The girls tried to get Remy to agree to stay off the road and walk through the woods, as Luc had done with the group when he had been in charge, but Remy had only shrugged his shoulders and noted that that technique had only gotten them so far, and he wasn’t up for twisting his ankles on buried stumps and the tiny tunnels to animal warrens.

  “What the fuck do zombies know about roads?” he had asked, finally, in sheer exasperation when Yvette had questioned him for the thousandth time about walking down the middle of the road. “They’re fucking zombies, not enemy soldiers. They don’t have a plan, they aren’t doing patrols, they’re just fucking mindless reanimated corpses roaming the landscape.”

  And then he had laughed, hysterically, collapsing to the ground and gathering his knees to his chest as he giggled thinking about the new reality. Reality: mindless reanimated corpses roaming the landscape. He had never been a zombie movie fan because it had never interested him: what could possibly be so scary about zombies? For him, the question had always been even simpler than that: what would cause a zombie, much less a zombie plague? Not, he knew, some American germ warfare experiment gone wrong. That would kill everyone, but the Americans would go first, if the world were lucky, for having fucked around with genetic shit in the first place. Fucking Americans. Remy hated them and their corn-fed beef, sport-utility vehicles, television sitcoms and Nicholas Cage movies.

  Why, dear God, Remy wanted to know, did Nicholas Cage star in so many movies, so many of which clearly sucked because Nicholas Cage was acting in them? This was the problem with America writ large: no matter how bad or incompetent or arrogant something from America was, there was no shortage of assholes willing to buy it.

  But, of course, now there was no shortage of zombies and no explanation for them and, titfucker of all, the Americans hadn’t been heard from since they had shut down their borders and started shooting airliners bound for North America out of the sky. Some help those motherfuckers had turned out to be. And then his cell phone had died and he’d lost the Internet and nobody had a battery-powered radio and they had all just holed up in the university dorm room and wondered who was in charge and what would happen next. Remy had argued for staying in the dorm. Inside, they were safe from the zombies and the elements. The authorities would come for them as soon as they could; they wouldn’t forget to check a university for students, Remy said.

  Which is when Yvette had heard that Luc and Pierre were planning on getting out of the dorm and looking for help. Yvette convinced Syrah to join her with them. And since Remy and Syrah had been having sex for the previous six weeks, well, it hadn’t been too difficult to talk him into the need to find a better place somewhere outside the dorm even though he had pointed out there was more than enough food and water for another couple of months if they ate sparingly and just waited for help. The government, he argued, would be looking for them here in the dorm, not out on the streets. And besides, the zombies were outside on the streets, even if the neighborhood around the university had seemed deserted of them lately.

  But once they were all out on the road as a group, Syrah had stopped having sex with him because of the nature of group living and Remy had finally gotten pissed off enough that he wanted hot food instead of another can of cold ham and pea soup, at which point the
zombies had found them and eaten half the group.

  The threesome walked down the middle of Rue Maurice Burrus toward Liepvre, heading for Yvette’s father’s house in a suburb of Strasbourg: a destination of last resort now that Luc wasn't in charge. That was an insane idea in and of itself, another couple of days of walking through zombieland instead of finding a place to hunker down and wait the plague out.

  Remy stared absently at the landscape as they made their way down the road, the three of them silent, each of them paying some amount of attention to the possibility of zombies, but all of them lost in their heads wondering about the new meaning of life. If this was the future, what, then? Endless zombie wars? A return to what? – the pre-Industrial age? Remy shook his head at the thought of that: no media, no nightclubs, no cocktails, no online pornography, no office job doing whatever it was he had been going to college for five years to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Would the return of 1820 have any need of a computer savvy graphics
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