The loud noise of the snow blower affects them. They don’t like it. It’s true, too, that I might be tempting fate a little. I might be losing it a little. Moving snow from my patio serves no useful purpose. Especially if it upsets them and gets them banging around out there on the other side of the fence, knocking over trash cans and whatnot.
The fence is almost too good at its appointed task: keeping things out. It’s keeping them out. I hear them groan for me — not explicitly by name, but it’s clear it’s me they’re after. They groan for me and, like you probably know from popular culture, specifically for brains. They do groan for brains by name.
A lot’s been written about zombies, and most of what’s been written is true. There was a time I never thought terribly hard about zombies. But I did think long and hard about building a fence. So I built a fence that, as it happens, also keeps zombies off of my property. The fence wasn’t for the zombies per se. I mean, the thought might have fleetingly crossed my mind while I was building it. Something like, “This fence is sturdy enough to keep even a hoard of zombies at bay, probably. It’s a sturdy fence.” I can’t recall.
But the zombies are held at bay.
Of course I still keep the doors locked. Even if they get through the fence there’d be the issue of the locked doors for them to contend with.
A thing people don’t know about zombie invasions is that you will meet the occasional ghost. It’s true.
I met the ghost of my brother, who for the most part “lives” with me now. That’s whenever he decides to materialize in his spectral form. It’s nice because otherwise I wouldn’t have much for company. I would have my goldfish and my bowling ball.
Never-ending droves of zombies are a tiring sight, day in and day out. Nobody ever comments on the smell. They have horrible bugs crawling in and out of their faces, and not just through obvious openings like eye sockets and receded nostrils. I’ve seen this through my binoculars.
I wish it wasn’t something I’ve seen, but I have.
My brother was seated beside me one morning recently. In life he used to seat himself beside me often. His sitting next to me makes me feel a special kind of nostalgia. Or something more complex than nostalgia. A word I can’t think of, possibly because it doesn’t exist. Just like people had once assumed of zombies and ghosts and werewolves. The werewolves I sometimes hear howling at the moon amid zombies and ghosts, all of which really seem to push the supernatural envelope by their co-existing. But they do. It’s a dangerous world out there.
My brother reminded me. He said I wouldn’t be so sad if it weren’t for one loss in particular. Out there amid the ruins of society.
Our beloved sister.
She’d become a vampire.
As such she was not welcome in my home. And yet, I longed for days of our past, memories of my sister lounging with our beloved family pet, a brown-gray tabby we called Tabachka, so named because it sounded pleasantly foreign. Our parents loved things that sounded pleasantly foreign. They called our home Das Wunderhaus.
My brother has been less nostalgic, or less whatever indefinable term. He reminded me of the pain she’d inflicted. How, that one Christmas, she’d returned home only to ransack our mother’s jewelry box, all the while pretending to have missed us. She’d even brought gifts. But by the time we realized what she’d really intended, she’d already made off with Mother’s best jewelry.
The wrapped boxes of her gifts contained old stones that reminded me of coal. I doubt very much that this was intentional. My guess is she filled the gift boxes with whatever random available thing she could find.
When my brother wants to communicate with me he writes on the mirrors in the house. He leaves all his messages there, appearing before me in his muted, ethereal form, then upping the heat and humidity by like a thousand percent so he can write his messages in the fog. He wants me to know what he’s “thinking.” He says it isn’t quite like thinking, as we few living understand it, what ghosts do.
He told me that there weren’t too many things my sister could keep warm anymore, and that if Tabachka were still with us, still living, he wouldn’t want anything to do with her.
The zombies cram themselves restlessly against the fence, but it deters and repels all comers, showing not the smallest sign of collapse. It’s pretty great.
My sister had been coming around more. At night, of course. The zombies are still out there at night. She climbed through the crowd of them. Sometimes I’d watch her through my binoculars, just barely discerning her lithe body. She’d at times, reflexively, lunge toward a random zombie, sink in her fangs and take a pull. Nothing came out.
It was sad. It was funny, too.
My brother urged me not to feel sympathy for her, for the fact that she must be starving, or dying of thirst, or whatever happens to vampires. But I couldn’t help it, even as winter had set in and everything out there was so cold and desolate. I’d been tempted to give up and give in and let my sister make a vampire of me, invite her back inside. Like a Christmas present.
Being a vampire would probably be better than life as a zombie, I sometimes think.
I can’t hold off the zombie invasion forever. No matter how strong the fence is, or my locked door after that is. I’ve gotten good at traversing the network of wooden planks and platforms I’ve set up along the rooftops of the abandoned homes of my neighbors. Effectively “island hopping” from my own home to the others, foraging and evading capture. I mean, I should be able to resupply by my network of planks for a while longer yet, but how much longer? How much time do I have?
My sister had come back for a reason, knowing full well I could help her. That maybe she could help me?
Despite my brother’s fog-written protests I let her in. On Christmas Eve I opened my door and gestured for my sister to come inside. She levitated over the fence in that way vampires do.
I waited for her in my den, on a leather divan, a fire going in the sturdy old stone fireplace. I was drinking brandy. I had Christmas music playing. I heard her creeping down the foyer; she slowly called for me. It was blood curdling. I nearly lost my nerve.
“Brother,” she said. “Brother, I’m so glad you’ve finally invited me home.”
She entered the den. She smiled viciously. She didn’t see the figure emerge from obscurity behind her, knew nothing until the wooden spike penetrated her heart through her back.
I hated to do it.
I offered the leather seat to St. Nick, handed over a plate of cookies foraged, not too stale. Stashed them for this special occasion.
I’d gotten all I needed, all I could want. In those ways, it was over. I was happy.
MATT ROWAN is a writer and editor living in Chicago, IL. He’s the author of Why God Why (Love Symbol Press 2013). He co-edits Untoward Magazine and assists with The Anthology of Chicago. His work can be found in Jersey Devil Press, SmokeLong Quarterly, Alice Blue Review and Cloud Rodeo, among others.