It's been a while since I've posted something I wrote so I figure, what better way to start the new year than with a zombie story? Hope you like it!
The Zombies of Cow Valley
By: Adam Gaylord
When I opened my eyes, the cows were gone.
I scrambled to my feet. I’d only closed my eyes for a few minutes. How a herd of 1500 lb. heifers was able to sneak away was a true mystery of nature. Usually when the cows laid down they’d stay down for hours, chewing their cud in a swarm of flies. Rarely did they abandon their morning nap.
Something must have spooked them.
I shrugged on my backpack and looked around the partially wooded pasture, seeing no sign of the cattle. If they weren’t in the open they were probably down near the creek. That meant fighting my way through dense thorn bushes and clouds of mosquitos to find them. I walked toward the creek, once again I cursed my luck in landing such a crappy summer job. When applying for the field researcher position I’d pictured helicopter wolf surveys or bull moose tracking. Instead I was putting my new graduate degree to use taking second-by-second behavior observations of walking crap factories.
Damn this economy.
I reached the wall of thorn bushes marking the edge of the stream corridor. Sure enough, a steaming fresh cow patty waited for me on a small trail penetrating the bushes. I ignored the smell and plunged in. By sticking to the trail I avoided most of the thorns, only earning a few new scratches. What I couldn’t avoid were the mosquitos. Dozens circled, determined to find a chink in the chemical armor I coated myself with every morning. They attacked my knuckles, behind my ears, through my cotton t-shirt, anywhere that the bug spray wasn’t thick enough to assure cancer. I trudged through the bramble for half an hour before finally spotting the heard clumped together in a corner at the downstream end of the pasture.
“That’s weird,” I mumbled. That area was rocky with hardly any grass so the cattle usually avoided it. It was also directly adjacent to the road and its complement of pickup trucks that never failed to scare the half-wit bovines.
Pickup trucks and dogs.
Over the course of the summer I had come to the conclusion that if you lived in eastern Oregon and you drove a pickup, you were required by law to carry a cow dog in the back. I pictured young men going to buy their mandatory first pickup haggling with the salesman about what kind of dog to include with the truck. “For another grand I’ll throw in a pure bred border collie, already trained to bark his head off at any living thing you happen to drive by.”
I neared the herd and noticed something else strange. None of the cows, not a single one, was either eating or crapping. What such a bizarre and unprecedented event might foretell I couldn’t begin to guess. I was just happy to see something, anything different from the herd.
I circled down toward the road to get a better look. The cows were lined up against the fence, staring intently down the road to where it and the creek curved down the narrow valley. I hadn’t seen the animals this interested in something since the rancher put out a new salt lick.
I reached the fence, the cattle ignoring me as I tried to see what the fuss was about. At first I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I was about to chuck the whole thing up to bovine stupidity when a movement caught my eye. Over the rocky bank that hid the creek from view climbed a sopping wet border collie.
“Well that explains it.” Anything on four legs automatically warranted the cow’s full attention.
But a dog without a truck? Where had it come from?
A small plume of smoke drifting over the creek bank answered my question.
I scurried over the fence and ran down the road, already knowing what I’d find. Sure enough, as I neared the dog the underside of a pickup came into view, the vehicle sitting upside down in the middle of the creek. The dog ran up to me and then back to the creek bank, whining.
“I know boy. I’m coming.”
The pickup was in bad shape. It looked like it had rolled a couple times before ending up in the water. The smell of burnt rubber and oil filled the air. I dug my cell phone out of my pack but as always, there was no signal. I tried calling 911 anyway but without any luck.
“Can anyone hear me?” I yelled from the bank.
I climbed down the rocky slope toward the wreck. The way people sped down these winding valley roads, I wasn’t surprised to see an accident. I’d only narrowly avoided several myself.
I waded into the knee-deep water, looking around for the cause the crash. I didn’t see another vehicle. Maybe the pickup swerved to miss a deer. Maybe the driver was drunk.
I reached the pickup and banged on the partially submerged driver side door. The widows were under the muddy water.
“Are you OK?” I shouted, feeling a little dumb for asking.
When I got no response I splashed my way against the current around to the passenger side of the truck and banged the door.
“Can you hear me?”
I bent down and peered through what was left of the passenger window. I could see part of the seat and some of the dash above the waterline but everything else was submerged. Not sure what else to do, I reached into the water. My hand met the resistance of flesh and fabric. Grabbing the driver’s shirt, I shook, and then waited for some kind of response. Getting none I felt my way down the seatbelt, fumbling with the buckle before finding the release. Bracing myself I pulled on the driver’s clothes and body. Try as I might he would not budge.
Blood swirled in the muddy water.
I waded back to the bank. I had no idea how long the driver had been submerged but if he was losing that much blood, it didn’t look good. I’d have to drive downstream 20 minutes before I was out of the steep sided valley and in cell phone range to call for help. I jogged back up the road toward my truck. I At least I could honestly say I’d done all I could.
Or had I?
I stopped and turned back to the dog, still pacing and whining on the bank.
“Common boy. There’s nothing we can do.”
The dog stopped and looked at me, cocking his head with a whine.
“I know you wanna stay but we need to go get help.”
The dog looked at the pickup again but then started toward me.
“Not that it’s gonna do much good,” I mumbled.
At that the dog’s ears went back and he growled low in his throat.
I threw up my hands. “Whoa big fella. I’m just the messenger.”
The menacing growl continued but as the dog circled to one side I realized his attention wasn’t on me but on something behind me. I turned around.
From the brush on the other side of the road emerged a woman in a yellow spandex bicycle outfit and matching helmet.
“Holy crap. Are you ok?” I asked, moving toward her.
She was obviously not ok. One leg dragged behind her as she staggered forward, bone sticking out of the compound fracture below her knee. Her arm on the same side swung freely and most of the skin had been scraped off that side of her body, blood staining the remains of her tattered cycling outfit. It was her eyes though that brought me to a stop. They were completely white, even the pupils.
“You should probably sit down,” I cautioned.
The woman continued to lurch forward, her only response a low gurgling moan that blended with the growl from the dog behind me.
“Quiet dog,” I said without taking my eyes off the woman. She kept moving toward me, her clip in bike shoe scraping against the road as her leg drug behind her.
I stepped back toward the growling canine.
“Shut up dog!”
But the dog wasn’t paying attention to me anymore, or even the woman. Instead he was watching what was left of his former master emerge from the passenger side window of the overturned pickup. I could only stare as an old man in a muddy plaid shirt pulled his torso out of the cab, only his tattered clothing and entrails following behind. He’d left his bottom half pinned in the pickup.
My curse drew the man’s attention, his milky white eyes turning toward me, jaw open in a raspy moan. His skin sizzled on the truck’s smoking hot undercarriage.
I cried out as a cold hand grasped my shoulder. I whirled around to find the woman cyclist reaching out for me with her good arm, her functioning fingers pinching the air.
I staggered backward. “Ok, I know you’re pretty messed up but could you please say something coherent so that I know you’re not a…a freakin’ zombie!”
The woman groaned.
“Anything. Like your name or ‘Help me’ or something. Please.”
She groaned again.
“Yeah, I was afraid of that.”
I jumped and whirled again when the dog barked. The farmer’s torso had managed to pull its way through the creek and was cresting the bank. Feted water poured out its mouth as it crawled toward me, moaning.
“Thanks dog. I’m on it.” I jogged a short way up the road toward a patch of trees. I figured chances were pretty good that I was dreaming. It wouldn’t be my first zombie dream. I’d always been a bit of a zombie nut, watching every movie, reading every book, playing every game. They were fun.
This wasn’t fun.
I reached the trees and took a deep breath. Then I slapped myself in the face, hard.
“Ow,” I mumbled, rubbing my cheek. “Ok, not a dream.”
I searched the stand, quickly finding a downed pine tree. I broke off a nice sized branch, about 4 feet long and as thick as my bicep. Then I stepped back onto the road, my pursuers slowly closing ground, the woman in the lead. I grabbed a fist sized rock from the side of the road.
“Ok, last chance. Stop fucking around or I’m gonna bean ya.”
Neither reacted, they just kept coming.
“All right, I warned you.”
With that I took a full major league windup and hurled the stone at the female cyclist. The rock bounced off her sternum with a sickening wet thwack. She hardly reacted, staggering only slightly before continuing her halting march toward me.
“Well, that pretty much cinches it.” I told the dog who had retrieved the rock and set it at my feet.
“Thanks, but I think I’ll use this.” I raised makeshift club and started forward. Then I stopped and turned back to the dog.
“Sit.” He did.
“Stay.” He did.
“Man, border collies are smart.”
I turned back to the zombies. Squaring my shoulders I closed on the cyclist, her fingers pinching the air as I approached. Taking a deep breath I growled and swung the timber, aiming for her left ear. The blow missed high and struck her helmet, sending it flying and tilting her head to one side with the crack of bone. Her head stayed at the odd angle and she kept coming.
I swung again, this time bringing the club up over my head like I was chopping firewood. The woman’s head cracked open like an unripe melon. She collapsed, twitching for a moment before finally stilling. The dog barked but I didn’t react, transfixed by the gruesome sight.
The smell of rotting flesh hit me as I was yanked backward, something pulling on my backpack. Trying desperately to keep my feet, I shrugged of the straps and fell, dropping the club. I scrambled to my feet only to find myself face to face with a third zombie. This one was much further gone, bits of skin and matted hair barely clinging to its decomposing muscle. The creature lunged at me mouth first and I ducked to the side, expecting to feel the zombie’s hands clasp onto me. Again it snapped at me and again I was able to step away unhindered. A few quick steps backward showed what had saved me: the zombie had no arms. What it lacked in limbs however, it made up in persistence. It lurched toward me, forcing me back again. I managed to circle around and retrieve my fallen club. The zombie lurched toward me and I whacked its head with a similar chopping motion, a second swing necessary to dispatch it completely.
I took a deep breath only to stagger as the farmer’s cold wet hand clamped hard onto my ankle.
The creature moaned, pulling himself toward my foot, mouth agape. He bit down, his teeth sinking into the club I had just managed to jam between us. I pulled away but the torso drug behind me with every step, only the club keeping his teeth from my flesh.
Dog ran over from where he had been sitting the whole time and chomped down on his owner’s shirt, pulling hard. The sudden change in momentum sent me sprawling, dislodging the club from the zombie’s mouth. I kicked at its head, its jaws snapping at my boots. Only Dog’s pulling kept the zombie off me long enough to jam the end of the club into its mouth again.
“Dog, get me that rock.”
He stopped pulling and looked at me.
“Get me the rock boy, go get it!”
The zombie ground the log into my leg with its mouth, teeth breaking off as it tried desperately to feed. It was all I could do to keep the club between us.
Dog dropped the same fist-sized rock by my head.
I grabbed the stone and tomahawked it down onto the zombie’s head. Over and over the crack of bone and splatter of blood met the stone until finally the creature stopped moving. Even then I had to pry its hands off my bruised ankle.
I stood and examined the corpses. The farmer’s blood pooled on the asphalt, a trail of gore marking his path from the creek. In contrast, the cyclist was hardly bleeding. With the exception of her newly acquired head wound, her injuries appeared older, the blood around them dried to a rusty brown, the flesh purple and sagging.
“Poor bastard, wrecked to miss a dead woman.” I rolled the farmer over with my foot immediately spotting what I was looking for, a circular chunk of flesh missing from the inside of his wrist.
A bite mark.
A wave of nausea sent me scurrying to the side of the road, separating me from my meager breakfast. I stayed doubled over for a few minutes, overwhelmed, not by the violence or gore but by the implications of what had just happened. I’d watched enough zombie movies to know how these things worked. Pandemics started in big cities. I’d been camping in the middle of eastern Oregon, over 200 miles from anything close to a big city for the last three weeks. I was due to go into town the next day to restock my dwindling supplies. I had no cell service, no contact with the outside world. It was just me and the cows. And if there we zombies this far in the boonies…
I picked up my club and jogged back toward my truck.
“Come on, Dog.”
But Dog stayed put, his attention trained down the road to where it and the creek curved out of sight. I stopped and saw Dog’s ears lay back and his hackles rise. He growled low in his throat, like before. By now I knew enough to listen to him.
“What is it, boy?” I walked back and crouched down by his side, trying to see what he saw. The road was empty. Not even a bird moved in the brush. I stayed motionless.
Slowly, unperceivably at first, Dog’s growl grew louder. Soon it seemed to fill the valley around us. As it continued to grow I realized it was less of a growl and more of a moan. A few moments later a wall of zombies rounded the corner into the valley. There were dozens, maybe hundreds. I watched as the road back to civilization, back to my friends and family, filled with the undead. I thought of my parents and my little brother back in Portland. Was there a chance they were ok? Would I see them again?
Dog barked, glancing from the zombie hoard to me and back again.
“Yeah. You’re right. Let’s go.” I resumed my jog to the truck, this time Dog falling in step beside me.
We’d head into the mountains. There were dozens of old logging roads we could use. Maybe I could find an old fire tower or something where I could get cell service. We’d have to try.
“Good luck cows!” I shouted to the herd who nervously eyed Dog as we ran by. I didn’t know if zombies liked beef.
I half hoped they did.
Note: I wrote this while doing behavior research with cattle in eastern Oregon. Pretty much any time I'm bored I think to myself, "What would I do if zombies showed up right here right now." It's a good way to stay entertained.