Read Excerpt

The Storyteller Speaks

American Zombie Beauty

By Philip Baruth

Page 4

And because of that night in Boston, with the big Silent Bastard in the dark, one of the things Suzanne does that’s always struck me as disarming and cute, and more than a touch sad, is she runs the last ten feet to the door at night, every door, even today, even if I’m with her, even if the porch light is on. Even if— Well, even if anything, she runs to the door.

So I jam the cell back in my shirt pocket and just fling the last few bricks at the mess of concrete. I have in mind that I’ll stand and turn and go leaping up the steps to get things ready for Suzanne’s break for the cabin. But I’ve been leaned over at a cramped angle for the last twenty minutes, trying to avoid the drying concrete, and I’ve been moving heavy stone and cement and wood for the last five hours. My muscles are shot.

And so when I turn to take the stairs three at a time, my right leg only manages two-and-a-half, and my foot twists between stairs, and there’s a brilliant searing sensation up my shin. I roll over and haul the leg out from where it’s jammed, pain winking like white lights all around me in the stairwell.

It’s covered with blood, the leg, and there’s a little javelin of splintered stair running what looks like the length of my femur. I try to tug on the wood, but it’s clear the huge splinter spread and repositioned once it entered the leg, like the seed of a foxtail, and it’s not coming back out without a fight. So I figure I’ll bring it upstairs with me.

Getting moving again is a tough undertaking, though. It takes a good thirty seconds, because my ankle seems lightly sprained too, or twisted at least. But I get myself upright, and I’m moving heavily up the stairs when Grampa’s ancient face leans into the doorway above me.

“Germans in the dooryard, boy,” he says tersely, but with just the tiniest audible hint of I told you so.

* * *

There’s a loft in the cabin, and at one end of the loft is a skylight—a cheap one, made out of a big bubble of streaky lucite, the edges of which some long-ago do-it-yourselfer slathered with heavy-duty glue and joined to a round hole in the roof. It’s no small feat leveraging myself up into the loft with the dead leg, but once I do I drag our futon over below the skylight, and then I fold it triple and climb carefully on top.

My balance is shot, and I almost take a header before getting centered again. Then I pull out the hammer I’ve got stuck into my belt, and I give the lucite a serious rap that cracks it like an eggshell. A few more shots, and I’ve got a hole in the roof with a three foot radius, like a crow’s nest except that I can only just get my head and shoulders up above the wood.

It’s enough, though. From this vantage point, I can see the entire plot of land around the cabin—not a yard so much as cleared forest, with stumps and pine needles and Suzanne’s little rock gardens, and then taller weeds and grass and purple loosestrife down along the driveway that winds down half a mile or so to the Mountain Road.

It’s there in the Loose Strife, which is to say in the rainwater in the ditch beside the drive, that I see the first couple of Jerrys. They’re canny about some things, and dumb as dirt about others. Researchers have proven that they have the ability and the foresight to pack crude tools, like crowbars and knives, and bread and other dried food in their pockets. But water’s beyond them: they’ll drink it where it lies, but haven’t the foggiest idea about how to move it from one place to another. So they’re always parched, and swarm over fresh water.

The scientists at the CDC like to say it has to do with “asystematic retention”—as in Jerrys can remember how to deal with solids but not with liquids—but that starts you down this path of remembering that Jerrys are humans, with at least part of their human memory and identity still available in there somewhere, and you’d really rather not go there. Not if you have to shoot a bunch of them dead in the head.

I can see four of them, and I have a fleeting hope that it’s just a beetle of Jerrys—three or four traveling alone—rather than a bus, which is eight or ten. But then a lot of little movements through the tree line sort of resolve themselves in partial flashes of color and sound, the way things do in the woods, and I forget to breathe.

Because it’s not just a busload of Jerrys coming up the rise and onto the property. It’s an entire Fuurther formation: thirty or more, moving where they will and doing what they will with what they find.

At the farthest reach of the cleared land, we have a big birdfeeder, the tall smooth chrome kind that squirrels can’t breach. And a big-bellied Jerry takes a boot to it, and topples it over, so that the wooden feeder smashes into the ground, sending up a shower of birdseed and suet. Isn’t twenty seconds before three or four Jerrys are fighting over the contents, pawing and cuffing at each other as they try to figure out if the suet is living tissue. Like great white sharks, they’ll tear into just about anything organic, to see if it nourishes their depleted blood. Great white sharks in tie-dye. With matted hair and bloodshot eyes and small sores on their faces and hands.

That’s when I hear the sound of the Subaru on the Mountain Road, down-shifting and braking for the driveway. We need muffler work, and when I hear Suzanne shoot onto the ruts of the drive from the smooth two-lane road I can tell how much time I have with absolute precision.

I have twenty-five to thirty seconds before she crests the rise and drives right into the big pack of Jerrys she can’t see at the moment.

Thirty seconds before they have her in a place where she can’t turn around, can’t put it into reverse, where she suddenly can’t move for the trees.

And that’s when I hit the switch. Next to the skylight is a simple on/off switch I installed two weeks ago, a switch that runs down out of the loft to a cassette deck on the floor below. A cassette deck wired up to two amps, Fender Twins, Jerry’s early favorites, that now hang suspended by bungee cords from the eaves of the cabin, facing the drive. And on the cassette deck is a tape of a concert, a Grateful Dead concert, who the fuck knows which one, some tape Suzanne has had mouldering in the bottom of a box of cassettes since the time she switched over to compact discs in the ‘90s. There’s no label on it anymore, but it’s Dead music just the same.

For two weeks now, on the off chance that hearing the old riffs, the music of their purloined humanity, might reach them somehow, I’ve had the system wired up to blast it louder than the afterburner of an F-16.

How could it hurt, I thought. Can’t make them any madder.

Page 1| 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Next

Buy This Book