The house was secure for the night, of course. They wouldn't live long otherwise; they'd learned that long ago when they had seen their more cavalier neighbors scoff at the rumors. Their neighbors now hunted them along with the others.
Of course, nobody had believed it at first, and those who first bore the reports, fleeing as they did the terrible first wave of the plague brought on the backs of refugee Mexicans, were disregarded as the ravings of the deluded. In time, of course, the situation developed to a stage where none could disregard this strange invasion, too many of the reports were identical in theme and detail.
You could call them what you wanted, of course, but when you simply referred to them as "Them", everyone knew exactly what was the subject of the discussion. The zombies, they were called at first, since they walked by day or by night, and they seemed to be basically damaged human beings controlled by one odd compulsion: to make everyone they encountered exactly like them. Exactly? Not so; they retained, or so it seemed, most of the memories and habits of the people they had once been, but there seemed to be something best described as something between instinct and an secondary personality. Given time, the secondary personality wold move past the animalistic compulsion to infect others, and assume a dire purpose, and change from a random shambling travesty of their former self, and would change their modes of operation.
At first, they simply spread their disease. Illegal immigrants wandered across the border, and the first persons that they encountered, they bit. Soon, generally within the hour, the victim collapsed into a very high fever, and then went from their near-death coma into a febrile state, a sort of walking delirium. Like a rabid animal they would seek and bite any whom the could, and thus the disease spread. But what of those who seemed to have lived for a long time with this illness, plague, or retroviral rewrite of the basic human code? They were the coyotes, the ex-men and ex-women who exported these vestigial remnants of humanity, who foisted the plague on the NorteAmericanos. They were not brain-damaged, or if their brains had been damaged at one time, some sinister internal agency had replaced the damaged tissue. Whatever it was, these modified men were intelligent, and viciously unscrupulous.
The plague travelled north on the feet of men, following trails as old as migrant-worker fueled agriculture. The first infected Americans were those who made their living preying upon or supporting (and in many respects this was much the same) the illegal-migrant- worker industry. The infected their friends, and after transmitting the disease, went into the longer coma that characterized the progression from the zombie state into a condition that more resembled the classic vampires of European legend. Once risen from this deathly month-long stupor, they were generally considerably more intelligent than they had been before they had been exposed, but where they had before been merely tendentious scum preying upon the desperate, they now developed an ability to be studiously and intentionally evil. They sought out underworld contacts, and made them also to be such as were they.
Those illegals who had long been travelling the hispanic underground railroad had paved the way for those who were in the mediate stages of the plague, and those latter followed the trails through the bus-stations and the cities. People who thought to flee the plague found themselves trapped on busses driven along established routes by people who had been bitten, and protected, and had risen from the coma to be dedicated soldiers of this para-occult invasion force. Vast numbers of unaffected Mexicans, themselves fleeing a plague of apparent vampires that had infected their country from the highest levels swarmed the border, and where they were captured and returned, the more clever possessed ones passed into North America, where they studiously and intentionally created catspaws of the highest social caliber. Gardeners bit their employers, and their employers took generous amounts of sick leave, and raised themselves from coma to assist in the invasion that none but the truly mad could have ever suspected.
Of course, these were no undead corpses rising from the grave to suck the blood of the living, but they assuredly were much faster than uninfected persons, and they seemed to be equipped with instincts for combat and subliminal hypnosis through prestidigitation, a built-in version of the Mesmeric system of induction through peripheral-vision motion. They cold bite you, and you'd become like them... for the most part. The vast majority of those captured by the Americans who had been made by their gardeners, housekeepers and drug-dealers wound up as mere pawns, which for the most part they had already been: employees, cogs in machines of industry, and most especially cashiers in grocery stores were the main objects of conversion. Keep in mind that once one had been through the coma stage, brain-damage was not a problem, the problem was that destroyed nervous tissue seemed to be replaced with a vengeance by more-functional replacement, which was unfortunately evidently preprogrammed to be inimical.
When the progression of the plague became obvious, people began blocking efforts. First, they sealed the border. They learned to recognize the obvious physical changes which accompanied the plague. The convulsive spasms of the comatose state left the survivors with immense strands of muscle running up the sides of the neck, and the skull first weakened, grew, and then thickened again to accommodate whatever it was that replaced destroyed cerebral tissue. The combination of the spasms and the osteoporosis caused the victim's ears to rise far atop the head, and the instinctual combative skills could be triggered. In fact, this was the easiest way to recognize them... get a known one to walk past a suspected one, and they'd interact forcefully, and faster than could be reasonably expected, and did it instinctually, unavoidably, and in most cases, seemed to not be aware that they were doing this.
Once the border was sealed, since it was known to have come in mostly from Mexico (though it became evident that other and worse irruptions were happening worldwide; eventually it was agreed that each nation seal its own borders and whatever they did within those borders was just fine with all of the other nations), first all suspected illegal aliens, and finally everyone with brown skin, and then everyone with black skin and then everyone with white skin was rounded up and finally it was determined that all of the cops were getting infected as fast as they could round up suspects and then everything stopped working.
The "living" locked themselves in their house, and waited. Some ventured forth for food, and often returned a month later, newly risen, with clever tales for their starving families, and often the families succumbed to the entreaties of the returned prodigal, and were themselves added to the mass of the infected.
In time, when there were no more fresh victims to capture, something happened to those who had been long-time revenants. Their intelligence decreased, and they went quite mad, instead of being simply monstrous, and began to fight each other.
"So, general, what's it like being undead?" Joan grinned, and when the general (or whatever he was) reached his hand in the security grate, broke his hand (again) with the stock of the .30-06. He didn't notice, they didn't seem to feel much pain at all.
"I'll make sure you get that promotion," he muttered, drawing back the injured paw to make a fast grab with another. This time he had enough sense to grab and withdraw, and did it lightning fast at speed Joan, as a living person, could never hope to match. She simply had drawn a yellow line, and never allowed any body part to stray beyond it.
"I've got plenty ladies in Alcatraz weaving dandelions," he muttered, seeing he'd failed in this attempt. "Penultimate conscription inedible Limbaugh," he continued, and began again to relate an incomprehensible tale regarding nothing. "Democratic fallacy of the inarguable Kissinger. Imbeddible prissiness of capitulative revilables."
"You're getting better, general, you're almost making sense," she remarked. She was saving the general to see if he would, in fact, get better. When she was a little girl, he used to occasionally buy her snowcones when he saw her down at the supermarket with her mom, god rest her soul. Mom was out there right now, behind the general, clashing teeth in a barely-visible interaction with another of the neighbors, who simultaneously deflected a goose-stepping kick from some newcomer she didn't recognize. They all fell into a whirlwind free-for-all, emerging uninterested and dusty from a cloud of falling leaves. Joan hadn't been able to get out and do any yardwork recently, and the leaves were piling up. She hoped to god that none of them would remember that fire can flush out barricades. One of them was walking around with a baseball bat that it didn't seem to know how to use. Occasionally, it got into a spat with one of the others, and when it did, it dropped the bat, won or lost, and then picked the bat back up.
"Incomprehensible bastions of the illiterate left," muttered the general, scraping a hand blood against the barriers. She'd superglued a lot of broken bottles to the casement of the windows. The general lost a finger. She knew that when he came around tomorrow about midafternoon, it would be mostly regrown. Her mom flashed over and grabbed the finger, and ate it, screeching at her to clean her room. As she screamed, the inevitable free-for-all began again. This time, it was her mom, the general, the newcomer, and the guy with the baseball bat, who dropped his bat before entering the fray.
She wondered what exactly it was that they ate. Sometimes, she came upon vast piles of half-empty cans at the supermarket she occasionally prowled on her heavily armed forays. Once, she had sat motionless within the store as one of them had cruised by with a shopping cart, mashing the cans. It worked at incredible speed, a veritable spume of cans flying through the air to land, crushed, within the shopping cart, all following the same trajectory, all making the same rebounds. They were terribly strong; if they had, any of them, remembered how to use a lever, she'd have long since been gone. She'd finally given up on enjoying the spectacle of it. He was between her and her car, and she was quite done shopping. She blew his head clean off with the .30-06, aiming for the spot immediately behind and below the ears that proved most effective. The round shattered the twisted bones of his neck, and most of the head flopped free. As she pushed the shopping cart past him, it seemed to her that something was trying to worm its way free of his neck. She'd seen it before, never closely. She was afraid to look. She had a horror of worms.
Shopping was always a dreadful experience. She was not a large girl, and with shopping being the drag that it was, she had lost a bit of weight. The .45 Army special that she carried for emergencies had nearly broken her wrist a few times, and firing it usually staggered and disoriented her; still, she used it fairly often. Once, she had been shopping, and as she emerged from the aisles of the store, there had been one of them manning (if that was any longer a useful word) a dead register. "I'll take you here, miss," it had said, and she had pushed her cart into the aisle, and stayed outside the imaginary yellow line, and laid a few items on the dead conveyor belt, and as the remnant had repeatedly trod upon the conveyor switch, muttering about the repairman's personal flaws she'd fired once through the chest. That got the remnant's attention. "Robbery's illegal," said the remnant, and she had said, "Get fucked." The remnant leaped straight onto the conveyor, and she had simply leaned back, pulled the .45 back nearly to her chest, and fired. She'd been practicing a lot at home, and her aim was true. The remnant was blown off of the conveyor before her feet had really settled, and she herself was knocked on her ass onto the floor. As she backed her shopping cart full of imperishable canned goods out of the aisle and wheeled it running through the propped-open broken glass of the front door, more of the remnants had flown at her in the parking lot, but had succumbed to their invariable urge to fight over territory. She wedged the shopping cart into the side door of the minivan, and drove half a hundred yards away, bounced back out and tipped the cart as far as it would go. When she accelerated out of the lot, most of the canned goods had slid out of the cart into the van's interior. Since then, she had learned to be more careful... besides, there seemed to be less around.
"Prodigious expenditure of fiscal resources!" screamed the general, backhanding her mother. "I told you to get Tide," screamed her mother, "Cheer's no (and here she turned her back on the general as a prelude to the savage rear whipkick they used) *goddamned* (kick, the general's head snapped back with an audible crackling) good!"
"It's a long drive deep into the outfield!" shouted the newcomer, and began gnawing at her mom's ankles. Her mom bent over and began chewing on the back of his neck. The general dragged himself off by his fingertips, muttering about declassification of military-base expenditures lists. Joan stood frozen between shock and other less- identifiable emotions, and woke to the sound of her little brother's voice.
"I wanna eat somethin'," he whined. He jumped up on the sette they'd dragged to the window, and peered out. "Hey, look, mom's eatin' that guy's head!" And indeed, mom was eating that guy's head. He was still gnawing on her ankles, and as he gnawed at last through a hamstring, mom collapsed to the ground. "I hate seeing mom like that," he said. "At least we don't have to watch dad doing this."
Yah, I couldn't stand that, thought Joan. Dad was the one she wished was around to help them. But she sort of doubted that dad would have survived this. Dad was a realist. He would have never (like her poor mom, who finally crunched through the newcomer's second vertebra, stilling his movements, mostly; his jaws continued to gnaw) given the idea of vampires or zombies (or whatever the fuck they were) any credence whatsoever, not until the jaws of death closed on him finally and forever.
The newcomer's jaws finally stopped champing as mom's twirling tongue reached some nerve or another. He stared upwards with the incredibly amazed look of the really truly dead, and then it crawled out of him. Joan couldn't bear to look. She'd never been able to look; now was not the time to start.
"Cool!" said Billy, who was impressed by disgusting things. "So that's what they are."
Whatever it was Billy was looking at, Joan had to turn away. But she peeked. It was about the size of a calf's liver, and she turned her eyes away, but not before she saw it pulled clean out of the hole her mom had gnawed in the back of his neck, dragging the tongue behind it. It seemed to have some sort of barbed appendage stuck well into the tongue, something she really couldn't stand to see.
"Hey," said Billy, "Look! It's got a stinger in his tongue!" And indeed it did. It ripped free with a wet tearing sound that reminded her of the noise the remnant grocery checker had made when part of her exploded chest caught on the edge of the conveyor and ripped flesh in a breaking of shattered ribs. she thought she might be sick for a second, but the moment passed. She steeled herself, and looked.
Her mom had grasped the thing, the calf-liver with the sting, and was starting to eat it. The sting whipped and whipped, with the newcomer's tongue attached, and as the stinger whipped, it managed to whip the tongueflesh free, which flew in the window, and just missed Billy. He marked its position on the floor, and reminded himself not to step on it. "Ewww," he said. Out in the yard, the general screamed his opposition to the use of welfare recipients in the armed forces to clean latrines with homosexual income tax, roughly paraphrased.
The thing from the newcomer was jabbing its stinger at mom's eyes. Mom's own tongue emerged, to twirl right back at the newcomer's worm. The worm extended tiny slug-eyes on stalks, widely spaced, shockingly reminding Joan of the times she'd (she had thought then this was before the nature of the plague was known, sort of) thought she'd seen tiny slug-eyes extended from the oddly high-set ears of an odd illegal who'd been in the grocery checkout line in front of her, back when mom was mom and not some loathsome thing that prowled the yard occasionally screeching about waxy yellow buildup. The slug-eyes trained on her mom's tongue, and the stinger's thrusts became more accurate. A stinger emerged from her mom's tongue, which continued to twirl, and the stingers locked in a twining mortal embrace. Her mom's tongue extended further than she had thought possibly, and then something flashed across the yard, and her mom fell to the ground. Her eyes tracked the flash.
In the shade of the old oak tree, a small brown manlike form held a piece of calf-liver-like fleshy stuff with a viciously jabbing stinger, and as it stabbed at his eyes, he pinched off the stinger at the base. The stinger, nearly a foot and a half long, twined about his finger, but he pinched it again, near the middle, and it parted cleanly. He discarded both parts, and ate the calf-liver-part, and her mom's tongue. Her mom, beneath the window, gushed blood for a moment, and then rose, to screech "Ige! I olg oo oo ech 'Ide! 'Eeergh mo oog!" and then wander off, gurgling. The general yanked his head back into position and resumed his nearly intelligible rant about NATO inadequacies in the face of the propinquity of the ecliptic considered in the context of revisionist heresies. He had almost made it to his feet when the small brown form finished the meal it had grabbed, and moved towards the window, grinning slyly at her and Billy as it began to reach into a hip pocket. She grabbed Billy, and fled into an inner room.