art by Melissa Mead
Everyone Gets Scared Sometimes
by Ari B Goelman
She wakes up scared in the morning. She wakes up scared almost every morning. Still, it's a nice day. Summer. Blue sky.
She walks up the hill until she's downtown. It makes her feel better, having living people all around her.
She walks up and down the busiest streets she can find until she stops feeling so scared. Eventually she feels tired and sits on the sidewalk outside her favorite bakery. Every once in a while someone drops money in her lap.
Two men in suits walk past. One of them hands her a five-dollar bill. As the men are walking away she hears him say, "dead zone survivor."
She wonders sometimes if it really happened. The zombies and her daddy and his axe. If it happened, it seems to her, the city would be different. There would be fewer cars on the streets. The traffic lights wouldn't work. Her favorite bakery wouldn't be there, not if all that stuff had happened.
She goes to the bakery every day. She likes the bread and she likes the big glass windows. They let her keep an eye on the outside, make sure that she doesn't get cornered. There's a back door and a front door and a stairway leading to the roof. Three exits is pretty good.
The woman at the bakery knows her and usually has some day-old bread waiting for her. Today it's her favorite kind--hard dark bread. She takes two loaves. One for now, one for later. You always keep half of your food for later. Her daddy taught her that.
She eats a few slices of the bread and drinks a glass of water, before going back out on the streets. She starts toward the park where she sleeps. It took even her daddy a while to realize it, but sleeping outside is the safest. You hear the zombies before they get to you.
Two big boys are sitting on a bench at her park. When they see her, they get up and walk over to her. They both have Z tattoos on their cheek. "Hey," the one with long hair says. She tries to walk around him, but his friend shifts his weight so he's right in front of her. They're a lot bigger than her. The zombies were usually bigger, too, but that was different. They were slower, and after a while you knew what they would do.
"You sure she's the one?" the short-haired one says. "She's, like, twelve."
The other big boy shakes his head. "Stunted growth because she was in the dead zone for so long. Alex tried her on and said she was all grown up where it counts."
"Alex is full of shit," the short-haired one says.
The long-haired one shrugs. "Whatever. She's a dead zone survivor. Look at how twitchy she is."
"Fuck this," his friend says. He turns and walks away.
The long-haired one steps closer to the girl. He's afraid. She knows the smell from when the zombies were everywhere. This is how everyone used to smell. She tries again to walk away from him, and he grabs her arm. She punches him hard in the chest with her other hand. If he was a zombie, his chest would have collapsed. He's not a zombie, though, so he just grunts and grabs her other arm.
He says some words that she doesn't understand. When she gets scared, she stops understanding words. Mrs. Chariandy, her social worker, says that's okay. That everyone gets scared sometimes.
"Let me go," she says. "Or I'll call my daddy."
The big boy says some more words and pulls her closer to him.
She tries to pry his fingers off her arm, but his fingers are too strong. They're not like zombie fingers. Zombie fingers are brittle as glass. You just have to be fast with zombies. Break their fingers before they can get their mouth on you.
The big boy is squeezing her arms so tight that her biceps hurt. Then he pushes his leg between her legs. So she does it. She calls her daddy.