The Lost Gods: The Siege

Adam and Jesse stood on top of a ramshackle plat-form constructed with scrap wood. A large crowd of reanimates huddled together below them. They were safe inside a fort made of odds and ends they had salvaged from the now-empty town of Silverdale, Washington. Six months ago, Silverdale was an idyllic suburb: full of evergreen trees, lush flora, natural beauty, and without much crime and the bothers of urban life. Now it was devoid of everything, including its residents. The dead had supplanted the living, except for an amateur wrestler and a former junky.
It was the end of fall. Clouds hung heavy and dark during the day, and sunlight was an abstract concept. Rain sullied their moods, but harder rains and winter storms were yet to come. The cacophony of gunshots, explosions, fires, and screaming ceased months ago after the town succumbed quickly to the undead. All that remained in the county were thousands of reanimates per square mile and a few humans and animals scattered like dandelion florets in the wind. The dead were at the top of the food chain. Instead of surrendering to the new apex predators and becoming a hot, screaming meal, Jesse and Adam dug in and made themselves a defensible home in the middle of a parking lot at the local mall.
Jesse looked over the barricade at the undead. He squinted when he met the soupy, empty eyes of a bloat-ed reanimate wearing a tattered and soiled black suit.
“Why are so many of them in suits?” he asked Adam.
“Probably what they were buried in,” Adam answered. Adam was holding a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun. His tall lanky frame seemed unable to bear such a large gun, but Adam had surprised Jesse time and again with his strength. Adam had once said while flexing his sinewy biceps, “They don’t look like much but these guns still shoot.” Jesse smirked and let Adam have his ego-stroking moment.
The crowds of reanimates were sporting their funeral garb. Some wore ornate robes, military uniforms, or nothing at all. Despite their varied appearance, they all craved the two last morsels of goodness left in Silverdale.
“I’ll never get used to it,” said Jesse, in his low voice and his slow, precise diction.
“I know, man, it’s like it’s never going to go back to normal. These fucking things never go away. They just keep coming and coming, and they’re so quiet. It freaks me out, man. I kinda wish they would make some noise. All is can hear is them shifting around.”
“I meant the smell,” said Jesse as he locked eyes with that same corpulent reanimate wearing the soiled suit.
“Oh — yeah, fucking penguins smell the worst,” said Adam.
“Absolutely, but I kind of like how the old ones smell. It’s earthy. Like a wet, rotting tree.”
“You serious?”
“That’s fucked up,” said Adam. He turned toward Jes-se. His face contorted like he had just eaten some bad food. The undead below continued banging against the makeshift fort.
“Don’t judge, gotta break up the horrible stuff with the not-so-bad stuff.”
Adam looked back down at the crowd and found one of the older creatures. It was small and so thin that it looked like it might crumble into dust before the night came.
“It’s like, I can look the penguins in the eye, and I can hope that they understand me. Like they still have feelings, but the old ones, man, I just see death: no compassion. And those eyes. Man, I’ve lost more sleep because of those than anything else,” said Adam.
“A zombie in a suit will still eat you.”
“Yeah, but he’ll do it a lot quicker.”
“Getting eaten is getting eaten.”
“I don’t think so, man. I mean — I think drawing it out would make it worse. Gives you time to think about it, and the pain probably doesn’t go away. You ever had something sprained or dislocated before?”
“No, I was really lucky that I never got hurt wrestling. I saw a lot of guys get hurt though. Had a few victories that ended poorly for the other guy.”
“I guess you can imagine that some pains don’t ease up. I’d be willing to bet getting eaten is one of those types of pain.”
Adam winced after he spoke. The lines in his face made him look older than his twenty-two years. The years that he spent on crystal meth spoiled his complexion and ruined his teeth.
“Here’s hoping neither of us finds out what it feels like to be eaten,” said Jesse.
“I’ll drink to that.”
“Please don’t mention alcohol.”
“Hey! I miss it, too. We’ll find some soon, and we’ll get good and liquored up.”
“Bullshit. I don’t think getting a brewery, winery, or distillery up and running is going to be on too many people’s must do list,” said Jesse. “Not to mention that any one that knows how to do that stuff has probably been eaten and digested by now.”
“It can’t be that hard. Just step on some grapes and you’ve got wine.”
“Alcohol is a little more scientific than that.”
“When I was in county, we used to put those little cups of fruit cocktail in a bag, put in some moldy bread, and store it in the toilet until it fermented. That or we’d use ketchup. Anything with sugar turns into alcohol eventually.”
Jesse looked at Adam with the same disdain Adam had displayed at the beginning of their conversation.
“I’d ask how that tasted, but I’d like to keep my lunch down.”
“It tasted like shit, but it worked.”
“Maybe we should focus on our new-found friends for a bit.”
“Ah, our esteemed guests,” said Adam and he gave the crowd a mimed tip of his imaginary hat.
Jesse laughed for a bit, but his bemusement faltered as he surveyed the situation. There were hundreds of reanimates lit by the soft, orange light of sunset. Their fort bordered the outside of a department store. Sur-rounding it were gutted cars. Jesse and Adam had used what tools they found in the town’s home improvement store to take the cars apart. They constructed the fort’s walls with the frames of cars, chain link fencing, and corrugated tin roofing scavenged from around town. Adam had welded them together with an acetylene torch. Despite his checkered past, Adam proved the more useful of the two when it came to handyman duties. Jesse could smash ten reanimates into useless piles of flesh and bone without breaking a sweat, but the intricacies of welding escaped him. Adam had taken to calling Jesse his bodyguard, yet Jesse felt he owed Adam his life. Adam’s skills had kept them safe and in relative comfort for the past few months.
Jesse looked back at Adam, who was still smiling.
“Do you think it’ll hold?” asked Jesse.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Adam. “It’ll take more than this lot to bring down these walls. These bastards don’t hit that hard, and this fort was welded by the best. We are safe, especially in the grand suite.”
Adam pointed to the small tree house that he built with spare lumber from the hardware store. Thick sup-port beams elevated the house and it had a roof and window covers that were removable.
“I still can’t believe you built that,” said Jesse.
“Hey man,” said Adam and he smacked Jesse’s right arm. “Backhanded compliments are not appreciated.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I just mean that you outdid yourself with the tree house.”
“Technically,” said Adam, and he put on his best ‘harrumph harrumph’ tone of voice, “it is a small dwelling on stilts.”
“Oh, so now I’m the dumbass?” said Jesse. “I get it, I get it. You’re handy and I’m not.”
“You’re handy, college boy, just not with a wrench, or a welding torch, or a screwdriver, or a.…”
“I learned other things.”
“Fuck of a lot of good it’ll do you now,” said Adam, “Learning when Sir Bumblefuck took over India in the 19th century or when Picasso first entered his red peri-od, or whatever the fuck, isn’t going to help for shit nowadays.”
“I also learned how to execute a flawless single-leg takedown,” said Jesse. “So watch it.”
“I’m just busting your balls,” said Adam and he put his hand on Jesse’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t be here with-out you. You may not be able to operate a wrench, but you smash them zombies like nobody else. Times change is all I’m sayin’. There was a time when going to college and learning all that random shit mattered and now it doesn’t.”
“It might matter again someday,” said Jesse. They both stood in silence for a moment.
“Someday,” said Adam, “but not this day.”
“Speaking of which,” said Adam. He got down into prone position and aimed his shotgun at the nearest reanimate. Adam squeezed the trigger with the care an artist would move a paintbrush. A deafening blast rang out from the shotgun and the chest of a suited reani-mate caved inward. Scraps of black fabric, coagulated blood, and viscera exploded from the creature. Its torso fell to the side, but its legs remained upright for a mo-ment. It looked like it was lazily stretching, never taking its soupy eyes off of Jesse and Adam. The creature tried to take a step forward and fell onto the asphalt with a hollow thud. It squirmed for a moment, but then it stopped.
“That’s one down, eighty-billion, or so, to go,” said Adam.
“You say that like you have something better to do,” said Jesse.
The undead behind the fallen reanimate moved for-ward trying to get closer to their prey.
“My schedule is actually quite full,” said Adam.
“I hear you. I always pictured the apocalypse having a lighter workload,” said Jesse.
“You were wrong,” said Adam.
“Dead wrong,” deadpanned Jesse. “You see what I did there?”
Adam shook his head and said, “No — just, don’t.”
“Are we going to kill all these guys, or was that just for show?” asked Jesse.
“Can’t, that was my last shell.”
“I don’t joke about shit like that,” said Adam. “I hope your arm is limbered up.”
“It always is,” said Jesse, “I keep my shit on point.”
“What now, dear leader?” asked Adam. Adam always deferred the responsibility of making plans to Jesse, ex-cept when it came to construction and maintenance.
“Well, the noise will bring the nearby ones over to us, and then we’ll use the last of the oil and gas to light them on fire,” said Jesse.
“What for?” asked Adam. “That doesn’t kill them.”
“I know, but I just really like watching them burn. It reminds me of camp.”
“I have no words for how genuinely fucked up that is,” said Adam.
They waited in silence on the platform of their jury-rigged fort. Over the course of an hour, hundreds of reanimates made their way through the empty city toward the fort. When the leaderless army of supernatural cannibals shook and pounded at the gate with enough force to worry Jesse, he doused the first few rows of undead in gas and lamp oil. He climbed down from the platform and produced a matchbook. He struck a match and a tiny yellow flame waved in the soft breeze. A decayed arm shot through a gap in the fort wall. The sharp edge of corrugated roofing tore off the thing’s abscessed skin. Jesse jumped back and dropped the match. The arm flailed around, grasping at air. Jesse grabbed it by the wrist. He used his other arm as a fulcrum and broke the creature’s limb. It flopped around, still connected to the creature’s body. Jesse struck another match. He tossed it through a small hole in the wall. Nothing happened for a brief moment. A dull flash lit the area followed by the unique sound of flammable liquid igniting. Light poured through the gaps in the wall. Jesse moved next to the wall and watched.
They both looked out into the flaming mass. Dead skin melted, and soiled, ratty clothes charred and disap-peared into smoke and ash. They were mesmerized by the way the creatures did not falter or react to the flame. They just continued to hammer their burning skin and bones into the fort’s walls.
“Who takes first watch?” asked Jesse.
“I’m not volunteering. I’m tired as fuck.”
“Rock, paper, scissors?”
“On three.”
Adam held out his left palm facing up to the twilit sky.
1…2…3… two rocks.
1…2…3… rock and scissors.
“You lose,” said Jesse, “I’m going to get some beauty rest.”
“Best of three,” said Adam.
“Best of this,” said Jesse as he grabbed his crotch.
Jesse backed up from the wall and sauntered with confidence toward the ladder leading up to the tree house. Each day, Jesse and Adam took turns sleeping for four-hour blocks of time. They slept like the dead whenever they were in the tree house. There was comfort in knowing that the creatures could not climb. Jesse’s right combat boot hit a piece of fishing line as he walked toward the ladder. Bells clanked loudly and the jarring noise caused Adam to spin around.
“Be careful!” yelled Adam.
“Relax, dragged my feet is all. I’ll rearm it.”
With that, Jesse knelt down, picked up the line, and pulled it over to the small stake. He tied it loose around the stake with the care of a watchmaker. The noise traps were set up all around the fort. Trip wires lined the walls, balconies, and the asphalt. The slightest touch would set off the traps. After he was satisfied with the tripwire, Jesse climbed the ladder into the tree house, and slid into his sleeping bag. He closed his eyes, reached out with his left hand and touched the south wall. His fingers met with cold steel: a bundle of rebar that Adam had welded together for him. Jesse had not asked for it, but Adam was tired of Jesse breaking all his hammers so he had made Jesse a cudgel. Adam had wrapped some leather scraps around the hilt to make a grip. He had tied the leather with shoelaces and some thin twine. Jesse had fallen in love with the weapon the day Adam had given it to him. Jesse’s hand caressed the cudgel and his nerves calmed. When his hand reached the leather grip, he exhaled. His hand returned to the warmth of the sleeping bag and he fell asleep.

Jesse was on a beach. He felt the wind. Moonlight flickered on the surface of the waves. Gusts of cold, hu-mid sea breeze blew through his wild, coarse beard. All his life his dreams had been vague and colorless, but this dream felt real. He walked through the sand and the tan mounds shifted as he put his weight into each step. Tufts of sand danced in the air with each swell of wind. When he reached the water, Jesse knelt. The smell of kelp filled his nostrils with its briny bouquet. The salty moisture of the ocean air clung to his face, arms, and neck. His fingers were about to touch the water when the ocean disappeared. Dry, hot sand was all that remained. The ocean drew away like a rug pulled out from under him.
The outline of a person was just visible in the dis-tance. Moonlight transformed into harsh sunlight. Heat waves obscured the horizon. The silhouette disappeared in the haze. Jesse leaned forward and broke into a jog. He saw something: a speck in the distance. Jesse ran full tilt at the unknown object. Slowly, the speck grew larger. He could see the outline of a tall, sturdy woman. She stood like a monolith in the expansive desert. Her back was facing Jesse. The sandy breeze stung his eyes. He squinted. Her hair defied the wind and flowed down her back in an intricate braid of glossy black hair. It was the color of a raven’s feathers. When his eyes fell downward, he fixated on the small space between her muscular thighs. The harsh light shone on her amber skin. Every inch of exposed flesh was uniform and flawless. The sight caused a stir in his pants. Jesse’s manhood grew warm and pulsed. His eyes fell further down and focused on the faint dusting of sand on her sandaled feet. Jesse stood awestruck. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He drew closer to her. As he neared her, the desert expanded and pulled her away from him. He stopped and turned in a slow circle searching for what was behind the madness. The sun shrunk and morphed into the moon. Darkness fell upon the sands. Jesse could still see the strange woman. He walked in her direction, but with each step she grew more distant.
The woman spoke to him in an ancient language. It was unlike any of the countless mother tongues he heard while he attended the University of Oregon. He ran toward her again. His desire to touch her increased. She slipped further away as he pushed forward. Frantic, Jesse sprinted, his legs were pistons, and his arms worked in synchronicity with them. The woman seemed only to float on the horizon of his vision. Jesse’s heart pounded and his thighs burned and ached. The pale moon again turned into a blazing desert sun. Jesse felt the scorching heat. His lungs refused to draw in air fast enough. He could not run any longer. Jesse stumbled to a halt. She was a distant blur.
Jesse could feel hot breath on his neck. He turned to see a different woman: a pale crone with ragged white locks that fell where they pleased. He tried to move away, but she held him in place. Gnarled fingers gripped his throat. Long, jagged nails dug into the skin of his neck. She pulled herself close to him. Rotten breath assaulted his nose and mouth.
“You will never find her. You are blood and meat and they the butchers. You will die.”
The crone squeezed and his vision clouded and grew dark. Jesse tried to call out, but his lungs were empty. His body was useless. The world was darkness.
Bells rang out.

Jesse shot up out of bed. His neck and thighs ached. His whole body shuddered.
“They made it through the back wall!” yelled Adam.
Jesse grabbed his cudgel and stuck his head out the north portal of the tree house. Below he spotted a collection of reanimates that had broken through and were pushing past one another in competition for warm meat. Adam was safe on the platform that ran along the top of the wall. Between Adam and Jesse was a large asphalt courtyard full of the dead.
“What the fuck! You were supposed to be on watch!” yelled Jesse.
“I fell asleep! Help me!”

Adam moved to the north wall with a fire axe in hand. He picked his target, a fat male with mortuary rouge on his mustachioed face and a tacky blue and yel-low plaid suit. Adam raised the axe above his head and jumped off the platform. As he fell, he swung his axe downward. The blade of the axe connected with the top of the creature’s head. Its head split open like a putrid melon and the creature collapsed without ceremony. Adam stumbled and rolled forward with the momentum of the fall. He recovered and pulled his axe out of the dead thing. A burnt reanimate closed in on him. The creature’s charred jaw distended in anticipation. Its eyeless sockets focused on Adam. Adam’s eyes went wide with panic. He cocked his axe over his shoulder and swung hard. The dull blade of the axe met with the creature’s exposed hipbone and shattered it. The creature folded up like a book. As it crumpled to the asphalt, Adam saw three reanimates hasten their gait toward him. He yanked his axe free and swung it upward as a rail-thin creature wrapped in a filthy shroud came within striking distance. The axe connected hard with the creature’s jawbone. The reanimate’s face divided into two worthless parts, and the force of the blow sent Adam backward. Adam lost his footing and hit the asphalt hard.

Jesse slid down the tree house’s ladder. He ran over to Adam as soon as his bare feet touched the cold, moist asphalt. He jumped over Adam and blasted the two remaining creatures with quick swings of his cudgel. Each swing of the cudgel sent its target to the pavement. Jesse raised his makeshift weapon above his head and aimed at one of the fallen reanimates. A hand wrapped around his ankle and yanked him off balance. Jesse fell forward. He softened his fall with his arms and turned to see what had tripped him. A half-burnt female with half a head of hair draped in filthy clumps pulled Jesse’s ankle toward its open mouth. A few black teeth and an off-colored tongue was all that was left of a once-complete mouth. Before it could sink what was left of its teeth into the sinewy meat of his ankle, Jesse yanked himself free. He kicked at its face with a wild fury, but the strikes did not phase the creature. It wormed its way closer to him. Its mouth opened and closed as it neared him. The sound of its teeth clacking and its body scraping across the asphalt sent a cold bolt up Jesse’s spine. Jesse found his cudgel, and he angled his body to make a decent swing. He cocked his arm back. Cold hands grabbed his tensed arm. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the open mouth of what could have been a gunfighter or lawman in the Gold Rush days. Jesse had not seen this new creature come through the breach. Jesse struggled, but the thing’s hold was firm. Jesse choked the creature with his free hand. It twisted and tried to get close enough to bite Jesse. Its jaw dropped as it neared his face, which unleashed the stench of rotted teeth and fouled innards into the narrow patch of air between it and Jesse. Jesse responded with a grunt and clenched his hand as hard as he could. He pushed his feet into the asphalt to gain leverage. As he pushed against the ground with his toes, trying to get up, the other creature grabbed his ankle again. Jesse looked back in terror, as the halved thing pulled his foot toward its mouth.
“Oh fuck,” said Jesse. The top half of the female’s half-burnt face split in half, severed by Adam’s axe. Jesse whipped his head back around. The undead gunfighter bit Jesse’s wrist. Jesse let go of its neck and grabbed the top of the creature’s tangled, wiry hair. He brought its head down onto the asphalt with all his might. The creature’s skull popped open like an egg. Its putrid brain matter shot out of the cracked skull in a gelatinous mess. Jesse gagged and lifted himself up off the asphalt. He staggered toward the east wall, dry heaving as he moved. Adam ran over to the breached wall and pushed against the bent tin roofing.
“Help me with this!” Adam shouted. Jesse retched as he walked to Adam.
“Push!” yelled Adam. They shoved the tin roofing in unison. After a few strong shoves, the roofing bent back enough to cover the breach. Adam leaned against the wall.
“Get my hammer and some nails,” said Adam.
Jesse returned a short while later with the gear.
Adam secured the piece of tin with the nails. He slid down onto the asphalt and put his arms above his head. Adam sucked in hard breaths, sweat pouring down his face.
Jesse hunched over and put his hands on his knees. The tangled mass of still corpses decorated the center of the fort, but all else was calm.
“This isn’t going to hold,” said Adam.
“It’ll be fine. We’ve just got to make some modifica-tions, right?”
“Maybe we should keep moving instead of trying to stay here,” said Adam.
“Move where? Seabeck? Dewato? Bremerton? You tell me how that would help?”
“Seabeck and Dewato are out in the sticks. There’d be less people,” said Adam, “Bremerton would have more supplies, at least.”
“And more fucking zombies,” said Jesse. “Except those zombies would be popping up out of nowhere. We’d be in the damned forest in Seabeck or Dewato and freezing our asses off with all the fog and rain. And in Bremerton, they’d be popping up out of the water. That’s what happened when they came here. They started coming in through Dyes Inlet and the freeway and the forest. They came from everywhere.”
“I know that,” said Adam, “Listen, we could live in the ferry terminal and we could find a boat and go to Seattle or Tacoma or wherever to get food and supplies.”
“Are you shitting me?” said Jesse. “Assuming we don’t die on the way to Bremerton, or that it isn’t still overrun by several million zombies, then the zombies from Seattle would eventually make it to us and eat us.”
“We survived this long. What makes you think we’d die so easily?” asked Adam.
“We almost died right now, in a town we have basi-cally cleared of these things. There’s no way that we’d survive Bremerton or Seattle, and if we went into the forest we’d probably die during the winter even if an-other zombie never crossed our path. Face it, Adam; we are stuck here until we die.”
“I don’t want to die in Silverdale,” said Adam. “I mean, I grew up here, but I sure as fuck don’t want to die here.”
“What difference does it make where you die?” asked Jesse. He slumped down and sat cross-legged on the asphalt. He felt a sudden onset of exhaustion.
“It matters to me,” said Adam.
“You spent a lot of time putting this fort together,” said Jesse. “I’m not going to abandon it so quickly. We just need to stay vigilant.”
“We’re sleep deprived,” said Adam. “This is going to keep happening. I’m so tired that I could fall asleep in the middle of this argument.”
“You think we wouldn’t be sleep deprived if we were on the move?” asked Jesse.
“Not if we moved someplace safe,” said Adam.
“Where? Where is it safe? There are zombies every-where. Billions of them. Everyone that has ever died is after us and everything else that has warm blood and meat. We’re going to die, but I’d rather not make some dumb decision that quickens the process. Believe it or not, I’d rather be alive than dead, especially since the chief cause of death these days is getting eaten.”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” said Adam, “I get it, all right? We’re not going to Bremerton, or anywhere else. We are going to die in Silverdale, because the mighty Jesse thinks here’s as good a place as anywhere else.”
“Where else would you like to die, Adam?” asked Jes-se through his teeth.
“Whatever man. It’s your watch now.”
“No,” said Jesse. He walked to the wooden ladder that led up to the tree house.
“What? That’s not fair.”
“You didn’t finish your watch, so you are going to finish it now. Tomorrow, we are going to strengthen that wall.”
“Man, that’s fucked up.”
“You fucked up today. You may have prevented me from getting eaten by Wyatt fuckin’ Earp, but he would-n’t have gotten into our little fort here if it wasn’t for you pulling a Rip Van Winkle in the middle of the damned apocalypse.”
“Fine, maybe next time I’ll be a little slower with the axe.”
“See how that works out for you.”
He climbed up to the top of the tree house. Adam cursed to himself and picked up his axe.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to clean this up.”
“Yeah, thanks, dad,” said Adam. He kicked a fallen re-animate.
“If I was your dad, I’d have smothered you at birth.”
“Fuck you,” Adam said under his breath.

Adam tensed his lips in anger, but he obeyed the command and walked over to the fallen creatures. None of them stirred, so he prodded at each with the pole of his axe. All of them had reached final death. Adam tossed his axe up onto the platform and hoisted himself up there.
I used to get hand jobs in this parking lot, thought Adam. The aimless creatures bashed their hands and fists on the walls; their eyes forever fixed on Adam. Ad-am met their eyes, one by one, searching for something he could identify with. All he saw was death.

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