My father, who never led anything more ambitious than a Quarter Horse stallion from field to stall and back again, had a ready supply of misquoted leadership quotes, like “in the land of the blind, the man with glasses is king.” He used to deliver them between bites of my mother’s sister’s mashed potatoes while the fan blowing cool air from the basement whirred and tossed dust into the gravy. I always thought it was a strange thing for some country hick to say, but what did I know? I wasn’t any better than him.
I remembered that when I beheaded him last Friday. I remembered the way he used to say “power effs a man up. Absolute power efffs a man up absolutely.” I looked at the unfamiliar twist of his mouth and said, “A leader deals in hope, remember that one, Dad?” And then I used the grape spade and my right foot to hack his head head off, smushing a bit of his spinal cord into the slick clay beneath his body as I did.
It’s not clean work, and whatever the stories might lead you to believe, it never gets any easier. My younger brother Mac, the only one of us to make it to college, said that the human mind is programmed to feel compassion for something that seems to wear a human face, no matter how false that assumption of humanity might be. I feel bad that Mac’s elbow deep in this now, because it seems to me that Johnny, my older brother, and I, worked our arses off to send him off to an easy life with big words and fine city girls for nothing.
The epidemic hit while I was gone to an auction out west; looking at the mustangs you can get for a song out there. Most of them have helluva bad shoulder positions and these sloping rumps not worth anything, but they’ve got heart, and you know, heart’ll do you better than good conformation most days. Beauty queens look great on the back of the sheriff’s corvette in the parade and not bad in the back of a pickup bed either, but they aren’t much good when you’re winning your county back. Give me a man or a mare or a dog that’ll fight until they can’t stand, and then we’re getting somewhere.
But they’d given up when I got back. My brothers, I mean. And not just my brothers — everyone in this whole goddam town had already ceded the world to Them, was just waiting for their turn. And you know why? It was the word. Zombies. They heard that word and suddenly it was all fire and brimstone and God is coming to punish us and we’re living a horror movie. Their families were dying in twitching seizures and then climbing out of their coffins to pull the rest of the folks back in after them, and they couldn’t do a thing about it because they were zombies. I mean both sides, in my opinion, the living and the dead, both staring and drooling.
Hell, I said. It’s nothing worse than losing your family to the flu and then having them come back for you. It’s the cannibalism that throws people for a curve. It’s the flu wearing their brothers and sisters and fathers faces. It’s the same as a horse that spooks at the new water tub; fear of the unknown. The dead are slow, noisy, and not the brightest cows in the field. You whack the head off, and they stay dead. You’ve just got to get past the bit where they look you in the eye and you think for a moment that maybe they’re not really dead and they don’t really want to eat your face.
Because trust me, they do.
So now I’m riding in a beat up navy blue pick up truck, the back all full of shovels and chain saws and pick axes and Mac with his polo shirt collars turned up and Johnny with his toothpicks in his teeth, and I reckon we’re taking the county back, because no one else will. And maybe there is more of Them than us. And maybe one of these days They will swarm this pick up truck and They’ll rip our faces off and our bodies will shamble back into town to rip the faces off the people we’re saving now.
But ‘til then, as my dad used to say, “The price of being great is responsibility,” misquoting Churchill badly, but not as badly as some of his other favorites. We may not be the best built for this job, but we’ve got the most heart. And for now, that’s all that counts. In the land of the dead, the living is king.
Author’s Note: a very very quickie, posted an hour before Friday, as I run from one book event to another this week. One of these days it would be fun to explore this Southern hick zombie concept a bit more fully . . .
image courtesy: jtcoleman