The Long Journey

Lloyd O’Keefe loved to tell stories. To pass the time Lloyd would entertain others with wild tales. One winter evening a small crowd gathered in the hotel lobby trying to stay warm and away from the howling winds outside. Lloyd thought that a story might take their minds off of the cold for a little while.

“Did you ever hear the tale of the Corps’ 189th squad?” he asked some of the teenagers that were gathered nearby.

“Never heard of ‘em. Do the squad numbers even go that high?”

“Well, they’re not around anymore. They were one of the earliest squads of the Zone. You were only a young kid then. Get comfortable and I’ll tell you about them.”

Some of the group sat on the floor around Lloyd huddling under blankets for warmth as he began…

 

It was early October, Columbus weekend to be exact, and traffic on 81 was at a standstill. Luckily for the 189th, their Ford Explorer had 4-wheel drive and could weave on and off the pavement, across the grassy median, and get them to their destination. They would be spending their holiday working. They exited the highway at the South Salina exit and headed for the valley section of Syracuse. It was unusually warm for October and the stench of the city’s inhabitants could be smelled through the closed windows. They parked the Explorer in the shade near Meecham Field and prepped for their mission.

The 189th was comprised of Troy, Odie, Sully, and Sally. Troy was the only local squad member. He was born and raised in the valley. Graduated 293rd in his class from Corcoran High and had almost earned his degree from OCC before the panic. Odie was the brains of the group. He came from Ithaca. Odie was on his way to Canada, but only made it as far north as Mattydale. John Sullivan and his wife Sally moved to Central New York only a month before Zack did.

Taking a look at the fields, they decided they would have to move quickly. The fields were crawling with creatures. If there was only a ferris wheel Troy would have been convinced that the Field Days were in full swing. The park would have to wait. Their mission today was to check and clear the senior housing on the other side of Seneca Turnpike. Sully and Sally skillfully took down the small number of ghouls that were loitering in the parking lot and then the 189th ran for the apartment complex.

After prying off the lock, they used an extra ZED to hold the doors shut to keep out any unwanted visitors. The building smelled foul; an unpleasant mixture of old people smell and decomposing flesh. Sully vomited as soon as he opened the first apartment. It had been sealed up for weeks, and the southern facing windows helped the sun slowly cook the creature trapped inside. Sully regained his composure and eliminated the threat. The squad made their way through the building hoping to find some survivors, but only found casualties. After two long hours, the building was clear.

Odie removed the ZED that was keeping them locked in as the rest of the group got in their starting blocks for the race back to their truck. As he pulled open the door, they saw a wall of zombies. Odie tried to close the door, but he couldn’t get it shut before one of the creatures’ bodies got in the way. The mass of zombies pushed against the door and forced their way in. The 189th turned and ran back inside. No sooner had he started when Troy slipped in Sully’s vomit and fell to the floor.

It was the early days of the Corps. They made mistakes. This one cost Troy his life. The creatures swarmed around Troy, making sure that he wouldn’t get up from his fall.

Odie led the others into one of the second floor apartments, securing the wooden door behind them.

Sally wept. Sully stood at the door with his ZED raised, ready to strike anything that might come through. Odie stared out the window. They had all taken down zombies before, but they had never witnessed a friend being taken.

They didn’t have time to mourn their loss. They had to make sure that they weren’t next.

Odie called the others over to the window. It was an 18 foot drop to the grass below. The park, and their truck, were on the other side of the building. They decided their best bet was to jump and get to safety. They would worry about getting home later.

They ran west as fast as they could. They didn’t know where they were headed. Troy knew the area. Troy was dead. Odie lead the trio right to Onondaga Creek. They decided to follow the creek north. Eventually, it would have to lead to Onondaga Lake.

As nightfall approached, they decided to find shelter for the night. They chose a nearby house that appeared to be vacant. It wasn’t. They secured the ground floor and made their way upstairs, pulling up the steps as they went. On the second floor they found a lone zombie. The creature had been a large man before he was converted. He was missing his left arm below the elbow, and one of his eyes had been removed.

Maybe it was the stress of the day, but Sally started laughing at the sight of the cyclops zombie. Odie wasn’t amused. He didn’t want to become cyclops food. He grabbed his crowbar and stabbed the zombie right in his lone good eye. As he retracted his ZED, the eyeball came with it. The trio then took turns beating on the blinded creature before it could alert its brothers outside to the intruders.

That night, Odie didn’t sleep. His thoughts were with his wife, Penny, and young son back at the airport. He was unsure if he would ever make it back home to see his family again.

In the morning, the surviving members of the 189th made their way back to the creek and continued on their journey. At first, all was quiet, but after moving slowly northward, they saw some movement a hundred yards ahead of them. A car had crashed into the creek, the driver and her two passengers were still inside. They cautiously made their way towards the vehicle. The engine was submerged in the creek while the rear tires were on the shore.

Inside the car were three of the most beautiful women Odie had ever seen, if they weren’t zombies. As they saw the group coming their way, they began to moan. Odie went in for a closer look, but stayed back far enough. Sully came around the passenger side of the car while the women moaned louder. The creatures reached out through the open windows, trying to get either of the men. Sully called across the car that he would take out the creature riding shotgun. He opened the door, which caused the belted woman to lunge for him. He jumped back slamming the door as he did so, splitting the creature’s skull. Odie took out the other two women. They checked the car for any supplies. All they found was half of a bottle of water and a few Skittles. Sully forced the trunk open hoping to find something useful.

Suddenly, he let out a scream. Something grabbed his leg, and bit him on his calf. There was a fourth victim in the accident that they didn’t know about. A young zombie boy was pinned underneath. The trio was now down to two.

Odie grabbed Sally and told her that they could do nothing for her husband now. They had to get moving. Sullys screams were a dinner bell to any creature within earshot.

The two surviving members of the 189th squad continued north along the creek. Sally was in shock. One moment her husband was there, the next he was gone. Thoughts of Odie’s family kept him going. He didn’t want to leave her alone to raise their son.

As night approached, they once again found an abandoned house to use for the night. The house they chose had a small amount of food left in the pantry. A few crackers and a can of peaches went a long way to quiet the rumbling in their stomachs. They found a change of clothes in the bedrooms upstairs, and had comfortable beds to rest upon. When morning came, Sally decided that she did not want to leave. She felt safe. She felt she could stay there forever. Odie felt otherwise. He had to carry her out of the house over his shoulder. The safety that the house provided would only last so long. They wouldn’t be safe until they returned home to the Zone.

They had made it to downtown Syracuse. They were on the western edge of downtown. Odie knew enough that Route 81 was on the other side of downtown. If they could get to the interstate, they could get home. Unfortunately for them, the downtown area was packed with the undead.

By this time, they had left the creek and were following West Street. The street was wide enough that they could see any threats with plenty of time to react. They put down a dozen Zack before making it to Fayette Street. It was there that they saw the signs for Route 690. The two travelers looked at each other and then, without thinking, Sally took off running for the highway. Odie ran after her, yelling for her to stop.

As he turned to enter the highway, Odie stopped dead in his tracks. Before him, there was a sea of the undead, and Sally trying to take them all on. Odie watched helplessly as the sea of creatures swelled around her. A red mist rose up over the wave of grabbing arms. Odie was alone.

Odie jumped over the guardrail and slid down the embankment, once again finding himself next to Onondaga Creek. He took off running, leaving downtown behind. His wife and child’s faces flashed through his mind along with the horrors that he had witnessed over the last few days. He kept running, pushing through the pain. He felt that if he stopped he was dead. For a moment, he thought he heard his wife calling out to him. He passed out from exhaustion on the banks of the creek near Bear Street.

Tired. Hungry. Alone. Odie thought of giving in and letting the next creature he saw end his suffering. But once again he heard his wife Penny calling him home. He climbed up away from the banks to the street and looked around to see if his location looked familiar. In the distance, he could see the giant mall pointing him in the right direction.

With renewed hope, Odie moved towards the mall, knowing that next to it was the road home. By the time he reached the interstate, he barely had the strength to stand. Using all of the strength he had left, Odie chose a small car and cleared it of its passengers. He then drove the car north. At long last, after many days and nights Odie’s voyage was over. Odie had made it home.

The End.

 

Lloyd looked out to the crowd that had gathered.

“Did all of those things really happen?” a young child asked.

“Every word of it,” Lloyd replied with a wink.

“You should do this for a living!” someone else called out from towards the back of the group. Lloyd just smiled. Few in the zone knew of Lloyd O’Keefe, but they all knew his stories and his creations as Penn Quinn.

3 Responses to “The Long Journey”


  • Epic.

    But are you sure that Odie wasn’t from somewhere farther down Route 13, like Ithaca?

  • Never even thought of it. I like it. I think I’m going to change it.

  • Maybe they all came up from the southern part of Central New York?

    I’m starting a new trend with my latest draft: people who leave the Zone in the very earliest days due to population pressures. Want to tie onto my theme–since O’Keefe is obviously telling a story of the Good Ole’ Days–and have Odie return to Ithaca, living happily ever after (approximately)?

    I know it causes a major revision, but it’s right.

    I love the fact that this frame narrative reminds me of me. I got to tell Shelly that the story that I sort of impressed her with was praised by a freshman English major at Michigan State University as being ‘really good’ and that ‘I ought to consider writing.’ That girl had no sense of the irony trap she was walking into, and she was the last person ever to put something like that in writing. I think writers hold onto praise like that.

    Like I praise this story.

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