After the long winter, the zoners needed some excitement. The teams were divided into four groups. Each group matched up 16 squads according to their rank. The rules were simple. The squad with the most kills wins. Brackets were filled out. Food rations were wagered. “March Madness” was in full swing.
In the first round, the 12th squad upset the 5th and the 17th shut out the 22nd.
Fun was had by both the Corps and the Zone residents.
The fun didn’t last.
Just like March’s of the past, the tourney was full of surprises. The biggest surprise came when, during the Elite Eight round, the 67th squad failed to return to Hancock.
Instead of Vandross singing “One Shining Moment” at the conclusion of the tourney, it ended with “On Eagle’s Wings” at their memorial service.
It started as kind of a joke, but by the end it had become much more. She didn’t mean for it to be a big deal. Who knew a sticker could change your world?
In the early days of the Blue Zone, Erin McGraw found herself separated from everything and everyone she had ever cared about. She left Cortland hoping to find safety to the north, but never made it past Syracuse.
Erin joined the Corps’ 17th and was issued her ZED. It was just your basic, everyday, all-purpose zombie bashing crowbar.
It wasn’t easy for Erin to wake up one morning and start killing the undead. She struggled with the “murder” aspect of the whole thing. “Kill or be killed,” Slater would say to her. “You’re really doing ‘em a favor, if you ask me.” Erin couldn’t help but imagine who they were before they became monsters with a taste for flesh. As she would lower her ZED into their skulls, she would picture them in happier times with their family and friends, and she would smile. Some in the Corps thought her smile was sick and that she found pleasure in killing. She didn’t. Erin smiled knowing that their suffering was ending.
Late one afternoon as the Corps was helping in the cleanup of Route 81, Chuck found a child’s backpack in the back of an abandoned minivan. After looking through the bag for anything worth saving Chuck called over to Erin. “Hey, McGraw! Get over here!” Erin ran across the expressway to see what he had found. “Check it out, it looks like you,” Chuck said mockingly as he held up a sheet of smiley face stickers.
Erin tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help it when Chuck placed one of the stickers onto her crowbar, “Just like when you were in school, every good student earns a sticker.” Erin’s face turned as red as the sticker decorating her ZED. She snatched the sheet out of his hand, raised the crowbar as if she would hit Chuck, but instead she then returned to her patrol.
Later that evening, as she warmed herself by the fire, she thought of the dozens of zombies that she had helped out already, and the countless that still remained. She wanted to pay tribute to the people that they had been. Their corpses weren’t buried with markers, they were burned. She wanted to remember the people that they had been, not the monsters they became. As she got up to leave the fire, she felt the pack of stickers in her jacket pocket. She had an idea.
The next morning, Erin found a quiet corner of the zone and applied a sticker for each of her victims to her crowbar. When she was done, she had barely covered any of the handle. She vowed to work to change that.
When the others saw her ZED, they made fun of the colorful zombie killer. The jokes usually stopped when she explained what they meant. As the weeks and years went on, any member of the Corps that came across any sheets of smiley face stickers would bring them back to Erin. Over time, Erin completely covered her crowbar five times.
Long after she was gone, Erin McGraw’s smiley faced ZED stood as an inspiration for all in the fight against Zack.
The residents of Tipperary Hill have a tradition of gathering underneath the green on top traffic light at midnight as St. Patrick’s Day begins. They would make their way to the corner of Tompkins and Burnet Park Drive to paint a shamrock in the intersection. The tradition had been going on for as long as they could remember.
Every year since she was a wee lass, Erin O’Sullivan gathered with her fellow Tipp Hill neighbors for the festivities. Erin and her friends would then make their way down the street to Coleman’s or Nibsy’s to finish off the night. The next morning, at least one of her friends would be found in a snow bank where they had passed out a few hours earlier. They would get up and stumble back to one of the local bars to celebrate their favorite patron saint.
After the invasion, Erin felt the need to continue the festivities. After all, it was a tradition.
Late in the afternoon of March 16th, Erin set her plan in motion. Over the long winter, she gathered the necessities and set them aside. She found a push broom in the parking garage that would serve as her brush. She found two cans of green paint in a storage room in the hotel. The only tricky part was figuring out a way to get to her canvas.
Erin hid the paint cans in a backpack and took her broom towards the front gate of the Zone. It was almost springtime in Central New York. The snow from the long winter had begun to melt and Erin told anyone who asked that she was going out to sweep Syracuse clean. No one asked.
After getting to Route 81, Erin walked south a while before finding a car that she could drive the rest of the way.
Erin arrived at her destination a little before midnight. It was almost St. Patrick’s Day. It was almost time.
The traffic light was no longer working, and no one else had come out to continue the tradition with her, but Erin had to continue. She removed the cans of paint from her pack and pried off the tops. It wasn’t the right shade of green, but it would suffice. She used her broom to spread the paint around the intersection, doing her best to form the shape of a shamrock. The others that had done it before her made it look so easy.
As the clock struck midnight, she had completed her masterpiece. She hadn’t let the zombie apocalypse end the decades of this tradition.
It was then that Erin noticed the crowd that had gathered under the light, just like they had in the past.
In the morning, after passing out in a snow bank, Erin rose and stumbled down Tompkins towards Coleman’s.
“There were only a few at first, but their numbers grew quickly. They came from overseas; bringing their disease with them. We were surprised to see them at first. We had never seen anything like them before. Their skin looked so different; their speech patterns didn’t match ours. It wasn’t long before they forced us out of our homes. Some of us stayed behind to fight, others fled. Those that stayed back were slaughtered. Those of us that ran were forced to live in small plots of land where we would be safe. Our once proud way of life was destroyed when they arrived.”
“I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. What happened? How did I get here?”
“I was hoping you’d be able to answer your first question. The rest of your squad brought the two of you back; she’s in real bad shape.”
“She who? What do you mean ‘the two of you’? Who else was hurt?” Allen pleaded with the doctor.
“Sasha,” Krezner replied. “She’ll be lucky if she lives through it, but then again, maybe she’ll be luckier if she doesn’t. We had our hands full with the two of you. I did the best I could to set your legs, but we lack the supplies to help Sasha. The best I can do is try to alleviate some of her pain.”
I should be relaxing in Montana right about now. All I had to do was get on that plane and I would be safe.
Now, I’m going to become one of those things that I spent most of the day fighting off. One of those ghouls got hold of my leg and sunk her teeth in. The adrenaline of the fight helped to cover the pain at first, but as the minutes tick away, the pain increases. The others have gone back to the airport for safety. They’ve got a huge fight ahead of them.
I’ve made my way to the roof of tractor trailer just south of the Mattydale exit. Looking around, it doesn’t seem like we even made a dent in their numbers today.
The screams have quieted down. Most have fled, or turned. Now the only sounds that can be heard are the crackling of the fires and those dull moans.
I look down at the gash in my leg, and then at the handgun in my left hand. I could end it all right now with one shot, or I could wait for the disease to overtake me. The writing’s on the wall, life as I knew it was ending tonight.
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…