Be Strong

Richard Garfield had suffered  many hardships throughout his life. Countless women he fell for sought only to use him, leaving him heartbroken. He had been the victim of corrupt employers who cheated him out of money. In time he barely had enough to live under a roof. It seemed as if poor Richard had been through it all. Of course, then there was the day his entire family had been consumed by zombies.

Once they took over Syracuse, Richard found himself holding out in the airport with most of the other survivors. Even then he was alone. He was a pale, skinny, young man who kept to himself. He wasn’t hated by the others, like he experienced in school, just an outsider. He hardly ever spoke unless the situation deemed it necessary. Whenever approached by others, Richard would avert his gaze and fumble with a gold cross that hung by his neck with a chain of matching metal.

Richard treasured that cross. His mother had given it to him after his father had left. She had received it from her mother who, in turn, received it from hers. It remained his only possession from his previous life. On the back, engraved horizontally, it read “Exsisto Validus.”

“Be strong” she would tell him. “When my momma gave me this, she told me the same thing. I think you need it now.”

After the undead took over, Richard thought little of “being strong.” He had withdrawn almost completely from any other living (or unliving) thing. He wasn’t sad or depressed exactly, but more emotionless. Every day after receiving his rations he would head to one of his favorite corners and write in an old journal he found. Sometimes doodling, other times writing stories or recording his thoughts. He would hunch over with his nose almost touching the page. Then he would stop to collect his thoughts, staring at the ceiling with his head rested on the wall and his hand twisting and flipping the cross.

One particular day Richard decided to walk outside. It was snowing and bitterly cold. The weather was very undesirable for the other survivors, making it very desirable for Richard. He trudged through the snow, quietly thinking to himself. As he approached the chain link fence surrounding the airport, he looked around him to confirm he was alone from ghouls and people. With a deep sigh he turned his back and leaned against the fence. He closed his eyes tight and looked upward like he always did, but this time to shield himself from the sun’s reflection off the snow. The metal from a few broken links dug in his back but he shifted slightly instead of moving.

The area remained quiet for several minutes. Richard continued to stand in the same spot, motionless, deep in thought. The memory of his mother’s voice echoed in his head: “Be strong.” He had just begun toying with his cross when he heard the much too familiar sound of moaning behind him. As a reflex, he attempted to jump forward but was caught on the metal that had been jabbing him. Just as he broke free a decayed hand thrust through the hole in the fence and pulled him back by the collar, choking him. He struggled to escape but slipped on the loose snow at his feet. The ghoul had grabbed hold of the gold chain as well and the cross began to cut at his throat. The zombie pulled Richard to its snapping mouth and bit down on the collar and chain but luckily no skin. With a few strong, panicked jerks Richard freed himself, stumbling forward into the snow. He gasped for breath and turned around quickly to look at his attacker.

Before him stood a ghoul in a dirty, red winter vest. More noticeably, it sported a ridiculous raccoon-skin cap, making it look like Davey Crockett’s corpse. A piece of Richard’s collar dropped from the ghoul’s mouth. Richard instinctively searched for his cross. To his horror it was gone. He entered a second panic, one more powerful than during his attack. It was then that he noticed a glint of gold near the zombie’s mouth. Richard rose to his feet and walked back toward the ghoul. His precious cross dangled near the ghoul’s chin, its chain wrapped around one of the creature’s sixteen teeth.

The zombie was eventually joined by two others who joined its futile pushing against the fence. Richard walked closer and took a deep breath. He raised his arm to the level of the red-vested ghoul’s mouth. Richard hesitated nervously. Slowly he put his arm forward. His heart started to race. Every gnash of the zombie’s jaws made it beat harder. He had almost reached the chain and the ghoul waited to be fed. Suddenly a hand grabbed Richard’s arm. He turned and screamed, looking to his right, where he saw Captain Slater grabbing him. Slater pushed him backward into the same snow indentation he had made earlier.

“What do you think you’re doing, boy?” Slater yelled. “You’re putting your head into the damn lion’s mouth!” Richard got up and looked at his feet. Saying nothing, he walked away. Slater stared at his back with a look of disbelief.

The next few days were the worst for Richard. It had finally happened. He had nothing left. He no longer wrote in his journal. In fact, he spent little time doing anything but weeping. In three day’s time he had eaten nothing. It was about noon on the fourth day after losing his cross that Richard overheard two Corpse Corps members. They had been patrolling the area but stopped for a chat not far from Richard’s corner.

“I guess it’s pretty cold out…” the first one said.

“Why? They frozen?” the second asked.

The first grinned. “What say we go whack some Zacksicles?” They both laughed and continued their duty.

Richard had made up his mind. Frozen ghouls made for low risk. He would go out that night and search for the coon-skin capped zombie. He couldn’t have gotten far and his dress was unmistakable. Richard filled with hope and gathered the warmest clothes he could find. After a bit of searching he also managed to find an abandoned baseball bat that he promptly stole. He returned to his corner and proceeded to write in his journal, laughing quietly to himself.

That night he began his search. He exited the airport relatively easily, only needing to dodge a few patrolling Corpse Corps squads. Syracuse was dark but the moon allowed him enough light to distinguish between frozen zombies. After about two hours of playing “identify the bodies” Richard grew weary. His search for the Davy Crockett zombie was, so far, fruitless. He had traveled quite far south of the airport.

As he walked down Salina street, he passed Fransesca’s Cucina. The memory of the restaurant made his mouth flood and stomach scream. His newfound hope had also returned his hunger. Richard shuffled toward the glass windows of the eatery, ignoring the crowd of zombies that had gathered around it and stood frozen. He stood outside the window and stared in, wondering if it had yet been raided. Thoughts of delicious foods multiplied in his mind. He pressed his nose to the glass and raised his arms up, resting on the window. Standing there, he mirrored the zombies that froze in the same positions all around him. Richard went to the door and twisted the knob; a failed attempt as it was locked. Looking around as if searching for police, he placed his hand on the bat that rested at his waist. He lifted it and readied it behind his neck. Richard swung the bat into the glass door, spraying the floor inside with it’s shattered remains. He was greeted unexpectedly by a blast of hot air from within the building.

Stepping inside, Richard viewed his surroundings. The restaurant was dark and quiet. It was creepy with no one inside, even for Richard. He cringed as the chunks of glass crunched underneath his feet. He tightened the grip on his bat, swallowed hard and continued inside. He had just reached a counter when a breath emerged from behind him.

“Who the hell are you!?” came a voice. Richard flinched and swung the bat behind him. A man barely ducked out of the way. “Stop it! I ain’t no monster!” yelled the man. He grabbed the bat and pulled it out of Richard’s hand.

“I-I’m sorry!” Richard said surprised.

“Just who the hell d’you think you are! Comin’ in here and smashin’ up the place! I’ve been here for two months and now I gotta find me another place to hide out!”

Richard struggled for words. “I-I…um.” After a few moments of sputtering he drew his eyes to his feet.

The voice’s owner was a large man with a long beard, though he couldn’t have beed very old. He wore the outfit of someone you’d expect to see working at a Harley-Davidson store. The man sighed. “Well don’t have yerself a damn heart attack. The name’s Jack. Come on to the back an’ get somthin’ to eat. Them monsters ain’t gonna thaw for another day at least, I’m guessin’.”

After a long, one-sided conversation with Jack, Richard finally began to warm up to him. They ate and talked for several hours. Richard told him about the airport and the reason he wasn’t there: his cross. Jack told Richard of his traveling from building to building, being the last in his group. He told of how he came across Fransesca’s Cucina and how he had used a generator to keep the building so warm. They sat there until the sun rose and for Richard spoke more than he had in his total time at the airport.

Outside the restaurant was another story. About fifteen ghouls had been against the different windows of the building. The door was now smashed open and the heat inside began to flow out, warming the undead. By the time day had risen, the zombies were beginning to defrost. The first cracked open its jaw and let out a long moan.

“Did you hear that?” Jack asked, suddenly serious. Richard sat wide-eyed and returned to his naturally quiet self. The two rose in unison and walked into the dining room to be greeted by a small horde of ghouls shuffling toward them. “Come on! Out the back!” Jack yelled. Richard turned to follow him but saw a glint of metal in the corner of his eye. He stood without moving for a split second then turned to face the Davy Crockett zombie at the restaurant door. His eyes widened at the sight of his cross still hanging from the zombie’s mouth.

Jack ran back into the room. “What’re you doin’!? Let’s go!”

“I found it!” Richard yelled excitedly. He pointed to the ghoul and Jack looked toward it. He recognized its outfit from Richard’s story.

“Are you kiddin’ me? Get it later! We have to go! More of them monsters are unfreezin’ out there!”

“No! I finally found it! I need it!” Richard began to climb over the counter toward the red vested ghoul but Jack grabbed him and pulled him back with ease. “Get off of me!” Richard screamed, struggling against Jack’s arms. He began to squirm and kick as the crowd of zombies drew closer with Coon-skin Cap at its front. Richard grunted and roared attempting to get free. Finally he bowed his head forward and slammed it back into Jack’s face with as much force as he could muster. Jack dropped him and backed away, rubbing his eye and nose.

Richard jumped over the counter and stood a few feet from the Crockett zombie. Jack continued to scream for him to stop but he ignored him. Richard grabbed the cross at the zombie’s chin and gave it a firm pull but it wouldn’t budge. He backed up a few more feet. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and looked toward the ceiling.

“Be strong.” He whispered to himself. He opened his eyes once more and raised his hand up at level with the zombie’s mouth. No longer hesitant, he continued to whisper to himself. Richard then shot his hand forward toward the area of chain that remained stuck. He closed his eyes tight and felt for the chain. He screamed, ignoring the pain until finally he ripped the chain free. He held it up in the air and smiled as blood from the bite mark on his hand dripped down his arm. He turned around toward Jack and showed him the cross. “I got it!” Richard yelled ecstatically, face aglow. “It’s okay! I got it!” Jack stood petrified as he watched Zack surround Richard slowly as he smiled. Rotting hands began to pull violently at each of Richard’s limbs. Teeth gnawed at every area of open skin. Above the moans, Richard could still barely be heard yelling happily. “I got it!”

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