They're Just Like Us

They’re Just Like Us (Part 2)

Read Part 1

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It’s well after midnight when I park my ancient sedan in the driveway of my childhood home. From out front, I can see that all the lights are off inside except one small reading lamp in the living room. My dad. I enter the house quietly; I know he’s probably too engrossed in his book for me to bother him, but I do it so I don’t wake my mom upstairs.  As I suspected, he’s sitting in his favorite arm chair with a historical biography open in his hands.  I lean against the doorway into the living room, “is it any good?”

“It’s a bit dry,” he says as he looks up at me with a warm smile.  I compare him sitting in front of me to the large family portrait hanging on the wall behind him.  He’s a little plumper than he was back then and his hair has gone gray with age, but his smile is still exactly the same.  And of course his eyes are different.  They used to be brown and now they are the same grayish-white as a lot of the town.  Yep, my dad is dead.  Or undead.  He died two years ago of a heart attack.  It tore me to shreds, I left the apartment I was sharing with some friends and moved back home to be with my mom.  For a year we lived together trying our best to learn how to be a family without him.

I smile back at him, “You’re still going to power through and finish it aren’t you?”

“You know me too well, Mags.” He lowers his head to continue reading and without looking up again says, “You should head up to bed, tomorrow is gonna be a long night, you’ll need your rest.”

Knowing that he’s right and that he is already re-absorbed back into whatever historical time he’s reading about, I turn around and tiptoe up the stairs.  I change out of my work clothes and then lift open the window in my room, kneeling on the window bench to look out at the town.  It’s a warm night, with just a sliver of a moon in the sky. Closest to our house is the rest of our development, multi-colored carbon copies of my home with just enough lawn between them to not be considering adjoining houses. Out past all the newer roofs are older, taller Victorian style houses containing the upper-class section of our little town. These houses all have sprawling lawns with meticulously sculpted greenery and you certainly can’t almost shake hands with your neighbor through two open windows. The glittering lake is just beyond them, only partly visible from my vantage point.  Out past the lake in the distance is The Wall with the searchlights of helicopters illuminating portions of it as they patrol.

When The Rising (as it was so appropriately called by all the national news outlets) happened a year ago, there was so much confusion and chaos in the first few days that we never stopped to think about the fact that this wasn’t happening everywhere. It was only on day 5 when the Center for Disease Control showed up and set up their blockades and temporary fences that went around our town, a neighboring town, and the lake, that we realized this was an isolated thing.

I crawl into bed and pull the heavy quilted comforter up to my chin. The faraway thrum of the helicopter engines helps to quickly lull me into a deep sleep.  

The next morning starts off normal enough, for a new moon day. My mom is making breakfast when I come down and my dad is sitting at the table, scrolling through the news on his tablet. She asks how my shift was last night as she slides a plate in front of me, a short stack of heart shaped pancakes.  I may be 31 but I will never get too old for heart shaped pancakes.  

“Hectic, as expected, but I made some decent money in tips.” A thick stream of syrup flows from the bottle to completely cover my plate. “Enough that I can go get some extra supplies for tonight anyway.”

“Well that’s good honey.” She avoided my gaze and busied herself with pouring more batter as she added, “have you given any thought to finding a job more suited to your degree?” 

I roll my eyes but my dad catches it and makes a face. “I’m trying but the job market isn’t really there for someone with a degree in Fine Arts inside the Wall.” I say it with such a finality that it’s clear there isn’t any more discussion. She had tried to convince me to go to one of the middle or elementary schools and ask about an art teacher position. The problem with that is that since the Wall went up, everyone who used to work outside of the Wall is now scrambling for a way to make money inside the Wall. Besides, teaching was never what I wanted to do.  My dream had been to move to New York and become a famous painter or photographer or sculptor.  Those dreams got squashed the day Alex Ingleson crawled his way out of his grave to be the first to Rise.  

My mom places a plate with one heart shaped pancake in front of my dad and finally sits down with her own stack of pancakes. We sit and listen to my dad tell us what’s going on in the news as we eat.  

“One site is claiming it’s a virus, another that it’s tainted municipal water, and yet another is saying it’s aliens,” he sets the tablet down and has a definitive look on his face. “I’m going with aliens. I feel other-worldly.” 

We all share a giggle at his absurdity, and I hop up, clearing my place as I do. I snag our house ration card off the fridge and flash it at my parents, still sitting and eating. “Other than the rations, anything you want me to get?” 

“I’ll make a list- no Sharon, you sit and eat.” My father hopped up to allow my mother to enjoy the rest of her meal. 

After a quick shower and change, I grab the list off my dad and head out into the town. As I drive through my neighborhood, I wave at neighbors both dead and alive as they mow their lawns, play catch with their kids, and hang up the metal hurricane shutters to help protect them when the sun goes down. 

The line at the hardware store is long, as it usually is the day of the new moon, but it moves pretty fast. With half the list now done, I head to the grocery store. Out in the parking lot sits the CDC supply truck with four employees in full hazmat suits; since they haven’t figured out what caused the Rising, they’re not taking any chances. The sign next to them says “Wednesday: K – O”. Rations are sent in on weekdays and you can only pick up the rations for your house on your assigned day. 

I get my inside “luxury” items and pay using the rest of last night’s tips. Then I head out and get in the rations line. I’m fourth in line and I can already see that it is Tim in the suit checking the cards. Over the past year, it’s always the same people handing out the rations. I think they’ve been instructed not to talk to us, but I can never help myself. When I get to the front, he takes my card without looking up. 

“What happens if you fart in your suit?”

Even with his head down, focused on his clipboard I can see his smile spread from ear to ear. He looks up and I can see he’s blushing slightly. 

“Kirkland, Maggie. Two alive, one dead” he announces to his coworkers behind him but he never breaks eye contact with me. “It’s certainly not pleasant so we try not to,” he whispers back to me. The other suits finished loading up a box with the rations for ‘two alive, one dead’ and put it into my cart next to my other bags. 

I salute Tim and the others. “Until next week, gentlemen!” 

The rest of the day is a blur of activity, the groceries get put away by my mom while my dad and I unpack our survival gear from the shed and begin fortifying the house. We get the corrugated metal shutters and begin bolting them to the existing holes around each window on the ground floor. An additional, larger piece gets the same treatment over the back door. I try to joke with him as we work, but he takes prepping very seriously and barely cracks a smile all afternoon. He then gets a tall ladder from the shed and checks the bars over all the upper floor windows, making sure they’re still firmly in place. Except the front door, the outside of the house is done. We head inside and begin to hang large pieces of plywood into the frames he built on the inside of the windows. My mom insists every month that it’s unnecessary, but my dad refuses to listen and says he only wants to make sure we’re safe. 

The sun is getting lower in the sky when we finally sit down for a family dinner. Very few words are said over the roast and vegetables. There’s an undercurrent of tension and nerves throughout our house, which I’m sure extends from one end of the Wall to the other. 

Finally, with only an hour left until sunset, there’s the familiar knock on the door.  We all answer it together. There’s a man in a hazmat suit with a clipboard.  “Bob Kirkland?”

My dad nods and hugs my mom and me. “I love you both, be alert and be safe. Bolt this door shut as soon as I’m out.” 

“I will. I love you, Dad.”

My mom says his name over and over, the fear that she may lose him again front and center. “Bob… Bob.  I love you, Bob. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” 

The hazmat suit clears his throat, indicating it’s time to go. My dad heads out the door and towards the school bus that will take him and the other undead that they’ve collected into a containment center they built near the gate at the Wall. This is the safest way they’ve found for dealing with what happens on the new moon. It works… but only if all the undead are locked in.

With a heavy sigh, I lift the metal sheet and hook it into place as my mom uses the power drill to secure it. Once that’s done, we sit next to each other on the couch and stare at the arsenal of weapons my dad laid out on the coffee table, hoping we won’t need them. We turn on the tv to pass the time, but neither of us are actually watching it.

Outside, an air raid siren wails letting us know that the sun has set.


Read Part 3

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