Dental care is about the last thing you think about when a zombie’s on your tail. That is, if you’re not an herbalist.
Paul, Harvey, and I were rummaging through a suburban neighborhood. It was built in the ’50s just after the war and had become pretty posh because it was so close to the up-scale shopping strip. Generally, we’d avoided that neighborhood and anything else within a mile or two of that area. A para-military gang had taken over the open-air mall over there and often patrolled the outskirts. They call themselves The Kings. So long as you didn’t take anything from their territory they valued and didn’t make trouble with them, they were pretty reasonable. Still, Paul and I have a long-standing agreement that if you can avoid guys with guns, it’s wise to do so.
So what drove us into The Kings’ territory? Dental supplies. Early in the Apocalypse, I realized just how important daily tooth care can be. Paul’s teeth were in terrible shape when Sadie and I found him. He’d lost two of his molars and several more of his teeth were loose. He’d managed to pick up gum disease in an ugly way. His gums were bright red, puffy, and bled pretty much all the time. Malnutrition had done a number on him, of course, but lack of regular brushing finished him off.
We still had toothbrushes at that point. It was early on, and Sadie and I collected any we could find, used or not, then sanitized them and gave them out to folk with a simple herbal tooth polish. That and a custom mouth rinse from Sadie coupled with burdock and some decent, regular nutrients fixed Paul right up.
That is until a few weeks before we ventured into The Kings’ neighborhood. Our last toothbrush had finally given out. The bristles were curled and too sparse to do any kind of good at all. We hadn’t found another in a solid year, despite plenty of pillaging and searching amid the wreckage of virus Z. When Paul’s gums started to swell and ache, we knew we had to take drastic action and fast. So, we decided to take our chances in the outskirts of Kings’ ville.
We’d hit the jackpot when trouble rained down on us. We were in a little ranch-style post modern house. It was as coldly decorated inside as it looked from the outside. Simple lines, sharp edges, immaculate carpet, except for the huge pool of dried blood and guts near the stairwell, metal and wood everywhere, it was like something out of The Jetson‘s or maybe The Incredibles.
Whatever foods and first aid supplies had once been there were long gone, but the upstairs hadn’t been touched. Perhaps that should have been our first clue that trouble dwelled within.
“Holy cow,” Paul said in almost a whisper. “You’ve gotta come up here and see this.”
As I climbed the stairs, I caught sight of Paul shoveling boxes of toothpaste into his rucksack. It turns out Post-Modern Homeowner had been some kind of dental freak. A dentist maybe? It didn’t matter. Toothpaste, floss, and yes, toothbrushes galore filled the little linen closet.
“Oh, Thank Goodness,” I said. “We could trade half this for whiskey or blades and still have enough for another ten years.”
“They’ve even got three brand new tongue scrapers,” Paul said.
“Damn, why didn’t someone already clean these out?”
“I dunno, but my bag’s nearly full. I’ll finish up here. You check out the bedrooms,” Paul said.
“Right,” I replied. I opened the first door on the left, centered between the stairs and the linen closet. Immediately, I wished I hadn’t.
That eerie groaning cry of the long since undead rang through the tiny hall. A corpse of a balding, middle-aged man lunged through the doorway as if it’d been waiting there just for me. Outside, Harvey barked a rapid series. I toppled backward against the wall, struggling to hold back the hungry maw while Paul drew his hatchet. Shots rang outside. Harvey’s bark rose several octaves, then stopped. My heart nearly stopped, too.
“Shit, be careful,” I cried as I felt the weight of Paul’s hatchet through the corpse. The zombie’s left arm dangled. Behind Paul, the other three doors banged on their hinges. It was a zombie chorus all about us.
“We’re surrounded,” Paul shouted. I heard the distinct cracking of wood as I wrestled with the zombie before me. One of the doors split open, and the groaning grew louder. Then, Paul was no longer at my side.
The Z’s teeth were inches from my shoulder. The hall was too small. My lawnmower machete was on my left. I couldn’t hold the zombie off and draw my weapon at the same time. To my right, Paul hacked at a long-dead woman as a second zombie tried to claw its way through her. I kneed mine in the gut.
The zombie slumped forward onto me, spewing stagnant blood and puss across my face and chest. It bit at my clothing. The stench was vile. I wretched as I shoved it toward the stairs.
The Z tumbled away, still grasping my jacket and pulling me forward with it. Together, we rolled down the stairs. I cracked my head and everything went black.
I lost it for only a moment at best. My head hurt something fierce, but the zombie had let go. I struggled to my feet. Harvey was there, biting the zombie by the neck as if he were a tiger killing a deer. Blood gushed about him.
“Help,” Paul shouted. I sprung up the stairs. Paul had toppled backward. The second zombie had tackled him after he’d killed the first. His hatchet lay on the top step. The other two doors were shaking and cracking under the pressure from the zombies within.
I struck the zombie atop Paul across the spine right between the shoulder blades. It faltered, and its lower half stopped moving. Paul kicked it aside and struggled toward me. It grasped at him. I sliced through the zombie’s skull. It went limp.
The door to Paul’s left cracked so light shone through but held despite the half-rotten fingers protruding through the splintered wood.
“Let’s get outta here,” I shouted. Paul scrambled toward his bag, which had landed inches from the now breaking door.
“No, leave it,” I shouted. I grabbed Paul by the back of his jacket and lunged for the stairwell. The door cracked further.
“You’re right,” he shouted, and turned to follow me down the stairs.
Harvey lay at the bottom of the stairwell. The zombie was dead, and there was bright red blood smeared all about. Harvey struggled to his feet. He didn’t put any weight on his right front leg.
“Shit, Harvey’s hurt,” I said. The door upstairs cracked again. A sliver of light shone on Paul’s back as he jumped down the last two stairs.
I bent to examine Harvey’s leg, but didn’t get far. Shouting outside distracted me.
“I hear people out there,” I said. “It could be The Kings.”
The door cracked again. This time the groaning got louder.
“I don’t care,” Paul said. “Death by virus has to be worse than whatever The Kings’ll dish out. We’ve gotta get out of here.”
Paul swept my big, black dog into his arms, and together we struggled toward the front door.
To Be Continued…
May You Be Well,
Zombie Hunter C.