The rotting town in Ireland was a tombstone of the apocalypse past. Corpses shambled through it still, even though the zombie virus had been defeated ten years ago.
He shivered in the cold wind, pulling up the collars of his coat, thrusting cold hands into deep pockets that felt as if they were lined with ice. His breath misted out before him like a grim reminder that he was very much still alive.
The noise from the trucks below reached his cold ears like an afterthought. It was not tourists who were being brought into the town this time, as it was feeding time in the ‘zoo’. The zombies would have ‘died’ long ago if it were not for these food drops.
Ironically, they needed food to keep life in their bodies. Deprived of human victims they had to make do with what meat they were given. It didn’t seem to bother them as they ate what was thrown at them.
The walking corpses had become an attraction. They were unwitting extras in what had become known as ‘Zombie Town.’ High guarded walls, within which were offices, laboratories, sleeping quarters and recreational facilities had been built around the town. It was on these walls that he now stood like a captain on the deck of his ship. They stretched for miles around the town.
Armed security guards patrolled them, while cameras recorded and observed 24- hours. The town was sealed off from the rest of Ireland and would remain so for as long as people were willing to pay to see it. If the money stopped rolling in, he had no doubt that a few bombs would make short work of the town and its former citizens.
In the early days, he had watched them being fed a couple of times and had no wish to ever see it again.
Stan was the head of the operation and as always felt uneasy as he watched vehicles begin the drive into Zombie Town. The armoured trucks were well protected but he always felt worried.
It was ten times worse when it was buses filled with happy tourists eager to see the zombies and take pictures. Even now he felt slight revulsion to the fact that this town had become an attraction. He never could understand the public’s fascination with the place. He was here because he was being paid to be. He could not understand the morbid fascination that made people pay for the privilege.
The town had been left untouched and had been sealed off in the final days of the eradication of the virus so it could be studied. Then the idea had been born to turn it into a tourist attraction. Forget Disneyland, this was one of the top attractions in the world now. Where else could you have a brain burger in such an establishment as Zombie Café? Ireland’s other top attractions like the Cliffs of Moher in Clare or Newgrange in Meath had gone down the pecking order!
From the high wall, he could see the distant buildings of the town and the church spires rose up as if trying to get away from what the town had become.
An armoured bus set off on the route that the trucks had taken. This was filled with the staff from the businesses in the town. In the colourful brochure for the attraction, it was explained that in Zombie Town there were stop off points at the town centre, at the shopping mall and the school among others. Tourists could dine in the rooftop café and enjoy a few of the desolation of Zombie Town.
“We should kill them all,” said Frank Marlowe, coming to a stop beside him. Stan laughed at this old saying, looking at the grizzled tour guide. “Who should we kill?” he asked, playing along.
“The tourists,” answered Frank with a booming laugh. Stan laughed at the old joke. He didn’t like what had happened to the area but he was paid well and couldn’t argue with that. Frank likewise made a good living out of it.
“Want a coffee?” asked Frank.
“Why not. It’s the quiet season after all.”
The two men went below to the canteen and got cups of coffee. Zombie Town had been open for five years and attracted visitors from all over the world.
The zombie apocalypse had come and gone and was better known as the Zombie Outbreak as there had been no apocalyptic scenes for the main. Only a few counties in Ireland had been affected and the government had quickly isolated and contained the threat.
The Irish town in Louth that had become Zombie Town was the last remnant of it and had been turned into a freakish theme park. Sitting back with his coffee cup snugly in his hand he looked at Frank. The man took tourists out there every day and Stan sometimes wondered how he could stand it.
The next day, work teams were busy at the gates that led through the outer wall and into Zombie Town. They put up new colourful signs depicting zombies. There was lunchboxes, comics, colouring books, stickers, costumes and so on. There was also the costly option of getting your picture taken with a real zombie. This was a treat most folk would not turn down, nearly falling over themselves to put the picture up on social media.
The night before, Stan had paid his obligatory visit to the Zombie Hotel that was situated within viewing distance of the high walls that guarded and sealed off Zombie Town. It was a five-star facility and was filled with zombie themed items. There were posters, sculptures and light shades all done in zombie themes. Two old arcade games in the lobby had zombie attack games on them.
This was the base from which tourists set out every day to see the real thing.
The lobby had vibrated with the voices of excited guests queuing to check in. He had walked through the lobby greeting the new arrivals. He wore his Zombie Town uniform with the badge at the front. At his side hung a revolver in a leather casing. It was more for show than anything else and was not even loaded.
The guests had to feel like they were safe and being protected at all times. There was even a jeep with a mounted machine gun parked at the front of the hotel, manned by a two-person crew at all times.
He had gone to the bar and greeted a group who were on a stag party. He did not drink himself and the stink of booze off them made him feel like backing away. He stood his ground and joked with them. He bought them all a drink, which got a big cheer.
As he left them he made a mental note to tell the guards with the tour bus the next day to keep an eye on them. What they did during the night was up to them. There was no room for drunken people on the tour.
He also declined an offer from the hotel manager for dinner and bid farewell to the guests. The bar was full and he guessed there would be a lot of ill people on the tour in the morning.
Walking out the front door, he paused to light a cigarette, shielding the tip of it with his hand. It was dark outside and the noise from the bar drifted out to him. The noise and the light were like another world to the darkness he faced.
The large hotel stood alone in a barren landscape and looked totally out of place. There was nothing around it but fields and miles of empty land, as nobody wanted to live near the area. Once there had been a copse of trees nearby but they had been cut down as they had made the guests nervous.
They wanted a clear line of vision as they always got spooked and nervous at the idea of zombies somehow getting through.
In a way, the hotel was like a cruise ship on a dark ocean. Its lights glowed like it was a giant Christmas tree.
Taking a pull of the cigarette, Stan had looked back through the doors. Hotels always made him think of The Overlook Hotel from the Stephen King novel ‘The Shining.’ He wondered what it must be like for the caretaker in the off -season in the Zombie Hotel. They had real monsters to worry about.
The name of the hotel was emblazoned in big red letters above it and could be seen for miles around. With a last look into the hotel, he walked down the steps and walked over to his jeep. The vehicle rocked as he got in and shut the door.
The headlights pierced the darkness ahead. In the distance, the red blinking lights on the wall seemed to be trying to communicate with the red sign above the hotel.
The lights were there to prevent any low flying aircraft from striking the wall.
They were beacons to his home. Apart from four weeks holiday a year, he spent all his time there overseeing the operation. His time off was always during the off-season.
The busiest time of the year, of course, was Halloween, followed closely by Christmas. The zombie Santa was a favourite. A zombie would be dressed in a red Santa suit and the first tourist to spot it during the tour would get a prize.
During Christmas, he would often think of the festive decorations in the rotting homes in the town, decorations that would never be put up again. The thought always depressed him. He hired the volume of the radio and hummed along as he drove ‘home.’
Something had gone wrong. Something Stan still did not understand. He was outside and it was freezing. It felt like he would never be warm again.
He had been asleep in his cell like cubicle when the braying alarm had roused him. Its screech and the flashing red from the bulb above the door caused him to spill out of the bed and fall with a heavy thump onto the ground.
He had wrestled to be free of the blankets and got shakily to his feet.
“Christ,” he had breathed out.
The alarm was one he had never thought he would hear. It meant there had been a breach. It meant that a zombie was inside the containment wall building. It meant things were seriously fucked in other words.
He had picked up his walkie talky and switched it on. There was a burst of static and then he heard panicked chatter. He could not get through to anyone. He ran out of the room and rushed towards the control room. He paused upon realising he had left his gun in its holster in the gun safe in his room. With a curse, he kept going.
The screams ahead stopped him dead. Then the rattle of gunfire made him back up and run. He rushed to stairs leading to the wall, knowing that security would set up there. It was where the evacuation helicopters would pick them up. He had reached the top of the wall and that was when his memory got hazy. He remembered someone bashing into him, remembered teeth.
Now he stood outside. He turned and bumped into Frank who snarled back. He and the other zombies were crowded together. Helicopters had taken away the survivors who had made it to the landing zone. Stan was not a survivor as he was now one of them.
About the Author
Ian Watters is a writer and journalist. He has had a number of short stories published and has written two post-apocalyptic novels, ‘The Red Year’ and ‘The Irish Apocalypse’ that have been submitted to publishing houses. He also runs the ‘Loving the Apocalypse’ Facebook page.