J. S. Eiland
What Could Happen
Sanchez had just bought this super old castle-like mansion. I’ve never known just how he came about all his money, the goober never seemed to work a full day in his life, at least as long as I had known him. Discussions were often held among those of us privy to Sanchez’s seemingly infinite wealth, conversations in determined structures so as to find the route to our intricately unique comrade’s spending ability, but each of these endeavors ended both fruitlessly and abruptly. The most common belief (though it was never one I myself held) was that Sanchez derived his wealth from that of his family’s. For those who held true to this theory, their confidence dissipated one July afternoon when we almost met his family on our way out to the country for a weekend of shenanigans.
Sanchez said his boyhood home was en route and as such he directed our subsequent turns, leading us directly up to a small-disheveled property enclosed in a thicket of expired apple trees. The whole acreage had fallen into years, if not decades, of disrepair and it was clear that the living earned by the occupants had not been associated with those decrepit apple trees for a generation or more. No, whatever monetary magic managed to maintain this minute abode was earned either from well-beyond its walls or perhaps sinisterly so, from deep within its bowels. The answer was one we would never come to find out. As soon as we had parked the car and clamored out into the cool autumn air Sanchez seemed to pale and witnessed a change of heart. He demanded we all pile back into the old vehicle and despite our own displeasing debates he responded naught, but rather availed himself of the driver’s seat and turned the engine over. We had no choice but to follow suit and leave the mystery of Sanchez’s wealth and upbringing unsolved for the foreseeable future.
Sanchez’s new mansion must have cost a fortune, if not a couple of them. It was right in the heart of the bustling city we all called home, yet it maintained its own old-world charm and serenity. It was as if the property was not actually in the middle of a metropolis, but rather the seeming city scene was but a magical veil hung all around the homestead to appeal to an occupant’s urban whims without the need to venture into the dust and decay that describes most major cities. In only one step through the front gate, one felt a noticeable calm descend upon the spirit and all that was came to seem right in the world despite the pandemic that we all knew raged along around us.
Sanchez’s mansion had everything, tons of rooms, big ol’ courtyards, completely walled (not fenced) in property-three-hundred sixty degrees surrounding. The place was epic! In time we, of course, came to find myriad hidden passageways connecting rooms that otherwise would be impossible to traverse between due to their lack of proximity. One such secret passage emptied into a tunnel clearly dug as a means of secret escape in the event of an emergency or the likely invasion by in-laws. Off of this exact tunnel, we found a large crypt, easily the size of standard American three-bedroom house complete with levels and stairs and everything. With no signage or other notification tools prominently displayed there was no way for us to know who the deceased were, nor how many of them were present. The air of the crypt was thick with broken dreams and unachieved goals. Just standing in the middle of the crypt made one feel ever-so insignificant and worthless like the life that lead here, to this moment and distinct point in time was meaningless and should be snuffed out immediately. It was quite a powerful sensation and yet despite this palpable curse, there was always a certain uplifting manner to one’s heart whenever in the crypt. Like the feeling one gets as a child when Mother builds us up and sets our determination to the realization of all our greatest dreams.
Sanchez asked me to arrive that morning at eleven am sharp to assist him while he discussed with the designer the layout of the mansion’s decor and furnishings. While we discussed whicker and its woven ways within our world on one of the umpteen patios of the mansion, all hell broke loose. Sanchez glanced my way almost nonchalantly as if to ask me if I would mind handling a small discrepancy outside. Yet the situation one story below us was devolving into warfare right before our very eyes. The streets around the mansion were filled with those affected by the virus. Not the COVID-19 virus but the mutational strain that some clown of a scientist invented in his basement in Oklahoma instead of a cure. In an attempt to neutralize the virus he actually made it stronger and more virile. The newly minted mutagen no longer caused respiratory issues, it now acted similarly to the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus that seemingly possesses ants and forces them to climb to the highest leaf they can reach before biting into the leaf stem with death bite. Of course, it is at this point that the fungus matures and sprouts its reproductive toadstool through the top of the ant’s cranium.
The zombie virus, as this mutated corona became known, was not nearly as contagious as its standard predecessor. In fact, only about one in one hundred people exposed to the new virus actually contracted it. While the CDC and various governing bodies had their hands full with COVID-19 and the mass hysteria that this essentially harmless virus had wreaked worldwide over the last month, the zombie virus went along essentially unchecked. That is until Gabriel Arkham held a press conference to offer up the findings of his basement laboratory and plead for help to rectify what he called his “greatest mishap.”
With Corona-concern reaching a fever-pitch, the public was completely ill-equipped to handle a newsflash like this. All-out panic and despair rocked the country and eventually the world. Instead of pulling together to strengthen our fight, the people became skeptical of each other and began to seclude themselves even more so. Small factions, family groups, and tight-knit friends began to recruit followers, promising safety in numbers from the pending apocalyptic doom. It wasn’t long before skirmishes among these factions erupted and the streets of most major cities became war-zones for what essentially amounted to no reason whatsoever.
COVID-19 had all but been completely contained by this time and the zombie virus was so incredibly impossible to contract that the government estimated they already had over ninety percent of the infected quarantined. The truth was that everything had been handled about as perfectly as it could have been by those we elected to lead us, and yet the masses (due to boredom in my opinion) decided to panic anyway and blow everything out of proportion. I have to give Sanchez credit for this at the very least. Despite his cloaked wealth, he did not panic, rather he recognized everybody else’s panic as the right time for him to secure this mansion at a bargain-basement price. Classy move if you ask me. Nothing like that asswad I read about in a small Montana town who bought up all the toilet paper in that minuscule and isolated community just to sell it to the same people he had lived with for forty years at a profit. That was scummy.
Everything felt like a dream at that moment. You know what I mean? Nothing quite made sense and yet I completely understood everything inherently as if it were all so perfectly normal and somehow did make sense. I sprung into action like I knew what I was doing so despite my apparent lack of knowledge I clearly knew there was a war coming. No guns, go figure. My old school brain still believes too much in chivalry I suppose. As I ran throughout the halls of the mansion looking to arm myself with whatever sharp, blunt, heavy, light, or otherwise useful objects I could find, I kept drawing this comparison in my mind, essentially involuntarily.
The comparison I kept drawing to myself was that of the TV show of The Strain. That's how everything felt. Even though throughout the entire battle sequence that I would shortly find myself reeling within the middle of, not one single “creature” emerged. No, instead it was all humans with swords and crossbows. But again, the inherent, contextual knowledge floating around in my overactive brain was that something was essentially possessing humans and turning them into an army. At the time, the information I shared with you about Gabriel Arkham’s blunder was common knowledge, but the true extent of the infection was not. As I dashed like mad throughout the mansion looking for a way outside to attend to the scuttlebutt, I was severely shorthanded due to the assumption that the riotous mass outside the mansion’s walls was in fact made up of panicky humans. Of course, panicky humans present their own sort of extreme problems in their own right, but those were problems I was much more aware of and likewise equipped to deal with as needed.
I don't recall specifics of much of the ensuing battle itself, just that I was running around a lot. It all kind of blurred together the way life and memory does whenever adrenaline gets involved. One specific fight I do remember though. I had gotten myself outside the courtyard walls, across the street was a huge old-stone church with a massive-open square resting in front of it paved entirely with red brick. I saw two men. One, a large bastard with a sword and a knight’s armor. The other a smaller, Robin Hood type character wielding a crossbow. The duo saw me as well and it was on instantaneously. The knight advanced first of course as is the nature of a foot soldier, that is to say, infantry. As he was rushing towards me in his lumbering, slow-motion sort of way I came to a rather unfortunate and shocking realization. The masses of people driving the cars were possessed in some sort of way and actively swerving to try to hit me. Of course with twenty-twenty hindsight equipped I can tell you without qualm, query, nor concern that the drivers were all infected with the dreaded zombie virus, but at the time I, like the rest of the world, had no idea the true extent of Professor Arkham’s “blunder.”
I instinctively lept to my left and rolled onto the open-square of the church to avoid the crazed drivers. The knight had continued his advance (or maybe he was a she, I never found out and I wouldn’t want to offend anybody by assuming that all virally-infected lunatic knights must be male) and was right on top of me as I came back to my feet, though I maintained my crouch so as to avoid making too easy a target for Robinhood whom I could see was trained on me, but not advancing or moving at all for that matter. The knight’s initial blow came straight down with all his might as I raise my sword overhead to protect myself, blocking her blow. I don't recall the rest of the fight but I must have won because next, I remember being back inside the courtyards of the mansion, running through the halls and helping my comrades, of which there were many more than I had remembered.
I do remember one casualty, unfortunately, though I don't know who he is was. But he had his belly run through by a spear and was seated haphazardly against the vine-covered stone wall in the back corner of the back courtyard. The poor fool was doing all he could to stay alive and tried resolutely yet pitilessly to hold his blood and guts in. I don't think he was dead at the time I saw him, but I knew there was nothing I could do to save him and the horde was still attacking at a weaker back door of the mansion’s walls. So I ran on past to serve my duty and left my young comrade to face his fate as best he could.