A few weeks and much physical therapy later Mrs. Morris was back at work. As she walked past the exterior wall where the breach occurred, the ZDF sure knew how to build fences and walls in a hurry. She smiled as she saw new paintings on the fresh “T” walls of butterflies, handprints and the occasional stick figure zombie being shot by survivor stick figures. She nearly stubbed her toe where the tunnels had been filled in with concrete.
Since the incident the ZDF decided to station a platoon of soldiers at the Elementary during school hours. Some of the teachers complained but Kate didn’t see what was wrong. Having ten more guys with guns on hand in case of an emergency was a good thing, right? It takes a while to scramble the Blackhawk helicopters.
Not long after she was half smothered by the Berserker the ZDF helicopters had shown up and sprayed the school yard with their miniguns effectively stopping the attacking horde. Mr. Baker the third grade teacher had hauled her back inside the school. She still owed him a batch of brownies once she could round up enough chocolate rations to make them.
“Hey Mrs. Morris, welcome back.” Mrs. Sherman said as she looked up from her equipment clipboard.
“Thanks Sally, it’s good to be back.”
The gray haired woman wore a nickel plated 1911 on her hip, “So how are things with you and Tom?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Sally put her hands on her hips, something her mother had done. “Don’t fib girl. I visited you in the hospital when you were still out. He didn’t leave your side the whole time.”
She sighed, “Alright, I never could lie to you, even back in fourth grade.” The young teacher glanced up and down the hallway. “I basically proposed to him.”
Mrs. Sherman’s eyes widened a bit, “Well good for you girl. When’s the wedding?”
“I… we haven’t set a date yet.” Kate said with a blush. “Besides I don’t think I’ll have enough ration credits for a descent wedding. Where am I going to get a dress? It’s not like there’s a bridal shop in the safe zone.”
“Don’t worry your pretty little red head dear, old Mrs. Sherman knows a few… gentlemen high up in the ZDF. We’ll get you your wedding dress.”
“Mrs. Sherman… I’m shocked.”
She grinned, “Mrs. Morris what a naughty mind you have. No no, my husband, god rest his soul was friends with then Colonel, now General Smith. He still owes him and in turn me a few favors.”
“Thanks Mrs. Sherman. You’re the best.”
“I know dear.” She said as Kate continued toward her classroom, “You’ve still got a limp, are you sure you can return to duty?”
The First Grade teacher turned around, “It’s a bit sore but the doctors said I should make a full recovery. I can run, it just hurts.”
“Good job kicking zombie butt the other day.”
She blushed, “Thanks.”
The bell rang and the teachers headed off to their classes.
“Mrs. Morris! She’s back!” Zachary yelled to the other students, when he saw her through the window.
It took Mrs. Hotchkiss a couple of minutes to get the mob of children away from the windows and back into line.
After the all clear signal was given Mrs. Morris unbarred the door and her students were let in. They swarmed her like a ravenous zombie horde descending on a bleeding survivor. Several kids hugged her legs and she winced as they pressed up against her scar.
“We missed you.”
Farah argued with a couple of the boys, “Told ya she didn’t turn into a zombie.”
“Nuh huh this Mrs. Morris is a clone.” George stated flatly. “Con… Contagion has a clone lab.”
She sighed and wriggled out from the horde, “Easy children, take your seats please.”
After the kids finally calmed down they began with the pledge and some pre Contagion history. The subs had made it up through the second Iraq war had started the Mogadishu incident.
“Patient zero was never found, but the first infected person was thought to have been from a small Somali village.” She read from History of Safe Zone, volume one.
A hand in the back was raised, “Yes Larry?”
“Umm… Mrs. Morris, what’s patient zero?”
“Good question. Some people believe that if we could have found the first human to contract the Contagion a cure could have been synthesized. But… since they never found him or her, I guess we’ll never know.”
“Can we go to Mog a dish shoe. And find the zero?” He asked.
A few of the children snickered at his question. The teacher sighed, and held up a hand, “No I don’t think so, a trip that far would take more fuel than the Safe Zone can make in a year. And patient zero is probably long since dead.”
He looked down at his well-worn shoes, “So… we’re going to have zombies forever?”
Mrs. Morris promised never to lie to her students. “Yes. You will all grow up, live, have children and die with zombies outside these walls.” Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought.
“What’s wrong Mrs. Morris?” George asked.
“Nothing.” She couldn’t bear to let them see her cry. “That’s enough history. It’s time for ‘Infection.’ Line up.”
The children hurried to the door with a little pushing and shoving like usual. Nerf darts filled the air as children tried to headshot those who walked around moaning with their arms outstretched.
When a ‘survivor’ got tagged they dropped their gun and began chasing the other survivors. Killed zombies could walk back to an orange cone to regenerate and try again.
Turning such a vital skill as shooting zombies into a game was brilliant. Mrs. Morris wondered who came up with the game. It was so popular that the ZDF did several helicopter raids into zombie territory to recover more guns and darts from big box stores. She heard the expeditionary teams hovered over the roof, cut a hole and rappelled down inside to retrieve the foam weaponry.
On the way back from the gym someone whistled at her. She stopped and turned around, half expecting to see Tom.
Unfortunately, it was a couple of ZDF soldiers with “damn she’s hot” looks on their faces. She rolled her eyes and continued walking to catch up with her class.
“Hey you’re Kate Morris aren’t you?” The soldiers asked as they began following her down the hall.
She stopped and crossed her arms, “Yes and I don’t like men who leer at my backside as I walk by.”
“Sorry about that, we were just a bit, surprised to see a woman of your… caliber working here. Sergeant Jared Roper, heavy weapons the guy with the beat up AK-47 is Corporal Grant Drum. I usually make him carry the heavy stuff.”
“Hey.” The younger man objected.
“Don’t mind him. Anyway where were we?”
The young teacher looked at the two rough men; they had obviously killed their fair share of zombies. She should have felt gratitude for their service to Safe Zone, but she could only feel annoyance by the way she had been objectified.
“Nice to meet you.” She replied deadpan, “Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get back to my class.”
“Good job out there the other day. If you ever decide to give up teaching there’ll be a spot for you in my ZDF platoon.” He said while adjusting the sling on his semi-auto Mossberg 12 gauge.
“Thanks, I guess.”
As she walked down the hall she could almost feel their eyes on her ass.
Chaos reigned back in First Grade. Zach had found some Elmers glue, and managed to spill a copious amount on the carpet, while Farah was busy cutting up someone else’s construction paper zombie.
“Maybe I should take Sergeant Roper up on his offer.” She said under her breath as she walked to the front of the room to restore order.
“It’s time for a math quiz!” She said as a chorus of groans erupted from the room.
“George, please hand them out.”
“Yes, Mrs. Morris.”
Math Quiz Name:________________
1. Jane has 8 rounds of .45acp loaded in her pistol. If she fires 3 bullets at a zombie, how many shots does she have left?
2. Kyle found 3 first aid kits while scavenging. If Sue found 3 kits how many do they have together?
3. Sam ate 2 apples, and Sue ate 1. If they had 10 before a zombie scared them and they dropped 3 how many do they have now?
4. If a Katana can kill 10 zombies before breaking and a baseball bat can kill 5 more before breaking how many can the bat kill?
5. If a 12 gauge shotgun shell holds 9 pellets and Bob shoots 2 shells, how many pellets did he fire?
The last armored school bus left the yard and the gates closed. Somehow she had survived her first day back. Her eyes and head hurt, Kate vividly remembered being kicked in the head by combat boot wearing zombie. She hoped the headaches wouldn’t linger.
A stack of math quizzes lay on her desk ungraded but she wouldn’t be touching them. Friday nights weren’t to be wasted on schoolwork.
“Hey sexy lady.” A deep voice called from the hallway.
For a moment she thought it was one of the ZDF troopers looking for trouble, but when she looked up and saw Tom she smiled. “Hey.”
“You look tired.” He said as he sat the gun cases down on a desk and walked behind her.
“That’s probably because I’m exhausted. The kids can be a handful.”
The sniper took off his shooting gloves.
“Don’t do that. I’ll fall asleep.” She protested as his fingers began searching for knots. In her shoulders. Two seconds later she asked him not to stop.
“Tell me something… ouch… I don’t know.”
A few minutes later he could have asked her to walk naked, covered in bacon grease in the dead zone and she would have done it.
“So what are the latest rumors?” he asked.
Kate chuckled, “Ethal is grumbling loudly about the new freeloaders.”
“Ethal? Why do I know that name?”
The young teacher smiled, “Oh come on Tom, how could you not remember Ethal Mercaptan?”
“Umm, because I’m usually up in the tower before anyone arrives and I try and avoid most of the staff here?”
Kate swiveled her old office chair around, “Oh really?”
The sniper swallowed hard, “I… I’m… I mean not you.”
“Well obviously not me. But they aren’t bad people. Including Ethal.”
Tom sighed, “Sorry. So why is she mad at the ‘freeloaders’? I met the ZDF soldiers that are stationed here. They seem like good hard working men.”
“No, that’s not why Ethal is unhappy. She doesn’t like that there’s ten more adult male mouths to feed.”
“Oh, isn’t she that short skinny gray haired little old lunch lady?”
A shrill voice came from the hall, “Little… old?”
The couple looked out into the corridor, Ethal stood in the middle pushing one of the garbage carts out to the burn pile. Her skin was wrinkly and thin, her hair wiry and a bit disheveled from a hard day in the kitchen, but her blue eyes held a fire behind them that seemed too young for the stretched too tight body they now inhabited.
“I’ll have you know Mr. Sits-up-in-the-tower-all-day-daydreaming. I may be little, and I may be old, but I am not a little old lunch lady.”
Tom found he was standing at attention. “Sorry Mrs. Mercaptain… I… I meant no disrespect.”
The gray haired old woman raised an eyebrow. “Sure Sonny, whatever you say. Now help this ‘little old lady by dumpin’ the garbage for me.”
“Yes Ma’am.” He replied and took the cart from her.
Kate got up and offered her chair to the feisty old woman, who took it graciously. “Boys, even when they grow up, they don’t really change.”
The young teacher sat on George’s desk, “I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right dear.” She said with a smile, “I’m glad you’re back. When you ran out there and tried to get yourself eaten by those unseemly things I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”
“So was I.”
The school cook smiled and fished something out of a faded apron pocket. “My dear did they feed you anything at the hospital? You never were much of a meaty gal before, but if you’re not careful you’ll end up like old Ethal. Here, take this. But don’t let that sniper boy have any.”
Kate could hardly believe her eyes, in a plastic baggie were a couple chocolate chip cookies. “Thanks Ethal, I… I can’t remember when I had cookies last.”
The old lady shrugged and adjusted the Singer Sewing Machine 1911 on her belt. “Probably three years ago I’d wager.”
Tom came back, the cart empty.
“Thank you young man. Now you escort this fiery haired girl home and take good care of her or you’ll have to answer to me.”
“Yes Ma’am, I won’t let you down.”
“Good boy.” She said as she pushed the cart back toward the kitchen.
“Well, now you’ve met Ethal.”
Tom nodded as he took her hand, “What’s her story?”
“Nobody really knows. But most of the faculty here believe she’s Chuck Norris’s grandmother.”
“Now you’re pulling my leg.”
Kate shook her head, “It’s true, enough. They say on Contagion day she fought her way out of the restaurant, through a massive horde with nothing but a meat cleaver in one hand and a chef’s knife in the other.”
Tom whistled, “Dayum.”
“So Mr. Lewis, are you going to do what she told you to and take care of me?” She asked as she unlocked her Sig 556 carbine.
Warren, a school guard, watched the roof of a two story home converted to a guard shack as his compatriot Chris grabbed a can of hair spray propellant and shot a bit into the breach of his crazy PCV pipe weapon. He attached the barrel and hit the trigger. The propellant exploded launching a concrete filled tennis ball into the dead zone striking a slow mover in the chest knocking it down.
The guard called out across the way, “Hey Chris, knock it off, do you want the entire undead army over here?”
“Aww Warren I’m just havin’ some fun thinning the horde. I’m not hurting anyone… well anyone alive that is.”
Warren shook his head, shouldered his M1 Garand and muttered under his breath. “Damn fool is going to get us all killed one of these days.”
Another shot from the modified potato gun shattered a window somewhere in the dead zone. The guard shook his head, lowered the ladder and climbed down.
He smiled when he saw Tom and Kate heading toward the gate holding hands. Maybe if he was a bit younger and more attractive; he’d be the one with a shot at the saucy first grade teacher.
“Goodnight Mr. Iskandar.” She said as they passed by.
He smiled, “Goodnight Mrs. Morris.”
Tom just nodded as he put his M14 rifle in his rusty F250.
Warren watched them drive off before securing the gate and getting in his Tahoe. The school was locked up and empty for the weekend. Finally it was time to waste some ration credits on booze. Club Zed would be opening soon.
Chris watched his coworker go as he prepped another shot. He contemplated breaking Warren’s back window but thought better of it as he’d have to pay a bunch of beer rations in restitution.
“One more shot and I’ll go to the club.” He said to himself as he took aim at a particularly nasty looking puss bag covered beast.
He didn’t notice the snarling Crawler clinging to the rain gutter behind him as he squeezed off another shot.