“So you … corralled all of these zombies into this mall?”
“I prefer to call them biters, but yes I did.”
I stand with a teenager named Kelly inside of an abandoned mall. Abandoned may not be the best word for it, since it is filled with dozens of zombies, or biters as Kelly calls them. Most light comes in through skylights, most pre-built and some are simply holes in shop ceilings themselves. Overhead lights flicker on and off. Generators, Kelly told me when I had first asked. Powered by the few still-working solar panels.
“And you did this all single-handedly?” I ask.
Kelly breaks eye contact with me to look at the cage next to us. Zombies incessantly reach out toward us.
“I had help, in the beginning. A whole team, really. We got here about a year after everything started, and almost the whole place was already ransacked, in a few places the structure was crumpled. I know it sounds dumb, but we decided to make it a safe space for biters. First it was just our loved ones, then we saw just how quick people are to kill all the others, so we started saving any biter we could.”
“How exactly did you do that? There’s are whole stores filled with them.”
“At first, I wasn’t allowed to help with the difficult things, like making blockades and routes for the biters to be brought in, and actually transferring them. But when we had a system going I convinced everyone to let me join.” She begins walking past the store fronts, glancing into each one as if to see if every zombie is accounted for. “All the stores don’t just have the front entrance. We set up back entrances to bring the biters in.”
“How do they not crowd up and go out the way they came in?”
“That was part of my job. I’d make a bunch of noise and draw the biters up to the front gate of their store, so that the new biter could enter and we’d be safe.”
Kelly turns around and walks backward, facing me. She claps her calloused hands together, causing a rise in the noise and activity made by the zombies. The metal gates curve outward in response to the weight.
I can’t help but wince. Gnashing teeth and dirty hands desperate for a taste of me. Some hands have what looks like fresh blood on them. “Have the gates ever… broken?”
“Not because of the biters, no.”
She doesn’t say any more.
We bypass a gate with no zombies behind it, only a surprisingly well-lit area of concrete that turns out of sight. It appears to lead to a whole other wing of the mall.
Before I can ask about the closed area, Kelly moves on and another question comes to mind.
“Going back a bit, what about that huge sign I saw outside when you brought me in? I think it said ‘Zombies were people too’?”
“It says ‘Zombies ARE people too’,” Kelly says curtly.
“Right. And the term zombies is used instead of biters.”
She sighs. “That’s the most common term w-I’ve heard. I hate demoting them to such a derogatory term, but it’s easier to get my message across.”
I glance at Kelly, whose expression is hidden by the baseball cap she wears. “And what exactly is your message?”
Kelly stops her slow walking and turns to me. “You sure do ask a lot of questions. The biters are dangerous. They try to bite and scratch anyone, even loved ones, but they just aren’t in control of their body! Just because people get infected and turn into biters does not mean they die!” She seems to realize she had started yelling and takes a deep breath before continuing. “They don’t die, not fully.”
At this, she motions for me to follow as we walk down a few store fronts. Nearly every storefront with steel shutters has at least a dozen zombies pushing up against them. We stop outside of what once was a jewelry store. Inside are only two zombies. One is ambling in the darkness of the back of the store, seemingly unaware of our presence. The other has its fingers wiggling through the metal gate, its fat hands too big to fit through the bars. Its striking red eyes are the only sign that he had Changed (besides the fact that he is grinding his teeth and clawing at the shutters to get to us), so he must have been infected recently.
After a minute of silence, I ask quietly “Who wa-who is he?”
“My dad. He and my brother were bit when we tried bringing in too many biters at once.”
She balls her hands into fists and lowers her head, so I don’t press further.
Then I feel something hit me from behind. I look down and see a blade slicing through my shirt, coated in my own hot blood. I can’t tell if I feel pinching, tearing pain or nothing at all. A big hand grabs my shoulder and forces me to fall sideways onto the tiled floor. Kelly only looks down at me, sleep-deprived eyes from under a baseball cap.
“I’m so sorry, I know you thought I was saving you out there, and I was, I am. But biters need to eat too.”
"I'm in an old mall with this girl. Despite her assurances, I feel that the rotting zombies she 'saved' want to break free of their cages and tear me to pieces. She said she's on her own now, but this place is pretty big for one person to keep under control…" #ds106 #theend106 pic.twitter.com/QMehLrs1kD
— Katie Hartraft (@KatieHartraft) January 26, 2018