Smoke And Decay

Disclaimer: When we started this line over three years ago, we had no idea we’d soon enough be in a real pandemic. This series is meant as a fun, silly, lighthearted take on the traditional zombie apocalypse narrative. Enjoy!

Read the rest of our story, Chapters 1 and 2, before continuing below.

Scent Notes: Warm snickerdoodle cookies dipped in buttercream frosting, campfire wood smoke, crisp red apple, Indian sandalwood, a freshly poured oatmeal stout, orange spiced chai tea.

Walking back to the campground, she spots Mallory. Mallory waves her over and beckons her to sit.

“Awesome; looks like you did well hunting!” Mallory says as she takes in the rabbits. “We’ll eat like queens tonight.”

“Well, actually, Danny is the one who got these. I wasn’t having any luck, and he scared me half to death as he came out of the woods. I didn’t even know he was hunting too!” She sighs, hands Mallory a rabbit, and they begin to prepare them for dinner.

“Yeah, I don’t think anyone here at camp knew he left, too. And it doesn’t look like he’s back yet,” Mallory says, glancing around.

“He was trailing behind and acting all weird; he’ll get here soon, I’m sure.” She glanced at Mallory. “You know what would be great right now?”

Mallory smirks at her. “Spiked cider?”

She grins back. “You read my mind, and not for the first time.” She winks at Mallory and walks to her tent.

Mallory continues to prep the rabbits, their blood soaking the ground at her feet.

Returning with spices, bourbon, and apple cider, she quickly prepares heavily spiked cider and hands a cup to Mallory. They cheers their cups together, a little giddy. Rabbits and bourbon? This night is fantastic.

They take a sip, smiling gleefully at each other. Shit, Mallory thinks, be cool; nobody can know. Get back to dinner prep; quit eye-fucking your girlfriend in front of other people. Mallory looks away, and sees Danny finally walking over to them.

“Hey great job catching these, Danny!” Mallory says, noticing that he is making googly-eyes at the woman sitting next to her. Not that she could blame him; this badass, gorgeous woman was nearly irresistible. He doffs an invisible cap at her, and walks over to his tent.

Mallory giggles and looks over at her. “Do you think he knows about us?”

“Danny? Oh holy mother of Jameson, no, absolutely not! He had a crush on me back when we worked together and I shut that shit down then. He knows better.”

Mallory smiles, appeased, and takes another sip of her cider. “Can I sleep in your tent again tonight?”

Smiling back at Mallory, she says, “Oh, your tent is gone. I burned it down. You’re sleeping with me from now on.”

Suddenly, Danny is there, and announces that he was attacked, and time stands still. Mallory springs into action mode, and time lurches forward, and the next thing she’s conscious of is lying in her tent, spooning a crying Mallory.

“I can’t believe he was attacked! You were right there; it could’ve been you!” Her shoulders shudder as she cries, and she does her best to console a distraught Mallory, who had also recently performed a rather gruesome amputation on Danny. The apocalypse was much tougher than expected; plus, now their bourbon supply was much lower, and that was the real shame in her opinion. Still, she pressed her face between Mallory’s shoulder blades and squeezed Mallory even tighter.

“But I wasn’t. And you, you were incredible. You amputated a hand! A disgusting zombie hand! You saved all of us! You even saved Danny, who maybe didn’t deserve it. You’re the real hero here, seriously.” Her words are muffled, since her face is still pressed into Mallory’s back, but Mallory gets the gist and starts to calm down a little. Soon enough, Mallory’’s relaxed enough to have traded her sniffles for snores, and she smiles, and starts to drift off herself.

Outside, on the ground, the hand is twitching. Nobody is awake to see it, but the hand starts crawling; slowly, at first, but then quicker as it understands how to function on its own, unattached to a body. It somehow understands that it is undead, and its thirst for blood is real. But, being just a hand, it needs some assistance. It knows where to go; knows where its brethren lies in wait, back down below the campground. First, though, it decides to have a little fun. Why not; it’s a disembodied zombie hand! It can do whatever it wants! Gleefully, it runs to a dirt patch on the side of the camp, and gets to work.

The next morning, she is startled awake by Mallory screaming, “What the fuck?!” She darts up, pulling a knife out from under her pillow, ready to attack. She sees the shape of Mallory outside the tent, and scrambles outside to see why Mallory is losing her mind.

“What? What’s the matter?”

“Well, the campground was vandalized, and also, THE HAND IS GONE.” Mallory is shaking in a combination of rage and terror. She’s pointing at the spot where the hand had been hours before, and it’s clearly gone. And, as she slowly takes in the scene of the rest of the campground, she lets out a very large sigh.

It appears that someone, using something that looks like a cross between syrup and blood, drew some rather crude drawings around the camp; phalluses abound, along with the word “Bro!” on the side of Danny’s tent. It looks like a middle school boy just went to town “decorating” the area. So. Many. Dicks. Everywhere. Every tent has a crude drawing somewhere on its side; in the dirt at the entrance to the camp, it reads, ”WELCOME TO DICKTOWN.”

“What in the hell happened here?” she says, shaking her head. She turns back and looks at her own tent. “Oh, goddammit, no!”

On her own tent, the word “LEZBOS” has been sloppily written on the side. Did Danny do something stupid in the middle of the night while completely out of his head due to pain and bourbon? No, that can’t be; he just lost his dominant hand, there’s no way he was coordinated enough to do this in such a state. She walks to her tent and sniffs the words. Yup, that’s pumpkin spice blood; that’s what was pouring out of Danny last night as his hand was amputated.

“Just, fucking dicks, drawn in blood, as far as the eye can see, and the hand has disappeared. What is going on here?”

At that moment, Danny comes stumbling out of his tent. He’s clearly hungover and in a tremendous amount of pain; the gauze around his amputated arm is bloody and dripping.

“Danny, did you take your hand back? Did you do all this?!” She storms up to him, her voice on the edge of screaming.

“What? I’ve been passed out all night; I’m in so much pain. Is there any more bourbon? Can I have, like, all of it?”

She glances at his good hand; no spicy blood stains. She runs back to his tent and looks: no hand.

When she comes back out, Mallory is trying to talk to Danny, and is pointing out all the artwork that appeared overnight in the campground.

“Dude, I did not do any of that, seriously. Although, honestly, this is pretty fucking funny. Dicks are HILARIOUS; I don’t care how old you are. I’m sorry about whoever wrote ‘LEZBOS’ on her tent, though; that’s just rude. And super not true!”

She walks over to Mallory and Danny with a curious look on her face.

“Danny. Where’s your hand?”

“Which one?” he asks sarcastically.

“The one no longer attached to your body.”

“Uh, Mallory cut it off last night. I have no idea. I thought you all would, like, burn it while I was passed out.”

“Well, it’s gone; nobody can find it.”
“Dude, wait. You guys… you just left a zombie hand lying in the dirt? Did nobody read zombie novels or watch any zombie movies before this happened?! That’s what happened! My hand! My hand did all of this!”

She rolls her eyes. “Oh, fucking hell, I don’t believe that.”

Mallory looks at her. “No, it’s… it’s very possible. And it’s my fault; I got distracted last night. He’s right; we should’ve burned it.”

She looks at Mallory and sighs. “Fine. I’m gonna get the fire going again so we can all eat something this morning; everybody else should look around for Danny’s missing zombie hand. We need to find it and burn it, as soon as possible.”

An hour later, Danny, Mallory, and a few of the others return from their search. The hand is gone, and there’s nothing they can do about that.

In the meantime, she has gotten the fire going, and has been running scenarios in her head the whole time. Basically, she’s now convinced that the crazy theory is correct: the hand is undead, it made all those stupid penis drawings around their site, and now it’s on its way to the spicy undead to show them where the living are camping out.

“Right. Okay everyone, I think we need to move camp.” She relays her theory to everyone else who, while maybe slightly unbelieving, are also living in the goddamn apocalypse and aren’t willing to take any chances.

They start to pack up, as quickly as possible.

Mallory looks terrified. “Where are we gonna go? How will we survive?”

She’s a bit more stable, for some reason. Probably because she helped found and set up this camp in the first place. She’s been through a lot. Granted, she (thankfully) has all of her limbs, but setting up camp in a new spot is not as daunting to her as the thought of the zombies who are likely on their way to them even at this moment.

She turns and faces Mallory. “Don’t worry; I’m here. I’ll protect you.” They share a forced smile and a quick kiss before Mallory goes to pack up her medical supplies.

Danny is sitting at the table, finishing the bourbon. He looks over at her and yells, drunkenly, “Dude, I can’t go.”

She runs over to him.

“What do you mean? We have to go; they’re on their way!”

“Nah, my hand wouldn’t do that. It’s my hand; it’s chill, it wouldn’t turn on me!”

“Danny. Your hand is a zombie. I think it will absolutely turn on you. You already said it did all this… artwork, shall we say.”

“Well, but that’s the problem. I just lost my hand, I’m in so much pain, I can’t run away from zombies. This is some bullshit.”

“Well… at least it wasn’t your foot?” She smiles at him, trying to make him laugh in the face of his personal apocalypse within the, you know, actual zombie apocalypse.

He smirks, and looks her in the eyes. Screw it, he thinks, and leans in and tries to kiss her.

What he wasn’t expecting was for her to smack him, hard, across the face instead.

“What the fuck are you doing?!”

“Hey, it’s the apocalypse; I lost my hand; we’re about to get killed by zombies; why can’t we… you know… real fast?” He wiggles his eyebrows at her, and she smacks him again.

“Danny. I told you this before: I. Am. A. Lesbian. I’m. Not. Interested. At all. In no way. No universe. Not even in the middle of the goddamn apocalypse. Do you understand?”

“Well yeah, you told me that back when we worked together. But , you know, I was thinking, it’s the apocalypse, we have to repopulate the Earth and shit…”

Before she can smack him again, Mallory starts screaming.

She looks up from Danny’s stupid face and sees Mallory being attacked by a hand. Danny’s zombie hand.

“Oh fuck, look, now your hand is back, you complete idiot!” She sprints over to Mallory. The hand is attacking Mallory’s throat, trying to choke her. It’s crazy strong for just a hand; probably zombie strength or something weird like that.

She comes up and yanks the hand off of Mallory, and throws it directly into the fire. A horrible screeching noise fills the air, and it smells like burning flesh, pumpkin, and seasonal spices. If it wasn’t for the flesh note, it could actually smell quite nice.

“They’re coming, we don’t have time to keep packing; we have to go NOW!!”

She picks Mallory up off the ground and gives her a deep, passionate kiss in front of everyone. Danny makes an audible noise of disgust.

In that moment, Danny realizes that he’s lost it all: his hand, the woman he loved (whatever that means), his family, his friends… It’s the apocalypse, for real. And what’s the point of carrying on? He swigs the last of the bourbon back. He’s made his decision. He can do one last thing for her; one final act to prove his sincerity. Yeah, he’s a bit of a douchebag, but he can make his life have meaning. Even though it’s going to suck so badly. So, so badly.

Everyone else in the camp, except Danny, is ready to leave before it’s too late. Danny is still sitting at the table, looking drunk and resigned.

“Danny, come on, we have to go!”

Everyone is getting impatient.

“Let’s just leave him!”

“Yeah, fuck that guy and his stupid zombie hand.”

“We have to go!”

Mallory tugs her arm. “They’re right. We have to run. Now.”

She looks back at Danny, just as three of the undead crest the hill. Their skin has mostly fallen off; what’s left is gray. Pumpkin spice oozes over everything; you can smell it, clearly and pungently filing the air. Their clothing is minimal, but she spies a popped collar polo shirt amongst the three of them. They see Danny and move faster than she could have anticipated, as he just sits there waving at them, encouraging them to come to him.

“Danny, run! RUN!”

Everyone else except her and Mallory have fled; she is standing there, paralyzed, watching as Danny gets overtaken by the zombies. Now she gets it. He’s sacrificing himself. He’s giving them all time to get away as the monsters swarm on his screaming, fleshy body. Mallory finally drags her back, and they begin to run. Danny’s screams fill the air as they run away as fast as they can. The air still smells of burnt, rotting flesh mixed with sickly sweet spice.  Beneath that, the crisp fall day and recent farm harvests bring back memories of perfect autumns before all of this.

But at least she still has Mallory. Sweet, gentle, smart Mallory. They’ll keep each other safe, and as happy as can be in these circumstances. She makes this promise to herself as her legs keep her moving forward, ever forward.

She can’t see the long, deep scratch on the other side of Mallory’s neck that Danny’s hand left while it was choking Mallory. Or that the wound is ever-so-slightly orange.

Scent Notes: Warm snickerdoodle cookies dipped in buttercream frosting, campfire wood smoke, crisp red apple, Indian sandalwood, a freshly poured oatmeal stout, orange spiced chai tea.