Candied Apple

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  • Scent Notes
    Perfectly ripe green apples freshly picked from the dense orchard, covered in molten sugar and hard candy.
  • Description
      The two zombies had been tied to a tree. They still looked terrible, but they weren’t actively trying to kill the camp anymore, which she took as a good sign. They were extremely still, too. “Are you sure they’re not dead?” she asked, looking at Kevin. He nodded. “They have pulses, they’re breathing, though not much. They’re not zombies anymore, but they certainly do not appear to be fully functioning human beings. I think they’re kind of … nothing.” Disclaimer: when we started this line over two 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! (Make sure to read the other chapters before starting this one. Order of chapters before this one: Pumpkin Spice Pandemic, Spiked Cider, Smoke and Decay, Blood Orange, and Sunset Bonfire.) “I’m just so glad you’re no longer a zombie!” she said, kissing Mallory passionately in front of the gathering crowd. “Geeze, get a tent, you two,” Kevin stage whispered as he finished washing off the helicopter. They glared at him for a moment before bursting into laughter; who knew such joy could be felt in the midst of the apocalypse? And, naturally, that’s when they heard screaming coming from the woods nearby. “Shit,” she’d just managed to say when a dozen zombies burst through the woods and towards the crowd gathered around the campfire. A couple stragglers followed behind: their friends and campmates who’d been recently bitten and weren’t fully turned. “Kevin! Stragglers!” she managed to yell across. “On it!” Kevin yelled, several forms of ZomBeGone in hand. The actual zombies had advanced quickly, but as the camp had been expecting an attack just a few minutes before, they were prepared. Some were easily pushed straight into the roaring bonfire, where they were consumed almost instantly, the pumpkin spice coursing through their veins causing minor explosions (that shit is so flammable). Kevin subdued two more by spraying ZomBeGone in their faces, which caused the zombies to let out agonizing screams and collapse to the ground, writhing. The rest were chopped to pieces and their parts joined to the bonfire as Kevin attended to the half-zombie stragglers. “Guess we can never get too comfortable, huh?” Mallory said. She just nodded and sighed in agreement, and started walking back towards the ravine, which was still full of zombies. They, thankfully, had not figured their way out and had mostly turned on each other, limbs flying everywhere. An arm flung up and landed at Mallory’s feet, where it instantly reached for her. “For fuck’s sake, not again,” she said, stabbing the hand and pinning it to the ground. “I hate loose limbs creeping around the campground,” came a voice behind her, making her jump. It was Kevin. “Our fellow campers seem to be reviving nicely from the ZomBeGone. The zombies I sprayed in the face with it … not so much.” “What happened?” she asked, concerned. “Are they dead?” “Come see for yourself. Bring the hand,” Kevin said, motioning her back to the fire and the crowd. She pulled the knife out of the still hand and picked up the arm, swinging it softly by her side as she followed Kevin. “Okay, but, unless there’s some horrid side effect, we need to do something about the zombie horde in the ravine down here. It’s getting dark.” Kevin merely nodded. The two zombies had been tied to a tree. They still looked terrible, but they weren’t actively trying to kill the camp anymore, which she took as a good sign. They were extremely still, too. “Are you sure they’re not dead?” she asked, looking at Kevin. He nodded. “They have pulses, they’re breathing, though not much. They’re not zombies anymore, but they certainly do not appear to be fully functioning human beings. I think they’re kind of … nothing.” “How can two humans be nothing?” she asked. “I don’t know, I’m not a doctor! But it seems like we took away their zombie too late. They’d already lost their humanity, and without being a zombie….” He shrugged. “Doesn’t seem like there’s much left. I think ZomBeGone might only be good for people who have recently turned. Or it might take many doses to be fully effective.” She nodded, taken aback by these people. What happened to humans when they stopped being zombies? Has that ever happened before? Are they now just former zombies? Current zombies, but of a different nature? She wasn’t sure. “What about our campers? Are they fine?” Kevin nodded. “Yup, everyone seems to be recovering. I have Mallory taking care of them, since she just went under the same treatment. Everyone, including these guys and Mallory, will be getting another dose tomorrow, just to be safe.” “Good,” she said. “That makes sense. For now, can you fly the helicopter over the ravine and surrounding areas? We’ll keep watch on these two tonight, and still do our normal rotation to make sure the camp stays secure until we can get into there and see what’s going on.” “Aye aye, cap’n!” Kevin answered. “I had some help making a spray rig system, so we’ll see how it works out.” He gave her a salute and started to walk to the helicopter. She’d forgotten she was holding the zombie hand until it gave a salute back. She walked over and tossed it in the fire, where it gave her the finger, and then began crackling and popping apart. She saw Mallory and the other recent attack survivors eating a small dinner and drinking some bourbon. They looked exhausted and pale, but clearly thrilled to still be among the living. The wind suddenly picked up, harsh, causing smoke and ash from the fire to coat the camp. “Sorry!” Kevin yelled out the window as the helicopter flew straight up into the air. “I’ll get better at this!” Then the helicopter began to fly past, his makeshift spray situation clearly visible on the bottom of the fuselage and landing skids. They watched the helicopter fly and hover gently above the ravine, a fine mist suddenly spraying outward to the ground below. This happens for a few minutes, and then Kevin flies back, landing gently and crushing the empty cans that were on the landing skids. Perfect timing: the sun has set, evening has rapidly descended, and they need to figure out what to do overnight to make sure they are ready for any further attacks on the campsite. Kevin bounds across the campsite, ecstatic. “Who has alcohol to be consumed?” he asks loudly, and the survivors cheer and pour him a cup. The general good cheer and merriment continued into the evening. She was still a bit on edge, thinking about the sudden attack from earlier. Their narrow avoidance of a zombie swarm was thanks to Mallory’s quick thinking and willingness to use herself as bait. She loved that selflessness, even as she had slowly been turning into a zombie before, and she couldn’t be happier that she had recovered. She turned to watch everyone laughing and talking with Kevin, worrying about the two alive-but-not-living people tied to the tree. Were they beyond saving? Would they just be semiconscious humans forever? What a horrible existence! She needed to snap herself out of it, so she walked over and sat beside Mallory, throwing her arms around her in a big hug. “I miss candied apples the most!” Kevin said, and their group collectively moaned in “Oh my God, yes,” affirmation. “I always liked a really thick, bright red sugar shell on mine, probably because I last had one as a child,” Mallory responded from the depths of the hug she was enclosed in. “But that shit was straight up delicious. Because sugar.” There was a consensus of laughter from the group. “Well, there’s plenty of apples around here. Maybe I can find some sugar on the next supply run, and we can make some makeshift ones!” Kevin’s voice rang with true glee as he said this. “Honestly, any sweets at all I would take. Sugar, delicious sugar, I miss it the most!” Mallory chimed in. “Here, here!” The rest of the group raised their drinking vessels in a cheers, then downed them. “We should probably all get some sleep!” Mallory said, releasing herself from the cuddle, standing up, stretching, and yawning, which then forced everyone in their little clique to yawn. Kevin and the rest of the group said their goodnights, but she remained sitting by the fire. “Come on, let’s get some shuteye,” Mallory said. “I don’t think you’ve slept in a few days, babe.” “Nah, I’ll keep watch for a while, then force someone to get up early so I can come in and get a few winks,” she responded. “As you wish,” was the reply as she bent down to give her a goodnight kiss before heading to their tent. She just sat there, gazing at the fire, as everyone around left. Nobody else was worried about a possible attack tonight; nobody else seemed upset about the former zombies just sitting there, still tied to the tree but motionless, expressionless, barely human. But she couldn’t get them out of her head, so she sat by the fire under the guise of protecting the camp while fellow campers patrolled the woods. The fire started to die down, and she let it get to a more manageable size before deciding she couldn’t do much but keep the fire stoked and ready for breakfast tomorrow. She tried not to stare at the not-zombies, but she just felt her head automatically turning in their direction every few seconds if she didn’t keep herself in check. The sky was already beginning to lighten when Kevin came out and tapped her on the shoulder. “Seriously, go to bed,” he said, physically picking her up and shoving her in the direction of her tent. She dragged herself to her tent, grumbling a string of obscenities in Kevin’s general vicinity for good measure, now feeling the full weight of exhaustion coming down upon her entire body. She barely made it inside before she collapsed, falling asleep instantly. “Honey, wake up.” She heard Mallory’s voice trying to rouse her from her state of slumber. She mumbled, exhausted, felt her hand waving her girlfriend off. This happened several times, and she was vaguely cognizant of another body lying down next to her at some point, before she finally awoke to an empty tent. She stretched and let out an exaggerated yawn before standing and realizing how urgently she had to use the bathroom. She bolted out of the tent into the trees, and when she came out a few minutes later, she made a beeline for her girlfriend. “Wow, I slept so well last night! Thanks for letting me sleep in a bit.” Mallory’s face was a mixture of bemusement and shock. “Babe, you’ve been asleep for over 24 hours. I was only slightly concerned that you were dying.” “WHAT?!” she responded. “You let me sleep for OVER A DAY?” “Yeah, I did, because you hadn’t slept for days, and haven’t slept well for weeks, if not months! You needed the rest,” she responded, pulling her into a hug. “But it’s been just fine while you slept. We’ve administered more ZomBeGone to myself, the former zombies who were tied to the tree, and the ones down in the ravine. In fact, we’re about to head down and start a ‘rescue mission’ of leading them up from the ravine to the camp. Kevin and a few others made some makeshift ropes to send down into the ravine for them to climb up and then come up to camp. They’re definitely not zombies anymore,” Mallory said brightly. “We did it! We saved them! We’re heroes!” “Wait, what do you mean WERE tied to a tree? Are we sure this is safe?” she asked incredulously. “Also, shouldn’t y’all have consulted me first before any of this was just … decided?” “Well, everyone gathered and discussed it, and we’ve kept an eye on the ravine and the people you had tied to the tree, and everything has been fine. We untied them, and they haven’t done anything. Literally, they don’t do anything, but we can’t just leave the people we saved down in the ravine to die. So they went with Kevin to lead the people in the ravine up to safety here,” Mallory said. “Besides, actually, they’re already on their way back. I just didn’t want to start with that fact.” She wrapped her in a hug. “It’s going to be okay! Look at me! I’m fully recovered from being a partial zombie, babe. It’s a minor miracle and a fantastic plot point for you, so let’s just keep rolling because what other choice do we have?” She sighed and nodded her head. “Okay, fine, I guess I just have to roll with what’s going on,” she said begrudgingly. “That’s the spirit!” Mallory replied, pulling away. “Now let’s get you some food, you must be starving!” “Got any candied apples?” she asked. They ate breakfast, and just as they were finishing, Kevin appeared with a group of other campers, leading the large group of former zombies into the campground. She threw her apple core to the ground and openly stared. None of them were blinking, most of them seemed barely able to walk. The ones who’d been tied to the tree were leading the group along with Kevin, who directed them all to an open part of the center field of the camp, where they all sat, nearly in unison. And that’s where they were for the rest of the day. It didn’t go unnoticed amongst all the campers that they really didn’t blink, nor eat, nor get up to use the bathroom, or do anything but sit there, barely breathing. Everyone hoped that, as their second dose of ZomBeGone (distributed faithfully by Kevin once they were safely in the camp) would kick in and make them act more like “normal” humans again. But as everyone else in the camp did their daily duties, they just sat through to the next day, and the next dose of ZomBeGone. And the next day, and the next dose, and so on. Mallory, however, became more and more human by the day, until it was impossible to believe she’d ever been a zombie. But that made it all the more worrisome that this huge group of former zombies were human-but-not. She attempted to feed them; they refused all food. They didn’t speak, they didn’t emote, they didn’t sleep, they didn’t do anything but sit on the ground, almost like they were awaiting activation. But how should they be expecting former zombies to act? There was no rule book on this situation; to everyone’s knowledge, this was the first time zombies had been returned to some semblance of human form. Kevin’s initial hypothesis that the former zombies were somehow in some state of in-between appeared to be correct: They absolutely were not zombies, but they also were far from normal humans. “What are we going to do with all of these people?” she wondered, and after a few days, she could tell that the other campers were waiting to hear her verdict. But, like every good leader, she decided it could wait until after the next supply run. She wanted to be prepared just in case they suddenly snapped out of their liminal state and became full-on humans again, because then they’d need far more supplies than they currently had. Plus, their stock of ZomBeGone was not limitless, and was rapidly decreasing, though they’d stopped giving it to everyone as it seemed like no progress was being made by anyone except Mallory, who was now thoroughly depressed at being the only one to come back from zombie-dom. But her depression only furthered the fact that she was officially human now, as zombies could be a lot of things, but depressed wasn’t one of them. But that was the main difference between Mallory and the rest of the group: She was only ever part-zombie. She had maintained most of her humanity, whereas the rest of the group had been totally zombies for who knows how long? Some likely for years at this point. Kevin was amazing with the people, though. He tried so hard to get them to display human emotion, to get them to eat, or talk, or do anything besides sit like bumps on a log. He made them stand up and switch positions regularly to prevent sores and strained muscles as best he could. It was more than she could say for herself, because she avoided them like … well, plague would be a not-inappropriate word choice, but, she just didn’t want to be around them. Their state of non-being creeped her out, so she was the one doing a lot of perimeter checks, harvesting, hunting, and trying to cheer up her girlfriend. Anything to keep herself physically and mentally distanced from the group. She just couldn’t get past the strangeness and the emotions it brought up inside of her. Her own fear of becoming numb to her surroundings and getting used to the world in this crazy pandemic state of being, of losing her own humanity, forced her to keep a wall up. She was looking forward to going on a supply run, even though it was always dangerous and scary to do so. When she and Mallory went to talk to Kevin, he enthusiastically volunteered to do it. “It’s safer for you to stay here. If the story’s protagonist goes on an adventure, it’s far more likely that trouble will happen. Best if you stay behind and watch over everyone.” She was going to protest, as in all honesty she’d felt more like an outsider than a leader over the last few days, but Mallory quickly chimed in. “I agree. Babe, you should stay here and spend some time with everyone. You’ve been really distant from the group lately, and I think reconnecting with our fellow survivors would do you a lot of good.” “Yeah, okay, sure,” she said begrudgingly. She looked Kevin in the eye. “Just take a doctor or two with you, to make sure we have ingredients to make more ZomBeGone. And then, more food, if there’s any left. You may have to fly further out, so take plenty of weapons with you, too.” “Aye aye, cap’n,” he said with a salute, going to round up others to join him. Mallory grabbed her shoulders. “And now, it’s time for you to confront your fears, and spend some time with the former zombie horde you are terrified of.” “I’m NOT terrified!” she protested weakly, but it was clear she was lying. “Okay, I am a little terrified. It just freaks me out, you know? Like, how can they exist this way? Am I more like them than I know? Am I totally numb to this zombie apocalypse pandemic nightmare hellscape we’re living in? How did you get lucky enough to come back to me, fully human? What do we do when this ends? Can our world ever go completely back to normal?” She realized she was shaking, absolutely terrified. They heard the helicopter start and watched it fly over their heads and into the distance. They waved Kevin and the fellow campers onward, hoping for a safe, uneventful supply run. Which, as Kevin had so rightly said, was more likely to happen since she wasn’t joining in on the expedition. She felt herself being lead towards where the group was sitting. She held her breath, feeling strangely frightened. “It’s going to be okay,” Mallory said, trying to be comforting. “I am living every day with a horrible sense of guilt for being the one to come back to ‘normal,’ for surviving, hell, for even thriving during these times. I have you, I have a community, I survived something we don’t think anyone else ever has,” she then admitted in a small voice. “So why don’t we just go and sit down with these people and see what it feels like?” They’d reached the group, and she could no longer avoid them, so she just nodded at Mallory and sat down. They sat together, holding hands, not speaking, just sitting with the crowd. At first, it was extremely uncomfortable. None of the non-zombies seemed to be paying attention to anything; they just sat and stared into the distance of whatever direction they happened to be facing. She twitched, tried to keep her eyes closed, and mostly felt extremely anxious for the first few minutes of sitting there. Mallory clearly didn’t feel like talking in the midst of such silence. In fact, she appeared to be meditating: Her eyes were closed, her free hand rested calmly on her thigh, and she was quietly humming a low, consistent note that was only audible to her because she was sitting so close. She decided to give it a try. Instead of running from her thoughts, and the people who caused those thoughts, she leaned into it. She let all the scary, intrusive thoughts run through her mind, then forced them all out. She breathed deeply, savoring the silence, the blank space that had for so long been preoccupied with heavy, difficult questions. She centered herself, and let the feelings of peace and calm wash over her for the first time since she knew Mallory was no longer a zombie. After a while, she opened her eyes, determined to face her fears. Luckily, she was sitting directly across from one of the not-zombies, who of course was staring directly at her. She held their gaze, not allowing the discomfort that arose to take control of her mind. “This is just a person,” she reminded herself. “Just a person. It’s okay.” She kept up her controlled, even breathing, and felt the agitation subside. Suddenly, the person in front of her didn’t seem so scary. Sure, they still weren’t blinking, were barely moving, but she could suddenly see a glimmer of humanity in that face. She let go of Mallory’s hand, stood up, and began walking to the middle of the group. She sat down and faced another non-zombie. And another. And another. While this didn’t seem to do anything to the group at large, it made her feel so much better. She was surprised when she heard the helicopter approaching. How long had they been sitting here? It hadn’t seemed like hours, but apparently, it had been. Sure enough, Kevin flew over the group and landed safely further down the encampment. She stood up and hustled down the field to join them and help unload the supplies. She was surprised to see it was only Kevin and one other person, when she knew four of them had gone out on the mission. Kevin, seemingly reading her mind, said, “I know, we didn’t have room, but the faster we unload the faster I can go and get the rest of the group. Though honestly, we didn’t run into, like, any zombies this time. I guess that’s what happens when the hero stays at home.” He grinned at her. Mallory had appeared by her side, and the four of them unloaded the helicopter efficiently. They’d managed to bring back way more supplies than normal, due to two people staying behind. They could be set for weeks, if not months! “Did you find ingredients for ZomBeGone?” Mallory asked the doctor. “We did indeed,” he said confidently. “It’ll take a little trial and error to get it right, I think, but the basic chemical makeup has been acquired, and I have plenty of pharmacy training to be able to make something.” “Well, what good luck!” she said as she unloaded the final bag. Suddenly, Mallory screamed. “Are you okay?!” she asked, running over to Mallory, who had burst into tears as she pulled out a box of candied apple coating mix. There were several other types of sugary treats in the bag as well. “I told you that I wouldn’t let you down!” Kevin said to her. Mallory grabbed him and hugged him tightly. “Candied apple party tonight!” she said, holding the box aloft as she ran to squirrel away the snacks. “I saw you sitting with all of them,” Kevin said, turning to her. “I’m very proud of you. They aren’t scary, really. I’m confident we can work with them for the future.” He smiled, and then it was her turn to hug him. “I’m really proud of you. Thank you! Now, go be the hero and rescue the rest of our people.” She smiled and gave him a playful shove. “Aye aye, cap’n,” he said, climbing back up. She and the doctor walked away to give plenty of clearance to the helicopter. That’s when she smelled something. Was it mechanical? Was it gas? She sniffed the air again. No, she must be imagining things. The doctor interrupted her train of thought, holding out his hand. “I’m Nabil,” he said. She took his hand and shook it. “Thank you for introducing yourself! I was certain we’d met, but I could not remember your name, I’m so sorry.” “No problem at all,” Nabil said. “You absolutely have more important things to do than remember the names of everyone in the camp. But I have some ideas of what we can do with our new former zombie friends. I grabbed some different experimental medicines that were left in the local hospital. It’s pretty much cleared out now, but we should have enough to do some trials.” She heard the helicopter rise up, and smelled that scent again. Kevin flew overhead, and that’s when she saw the leak. It was dripping heavily from the helicopter, leaving a trail in its wake. “By the way, what’s your name?” Nabil asked, but she didn’t hear him. She was running after the helicopter, trying to flag down Kevin, waving her arms frantically. But Kevin didn’t understand. He turned around and waved down at her just as he crested out of the camp. The explosion was terrifying. Everyone screamed as the helicopter burst into flaming pieces and fell into the ravine below. She couldn’t believe it. “No, not Kevin, not Kevin!” Her mind, which had been so clear, was suddenly bursting with anger and sorrow. She hadn’t even noticed she was back in the middle of the group until the non-zombies stood up en masse and started wailing at the sky.

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