A short story by Brianna R. Shaffery available at BRSWrites.com
The Light Keepers By Brianna R. Shaffery
Copyright © 2020 by Brianna R. Shaffery. All rights reserved. This novel or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission or authorization of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review where citation or means of credit to the author or work is given. Published by BRS Writes L.L.C.
Table of Contents 1. Fortress.................................................................................................................................................. 1
2. Horde..................................................................................................................................................... 5
3. Survival ................................................................................................................................................. 8
4. Hunter ................................................................................................................................................. 11
5. Worry .................................................................................................................................................. 14
6. Torment............................................................................................................................................... 16
7. Peace ................................................................................................................................................... 20
8. Prey ..................................................................................................................................................... 22
9. Haunted ............................................................................................................................................... 28
10. Vulnerable....................................................................................................................................... 30
1. Fortress I stared out across the water, the salt air stinging my cheeks. The ocean ’ s tangy scent tickled
my nose. My eyes flicked to study the ground below.
I had a duty, a responsibility to my family, to the survivors. I briefly wondered how high
up I was, as I often had. I flexed my one hand around the bow and spun an arrow between my
How many times have I been on this tour, and I can ’ t even remember how tall it is? I
Sandy Hook had always been a place of abandoned tranquility. The way the sun ’ s rays
glittered and rippled over the water in the bay. Or how you could lay on the beach and bask in the
sunlight, or let the waves roll over you. Or, if you weren ’ t the beach type, you could drive around
and explore the decomposing military bunkers, a quiet reminder of the site ’ s history. It used to be
peaceful and alive in its own silent way.
Now, it was unsettling, eerie even. There were no cars creeping by, the low hum of the
engines and exhaust clouding the air. There weren ’ t any bikers, their wheels buzzing along the
pavement. People. There were no people except for us. For all we knew, we were the last.
My hand flitted over the locket at my neck, nerves hissing and tugging at my insides as I
thought of that possibility. I moved around the lighthouse ’ s catwalk and observed the ground
endlessly sprawling out before me.
We ’ d built a few structures in our time here, including a shabby fence that Dad or Henry
always seemed to be repairing. Within the first few months, once any hope of rescue had
dissipated, we ’ d even managed to construct a greenhouse by using scavenged windows from the
ferry. It was an a-frame construction with sliding doors, which also came from the ferry, on either
end that could be opened to allow better airflow on hotter days and keep the heat in during the
It had taken a while to build, not because we had to use hand tools, but rather due to the
amount of time it took to gather and find materials. We managed to find seeds and fertilizer in a
house in the Highlands. We were pleasantly surprised when our plants started growing. Now, when
we harvested our bounty, we dried their seeds and planted them when the others died off.
Next, I took stock of the tarp held up by wooden frames that collected rainwater and
deposited it into an old 55-gallon barrel. We were now on our third barrel. It had rained all week.
The air had become bitter and unforgiving, a sure sign that winter was fast approaching and the
next storm might be snow or an icy mixture.
A fourth drum was full of saltwater, which we mainly used for cleaning. We even built a
system that boiled and caught the condensation from the saltwater to make it potable. The system
was reminiscent of a moonshine distillery. We were lucky to find so many materials in the area,
thanks to the construction projects that had been taking place in the park. Clean water was plentiful.
During dry periods, though, we had to haul a barrel to the sea and fill it up every few days.
We would cart it back on a dolly that we found, though its wheels were of minimal help in the
sand. A fire was still smoking, signaling that someone had been cooking recently.
My family and I were well off, all things considering. Maybe other survivors had it better.
Or maybe we ’ re all that ’ s left.
With nothing of danger in sight, I walked around the catwalk to scan over the scarred New
York skyline, picking out the remnants of the Empire State Building and following along the
outline of buildings until my eyes landed on the Freedom Tower. A somber smile ghosted my
chapped lips. The country had survived that. And this — what we ’ re surviving now? The reality we
lived in now was much worse.
The dead lived.
I don ’ t know how, or why, but somehow, we were fighting zombies in every sense of the
word. I know exactly how that sounds. At first, we believed what the news had reported: there ’ s
nothing sinister, it was only a repeat of the 2012 Miami “ zombie ” , or a man who had taken copious
amounts of some drug or another and attacked another man, they ’ d say in their polished T.V.
Except it wasn ’ t that. Not this time.
The attacks were few and far between at first. And then they became more frequent and
couldn ’ t be linked to drugs, tampered with or otherwise. Next, they came in droves. What had been
independent attacks morphed into gang attacks. By then, it was too late. Cities had burned. There
were violent riots, people had fought in the streets and looted. People lost their lives to the living,
some to the walking dead.
The metal groaning behind me sent shivers down my spine as I tensed, nocking an arrow
out of habit. My sister ducked and walked through the open doorway, joining me on the narrow
“ I thought they rarely came from the coast side, ” she stated, fiddling with her gold necklace.
“ I was thinking. You know, about before. How this lighthouse has survived hurricanes,
war, and just about everything, and now it has to live through this. And us? I wish it wasn ’ t like
this, ” I replied, my voice low and gravelly.
She passed me a water bottle, which I accepted gratefully. I took only a small sip before
returning it to her, barely wetting my throat. We stayed silent as the sun dipped lower, as if
reluctantly dropping into the ocean. As the sky blended into pinks and greens and eventually blue
and black, another set of feet caused the floor to creak with age. I turned in time to see my older
brother climbing up into the lighthouse ’ s tower. Henry came to stand beside me, leaning against
the railing as if it were a casual Sunday night.
“ You guys should get some rest. ” He reached for the bow and quiver of arrows, which I
relinquished to him before turning to climb down the tower ’ s ladder. Henry stopped me before I
followed Ellie down into the claustrophobic space. “ There ’ s a plate set aside for you on the landing.
Dad wants to make sure you didn ’ t forget dinner. ” Henry gave me a pointed look.
I rolled my eyes and sauntered down the ladder. I started down the spiral stairs, stopping
to pick up my plate before crawling into my window. Out of all the things I remembered about this
lighthouse, its thickness was one of the few facts that had stuck with me. One of the guides had
told us that the walls were ten feet thick at its base and narrowed as it went up to about four feet.
We used the window alcoves as beds. I shared mine with Ellie.
For the most part, we were never sleeping at the same time, but when we did, we ended up
elbowing each other or tangled together, fighting for space in the narrow yet deep window. I pulled
the heavy curtains shut and sat with my knees to my chest. My plate balanced on top, I sat against
the cold stone wall, inhaling the delicious aroma of the meal before me. Peas had never tasted so
good, neither had fish nor stale bread. I squeezed my eyes shut and savored the taste on my tongue
before swallowing. Opening my dulled eyes, I inspected my little room.
I sat opposite from my Katana, which we hung on the wall as best as we could with what
crude materials we had. Under that, Ellie and I had hung some pictures we managed to salvage
from the old days. There was one of us standing with our backs to the camera, standing together
with our arms across each other ’ s backs at the edge of the ocean. I think that was taken at Seven
Presidents, but maybe it was here. It was one of my favorite pictures, or at least of the ones we had
The stairs groaned. Hollow footsteps echoed in the silent lighthouse. My mother smiled as
she walked past, heading up toward her and my father ’ s landing, a mound of blankets in her arms.
Dad soon followed, huffing from fighting with the stairs.
“ I would ’ ve helped, ” I mumbled, thinking about how difficult it was to single-handedly
reattach the six-foot section of stairs to the main staircase.
“ I know, but I also know you need rest. You ’ ve been on guard duty all day, ” he said tiredly.
I nodded, stretching and set my plate aside. With the second set of curtains drawn at the
entrance to my cozy niche, effectively closing it off to the staircase and landing, I quickly changed
into a loose t-shirt that had once depicted my favorite television show, that is before we were
plunged into the Dark Ages again, and a pair of sweatpants. I set my shoes on the landing outside
the elongated window sill and winced as my feet hit the cold metal stairs, gliding softly down the
staircase until my feet came to a stop about four steps before the drop-off. I glanced to down and
saw the six-foot length of stairs resting on the floor below, the pulley system at the ready to heave
it up again. Without the section of stairs, there was a gap between the base floor and the staircase,
one of the many zombie counter-measures we came up with to scrounge together some peace of
mind. Supposedly, they couldn ’ t climb, and I hoped I would never find out.
It was still a mystery to me how Henry and my dad got the staircase apart in the first place,
or how they’d managed to find the wood for the new support beams to stabilize the rest of the
stairs. I tried not to question it too much, for fear of challenging the universe further. Sighing, I
returned to my window and climbed onto the foam mattress topper we had cut to size to fit the
alcove ’ s floor. I placed my knife atop its hook and unstrapped the pistol from my ankle. Flipping
the safety on, I dropped the magazine and pulled the slide back to empty the chamber before
loading the single bullet back into the clip. Setting them down beside each other, I laid back on
my bundled-up sweatshirt and pulled the now unfolded blankets up to my chin. My body tensed
as I laid awake, chasing sleep.
Eventually, I found it. All too soon, the nightmares started.
2. Horde There were so many. A horde of at least twenty or thirty zombies limped toward the
lighthouse. I could see them as I passed by the window on the second landing. I thought I caught
a glimpse of my aunt’s favorite emerald sweater or my grandpa’s iconic heather -gray hat.
It can ’ t be. It ’ s impossible — we left them. They ’ re not real, I thought frantically as my lungs
expanded and compressed with each short breath as I rapidly bounded up the stairs.
Henry, or rather his animated corpse, lunged at me from the shadows of a window. He
caught onto my sweater, pulling me. He clawed at my back, but couldn’t break through the stretchy
material. My hand flew to the zipper, and I quickly shed myself of the layer, tugging on the sleeve
and promptly letting go, sending the zombie of my brother stumbling back. I grabbed the wooden
pole behind me, a closet pole that I deemed a staff, and slammed it into his chest.
Bump, bump, crash.
Thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.
My footsteps echoed through the tower as I finally reached the door to the beacon’s ladder.
The hinges squealed as I shut the heavy, aged metal door. There was no way to bolt it, but I tried
my best to jam it with the staff. The bow stood against the ladder. Hastily, I stumbled up and sought
the refuge of the catwalk.
As the wind tugged at my remaining clothing and stray strands of my sun-bleached hair, I
But I couldn’t do it… mainly because of the safety bars that the park services had installed
to avoid any unfortunate accidents during visiting hours.
I spun on my heels, my hope disappearing, nerves failing. My heart thudded against my
chest, almost jumping out of its cavity. I nocked an arrow, knowing it was useless. As the zombie
of my lovely sister came into sight, I dropped the loaded bow, opting to grab the handgun at my
hip. My hand stumbled over the vacant space before flitting to my knife. By then, the graying and
quickly decaying Ellie had come to stand before me, regarding me curiously as more of my
zombified relatives spilled out onto the catwalk. She hissed and reached an arm toward me.
A sob escaped my lips. I thrust the knife forward, connecting with the space between Ellie ’s
eyes. She dropped to the ground with a sick thud. Next, I came face to face with my parents. Tears
freely flowed down my cheeks as I slammed them into the safety bars. At one point, I may have
appreciated the bars, but now it was more like a cage. As I rounded the smooth corner of the
catwalk, I met the ghastly face of what used to be my grinning cousin. She was a wild-child, that
No, is , she is a wild-child, I corrected myself, still refusing to acknowledge their assumed
Before I knew it, teeth pierced my leg and cold hands held it in place. I screamed out in
agony and stabbed my zombified cousin before me. I glanced down. My baby cousin, a toddler of
about three, had snuck up on me and chomped down on me like a kid’s meal . Another, my uncle
or maybe my father, I don’t know, grabbed at my arm and brought it to their mouth. Tears and
searing pain obstructed my vision. I stumbled as more skin was torn from my arms and legs. My
back landed on the frigid stone of the lighthouse. Familiar faces swam in front of me as my vision
floated between an unfocused haze and a sharp awareness. Something, or rather some zombie,
gnawed at my ribs. Winter wind blistered my newly exposed skin. I couldn’t be sure what hurt
more: the bites on my legs or the relentless attack on my ribs. My ribs. The pain was too real. As
my blood started to stain the freshly fallen snow, new snowflakes mixed with my hair and wetted
my parted lips. I hadn’t realized I was screaming until all sounds ceased and the constant pounding
on my ribcage was the only thing I felt. I was dead, or at least I hoped.
“Wake up! C’mon, Rae, wake up!” Ellie’s voice came from a distance. Another finger
prodded and poked my ribs.
“Ow!” I rubbed the spot as my other hand trapped her fingers. “I’m up, I’m up!”
“Wanna talk about it?” she asked, as she always did.
I shook my head and glanced up at my older sister. She frowned at me. I sat up and pushed
off the covers, leaving her cocooned under the soft blankets. “I’m getting some fresh air, don’t
I quietly pulled my boots on and placed my .22 in my hip holster, pulling a blanket around
my shoulders. As silently as possible, I climbed the darkened staircase, using only the pale
moonlight streaming in through the windows as my guide. I stopped and grabbed one of Henry’s
pullover sweaters before continuing my dark climb. As I poked my head up into the beacon’s
room, an arrow leveled itself with my eyes before immediately disappearing. Henry helped me up
and smiled sheepishly.
My blanket slipped from my shoulders, the cold air wrapping around my arms. Henry took
the sweater from my outstretched hand and slipped it on over his other sweater, rubbing his hands
together. What any of us wouldn’t give for better winter clothes. He didn’t say anything as I curled
up next to the entrance and drew the blanket tighter across my chest. Instead, he paced by the
windows, looking out over the rest of the park. I stared out at the night sky, which was only just
visible from my position on the floor. If I had been standing, I would’ve seen an endless diamond
sky with a bright, full moon. We did n’t dare go out onto the catwalk or open the windows. The
temperature had dropped considerably after dusk. I could barely make out my brother’s gaunt face
and slimmed features, but surely his nose was as red and raw as mine felt.
“It was them again, wasn’t it?” He whispered softly. He turned around lazily and came to
stand next to me, keenly observing the beach for any moving figures.
I nodded my head numbly. “Yeah.”
He bobbed his head in understanding and squeezed my shoulder. I held his hand there,
using the contact to ground me. I eventually let go, knowing he had to check the other side again.
Turning to me again, he said, “Get some sleep. We gotta find some food tomorrow.”
With that, I stumbled into the darker corridor of the lighthouse, the moon’s ligh t obstructed
by stone. Ellie had sprawled out in her sleep. When she heard me approaching, she picked her head
up and snapped it in my direction. She instantly relaxed when she recognized my very much alive
figure in the shadows. I crawled in and drew the curtains at the entrance to our window seat closed,
pushing her over to make room for me to lay on my side. I fell asleep to her knobby knees digging
into my equally boney back.
3. Survival “ Rise and shine, princess! ” Henry ’ s cheerful voice dragged me out of my shallow sleep.
I rolled onto my back and groaned, draping an arm over my eyes. The rough stone of the
window sill poked at my exhausted body, my legs. The sun ’ s rays cast dancing shadows on the
curtain behind my head, preventing the ballet from spilling onto my face. After a moment, I
begrudgingly willed myself into a sitting position, my legs splayed out in front of me, arms loosely
hanging in my lap.
“ C ’ mon, we need to get going before it ’ s too late. ” Henry poked his head through the cloth
barricade separating mine and Ellie ’ s space from the spiral staircase. His grin faded as he leaned
farther in and rested his arms on the foam mattress, goosebumps forming on his skin. “ Are you
sure you and Ellie are warm enough? Winter ’ s coming, and it ’ s already drafty in here. ”
“ Yeah, we ’ re fine. She ’ s like a radiator, I —” I yawned and stretched my arms above my
head, curling my toes as I straightened my legs, “ Mm, sorry, ” I mumbled, another yawn escaping
my chapped lips as I covered my mouth, “ Gimme like five minutes. ”
Henry flashed another smile and reached for my foot, causing me to squeak and pull away
from him before he tickled me. He left, a low chuckle falling from his lips.
How was he so casual in the midst of all this?
Shaking my head, I chased the fatigue from my body. Rubbing the sore spot on my arm, I
pushed onto my knees and changed into a tank top, layering it with a long-sleeved shirt and a
zippered hoodie. Where the hood once resided now lay fraying strands of fuzz and material. The
dismembered hood lay forgotten, somewhere within the stone tower. Pulling my hair back into a
braid, I quickly secured it into a bun. Crawling out of the window, I located my stiff, newly washed
pair of jeans. Closing the curtain on either side of the landing, I tugged them on, my legs swimming
in the pant legs. I frowned when they clung loosely to my hip, falling farther down with each
movement. Glancing around, my mood darkened as my belt was nowhere to be seen.
Muttering to myself, I trudged down the stairs to the makeshift laundry room, which was
the first landing. My eyes raked over the laundry line and the heap of clothes on the floor. My one
hand held my pants in place while the other frantically dug through the pile, hopelessly searching
for the black leather strip. I found it curled on the windowsill, the metal clasp beaming in the
sunlight. Huffing a little, I slipped it through the belt loops and groaned when, even at the last hole,
my pants still slipped low on my hip. My fingers curled around the multi-tool in my pocket before
flipping the blade open and poking another notch in my belt.
Perfect. I grimaced, irked by the ordeal. My thighs screamed as I climbed the stairs to grab
my gear and find Henry. Affixing my holster and utility belt to my hip and my Katana across my
back, I climbed higher, poking my head into Henry ’ s window. I frowned when I saw that it was
empty. Climbing higher still, I passed my parents. They were whispering on the landing, almost
silent, when they saw me. Voices spilled from the passage above us, from the beacon room.
I climbed the ladder and hauled myself up. Henry was waiting for me on the catwalk
outside with Ellie. Her blonde hair flowed freely in the breeze, or rather, what was left of its length.
Our mother and Ellie had cut their hair into short, uneven bobs what felt like centuries ago. I
refused to. Sure, it was long and tangled in places, and a distraction, but I simply could not cut it.
It was as much for the same reason as Henry still walked around with his phone in his pocket,
despite there being neither signal nor charge. Or perhaps it was for the same reason why my mother
still wore her watch. Time was mostly irrelevant, or at least that sort of time-telling was. The watch
was old, but she ’ d replaced the battery shortly before this all began. I wondered if she ’ d still wear
it when the battery ran out. Maybe it would live longer than us.
Shaking my head, I sipped from the mug handed to me. The coffee was cold and bitter.
We ’ d run out of sugar months ago. Or maybe it was only a week ago. There was no way of telling
for sure. I couldn ’ t even remember if we ’ d had milk when we first came here. I shook my head
“ Is Dad coming with us? ” I asked.
Henry frowned, his eyes dark.
Dad always came with us. It was a silent agreement between the five of us that three would
always travel outside the lighthouse ’ s immediate area: one to watch our backs, another to lead, and
another to watch the sides. I said nothing as I downed the last of the black coffee, scrunching my
nose as it hit the back of my throat and soon settled in my stomach.
I glanced around. Sunlight sparkled off our three black cars, dead in the parking lot. We
mainly used them for extra storage space at this point, the gas having been siphoned out long ago.
We doubted whether the ignition would even spark. In all my life, I couldn ’ t remember ever seeing
our cars so filthy. Pollen from last spring laid hidden under some fallen leaves, which had shriveled
and further decayed, on the roofs and windshields. The tires looked flat. That wouldn ’ t be good
for the rims, but there was no point in filling them with air. It ’ s not like we had anywhere to go.
“ Nothing on the telescope. You guys have a clear path as far as I can see, ” Ellie chirped as
she brought her face away from the telescope.
It stood proudly on its tripod, its black tube shining. We ’ d it set up near the windows of the
beacon room. We could see for miles with it in the proper conditions. But it was cramped in the
light room, especially at night when you couldn ’ t see where you were going. Ellie had fought to
keep the light in, claiming its historical value. Henry added that we could use it as a signal to be
rescued. Though the hope of rescue soon faded, the bulb remained in its fixture.
“ Ready, Rae? ” Henry turned towards me, reaching out to touch my bare hand on the rail.
“ As I ’ ll ever be. ”
4. Hunted I stood shivering by the tailgate of the once prideful SUV. I had my back to it, watching
the landscape in front of me as Henry dug through the back for more ammunition and another
quiver of arrows. I heard him shift and the hatch clicking shut. He came to stand beside me, the
winter light flashing off his mirrored aviator sunglasses.
“ You wanna lead this time? ” Henry whispered.
“ Nah. I ’ ll watch your six, ” I replied, slipping on my fraying fingerless gloves. I turned in
time to see Henry ’ s lips quirk into a bemused smile. “ What ’ re you laughing at, chuckles? ”
“There’s no way those are actually going to keep your hands warm. ”
“ That ’ s why I have these. ” I dug the Hot Packets out of my battered utility belt and handed
a pair to my bested brother.
We set out across the crumbling parking lot toward the shambles of buildings and the
narrow roadway. We marched on, the sun partially blinding me every time I turned to look back.
Turning slightly, I glanced at Henry. He moved straight ahead, swiveling his head from side to
side, much like I was doing. We marched, passed crumbling bunkers with weeds that grew between
the concrete. The road was littered with potholes that could swallow a person whole. We silently
skirted around a fly-infested carcass of an unidentifiable animal. Maybe it was mauled by one of
them . Or maybe it just croaked. I fought the shudder that ran through my body and glanced away.
The wind blew fiercely, kicking up dirt and sand and leaves. Branches groaned and creaked,
sometimes scratching against the remaining buildings.
Was that moaning? Were they nearer than I thought? My eyes swept left and right and I
focused with a new intensity to keep my footing just right as I walked, turning around every so
often to make there wasn’t anything sneaking up behi nd us. The sun shone, but highlighted
Not a soul in sight.
At the edge of the woods between Knox Road and Kearney Road, I heard Henry stop, so I
turned to look. He held up a hand, and I drew closer to him, closing the gap. Again, I turned back
to observe the trail we had come from, my eyes gliding over our surroundings.
Methodically, we swept the area. We searched for signs of life, any sort of animal tracks.
Through the trees, I could see the buildings that stood close to Kearney Road. It all seemed too
fresh, though the snapping of twigs reminded me that nowhere was left untouched by zombies or
the wilderness now.
The area behind us was clear. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck prickled.
Scanning the bushes again, my grip tightened around the hilt of my Katana, ready to pull it from
its sheath. In the space of a few drawn out seconds, Henry had an arrow nocked and sighted his
target. The arrow flew through the air and wedged itself in between the eyes of a walking corpse.
A trickle of blood ran from the site of the arrow. I skipped over its grayed face and rotting surface,
focusing on its torn clothes. The tattered tan shirt and brown khakis resembled that of a park
ranger ’ s. I wondered where his hat was. The patches of the uniform were missing or obscured from
my view. My heart lurched. My stomach twisted as I again looked at the arrow. My body sagged
a little as I lost my breath. Henry recovered the arrow with a thunk .
Popping out on the other side of Kearney Road, I instinctively looked both ways before
crossing the street. Henry spotted a lone deer. He nocked a clean arrow. I stepped away from him
and turned my back to him completely. The bowstring made a light boing as the arrow was sent
free, whistling through the air. Wordlessly, we approached the deer.
“ Whatever happens, take this, ” Henry said, handing me his Beretta .9mm carbine rifle. My
right hand gripped the stock as I took it from him. I positioned the strap across my chest and turned
on my heel. Henry had taken his knife out and was beginning to field dress the deer. Repositioning
myself, I stood with my feet apart and my right hand curled around the pistol grip. My trigger
finger rested along the side of the trigger. I shouldered the rifle and kept watch over our
surroundings, ready for anything.
Henry grunted behind me. Without looking at him, I led the way back, at times rotating
positions with Henry, who carried the deer across his back and shoulders. I was grateful that he
hadn ’ t asked for help.
Crossing back to the lighthouse seemed like an eternity. Henry was too preoccupied with
carrying the deer, leaving me to watch everywhere I could. I didn ’ t mind, though it soon became
overwhelming, especially since we had already seen one creeper. The sun glowed in front of my
eyes. I craned my neck and sighed in relief when I had a clear sightline to the patch of woods
again. We soon popped out of the trees. I lit up at the sight of the lighthouse ’ s peeling white paint.
I waved at Ellie when we approached. Her blonde hair flashed as she disappeared into the
beacon room. I stood to the side as I opened the door for Henry. Glancing around once more, I
shut the door quickly behind us and bolted it. Dad stood near the cut-off on the stairway, trying to
help Henry without reattaching the stairs. I ducked between them and clambered up the six-foot
gap, using the center post as a hoisting point. Crawling to the edge, I reached down and grabbed
two of the deer ’ s legs. Dad tied the front legs together and twisted around for the hook we had
hung from a couple landings up and hung the deer from it. I reached down and offered to help
Henry up. He let me, being too exhausted now to drag himself up.
“ You need to wash that shirt, ” I said, frowning at the amount of blood. “ And your hair. ”
“ I don ’ t know, ” Henry said, fingering his shirt, “ It ’ s kinda like tye-dye, dontcha think? Or
what ’ s that stuff girls were really into? Hombre? Sombre? ”
“ Ombre, you dork! ” I laughed, playfully slapping his shoulder.
“ Yeah, that, ” he chuckled, already peeling the drying shirt away from his body.
“ I ’ m glad you found something so quickly. I can ’ t remember it ever being that easy, ” Dad
said as he wiped his brow and I wondered if he was eating enough. Mom joined us with the
necessary tools to finish dressing the deer with Dad, while Henry and I proceeded up the tower. It
was too dangerous to keep the meat here. Zombies were like bloodhounds, but deadlier. The sooner
we ate it and discarded the rest, the better.
I climbed higher, joining Ellie on the catwalk. We paced, passing each other at times,
rotating views, and swapping a few words. I shivered, blowing on my hands to keep them warm
and rubbed them together.
It must be winter already.
5. Worry I brought my knees as close to my chest as I could. I sat on the stairs on a rather dismal
day. The door was locked. My fingers were blushing, becoming raw and numb. Even my toes,
which were protected by my boots, were turning to ice. I couldn ’ t uncurl my fingers. It stung when
I straightened them. Icicles practically hung from my nose and eyelashes.
I wish I had my key, I ’ d thought bitterly.
I was the first one home. I called Ellie, as she was usually home before me, having no after-
school activities this time of year. Apparently, I was wrong. Something must ’ ve come up.
She had plans today; I remembered. Tires crunched over the salted roads and glided up
the driveway. I glanced up. My tongue swept over my chapped lips as I sprang to my feet.
“ Rae? ” my mother called behind me.
I faced her, her eyes searching me with worry. Her brows furrowed as she studied me.
“ Are you alright? We ’ ve been calling you for a few minutes. Lunch is ready. ”
I nodded, “ Go ahead. I ’ ll be there in a minute. ”
She frowned, lines creasing her forehead. Silently, she climbed down the ladder and
disappeared from sight. I walked back into the beacon room and shut the door. Surveying our
surroundings with the telescope, I spotted a cluster of zombies about a mile or two away. They
were moving toward us. I licked my lips. They were too far for an arrow. It would be a waste of
ammunition — and too dangerous — to shoot them. I could only hope for two things: they ’ d find
something to distract them, or maybe they would miraculously change direction.
Some smoke from our fire lingered in the air. I glanced below me, out the window, and
saw the pile of ashes of the cooking fire, some of the embers still glowing. Sighing, I dragged
myself away and down to the dining room, which was another landing that housed our pots and
pans and dishes.
“ I almost didn ’ t recognize you there for a minute, Rae, ” my dad joked as he passed me on
his way up to keep guard.
“ There ’ s a pack, about a mile or two to the southwest, ” I said dryly.
“ Hold on, Rae, ” He gripped my hand and tucked my hair behind my ear. “ Henry says
you ’ re getting nightmares. You wanna talk about it? ”
I paused, looking at him. Eventually, I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face
in his chest, not caring anymore. He held me tightly and rubbed my back in a soothing rhythm. I
pulled away after a few moments and smiled weakly. “ Maybe some other time. ”
He nodded in understanding. “ I guess I have a horde to watch. Where ’ s that crossbow
fellow when you need him? ”
I laughed at that, the sound echoing like a river through the lighthouse. My dad grinned.
He took the rifle from me and kissed my forehead.
I joined the rest of my family on their respective meal-time stairs. My mother leaned on
the landing ’ s window sill with a plate in her hands. I had to step over Ellie, who sat casually on a
stair with her knees to her chest, much like I had on that snowy December day a lifetime ago.
Henry sat draped over two stairs, his hair clean and a set of fresh clothes on. I took the plate that
sat waiting for me and collapsed on my stair, taking up my fork and pushed the deer meat around,
playing with the blueberries that someone had picked the other day. My mind wandered again, and
I found myself sitting on those front porch steps in the frozen air, waiting for anyone to come home
and let me in.
They ’ d never gotten this close before.
I bounded up the stairs, my breathing ragged and shallow.
Not again, not again, please not again , my mind begged somewhere in my subconscious.
The thought went unnoticed amongst the flurry of bricks and my own franticness. Someone shoved
me from behind.
“ Keep going! I ’ m right behind you! ” My mother called up to me. Again, her hand pushed
at my back, urging me forward.
It ’ s not supposed to be like this . I took the stairs two at a time, my feet slamming briefly
on each step before pushing off and landing on the next. Not real, not real, not real .
It didn ’ t seem to matter what I thought in the outer edges of my mind. The zombies clawed
against the door at the base of the stairs. Dad and Henry were setting up the rest of our defense
mechanisms as Mom and I rapidly flew up the spiraling staircase to join Ellie on the catwalk. My
hands barely wrapped around my shooting earmuffs before I stumbled up the ladder and grabbed
a gun I hadn ’ t realized we had before clamoring out onto the catwalk.
Bang! Bang! Ellie sent two rounds into the horde crowding around the door at the base of
the lighthouse. A sharp ringing in my ears reminded me to put my muffs on. Sunlight blinded me
as I flipped the safety switch off and brought the rifle to my shoulder. I took a shuddering breath.
I ’ d forgotten my sunglasses. There was no time for that now.
It ’ s only a nightmare, I told myself.
My mother loosed an arrow, striking a zombie toward the edge of the pack, on the east
“ I ’ ll pick off the outer west! ” I shouted over the moaning and rifle rounds. That incessant
moaning — that moaning flooded my covered ears and haunted me even now.
Just like target practice, Rae. Pumpkin on a post , I reminded myself. My index finger
found the trigger as I lined up a zombie ’ s head with the post. In, out, squeeze .
I repeated this process several times, breathing in and breathing out, and then pulling the
trigger. My father joined Ellie in her quest to eliminate the ones at the front of the pack, the ones
who were beginning to surge into the lighthouse. The door surely laid in fragments.
“ I got this. Go help your brother, ” Dad ordered me. I nodded in acknowledgement, taking
one last shot before I joined Henry on the inner staircase. He only had a pistol and was down to
one magazine. I had maybe five rounds left, including the one in the chamber, something I kept in
mind as shouldered the gun and sent a round into the approaching zombie. How he managed to get
up here, I couldn ’ t say. He was missing an arm and his torso was lacerated. He went down, a hole
between his eyes. Blood and other innards splattered on the wall. Our shots reverberated off the
stone walls of the lighthouse. We alternated our shots, taking out the ones too close to the missing
My heart sank.
Henry was out of ammunition. I leaned over the railing and sighted in another target. The
last bullet soared through the air in a blink. The zombie ’ s head snapped back as he dropped to the
floor with a wet thud. I ejected the magazine and reloaded, resuming my fierce fight.
For the most part, the horde hadn ’ t managed to overcome the gap in the staircase, or the
barbed-wires that lined what we deemed the ground-level foyer. Bodies littered the space, both
unmoving and squirming. We kept some things down there, but only the things we could live
without if need be, like that wooden chair we “ borrowed ” from the old keeper ’ s quarters.
“ Rae, you ’ re gonna be okay, okay? ” I stopped and looked at Henry. It was then that I
realized the wetness rolling down my face, a silent protest to my actions. I nodded and glanced
over the railing again.
Nothing was there. Shadows cast strange figures over the empty room. The chair became
a hunched over beast. One long, feathering shadow reached toward me, but other than that, there
was nothing there.
Music played softly from somewhere, almost sounding like Alan Menken ’ s work: light-
hearted and magical. Innocent and child-like. I ’ ve heard it before, but couldn ’ t place it. It was from
a movie, from before, but where exactly had I heard it? The world around me transformed, bathed
in light like a stained glass. The gun vanished from my hands.
And then there was everything all at once. They closed in on us, moaning, screeching in
that mutated way they do. One slashed my arm. Another grabbed Henry. I craned my neck and
toppled over, crashing into the banister. The cool metal dug into my back, poking at the aching
spot that never ceased to hurt. I gripped it with sweaty palms, my knuckles white as my chest
heaved. The circle of monsters was slowly closing in on me. Henry was completely obstructed
from my sight.
Maybe he was never there. Or maybe they ’ d finished him.
One reached out and cupped my face, their hand much gentler than I imagined it would be.
I snapped my eyes shut, exhaling through my mouth. Their odor. I can ’ t begin to forget that
horrible rottenness. My breath stopped. I tried to imagine something else, anything else to combat
the awfulness I found myself in.
I opened my eyes when their thumb trailed over my cheek. My mother ’ s face lingered over
mine. Her lips were drawn in a tight line. Light streamed through the uncovered window, spilling
onto her hair.
“ It ’ s just a nightmare. C ’ mon, let ’ s get you some fresh air. ” She helped me into a sitting
position and guided me to my feet.
I held her hand limply, my free hand flying to my left temple. There was a throbbing
pressure there that shot straight through to the back of my head and around my forehead. My
stomach clenched and gnawed at my insides. My face must ’ ve been that of death and for once I
found myself appreciative of the fact that we didn ’ t have a mirror. Mom led me across the landing,
her arm around my waist, supporting my weight. My limbs must have been replaced by lead.
We moved sluggishly. When we reached the stairs, I found that I could n’ t lift my leg high
enough, and as though that was too much exertion for my anchored body, I collapsed. She
attempted to catch me, but I had already braced myself on the stairs in front of me. My arms shook
under my own weight. I stayed hunched over for a moment before I straightened. My body creaked
as I sagged against her legs, allowing them to keep me upright. Henry came bounding down the
stairs and scooped me up, bringing me back to my window. I couldn ’ t remember falling asleep,
but I could recall each minute detail of my nightmare.
“ Get some water, ” our mother whispered to Henry.
She felt my forehead, her own fingertips cool and soft. Henry left to fetch some water. I
sat with my head against the stone wall, my body slumped, and clung to the firm wall. A bottle
was held out to me, but I only glanced at it.
“ Should I get Dad? ” Henry asked, standing awkwardly on the first step before my landing.
“ Don ’ t bother your father. He ’ s on nights. ” She paused, redirecting her attention to me.
She kneeled beside me and persuaded me to take a sip or two. “ Can you get something light to
eat? Like granola or something? ”
Henry nodded and disappeared again.
“ Can you tell me what ’ s wrong? What hurts? ” I didn ’ t answer her. Mom let out a heavy
sigh. “ I can ’ t help you if I don ’ t know what ’ s wrong, Rae. ”
“ I ’ m tired, that ’ s all. I just can ’ t get any sleep with …” I paused, the words stuck in my
throat. “ Do you think there ’ s others? ”
“ I don ’ t know. Maybe, but there ’ s no way of knowing for sure. You need to eat this. ” She
handed me the small cupful of granola that Henry had given her. I shook my head numbly. My
mother pursed her lips and sighed. “ Rae, I need you to eat this. Just a little bit. You ’ re dehydrated,
you haven ’ t been eating. It ’ s not healthy, and sooner or later, your body is going to give in. Is that
what you want? ”
“ No, ” I choked on the tears beginning to form. My shaky hand wrapped around the Dixie
cup, and I began picking at its contents. I greedily devoured the granola. After a moment, I spoke
again, my voice thin and crackly. “ I, um, it ’ s difficult to tell wh-what ’ s real … and what ’ s not. I
mean, I know this is real, right now. It ’ s just that the nightmares are so realistic and, in that …” I
paused to take another shuddering breath. I didn’t want to admit this, but I knew I had to, for all
of our sakes. “In that moment, I can ’ t tell. ”
My mother nodded and continued to rub circles on the small of my back. I leaned into her,
resting my head on her shoulder. The sobs shook my body. My throat was scratchy and quickly
drying as my nose ran and ran and ran. Her fingers combed through my hair. I couldn ’ t move. I
didn ’ t want to. If I did, I ’ d be forced to pick myself up, put on a brave face, and march.
“ Here ’ s what we ’ re gonna do, okay? I ’ m going to stay here with you as long as you need,
and you ’ re going to get some rest. I ’ ll be right here. ” She kissed my forehead and leaned against
the stone wall. I curled up with my head in her lap. Her hand rubbed my back, trying to soothe me.
I stared at the shallow cracks in the ceiling, not realizing when my eyes fluttered shut.
7. Peace Sunshine rippled through the screens of the porch. Birds chirped sweetly and swooped low.
I stretched out on a wicker lounger, a book laid long forgotten on my lap as I soaked in the subtle
smell of pine trees and clean northern air. My head was tilted back, my lips set in a lazy, yet
satisfied, smile. The air around me was cool, but the sun kissed the skin of my legs warmly, my
arms cast in shadow. It was absolutely perfect. I turned my head as I heard the familiar shuffle of
my grandfather ’ s feet. He sat in the chair next to mine, his root beer bottle clinking on the glass
tabletop between our seats. He smiled at me and shifted his attention to the world beyond the
screened-in deck. Somewhere out there, in the woods that surrounded his property, Dad and Henry
were out riding, Ellie and Mom were surely hiking, and Gramps and I were the only ones left here.
We didn ’ t say anything, but I continued to stare at his profile.
Just as water pulls at the sand, an unrecognizable force was tugging at me, drawing me
back to wherever. Gramps looked over at me, meeting my eyes for the first time that day, his gray
eyes pale and mournful.
“ Let go, Rae. ”
My body violently flinched. My legs completely lifted off the stone floor of the windowsill
before I turned over completely. Sweat clung to my face and dampened my hair. I sat up, blinking.
I could barely make out my own hand as I brought it to my face. Drawing back the curtain of the
window, I saw the waning moon, looking almost full but knowing that it had already passed. For
a moment, I thought I was completely alone until a warm hand gripped my clammy one and
I glanced down, then at the hand ’ s owner. Ellie stared at me curiously. Her lips began to
form words, but I shook my head, cutting her off. She nodded and let go, allowing me to shuffle
out of the niche and fly up the staircase.
My face was met with a welcomed blast of frigid air. I stretched my arms wide and
embraced the icy air before hugging myself tightly. I wiggled my toes, cursing myself for not
putting on shoes.
My father turned to me then, taking in my form. He grabbed the blanket from where it hung
on the railing we had built for the ladder and draped it over my shoulders. I could make out the
water, the moon ’ s reflection rippling on its surface. I ’ d always loved looking up at the stars, but
now it seemed bittersweet.
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