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Authors: Joan Frances Turner


BOOK: Frail
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Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2011 by Hilary Hall.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Turner, Joan Frances.
p. cm.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54460-0
1. End of the world—Fiction. 2. Zombies—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3620.U76555F73 2011
813’.6—dc23 2011027174

Once again the greatest thanks to my agent, Michelle Brower, and my editor, Michelle Vega, for their unflagging work on my behalf, and to everyone at The Berkley Publishing Group and Folio Literary Management. To Kenneth V. Iserson, whose
Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies?
was an invaluable research resource for both
and its predecessor. To staff and volunteers at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with thanks for letting me overrun Lake Street Beach, Marquette Park Beach and Kemil Beach with imaginary corpses of all kinds. To Ann Larimer, Betsy Hanes Perry, Liz Barr, Eoghann Renfroe, Merri-Todd Webster and Minette Joseph for their friendship, moral support and reality checks administered whenever necessary. And as always, to my family for always believing in me.
hen I was fourteen there was a security breach near the intersection of Seventy-Third and Klein and my mother killed her first intruder, and her last. She was on the six-to-three shift and I had guitar lessons a four-toll drive away in Leyton and she was supposed to pick me up straight from school, so we could hit U.S. 30 before the evening checkpoints started. But she didn’t show, wasn’t answering her cell, so I just sat there in the cafeteria, waiting, inhaling traces of stale crinkle-fry grease and watching the sky fade from drab blue to deep gray. Dave, one of the janitors, was mopping the floor like he wanted to slap its imaginary face and Ms. Acosta slipped and skidded in the wet and almost fell. I was glad to see it after all her clucking to my mother about slacking off and bad attitudes and “
-antsy” (that’s how she pronounced it, all bird-whistle fluttery like a comedienne in some old movie). She saw my lips twitching and glared at me, got what my mother called a cough-syrup smile right back, and I was reaching for my phone again when the warning siren kicked to life.
Louder and louder, that singular cadence distinguishing it from tornado and fire alarms:
aieeeow-oooo, woooo-owwwww
, low and moaning like an animal in pain. A very particular animal, creature, inhuman thing, that one-note wail all it had left for a voice. Onomatopoeia, we’d just learned that in English: natural sound encapsulated into speech, like a captured insect buzzing in a new-made bottle.
Onomatopoeia, onomatopoeia
, the word kept winding and tongue-twisting through my head. Remain in your seats. This is only a test.
“Damn,” Ms. Acosta said, going pale under her orangey streaks of foundation.
“They’re just testing it!” Dave shouted over the noise, supremely bored, nails raking at an angry pink splotch on the side of his neck. “The sun hasn’t even set, those things are barely awake—”
The intercom snapped on.
“Code Orange alert,”
said a woman’s voice, prerecorded, urgent but serene.
“Code Orange, located at—Klein—and—Seventy-Third—”
“Halfway across town.” Dave shrugged, and kept squeezing out his mop.
“Please lock all doors and windows and seek basement shelter until the all-clear sounds. If you are outside please seek the nearest safe house or other accessible building. It is a federal crime to deny shelter to any person seeking refuge from an environmental disturbance. Code Orange. Code Orange . . .”
“Just what I need. Haul it, Amy.” Ms. Acosta swept my backpack off the table, grabbed it like it’d burden me too much to run from the crippled hordes. “Dave? Move it! Let’s go!”
“They’re halfway across town,” I said, and folded my arms. No wonder I couldn’t reach my mom, there hadn’t been a Code Orange in years and never with her on shift. If I could somehow get over there I could watch her toast their asses, maybe flick one with my own lighter if it tried to run away—
“Amy, I swear to God I’m not in the mood—Dave? Dave! Put that mop down and let’s go!”
Dave just snorted. “Jesus Christ, Alicia, calm down. They move about two miles an hour and they ain’t gonna roller-skate over here—”
“Fine!” She flapped her bony bangled arms at an imaginary audience, the only one that’d applaud her dramatics. “Fine! I’m not your mother, you get a leg torn off like Cris Antczyk did don’t bother hopping over to me for sympathy—
” The siren kept sounding, Dave nonchalantly fussing with his dirty yellow plastic bucket and CUIDADO: PISO MOJADO sign. “Get up. Follow me.

I got up. Shoved my hands in my pockets, feeling with fingertips for my school ID, town ID, curfew card, access gate e-pass. Followed her a few steps, sizing up her scuffed beige pumps with the one loose wobbly heel, my black flats. Then I ran, sailing over the damp linoleum, Ms. Acosta stumbling and screaming, “Amy,
!” and Dave shaking his head laughing but I was already down the hall, out the steel double doors, the approaching sunset tinting Sycamore Street in a lurid orange wash and the sirens making the air tremble and throb.
My chest was a hot hollow husk but I was laughing as I ran, nobody can catch me, everyone else was basement-bound but I was going to see an honest-to-God living dead body get exactly what it deserved. I’d never seen one in the flesh, not even by the roadside, and even on the news all you ever saw was “dramatic re-creations” and shitty movie CGI—I was gunning for the real thing and to see my mother do the deed. She’d get a raise, a promotion, if she faced it down. She could do it without puking or fainting, not like so many of the men. All their big talk. I was proud of her, still one of the only women on the security squads, and this wasn’t just to gawk and rubberneck. It wasn’t just for me. After everything that happened you have to understand, I’m not lying, this wasn’t all just about—
I’m getting ahead of myself. Sorry. You start to ramble, blither, when there’s nothing left to talk to but the air. Ms. Acosta, she’d tell you all about that, if she were still alive.
The little white stucco house on the corner of Sycamore and Cypress had gone creamy pink, quivering like a slab as the sunlight went rich and deep; I tunneled through their lilacs and kept on going. Seventy-Third’s halfway across town, Dave was right, but Lepingville wasn’t that big a town. As I veered off Maplewood I could already see the police cars and fire engines and Lepingville Civic Security vans blocking the streets, great grape-like clusters of red, blue, bottle-green flashing lights. I picked through backyards and easements looking for the best vantage point and completely by accident I saw her, framed perfectly by the gnarled, curving tree branches around me: my mother, an ambulatory burnt marshmallow in thick padded charcoal-gray fatigues, coppery hair twisted up at the back of her head, waddling down Seventy-Third calm as you please as she fitted another cartridge to her flamethrower.
Everybody in town joked about intruders but they were still scared shitless. My mother, though, she’d grown up over in Gary with no alarms, no fencing unless you put it up yourself, nothing but a half-defunct PA system, your basement and you. Anything could happen, any time, and you had to keep cool or you’d go crazy. I wanted to be cool,
, just like her. I wanted her to get that piece of walking ant bait, the raise, the promotion, she got so much shit from the men she worked with and she deserved this chance, it
just all about me—
There it was. All alone, standing there in front of the torn shrubbery and rusted, broken fence point it’d ripped down, arms dangling and limp, perfectly quiet but with its long pearl-gray teeth bared and grimacing. A bloated, brackish, muddy mess, a first-grader’s art project shaped with careless palm-slaps into a too-angular skull, a smeared nubbin of a nose and horribly thin fingers; something about those fingers, the way each one was a perfect sticky twig of tacky clay not yet softened to full rot, made a horrible shiver rush up my back, my chest going hot and tight in disgust.
BOOK: Frail
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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