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AFTER THE APOCALYPSE
"Zombies!" Dad screamed, pointing out the living room window.
"Where?" Fear and curiosity fought a short battle in my brain. Curiosity won. I rushed over to see for myself.
"No! It's too gruesome," Dad said as he snatched me off my feet, tossed me over his shoulder, and ran toward the basement door. I'm almost twelve, but I'm pretty skinny.
Mom grabbed my twin brother, Eli, and hurried down the stairs right behind us. Eli's also skinny, and Mom's pretty strong.
"Into the shelter," Dad said. "You know the drill."
We sure did. Mom and Dad had us practice our Zombie Apocalypse drill once a week. Whatever we were doing, when Dad screamed, "Zombies!" we had to drop everything and run to the shelter.
"I guess it's not a drill this time," Eli said as Dad bolted the steel door that would keep us safe from the throngs of walking dead.
"Guess not. They never do two drills in one week, and we had one three days ago. This must be the real thing." I sighed and sat on the couch. The shelter was comfortable enough. There was plenty of food, and a small toilet in a separate room. We had beds and chairs. But it was kind of boring. I like to go outside and play with my friends. Especially now that school was out for the summer. And I had a birthday coming up in less than a week. So did Eli, of course, since we're twins. A zombie apocalypse would ruin everything.
Dad turned on the radio, but all we got was static. It looked like we wouldn't be able to find out what was happening. I grabbed a book and settled down. When I got tired of reading, I unfolded my cot and went to sleep.
The next morning, after breakfast, Dad said, "I'm going to go take a look outside." He grabbed an ax from its peg on the wall and headed for the door.
"Be careful," Mom said. She unbolted the door, then locked everything up again as soon as Dad stepped out. She waited right there with her hand on the bolt, ready to let him back in as soon as he shouted the password.
Dad was only gone for about ten minutes. When he came back in, pounded on the door, and shouted, "Off with their heads!" He was panting, like he'd been running. I spotted something splattered across his shirt. It looked like brains, though I didn't really want to get close enough to it to find out for sure. I noticed the head of the ax was coated with slimy clots, too.
"Is it bad out there?" Mom asked.
"It's not good. We'd better stay here until things calm down," Dad said. "According to everything I've read, they'll start to fall apart eventually. They're rotting. We just have to wait them out."
He checked outside every morning. Each time, he was gone a bit longer. I lost track of the date. But at some point, Mom pulled a cake from the freezer and stuck candles in it.
"Happy Birthday, boys! I put this here just in case," she said. She pulled a small pile of presents from under her bed.
So Eli and I celebrated our birthday in our zombie shelter.
The next day, after Dad went out to check, he came back, hung the ax on its peg, and said, "Good news. It's over."
"They're all gone?" Mom asked.
"All gone," Dad said. "And the government troops removed the bodies."
"Yay! We can go outside!" I shouted. I raced for the door.
"Wait!" Dad grabbed me and Eli by the shoulder. "Remember, this was a terrible experience for all of the survivors. If you see the neighbors, they might not want to talk about it. Okay?"
"Sure." I threw the bolt and flung open the door.
Eli followed me through the house and out to the front yard.
"I hope none of our friends got killed," I said.
"They didn't," he said.
"How do you know?"
"Think about it," he said.
"Think about what?"
"Remember when we turned eight?" he asked.
"Sure. We had that huge party, with the magician and the ice cream cones. It was awesome." I could still taste the hot fudge. I even licked some of it off the couch after it got spilled there.
"Right—it was awesome. But it was kind of a mess, too." Eli said. "And remember when we turned nine?"
"Yeah. Dad took a bunch of us bowling." That was definitely memorable. Dad threw his back out. And my friends got so rowdy, we were banned from the bowling alley for life. Then, Eli threw up in the car. I guess he shouldn't have eaten five hot dogs. Neither should I. But at least I didn't puke until I got back home. I glanced at the couch. The puke stain wasn't nearly as bad as the fudge stain.
"What about when we turned ten?" Eli asked.
"We didn't have a party. Remember? There was an alien invasion." As the words left my mouth, I realized how crazy they sounded. Alien invasion. Almost as crazy as last year, when we'd missed our party because of the killer solar flare. Both times, Dad had suggested the neighbors wouldn't want to relive the experiences, so we never talked about it.
"Eli," I said.
"There aren't any zombies, are there?"
"I'm pretty sure that's the case," he said.
I thought about the cake. It was hard to believe Mom had just happened to think of putting one down there, in case the zombie apocalypse overlapped our birthday. There'd been a cake, and presents, down there last year, and the year before, too. "So our parents would rather hide in the basement for a week than throw another birthday party for us?"
"It seems that way."
"What about that stuff on the ax?" I asked.
"Blueberry pudding," Eli said. "I tasted it."
I thought about all of that—alien invasion, solar flare, zombie apocalypse.… "What do you think it will be next year?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I do know one thing. We need to get a video game system down there before then."
"Yeah, but no zombie games," I said. "I've definitely had enough zombies for a while."
I grabbed our basketball and headed toward the playground with Eli. As I walked down the street in the fresh air and sunshine, I realized that the one thing I'd never liked about being a twin actually turned out to be an advantage.
"It could be worse," I said.
"What do you mean?" Eli asked.
"Imagine what would happen if we didn't share a birthday," I said. "We'd get stuck in the shelter twice a year."
I threw him a bounce pass and promised myself that if I ever had kids, they could have as many parties as they wanted, no matter how messy things got.
Copyright © 2014 by David Lubar
Reader's Guide copyright © 2014 by Tor Books