Janessa hummed the theme to “Green Acres” as she unpacked her box of books and organized them on the room’s built-in oak shelves. 2020 had been a hell of a year between the fires, hurricanes, virus, murder hornets, riots, politics, and zombies, but she was going to turn her life around with 2021.
Janessa had always wanted to run a bed and breakfast and maybe even write a book about her experiences, and now here she was doing it. She had selected the two-story country home for its views of rolling hills and the 6-foot tall wrought iron and brick pillar fence that surrounded the property. The fall leaves would be beautiful, and she had enough room for a garden out back.
It was simple enough to set up a website, and she already had bookings lined up from city-folk looking to get away from the hustle and bustle and zombies.
An electronic bell jangled, and Janessa went to her front window to see who or what had activated her motion sensor alarm at her front gate. A woman with long dark hair feebly pawed the gate, her sleeve catching on a decorative curlicue.
Janessa reached for the rifle she kept in an umbrella stand next to the door and centered the crosshairs on the woman’s head. This was her least favorite activity, but if she let this woman keep at it, the front gate would be swamped before she knew it.
The sound of her shot ricocheted back as little pops, and the woman fell back, landing on the ground in a heap. She settled the gun back into its umbrella stand and turned back to continue her unpacking. She would go out to retrieve and bury the body later, once she was sure her gunfire hadn’t attracted the attention of more zombies.
Back in January of 2020, Janessa had been a waitress saving her tip money in a shoebox under her bed and living in a three-bedroom apartment with two roommates that would steal her Pop-Tarts. As the Coronavirus rates rose in March, Janessa was forced out of work, and she had plenty of time to plan. As the news screamed murder hornets and riots over the summer months, Janessa browsed the internet for possible properties for her B&B. When vaccine trials resulted in undead walking in December, Janessa closed on her dream home and got the ball rolling on her future.
As her U-Haul pulled up to her new gates, the Amazon delivery truck was delivering some of her much needed upgrades - motion detectors, solar panels, and gardening accessories. Forget The Great T.P. Run of 2020; she was actually going to be prepared for the important stuff.
Now, she turned on her rechargeable AM/FM radio and spun the dial looking for some music to keep her company as she worked. She stopped as she came to a news update.
“Sci-Med Industries continues to decline comment despite the correlations between their vaccine and the so-called zombies resulting from their trials. The president is urging caution but says it is up to individuals to protect themselves. Quote, ‘The situation is under control. There have been hardly any cases, and we cannot close down the economy…’” Janessa continued scanning through the stations until she landed on a 90s rock station.
The guitar and angst oozed from the tinny speaker as she finished loading her books on the shelves and placed nick-nacks. Instead of house plants, she planted carrots, tomatoes, and herbs. She thought she was dealing with the zombie situation relatively well. She didn’t have a breakdown when her roommate Nadine was attacked outside their building, but to be fair, she had tried to warn Nadine not to try to help the homeless guy that liked to hang out on the corner. For now, the zombies were limited in number and fairly easy to get away from since they were so slow, but Janessa knew that wasn’t going to stay the case. Despite what some news outlets were trying to portray, whatever caused otherwise normal people to turn into glazed-eyed attackers was spreading. Social media was reporting more attacks every day, and she was positioning herself to make the best of it with a zombie-free B&B. What else could she do but capitalize on the situation?
The motion detector jangled again, and Janessa resumed her spot at the front door. This time, a man stood at the gate looking down at the newly felled zombie woman. Janessa watched him a moment longer to verify he wasn’t one of the shambling dead and then used her intercom to call down to him. “Can I help you?”
“Hi!” he greeted cheerily into the gate’s call box. “I’m Calvin, and I’m from in town.” Town was a 20-minute drive for Janessa and consisted of a Main Street with a post office, drug store, and some small businesses, and a handful of houses. "I heard you were opening a bed and breakfast and thought you might be looking for a little help to get started."
Janessa thought for a moment. She didn't really have a lot of spare funds to pay anyone right now, but she could use some help getting ready. She had been a little ambitious when she let her first guests book a stay only a week out. "I'll be right down," she responded and grabbed her rifle before heading down the driveway.
When he saw her coming, Calvin's smile broadened to accentuate his handsome dimples that she could see from yards away.
"Alright, let's make sure you haven't been exposed," she said, holding the rifle firmly.
"Of course," he said, rolling up his sleeves to show his unblemished arms and then lifting his pant legs to show his muscles legs.
"Alright. Stand back," Janessa said as she pushed the button to open the gate.
The gate clinked as the lock released and it hinged open.
Calvin entered, and Janessa closed the gate again. He was dressed in a t-shirt, a loose-fitting gray flannel, jeans, and hiking boots with a lightweight backpack.
"I'm not sure how much I'll be able to offer you to work here," she said. "I'm just getting started and have pretty much my whole savings wrapped up in getting this place started."
"I don't need much," Calvin said. "There aren't any jobs in town right now, and I'm about to lose my lease on my house."
Janessa nodded in sympathy. "You're not much of a negotiator. "
Calvin lifted his hands in a what-can-I-say gesture.
"I can give you a place to stay in the basement. There's a little room that I was thinking about using as an office, but you can have it for now. I'm a good cook, so I can feed you. We can discuss money and longer-term arrangements when we get the place up and running."
"That all sounds fair," Calvin nodded, "and what do you need from me?"
"Right now, I'm just doing the basics: cleaning and painting and such, but I'm going to be installing solar panels and a satellite dish for TV and internet. Do you have experience with any of that?"
"I helped my dad set up our dish a few years ago."
"Perfect. We'll do that tomorrow. For now, can you help me drag this body around back?” Janessa was excited to get started, and Calvin seemed to have the enthusiasm to match.
The week passed in what could have been an 80’s movie montage with Janessa and Calvin painting, moving furniture, and mounting the satellite dish to the tune of “Working for a Living” by Huey Lewis and the News. By the time the first guests, the Johnsons, appeared in their Tesla SUV the next Friday, the house was perfect.
“Welcome to Brooks Estate! Let me show you to your room,” Janessa greeted enthusiastically as the couple got out of their vehicle.
“Isn’t this place cute?” Mrs. Johnson asked her husband.
“The storm shutters are functional. We have satellite television and internet, so we don’t have to worry about cable going out. The WiFi password is posted in your room and in the common area. We have solar panels on the roof to ensure power. I have locally sourced ingredients for meals that I prepare myself,” Janessa explained as they entered the house and climbed the stairs. “This suite is your room, and you’ll notice the view,” she motioned at the window that overlooked a copse of trees.
“Oh! Look at the little birdhouses!” Mrs. Johnson exclaimed, and Mr. Johnson just nodded and set their suitcases on the bed.
“We get cardinals and finches mostly. You might also see blue jays.
“The television is hidden in this armoire, and it has apps for all the streaming services. In the room next door, we have some basic exercise equipment.”
“You seem to have thought of everything,” Mr. Johnson said.
“I certainly tried,” Janessa said, “and if you hear my doorbell, that’s actually my perimeter motion detector. Just let me or my man Calvin take care of it. Dinner will be in an hour, and I am serving spaghetti with a fresh marinara sauce. If you are watching your carbs, I also have zucchini noodles.”
With that, she left the Johnsons to unpack while she prepared dinner.
The radio droned in the background as Janessa sliced vegetables for dinner. Calvin entered from the side door and hung his coat on a hook. “The natives seem to be getting restless,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Janessa looked up from a tomato.
“There have been a couple of attacks near town, and Mrs. Woodhouse was turned last night. Mr. Jefferson from down the road found her wandering in his cow pasture.”
Janessa set down her knife in disgust. “I don’t see how people can keep ignoring this.”
“It’s supposedly still just in controllable pockets. They’re talking about doing an emergency town meeting tonight to do a roll call and discuss strategy.” Calvin grabbed a carrot and started crunching. “I think I’m going to go downstairs and bring up some more ammo just in case. We can stow it behind the books or something for now.”
“That sounds good. If a meeting is called, can you go represent us? I’m going to be busy here with the Johnsons.”
“No problem,” Calvin said as he disappeared to the basement.
Janessa and the guests were finishing dinner when the motion detector rang. The Johnsons looked up in confusion.
“Don’t worry,” Janessa said as she stood up. “It’s just my perimeter motion detectors I told you about. There’s probably just a squirrel that got too close.”
There wouldn’t be a squirrel because these motion detectors were programmed for moving objects larger than squirrels, but she didn’t want to worry her guests unnecessarily. She looked out the front door and saw Calvin motioning frantically. She grabbed her rifle and hurried down the driveway to the front gate.
“What’s going on?” she asked breathlessly as she approached the gate.
“Hurry and let me in. The meeting went badly.”
“Badly? How badly?” Janessa asked as she pushed the button to activate the gate.
“Bad enough that half the town was still trapped inside the school gym when I hightailed it out of there. Mrs. Woodhouse must not have been the only one who got turned yesterday.”
“Oh no…” Janessa pressed her palms against her cheeks in frustration. “This fence is good for a couple of stragglers at a time, but not a townful. What are we going to do, and what about the Johnsons?”
Calvin slammed his palm against the gate button. “The only thing we can do. We stand our ground.”
When they reentered the house, the Johnsons were still at the kitchen table finishing their wine.
“Folks, we’ve possibly got a little situation,” Janessa tried to softly breach the topic.
“What kind of situation?” Mr. Johnson asked, setting down his glass of wine.
“There’s been a zombie outbreak in town, so we might get some of them out here,” Calvin explained. “Do either of you know how to fire a gun?”
Mrs. Johnson’s eyes went wide, and Mr. Johnson was silent for a moment before responding, “I was looking for a chance to practice with my new Glock.” He pushed away from the table. “Let me go get it. Where do you want me?”
Janessa and Calvin looked at each other, and Calvin gave a shrug. “We’ll break up the perimeter. You can patrol the side of the house by your bedroom. Mrs. Johnson, you can keep watch from your room. I have some 2-way radios with earpieces that we can use to stay in contact.”
The group gathered their supplies and split up to perform their duties.
Two hours later, Janessa was beginning to think that this was all a false alarm. Maybe the townspeople had gotten everything under control, or maybe whatever zombies resulting from the attack were going the opposite direction away from her little B&B. She had stationed Mr. Johnson at the back of the house, the least likely place for zombies, while she and Calvin took the front, the closest to the road and therefore most likely to see zombie passerby.
The lights of the house were off to avoid drawing attention, and the moon was nearly full, allowing them to see any movement.
The radio crackled, and Mr. Johnson’s voice came over the airwaves. “Something is over here. The birds just spooked and took off.”
“I’ll be right there,” Calvin responded, and Janessa could hear his running footsteps from across the yard.
“There’s someone out there,” Mrs. Johnson said excitedly. “I can see them between the trees.”
“Don’t shoot until they get close enough to see them,” Janessa directed. “We don’t want to hurt an innocent person, and we don’t want to risk drawing more of them.”
The men signaled their agreement, and Janessa waited in silence, her eyes straining into the darkness looking for any movement.
Her breath caught as she heard a pair of pops from the other side of the house. “Is everything okay?” she asked with concern.
“Things are fine,” Calvin replied. “It was Mrs. McGinty looking less lively than usual.”
“That’s saying something since she’s usually just sitting out on her porch glaring at passersby,” Janessa joked. “I think I’ve got something.” A movement down the road pulled Janessa’s attention, and she watched as a small group of people shuffled closer. There were no words between them, and they seemed to drift forward as if pulled with invisible puppet strings. “How many people did you say were at the meeting, Calvin?”
“There were probably a couple hundred.”
“I might need some help up here, then.”
Janessa followed her own rule of waiting until the group was close enough to tell for sure before she fired, and when she did, the man she hit went down without a sound. His fellow walkers continued without a word, but their pace quickened. Calvin joined her for a full-on firefight, and the occasional sounds of shots could be heard from Mr. Johnson’s side of the house with Mrs. Johnson providing direction over the radio.
Three hours later, the approaching zombies had dwindled. Calvin sat atop one of the brick fence pillars for a better view over the piles of dead and down the road. “Things are looking clear,” he radioed to the others.
“Thank god. I don’t know if I can handle much more of this. My adrenaline has pretty much worn off, and I’m about to collapse,” Janessa said as she sat in the grass surrounded by shell casings.
Mr. Johnson appeared from around the side of the house. “Woo!” he exclaimed. “That was awesome!” He stopped when he saw the carnage in front of Janessa and Calvin. “You guys did awesome!” He was a man of few words.
“Okay, Mr. Johnson. I think we can go inside for now. We’ll let the motion detectors do their thing and check on stuff in the morning,” Janessa said, ushering the excited guest inside. She then turned to Calvin, “Can you try calling around to see if anyone you know can give a status for in-town?”
“No problem. I’ll do that while you take care of the Johnsons.
The weekend was filled with state police and then FBI and CDC showing up to question everyone. The sudden decrease in population was being reported by the media as a gas leak.
“I don’t get it,” Janessa said to Calvin at one point. “Zombies are real. Why do they have to make up a gas leak?”
Calvin just shook his head. “Things are still in C.Y.A. mode right now, and the politicians and big corporations will keep covering their butts until they can’t anymore.
It was now Sunday evening, and the Johnsons were loading their luggage back in their Tesla.
“I had a marvelous time,” Mrs. Johnson said, “and thank you for your banana bread recipe.”
“It was nothing,” Janessa said with a smile, “and I’m sorry again for that disruption Friday night.”
“Are you kidding?” Mr. Johnson asked loudly. “That was my favorite part! I’m going to tell my hunting buddies they should check this place out.”
Janessa didn’t respond to let him know this wasn’t a regular part of the entertainment and hopefully would not be happening again.
The town government was in the process of scheduling another town meeting to discuss guidelines, and this one would be virtual.
Janessa and Calvin waived as the Johnsons pulled out. Janessa’s phone dinged, and she pulled it out to see her first 5-star Yelp review.