Mrs. Chandler sighed and swept the curtains closed. Every day, more visitors. None of them wanted. There they were, on her front lawn, milling about in their strange outfits and mumbling voices. They were the crazy ones, she decided. All those times her ‘friends,’ her neighbors, called her senile, expressing their so-called concerns for her and her husband. Being old did not make you crazy, she had said. Now look at all of them. The younger generations, huddled outside, out of their minds. And when was the last time she saw her neighbors? It was obvious what had happened, after that story on the news. She pitied them, truly, but that didn’t change the fact that they were loitering. At least she knew they wouldn’t come inside. They only wanted to trap her.
“What did you say, darling?” Mr. Chandler sat in his armchair filling in a book of crossword puzzles. The newspaper had stopped delivering to their home.
“Oh, the zombies are back. Of course, they never left. I don’t know what I was expecting.”
“Don’t worry, darling. Things will work out eventually.” He reached his hand out for her to squeeze, the gentle wrinkles in his face creasing as he smiled. Mrs. Chandler smiled back, somewhat reassured, and went to fix herself breakfast.
As she ate her buttered toast and hot tea, she peeked through the blinds. The zombies didn’t show any signs of leaving soon. They drove up in trucks and parked on her lawn. They didn’t sleep at night. They seemed afraid to enter the house yet couldn’t leave. Mrs. Chandler would ask why if she thought they could understand her; unfortunately, they seemed resigned to blank stares and shouting words she couldn’t quite understand. She sipped her tea. How many bags of chamomile did she have left? She’d have to go shopping soon, but how to explain that to the zombies?
Mrs. Chandler hurried to her husband’s side.
“What do you need, dear?”
His eyes had gone wrong again. “Where are the kids? Are they in the backyard? At the pool? With their friends?”
“Well, they should be! It’s summer vacation! Isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s June. But the kids aren’t outside.”
“Where, then? Is Benjamin in his room? Tell him to get off that computer. We should play catch.” He began to stand. His wife gently pushed him back into the chair.
“I’ll get him for you. You stay here,” she said, picking up his crosswords from where they had fallen on the floor and placing it neatly on the coffee table. She walked upstairs, poked her head in Benjamin’s old room, just in case her husband was listening, and walked back downstairs, grabbing a game set from the shelf as she went. “Albert?”
Sandra smiled. She sat down across from him. “Want to play a game?"
His face brightened. “You be white, dear.” He carefully helped her align the chess pieces so that black and white mirrored each other, his fingers clumsy, hers patient and steady. They settled in to play.
A few games later, the phone began to ring. Albert started, the calm spell cast by his favorite game broken.
“I’ve got it, dear.” Sandra patted his shoulder and took the phone from its stand. “Hello?” she said, wandering into the kitchen.
“Benjamin!” Sandra’s face broke into a smile.
“Mom, I just found out. Why didn’t you call?”
“I did, but you never answered.”
“What number did you use? We got rid of the landline. I thought I told you.”
“Oh, I must have forgotten. But your father will be so happy to hear your voice! Let me get him-”
“Mom! Just- wait. Talk to me. How are you both feeling?” She’d never heard her son sound so worried before. His concern broke through his voice, though he strained to sound calm. Still, it warmed her heart to know he cared so much about them.
“We’re feeling fine. How is your sister? How’s your wife?”
“We’re good. Everyone’s good. Uh,” Benjamin said. “How are you on supplies?”
“Supplies? Oh, right. Well, we haven’t left the house in a few days, but we have enough to last us another couple weeks. I’m just waiting for the zombies to leave.”
“The- the what?”
“Well, that’s just what I’ve been calling them. Last week, the news said that-”
“Mom… Mom… how much of the news have you been watching?”
“Um… not much, honey. Why?”
“Mom, do you even know what’s happening?”
“Sandra?” a croaky voice called from the living room. “Sandra?”
“Oh, honey, I’ve got to go. Your dad’s been a bit under the weather, but don’t worry. Call soon!”
"Wait! Stay inside, okay, Mom? Please stay inside. I love you."
"Love you too, dear!"
She hung up and went to check on her husband, smiling. How nice to talk with her son.
“She hung up on you?”
Benjamin bit his lip and stuffed the phone back into his pocket. “Yeah. My dad needed help with something.”
The soldier shook his head. “I know how you feel, buddy. My mom has dementia.”
“She always refused to let Dad go into a nursing home. I thought she was capable of taking care of him, but…” Benjamin stared at the house. “I didn’t realize she was starting to go, too.”
“And she thought we were…”
“Zombies. She didn’t notice what was happening. She said she saw something on the news once and didn’t even bother to keep watching.”
The soldier sighed. “Ironic. Well, we’ve tried communicating with a megaphone, but they wouldn’t even look outside. And we couldn’t safely get any closer.”
“Of course.” Benjamin covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath. The man clapped him on the shoulder and walked away. Other soldiers sat on the ground or on their trucks, talking and monitoring the house, their lumpy Haz-mat suits billowing around them.
A face peeked around the curtains of the house, peering outside. Her skin was a sickly green, decay and rot peeling away at her body. Her fingers gripping the fabric were unnaturally gnarled. The blue in her veins had gone gray.
Mrs. Chandler saw her son, smiled, and waved.