Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy the short story, Thanking the Dead. I wrote it a while back. It hasn’t been revised. That’s something I wanted to do for the anthology but haven’t got around to doing it.
“You’re going to scare the turkeys.” I smirk.
Reece sends me a scathing glare beneath his knit cap and bushy eyebrows. I shrug. Sitting in a tree, watching the ground isn’t my idea of a good time. We’re not so far away from camp that I can’t hear the beating hammers and punching nail guns. When I breathe in, I can practically taste the fresh cut wood. I should be helping. Staying busy will help the next few days pass by. It’s not the meal I’m looking forward to. We’re starting a new mission from the General the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I should get a call from Rudy about his team joining us. A telephone call and a visit? It feels more like Christmas than Thanksgiving.
Reece’s grumble echoes through the trees, drawing my attention back to him. He swears he’s seen a few turkeys in the area before. I think he was just dreaming of them. I know a lot about dreaming something you want really bad. And things you don’t.
It’s the first holiday since Reece and Glinda got married. Since we have some time before we need to be anywhere, he’s determined to make it a great one. I’ll sit here overnight if he thinks it’ll help.
Scowling at the ground as if a turkey will rise from the sodden leaves, he says, “Colorado had a 30,000 wild turkey population before the outbreak—”
I wave my hand to stop an obvious regurgitation from Kyle, my tech partner in crime. Kyle’s a smart dude, but he also holds a lot of useless information from before the outbreak. That shit doesn’t count now. That world is no longer. “Zombies don’t care about hunting permits, Reece.”
The patches on his leather vest scratch along the bark as he jumps down from the tree. “Let’s get farther away from camp.”
I pull my toboggan tighter and cast off to the ground, landing silent as a cat. After a few minutes of following him, I spot a huge vulture eyeing us from a branch. I raise my brows at Reece in question. It’s not like I’ll be eating it.
Another glare forms from his eyes as he adjusts the .22 hunting rifle in his arms. “Fuck no, Kan.”
My laughter bounces off the tree trunks that surround us.
Darkness eats at the sky later the same day. I’m the perfect picture of zen. I should be holding the warrior pose on a cliff in front of a sunrise. But the yin to my yang, stews silently while trying his best to keeps his horns from busting through his forehead. Every movement, every fidget is exaggerated angrily. Earlier he wiped at his nose so hard, I thought he broke it.
We’re a few hours from camp by now, so we might as well set up shop. As amused at Reece as I am, I think it’s sweet he’s so determined to get Glinda a turkey. Glinda deserves a turkey. She deserves a thousand turkeys.
As soon as night hits, I hear him shift. “You think anyone will miss the cock?” He asks the question quietly, as if he’s been thinking about it all day. As if it’s only a safe question to ask under the dead of dark.
“The hens but we can always get another one.” Ever supportive, that’s me. “But we’re here. Might as well give it the night.”
We sit all night, perched in that tree. On that branch. With a tight grip on my bow. In and out of sleep and drowsiness but I do it happily. This is my new life. In the trees. I can’t wait to be in the trees all the time.
When the sky lightens, Reece brushes icy dew from his sleeves and climbs down. “Turkeys are more active at dusk. I doubt we’ll find one but—”
We freeze as we strain to hear what I think we just heard. A zombie.
The tale tell shuffle of leaves right before a nasty, guttural snarl. Reece’s gaze snaps to mine as we simultaneously figure out what the zombie is after. The gobbles sound anxious and panicked.
“There’s more than one.” The excitement in his voice is unmistakable.
I jump down and follow him through the fog toward the noise. The earth doesn’t have time to form a footprint, I’m running full speed with my bow. My face gets the brunt of the chilly wind.
We pause a few times and change directions but I finally spot the source just as I feel the hum of them. There are more zombies than I anticipated. Three of them dash through the trees toward the flock of squawking birds. The turkeys fly up and down in an effort to stay away. Reece cocks his gun but thinks better of it, unsheathing a huge hunting knife.
I’m frozen as the zombies run in circles after the turkeys, so intent on their prey, they don’t realize we’re here. Not that they would come after me.
“Get a fucking turkey, Kan!” Reece kicks a zombie in the back. It slams face first in the mud and Reece ends its undead life there. Blood splatters across his face and clothes as he jerks the knife from the skull.
Nocking an arrow, I pull the bowstring tight and eye a turkey — round and round it goes. “I can do better than a turkey,” I whisper to myself and let the arrow fly. By the time Reece finishes the zombies, I have three turkeys tied by the feet for easy carrying. I grin wide.
He shakes his head. “Seems excessive.”
Geez. I hate when he channels his inner Rudolph. Totally something Rudy would’ve pointed out. “Oh yeah? You’ll be thanking me when Glinda screws up a turkey and there’s another to cook.” Not to mention, these birds will feed the team while we’re on the go for a week in the form of turkey jerky.
He laughs. “Touché.”
Our little treehouse community is coming along although we have a ways to go. It’s slow going as the main team still lives in Arizona. We’re still playing around with wind and solar energy, too, so about three-fourths of our plans still need to be built.
Right now, we all share a community kitchen, common areas, and five bunk rooms.
I flinch, watching Glinda murder the sweet potatoes with a potato masher. “Why are you so angry? And must you take it out on one of the only things I can eat?” Really. They need to stay a little chunky.
She peeks around like she doesn’t want anyone to overhear her. “I lost my wedding band,” she whispers, fiddling with her ring finger as if she can feel the ring.
A memory from Thanksgiving past flickers as I dump sugar into a bowl for some homemade marshmallow fluff. “It’s probably in the turkey.”
Now she does look at me, tapping her long nail on the plywood countertop. We hope to concrete the surface eventually. “I sense a story, Suga.”
I shrug. “My mom lost hers one year when she wanted to impress some guests. That plan bombed when the uncle of our neighbor found it. When he stuffed his mouth full of stuffing.”
Glinda’s gaze goes to the oven. “Shit.”
And then it really bombed when she got wasted afterward. Threw up everywhere and tried to pee in a potted plant. “You’ll find it.”
She sighs. “Maybe.”
I glance at the clock and cut on the hand mixer. It sends sugar everywhere before it evens out a bit. Just a few more hours. Glinda doesn’t think I notice over the noise of making the fluff, but she checks the turkey.
I pick at my food, listening to Reece and Glinda argue about how he should’ve just tattooed the rings and keeping an eye on the satellite phone. Sam just stews about something unknown to me or anyone else. At another table, John talks quietly to several new guys we’ve recruited while they eat turkey with gusto. A cluster of women all laugh at what he’s saying. Finally, Glinda sits back, defeated. “Fine. Since I’m so thankful for Reece, I’ll get a tattoo on my fuckin’ fanger!”
Even though she snarls the last words at Reece, he smiles wider than on his wedding day. He lifts Glinda’s hand and kisses her ring finger. “I’m thankful for you, too.” She’s still trying to look mad and annoyed, but she purses her lips in a way that we all know she likes Reece’s gesture. He continues, “And I’m thankful for the dead. Without them, I wouldn’t have met you.”
I laugh. “Impressive.”
He flashes me a quick smile. “Thank you. And this treehouse. We wouldn’t have this kick-ass treehouse without zombies.”
“And we wouldn’t have this turkey without them,” I point out.
Reece frowns at the turkey carcass. He swallows with a sour look but eventually agrees. “Yeah. That, too.”
Glinda kicks my feet under the table. What you thankful for, Suga?”
The phone rings, cutting off my original reply. I stand and grin. “Satellite phones.”
Sitting down at the desk in the next room, I answer. “Hello?”
“Happy Thanksgiving, darlin’.”
I breathe out in a relief I always get when I talk to him. He’s alive. He’s okay. Reece and the team are still around the table. It’s silent as if they’re listening. “They feeding you well today?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been hounding Stevenson all morning for the phone.”
“I’ll save you some tur—” My words are cut off by a sickening gag. I turn just as Sam vomits all over his shoes. “—key,” I finish. “Sam just hurled.”
Another heave from the guy across from him and gobs fly from his lips. Glinda throws a hand over her mouth in a gesture where I think she’s just in shock at the nastiness but liquid spews from around her fingers. In fact, everyone looks kind of pale as a few more release the contents of their stomachs. At least one woman grabs the trash can. Reece dry heaves while helping Glinda, but he’s able to hold back. Eventually he gets up and hurries from the room. One guy pukes while hanging halfway out the door. John stands suddenly, breathing in and out of his nose rather hard. He grips his stomach and marches a few feet before looking around. Grabbing a stock pot from the stove, he gags, painful sounding, into it. I look away when the chunks hit the bottom.
Rudy’s talking but I can’t listen as I watch everyone puke in a synchronized manner. I collide gazes with the only other person not sick. She has her mouth slightly open as if to say, “What in the hell is going on?” I’d say it’s sympathy vomiting but I glance at the bones in the middle of the dining room table.
“Kan?” Rudy says into my ear.
“Never mind on the turkey.” I guess they can thank the dead for this.
I hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving!