Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
The visitors seemed far more self-possessed than most missionaries, pretty clear headed if weird sometimes.
Luke let them in because they were clearly organized and well supplied. They were not as crazy as the preachers appeared time to time saying the zombie apocalypse was God cleansing the world of the unclean; then all the zombies were supposed to fall down and stay dead while the remaining living were left to paradise or lifted to heaven or some variation of the narrative.
“Where are you guys from?” Juana asked.
“Hemet, California.” The name tugged at the corners of my mind. Had I known someone who lived there? Or just a guy named Hemet who served me coffee in college? Life had been turned so upside down that our minds scampered about, seeking the mooring of something familiar.
One of the pretty young things was talking. She wasn’t pretty in as much as she was young, unscarred, unafraid and clean. Compared to the local girls left hard, dirty, scuffed and scarred, she was beautiful. “Though many of our members are at other bases throughout the world, and many of our officers and leaders are at sea.”
“They got off land before the zombies could get them?” Juana grimaced. “Good thing you had the ships. I wish we could have escaped that way.”
“We’ve always had the ships. We’ve been a world-wide organization for years.”
“I believe you’re organized. You’ve got a bigger convoy than
“I’d like to teach you what we do to free ourselves of fear, worry, guilt and grief.”
“I’d like to audit you for the sources of negative emotion and –“
Auditing. They were Scientologists.
I couldn’t decide whether or not they were worse than the zombies, but it wasn’t my decision to let them in.
They talked. For hours, they talked. Everyone had heard of the book “Dianetics”, even if no one had read it.
I remembered other things. The Scientologists had RPF or Rehabilitation Project Force prisons for anyone who deviated from the cult. They signed people up at 12 and 13 for billion year contracts. Those barely teenagers were sent out on ships to be thoroughly indoctrinated before being sent out to convert others.
That’s probably where these unnatural teenagers and early 20-somethings came from. They’d been on the ships out at sea, getting indoctrinated. And in the interim, the zombie virus had swept through the population. It took weeks or months to infect almost everyone except the most isolated or truly immune.
If there was anything Scientologists at sea had, it was isolation from the real world. And, God help us, they were one of the largest and best organized groups left.
“Zombies feed on negative life force and engrams. They feed on your fear, your anger, your grief – everything that we have traditionally assumed made us human. We teach you how to relieve yourself of these negative emotions and finally find clarity.” The almost-pretty girl smiled in a way reminiscent of a Barbie doll, looking like the ideal but nothing real inside. “And with clarity, peace.”
To everyone else, she was an angel blazing in the light of the divine. I had flashbacks to the South Park episode on Xenu, but I couldn’t laugh. I turned my attention to the zombies outside the fences, unable to bear watching those inside.
Luke let them bring in more of their people if they brought supplies to share. His excuse was that we were giving them safe refuge from the zombies, and the food and water was fair trade for the space they took up.
He didn’t see the spreading infection. He let a trickle in, and they grew in numbers because every person we lost was one they gained. More food and water for everyone meant they were welcome to stay now. The Salvation Army and others had long traded a meal for a sermon, and now the Scientologists had the goods to give away while getting a few people hooked.
“What happens to the zombies in your religious world view?” I asked.
“They are lost, empty bodies. They may be alive or dead or something in between, but they are less than human.” The gathered crowd nodded along with the preacher. “The evils of the world concentrate upon them.”
That was a pretty standard answer.
“What happened to the zombies Thetans?” I asked one of the visitors.
“How do you know about Thetans?” a Scientologist asked me.
“I just heard the word, once,” I lied. “Someone trying to say it was your word for soul or spirit or demon.”
“We think that they are possessed by many more Thetans than the living. That’s probably the explanation for their existence.” The visitor then peered at me, as if I’d only had a fraction of his attention and now had the entirety of its unholy scrutiny. “Are you a believer?”
“I don’t know what to believe these days,” I answered.
“You should come to the classes. Practically everyone is there,” he said.
“I noticed,” I replied. And, for once, he was telling the truth. They were selling a solution to the zombie crisis. If you weren’t possessed by Thetans, you gained super-human powers as well as freedom from all the negative emotions. I never asked a Scientologist to prove they were immune to zombies, and they’d never volunteered to prove it. Their vehicles were lightly shielded, but they were armed. I didn’t say anything, even when the auditing sessions started.
There was so much I thought of saying, and I still think about it today. Auditing is like Catholic confession but with e-meters. I’d gotten up and walked out when the auditor started asking me questions that could be used against me. I fled, merging into the crowd for anonymity. Here, there was no anonymity – unless you were a zombie.
They waited a few weeks, until after you’ve gotten comfortable talking about everything no one else here would listen to. How you watched X and Y and Z die. How you really hated W for eating the last can of pineapple. How much you lusted over that girl who was bit and debated whether or not the virus could be spread sexually; after all, this was your last chance, and it wasn’t like she would be able do much of anything soon. I guessed what others admitted to doing, from creating their own stashes of goods to planned escape routes to their own ideas of what they’d do if this place fell.
We’ve heard stories from other survivors. The zombies attack or swarm until killed or lured away by a better target. They are a wave that is relentless, and you can only hope to last until they’ve rotted to dust or evaporated or turned to ash or whatever effects will get rid of them. But for most groups, the random ones that get in or outbreaks among the salvage crews that bring more than food in are an endless battle.
There’s that horrifying moment when you realize you’ve been overwhelmed and have lost the battle for your safe haven. There’s only then the question of what to do, how to get out.
I know exactly when that realization hit me, for that place. One of the reluctant converts who’d joined because they’d hit the 50% mark hit his breaking point. He got out of the chair, evaded the restraints and tried to run. He was shaking from the abuse. In the post-apocalyptic version of auditing, cattle prods were used to shock those suspected of lying. A harsh punishment, but it was considered a necessary evil to purge you of the Thetans.
Yi ran for it, trying to escape the pain. He made it to the courtyard. The young man who’d been auditing him would have been mistaken for a budding hipster before the zombie apocalypse. In another life, he’d have been 17 and rebellious. Now he was priest-confessor, clean and well groomed and the best fed in a world of people living barely better than animals, clear headed and without fear or guilt surrounded by people with PTSD and survivor’s guilt and a dozen other neurosis. It was, I think, their best selling point. No longer afraid, no longer guilty for leaving someone behind, no more worry about the future.
Yi had burn marks across his chest and arms. He ran like a maniac until in the open. He started yelling to others to take down the SOB who’d tased him to within an inch of his manhood. Or maybe it was put a shock sensor an inch down his manhood. It was hard to make out his slurred speech.
I watched as the recent converts converged on him like a hungry pack of zombies, all to drag Yi back to the auditing session. He would change or die trying. A few of the onlookers were approving. Most cowered in fear. No one stood up to them.
We’d been over-run. You could hide and hope for help that wouldn’t come. Or you could fight. Or you could run. But there was no denying that the infection was consuming the camp now.
I debated my course of action for days. I couldn’t admit to myself that every meal was a bribe, buying my compliance. I figured a few more days of food and sleep would make me stronger for the escape. Or, perhaps, give the zombies more time to rot and fade away, ignoring the contagion inside the fence.
As I fought the desire to stay despite the danger, I realized that we’d put too few people in between the fence layers to kill zombies trying to get in. We’d been so busy enjoying the guests’ food that we needed to send out salvage teams. In that regard, Luke had been right – we hadn’t had to risk our people to go out and get food. But we’d neglected our border security. I could see Ramirez between the fences, poking them in the eyes with a machete or tire iron. He was killing those who came up to the fence, an ongoing to keep them from climbing in. But no one had been outside in ages to torch the bodies.
And I couldn’t run for it if the swarm outside the fence kept me trapped inside. So I went to join Ramirez.
We worked together as an effective team for several days. We were focused on our shared purpose, keeping the community safe and maximizing our odds for survival. The zombies wandered up at their constant rate, but no hordes wandered up to the fence, threatening to overwhelm it. That was lucky, because no one came to help us.
We talked about who would go out and burn the bodies. No one wanted that job, since you could burn to death or get trapped in a melted suit surrounded by zombies or get bit trying to move the bodies and find one who’d come late to the party.
We tried five different tie breakers. In the end, we went out together. It would go faster that way, we decided. And it would be safer. I closed the gate as we went outside, worried that no one else was seriously on watch. Or, rather, they watched us but weren’t ready to spring into action if we needed help.
The burning was actually easier than I’d hoped it would go. The flame throwers worked well. The zombies deteriorated as they should. I wondered if the Scientologists had ever seen this type of maintenance/security activity before, since some of them said it was their first trip outside since joining.
One of the Scientologists walked through a gate and up to the outer fence. The zombies still seeking to come inside paid him no heed. They still gathered like moths to a flame around Ramirez, despite his suit and flamethrower. They still milled around near the main gate where two guards with bad aim didn’t get enough practice at their head shots at the zombies twenty feet below.
I stopped the zombie slaughter for a minute. The zombies literally didn’t care about this dude one whit. I wondered if he could walk among them and not get bit. Hell of a super-power. More proof than I thought I’d see, short of the guy walking among them untouched. Do that once, and all doubters would convert …
The screaming brought my attention back to Ramirez. Over-powered by a swarm, he went down. I started stabbing and burning and everything I could, not sure where the mass of writhing dead ended and his flesh began. All I wanted was for them to die. Well, die and stay dead.
I finally reached Ramirez’ suit. Was he alive? His breath was steaming up the hood. “Are you OK?” I got a stream of Spanish profanity. I didn’t know what it meant, but it didn’t matter, because zombies couldn’t talk. I didn’t ask if he was bit. He might not tell me the truth or might not even know the answer.
And I didn’t dare remove anything and check for bites, not out here. We had to go back, if only to quarantine.
Ramirez’ transformation was incredibly fast. Tell a man his life is in mortal danger, and he’ll convert to a new faith in the hope of saving it 95% of the time. Tell him his immortal soul along with his mortal life are in danger, because we don’t think zombies go to heaven, and he’ll convert 99.99% of the time.
He was Clear faster than I could have believed, though Tom Cruise might have converted that fast.
And I honestly couldn’t tell if he died or not. The results weren’t all that different, in the end.
Then they asked me to take off the suit.
The bad thing about quarantine is the door to the outside world that lets you in, but you can’t get into the main compound without their permission. The only good thing about quarantine, though I’d never thought of it this way, was the door to the outside world that no one could stop because it had once been a fire exit. They had to rig it to let people in, but it kept zombies out forever due to pressure hinges or some other engineering. But fire exits always let you out unless there is a horde of zombies at the door. And we’d been seeing fewer of them … the Scientologists said clear minds drove them away. Proof of their super-powers, they said.
It was another long, hard internal debate. It is hard for a man to walk out into the unknown, into the zombie horde, knowing he might die. But when your camp has been over-run by zombies, when you’re out-numbered and can’t fight anymore, sometimes you have to run.
I’d escaped the Scientologists once at college age. I decided I had to try again for a second time. The people around me were turning into a new kind of zombie, almost as intelligent as they were before but as determined as the zombie, but with hearts beating, lungs breathing, hard to put a head shot into. I couldn’t safe them, when they thought they were saving themselves. All I could do was save myself.
I took the door.
A mile from camp, I found a cache of supplies I’d hidden there a long time ago, just in case they’d been overrun, though I never expected it to be like this. The Scientologists started flowing out of the camp, gates wide open, going to all the hidey-holes and reserve caches the living had told them about. My only saving grace was that I’d never told my secrets to anyone, not even believing the story that the dead told no tales.
I went out into the woods, not really caring that the string of dead zombies was a trail for the Scientologists to follow. While I was a free man, they’d heard of other camps to go convert. Like all zombies, they’d seek out the biggest, juiciest source of food first. I was free, for now.
I found a working bicycle in an abandoned home. It was always funny how people expected to walk or drive but never bike. Bikes are quiet, fast, easy to maintain and cover good distances even in a protective suit. And unlike a car, it doesn’t need gas or make a distinctive engine sound to lure the living or the dead.
I covered a few more miles each day, sleeping in those one person outdoor bathrooms along the trail. The benefit of the trail was that their vehicles wouldn’t fit, and it would be another 30 miles before it linked up with a bunch of abandoned houses. And the bathrooms usually had water in the hot water heaters or gutters. There was even food, sometimes, in the vending machines. People would fight to the death to search an empty grocery store and shoot at someone else approaching a group of houses, but I found peanuts and breath mints and jerky by the dozen in vending machines here on the trail.
I was looking forward to getting to the houses. There, I might be able to scavenge for serious food and supplies. We hadn’t gone that way to scavenge because it had been too far. Now, I couldn’t get far enough away from the camp.
Near the housing development, I could hear the vehicles. I stayed in an enclosed picnic pavilion where I could see everything but hopefully couldn’t be seen.
Their activity attracted zombies until the zombies wandered away, uninterested in the empty creatures that drove and walked and talked and ate. A hundred different competing thoughts crowded my mind. As if the Thetans of my now empty friends haunted me. Was this what happened to zombies’ Thetans? Did they haunt the living, driving them mad?
I resumed the trail, seeking to take it to its end, bypassing civilization. I needed to be as far away as possible from them, the living dead.
You eventually found me. I was overjoyed to discover another real, live human being, though you were far more wary. And with good reason, having survived so long alone in the wilderness.
But this, I swear, is the truth and the whole truth. This is why you must avoid the living dead as well as the zombies. It is why you can’t heed the religious broadcasts promising sanctuary and a solution to the zombie virus. They don’t have a cure. You might as well roll up your sleeve to a zombie and letting him take a bite. I know you think I’m crazy. They’d agree, too, but they’ll tell you it is because I’m a suppressive person and over-loaded with Thetans.
Do not, do not, do NOT approach them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t let them lure you into your cult. You’ll become immune to the zombies because they’ll turn you into one, just a different type. And I’ll kill you, I swear, because I won’t let anyone I care about become a zombie, any kind of zombie, because I hate zombies of all types.
More Stories by This Author
- Amazon.com: Humanity's Edge eBook by Tamara Wilhite
Humanity's Edge - Amazon Kindle edition by Tamara Wilhite.
Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on October 20, 2017:
William Thomas I actually had a friend who read the story in advance of publication warn me against posting it out of fear of Scientology creating problems, because he was familiar with their abusive tactics.
Leah Remini coming forward with the horrors of Scientology makes her one of the bravest people today.
William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on July 21, 2015:
This is a very inventive story. On one level its a "cure worse than the disease" number. On the other hand I found it chilling. I'm actually using the word 'chilling.'
You are obviously familiar with the controversy surrounding Scientology. The thing that made this story so chilling, for me, was the fact that I don't think you were simply engaging in "Scary Movie"-type satire.
Obviously going 'Clear' in Scientology will not make you immune from a zombie bite. But on the other hand...
You know, this story also showed me shades of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," either film version.
Good Job! Voted 'up' and 'interesting.'