Spring. Daffodils and Dogwoods blooming. Salmon running. Salads topped with fresh dandelion buds and stews finished with handfuls of fresh beet greens and nettle. It’s a luxurious time of year, except for the Zombies.
A couple years ago, I got the bright idea we’d go nettling. Nettles are hands-down the best fresh green you can find. They grow just about everywhere, but in some places you can find enough to feed a whole village they grow so thick. Paul had happened across one such field of nettle the previous summer. It was too late to gather much, but we marked the spot so’s we’d be able to find it again the next spring. Nettle dries beautifully with all its nutrition in-tact. The calcium and complementary vitamins that let the body absorb calcium alone are worth any minor stings nettle may dole out as you collect its tender tops. It doesn’t stop there, though. Its got a host of other vitamins and nutrients that are vital to a healthy human diet. It’s even terrific for Harvey. He never complains one whit about finding a handful of nettle in his share of the day’s eats. You can imagine how excited I was when spring finally rolled around and we made our way back toward that nettle patch.
The day was the first warm, dry one we’d seen in a long while. Harvey, Paul, and I gave ourselves a fresh coat of Zombie Repellant Spray then set out with gloves and bags. The hike to the patch was relatively uneventful. Two lone zombies stumbled onto our path maybe half a mile from the patch. Paul sliced them down with his scythe lickety-split, and we moved on. No worries.
The patch was just as I’d imagined. Lush, green, a good 600 square feet of young, tender nettle just waiting to be picked lay at our feet. We took turns keeping watch. Harvey roamed about, as he usually does when we’re harvesting. We’d gotten maybe a quarter of the way through the front end when Harvey yelped. We heard gunfire as Harvey crashed through some undergrowth right into the far side of the patch. Paul’s scythe was at the ready as I dropped my bag of nettle tops and drew my lawnmower machete.
Three men crashed through the undergrowth a good 20 yards behind Harvey. One, the oldest, was waving a pistol while the two others had what looked like slightly modified kitchen cleavers on sticks.
“Get outta here,” the gun-toter yelled. “This is our land. You’re trespassing.”
“Ain’t no land titles no more,” Paul shouted. “We’ve as much right as any to this patch.”
“He’ll shoot you if y’all don’t get,” the sandy-haired, cleaver-waver shouted, though why he shouted I don’t know. We were all standing feet from each other near the center of the nettle patch with Harvey between us growling that deep, throaty sound that says he means business.
“Why waste your ammo on us when there’s more than enough here for everyone?” I asked.
“We got families back at the base to feed. Too many to get by on the measly rations the government’s been giving out. We need this whole patch just to survive,” the dark-haired cleaver-waver said. “You’re going to have to find your own patch.”
“Family or no family, you ain’t got the right to claim this patch unless you’re living on it. I don’t see the rest of your clan,” Paul said.
“We ain’t stupid enough to drag the lot of them out here just to pick what’s been rightfully ours for the past two years,” the gun-toter said. “We’re the ones who found it so we own it. It’s that simple.”
“Yeah, well, we found it, too. By your logic, it’s as much ours as it’s yours. Besides, this patch is big enough to feed a horde. How many you got?” Paul asked.
“Seven since Gran passed,” The dark-haired cleaver-waver said. “That’s not counting us.”
“Ten, then,” I said. “You say you’ve got a base, too? Is it a house or something like —“
Harvey’s shrill alarm bark broke through the conversation like a fire alarm. It could only mean one thing…
“Zombies!” Paul shouted.
“Shit, Zs,” The dark-haired cleaver-waver shouted.
They were breaking through the undergrowth on both sides. Ten, twenty, I didn’t get a good count. Paul and I swung into action on our half of the patch. Heads flew. Harvey yelped once. It sent a shiver down my spine, but I didn’t have time to check on him. A zombie with stringy blonde hair and only half a face lunged at my right arm so I nearly dropped my machete. I pulled away just before her teeth found my flesh and lopped her head off with a magnificent upswing.
Then, Harvey was at my side. He had a limp in his hind leg, but he wasn’t about to throw in the towel. He knocked the legs out from under an old corpse of a Z then ripped his throat out while I slashed at what must have been a teen before the virus had taken him.
As we fought, we all managed to hold a rough circle. The other three men ripped and tore at the Zs on their end of the path and we on ours. Bodies piled up around us. By the time we’d cleared the field, we’d slain a good thirty Zs. Harvey had pulled or strained his right hind leg, but he’d come through it with no scratches otherwise.
The dark-haired cleaver-waver and the gun-toter were in good shape. Sandy-haired cleaver-waver had a deep gash in his left thigh. His left hand was blistered and cut across the palm, too. His cleaver’s stick had broken amidst the battle. He said the cut in his thigh was from a blade, and it looked like a pretty clean cut, so maybe it was. Still, I wanted to get a good look at him just to be sure. Better to kill him than let him go zombie soon as they got back home. I pulled the first aid kit from my ruck sack and set to work.
“Well,” the dark-haired cleaver-waver said as I cleaned and dressed sandy-haired cleaver-waver’s wound. “Looks like you know a bit about medicine.”
“Yep, she does,” Paul said. as he got to work clearing corpses from the precious field. “Helps anyone in need, too. That’s why we’re here, to gather what we can to help other survivors.”
“I’m Brady. This here’s Chris,” the dark-haired cleaver-waver said as he pointed to my patient. “That’s Chuck with the gun over there dragging corpses. I reckon we owe you at least a harvest off this patch. I don’t know that we’d have survived that onslaught without you and that dog of yours.”
I laughed. “If not for you, I don’t know how well we’d have fared, either. Still, it seems there’s enough here even after the z’s crashed over everything for us to share. You say you’ve got a base somewhere…is it permanent, like somewhere you might be able to grow a garden?”
I finished patching up Chris. He limped over to join Chuck and Paul in clearing the field while Brady and I talked and scanned the perimeter.
“Not that gardening crap again,” Chuck said. “This is as close to that Earth-loving shit as I get. I’m not weeding or watering or planting anything unless it grows me more ammo.”
“Can it,” Brady said. “Yeah, we’ve got a compound, an old cabin some rich fella built a few miles from the city. We live on the second floor. It’s pretty well defended, but the zombies make any kind of gardening dangerous.”
Harvey ducked under Brady’s hand and he began rubbing the dog’s head absent-mindedly. The man’s whole body seemed to relax a might. Harvey has the affect on people, especially battle-worn folk.
I stashed my first aid supplies then dug the last bag of dried elderberries from the spring migration out of the bottom of my ruck sack and handed them to Brady. “Watch him carefully,” I said, nodding toward Chris. “Get him to eat a tablespoon or so of these each day. Make them into tea, if you can, or just have him eat them. I’d like to stop by to check on him in a few days. Would you be okay with that?”
“I suppose,” Brady said. “It’s a day’s walk from here along old route 58. You think you might bring some of your medical supplies? We’ve got a couple who’re a little worse for wear back home.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll see what I can do when we get there.”
Paul, Harvey, and I made it back to spring camp with four huge sacks of nettle tops. We had ourselves a mighty fine nettle pesto-rubbed salmon fry-up that night. Despite the zombies, spring is still the most luxurious season in my book.
May you be well,
Zombie Hunter C.
Publisher’s Disclaimer: This column is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.