He recounts this story regularly to me, to remind me of what he symbolises, so I can rhyme off his movements with ease. He speaks of his heart racing and the thoughts piling up in his brain, fighting for consideration. Even after all that he’d seen and heard, the three-minute rule settled in his mind. What if I’m still me after three minutes? What if I’m not? Will I even know the difference?
He escaped down the track, avoiding the rats and the electric lines, knowing this could be the last conscious moments of his life. He checked his watch and made a mental note of the time. If he could survive this situation for more than three minutes, he could think about getting home, and then…. The tube station was above ground, so he navigated south towards the Thames. They tracked him every step of the way, so upon reaching a clearing above the river he had a decision to make – continue on foot with the fitter, leaner, Preservers behind him, or make for the water. The Thames tide was mercifully high. He leapt in.
Preservers gathered on the bridge to search with torches but assumed him to be dead and departed the scene. My father hid among the foliage and waited. He removed his waterlogged mobile phone from his pocket, only to be met with his own reflection on the black screen. His face was an outline in the moonlight, but it was one he could see and could recognise. He could feel he was wet, and that he wanted to come home. He checked his watch; well more than three minutes had passed. He was human.
The phone was, however, most definitely dead. He couldn’t warn us, but he wasn’t sure that even if he could, whether he should. That’s not a conversation to have other the phone. When he was sure he was alone he crept out from the bank of the river and returned home to my mother and me, soaking wet and bleeding from the bite, but alive. It was one hour after his altercation with the Zombie. He felt that he was still…. him.
But because stories of humans living beyond the three-minute mark don’t exist, he had no precedent for what would happen next. There were no guidelines. As such, when he returned to explain what had happened he rang the doorbell and moved backwards, fifteen feet from the kitchen window, on the edge of the grass. My mother and I were still awake and concerned about his whereabouts, and as we arrived at the door he told us to go back inside and open the window instead.
I remember the light from the kitchen glowing across our garden paving, unblemished until my father’s shadow interrupted it, lending elongated darkness that stretched towards us. There was nothing to illuminate the garden behind him and so he was engulfed in blackness, my mother and I not only unable to make out his complexion but work out if it was my father at all.
The shadowy figure confirmed who he was and quickly described the details of his evening. He refused to enter the house, keeping his distance as my mother and I wept from the other side of the glass. He recommended that he should enter the garage at the back of the house and instructed my mother to lock him in, securely, and then check on him in the morning.
He stepped forward ever so slightly and the kitchen light caught his face. For a moment, my eyes thought they could see what wasn’t there, and then I glimpsed his shattered expression, with tears dripping down his cheeks. He was still him, I had no doubt. It gave me hope that he could still be him in the morning. As he struggled to maintain the pitch of his voice through the emotion, he made us promise that if the worst had happened by the time we woke, we should contact the Preservation and be done with it. We promised.
He disappeared into the garage and my mother placed the padlock through the slot. It took everything I had to dissuade her from entering. She clung to the handle, ready to turn and burst through to be with her husband, but I shook her hand free, clicked the metal padlock in position, and lugged her disconsolate body back into the house.
We returned to the couch and said nothing to each other for the entirety of the night. There was nothing to say. ‘It’s going to be alright’ went unsaid. My mother, at the time, was the archetypal consumer of media; she absorbed everything she heard and innocently took it in. She never said the words but by the look in her eyes I’m convinced she thought she would be ordering a Preservation hit on her undead husband when dawn broke, because that was all she had ever been told.
Bleary-eyed and mentally exhausted, we waited for the morning sun before making our way outside. I grabbed a knife on the way, the most threatening weapon I could find from the kitchen. I might have been confident in my father’s resolve, but not confident enough to consider the possibility of encountering a Zombie unarmed; beyond TV footage I had never seen one. I am representative of many; the best way to describe it is that Zombies are an attachment at the end of a risk assessment presentation. Mugging, kidnap, extortion, and, oh yes, Zombie attacks. It just emerged as something we had to look out for. My father got mugged and the perpetrator happened to be a Zombie.
People just didn’t arrive home with a bite in their neck. It was as unreal and unique an experience for us as it was for him. Here was I, knife in hand, contemplating the possibility that I may need to kill my own father. My mother at first refused to take any weaponry, thinking that my father, even in a zombified state, would recognise her and subsequently refrain from attacking. I reckon that if my mother had been met with the desperate lunge of either me or my father, she would have rather embraced the bite than launch an offensive.