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Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist, Matthew T. Barnett! Matthew finished 6th grade this past school year. The story he wrote is called “Undead Earth and the Survival Duo.” Matthew told us his favorite part are “the secrets that are carefully placed throughout the story, which keep you guessing.” Enjoy! 

UNDEAD EARTH AND THE SURVIVAL DUO
by Matthew T. Barnett

Chapter 1: The Hooded Girl With Red Hair

In Spring Road USA, 14-year-old Jackson Mayfield is running for his life as he is being chased downtown by hundreds of zombies! Jackson spots an old treehouse and runs to it, thinking it’ll be safe. He climbs the rickety ladder to the top of the treehouse. Inside there was a dusty red carpet, a 70s TV, and a radio box on a wooden desk.

Jackson stared at the radio, feeling like it had importance. But then he remembered, “Oh right! I’m being chased!” 

The zombies started to slowly climb up the ladder. 

“Oh, shoot!” Jackson yelled. 

He swiftly jumps out the treehouse window and onto the ground. The zombies thought Jackson was in the treehouse, so he was able to escape the hoard. He ran to an old supermarket that he knew would be safe to hide in.  He got in and closed the doors behind him.  Jackson stopped to catch his breath.  He leaned his body on the glass doors. 

“Could this apocalypse get any worse?” Jackson mumbled to himself. 

He turned around to look at the dark abyss of the market. The only light in there was the one coming from a gaping hole in the wall. Just then, he heard a shelf crash down on the tile and footsteps in the darker part of the market. Jackson jumped. He nervously grabbed the bat out of his backpack and slowly approached the fallen shelf. Nothing’s there but a few rotting foods, and tiny pieces of tile scattered around the crash site. 

“False alarm,” he thought. 

His muscles relaxed, and he stopped shaking. But Jackson let his guard down too soon. A shadowy figure in a black sweatshirt leaped from behind and tackled Jackson to the ground. It’s a hooded girl, around Jackson’s age, with red curly hair, and she was about to punch the lights out of Jackson.  Jackson closed his eyes, and clenched his teeth, waiting for his unfortunate fate to happen. But Jackson was still alive. He opened his eyes to see the figure with her fist in the air. She wasn’t doing anything. All Jackson could fully see were her pupils, shining a gold dim light.  

The figure lowered her fist and slowly took her hood off, “Jackson?” she said in shock. It was Jackson’s best friend Skarla. The gold started fading from her eyes.

“Skarla?” Jackson said with his mouth wide open. They were both silent for a moment.

Then Skarla finally said, “I…I thought you were infected!” 

“I thought you were too!” Jackson said, in a happy but choked-up voice. 

“Where have you been?” Skarla asked. 

“Oh, just been running around the city for the past 7 months, stopping at any place that would potentially have food,” Jackson said in a kind of annoyed voice. “Where have you been?” Jackson asked back. 

“Come with me; I’ll show you.” Skarla led Jackson to the very back of the store and took him into an Employees Only area. Inside the room, there were maps of the whole city, shelves of food, and a mini-fridge! 

“H-how did you get all this stuff?” Jackson asked. 

“This is what I was able to salvage out of the remains of the AllMart,” Skarla explained. “This is what is necessary for my survival.” 

“And that piano?” Jackson asked. 

“Oh, um, yeah, that one’s just for me,” Skarla said as her neck and cheeks started turning redder than her hair. 

“Okay, well…what do we do? I mean, like, do you have a cure of some sort for these zombies?” Jackson asked. 

“Sadly, no I don’t have a cure for these creatures.” Skarla takes a blue and purple slime-filled vial off a shelf and puts it down in the center of the table. 

“What the heck is that? It smells horrendous!” Jackson said while plugging his nose.

“This is the blood of the townsfolk in their current red and green form,” Skarla explained. “When the air in that power plant mutated and spread through the building, it went into the employees´ lungs and heart, and started to mutate their molecular cells and changed their appearance and their behavior. Now, instead of being friendly people, they feel the need to be violent and murderous.” 

“Well, if we can’t find a cure, then what do we do?” Jackson asked. 

“Well, I do have a repellent against the zombies,” Skarla said, pulling something out of her duffel bag. “All natural honey-scented shampoo!” Skarla exclaimed. 

“Dude, seriously? Is this a joke?” Jackson said quizzically. 

“No, seriously! This does work! I would’ve been infected if I didn’t have this sweet-smelling repellent,” Skarla said. She took another bottle of shampoo, and a vial out of her bag and tossed it over to Jackson. “Now, put some of this stuff in this vial, and make sure not to lose it,” Skarla explained. 

Jackson did what his friend had told him. “So now…we can go outside!” Jackson asked with excitement. 

“Yup, we sure can. Are you ready to have some fun!”

 

Chapter 2: Jackson Has Anything But Fun

Skarla and Jackson quietly came out of the supermarket through a semi-open window. They saw tons of zombies outside, but the zombies kept their distance from them. 

“Skarla, you were right! This stuff really does work!” Jackson said loudly. 

“SHHHH. Jackson, don’t make loud noises! The zombies stay away from the honey scent, but loud noises will make them upset and come no matter how good you smell!” Skarla told Jackson in a quiet but stern voice. 

“Oh, sorry Skarla,” Jackson said in a quiet voice. “So, what do you wanna do?” Jackson asked. 

“Jackson, it’s just us in the city. There are no rules, we can do whatever we want!” Skarla said scoping out the buildings in front of them. “Let’s go!” Skarla said, dragging Jackson over to the park. 

They played with the old equipment, rolled down the hill, and even used some water guns they found lying around. 

“This is awesome! I love this repellent! We can go outside and do whatever we want without having to worry about the infected!” Jackson said looking over at some teenage zombies.

“Yeah, this is nice, but I think we should do something a little more…wild!” Skarla said standing up. 

Skarla led Jackson to the Science And Technology Testing Facility. They went in and they were greeted by tons of fun and dangerous experimental gadgets. They both looked at each other and smiled. They quickly spotted jetpacks, laser cannons, talking coffee makers, and more! They played with all the gadgets! Skarla took an electrically charged ruby sword that was roughly 50 pounds and two feet wide. 

“Now this is my kind of weapon!” Skarla said with delight. 

Jackson immediately went for the jetpack. “Oh yes,” Jackson said in a pleased voice.

Jackson tried out the jetpack. It was going well for a while. He was slightly hovering over the ground, and Skarla watched in awe. Then, Jackson pressed on the gas a little too hard and he shot up. His head got stuck in one of the fluorescent lights. Skarla pulled Jackson out of the light with her bare hands. 

“Phew, thanks Skarla,” Jackson said, rubbing the back of his head. 

“Don’t mention it.” 

They went back to goofing off. Jackson made sure not to press too hard on the jetpack’s gas, and Skarla started practicing ninja moves with her long ruby sword. But their fun was about to come to an end. A zombie entered the building, but the two teens didn’t mind since they had their repellents. Or so they thought . . . The zombie made a loud complex groan, and before they knew it, the whole building was flooded with zombies!

“What the… Skarla! Why is the shampoo repellent not working?!” Jackson yelled.

Skarla checked her pocket. There was no vial of honey shampoo. Just a hole. “Shoot! My vial is gone! Is yours gone?” Skarla asked in a panic. 

Jackson checked his pocket, and he didn’t have his vial either. “Mine must be stuck above the light! I’ll go get it,” Jackson said tip-toeing up towards the light. 

“No! There’s no time! The zombies are closing in!” Skarla screamed. 

Jackson had never seen Skarla so panicked before. But Jackson knew he needed to get the two of them out of there. He still had his jetpack strapped to his back. Without thinking, Jackson grabbed Skarla’s arm and flew out of the building. He hit his head into tons of concrete layers, but he knew it was better than dying to the hideous creatures below. When he busted through the last layer of the building, he was greeted with a blinding flash of sunlight, then, the clear blue sky. He looked down at Skarla, who was holding on tightly to him. He also saw the giant hole he made in the building, and then, he watched the building collapse. Jackson didn’t realize his jetpack had just run out of fuel. They were now plummeting to the ground at over 45 miles an hour. Skarla screamed, and so did Jackson. When Skarla came back to her senses, she realized that they were close to a deep lake. They both started air swimming over to get above the lake. They had barely made it close enough when they made contact with the ground. They were both bobbing in the water, shocked at what they had just experienced. 

“Y’know, when you said, ‘You ready to have some fun?’ I didn’t think this would happen.” Jackson said in a soft voice. 

“Yeah, me neither Jackson, me neither.”

 

Chapter 3: Our 240 Pound, Honey Loving, Undead, Gym Teacher

The two teens just floated there in the water for a while as they were still trying to process what they had just gone through. They sat there so still, that at one point, some pigeons landed on their legs. When they finally came back to their senses, they swam to shore. They were soaked, so they went back to the AllMart bunker to dry off. 

“That was a crazy experience,” Jackson mumbled. 

Skarla shook her head in agreement. 

They flew 90 feet above sea level, then plummeted down into a lake! They had definitely been through something crazy. 

“Next time we go outside, make sure to keep your vial with you! Don’t lose it!” Skarla said sternly. 

‟Hey! You lost yours too, so don’t yell at me!” Jackson fired back. 

‟You’re right, you’re right. I’ll go fix my pocket hole,” Skarla conceded. 

She went into another room with a needle and thread. Jackson looked out the window and at the dumpster fire that had become Spring Road. He looked over at the park he and Skarla had played in, and remnants of the white building that they had demolished. Then he looked way out beyond that and saw Spring Road Middle, the school that he attended (before Mrs. Petricia ate the Canadian kid’s desk). Jackson always wanted to go rogue in school, but he never could. But now that everything was zombified, he could go as crazy as he wanted in the school! Skarla had just gotten back from the other room. She put up her needle and thread on top of the mini-fridge.

‟Skarla! I know what we should do next! It’s something you’ve been wanting to do forever!” Jackson said hooking his arms around his friend’s neck. 

“Are you sure Jackson, I mean, we did just plummet from like a gazillion feet in the air! Plus, it’s getting late, and I think we should get some sleep.” 

Jackson agreed. It was getting late. They went into the other room. There were a few sleeping bags stuffed in a corner. They each got one and plopped it down on the ground. They both fell asleep immediately. 

The next morning, Jackson told Skarla to follow her to a place. They packed up some shampoo in their pockets and went towards the school. 

Skarla gasped. ‟Jackson, that, is, AMAZING! I never even thought of doing something like this!” Skarla said in excitement. 

They ran inside. No zombies, no nothing. It was just the two of them, and they were going to go rogue in the school. They raided vending machines, played basketball, and mocked their former teachers. 

Jackson picked up a pencil and put it up to his top lip. He cleared his throat and said, “I am Mr. Salsa, WORK WORK WORK! Hey, Jackson! Skarla! Stop having fun!” Jackson said in a deep voice. 

They both broke into hysterical laughter. 

“That was a good impersonation of him!” Skarla said, still laughing.

They were having the time of their lives in the school, but they decided to take a break in the teachers’ lounge. 

“Woohoo! This has been amazing!” Jackson said munching on a chocolate bar. 

“Yup, and not one single zombie has caused us any trouble,” Skarla said with a mouth full of potato chips. 

Just then, they heard loud stomping and groaning in the halls. They hid behind the sofa.

“I jinxed it, didn’t I?” Skarla said quietly. 

“You think!” Jackson yelled softly. 

They peeked their heads above the couch to get a look at the zombie. It was their gym teacher, Mr. Cardinal. Skarla’s facial expression changed drastically. She hid her head again and started panicking. 

“Skarla, what’s wrong? It’s just another zombie,” Jackson explained. 

“No, it isn’t Jackson, it isn’t. This man is 240 pounds and loves honey!” 

Just then, the zombie swiftly lifted the sofa and revealed the two teens hiding behind it.

“RUN!” Jackson yelled. 

They ran in between the zombie’s legs and they darted for the entrance. The zombie, still holding the sofa, threw it at the entrance, and blocked it. They looked back at the zombie, that was now charging at them like a bull. Skarla took the ruby sword she picked up from the testing facility and slashed their gym teacher in the stomach. It cut a hole in the undead colon and it electrocuted the rest of his body. The beast was down, and Skarla and Jackson made a run for it. They ran across the hall and into a classroom in hopes of escaping through a window. But room #489 didn’t have a window! They frantically checked the next room, and the next, and the next, and the next, but no escape. The gym teacher had gotten on his feet again (surprisingly) and was sniffing out the teens. Skarla was panicking again. She spotted a fire alarm on the wall, and punched it. Glass went everywhere and the red box had a big dent in it now. The alarms screeched and the sprinklers flooded the floor with water. The gym teacher ran at Jackson and Skarla really fast but slipped on the wet floor. He came down with a loud crash. Jackson and Skarla climbed over their gym teacher and ran around the hall to the fire exit. But the door was rusted shut. 

“It’s jammed!” Jackson yelled, pulling the door with all his might. 

‟Move out of the way Jack, I’ll handle this,” Skarla said in a serious voice. She put her sword on the ground and stepped back. 

“Umm, not to rush you, but Mr. Cardinal is getting closer!” Jackson reminded Skarla. 

‟I know,” she said. 

Skarla didn’t move. She just stood there in the middle of the hallway with her eyes closed. Mr. Cardinal turned the corner and charged at them. 

“Skarla, move out of the way!” Jackson said in a panic. 

But Skarla didn’t move. Her eyes were glowing gold again, now even more than when they first met in the store. When the gym teacher got close, Skarla did a backflip and hit Mr. Cardinal in the face; and just like that, the beast was gone in a bright flash of white light.  Skarla dropped to the ground, breathing heavily. 

‟What the– how the– WHAT?!” Jackson yelled. 

Skarla collapsed on the damp floor.

 

Chapter 4: The Military Message

Jackson rushed to the ground to check on his friend. She was unconscious. Jackson, without a thought, picked Skarla and her sword up off the ground, and carried her to the entrance. With all his might, he moved the sofa away from the entrance. He slowly carried Skarla back to the AllMart bunker. She was a lot heavier than he thought she would be, but he powered through it for his friend. When Jackson made it back to the store, he put his best friend on the table, and her sword next to her. He stared at her unconscious face. He had to do something about it. He searched the bunker for things that might help wake her up. He picked up some strong-scented cans of tuna off the shelves and tried to wake her up with the nasty smell. Nothing. Jackson turned back and looked for something else. He picked up some weird mystical-looking items. He turned around, and his friend was there, conscious, and standing.

‟Skarla!” Jackson yelled with joy. 

He dropped the mystical-looking items and ran to his friend and hugged her tightly. She hugged him back. 

When the hug was over, Skarla started asking questions. ‟So, 

Jackson, what happened?” Skarla asked. 

‟Well, you did a sick backflip into Mr. Cardinal’s face, and he just…disappeared. Then you passed out and I dragged you here,” Jackson explained. ‟How did you do that thing back there?” Jackson asked his friend. 

‟Do what?” Skarla asked. 

‟The weird power thingy, with the gym teacher. There was a whole light show that came with it,” Jackson said, trying to refresh his friend’s memory. 

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Skarla said chuckling, but concerned. 

“Never mind then,” Jackson said in an annoyed voice. 

Jackson took a can of oranges off the shelf and pried the lid off. He started eating the contents of the can. Skarla went into the other part of the AllMart to find more items she might have missed. It was very dark, so Skarla brought out her flashlight. She found four zombies in a corner, and two cans of beans. That was it. She came back into the little bunker and saw three empty cans of oranges on the ground. Jackson was eating his fourth can! 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down!” Skarla said, pulling the can out of Jackson’s hands.

“Sorry! I’m just hungry,” Jackson said. 

“Well don’t eat too fast because we have very limited supplies,” Skarla explained. 

“Oh right, sorry. I forgot,” Jackson said while getting off the ground. “So, what’d you wanna do next?” Jackson asked Skarla. 

“Considering what we’ve been through recently, I think it’s best to just stay here for a while,”  Skarla explained. 

“Fine, I’ll just… go on the roof and see if I can fix the lights,” Jackson said, exiting the room. 

He went outside and climbed the ladder to the roof. All the wires were busted and twisted up, but Jackson took robotics, so he knew what to do. 

Meanwhile, Skarla was in the bunker, writing in her diary. 

Dear diary, I have been trying really hard to keep my best friend away from the truth. I fear that if he knows about everything, that he won’t even be able to think anymore! I only used my powers at our school because it was the only way to keep my friend alive. It weakened me though. Some of my moves don’t have any effect anymore. Thankfully, they are not of my best abilities. I wish I could just immortalize myself, but I can’t. I was not born with such amazingness. But, if I can’t be immortal, I’m at least glad that I can be with a friend in this apocalypse. 

Skarla closed her book and hid it in a hole in the wall that was covered by a map. At that same moment, the lights to the AllMart flashed on. Skarla could hear Jackson on the roof screaming for joy. Jackson went back to the bunker. 

“Skarla! I got the lights working!” Jackson said ecstatically. 

“I know! Let’s go check it out!” Skarla said. 

They both rushed over to the rest of the store. For the first time since the apocalypse, they saw their safe place flooded with light. Skarla hugged Jackson. 

“Thanks for doing this Jackson!” Skarla said with joy. 

“Don’t mention it,” Jackson said back. 

They were now able to see so many more things in the store. They found more food than they ever thought they would find. It was amazing. They had dined on the finest cans of beans, and instant noodles. They were having more fun in their bunker than they had ever had before. Just then, they heard static. Very faint static. They followed the sound outside to the old treehouse a few blocks away. Jackson was having flashbacks to the time he had been chased up that tree. Inside the treehouse, was a beaten-up radio in the corner. 

“(Shhhhhhhh) He-(Shhhhhhh)-lo? (Shhhhhhh) Is anyone there? (Shhhhhhh),” the radio said. 

Skarla turned on the talk button. “Hello? Hello? Can you hear us?” Skarla said fast. 

“We-(Shhhhhhhh) can hear yo- (Shhhhhhhh) This is (Shhhhhhh) We have found a cur- (Shhhhhhh) to the (Shhhhhhhh),” The radio said. 

Jackson and Skarla jumped for joy. There was a cure!!!

“We have (Shhhhhhhh)-cure in (Shhhhhh) Nunavut (Shhhhhhh) Canada (Shhhhhhh),” the radio said. 

The two teens looked at each other. “Canada?” they both said at the same time. 

“Skarla, if that’s what it takes to get the cure, then we must go,” Jackson said. 

“But Jackson, that is over 500 miles away!” Skarla explained. 

“Skarla!” Jackson took a deep breath, “We must. For your family, MY family, and everyone else that has been infected.”

 

To be continued… 

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