Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all associated characters were created by Joss Whedon and are owned by Mutant Enemy. The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z were written by Max Brooks, a man who may just know something we don't. The story is intentionally written in the format of the later book.

Hero
Part 1: Judgement Day

Cleveland, Ohio

(Of all the people I was asked to interview while compiling my report, none were harder to get to see than Alexander Harris. Like most people, I heard about the Cleveland Safe-Zone on Radio Free Earth, and I was more than a little surprised at how the students and staff of a private girls school were able to hold off a still unknown number of zombies and several attacks by marauders with at best minimal outside help. But seeing the school for the first time, with its high, well maintained stone walls and vast grounds, it's easy to see how they managed to not only survive, but to some extent thrive. I have to wait for almost an hour after I arrive to speak to Mr Harris himself, and I'm shocked to see that he looks at least twenty years older than his file says he is. We meet in his office, a small but well lit room at the back of the main building, high up in the attic.)

So, Mr Harris...

Please, call me Xander; the only person to ever call me Mr Harris was my high School Principle.

I'm sorry, Xander; how did you end up here during The Panic?

I wasn't intentional; I was visiting some friends who worked here, and got stranded when all the international flights were indefinitely suspended. You see, I was living over in Scotland at the time, working for the Travis Foundation. I was a carpenter before I lost my eye in a car accident.

(He gestures to the patch covering his left eye.)

With my depth perception shot to hell, I couldn't be trusted to hit a nail on the head, so I was kind of at a loose end until some friends who were working for the Foundation got me a job. I was supposed to be overseeing the renovation of a castle that the Foundation owned that they wanted to use as their new headquarters after their London office was destroyed in a gas mains explosion a year or so before. But I needed a holiday, so Robin and Faith suggested I came over here.

That would be Robin Woods and Faith Lehane? The schools then Principle and Self Defence instructor?

Yeah, they'd been together for about a year, but I feel that the cracks were starting to show: Robin was just too straight-laced for Faith, and she found him a little too controlling. It's not my place to speak ill of the dead, he was a nice guy and all, but we were only really friends because of Faith. Anyway, they invited me over, and that's how I came to be here when the whole world seemed to fall apart around us. A lot of the girls back here were from other countries, and they were the first to take off. Every day there'd be fewer and fewer faces at breakfast. I'm not sure we could have held it together much longer if the families of those students who came from America and Canada started to show up, along with some other's who just happened to be in North America at the time. The school's an old hospital, built back in the day when lots of fresh air was thought to be a cure-all. That at least meant that overcrowding wasn't a problem, and we had plenty of outbuilding that we ended up converting. And being so far out of the city meant that this place had always been semi self-sustaining, with its own wells, septic system and a couple of well stocked and maintained backup generators. The records we found showed that back before the days of snowploughs, this place could be completely cut-off if it was a harsh winter. Guess in that respect we were lucky.

When did the first zombies show up?

That's hard to tell; like I said, we had some people arriving looking for daughters or sisters, and some of them had been bitten. This was back before anyone understood just what we were dealing with, so we just put them in the infirmary. That ended after the first one to die reanimated and attacked one of our candy-stripe's. But that happened about the same time they started to appear in Cleveland. Robin ordered a guard put on the gate, armed with bows from the archery club.

(He laughs)

Yeah, that probably sounds crazy to you, but the archery team here was already state-champions by that point, so they knew how to hit a small target at range. At first they aimed to miss, trying to scare the zombies off, but that didn't work. One got hit by accident, the arrow going through its chest, right through the heart and out the back. That, well that was kind of a wake up call: we bared the gates, parking one of the buses up against it for added protection. I mean, those things were strong, but they were just bars, not the steel plates we have now. Faith organised a search team to check all the other gates, made sure that no other zombies had already gotten inside. Then we had to deal with the ones in the infirmary.

(The smile fades from his face)

That was hard; couple of people had been bitten, and by then we'd worked out what that meant, and had a good idea what we were dealing with. We gave them a choice: we'd mix up something that would let them die with a little peace and dignity, or we'd sedate them until it ran its course. Either way, they had to be tied to their beds so we could deal with them when they reanimated. Most took the quick way out, but a couple refused on religious grounds. We moved them to anther building and posted a guard. One by one they turned, and were dealt with.

(He walks over to the small window and looks out over the immaculately maintained cemetery, marked by row after row of headstones)

We had a few suicides that night; people who'd lost loved ones or saw the way things were going outside and just gave up. I hear it was the same elsewhere, but it felt worse. Then when the TV and radio stations started to go dark, and the main power lines died, it really sank it: the cavalry wasn't going to be ridding over the hill, not with the same thing playing out across the world. At lot of us, myself included at one point, thought that maybe it was The End, you know, Judgement Day? I don't know if you've ever read the Book of Revelations, but it's a very dark, scary thing to be looking at when you're besieged by thousands of zombies.

You really thought it was the end of the world?

We had flesh-eating zombies shuffling across the entire globe, governments collapsing and a small-scale nuclear war going on out in the Middle East. What else was I going to think?

When did you realise that it wasn't?

Truthfully, when I got word from a guy I know in the government. I think he might have been in one of those Alpha Teams, but he never said and I never asked.

Can you give me his name?

Sure, but then I'd have to kill you.

(He looks me in the eye)

That's not a joke, by the way: I really would have to kill you.

Okay, what about the stories? You took in a lot of survivors from the nearby suburbs, and some of them have spoken about strange events here.

I've heard a lot of stories from the first year or so after the Panic; people weren't ready to deal with what was happening, and so kind of ran everything through a mental filter. You can blame all those 'superhero' movies that came out before The Panic if you want, but I guess that some people found super-powered girls easier to believe than what was really going on out there, and to an extant I can't say I blame them.

So there's no truth in the rumours?

What do you think?

I think you're probably right. But getting back on track, when did you decide to turn the school into a Blue Zone?

When we finished burying the dead, having first had to make sure that none of them were going to reanimate. We paid for this ground in blood, more than we should have, but we owed it to those who'd died to try and hold it rather than just run away. As I said before, the school is almost totally self-sufficient, and at first we were able to get anything else we needed from the surrounding area. You can call it looting if you want, but it's not like there wasn't anyone we could buy it off. Almost everyone else had headed north into Canada by that point. Those we did find were offered the chance to join us, but only a few did; most though that they'd be better off on their own, or following the others north.

What do you think happened to them?

Most probably died: heading into the Canadian winter unprepared as basically an elaborate way of committing suicide. We offered what help we could, handed out a few CB radios the school had gotten in for a class project so they could try and keep in touch with the rest of humanity, and wished them the best. Who knows, maybe some of them made it

You sound unconvinced.

I've seen the films and spoken to people who went north; it wasn't pretty.

How did you prepare for the winter? Ohio isn't exactly know for mild weather at that time of year.

We sent well armed search teams out into the city and the surrounding towns, picking up as much equipment as we could. We found a lot of looted shops, but most people had just taken what they could easily see; stock rooms and warehouse were almost untouched, so we concentrated our efforts on them. I helped set up some temporary huts, the kind you see on construction sights even today, insulating them as best we could. We also collected snowmobiles and a number of military-issue ATV's from an abandoned National Guard armoury we found. But by then there were just too many zombies around to risk going out, so we stopped sending out teams and barricaded the gates.

The start of the siege?

If you could call it that back then: there were perhaps a couple of hundred zombies that first autumn, enough to keep us on our guard, but not enough to really worry use. We just patrolled the walls, finished setting up the greenhouses as best we could, and made sure we had enough supplies to last us the winter. Someone in the governments PR division decided that we made a good story, so they sent us a few supply drops. Most landed in the grounds, but a couple were blown off course and we had to sit and look at them until it got cold enough to freeze the zombies solid. Then and only then would Faith and Robin let anyone out to grab what they could. Best thing we were sent was a prefabricated wind-turbine: that helped a lot, once we got it up and running.

How was that first winter?

Actually, it was kind of nice at first; everyone was still confident that someone, somewhere, would find a way to deal with the zombies, a new weapon or something. He had fresh water, lights, heating thanks to the old boilers here that could be run on wood, and enough food to last us maybe six months, more than enough to keep us going until spring. At least, that's what we thought.

The so-called Nuclear Autumn?

Yeah, that messed up a lot of our plans. We didn't think much of the early winter at first, given how helpful it was. And as long as we stopped the snow getting too deep on the paths and roof's we should have been okay. But the way it jest kept snowing and snowing, for days on end? We all started to develop a bad case of cabin fever. Once it god cold enough, Robin sent out more teams to try and locate anything else we might need. Probably one of the smartest things he ever did; let everyone grab some fresh air.

(He shakes his head)

It's a damn shame what happened to him.

The ambush?

If you want to call it that; some separatist, Michigan Militia type group got wind of the school and decided that a compound full of young girls would be a very nice base of operations to start their own little country from. We were too well protected for them to risk a frontal-attack, so they set a trap for one of the search teams. It was only dumb-luck that Robin was leading it, and that he was the first one to get hit.

To Be Continued...