Disclaimer: Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House series do not belong to me! If they did, there would be all kinds of crazy things happening, like witches and werewolves and zombie plagues.
A/N: Okay, I must admit, I would love to read about Laura and Almanzo as badass zombie killers. Here's my short attempt to portray them as such. (And Faust is not dead! Just put aside for the moment as I work on another YGO project.)
"It's a queer country out there," Pa said. "Strange things happen."
"Yes," said Ma. "I'm thankful that so far they don't happen to us."
It was a hot afternoon with the wind coming strongly from the south, but out on the Dakota prairie in 1885 no one minded the hot sunshine or hard winds. They were to be expected: a natural part of life. And there were other, less natural things to mind.
The whole prairie had been silent since morning, all birdsong vanished, the prairie chickens burrowed deep in the grass and not a jackrabbit in sight. Every single striped gopher had gone to earth. It was surely a sign of bad things to come.
In the sitting room of the four-room shanty she and Manly called home, Laura was patching her calico work dress. She made a pretty picture, pink-cheeked and intent upon her task, the very image of industrious domesticity. She was trying very hard not to think about the uneasy silence of the prairie, which was so quiet she could hear the steady thump-thumping of her heart and the whoosh of her breath as she breathed sweet summer air in and out. The only other sound under the blue sky was Laura's own voice as she hummed:
"Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man;
He washed his face in a frying pan,
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died of a toothache…
"Why, Manly!" she exclaimed, for Almanzo had come running to the sitting room, pale to his lips. "What is the matter?"
For a moment Almanzo could not speak. At last he said, in a dreadful voice, "They are coming."
Laura put down her needle and stood at once. "Prince and Lady," she said.
"I will see to Prince and Lady, and Fawn and the rest," Almanzo said. "You must stay here where it is safe. I wish I could leave Shep with you."
"You must take Shep," said Laura stoutly. "I will be all right."
How she wanted him to stay! But he must reach the barn, she knew, to make things snug before the shambling things could reach Prince and Lady, and stand guard there beside Fawn until the last wave of dead had passed.
Almanzo placed the spare rifle in her hands. "You will be fine," he encouraged her. "There is nothing to it. I have seen you do it before. You are as sharp a shot as any man I know."
She had done it before with Pa standing beside her, picking off the ones she missed, Laura thought, but said nothing. Pa! It would be Carrie standing beside him now, with Ma and Grace huddled together in the cellar. It was good that Mary was away at college now, safe from harm in her high dormitory tower.
"Be careful, Manly," she said. He touched her cheek in farewell, and then he stepped out the door, with Shep following eagerly at his heels.
Laura bolted the door behind them and dragged the kitchen table and chairs against it to form a neat barricade. When she had finished, she came to the kitchen window and saw what Manly had seen from the front porch. The black mass did not seem to be moving closer, but the smell of them was on the wind now, heavy and unpleasant in the hot Dakota sun.
She had overheard Pa talking about it with Mr. Edwards, in a little house long ago. It did not hurt much to be bitten, but the wounds would fester. It was the rot that killed you. It sank into your brain and made you something less than human, something unholy.
She was impatient with herself for feeling afraid. 'They are neither as clever as Indians, nor as quick,' she reminded herself sternly. 'Shep will look after Manly, and you are well protected inside this big house.' But she must keep them from hurting Almanzo.
So Laura fired as fast as she could. She pressed the butt of the rifle firmly against her shoulder and shot round after round, until she was shivering from head to foot and her arm was cramped from holding the gun. There was a ripe, wet sound each time her bullet found its mark, both satisfying and sickening to hear.
There seemed to be no end of them. One after another they shuffled toward the house, toward Laura and the barn and Almanzo, arms horribly outstretched, dead mouths leering, their homespun clothes all caked with filth. Somewhere beyond the walls of the house Laura could hear Almanzo, calling encouragement to Fawn and Shep over the sound of his gun. Suddenly she was angry. They would not get Almanzo—not Almanzo or any of the cows, or Prince and Lady, not if she could help it.
'All right, come,' Laura thought grimly. She propped the rifle up on the windowsill and fired again and again and again, until the rifle was emptied of its bullets, and Almanzo was at the window, carefully finishing off the last of the creatures.
When it was over, he crawled in through the window, pulling Shep with him. In another moment his large hands closed on the barrel and took the gun gently from her. "Are you all right?" he asked her. "Was it too much for you?"
Laura's chest ached and her teeth were chattering. She slipped her hands under her apron to hide their trembling, and said only, "Oh, no."
"Fawn and Prince and Lady are fine," he told her. "They are a little spooked, but that is to be expected. There were not so many creatures this time. Perhaps they could not cross the slough."
"Yes," Laura said. "Are you hurt, Manly?"
"It is only a scratch," Almanzo said. "I caught my shoulder against the barn door as I was coming back to you."
They stood quietly in the kitchen with Shep panting between them. Slowly, the tight knot of cold in Laura's stomach began to loosen.
Almanzo said he must go to town. They must clear their land before night fell, and Cap Garland would surely lend a hand. He would stop to check on Royal and Pa on the way home, if he did not meet them on Main Street.
"It will delay your chores," Almanzo said, "but do not go outside, at any cost. If they should come again while I am gone, go to Lady—I have hitched Lady to the buggy—and drive to your pa's."
"I am sure it will not come to that," Laura said. "Do tell Cap he may stay to supper, if he likes."