A Quick Breather

Alright guys, grab a quick breather and take fifteen!

I barely hear my foreman’s voice come through the radio clipped to the left side of my safety vest. Lowering my bulldozer’s blade to the ground, I shut the machine down. Almost immediately, I miss the roar of the engine.

A breeze blows a rising dirt cloud away from the cab as I make way down to the ground and remove my cigarettes. I shake one out of the package into my hand.

Looking up, most of the guys are standing around in a circle. Mike, I believe that’s his name, waves for me to join them but I shake my head ‘no thanks’ and light my cigarette.

I don’t want camaraderie doing this fucking job.

The drag is long but exhaled quickly. I don’t even taste these things anymore. I do it for a sense of normalcy in days that are no longer normal.

As I circle around to the front of the dozer, my fingers gently run along the chipped and worn yellow paint until they reach the blade. After almost twenty years of operating a dozer I used to love the sound of the blade scraping along the ground.

It was a sound of power and production.

Not anymore.

A few meters away, two excavators sit idly beside a freshly dug pit, roughly the size of the foundation for a small house. The overburden sits on the far side of it as a silent witness.

Actually it’s not a pit.

It’s a mass grave for the enormous pile of bodies in front of my dozer.

They are the bodies of the formerly living dead; bodies that were once living people. Despite various stages of decay, I no longer notice the thick stench of death. I toss my cigarette away, no longer wanting it.

To clear my mind, I glance at a large section of land we finished clear cutting yesterday. A thick tree line remains around the site concealing our actual job from the public eye.

Somewhere within the trees a gunshot rings out, followed by cheers; looks like our armed escorts got another one for the pile. My eyes find their way back to the dead, imagining who they were at one time. Limbs of different sizes stick out of the pile like a grotesque form of art.

The small limbs are the ones that get me the most.

If I stare long and hard at them, I can almost make out which ones belong to—

Stop it!

My legs give out. Slumping to the ground with my back against the blade,  I press my face into my palms. I don’t know how much time passes when my radio crackles to life.

Alright, boys, let’s get back to it. Lucas, whenever you’re ready, go ahead and push those fuckers into the pit.

My arm is heavy as I reach up to grasp my mic. “You got it, boss.”

I get to my feet, climb back up to the cab and start the engine. Manipulating the controls, I raise the blade a few inches off the ground before inching the bulldozer forward.

The worst part is the blade making contact with the pile. There’s a slight shudder of resistance before the bulldozer pushes through and bodies start to roll toward the pit like a wave approaching a beach.

I feel a few of the smaller bodies slip underneath the blade, getting stuck bellow it.


I’ll have to make another pass.

This isn’t the first pile I’ve had to push into a mass grave.

Nor will it be the last.

~ Jon Olson

© Copyright 2016 Jon Olson. All Rights Reserved

17 thoughts on “A Quick Breather

  1. Great story, Jon! The emotion and strain Lucas is feeling carries through loud and clear. It’s just enough of a quick jab that you’re not sure who to empathize with – the dead undead; the children in the pile; or poor Lucas who’s lucky enough to be on the side of the living but tortured by the deeds he must do. This is really an excellent piece, RM!! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Nina! I love the quick jabs! Hopefully it raises the notion of how the job skills of the ‘lucky’ living ones would change and be incorporated into the clean up of such an outbreak. There would be a lot of emotional/mental strain. RM is glad you liked it! Thanks again!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. this is really great Jon, you put a very human spin on an inhuman/fantasy situation, and presented an original point of view on the zombie scenario, without a lot of dramatic gory detail to thrill the reader. I really empathised with the sense of hopelessness and dread. The title becomes quite ironic, “A quick breather” reeks of disease and death.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Magenta! I had always wondered what would happen if society didn’t collapse, the whole ‘outbreak’ was contained and how that would affect the average Joe’s job/life. I’m glad you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jon – an interesting and emotional take on the zombie story! The perspective is fresh and, as others have said, it keeps the story firmly rooted in the real, which is a hard thing to achieve when the living dead are involved. Short and sweet and truly Damned.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Thomas! You are right, it is hard keeping a horror story set in the real, especially when it involves zombies. That’s why I focused it not on the outbreak or the dead themselves, but rather the average person performing their daily tasks. I’m glad you enjoyed it!


  4. Jon, I loved your story this week! Definitely a unique and refreshing take on the zombie genre – the aftermath, if you will – something that is infrequently touched upon. I think it was great that you took the viewpoint of the common worker tasked to ‘clean up.’ I believe that could be worse than suffering through the actual plague. Awesome, damned brother!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, brother! While I love zombie apocalypse tales, I’ve always found the idea of the aftermath to be even more frightening than the actual event. Things would stay the same but would also change to assist the clean up, like the duties of heavy equipment operators. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jon, you did a fantastic job of capturing some horrific emotions that most people are fortunate enough to not experience. When you work daily with something horrible and macabre, you develope some pretty thick skin as a protection mechanism. But the notion that you become completely numb to it is terribly wrong. To become completely numb to it would be a bad sign.

    I’ve worked with some horrible shit, the stuff of real nightmares. I’ve seen and experienced things at my previous employment that will haunt me forever – smells, sights, sounds, and faces.

    The reason I bring this all up is that you’ve managed to capture it, the torturous determination you have to maintain to continue at a job that eats at your soul. Well done my friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot, brother. I think that’s why I love the horror genre itself. It can give the reader a glimpse into the worlds of the truly horrific while keeping them firmly planted in their ‘safe’ everyday life. I appreciate the compliments, brother!

      I’d like to raise my glass to you, sir, for not letting all of the horrific stuff you experienced get the better of you.


  6. Posting on behalf of little h – thank you for your wonderful take on on a zombie storry! Brought a lump to my throat and a shiver to my spine , very well done! X . We all want to say thanks to the damned for your stories , gives us some thing to read to a sick little h and they make her smile , which is something that has been missing for the last few days! Tony , the girls and very poorly awdw . X


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