The streets were devoid of life. Every now and then a piece of windblown trash would roll through-out the street like a tumble-weed in an old western. If someone were to walk down these streets, every few yards, their feet would tread on or kick a small cylindrical object that would be sent tinkling across the asphalt like wind chimes in a stiff breeze. If that someone was lucky, the clinking would go unheard. Most were not. Bullet casings were prominent in every street, but not as prevalent as some would hope.
This street was not an aberration, nor an anomaly. Most streets in the city were like this or worse. Windows were boarded up in most shops and those that hadn’t had been broken in the ensuing chaos. The boarded up houses gave off the impression of some survivors last bastion of hope, but closer inspection would belay the tragedy behind those locked doors. Most houses were devoid of anything living, but not necessarily unoccupied.
This event occurred in a rather uneventful summer. This was no idyllic little city. It had its share of violence, gang activity, and murder, but not so much to make it stand out in comparison with any other city. In all of this struggling and surviving, “it” happened. In reality, when “it” happened, people paid it no mind. A man crashing his car after drinking an entire bottle of cheap vodka was viewed as commonplace in this sea of apathy. No one minded much when the doctor on the scene took ill with a fever. Most doctors get sick after working with the sick all day. The sickness that spread through-out the city was seen as an odd flu striking during summer. People only started paying attention when the sick started to die.
The symptoms were identical in every patient. It started with a high fever that progressively got worse in the passing days. The sick were characterized by shallow breathing and a decrease in pulse. In a few days to a week, depending on the constitution of the person; the person’s breathing would be labored. If one were to aspirate them; they would see an odd rust colored fluid that seemed to look like a mix between blood and rust. In their final days, the person would succumb to catastrophic heart failure as a result from hypoxia and a few even drowned in their own pleural fluid. The final stage was what drew the eyes of the military.
The final stage was resuscitation of once flat-lined (Usually characteristic of the dead) brain wave activity. Under a MRI scan, it would appear to be a small spark in a once vibrant network of lights carrying signals. The firing of synapses was far below human rates, but they managed to move around none-the-less. They ‘lived’, they walked, but most of all they hungered. These infected were why the army barricaded the town with military humvees and fencing on all sides.
This is a forewarning, this is not a complete story. This can never be a complete story. This is only a portion of a multi-faceted story that could have encompassed the perspective of thousands of people. This story will overlook the tragedy and triumphs of 99% of those people because that is the only way to tell a cohesive and coherent plot. This is the story of seven people struggling to live while being tossed about in a sea of the undead. This story cannot be considered as comprehensive the same way that all stories cannot be considered comprehensive. However, this does not mean the story should not be told. It will be told.
The Lone Wolf
A man watched the creature with interest. It stood in the middle of the street looking up at the buildings that surrounded it. A movement had caught its eye and now it scanned everywhere to locate that forlorn hope. That glimmer of a chance, the slightest possibility of being able to sink its teeth into squirming, writhing, shrieking flesh. This was his chance and he knew it, but he waited just a bit longer for the optimum time to slip behind it while its back was to him and grab it behind with a hand on its forehead, angling the neck back so he could jam his survival knife into the foramen magnum, effectively severing the spinal cord. Before he could approach, it happened.
A man stepped from out of the alley and walked up to the creature and unloaded both barrels into the face of the infected. Its head disintegrated like it had been hit with a water balloon full of acid.
The man whooped and shouted out to no one in particular, “You see that shit?! Kablammo!”
The observer whispered, “Idiot.”
A double barrel shotgun could only be fired twice before it needed reloading and it was loud enough to call down the entire city block on his- On cue, their moans cut through the air.
The shotgunner growled, “Ah dammit!”
He took off at a run and Harold Ellison decided to do the same, but in another direction.
Harold Ellison used that as an example for why he had survived so long. The mantra repeated itself in his head in staccato.
“Understanding people isn’t hard. It’s impossible. That’s why I chose the best option, solitude. Solitude won’t get you stabbed over a can of beans, solitude won’t call down a horde on your head by blasting a single infected with both barrels of their shotgun. By being alone, the probabilities and possibilities are drastically decreased. Being a shadow and keeping my head down is how I’m going to survive all this.”
Harold heard another shotgun blast ring off in the direction behind him and knew he would be safe. With that shelling, the man drew all of their eyes on him. He could slip away to his hide-out without having to worry about tag-alongs. He hazarded a glance back and saw only one of those things tailing him. Ellison knew it had to be taken care of. He ducked into an alley, drew the survival knife he had taken from his father’s old army chest and waited.
The creature rounded the corner, but Harold was on him before it knew what was happening. In an instant, Harold stepped up and drove his clenched right fist upward into the infected’s chin. The knife pierced through the soft and hard palette and lanced into the brain. The jaws snapped instinctively at him and dripped crimson fluid. Ellison put a foot into its chest and jerked the seven-inch blade out. It collapsed to the ground a crumpled mass.
Harold Ellison began the checklist that he followed after every encounter with one of those things. He watched the downed infected for signs of life. He then scanned the area for threats, both living and undead. Seeing none, he checked himself for wounds or blood spatters. (He was clean.) He didn’t have a lot of experience with how they infected others so he played it safe on all ends. Avoid fluids, getting wounded, and sexual contact. The last one was easy as most were visibly rotting. Harold wiped his knife off and slipped back into sneak mode. He had to get back to his safe house before night fell.
Shelley Wong counted her blessings as she looked over her bounty of food. This was one of the reasons she carried around a duffle bag. She also carried around a crowbar for making opportunities like this possible. She had just pried off the padlock of a convenience store backroom and found it full of junk food and small snacks. Better than nothing. Her mind flashed back to the raided supermarket that had been smashed to pieces by looters. She smiled at the memory of picking up a dented can of split peas and setting them back on the shelf. Even in the apocalypse, split peas were unappetizing. She knelt down and began to load up her duffle.
Once she had filled her duffle bag with all she could carry she slipped back to the front of the convenience store to see if there were any other looter- She caught the word and changed it. Scavengers or better yet, survivors. She was a survivor and had nothing to feel bad about. Could it really be considered as stealing if the owners were dead? She was a survivor, but some of the other people she saw in her day-to-day travels. They were scavengers. They were dirty, vulgar, and some carried around questionable trinkets of their travels.
Shelley remembered the quick conversation she had with a man that was carrying around fence cutters. When pressed about the gore, he finally relented and showed his catches. He had been stealing rings off of the undead. Sometimes the rings wouldn’t slip off their fat undead fingers, thus the fence cutter. His backpack was full of fingers. She excused herself before they could barter. She wasn’t a looter, she was a survivor.
As Shelley exited the story with her food, the unlucky caught her. It had been taken down behind the counter and had crawled out to see what the commotion was about. It tripped her up but she managed to roll away and squirm back from its gnashing teeth. She delivered a kick to its face that broke its nose, but did little to slow it down. She swung the crowbar and caught it in the temple just as it crawled back within range to grab her. The unfortunate’s head caved in like it was a piñata filled with red jam and chewed gum.
Wong got to her feet and collected her belongings. That was close. She had to scope out the areas more. That unfortunate had almost got her. In her conversations with fellow survivors, she had gathered a wealth of information about the on-goings in town. The town had been sealed off with fences and crude defensive lines. They were waiting to make their move. Whether that was to enter the town with surgical sweeps or nuke it she didn’t know. She just knew that they were there and they weren’t letting people pass. They had rebuffed her with harsh commands when she had tried to walk up and demonstrate that she wasn’t infected.
Shelley Wong shifted the duffle bag on her shoulders and smiled at the weight it had to it. She considered herself pixie-esque, but knew even a burly guy would consider her haul to be good. This would barter her some nice things if she could locate the people not out to build an empire from the shit storm that raged around them.
She spoke to herself as she went back to her house in the suburbs, “The world’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Everything’s ripe for the taking. I get what I need and not what I want. A little to survive and light enough to carry. The world is my oyster and I have some kind of oyster-prying tool.”
Jeff twirled the hatchet in his hand. It had a weight to it. His targets hadn’t spotted him and that was for the best. The three ghouls had knelt around the downed man. He’d died before he had arrived, but the ghouls were still immersed in their feeding frenzy. The element of surprise was what he needed to take them out. He had to take them. The quarantine wouldn’t be lifted until all traces of infection had been eradicated. He knew that the chances of them opening up the barricades were extremely unlikely, but it gave him something to do. He twirled the hatchet in his hand once more and waited until their focus was completely on the task at hand.
Jeff Campbell remembered coming out of his druggy haze in the middle of the street. He had been in a hospital for a couple months and wasn’t aware of what was happening until he was in the middle of it. He shut out that memory, too much grief. Grief was a paralytic and he needed a catalyst. He chose anger. He was still in his hospital gown. He threw on a pair of boxers for modesty and tennis shoes for mobility, but the gown was the only thing he really felt comfortable in anymore. He called them ghouls because that was all they could be. They ate the flesh of the living and the dead. It was a pretty succinct definition of a ghoul. The three ghouls dug in deeper and Jeff made his move.
He walked across the street and swung the hatchet downward as hard as he could into the nearest ghoul. The blade split through the bone and effectively killed the ghoul. He tore the blade out as the other two made their way towards him, impelled by the prospect of fresh meat. He hacked downwards and split the ligature in one’s leg. It tried to walk on the crippled leg, but regardless of one’s inability to feel pain, if the muscle didn’t work, it wouldn’t support the weight. It sank to the ground, but continued to drag itself towards him. Jeff ducked under the other’s lunge and circled behind it with practiced efficiency. He knocked its legs out from under it and pinned it while unleashing a quick flurry of chops that finished it off.
Jeff danced backwards, his hospital gown flowing like a matador’s cape taunting the last ghoul onward. He finished it off with a few swipes, decapitating it at the third cervical vertebrae. (At least that’s what his few months in medical school had led him to believe before it all happened.) He knew that the only way to stop them was decapitation or severe blunt or sharp force trauma to the brain or central nervous system. That was only way to be truly sure to kill something, take out the nervous system.
Jeff Campbell mused aloud, “They’re kind of like vampires. Wonder if I should whittle myself some wooden stakes or someth-”
He immediately dismissed that thought. He had become a master of differentiating an insane thought from a rational one. That was clearly an insane thought. The insane thoughts would do him no good here. He needed to be focused and coherent.
Jeff climbed up into a tree where he had been resting and retrieved the file and whetstone from a higher up branch. He went about the process of filing the hatchet back down to a sharp point. He was going to survive this by acting with caution and being prepared. A sharp mind and a sharp blade were going to be his best friends in these trying times.
There was one of those things in his yard. It stood mesmerized, looking at the gnome. Personally he hated the thing. The damn gnome drew vandals to his yard that wanted to fill it full of firecrackers or arrange it in quirky sex positions with other garden ornaments. Not to mention it was an eyesore. He would have loved nothing more than to throw the ugly thing into a trash compacter, but Beatrice loved it and after- Now he just didn’t have the strength to part with something that belonged to her no matter how hideous it looked.
The other thing in his yard however was fair game. Its head lolled about on its shoulder as it looked at the Gnome Chomsky (Beatrice hated when he called it that.) and the house. It wouldn’t be going anywhere soon and it could draw more if he left it unattended. Upton would have to take it out now. The noise would draw others, but it was better than trying to sleep knowing that one of those dead things was standing on his yard, feet away from his front porch. He had to take the risk of drawing others. He could always spend the day laying low in his house waiting for the fiends investigating the noise to lose interest.
Upton Poe walked over to the kitchen table and placed his hand on his weapon. His father had given it to him, a relic from the first World War. Upton was too young for the Second World War and when Vietnam reared its head, the U.S. government was more interested in sending babies into the jungle. He was never a great soldier like his father, but he had managed to accomplish something his father never had. He had survived to his seventieth birthday and Upton reckoned he would make it to his eightieth as well. He smiled at the thought of his eightieth birthday.
Upton knelt by the door with the ancient army carbine pressed against his shoulder. He reflected on the fact that despite being over eighty years old, the carbine still looked beautiful. He had polished it on a weekly basis and even went through the trouble of buying a couple of boxes of ammunition for protection of his house of course he was thinking more of burglars than these fiends. He lined the fiend up in his sights. He had cut a small hole in his screen door so he could fire while within the comfort of his own house. He blew out a breath and squeezed the trigger.
The bullet punched through the fiend’s neck and sent it sprawling backwards into the street. Upton Poe smiled. He was become quite the crack shot. He would venture out of the house to drag the body to somewhere where it wouldn’t be decaying around him. He was dumping the bodies in an abandoned lot a block away. He knew all of the nasty bacteria the dead carried so he had to get rid of the body before it would start smelling. So far he’d taken out ten, but the frequency of the attacks were becoming more and more common.
Upton wondered about the other survivors and then brushed that dark thought away.
He mused, “There’s nothing I can do for them. All that’s left to me is to wait for the army to wipe this thing out. I have enough food for one and that’s all. If I was younger, I’d probably be out there with the rest of them, but I’m older now. Wiser some might say. Idiots. You don’t get wiser with age, you just realize how many more ways you can easily fuck yourself over.”
Upton sat down at his table and began to clean his carbine.
The monster was busy. This was his time to do it. He crept out from behind the garbage can while it was too busy to notice him. He knew he could outrun him, but the idea of being looked at by one of those things was too terrifying for him. Under their gaze, he would freeze up and he couldn’t move. They were supposed to be sick people, but they looked more like monsters. They smelled bad and looked like they were sad about something, but couldn’t remember what. It was better to move when it was preoccupied. He passed by and continued down the street. He wished he was bigger and then he could fight the monster, but that would have to wait five years until he was a teenager. Right now, that was no thought for an eight year old to have.
He walked down the street, his feet slowly padding down the street. His feet stepped on those small cylinder shapes, but he couldn’t place the objects to anything. He was still in his bedroom slippers that comfortably cushioned his feet, but weren’t meant for long walks. He had to rest every couple of hours. His shirt had the round, skeletal face of Jack Skelington plastered on it with that feral, bony mischievous grin. He loved that movie. He loved Halloween and watching the ghouls and goblins running around. Things that scared other children barely fazed him. He didn’t like Halloween so much now.
L.C. tried to distract himself from the bloodstains on the street. At first he told himself it was ketchup, but ketchup didn’t look all dark and thick when it got old. Plus thinking about ketchup only made him hungrier. He distracted himself from the growling in his stomach by thinking of where his name came from. He heard mommy talking to daddy once wanting to call him something different. She said that naming a boy after '‘that’' author was just begging for him to become morbid. L.C. didn’t know what they were talking about, but he liked his name. It was his own.
He knew where he was going. L.C. remembered driving around with mommy on her errands. It was safe where he was heading. The monsters wouldn’t be there. Mommy would be waiting for him, she told him that. His mind flashed back to his mom. He recited the last memory of her to keep the image of her fresh in his mind.
“I remember mommy pushing me from my bed late that night. She was scared, but told me to be a big boy and do what she said. She told me to go to the barricade. She told me that they would protect me.”
L.C. remembered mommy dragging him down the hallway of their house. She told him that the sick people were getting worse. Daddy was pounding on the door from inside the bedroom. A chair was propped up against the door. Mommy wouldn’t let him let Papa out.
She said, “He was angry and needed to rest.”
She was crying and walking funny. He knew that the soldiers were waiting at the edge of the city and that was where he needed to go.
L.C. knew that if he kept heading towards the sun that he would find his way to the nice soldiers who would save him from the monsters. Maybe they would even take him home to find daddy. All he knew was that he needed to keep heading in one direction. The city was big, but he could do it. Mommy was crying when she told him that she couldn’t go with him.
L.C. repeated what she had said, “She told me not to cry. She told me to be a big boy and to not play with the sick people. She told me she loved me. She told me lots of things. I miss mommy.”
The man walked down the middle of the street. He scanned every alley and corner for zombies. In his hands, he held a SPAS 12 gauge combat shotgun. He had an extended magazine that carried eight shells. His motions had become fluid with time and practice. Muscle memory had taken over, but his mind was focused like a laser pointer. In the space of a minute, he looked in three hundred and sixty degrees. They couldn’t sneak up on him like this. He wasn’t heading in any direction in particular. Most were looking for a way out of this, but he had no intention of fleeing. He was having the time of his life. At this moment, it felt like all the pieces of his slip-shod life had fallen into place.
George Brooks had been prepping for this event ever since he could remember. He had reinforced his house to withstand an attack. He remembered watching the two towers crumple in on themselves and sending a wall of dust and smoke rushing over him and leaving him blinded and terrified. He had stumbled through the suffocating air for what seemed like hours before someone pulled him out. He got out of New York shortly after that, but he vowed he would never feel that helpless again. He found that he couldn’t look at a big building anymore without flashing back to the wall of smoke rushing up the street at him like the rapture.
He began to stockpile C-rations after he had settled into the Midwest. They tasted like cardboard, but gave him the nutrition he needed to survive. His shelves were stocked with them. He was worried about a hostile invasion so he had purchased a shotgun from a gun show a few years back. With time that preparation slowly began to find a new vent. He imagined the dead rising from their graves in some apocalyptic reckoning. He had always been a fan of zombie movies, but never really believed that it could happen. His guns, food, and ammunition were all a safety net to fall into and the zombie apocalypse was just a fantasy he had carried with him. A few days ago that fantasy became a reality.
George Brooks was still adjusting in some ways. Out in the town, he felt at home. He was hyper observant and nothing escaped his attention. He patrolled the streets ready to take on anything. He started out just circling his house on the lookout for zombies. Once he found none there, he spread out into his neighborhood. Finding nothing there, he moved into the city. He knew he would find what he was looking for a challenge. When he was at home however, he was unable to keep still. He was constantly checking the windows and looking at the bar on the door. He filled his life at home with small work and tasks to kill time until he could go back outside.
George knew that a thought like that was dangerous. Telling someone that would result in social alienation. No one should enjoy putting themselves in danger like this, but that’s how it was. Brooks had decided long ago that he wasn’t going to lie to himself anymore. He smiled to himself; he was at home here.
He said aloud to himself as he began to head back to his stronghold, “It was a dream come true for me. Social decline, the walking dead, more weapons than I could shake a stick at, the stick by-the-way is also a weapon, than I care to admit. The New American dream.”
George Brooks was just starting to head home when a zombie shambled out from the alley and headed in his direction.
The Prophet of the End
He watched them from behind the podium. They were gathered in the pews and whispering amongst themselves. They spoke mainly about the outbreak and their stories. They were still in survival mode. They spoke in lowered voices and made furtive movements, afraid of drawing the attention of those things. They didn’t have to worry about that. The church was a big place and the doors were heavy oak that only a SWAT team with a battering ram and a day of work could break open. This was one of the last bastions of hope for the living.
His flock at the moment was a scant twenty people, but more were arriving everyday. Most decided to stay due to the safety and food, but others moved on. Father Stoker couldn’t blame those that left. Everyone has their own paths according to God’s plan and that could not be changed. He was destined to become a priest the second he saw a preacher standing at the altar with clenched fists delivering a sermon that put the fear of God into his heart. God wasn’t someone to be taken lightly.
Most accepted the rules of his church. He would have mass every morning and after that, he would unlock the front doors and allow people to leave if they wanted to. Those heavy doors would be locked until six when he would allow those that were waiting outside back in. Those were the only times people would be allowed to enter. It was a safety precaution and it was effective. Most people left during the day to scavenge food for the flock. He was a practitioner of loaves and fishes for the poor, but now they served to supplement his flock.
A smile played across Father Stoker’s lips as he looked over the people. Before the Lazarus people decided to roam the land, he would never see this many during his services. Now they flocked to his door. He saw people praying more fervently than he had ever recalled before. Was this all God’s plan along? Was He drawing his flock back to him with this divine punishment? He didn’t put it below God. His God was an Old Testament God. He was full of the fire and fury. His God was an only child who smote towns for worshipping other gods. He didn’t love his God, but he feared Him and he obeyed Him.
Father Stoker claimed the vestibule as his own. He needed a place to let his guard down. His flock looked to him like he was the rock of the church, but lately he felt more like a castle of sand built on a fault line. The congregation were free to sleep in the church anywhere they could find comfort. Most slept in the cushioned pews. The Diesis had funded those in an effort to make mass a more pleasant service. All they managed to accomplish was putting his congregation to sleep during his sermons.
Stoker dressed himself in the vestibule and donned his priestly garments. His robe and cassock didn’t match the season, but he knew the parish wouldn’t notice. He had mass every day to give the parish something to believe in, faith that God would save them. In reality, he felt God had afflicted them with this curse, but he wouldn’t tell them that. They needed hope to survive and the truth was willing to unravel them, his sermons reflected that hope. If He listened, he would have tried to teach him a thing or two about humans, but you can’t really teach Him anything. It was useless to even try. He began mass.
Harold had to laugh. It was a bitter, cold laugh. He had figured with these desperate times that people would have changed. Not in the slightest. He had been hungry. The constant threat of attack and the pressure to survive had numbed the growling of his stomach for a few days after his food supply ran out, but now it had grown too large to be ignored. He reasoned that supermarkets had been striped clean and he might have a better chance procuring a dinner for himself if he went to a restaurant. He wasn’t delusional enough to believe he’d find a quarter pounder waiting for him on the counter, but he reasoned that he might be able to find chips, hamburger buns, fruit, vegetables, and cheese. It was there that he met them.
Harold Ellison stood in front of the Bennigans. He had scoped out the area for a few minutes to make sure it was safein. The glass in the restaurant wasn’t broken and the door seemed to be in good condition. This place hadn’t been raided. He drew his knife, he wanted to be prepared if there were any of those creatures inside. When he was satisfied with the safety of the place he entered through the front door, trying to walk as silently as possible, and stepped into the lobby where he was met by a group of men sitting on benches with their weapons all trained on him.
They all seemed twitchy and more likely to double his weight in lead if he so much as sneezed.
Harold spoke slowly with his hand still gripped around his survival knife, any attempt to put it away it might guarantee his bullet hole filled death as a result of spooking them, “I’m just looking for food. I mean none of you-”
The de facto leader interrupted, “There’s a KFC down a couple of blocks. That’s probably more your type of meal.”
The men chuckled around him and Ellison knew exactly what type of men he was dealing with.
He continued, “I’m hungry and you got food. We can trade-”
“Don’t want your food stamps.”
Harold imagined himself closing the distance between them and burying the knife in his throat, but knew he’d be dead before he took a single step forward.
He pled, “Look you know there isn’t much food left in the supermarkets. I’m starving here.”
The leader said, “One less of you to worry about.”
Harold snapped back, “Fuck you man.”
He turned and left, feeling the gun barrels following him every step he took.
Before he was out of earshot, the man yelled, “Go on, git nigger.”
Ellison seethed within his own skin. It was all so Goddamn ridiculous! This city was a war zone with humans against the infected with the army watching as passive observers like this was a movie. They were balancing on the edge of violent, bloody deaths and in all this madness, people still held on to prejudices like they mattered anything. He wasn’t a gangster, he wasn’t a burglar, he was just Harold Ellison and nothing more, nothing less.
Harold Ellison laughed bitterly to himself. That was all he would ever be to them, a nigger. He had grown up aware of the fact that his skin color separated himself from others. His parents told him to wear it like a badge of honor, but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t a curse from the gods either. All it was, in truth, was just a presence of melanin in his skin cells.
He spoke to himself, “Fuck them, I don’t need them, I’m going to make it out of this alive and what will they be? Racists, nothing more. I’m a survivor.”
His stomach growled in agreement.
Shelley Wong was in a bad way. A week had passed since her looting of the convenience store. She had traded the bulk of it for a box of nine millimeter rounds. She had recently appropriated the gun from below the counter at a gas station. She didn’t carry that gun for the unfortunates. This gun was specifically for the people who cracked under the pressure. The number of them were increasing daily and they were every bit as dangerous, if not more than the unluckies. They wandered about, lost in their own fantasy. The last one she had seen was covered in blood that wasn’t coagulated. That was the blood of the living. She hadn’t decided to stick around to find out more. She had eaten her last meal a day ago and her stomach had already begun to shrink in around itself painfully.
It would have been easy to scrounge up some food if she was one of the only scavenger, but their number was increasing as times got more and more desperate. All the convenience stores, gas stations, and super markets had been picked clean. All that remained of the buildings were the broken skeletons of what they once were. If you were lucky, you would find something small to eat that had been overlooked in one of their hollowed out shells, but it wasn’t worth the risk. As the desperation grew, the number of the unfortunates rose. She figured it had to do with people taking more risks to find food and shelter and getting infected. They were on every street now and a horde of those things would spell certain death if you encountered them.
Shelley had been kicked out of the bazaar for stealing. They called it the bazaar as it was a place you could go to barter and sell your wares. She had been caught pilfering a bag of crackers from a shop keep. He wanted to cut off her hand, but the security, who received their pay in food from the boss, told them to ban her from the bazaar instead. She had pleaded, but it didn’t soften their hearts any. They wanted to hold on to some semblance of humanity and maiming her seemed cruel. Banishing her out into the world to die of starvation or be eaten was much more ‘humane’ in their eyes.
Shelley Wong wandered the streets, wracking her mind for ideas of where she could find more food. Every couple of minutes, her stomach growled as if to remind her that she had not procured food for it as if the gnawing sensation wasn’t enough of a reminder. The nine-millimeter handgun was her protection against the cruel outside world, but she feared the day when she would find the broken and shattered remains of someone and the vestiges of their psyche that wouldn’t be cowed by the threat of her gun.
Shelly knew that she was losing weight at an alarming weight. She hadn’t been heavy to begin with, but now she was appearing anorexic. In a few days, she would look like one of the unfortunates, a skeletal frame wrapped with pale skin around her sunken eyes. She brushed away the thought. She would not become that, no matter the cost, she wouldn’t. It was then that she met them. She knew they were bad news the second she saw them, but hunger shrouded that worry.
The large guy of the ground twirled the shovel on his shoulders and said, “Hey girlie.”
The teenager with the pipe asked, “You want something to eat?” The girl gripped the knife tighter and continued, “If so, we got some work for you.”
Jeff Campbell watched him with interest. He moved back and forth in rocking motions.
He shrieked to no one in particular, “I have seen it! I know what is waiting for us! Their jaws! Oh God!”
Each step sent the heads he had been collecting swaying. Some were fresh kills, others had been made weeks ago, not all were ghouls. He could tell just by looking at the wounds, some were crusted with coagulated blood while others seemed more viscous. He had smelled the death from far away and hid before he could be seen. He had clearly gone off the deep end. Jeff didn’t know this one. This person had cracked during all of this; he wasn’t in the mental hospital before. He should know, he was once a patient there.
His mind jumped back to that time.
When the infection had grown to be too much to handle and it became clear that salvation was not around the corner, the orderlies began abandoning their posts. Some reasoned that the patients shouldn’t be left behind to suffer. Their solution was less mercy and more murder. They shooed us out into all of this. Some of us were too doped up to even know what was happening, I know I was. It was all blurry and fuzzy. I understood something was amiss when the ghouls descended on us.
I barely managed to escape, dragging my drug-addled consciousness into a dumpster. When I came to, the bodies were all gone, but the blood was there. I promised myself I would lift the quarantine and find those people who sent us out into the world so defenseless and I would-
The head hunter shouted, “I have seen them!”
Jeff Campbell realized that the man was only a few feet away from him and he was caught. Jeff stood up from the car he was hiding behind and confronted the man.
The man growled, “Be you friend or foe?”
He responded, “I’m just a man trying to-”
“You have it! You are one of them!”
He drew a butcher’s knife. Campbell knew that he couldn’t leave this man to his own devices. He also couldn’t let himself get his head hack-sawed off. He swung his axe to ward the psychopath back. The smell of the rotting heads made him want to gag, but if he let it distract him; he would become part of his collection. He was fighting for his life.
Dullahan stepped into one of Jeff’s swings, catching the handle on his arm. It would bruise and it would hurt like hell the next day, but now he was close enough to bury the knife in his throat. He stabbed forward, but Jeff had managed to catch the hand holding the knife and force it back. The axe clattered to the ground as the struggle for survival began.
The head hunter growled, “They were like you too. You will have company at the very least.”
The knife wavered between them, pressed on either side by both men.
Campbell said, “I’m not infected.”
Dullahan snarled, “It’s what they all say.”
He responded, “Then why don’t you listen?!”
He stomped downward with all his strength and came down on his foot. The crack relayed that he had at least fractured a metatarsal. The head hunter’s grip on the knife loosened with the pain. Jeff Campbell thrust forward and buried the knife in Dullahan’s chest. The man slumped into Jeff with a rasping gasp as his blood began to flow into his lungs.
He croaked, “I just wanted to get out.”
Jeff whispered, “Then just let go.”
He felt him die on the knife. He sat down on the curb just as the sobs began to wrack his body.
They were back and Upton didn’t like the look of them. They weren’t fiends that had him worried. He had been observing the movements of those things and noted that they were becoming more common and moved through the area as if looking for something. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought that they were on patrol. He brushed that thought away, he was humanizing something that was no longer human. That wasn’t what disconcerted him. It was the looters who had become commonplace that had him worried.
At first, it was one or two breaking into houses. He could see them from his kitchen smash in the porch window to reach in and unlock the door. They entered the house and took what they could. Most were thinking right and grabbed food and other abandoned items that were useful. Some were not, he had watched a man wobbling under the weight of a television as he tried to escape from one of those fiends. He had made it around the corner, but Upton Poe wasn’t sure after that point. He wasn’t sure what purpose a television would serve in a city where the electricity had been cut.
The looters were only targeting uninhabited houses at the moment. They would case a house to see if there was anyone inside before making their move. They were desperate, but not despondent enough to try to break into an occupied house. They still feared startling someone and getting a bullet in them for their troubles, but he knew a time would come when even the threat of violence wouldn’t stay their hands. Upton knew that that type of desperation wasn’t too far off. He had had only one encounter with the scavengers.
He had been sitting at his kitchen table lost in a memory when he caught motion in his peripheral vision, a face looking in through the screen door.
The face looked dumbstruck at the old man before saying, “Didn’t know there were people here.”
Upton suggested, “Try the Sinclair place up the street. Crotchety old bat has probably flown the coop. There’s my advice.” He had turned to leave, but Poe continued, “Another piece of advice; stay away from my house or I will aerate you. Tell your friends that too.”
He patted the carbine on the table to accentuate his point.
The boy had gotten the point, but would others be persuaded with just conversations?
A shade of his past entered his mind, “You can spare a little bit of food. They’re desperate that’s all.”
He responded to the ghost, “Life boat theory Beatrice. I can’t afford to be utilitarian now. I need to conserve food until the army can get in her and clean up this mess. Having your open heart is just going to get me killed. I promised you I would live, I promised you I wouldn’t be like him.”
His mind drifted back to memories of his Beatrice.
Upton Poe remembered her blond hair in the sunlight. Time hadn’t grayed it, but made it silver. He remembered her smile. She could light up a room just with a grin. He remembered their wedding night.
Just before he had laid her down he whispered into her ear, “I’m yours always and forever until the day I die.”
He remembered the cancer that hollowed her out. It robbed her of her physique, but couldn’t dim the light in her eyes or the fire in her belly. She was stronger than him. He knew it and she did as well. She was still dragging him on walks up until the day she died. Upton sat at the table and let the memories of her wash over him.
L.C. was happier than he had been in a while. Up until now, he had been wandering the city heading for the barricades and sleeping wherever he could manage. He wasn’t alone now. He had found him when he had made a detour at Chuck E’ Cheeses. He knew it was a bad idea, but he wanted to see the large animatronic mouse one last time and maybe see if they still had pizza. The dead eyed stare of the mouse made some kids weep, but L.C. knew that it was just gears and wiring. It couldn’t hurt him. The monsters could however.
Someone had brained the mouse mascot with zeal. L.C. imagined some teenager confronting his rodent fears and taking back the night with a baseball bat. Wires and stuffing hung out of his open wound, but his creepy smile and lifeless eyes still shone on. He found no food in the kitchen, but he had found the man standing near the play place with a smile on his face like he was lost in some memory. L.C. watched him a moment until the man felt the eyes on him and whirled around with a machete ready to dispatch him.
The man’s eyes locked onto his and for a few seconds; both stood watching the other with dumb-founded expressions.
The machete clattered out of the man’s hands and he said, “Sorry little boy, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I wasn’t scared.”
“I see. You’re a big boy, right?”
“That’s right.” The man picked up his machete and slid it back in its sheath. The man asked, “Are you alone?”
L.C. avoided the question, “I’m heading for the barricades. The soldiers are going to take care of us.”
The man’s smile faltered for just an instant before he stated, “I’m heading there as well. Would you like to come with me?”
L.C. paused for a moment. He was told never to talk to strangers and more importantly, never to follow them anywhere.
He said, “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s only five or so miles to the barricade-”
The man interrupted, “But what are you going to do about the ‘bad men?’ There are a lot of them now.”
He paused for a moment and said, “They haven’t got me up to this point, I’m faster then them. I just need to keep running and hiding”
The man shifted the bag on his back and offered an apple. L.C. ate it greedily while the man spoke:
“I know you’re all grown up, but it’s really dangerous out there. My boy is. Was. With me. We were heading to the barricade.”
“You have a son?”
“Had. The bad men came while I was sleeping. I was so tired.”
His head sagged and his lips quivered like a balloon deflating.
L.C. cautiously took a step forward and placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s okay.”
The man quickly whipped a tear from his eye and said, “He was brave and strong just like you.”
The man composed himself and asked, “I’m going to the barricade as well as you. How about we walk together? Six eyes are better than one right?”
“There are two of us.”
The man pulled a pair of glasses from a pocket and donned them. “Get it?” L.C. cracked a smile. The man said, “Let’s get to walking. The barricades a day or two away depending on the bad men and how well we can hide.”
L.C. nodded and said, “I’m L.C.!”
The man returned the nod and responded, “I’m Draco Nabokov, but it’s just two guys here so just Draco is fine.”
And just like that, they began walking towards the barricades with smiles on their lips and hope in their hearts.
He heaved heavy wretches into the gutter. The smell of cordite still lingered in his nose along with the smell of decay and entrails, taunting him of his weakness and the violence that had preceded it. He had seen the zombie from fifty feet away thanks to his repeated scanning of the area around him. The dream he upheld of calmly raising the shotgun and leveling its face with a twelve gauge shell was crushed when his arms locked in place at the sight of her dead, churlish features.
George Brooks stammered out, “Don’t come any closer!”
The zombie continued its approach, ignoring the threats and pleas.
George racked a shell into the chamber of the shotgun, desperately wanting to run away, but finding that his legs were paralyzed. The zombie let loose a groan; which he could see through its exposed vocal cords that had been opened up by a bite from infected teeth. That sound broke through his shock and he managed to regain control of his arms.
He raised the shotgun and threatened, “One more step and I swear to God I’ll-”
Five steps later, he took aim and squeezed the trigger of his combat shotgun.
The buckshot tore a hole well below his intended target. The round impacted in her torso and ripped open her insides like they were made of paper. She staggered back a few steps from the trauma of the shot before regaining her footing and continuing her advance. Her lower intestines worked themselves free in her movements and flapped obscenely against her thighs. The smell of week-old death and shit made him want to wretch, but she was still coming at him. He angled the barrel upward and pulled the trigger.
George Brooks had played enough video games and seen enough zombie movies to prepare him for what would happen next, but even that left him underprepared. The twelve-gauge shell was supposed to reduce the zombie’s head to pulp and a fountain of blood, but instead half of her face disappeared like the world’s most vindictive magician plying his trade. She took a few more steps forward, with her eye macabre-ly rolling in its half destroyed socket and now exposed teeth masticating the air before she collapsed to the ground. That was all George needed to upend his stomach. He staggered over to the gutter before loosing his stomach contents.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this! He had imagined his first encounter a myriad of times. He had delivered death with a quick shotgun blast and a pun about losing their heads or blowing their top. He had never imagined himself throwing up into a gutter after eliminating one of the zombie threats. Another thought came unbidden into his mind. He had always imagined the zombie threat to be masculine. The one he dispatched had been feminine.
The thought unsettled him. These things weren’t supposed to be human, but if that was the case then why did it unnerve him so. Her face had almost seen angelic until the shotgun blast uncapped her face. She wasn’t a person anymore so why did he- A multitude of groans and moans alerted him that he was now being stalked by the walking dead. The horde was upon him. He took off running realizing that they were on his heels.
Father Stoker watched the wolf amongst his flock. His congregation had swelled into the hundreds and more were flowing in every day.
He mused what would happen when there became too many for the pews and floor. “I’ll just begin one of my sermons, that’ll drive them out.”
One day a pack of wolves slipped in amongst the sheep. They had arrived just before dusk and begged to be let in. The most loquacious of the group was a man who just called himself Burgess. With him, he brought three others. One was a man that hadn’t given his name, but had a dim look to him.
Burgess and his group left everyday at dawn and returned at dusk. Stoker began to notice small things at first: a smile that played across his lips when asked about how the city was faring, a new gold watch that magically appeared on his wrist after a foray into the city, and a noticeable lack of food even though he claimed his group was going out to scavenge and scrounge up sustenance. Burgess was clearly looting houses, the dead themselves, or worse; robbing the living. Burgess was amiable enough, but the friends he kept had a wild and sadistic look to them.
Burgess and his clan never attended the nightly vespers that Father Stoker had to provide comfort. He preached redemption and salvation despite the fact that he thought neither was in store for them with the God he worshipped. Burgess always moved to the back of the church, furthest away from the altar and made bawdy jokes to his friends. He had learned to ignore him or speak over him. Today was the day that Burgess’ true self began to bleed through.
He approached the altar after the prayer service and said, “Listen, I need you to leave the doors open tonight. I got leads on some food we can procure.”
Father Stoker knew from the look in Burgess’ eyes that he had no intention of looking for food and responded, “I can’t change the rules, I lock the doors for the night at six sharp. It keeps us safe. You find what you can during the day. We don’t need to risk losing any people by sending them out at night or leaving them outside during the night. The rules are the rules. At six, I am going to bar the doors.”
Burgess leaned in with a feral smile that looked like it had been cut with daggers and whispered, “You close that door on me and try to keep me out, then I will burn down this Goddamned church. I don’t give two shits about your congregation and I could give two squirts about the life of some child-diddler. This is my sanctuary. Try and keep me out father and you will learn who I really am.”
Stoker’s skin crawled and he repressed a shiver. He couldn’t let him know how much of an impact he had on him.
Burgess said, “So we have an understanding Father. Thanks for letting me take this midnight run to help provide for the flock.”
He spoke loud enough to be heard by all. He then knew, as he watched Burgess return to his pack. They laughed and smiled on his return. These were not people that were being disenfranchised by God’s wrath; these were people that were profiting and even enjoying themselves. Whatever they were doing outside of the church to whoever was alive out there when he let them out; they were enjoying it. He had fostered weeds in his garden of church-goers and to try and weed them out now would result in untold destruction. It was then that Father Stoker knew that as a race we did not deserve to be saved.
Harold Ellison mentally kicked himself. He used that to keep himself going. He had been running for a while now and the sweat was beginning to soak into his clothes. How could he make such a stupid mistake? He had done so good by being quiet and careful and he had to go and fuck it all up.
You idiot! You just going to lay down and die?! Keep running you stupid piece of shit!
Now there was a horde of the creatures on his six tailing him. He had been running, but everywhere he went, he just seemed to run into more of those creatures. Their ranks were swelling while he was fatiguing himself. He drifted back to how he got himself into this situation.
Harold had been scavenging for more food. He was in relatively high spirits after finding C rations that the army had been dropping into the city. They dropped too few and far between to be a useful source of food, but he had lucked out when he stumbled across a container that had strayed from the park where they usually dropped supplies. He had pried open the lid and eaten what he could. He rushed his eating, wary of any others that might try and get the drop on him. He carried off what he could and couldn’t help, but smile at his luck. Five minutes later, his luck would implode.
He had heard the boy before he saw him. He ducked into an alley and peered out. He heard his frantic running and the tinkle of spent shell casings rolling around on the cement. Harold didn’t need to know what he was running from, he could hear them from a block away. The creatures were locked on the boy’s trail. Ellison knew that nothing could be done for him. This boy was as good as dead. Once they were trailing you, there wasn’t much you could do except run and wait to be caught. He knew he just had to wait in the alley for them to pass him by. They were focused on the child in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” t-shirt. He waited for the boy to run past him.
The boy was a block away from Harold. He had a bit of a lead on the creatures, but living things were capable of fatigue and those things weren’t. The boy would run until he trapped himself or until he ran into the arms of another one of those creatures. Those were his only two options. The boy was dead on his feet. Ellison waited in the alley for the boy to pass. It was the smart thing to do, but then why did it feel so wrong? He had told himself that he would do whatever it took to survive. He would eat out of the trash, let people die right in front of him, even kill to escape this madness. So why? What had changed since he made that vow to himself? As the child ran by, Harold reacted.
Harold Ellison shot out of the alley just as the boy passed by and grabbed him by the arm.
He struggled and cried out, but Ellison dragged him into the alley, kicking and screaming.
He wrenched the top off of the trashcan and lifted the boy inside.
He didn’t know any words of comfort that would calm down the boy so he just pressed his finger to his lips. Shhh. He replaced the lid and ran out into the alley. The group that had been following him was too large to take out single-handedly. He would have to keep running if he wanted to survive. Within the blink of an eye and the beat of a heart, he changed places with the boy and was now the one being hunted and running for survival.
Harold sprinted down the street. He glanced over his shoulder at the number. He had twenty creatures on his tail. He wondered to himself what the boy had done to call that much attention to him, but knew that something was changing in the city. The numbers of those creatures were increasing and they were becoming more active. He didn’t have to make a sound to be noticed; those creatures had eyes and were now hunting the survivors down and every fallen person only served to bolster their numbers.
Harold’s mind raced alongside him as he ran. He needed to find some way to get away from them. He pumped his legs and hoped that his heart would be pumping some of that blood into his brain as well. He couldn’t think of a place like a building where he could bar the doors. Most of the building he looked at had been kicked or pried open by looters. Other doors looked like they wouldn’t hold even one of those creatures at bay. He needed more time and that was something that was bleeding away from him.
An hour later and he was still running. Their number had swollen to over a hundred and he knew that barring a miracle, he would not be getting away. The motions of running had become mechanical. He was drenched with sweat and his feet squished inside his shoes. He knew from the stinging in his feet that he had popped open the blisters and now sweat was entering the open wounds. He changed directions at each intersection he arrived at to make sure he wouldn’t run into the ass-end of the horde that was pursuing him. He turned another corner and ran into the open arms of one of those things.
Its hands wrapped around his shoulder and hip before he could even react. He drew his knife and stabbed the creature in the neck. Harold Ellison knew it was over before the blade even pierced skin. He had missed the vertebrae. The creature lunged forward and sank its teeth into his left shoulder. He roared a bestial cry of pain and shoved the creature away from him with the knife still embedded in its throat. Its teeth grinded on the piece of flesh it had torn from his shoulder. He broke into a sprint before the horde could descend upon him. His mind wandered back to the boy.
Anything to keep my attention away from the pain in my shoulder. Anything to keep my mind from the fact that I’m as dead as a doornail.
He had hoped the boy was clever enough to lay low until the coast was clear, he already knew the answer to that. If the boy had survived this long, he would have known a thing or two. That thought was at least comforting. The boy could survive where Ellison had failed. He felt the end flanking him like a wave. He listened to the sound of the wave of creatures that stalked him.
Harold kept going. He knew he was infected. He knew that his only weapon was still lodged in the throat of the bastard that gnawed on him. He knew he would be dead in a matter of hours, but now he had a choice before him. He could stop running and let himself be torn to pieces or he could keep running. He didn’t know what waited as a result of his second choice, but he reasoned it was better than being eaten alive. It had to be. He winced his eyes shut as a sharp cutting pain blossomed in his shoulder. His feet slipped on the shells littering the street and he fell face-first into the asphalt. He got to his feet and noted that his shirt was now stained red. He felt woozy from the loss of blood. He felt forlorn from the dashing of his dreams. He felt, alive. Harold Ellison found the strength to keep running.
Shelley Wong knew before it happened that this would be the lowest moment in her life. The thugs with the knife, pipe, and shovel had explained the plan to her in detail. All she had to do was knock on a door. That would be the culmination of her wickedness. She would distract the man in the house while the three thugs snuck in behind him and beat him to death. After this she would be complicit in the death of a man whose crime was probably only being well prepared. They knew that he had a surplus of food in his house, but he had something they didn’t, a gun. They couldn’t hope to take his house by force, so they resorted to stabbing him in the back. And Shelley would be the lynch pin that made it all possible.
They walked to King Street in silence.
She mused, “All that’s between me and food is a king.”
The woman with the knife kept glancing in her direction. She realized that she was looking to see if Shelley could be trusted. She must have decided to use her. She didn’t like the thought of being used, but she quickly realized that she was using them as well. She was famished. She would have walked with the Devil if he had a chicken sandwich on his person.
The brute with the shovel scanned the streets like he was looking for a fight. He was clearly the muscle of the group and left the thinking to the other two. He found his worth in the group acting as the enforcer and protector. He was clearly the best built for the job and the first chosen for a throw down. He didn’t necessarily look stupid, but he did look like the type of person that didn’t like to think when it could be avoided. The shovel was crusted with gore.
The teenager with the pipe worried her most. He smiled and joked, but the smile stayed in his mouth, his eyes revealed their true intention. He said what you wanted to hear, but he was thinking something completely different. She felt his eyes on her, watching her, undressing her; beating on her. She didn’t want to be with this group for much longer. She would do her part, get her food, and get the fuck out of Dodge.
Shelley knew that it was wrong, but her stomach put an end to that thought. Another day and she would have wasted away to almost skin and bones. What was the life of some guy she didn’t even know worth against her own? He was probably already on Death’s door. She was young and had a lot of life left to live. She imagined a decrepit old man sitting on a mountain of food like the dragon Smaug. He was probably a miserly old man who accumulated his riches by withholding from his kids and grandkids. She hadn’t even met him and she had already made up her mind about him. They stopped a few houses before his.
Knife repeated, “You know the plan. Just knock on his door and keep him distracted. Keep him looking at you. We’ll slip in through the back and bam! Easy peasey.”
Shovel didn’t say anything. Shelley didn’t know how he felt about all of this. He seemed to just be along for the ride. They could be rescuing puppies from burning building or kicking pregnant mothers down the stairs and he would be all right with either as long as he didn’t have to put any thought into it.
Pipe looked her over one last time and said, “We should do this more often. Give us a few minutes to get in position.”
They left to sneak around the back and abandoned her to her thoughts. Shelley Wong waited in the street.
She reasoned with herself, “This guy probably is a spiteful old geezer who reads the obituaries for kicks. He probably is a racist, a sexist, and a jingoist. He probably insists on segregating his mixed nuts. He probably thought the United States lost its power when it started giving suffrage to the women and rights to the gays. He probably ate pupp-”
She realized that whoever he was didn’t matter. All that mattered was who she was and she realized she wasn’t the type of person who’d stand by and let someone die. She had to warn him.
She walked across the line, careful to ignore the creepy gnome on his lawn. She climbed the porch and looked in through the screen door. He was dozing at the kitchen table with what looked like a rifle on his lap. After all the build-up and imagining, she just saw a man sleeping on a chair. He wasn’t decrepit; he didn’t look like he was hording supplies either. He was just a man trying to survive. She knocked on the door. He awoke with a start and leveled the carbine at the door.
He growled, unhappy to have been taken unaware, “Who’s out there?”
She answered, “My name is Shelly Wong, but we don’t have time for that. You’re in danger!”
He rose from his chair and approached the door with his gun still aimed at her.
He spoke, “What are you talking about?”
Behind him, Shelley could see Pipe working on the back door. She knew that he would be the one who knew how to jimmy a lock. She had minutes to convince him before they broke in and spread out, increasing the chance of ambushing him. She had to help him before that.
Shelley spoke quickly, “They wanted me to distract you. To keep your attention while they brain you from behind.”
The old man asked, “Why?”
She answered, “They want your food.”
The man lowered his weapon, but still kept it aimed on her. “Sorry honey, but I got the backyard rigged up. I’d hear them coming. I’m not falling for it.”
She said” These guys are pro’s; they’ve done this before; they know how to snip cans on fishing line or whatever you have set up.”
Pipe worked the bobby pin in the lock with ease on his face.
The wizened man said warily, “I don’t know what game you’re playing, why tell me this? Is this a trap?”
“Jesus Christ! They’re on your back porch!”
She pleaded, “Just turn around!”
“So you can get the drop on me and shoot me in the back? This is a desperate ploy, just walk away and I won’t have to shoot.”
She supplicated, “Please just look behind you! There are three people right behind you.”
A smile formed on Knife’s lips. Pipe had the lock. He began to open the door and she reached for the handle. She had to make him see. She depressed the door handle.
Shelley Wong was blinded by the flash and smelled cordite. She became aware of a sharp pain in her chest. She sank back a step and fell off the porch and onto the grass below.
Shelley Wong gasped for air and probed the hole in her chest. She was aware of another shot and the sounds of panicked shouting. The old man came back a minute later.
She wheezed, “Get them?”
The man just said, “Oh God!”
She hacked, coughed, and tasted copper, “I’m cold.”
He answered, “Hold on I have some bandages. I can patch you up.”
“J- Just wait! Shit! Shock!” She heard the sounds of moans, but she couldn’t seem to focus on them. “I’m so cold.”
The stars were just coming out and seemed blurry, in fact everything looked fuzzy.
He said, “I know.”
“Why is it so cold?”
“I’ll go look for a blanket.”
Shelley Wong looked up at the sky and felt at peace as the blood pooled beneath her. She didn’t feel hungry anymore. She let go.
Jeff Campbell had bit off more than he could chew this time. He had gotten careless. He had killed so many with such ease that he had begun to underestimate them. He saw himself as a season veteran at all of this. The ghouls were slow and if the situation seemed bad, he could always retreat, but now... What started as a few ghouls had quickly multiplied. They were chasing after him and he was hopelessly outnumbered. He jogged steadily ahead of the horde and scanned the area for something that he could use to his advantage. So far, he had found nothing and continued to jog. He found jogging would keep them just out of range and helped him conserve energy.
He had incurred their wrath in the park when he decapitated one within range of a small group that was a few blocks away. It seemed that the second, the blade of the axe bit into flesh, they were drawn to him. It was like he had plucked some string that had bound them all together. They gave chase and as he evaded them, he watched their numbers swell. What had started off as five had doubled and then quadrupled. The thrill of the hunt, or maybe the presence of others, made them chase him in jerky, rapid movements. It was faster than the standard shamble he was accustomed to. It worried him immensely. Were the ghouls adapting, growing stronger? Something was changing them, but the catalyst was unknown to him.
He had spent the first hour, plotting and planning his evasion and escape, but they were all for naught. Jeff’s plans crumbled around him like castles made of sand during a tsunami. He could seek refuge in a building, but they’d smash it down in the time it would take for him to bar it. He could try hiding, but if he were discovered, he would be trapped and completely surrounded. He could try outrunning them, but there were so many in the city now that he it seemed statistically impossible that he wouldn’t encounter more in his attempts to flee and be caught in their ghoulish pincer tactic. All of his plans turned to ashes in his mouth.
The second hour Jeff Campbell found himself zoning out. He would let muscle memory take over and he’d mindlessly jog. That worried him. He needed to keep himself sharp. Doing so was he only chance at coming out of this alive. He repeated the daily affirmations he had learned while at the mental hospital in group therapy.
'I want to live, I want to hope. I want to give, I want to grow.'
That was the daily opening to group therapy. Everyone had to say those affirmations at the start of each session. They seemed like such easy, pointless things, but twenty months ago saying them was like numbering the stars. He closed off that thought. Recalling the past would do nothing for him now.
Much later he snapped back to reality. He had lost grasp of time. The sun was beginning to set. He had started running at around ten that morning. He was sweating profusely and thanked his luck that he was wearing the hospital gown that was slit open in the back. It provided wonderful airflow as he ran from the horde. The ghouls had now tripled in number. He couldn’t allow himself to drift off like that again. It would be the death of him, but the urge to just zone out was becoming more and more appealing as the pain started at his calves and suffused through-out his body. He told himself a story to keep himself going. It was the story of why he couldn’t stop running.
It all started with a boy with big dreams. Like any other boy, he had aspirations. A childhood of watching a T.V. series about a hospital and the daily lives of doctors had kindled the fire that drove some men. He was like a man possessed. He studied harder than any other student in his school and only settled for perfect scores. The young man’s dream had reached its pinnacle when he was accepted into a medical university. That dream which shone so bright and goaded him onward slowly began to rot from the inside out.
It started as something small, a feeling of restlessness that slowly began to seep into all of his activities. It insidiously curdled anything and everything it touched. Relationships wilted like flowers in winter. His grades sank lower and lower. His lofty dreams crumbled around him. He tried so hard to make the pieces all fit and then he smashed it apart just for the fuck of it. They found him in the medical lab. He had swallowed a bottle of pills to solve his problems. He woke up in the mental hospital, a proclaimed danger to himself. The therapists ironically (Or was it coincidentally?) also tried to solve his problems with pills.
Jeff Campbell thought to himself that just as he was beginning to get better was the time when the orderlies opened up the doors and shoved the patients out into the streets. He would not give up like he had done in the medical lab of his university. Now it wasn’t his dream that was rotting, but the entire world and he would not make the same mistakes twice. He was going to live. He finally found what he had been looking for.
He slammed into the door at full tilt and slammed it behind him. He slid the bolt and began slamming bookshelves and furniture in the way. He had to barricade it. He needed time to get to his attic upstairs. He could lay low up in the old attic of his house for days, waiting for them to lose interest. As he headed up the stairs, he noted that a few ghouls were now pounding at the back door as well. As he hit the hallway, his dreams of escape sloughed off its flesh and revealed the skeletal remains beneath. The attic pull door was shattered and broken. He jumped and clawed at the sides, but couldn’t grip them with his sweaty, slippery fingers. The sound of glass breaking seemed to sound its death kneel for him.
Jeff Campbell looked downstairs as they poured in through the shattered front door. There was no way he could escape them now. He’d sprain an ankle jumping out of the window on the second floor. His lungs felt like they were full of battery acid and his veins were pumping fire. He just wanted to sit down. He just wanted to let them have him. He couldn’t run anymore. What was the point? What waited for him even if he did escape? His grip on the fire axe loosened in his hands. He was just about to let it all go when the words returned to him.
His grip on the axe tightened as he made his way to the top of the stairs. His knuckles popped and his cuticles turned white under the force of his grip. They waited below him like a swarm of ants.
He shouted at them with tears welling up in his eyes, "I want to live, I want to hopeI I want to give, I want to grow!"
He charged down the stairs and buried the axe into one of the ghoul’s forehead. Jeff Campbell watched as the horde closed in around him. He gave one last shout and gave a chortle when he realized he couldn’t even hear himself scream over the moans of the horde. He charged into the sea of ghouls and was swallowed up just like his battle cry.
Upton Poe watched her die, complaining of the cold. He went to fetch a blanket, but she was gone before he could get back. He laid the blanket on top of her like a burial shroud. He heard them coming and knew that that was all he could do for her. The gunshots had drawn them. She had done so much for him and he had repaid the favor with a .308 round in her chest. He bitterly wished that it were the others he had managed to hit instead of scaring them away. He went inside before the fiends could arrive.
They came staggering down the street, smelling of death. Their stomachs were filled with meat decaying inside them. They moved with distended, overburdened stomachs like children in third world countries yet still they hungered. They were drawn by the carbine’s reports, but now something else had their attention, the girl. Upton couldn’t watch them eat her. He retreated from the kitchen with his carbine and moved into the living room. He didn’t have to suffer watching them eat her corpse. Instead he heard them. Their teeth tore into her and snapped and were grinding at her bones. What he heard was worse than anything he could have ever seen.
As he sat there, listening to her consumption, he knew what was waiting for him. He knew what was waiting for them all. Their jaws were snapped wide open for them all. The fiends would eat away the world and when there was nothing left, they would wander the world aimlessly until they rotted away into nothing. The army wasn’t coming; they were never coming. A smile stretched across his face. Some part of him always knew it. Some part of him also knew what he would do next as well. He picked up the carbine and went upstairs.
Upton grabbed the bookshelf and tipped it over into the stairwell. The bible cart-wheeled down the stairs and came apart. Beatrice had just about read the thing to pieces and this was the final straw that brought it to its end. He pulled chairs, nightstands, and anything else he could find and stacked it against the bookshelf; creating a barricade. They weren’t going to get through that for a while. When he was satisfied, he carried the carbine into his room.
He stood in the bedroom for a second as memories washed over him. He looked at his bed. His side was disheveled while Beatrice’s had been untouched ever since the cancer took her. He remembered waking up to her peaceful expression. She had written something on a notepad by the bed before she laid down that one last time. He took the last box of .308 shells and pocketed them along-with a crumpled piece of paper. He smashed out the glass and climbed out onto the roof. His bones creaked and for the first time since all this began, he was exhausted.
Upton loaded the magazine and sat down on the roof. Just below them; the fiends were swarming around the girl’s body. He had never seen so many, but knew before everything was said and done that he would see even more than that. He lined up the target in his sights and put his finger on the trigger. He squeezed and the bullet shattered the girl’s forehead.
She didn’t deserve to have to suffer life as one of those things.
The gunshot got their attention. They looked up at the wizened old man and groaned at him through the sallow, skulls.
Sounds like death calling.
He took aim and started to fire.
The fiends reached up at him, but found he was out of their grasp. He rained death down on them and spent shell casings. He methodically lined up a fiend in his sights and squeezed the trigger. Its brains blew out of the back of his head and shattered its face like a porcelain doll. He pulled the lever back and ejected the shell and aimed at another fiend.
The round shattered her jaw and exited through the back of her neck. Upton ejected another round and set another one in his sights. He pulled the trigger. Again. Again and again.
In the monotonous, meting out of death, Upton’s mind traveled back to his father: his father; the myth, his father; the war hero, his father; the drunk. He remembered the medals his father kept hidden away in a box and his uniform tucked away in the back of his closet. He remembered the stench of bourbon on his breath every couple of nights. He drank himself silly when he had the opportunity and when he didn’t he was sour. He beat his lessons into Upton, but the ultimate lesson he had given didn’t need to be told with a strap of leather.
His father had served in the first world war. He left them bright-eyed and standing tall. He returned like a man who had been extinguished and slouched under some burden. He was pinned with so many medals, but the most important thing wasn’t on his chest, it was in his jaundiced skin and graying liver.
The round entered through the top of the fiend’s head and bounced around inside its skull. It sank to the ground as Upton ejected that shell alongside the memory of his father’s homecoming and lined up another in his sights. The fiends were beginning to flow in from every street and converge on his house.
Upton remembered sneaking into his father’s room when he wasn’t there and pinning the medals to his shirt. He wanted his father’s approval, but feared his reprisal.
The shot went wild and dislocated a fiend’s shoulder. He whipped away the tears and continued. When he was drunk, he found himself held by him and when he was sober, he found himself hiding. This continued until his sixty-ninth birthday when he put on all of his medals, put his service revolver into his mouth, and pulled the trigger. The fiends swarmed his lawn and were now probably in his kitchen. He knew how it all was going to end. The same way his father’s life had. He racked another round.
Beatrice was there to pick up all the pieces.
She told him what he had feared and secretly hoped, “You are not your father.”
He was not a soldier; he was not a drunk. He would not end up like him. Upton Poe smiled sardonically as he pulled the trigger again and a fiend’s head practically disintegrated under the impact. He heard the sound of them surging up against the bookcase. The curtain was just about to close. He loaded his last few .308 rounds into the carbine and waited for the finale.
He set the piece of yellowed paper in front of him and looking at it banished all his thoughts of his father. He was only focused on her now: her smile, her hair, and her eyes. He missed her so much. He took one last glance at his makeshift barricade. They were almost through it now. He kicked off his shoes. He put the barrel under his chin and felt the warmth coming from it and the smell of cordite. He looked one last time at the paper.
I’m yours now and forever.
He smiled and repeated their shared wedding vows.
I’m so sorry Beatrice.
He proclaimed to himself as the fiends flooded into his room, “I’m yours, now and forever Beatrice.”
He put his toe on the trigger, depressed it, and went to join his wife.
L.C. left the hope that Draco Nabokov had promised behind. They had started the trip out by laughing and joking. He had insisted on carrying L.C. a few blocks on his shoulders like his dad used to. He didn’t mind, but something about it made him uncomfortable, but when he asked to be put down, Draco had responded with too much hurt in his voice for L.C. to press the matter. When they settled down for the night was when things began to get too weird.
It started with a little metal container that Nabokov had insisted that L.C. tried. It tasted like burning and he didn’t want to taste anymore, but he kept pressing him to drink. It made him feel dizzy and he knew that feeling that way while those monsters were around was not a good idea. L.C. feigned sips of the liquid to appease the man. The man drunk deep and the boy didn’t know it, but he was building up himself with a bit of liquid courage for what he wanted to do.
The man then insisted that L.C. sat up against him between his splayed legs while he told him a story. The story didn’t seem to have a purpose and was silly. It was about a tickle monster. He brushed the man’s hand away when it stroked his hair. He complained that he was tired, but Draco kept telling him that the bad men were going to find him if he made too much noise. The man’s breath was cloying. Something was wrong, but L.C. couldn’t identify what.
Later the man who had his hand on his shoulder began to slide down onto L.C.’s stomach and lower. He managed to break away as the man asked what was wrong. L.C. just wanted to sleep. He just wanted to be at the barricade. The way the man had smiled at him. It just worried him.
Draco Nabokov said, “Then let’s go to bed, we can snuggle like my son liked to do.”
L.C. asked, “Tell me about Dean, your boy.”
“Dean was such a good boy he always listened to his father. You should be spanked! Would you like-”
L.C. knew it was a lie. He had made up the name Dean. Dean had never existed.
L.C. asked him before he ran, “You never had a son, did you?”
The man couldn’t respond, but that was all he needed to hear. The man stumbled after him, but the drink that gave him courage also robbed him of his grace. He screamed things at L.C. as he ran. Ugly things. The boy covered his ears and fled. He hid. He was worried that he would find him. Would do what he had yelled at him while he fled. He stayed in the closet most of the day with the unnamable fear pressing in around him.
The next day L.C. left the closet that he had holed himself up in. Draco had probably given up looking for him. He just wanted to go to the barricade now. The nice soldiers would be there. They would be waiting for him and they’d have hot chocolate that wouldn’t taste like fire like the flask that the man had. His mom would be waiting for him there and they’d go back and get dad. The soldiers would make the monsters go away with their rifles.
The boy had been running from those monsters when a man had grabbed him. He had foolishly picked up a stone and threw it and suddenly they were chasing him. He ran until the man found him. He thought he was another man like Draco, but this man was nice. He hid L.C. He was black and he looked very serious. He didn’t say anything to him, but he knew that he wanted to help him. He looked sad. L.C. had waited until the coast was clear and then he began heading back towards the barricade where he would be saved. He walked until he found her.
It wasn’t her. It couldn’t be her. She looked like her, but it wasn’t her. She was standing in the middle of the street. His mom was nice and she was always smiling. Sometimes she smiled at L.C. and other times she was smiling at something his dad had said. Sometimes she was smiling for no reason at all. This one wasn’t smiling. His mom was pretty and this one didn’t look pretty. She looked pale and mean. She limped towards him and fear held him in place. He couldn’t look away or work his paralyzed legs. The monster looked like his mom, but it couldn’t be her. His real mom was waiting at the barricades for him.
Her lips were red, but it wasn’t lipstick. She growled at him and that was enough to break the trance that she held over him. Something red was dripping from her mouth. It didn’t look like blood, he knew what blood looked like. L.C. tried to run around her, but she grabbed onto his arm as he tried to pass. Her hand locked around his arm and squeezed tightly. The monster had her hand wrapped around his left arm and was squeezing so tightly.
L.C. shrieked and felt warmness spreading down his legs and soaking his pants. He jerked backwards, desperately trying to break free of her grasp, and both of them tumbled to the pavement. His face stung where he scrapped it against the asphalt. The pain helped to give him something to focus on other than the pain that was now radiating from his left arm. Her hand was still tightly gripping his left forearm. He tried to pull his arm free of the vice grip that the imposter had on him, but it was too tight. Her eyes were focused on him from the pavement.
He cried for her to let him go, but she began to drag herself along the ground, pulling his arm towards her. She wanted to eat him! He kicked at her and struck her in the face. Her teeth fell out of her mouth like they had been held in her mouth with Elmer’s glue. Another kick caught her in the jaw and shifted in out of place. The final kick caught her in the forehead and loosened her grip enough for L.C. to pull away him arm. He got to his feet and ran. He managed to find a hiding spot. He closed the door. His arm felt sore and it hurt to move it.
He wanted to look at it better, but something was in his eyes. Was it raining? He rubbed at his eyes and came away wet. Was he crying? Why? That wasn’t his mother. It was one of the monsters dressed up to look like her. His mother was always smiling. She wasn’t smiling when she woke him up that night, but she was sad because dad was angry and pounding at the door. She would be smiling when he found her at the barricade. He had to be brave if he wanted to make it to where the soldiers were. The barricade was only a few- Something pounded against the door and he stifled a scream.
He knew it was her. She had followed him. She pounded on the door, but couldn’t work the handle. L.C. crept back. She continued to hit the door. She knew he was in there. She didn’t have the strength to break it down. He would just have to wait until she lost interest and left. The scratches she left on his arm stung, but he was a big boy and he wasn’t going to cry about that. Nevertheless he felt the tears come. His arm was swollen, but it didn’t hurt enough to make him cry. He wasn’t scared either. That wasn’t why he was crying either. It wasn’t her. He knew it wasn’t her. Still the tears continued to flow. L.C. watched the door shudder under her relentless banging and nursed his wounded arm. He would wait until she left and then he would go to the soldiers. The barricade was so close. He waited and cried.
George Brooks slammed one of his last three magazines into the combat shotgun’s chamber and cocked it. He screamed as the pain re-blossomed in his legs. It ebb and flowed like the tide now that he had been running for hours upon hours. Sometimes they felt like everything below his thighs were dead and other time it was nothing but needles. The horde had pursued him like he was the last person alive in this city. A fact, which was an unwelcome thought, but it could be true. Screaming aloud was all he could do to keep his legs moving. They felt like they were filled with battery acid and every pump sent it cycling through his veins. He kept running, to stop meant a gruesome, masticating death.
He scanned the street ahead of him and saw it vacant. He whirled around and raised his shotgun. The first blast caught the zombie in the shoulder and sent him onto his back where it was swept over and trampled under by hundreds of marching feet. He cocked the gun and unloaded a shell into the next nearest zombie’s face and uncapped its skull like it was made of cheap plastic. It collapsed face-first to the ground, but more swept in to jockey for the chance to get at him.
The blast peppered the crowd and knocked a few back. George just needed to slow them down. He just needed the opportunity to get away, to put some distance between them and him.
They had been chasing him every since he had killed her. His first kill. Just the very thought of her conjured her death to his mind. Her eye rolled around in her destroyed orbital socket. He knew that face would be haunting his dreams (If he managed to survive all of this today.) and he would be waking up with a scream on his lips for years to come. The two consecutive shotgun blasts were like the dinner bell being rung for them. Each consecutive shell he fired called even more, but as the number had exponentially grown, he had stopped caring how many were chasing him. If he had been able to stop and get a head count, George would find that they numbered in the dozens of dozens.
George looked ahead and saw a few ahead of him, looking to cut off his retreat. He raised the gun while still running and unleashed buckshot The first volley blew a zombie onto the pavement with a hole in its throat. He cocked the combat shotgun and reduced another’s leg into pulp. It tried to continue the chase, but without a leg; it resorted to crawling after him at such a slow pace that he could have out-walked it. (If he weren’t being chased by half the Goddamn city.) He blasted another one that looked to surround him. He simply ran around another one. He had only two magazines of eight shotgun shells left in each. He couldn’t go about wasting precious ammunition.
With the way in front of him clear, he turned around to deal with the one’s that were trailing him that had gotten clos- George cried out in surprise when he saw that it was no longer the undead that were hunting him, but a vast cloud of dust and smoke that was rolling across the street to envelope him. This isn’t real! I’m just hallucinating. A dark, well-hidden part of George acknowledged that he had always seen himself dying this way; being swallowed up completely by the smoke and being completely obliterated. The memory of that day was so burnt on his memory that even the thought triggered a panic attack.
George Brooks tried to control his breathing and overcome the panic that was crushing his lungs shut. He ejected the magazine and let it fall to the pavement. He retrieved another magazine and moved to slam it into the breach, but his hands were shaking so badly that it shivered against the slot and failed to lock in place. The magazine fell impotently out of his SPAS 12 gauge combat shotgun. He left it behind. It was swallowed by the smoke and dust that welled up behind him. He had one last magazine and he would need it if he wanted to survive.
He whispered to himself before attempting to reload his weapon, “This is what you wanted. This is your dream. This isn’t your nightmare. Get it together. You can do this.” He felt a calm sweep over him and he knew that if he looked backwards, there would only be zombies chasing him. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. He loaded the combat shotgun with his last eight rounds and knew that he wasn’t going to shake them by taking out a few and keeping in the lead. He was going to have to out-think them.
George knew that the door would be locked before he even got there. The door hadn’t been kicked it nor was it left open. This was uncharted territory. It was a good thing he had the universal key to all locks. He raised the shotgun and blew the handle off the door. He slammed into it and exploded into the room; catching a zombie unaware. Just as his rotted head swiveled around; George Brooks’ buckshot caught him in the neck and severed his head from his body. He didn’t have time to marvel at the buckshot decapitation. He ran to the back of the building and knew it was going to hurt before he even jumped through the glass window. He covered his face and dove through it just as the zombies flooded into the room behind him.
He knew they would have problems getting through the window. He cut down the alley and entered through a side door that opened up into an apartment building. He slammed it closed and threw whatever was close to him in front of the door to barricade it. The stairwell had been filled with junk that made it impossible to proceed, but he could make use of the apartments on the first floor. He admired the handiwork for a few seconds before barricading himself in apartment room number 104.
He listened to the horde as they slowly filed down the alleyway, looking for their elusive prey. They weren’t going to find it. George set the shotgun down by the bed and sat beside it. He had been running for what felt like an eternity and deserved a much-needed rest. He had done it; he had escaped them! He leaned back on the bed and let out a little laugh at his triumph over the horde. The closet doors banged open as a zombie burst forward, sank between George Brooks’ legs, and bit him on the inner thigh.
To his credit, he didn’t scream. He knew that might draw others. He kicked the zombie back and took out his anger on it with strength he didn’t know he had left in him. He pummeled the zombie to the point where he was no longer punching his face, but beating wet, chunks of meat and bone into the floor.
He stood up and the words came unbidden to his lips, “4 itchy, tasty.”
He stifled a laugh, but that was futile and it blossomed into a full-bodied laugh that doubled him over in delicious agony.
At the end, all you can do is laugh.
George Brooks laughed and rubbed at wound on his inner thigh as if he could remove it by rubbing it away. He couldn’t and that just made him laugh all the harder.
Father Stoker let out Burgess like he had been forced to do. The triumphant smile that he had given the priest when he passed by was powerful enough to curdle milk. He was certain what Burgess and his droogs were doing outside now. They were raiding the corpses, robbing people, and perpetrating a thousand other atrocities that father Stoker could never have even imagined. He had inflicted every single crime on those people the moment he opened the door and unleashed a monster like Burgess on the populous. He was as much as fault as they were. The thought chilled him to the core.
Stoker started vespers like every other day since this all began, but his mind was no longer present. He went through the motions perfunctorily. He gave intercessions for salvation to the physical (As if the army was still coming.) and spiritual (As if God was even listening.) states, readings, and then a summarization of everything in a nice little package for those who had drifted off. He drifted off himself during the reading to a fantasy of Burgess screaming outside the church doors as the horde bore down on him. He would listen to his pleas and begging’s as they tore into him. And he would smile.
When he first had that dream after his conversation with Burgess, he felt guilty and ashamed. Who was he to hope for a man to be brought to destruction? That was God’s job. (Just ask Job.) As the daydream increased in frequency, the feelings of remorse and mortification began to take on a different shape. Those feelings soon transformed into a sense of God’s righteousness and plan. He thought he finally understood everything now. This wasn’t a trial nor tribulation meted out by the Divine. This was a washing away. This was a worldwide cleansing that would allow God to weed out everything from His garden.
Father Stoker saw it all now. God’s garden was full of weeds. These weeds had sprung up innocuously. They mingled with the other plants. Some looking like flowers and mimicking their appearance while others sprung up as flowers and slowly withered in the heat and the light that God rained upon them. God nourished all of them (Himself included.) and rained tragedies on them all without discerning who warranted it or not. It was impossible to tell anymore who was worthy of salvation and who deserved condemnation.
The Father looked over his congregation.
A few flowers, but mostly weeds.
There were only a few handfuls that he had actually recognized from his services before all this happened. The ones he did recognize he had always seen drifting off in the back or ‘covertly’ trying to send texts. A few children still had that light in them, but it would only take a few trials and tribulations He inflicted on them to dull that light. Maybe that was why He had sent all- The church vestibule was filled with the sound of hands pounding against the door.
One woman stifled a shriek and men reached for whatever makeshift weapons that they’d brought with them. Father Stoker knew they wouldn’t need them. Most would be ineffectual at best. One man actually had a thin stick that would have snapped if he tried to use it. The pounds that resounded through the door were too fast. This was a different monster. That was the living knocking. He didn’t have to pray for guidance to know who wanted to be let in. It was Burgess and his gang.
His congregation looked to him for answers as he walked down the aisle. He re-assured them as he went, offering platitudes to calm them. The flock slowly walked behind him as if he was going to open up the doors and usher a horde into the church. They probably would have refused to unbar the door and with Burgess’ threat still re-playing in his ears, Stoker knew how something like that was going to end. He went to the door to allow the wolves back in with the sheep.
They were knocking on the door as he approached. They weren’t shouting or begging so that probably didn’t mean that the horde was bearing down on them. A pity. Father Stoker felt his dreams crumble away at his fingertips. They weren’t calling out which possibly meant a few things. It could mean that there were a few of those things nearby and they didn’t want to draw too much attention or they might not want to call out because something in their voice might give away what they were feeling.
He leaned into the door and asked, “Who’s out there?”
Burgess growled back, "Open sesame, you son-of-a-bitch kid-fucker! Open up or we’ll blow ‘em down.”
Those words told Father Stoker everything he needed to know. They had given up all pretense of being cordial. They didn’t care who heard them. They needed inside and their necessity called for them to take off their disguises. Their masks were off and the wolves wanted to be let back in with the congregation. It was at this very moment that these men were at their most dangerous and most desperate. The father unbarred the door and let them in.
Father Stoker knew what was wrong the second he saw Burgess’ friends carry him into the lobby of the church. He couldn’t walk.
The dim one said with forced rehearsal, “Burgess sprained his ankle jumping out of a store on the second floor. We lost all the food we had collected.”
A terrible lie; they didn’t even leave the church with bags. Burgess can’t walk because one of those things chomped on his leg. You don’t have to be blind to see how nervous he looks and how his eyes keep scanning the crowd. The real question was why his friends had brought him back to the church. Father Stoker closed the door and admitted them into the church.
He re-assured the congregation and told them to go back and go to sleep. He just had to make sure it wasn’t a broken ankle. (Burgess paled at this moment.) They left casting worried glances back over their shoulders. He wasn’t sure they’d pieced it together yet, but the shepherd now had worked out the big picture. Burgess moved to enter the main hall of the church when he stopped him.
Father Stoker leaned in and whispered, “You’ve been bitten and you come back here? You think a miracle is waiting for you here if you pray hard enough? God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t give out ‘road to Demascus’ moments anymore. God isn’t looking to mete out forgiveness. He’s done with us, been done with us for a while.”
It was in that moment that both men really saw each other for the first time. Father Stoker took the bar off the door and walked away while the men looked on shocked.
He said before he closed the door, “I always knew it would come down to this. We were always waiting for a second flood. God just decided to get a little bit more creative. A sea of undead washing over us, cleansing us. I’m going to spread the word.”
He closed the door and barred the infected Burgess inside with his flock, who’d be infected within days. The thing about those doors. They kept the dead out, but they also kept the living in. Father Stoker was going to go shepherd more people. He left to the sound of them pounding on the door trying to escape.
Tu Fui Ego Eris
The streets were quiet. The homes and apartments were hushed as well. The entire city was silent. In a few years, the weeds would sprout through the cement and the creeping vines would overtake everything. Few people were left in what was once called a city. Those left had been either driven mad or been embroiled in their own futile quests. One by one their struggling would be swallowed up in the swarm that now festered in this city. As was mentioned at the beginning, this is an incomplete story. It is unfinished just as much of human wants, desires, and ambitions are left in the same state at the end of everything. We only begin to find closure at the examination of the myriad of perspectives that lie around us. The city was silent, but not unpopulated. More perspectives lie in wait.
He was still going at the end of it all. He put one-foot in front of the other and kept up the tireless pace. Hours before, he’d felt lost, afraid, and forlorn. Now he felt only one thing. It drove his existence. The blood that was pouring profusely from his shoulder had just begun to dry on his shirt. His only drive was directly in front of him. The soldier before him screamed a word like, “Later!” although he found that the word no longer held any significance to him. The only thing that mattered to him was the empty feeling in his stomach. The soldier turned to run just as he slammed into him. He glutted himself and felt nothing. A voice spoke through the fog, “Tu.”
What was left of him trudged onward. Pieces of flesh had been torn from his arms, legs, and any other exposed area. The hospital gown was caked in both his blood and the brackish blood of those he had taken out in his final stand. If he had been capable of cogent thought, he would have realized that this was what was waiting for all the others. He heard it talking. It never addressed him directly, but he knew that it was speaking to him. It was speaking to the others as well, but that never crossed his mind. His mind was a black hole. It absorbed all external stimuli, but never produced anything. A voice broke through the fugue and he obeyed. “Fui.”
What was once a man named George Brooks was now something much more. He started out as an individual and now he was part of an endless chorus of names. He walked among others although he wasn’t really aware of their presence. The gunshots drew them onwards. He didn’t even realize the danger as the phalanx of soldiers unloaded rounds into them. A bullet tore through his insides and he felt something slip out of him. He continued towards the soldiers at the behest of the voice. “We hunger, we starve, we exist.” He watched nonchalantly as a round buried into his face and sent him to the ground. The last words he heard were, “Ego.”
The boy arrived late. He had lost a lot of time freeing himself from the barricades he had erected to protect himself which had become his prison. He moved towards the barricade. The bodies of the dead littered the streets around him. Something terrible had happened here, but it didn’t matter to him because what he wanted was right in front of him. What lied in front of him was the outside world. He had made it! His feet crunched on the casings and broken remains of soldiers and monsters alike. A voice whispered through him like a breeze, “Eris.”
His slippers carried him through the broken remains of the barricade that had promised him such hope and strode out into the world. They were free.
Written by EmpyrealInvective