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  1. Back To Top    #21
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    Banned User Ripley's Avatar
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    Very clean, tight chapter with the tension built from the first few words until the crescendo at the end. Very well done! I love the great descriptions of each group member, right down to their clothing- they definitely come alive as individual, 3-D people breathing life from every pore and the details make it very easy for a reader to "see".

    You have me wanting to know more about Marcus and his wife- tee internal dialogue is also brilliant as is the harder balance of what he says to himself vs. to the guests.

  2. Back To Top    #22
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    Walker Bait lonewanderer's Avatar
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    part ten.MONSTER INSIDE


    The dawn came, the sun casting its blinding rays on us. Nature’s alarm clock. My joints ached, as they did every morning. Sleeping in the truck just wasn’t good on the body. I missed the comfort of a bed and sheets and a pillow. I glanced around our surroundings. Things were much the same as the night before. The world still spun, the sun still came up… time, however, no longer sped along at a breakneck pace. It had dropped down to extra slow motion, each second like minutes, each minute like hours. Survival and loneliness are wearisome bedfellows at best and I had them both as companions.

    “You awake, Humphrey?”

    A yawn and a yes followed.

    “Ready to head down there?”

    Silence.

    “Me neither.”

    After rolling up the wire-can alarm system and tucking it all back into the truck, we pulled onto the road. I could have made it to the next town over, maybe even further if I really needed to, but I had no desires to push my luck. I drove slow, scanned the area for anyone, living or dead. There were a few areas of blood near the fifties style buildings. The skeletal remains of a person lay scattered about near the entrance of what was the town police station – a building no bigger than a convenience store. The door stood open, a lone bloody shoe a few feet from it. Not for the first time did I wonder what terror the victim went through, if the person were ripped apart or killed themselves before the dead got to them.

    Up ahead I could see the red car sitting at the parking light. My stomach quivered at the notion of who could be in it. I turned the truck around, pointed it back toward I-26.

    “Stay here,” I said to Humphrey.

    I stepped out, pistol in hand, slung the rifle over my shoulder. A handful of bullets later and I eased away from the truck, the door closed, keys in the ignition. I’ve never quite gotten over the jitters – each day it’s the same thing. Nerves on end. Quick breaths. Dry eyes from lack of blinking. Knots in my stomach. Sweaty palms.

    The blood on the sidewalk had dried, paled over time, becoming more of a washed red color. The shoe in the door of the police station was a Nike. A bone jutted from a blood crusted sock. I peeked in through the door, not wanting to go in like a gangbuster and get myself killed. Shadows played along gray walls, making it difficult to see anything not directly in the sun’s light. My hand shook as I placed the palm down on the cool door and pushed it open. There were a couple of desks, papers and computers atop them, chairs nearby. A tipped over coat rack sat near the door, a gun rack on the far wall, steel bars keeping anyone from taking them. A body lay in the center of the room, flies buzzing about – a cop, his gun still in hand.

    Against the wall closest to the door lay another body, a hole in its head. On the other side of the closest desk was a third person, a woman with jeans and a bloodied shirt. The top half of her head was missing. She was closest to the cop, probably the one who took him down. But, he got the shot off, or maybe someone else did.

    I pushed the door open further, letting it hit softly against the wall. A hall led away from the central room. I inched past the corpses, checked the cop to make sure he was dead. He had put a bullet in his own head. I thought back to the Baxter’s, the way Max had mercifully killed his family before they could succumb to the death that surrounded them. Visions of what may have happened bounced through my head. The cop took out the first zombie, didn’t see the other one until it was too late and she had taken a chunk out of him somewhere. He wheeled, put a bullet through her brain and slumped to the floor, blood pouring from a wound, his heart pounding, the truth running through his head. With tears in his eyes, he probably put the revolver to his head, said a quick prayer and pulled the trigger. Maybe he had never been religious before and found it in that moment before taking his own life. I shook my head, took a deep breath and moved down the hall.

    The bathroom sat on the right, empty. A door separated the hall from the next room. I opened it slowly, peered in. Another desk sat near the center of the room, its chair pushed underneath it. Three jail cells lined the wall. The first two were empty. The third one held a man. He leaned against the bars, his back to me, shoulders slumped. I could see the body on the floor, pieces of meat still clinging to bone.

    “Hey,” I said, my voice barely coming out as a whisper. I coughed, repeated. The man pushed off of the bars and turned. His head lulled on his shoulders. The front of his clothes was soaked in gore, his hands bony and bloody. He seemed to stare at me with his head down. A grunt escaped him. The skin on his face had sagged. I could see the bones of his eye sockets.

    My heart sped up, chest tightened. I lifted my pistol.

    He grunted again, smashed his head against the cell door. He didn’t lift his arms and. Other than beating his head against the bars and grunting, he didn’t do much. But, there was desperation in those simple actions.

    I swallowed. “Listen, buddy,” I said, trying to reason with him, if there was really any way to do that. “I know you’re in a bad way, but I’m going to take care of you, okay?”

    A grunt was followed by another head butt to the cell door. Skin split his forehead.

    “Calm down, okay? I’m not going to let you stay that way. I promise. I’m going to set you free. Just give me a couple of minutes, okay?”

    I hurried back up the hall. I could have put a bullet in the man’s head, but sound – any type, I learned – attracted the dead. No need firing the pistol before I gathered some valuable supplies.

    I stopped in the main room. The gun case was held shut with a pad lock. There were eight rifles and a couple of hand guns. I searched the desks for keys, found none. I turned to the cop, rolled him over, searched his pockets.

    “Jackpot,” I whispered when I pulled out a key ring with several keys attached. The fourth key produced an audible click that made me jump. With the gun case open, I unloaded the weapons, carrying as many as I could to the truck and going back for the rest. I wondered if the cop had thought about unlocking it before he died. If he had the foresight to think that maybe he wouldn’t have much time to open the case when the dead were closing in on his tiny town. The case was still locked, my mind said. What do you think?

    After loading the last of the guns and ammunition in the truck, I went back inside and down the hall. The man had sagged against the cell door, his eyes facing the floor. Black blood seeped down the bars his head leaned on.

    “Hey,” I said from about ten feet away. “Are you still with me?”

    He lifted his head slightly. His eyes were a filmed over black. A fly landed on one of them, did a little dance and took off again. My heart was like a tidal wave crashing along the shore, crushing blow after blow within my chest. He struck his head on the bars again, his mouth open. A low growl filled the room, like an angered whisper or a plea for help.

    I lifted my gun, finger on the trigger. “If you’re in there and can hear me, I hope you understand I’m not doing this because I’m some mean, uncaring person.”

    He stopped beating his head against the cell door. I saw nothing in his eyes, nothing in the way he stood, mouth ajar, arms dangling at his sides.

    I wiped my mouth with one hand, swallowed hard. “If you can hear me and you don’t want me to put a bullet in your brain, step backwards one step.”

    I waited, hands shaking, lips and mouth dry. He didn’t move, not even a waver from side to side.

    “Okay.” I thought for a moment longer, daylight burning away outside, the hairs on my arms on end. “Okay. Listen up. If you can hear me, listen real carefully. I’m going to shoot you. I’m going to kill you… again. If you want me to do that, hit your head against that bar again.”

    It was a reach, I knew. But, I had to know. I had to know if my experiment before was accurate, if there really were souls trapped inside those bodies.

    Time stood still. We stared at each other, this stranger and I, until he lifted his head away from the cell door and brought it down hard against one bar. There was the audible noise as his forehead cracked. Again, he hit his head against the door. Two more times followed.

    “Okay, okay,” I said. “You can stop now.”

    And he did.

    I nodded. “Thank you.”

    His head snapped back with the sound of the gun going off. He fell backward, landing in a heap on the corpse on the floor behind him.

    Confirmation.

    “They’re in there,” I said. “They’re still in there.”

    I turned and walked toward the hall, stopped in the doorway. Standing between me and the door was another one. He shambled toward me, one arm held out, his bottom jaw missing. I backed up and around the desk and waited for him to get inside the room. He was in bad shape, barely tottering and looking as if he could fall with his next step. He bumped the door jamb, staggered sideways and through the opening.

    I pulled the trigger while his face was turned from me. He struck the wall and fell. I stood, torn at recent revelations. These were people with lives, hopes, dreams. Someone gave birth to them, someone loved them at one point. They probably loved and had dreams and who knew, maybe the guy in the cell had kids or a wife. Either way, two experiments had led me to believe something that should be fundamentally impossible: the dead had souls and those souls were trapped in the husks of what used to be.

    I had thought I would go to Hell for the murders I committed. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe I had to be the Grim Reaper and help these poor folks get to the afterlife… as painlessly as possible. Maybe surviving wasn’t all that was left to do. Maybe finding other survivors wasn’t all that was left to do. Maybe… maybe delivering the dead to… to where? The afterlife. Maybe ending their misery was the way to getting my soul back.

    I stepped around the dead man and hurried down the hall, pistol in hand. I stopped at the cop. “Sorry, buddy, but I’m going to need that,” I said and bent down. It took a little work, but I took his gun and slid it in my waistband and beneath my shirt. It was cool on my back.

    Outside the police station, I glanced both ways, made my way toward the red car at the light further down. My memories raced, searching through thousands of files before finding the right cabinet, the right moment in time. I hurried toward the car – a Chevy much like the one Leland had bought a couple of years earlier. I couldn’t see the tag from where I was, nor if there was a bumper sticker on it that read, Honk If I Made You Mad, on the right hand side.

    From between two buildings a woman stumbled, her hair matted to the side of her bloodied face. I turned the pistol on her, my mind firmly on auto-pilot as I approached the car. One shot, one kill.

    A few feet from the car, Lee’s voice echoed in my mind.

    “How do you like her?” he asked as he ran a hand across the hood.

    “It’s alright if you like that sort of thing.”

    He shrugged.”I do.”

    Jessica had loved that car. She had screamed for joy when Lee showed it to her, a birthday present that kept on giving right until the end of the world.

    I circled around the front of it, part of me terrified to see the tag, to see the bumper sticker Lee had put on as a joke – one Jessica wasn’t too happy with, but allowed it to stay to keep from scratching the paint while taking it off.

    I thought of Lee as he and I and Davey Blaylock made our way from building to building, seeking supplies and survivors, putting bullets in anything that didn’t answer our calls. I thought of how Lee rounded a corner and the hands that grabbed his arm and the mouth that sank down on his bicep. I thought of the fear in his face as he pulled the trigger, taking off the guy’s head, how he laughed when he realized who it was.

    “Son-of-a-bitch,” he said with tears in his eyes. The laugh was involuntary – shock, maybe – and he let it out, a high pitched sound that could have been a whine or scream or a little bit of both. “Was that Paul Marcum?” he asked.

    I glanced at the body. No doubt. “Yeah, it was.”

    “Son-of-a-bitch,” he yelled and kicked Paul in the side several times. He lowered his gun, squeezed off two shots and screamed at Paul like it was his fault the world had died. After several minutes, he calmed, laughed again. This time it was an eerie realization that was carried in it. He shook his head. “Well, ain’t this some shit?”

    “We’ll get help,” I said. “We’ll figure something out.”

    He shook his head again. “No, little bro, we won’t. I’m a dead man and I’m not going to be a burden on you guys.” He pointed down at Paul Marcum. “And I sure as hell ain’t going to end up like that fucker. Can you believe this shit?”

    “No,” I said. One brother was already dead and Lee was going to join him. It was only a matter of time.

    “Paul Marcum,” he said. “Paul fuckin’ Marcum. We used to kick the shit out of him in school. You know, me and Rich hated his squealing ass. I’m taken out by a fucking nerdy ratter. How ironic is that?”

    I shook my head against the memories, looked through the dirty windshield. A man lay slumped in the front seat of the car, his brain spattered on the windshield and side glass. I could see flies buzzing about his body. I didn’t recognize the face and what little bit I could make out didn’t look anything like I recalled of Mike Simmons’ appearance.

    Around the corner came three more zombies. I leveled my aim on one, pulled the trigger. Missed.

    “Shit!”

    There was no time for missing. Worse still, there wasn’t enough bullets to go wasting on not taking one of them out. I steadied my hand, squeezed off the next shot and dropped one. Two more shots and the other two were down.

    I rounded the passenger’s side, glanced inside. No purse. No little kid toys.

    More of the dead had come out into the street.

    Hurry, my mind screamed.

    The one closest to me was a girl – a teenager who the boys probably liked a lot. Her light brown hair probably flowed with the breeze when she was alive. She might have been a cheerleader or danced in the school plays. At that moment, she was another one of the dead, their souls trapped in bodies that only functioned to stumble about and seek out the living. I wondered if she were screaming inside as she approached me. The center of her head disappeared and I made my way to the back of the car. I wanted to close my eyes, but couldn’t. I glanced down and saw…

    I saw nothing on the bumper. No sticker, no scratches where Lee might have taken it off. The weight lifted and I turned my attention away from the car, from what I had thought was Jessica’s Chevy and to the more pressing advancement of the dead. I counted six. Amongst them were two kids, both clearly under the age of ten.

    I backpedaled toward my truck, slung the rifle off my shoulder and aimed. One down. Two down. Backed up. Ran for the truck. I reached inside, grabbed another gun and fired off two shots. The children were last to go, slower moving than the rest and further off. I hated the feeling of nausea that swept over me, the way sweat spilled from my pores, the empty feeling in my chest as I first took down the little girl, then the boy. They could have been siblings. Maybe even twins.

    Urgency swept over me as another realization kicked in. No matter how much I view these zombies as once living, breathing, loving people, they were still dead and they would just as soon kill me and tear me apart than to let me walk out of there unscathed. I turned in a circle, scanned the street and saw no one else.

    I got in the truck, backed it up to the car and popped the release for the gas tank. As a kid, we learned the art of siphoning and, even with the safety features on new cars a hose could go down into a tank easily enough. Thankfully, a hand pump system made it easier. I grabbed the gas cans from the back of the truck, opened each one and set them by the car. I opened the car door. The dead man slumped a little, but didn’t fall out. Bending down, I pulled the gas lever. At the back of the car, the small door popped open. The siphon hose went down into the car’s tank easy enough. I squeezed the white rubber bulb several times until gas flowed through the hose and into the cans.

    Another one of the dead came from behind one of the buildings. The front of her blouse was torn, exposing a ruined breast. I took a deep breath, let it out after putting her down.

    With the cans full, I closed all but one of them, set them back in the truck bed. I poured the last one into the truck’s tank.

    I hopped into the truck, rolled the engine over and pulled off. It was still early in the morning by the sun’s dial. Noontime was a good two hours away. More supplies were needed and what amounted to a grocery store the size of a convenience store sat a few buildings away. I parked the truck, again pointing it toward the interstate. I slid from my seat.

    “Hang tight, Humphrey,” I said, added, “Don’t leave without me.”

    The window to the store had been shattered. A brick lay on the floor a few feet from it. I stepped through the opening, glanced around the dimly lit space. Glass crunched under my boots as I stepped slowly around the first aisle. It still amazes me at how ransacked some places were and how untouched others were. In this case, the place had been ransacked, but there were still plenty of canned goods on shelves.

    At the check out counter, I grabbed a handful of bags and stuffed them with as many cans as I could. Four bags went out to the truck and then I was back in for more. From the corner of my eye I saw the lurching man, his large stomach split open, his mouth slack and bloodied. Even in death carrying all that weight appeared difficult. I took a deep breath, aimed. A second later, he fell backward, his arms flailing forward as gravity pulled him back.

    Back in the store I stopped on an aisle holding chips and candies and other things that in another life weren’t all that good for you. A man squatted in the center of the aisle, his clothes dirty, hair disheveled. He was older, maybe pushing seventy. I took aim, but lowered the pistol.

    “Hey,” I called. “Hey, you.”

    The man looked at me. There was color in his face, stubble on his chin. His brow was wet with sweat and in his hands was a bag of chips. He shoveled a handful into his mouth and chewed quickly, repeated this several more times. I couldn’t believe I stood twenty feet from another living person. He was as much skin and bones as many of the dead were, but he was alive and alive was something I hadn’t seen since the world collapsed.

    I took a step forward and he cringed away from me, turning his shoulder as if he thought I would steal his chips. I stopped, not wanting to scare him.

    “Hey… umm… it’s not safe here. Not without a weapon at least.”

    He pushed onto his knees and then placed one foot on the floor. It took a few seconds, but he managed to stand, though shakily at best. He stumbled away from me, grabbing another bag of chips as he did so.

    “Wait a minute,” I called after him.

    He was faster than I thought and was through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door before I could reach him. I pushed through, my pistol instinctively at the ready. Across the stock room was another door. He opened it and went outside.

    “Not bright,” I said and hurried after him.

    Outside I was met with the backs of the buildings, where trash and recyclables once went. A few cars sat where their owners had left them for the last time. And the dead were everywhere – maybe only ten or twelve of them, but entirely too many to take on without any weapons.

    The man hurried passed the outstretched arms of a woman, her head sagging on her shoulders, a bone jutting through her neck. He weaved in and out as if he were afraid of nothing, as if the dead wouldn’t turn on him. At that moment I wished I could have been that fearless, but truth be told, everyday I was scared, just like a child at night with the shadows playing across the wall. Only the boogeyman is real in this world.

    Fearlessness like that could get someone killed. I knew this and took the cautious approach. I leveled my aim on the nearest of the dead, pulled the trigger. Three more shots and the four closest to me and in the line of the path I needed to catch up to the old man were down. I passed near the woman with the bent neck, gave it little thought as I put her down. The skin of her throat tore with the broken neck she had suffered and her head fell back on her shoulders before she hit the ground.

    I saw the small house and made a run for it. The old man was almost to it when I reached him. He opened the door and looked back at me. His brow was creased and I saw a hint of blue from behind slit eyelids. “Go away,” he said. “Leave us be.”

    “Wait. What?” I said.

    “Go away. We don’t want you here.”

    He stepped inside the small house, made to close the door. I grabbed it with one hand and held it open. “The world is dead now. You can’t stay here. They’ll get to you eventually.”

    “We’ve made due so far. We’ll be fine.”

    “Maybe so,” I said, desperate all of a sudden for him not to close the door on me. “But, you’re the first living person I’ve seen in months and… and…” I was at a loss for words.

    He grunted, then his eyes lit up slightly, the lids opening, showing some yellow in the whites. Red lines snaked through, like cracks on the yellow backdrop. He shook his head as if he were aggravated. “Come on in. Besides, I need to get my Louisa something to eat. It’s been a while since she’s had anything to eat.”

    I looked behind me. The dead made their way toward us, no longer a dozen, but more like twenty or more. I stepped into a dimly lit room, candles flickered their shadow dancers along the walls. The old man slid a board over the door – a makeshift lock that hearkened back to the days of knights and Vikings.

    There were guns lying about and bottles of water. The guy wasn’t so helpless after all.

    “Good to see you have some protection,” I said.

    “Give me your gun,” He said.

    I turned to him, saw the shotgun in his hands.

    “Whoa, Mister,” I said, put both hands in the air about face high. “I’m not here to hurt you or anything.”

    “I said give me your gun.”

    I nodded, lowered the hand with my pistol in it. He took it and tossed it on a dusty couch.

    “Now the knife.”

    I slid the machete from my shoulder and dropped it to the floor. “Look, Mister, I don’t know what the deal is, but – ”

    “I tried to get you to leave,” he said. “But, you wouldn’t listen. Since you’re here, my Louisa is hungry and I’m all out of food for her.”

    “There’s plenty of food back at that store.”

    He shook his head. “Not that Louisa will eat.”

    My stomach dropped. Even before he opened the only other door in the room, I knew what he meant. At that point, I prayed he didn’t pat me down and find the cop’s gun tucked in my waistband behind me.

    The man opened the door slightly and motioned with a jerk of his head. “Get on in there.”

    “You’re making a mistake,” I said.

    “They all say that,” he responded. He cradled the shotgun in the nook of one elbow, held the door knob with his other hand. “Now get on in there. She’ll take you dead or alive and I have no problems putting you down before she gets hold of you.”

    I could take him. I knew I could, but I had to be careful. Reaching for the cop’s gun was out of the question. I gave a nod and stepped forward, hands still in the air. As I approached the door, he opened it further.

    “Louisa,” he called. “Time to eat, Sweety.”

    A groan echoed from the room and I peeked through the foot of space between the open door and the jamb. That room was darker than the one I stood in, no candles to keep it lit.

    Three feet from the door, the man stepped to the side, pushed it all the way open. In the light of the dancing candles from the front room, I could see bones on the floor, skulls with hair still attached, faces that were half eaten. My stomach lurched as Louisa came into sight. She was a big woman with thick chords of gray hair hanging alongside her gore stained face. Her polka dot house dress was bloodied and clung to her ample breasts that sagged to her belly. A meaty hand reached forward and fear clutched me tight.

    “Get,” the man said and shoved the shotgun forward.

    It was all reaction, maybe from having two older brothers and a younger one. I dropped my right arm quickly, the hand grabbing the barrel of the shotgun. The left hand came down across the bridge of the man’s nose. It cracked, popped and blood spilled down his face. He fell back against the door, stunned, the open hand reaching for his shattered nose. Louisa – his Louisa – grabbed his elbow, pulled him to her. His eyes widened and he screamed as she bit down on his shoulder. The shotgun fell to the floor and I ducked. It didn’t go off.

    The man tried to shove her off of him, but her teeth were firmly at the base of his neck. His screams were loud and filled with terror. I could have helped him. I could have pulled out the gun from behind me and put a bullet in Louisa’s head and gotten him free of her. But, I didn’t. In those seconds before Louisa had bit into him I saw the remains on the floor, saw the crazed look in his eyes – he was going to feed me to a zombie, his zombie. That town had been through what every other town in the world had, but the survivors had faced something worse, being sacrificed to the very thing they were trying to escape.

    Heat filled my face and I finally moved. With my boot, I shoved the man and his Louisa back through the door and slammed it shut. His screams were muffled, but they were there. As I waited for them to die down, I stood listening, having exacted a measure of revenge for those he had killed.

    I sat, my shoulders shaking with adrenaline. Long after the man had grown silent, I remained seated, my eyes on the door that hid Louisa from the world. What if I had been put in that situation? What if Jeanette or Bobby had been Louisa? Could I have put them down as easily as strangers or even those who were once friends? Or would I try to preserve them somehow, like the old man did? Would I hunt for ‘food’ for them? I didn’t know and hoped I would never find out, but it made me think – something I had become good at since being by myself. You never know what you would do in any given situation. At any time, any place, with the right circumstances, anyone could lose their mind and what once was wrong may not be so wrong after all.

    I stood, looked around the room. A flash light sat on a table.I tried it, smiled when it flickered before coming to life. At what I assumed was the bedroom door, I held my pistol, fully reloaded and braced myself for Louisa. I shoved the door open, shone the light in the room.

    Louisa sat hunched over, her arms moving stiffly from the floor to her face – she was still eating. I didn’t bother getting her attention and stepped into the room, around the many bones – far too many to be just a couple of bodies – and placed my pistol inches from her head. She looked up from her meal and exited the world for the last time. She slumped over onto the old man. Her heavy body shook the floor.

    I stepped from the room, closed the door behind me.

    There was no back door to escape from. There were no windows to look out of, but they weren’t needed to know the dead stood just beyond the door before me. I picked the shotgun up off the floor, cracked it open. It was empty. I shook my head. How many people had he led to their deaths based on the fear of being shot?

    I checked the other guns – all empty.

    I reloaded my pistol, checked the cop’s gun and prayed it was enough to get me out of there in one piece. I had seen enough of these movies to know it wasn’t going to end well – just keep them as far away as I could and hope not to run out of ammo.

    My hands shook as I reached for the door. I was heading to my death and, though things had been lonely and I had little to hope for, I wasn’t ready to die. The door open, the first zombie fell forward and I started counting.

    One shot. Two shots. Three. Four. Five. They fell as I emptied the cop’s gun and stepped out into the bright sun. I tossed the gun aside and took aim with mine. There weren’t as many as my mind made them out to be, but there were still enough of them that the only course of action I could take was to run straight forward, gun out in front of me, cutting a path in the dead.

    A cold hand touched my arm, sending chills along my spine. I ran, still counting the bullets. Nine. Ten. Eleven. At the back of the convenience store I looked back. Maybe half of them still stood and shuffled toward me. I pushed the back door open and slipped inside. I shoved several boxes in front of it, hoping to barricade the door.

    Sweat spilled down my face, from my armpits and around my groin. Breaths came in labored gasps. I ran one hand along my arm where the zombie had touched. I could still feel its fingers on my skin. There was no blood – I had escaped unscathed.

    Hurrying to the front of the store, I reached the broken window and looked out. There were several more of the dead moving about, but none of them seemed to notice me. The truck awaited and I ran, not worrying about grabbing anymore food or water.

    At the truck, I turned, emptied my gun on several of the dead, then got in, slammed the door shut and locked it. The engine rolled over and I shifted into drive. The tires barked as I mashed the gas and swerved into the center of the road. It was a mere minute before I reached the edge of town. From the rearview mirror I could see the dead lurching about, the noise of my leaving attracting them toward me.

    For the first time in months I left the dead standing. Part of me hated myself for not putting those souls to rest. The other part – the side that said I almost died – let out a long sigh of relief and mashed the gas harder…

  3. Back To Top    #23
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    A terrific read, lonewanderer, with some great twists and turns within the story! Some very incredible images stayed in my mind after reading this- the lone show, the polka-dot housedress his Louise wore, the experiments and realization that the zombies keep something of themselves trapped inside the rotting bodies they no longer control- wow! You did a wonderful job bringing alive several environments using the reader's senses vision, taste, smell, hearing, touch and did so deftly using a keen hand.

    I can't wait to read your next story/chapter- thanks very much for sharing such a fantastic and well-written read!

  4. Back To Top    #24
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    It was unique.

  5. Back To Top    #25
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    blah been SUPER busy with my final project for school. i have to direct this play and do all this stupid shit (casting, painting, outlines) and im filming a mini short as well but its all over wed haha!! so ill be able to focus on this more heh, thanks ripley and shadx for the read and comment means alot. just whipped this up while in this lab ill post something a little longer later this week.



    part eleven.BON APPÉTIT


    John dropped his fork onto his plate, leaned back in his chair and groaned. His hands dropped to his sides and his head lolled backwards as he let out another groan.

    “You’ve killed my husband,” Amy said to Marcus.

    “Not quite, but nearly,” said John, sitting up again and patting his stomach. “I haven’t felt so full in ages.”

    “I just wish I had some bread to mop up the gravy,” replied Marcus with a smile.

    “I haven’t had bread since this whole thing started,” said Oliver, a distant look in his eye as he thought back to his past. “But it doesn’t last long and without the right tools and ingredients there’s no way to make more”

    “I may not have any bread but I do have some wine in the basement,” mentioned Marcus.

    “I would love a glass of wine,” said Amy enthusiastically, clapping her hands together.

    “What about everyone else? What would you gentlemen like to do?”

    “I would love a shower,” replied Oliver.

    “I’d like to see more of your facility,” said John.

    “Not a problem. And you Matt?”

    “I’d just be happy to relax here, maybe have another plate of food, if there’s any left.”

    “Of course, help yourself. Now John, I’ll show you the roof first, where you can get a good look at the grounds as well. If you wait by that door there I’ll be back in a few seconds. Oliver and Amy if you would like to follow me I’ll show you to the bathroom and then the basement.

    Marcus stood up and gestured to Amy and Oliver to follow him as he left the room.

    John walked behind Amy and put his hands around her waist. She tilted her head back to look at him. A big smile spread across his face and, for the first time in months, his eyes showed the same joy his face did.

    “What’s up with you?” asked Amy.

    “Nothing,” he replied. “It’s just I think we may have actually hit the jackpot here.”

    “Certainly looks that way.”

    “But hurry now. You don’t want to miss out on that bottle of wine.”

    Amy spun round to face John. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the lips.

    “Love you sweetheart.”

    “Love you too darling.”

    With that Amy hurried off after Oliver and Marcus.

  6. Back To Top    #26
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    Good add :)

  7. Back To Top    #27
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    part tweleve.DUPLICITY

    Marcus showed Oliver how to work the simple shower. Stand under the shower head that was fixed to a metal pipe, pull the cord to start, pull the cord to stop.

    “The water may not actually get you very clean, as it’s just collected rainwater from the roof tank, but it will be warm thanks to the solar panels,” explained Marcus.

    “I’m sure it’ll be just great,” replied Oliver. He shut the bathroom door and started to undress, looking forward to his first real shower in many months.

    “Now my dear,” said Marcus turning to face Amy. “Let’s do what needs to be done with you.”

    He walked off quickly, not wanting Amy to see the grin that had started to spread over his face.

    “Last chance to change your mind. Help them, don’t kill them.”

    As he approached the basement door, he removed the key from his pocket.

    “Why keep this door locked?” asked Amy.

    “Well…erm…force of habit, I guess,” said Marcus quickly. “I never really thought about it until now.”

    He unlocked the door and pushed it open whilst making a flamboyant bowing gesture to indicate Amy should enter the room. “Ladies first,” he said in an over-the-top posh voice.

    Amy nervously entered the darkness. After she’d taken her third tentative step her left foot found the stairs simple because suddenly there was nothing under the end of it any more.

    “I can’t see a thing,” she complained. “Where’s the damn light switch?”

    “You won’t need it,” muttered Marcus, right in her ear.

    Amy’s heart leaped inside her chest. She hadn’t heard him get so close. Suddenly it wasn’t his proximity to her that was the problem anymore.

    Marcus took a single step back and before Amy had chance to turn around he leapt forward, both arms outstretched, the palms of his hands flat and his fingers splayed. His hands connected with Amy and she pitched forward. As she started to fall, Amy somehow managed to pivot on her left heel before it lost grip on the stair. Marcus saw the look of pure horror, mixed with confusion and betrayal on her face.

    Her left arm, caught in the momentum of her turn, reached out to Marcus, her hand upturned in a gesture of begging.

    “Grab it!”

    Marcus’s right arm twitched, just a fraction, but he kept it by his side. It seemed to take an age for gravity to finally grip Amy as she tumbled backwards down the stairs. He had expected a quiet scream from her as she fell, but got little more than a grunt as her body hit the first of many stairs during her descent.

    He quickly moved out of the room and shut the door, locking it behind him. If the fall hadn’t killed Amy, it was sure to have at least knocked her out, maybe even caused a broken bone or two. It didn’t matter anyway, as soon as he lifted the pole in his room and freed his wife there was nowhere Amy would be able to escape to.

    Briskly he made his way towards his room.

    “Marcus.”

    He froze, slowly turning. Had one of the men seen him? Would he turn to see a gun pointed at his head?

    “I’m surprised you weren’t gone longer,” said John. He was stood in the doorway to the kitchen, a satisfied smile on his face. He produced a small piece of kitchen roll from his pocket and wiped his mouth.

    “Sorry, helped myself to seconds. Like I said, thought you would be gone longer.”

    “Erm…I’m not sure I understand,” confessed Marcus.

    “I just thought Amy would just have spent ages talking to you about what wine to choose. You see she is, well was, a bit of a wine snob.”

    “What do you mean ‘was’?” asked Marcus nervously.

    “Well, when you live as we do there isn’t much chance of getting wine anymore, and when we do get some we can’t really be picky, if you see what I mean.”

    “Ahh yes, I understand,” said Marcus, relieved to see that, for the moment at least, he was in the clear.

    “So do you want to show us this fascinating complex now?” asked John.

    “Us?”

    “Yeah, me and Matt.”

    “I thought meat, err… I mean Matt, was going to stay here and have some more food.”

    “Well I was,” said Matt, joining to the two men from the dining room, “but I decided I better walk off some of this first,” he patted his stomach with a chuckle. “Don’t want to start getting fat and lazy.”

    “Sure,” said Marcus. “Let me just sort out something in my room first then we can go.”

    “Well it was starting to get dark as we arrived,” commented John. “If you have things to do it may be best to wait until tomorrow. I can go help Amy choose the wine.”

    “NO!” shouted Marcus before he could stop himself. “I mean you should let her enjoy this moment herself. You said she was a wine connoisseur; well she must be having the time of her life with my collection. Even I’ve forgotten what I keep down there. Plus it would be best to familiarise yourselves with your surroundings if you are going to stay here, just in case anything happens tonight.”

    “That does make sense,” said Matt. “But we don’t want to bother you if you’ve things to do.”

    “It’s nothing that can’t wait a while,” replied Marcus reluctantly. “Let’s go.”

    Marcus led the two men to a door at the end of the corridor. He taped a code into the locking mechanism and pulled the door open. The faint sounds of moaning could be heard as soon as they started the assent up the flight of stairs.

    “Why the fancy lock on the door?” asked John.

    “Up here is where I keep the transmitter and radio. A few months ago a guest tried to use it for, shall we say, inappropriate reasons, so I thought it best to keep it locked when I’m not around.”

    “He tried to call for help.”

    “But this here is my roof set up. Over there is the radio hut where I search for survivors. I built the hut myself. To your left are the solar panels that provide all the electricity to the building and next to that is the water tank where all the rain water is collected.”

    “Very impressive,” said Matt.

    The trio walked over towards the edge of the building. There was nothing to stop them going right over so they stayed a few steps back from the very edge.

    “As you can see, three sturdy metal chain-link fences topped with barbwire surround the compound. The panels are each six foot long and the poles between them go three foot down into the ground.”

    “Why use chain-link?” asked John. “Surely solid panels would be more secure.”

    “Not really,” replied Marcus. “Solid panels would be more likely to fall with enough force behind them. Those people out there don’t focus their attacks in the same place so there isn’t enough strength pushing against the chain-link fence to be able to break through. Plus this way I get to see exactly what’s out there. If a fence goes down I can see where the people are getting in. If there were three solid walls I may not know the outer two had fallen until the third went as well.”

    “People!” snorted Matt.

    “Makes sense when you think about it,” said John, trying to stop any conflict from arising.

    “What’s this?” asked Matt. He had walked over to the water tank and was looking at a large metal pole with a hook on the end, which was fastened to the front.

    “That is my D.B.R.D.”

    “D.B.R.D?”

    “Occasionally a bird will fall into the water tank. In order to avoid any diseases from spreading I use this device to retrieve the body. It’s my Dead Bird Retrieval Device.”

    It started slowly, but within seconds all three men were in fits of laughter, Matt sat on the ground, whilst Marcus and John leant against the water tank. The absurdity of the device and the need to give it such an important name causing months of built up emotion to come to the surface.

    It lasted several minutes then as quickly as it started it was over, at least for John and Matt. Marcus carried on for a few more minutes. Matt looked over awkwardly at John.

    “It wasn’t that funny,” he said.

    “I haven’t laughed that hard in months,” said Marcus, wiping a tear from his eye. “I guess when you are on your own for so long you forget what’s really funny.”

    “You no longer have to be alone”

    Matt walked back over towards the edge and gazed out at the sea of zombies behind the fences. They had settled down a little since the helicopter had first landed. They were aware there was a meal inside, and the ones closest to the fence still tried to get in, but the ones further out had lost interest, for now.

    John joined Matt, followed shortly after by Marcus, still chuckling to himself every so often.

    “Shit,” said John, looking towards the helicopter. “I forgot the bags. I better go get them before Amy gets back or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

    John started back towards the stairs when Marcus shouted over to him.

    “You’ll need this,” he said, fishing a key out of his pocket and throwing it towards John. “For the front door,” he clarified.

    “Thanks. Be back shortly.”

    Marcus turned back to Matt, who had sat down, legs dangling over the edge of the building.

    “So tell me about how you came to be here,” he said, joining Matt on the edge.

    “Where to start?” said Matt, looking off into the distance.

  8. Back To Top    #28
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    part thirteen.SPOOKED

    John hurriedly walked towards the hatch that led to the entrance tunnel.

    “Amy?” he called out. There was no response. Man, he must have a good wine collection, he thought to himself.

    As he approached the hatch he could hear singing coming from behind a closed door. He lent in a little and heard rushing water as well. He smiled to himself, amused that Oliver was still in the shower after all this time.

    A thought popped in his head and he was glad it did. He quietly opened the door to the bathroom and took a quick look around. He was more than relieved to see a large shower curtain separating him and a naked Oliver.

    He spotted what he was looking for in a pile in the corner of the room. He snuck over, not wanting to disturb Oliver and went through the pockets of Oliver’s trousers until he found the helicopter key, then snuck back out of the bathroom.

    Can’t wait for my turn in there with Amy, he thought, his smile not the only thing getting bigger. He shook his head as he opened the hatch and lowered the ladder into the corridor. If he didn’t get the bags from the helicopter he would be showering, and possible sleeping alone, for tonight at the very least.

    He jogged along the narrow corridor until he reached the outer door. He unlocked it and was surprised when he had to put extra weight behind his body in order to force the door open fully.

    As soon as he stepped out the door slammed shut behind him, melting invisibly into the wall of the building.

    Damn it, he thought, I should’ve known that would happen.

    He looked up towards the roof and saw two pairs of legs dangling over the edge. At least someone would be able to let him back in.

    He quickly made his way towards the helicopter. The undead surrounding the compound had started to get riled up again, pushing and shoving against each other in an attempt to get closer.

    John reached the helicopter, unlocked the doors, and started grabbing the group’s small collection of bags from the back seat. It was amazing to see how little they actually carried with them. Most of the important things they needed to survive were found on the road. All they carried with them nowadays was a single change of clothes and basic tools, like a can opener or screwdriver, to make living that little bit easier.

    As John closed and locked the helicopter doors he glanced back at the house, ready to ask for someone to come and let him in, but noticed there was no longer anyone sitting on the edge of the roof.

    “Shit! Well I’m sure they’ll come looking for me when they notice I’m not back.”

    He was about to get back in the helicopter to wait when he noticed a small, round object fly off the roof and head towards him. His jaw dropped as he realized what it was and started running.

  9. Back To Top    #29
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    Good Constructive work lone.

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    part fourteen.WAITING TO DIE


    Adrenaline is sometimes painful.

    The anger that coursed through my body as I mutilated – and that’s the right word for what I had done – the Paul Marcum look-alike faded before I got back in the truck. My hands and legs shook as the effects wore off. I guessed that’s what a junkie feels like after a high, after his head has been totally messed up for a few hours or a day or whatever and reality starts to come back. I was cold and my joints were stiff and I shivered as if winter had arrived and brought with it the northern winds.

    I drove the mile to the exit ramp that led to Sommerville. Pulled off the interstate. At the dead light I turned and crossed onto the overpass. There I stopped, got out of the truck and walked to the edge of the overpass. My legs still shook a little and I was tired and feeling weak. I stared off toward Charleston. In the distance I could see a few of the dead shambling about. How many? I couldn’t say, but there was no staying any length of time in Sommerville. It could take them a couple hours to get there. Or it could take them a couple days. Honestly, it’s not something I wanted to risk.

    Back in the truck I started the cross over and made my way back toward the interstate. I passed a few bodies lying on the ground, some burned out vehicles. One windshield caught my attention. The blood had dried where the driver’s skull struck. The glass spiderwebbed in all directions. The driver was wedged between the steering wheel and the windshield. I couldn’t help but wonder about the events that led him to the point in time where his head became a ruptured melon. Was he fleeing for his life? Did he swerve to keep from hitting someone or something? The front end of the car was crumpled in, the bumper slumped toward the ground.

    “An accident,” I whispered.

    “More than likely.” Humphrey sounded more and more intelligent with each passing day. The little girl’s voice had been growing up as we went. I hadn’t noticed it until then. I looked at him–at her–and I didn’t see a stuffed teddy bear wearing a bunny costume. I saw a little girl who was no longer around four or five, but closer to eight. Maybe nine. Her hair was long and brown and there was a braid on one side. Freckles lined the bridge of her nose and spotted parts of her cheeks. The bunny ears were still there, still floppy and in need of cleaning, and the costume had stretched tight over the girl’s body. The arms and legs ended at the armpits and mid thighs.

    I couldn’t pull my eyes from her. No matter how bad I wanted to, I couldn’t turn away.

    It was a mental lapse that almost cost me dearly.

    “Who are you?” I asked.

    “Humphrey,” she said without moving her lips.

    “No. Humphrey’s a teddy bear. You’re–”

    “Alive.”

    “What?”

    “I’m alive and–”

    At some point I must have let my foot off the break. The truck rolled, but I didn’t realize it. By the time I did, it had reached the exit ramp, crept off the edge of the road and started down the grass and gravel embankment.

    “Shit,” I yelled, mashed the break as hard as I could. I leveled the steering wheel, trying to keep the truck straight as it skidded down the hill. The embankment didn’t look that far down, but it seemed to go on for miles, all in a world of slow motion special effects that if this were a movie the viewer would have gotten to see the truck bounce and jostle and would have seen my face screwed up in determination, jaw clenched too damn tight as I held onto the steering wheel. The front passenger’s side tire struck a large rock. The truck bounced up and over it, teetered to one side, then tipped over.

    I don’t know how many times I went head over heels. I do know the truck came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, upside down. I struck my head on the ceiling and my left shoulder felt like someone had stabbed me with a hot poker. My left ankle hurt, as did my legs.

    The world sat upside down and the blood flowed to my head. Pressure filled my face and there was a rush of water coming from somewhere in my skull, the flood echoing in my ears. I tried to move my left arm, felt a bolt of pain and forced my hand across my lap. With the other hand, I pushed up on the ceiling, taking as much weight off the seatbelt as I could. I pressed the button and the belt released. My head bumped the ceiling again, but I was free of the restraint. I rolled onto my right shoulder, grimaced as another pain tore through my left arm.

    The pain was intense for a few minutes, but the danger I was in… that danger was far more real than the way my body felt. Laying on my side the rushing waters in my ears subsided and the blood seemed to draw back down into my body. A little relief, but not much.

    I pulled my feet free and got on my knees. My ankle barked once, but nothing like my arm. I looked at my shoulder. I could see the swelling, the way it had pulled free from the socket.

    The windshield was cracked. There were a few trees around us and the grass was grown up considerably.

    “You okay, Humphrey?”

    He didn’t respond. He just hung upside down in his car seat. I reached over, worked the clasp with one hand until it came free. Humphrey tumbled onto the ceiling, gave a sharp ‘ow.’

    “Sorry, kiddo.”

    “It’s okay.”

    She sounded little again. I was okay with that.

    “We need to get out of here, Humphrey.”

    “Where are we going to go?”

    “I don’t know. Maybe find somewhere to hole up for a day or two–my shoulder’s killing me.”

    Outside I could see only the grass and trees around us. The engine hissed as fluid leaked from a busted hose. The handle lifted easily enough and I pushed the door open. It groaned as metal on metal tend to do. I grabbed the pistol and carefully poked my head out. I didn’t know if any zombies heard the tumble, but I saw none of them either on the road just beyond us or on the hill at the top of the overpass.

    A few minutes later, I had my pack over my good shoulder, Humphrey tucked in the top part, the zipper tight to keep him from falling out. The food and weapons were scattered about the ground. I grabbed as much ammo as I could fit in the pack and in my pockets and slung old Babe over my left shoulder and around my neck. The strap tugged on the wounded shoulder and I grimaced as fresh pain raced down into my elbow and up into my neck.

    At the top of the hill my worst fear had become a reality. Several of the dead had heard the truck crash and made their way toward me. One of them–a thin man with a chunk of hair missing on the side of his head–saw me. His upper lip twitched and he groaned.

    I reached for my machete. A panic came over me so sudden it felt like electricity along my skin. The machete lay in the road a mile away where I had mutilated the Paul Marcum look-alike. I didn’t want to fire the weapon. Not then. Not with only a handful of them nearby. The truck crash was one thing, but the gun would echo and carry further.

    Limping, though not as badly as I thought I would, I hurried away from the overpass and down a stretch of road that led away from the stores and restaurants the other direction promised. The center of the road provided distance between the buildings and I hurried as fast as I could, keeping eyes on the corners of the structures and the zombies trailing behind me.

    I don’t know how far I walked. My shoulder pulsed, my ankle ached. I realized one of my knees hurt and that there was a good chance it was swollen. The skin felt tight, but stopping to check wasn’t an option. Eventually what seemed like a small shopping district gave way to an open road with a few cars along its side. Off in the distance and across what looked like a world of tall grass, stood a house. No zombies came from that direction.

    Behind me shambled a dozen or more of the soulful dead.

    I started to cross the grass, then thought better of it. What if there was a wayward zombie in there? Instead I went to the end of the road that led to the house. It was more like a long dirt driveway with gravel and rock lining both sides.

    The house easily sat a hundred yards or so off the road and though the dead were still a good distance behind me, walking didn’t feel safe. I ran the best I could. At first the pain in my ankle was like slivers of glass tearing at the muscle and bone, but after a dozen or so steps it loosened up and I ran with a slight limp. In my younger, less beat up days, I could have run that hundred yards in twelve or thirteen seconds. Not then.

    At the house I had my gun at the ready, arm extended, finger on the trigger. It was a two story wooden structure with ornately carved rails and designs along the windows. The white paint flaked a little on the edges and what was probably once red trim had faded to pink. A dozen or so steps led up to the landing where the door stood closed. The windows were boarded from the outside. Maybe someone still lived there. I could only hope.

    I knocked, waited, looked out toward the road. The dead still lingered about. Some of them had shuffled back toward town. I knocked again. When no one answered, I tried the knob. It turned–it actually turned. I couldn’t believe it. For a moment longer I stared at the door, then pushed it open.

    Once inside, I closed the door, let it click shut. I set Babe on the floor and lowered the pack.

    “Stay here, Humphrey.”

    Like he–she, damn it, she–was going anywhere. The kitchen was empty. The hall that led away from it had two rooms to the right, a bathroom to the left. No one occupied these rooms. Stairs led up to the bedrooms. I braced myself as I went up one step at a time. A few creaks sounded louder than they probably were. I cringed with each one and prayed the sounds didn’t alarm anyone–living or otherwise–to my presence.

    Four bedrooms and a full bath and not a soul to be found. Each of the bedrooms held their own particulars; their own characteristics telling what type of people had lived there. The one at the end of the hall, closest to the bathroom held my attention for a few minutes longer than I wanted it to. Posters of baseball players were tacked to the walls. Baseball bats sat in a rack bolted to the wall closest to the bed. A banner that said RED SOX 2004 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS–THE CURSE IS DEAD had been put up along the edge of the ceiling like a border. A ball sat in a glove on top of the dresser. It was definitely a boy’s room. By the size of the bed, I would say a little boy.

    Bobby played baseball. Second base. His old man played third, though I was a lousy hitter. Bobby swung a bat much better than I ever did. I closed my eyes and I saw him in uniform, taking cuts while standing in the on deck circle. At the plate was Charlie Rose’s little boy, Chuck–yeah, he was a junior, but instead of calling him that, we all just called him Chuck. The pitcher was a kid I didn’t know, his hair sandy blond and long, with thick strands hanging out the back and sides of his cap. A large A in Old English font was plastered across the front of the opposing team’s uniforms and hats. He threw the pitch and Chuck singled into left field. The outfielder bobbled the ball and Chuck, even at ten years old, knew to run to second base.

    Bobby came up to the plate, swung his bat a few times then stepped into the batter’s box. A first pitch strike was followed by a ball, then another strike. The pitcher wound up and…

    I didn’t know what brought me away from my thoughts. I was startled to see that the sun was setting. How long had I stood there?

    “Shit,” I said and hurried out of the room and back down the stairs. With no one there, I thought it safe to lock the door. But, with all the windows boarded up with plywood, I couldn’t see outside. I opened the front door, looked out with the gun ready if needed. At the bottom of the steps I saw what snapped me from my memories: one of the dead had made it from the road to the house. I reckon it tried to climb the steps, but only managed to fall backward. It struggled to stand, but its legs were too rigid to bend.

    I went back inside, very aware of the pain coursing through my shoulder. The arm had grown stiff. I grabbed Babe from the floor and made my way down the steps. White film covered the man’s eyes and his mouth snapped open and shut, open and shut. “End of the line,” I said and brought the butt of the gun down on his head. It cracked, but he still squirmed a little. Again, I brought the butt of the gun down, this time much harder. His head split from forehead back.

    A shiver traced up my spine and I hurried back up the steps. That’s something I never got used to, physically striking one of the dead. As a kid I hated fighting or even the idea of hurting someone with my fists. The thought of it made me nauseas. With the dead, a pulled punch could be the end of your life. Still, my skin crawled and I wanted nothing more than a shower that I wouldn’t get.

    With the door closed and locked, I went over to a couch in the front room. I was thankful there was no carpet on the floor. If there had been, I would have never been able to move that couch to in front of the door.

    I walked the downstairs a second time. All the windows had been nailed shut from the inside, boards covered them from the outside. The backdoor window had also been covered with wood, but a hole had been drilled in it at about eye level. I wondered why the person who had taken all the precautions to board the house up didn’t bother with drilling a hole in the wood in the front door as well.

    Like a lot of houses, there were pictures on the walls and these pictures showed a happy family. Two adults, a teenaged daughter and a young boy, blond haired and shining blue eyes. He looked like a baseball player. Add a couple years to him and he could have been that pitcher…

    I grabbed my pack and Babe and headed up the stairs to the second floor. I was exhausted and wanted sleep, but there was the matter of my shoulder. In the bathroom mirror – one that was as tall as the door it hung on – I pulled my shirt off. The skin was tight and purple and red. The swelling covered the clavicle completely.

    Dislocated.

    I tried to lift my shoulder. Bright bolts of pain shot through my arm and I let go. I spun in a slight circle, tears in my eyes.

    ”Come on,” I said, looked at myself in the mirror. When did that beard grow in? When did those dark gray bags form under my eyes? When did I grow so damn old?

    The pain was bad, but would be worse if I didn’t get the shoulder back in place.

    I put my hand under the elbow and lifted my arm. The growl from my throat scared me. The pain of locked up muscles being forced to move brought fresh tears to my eyes. With a quick shove upward, my shoulder moved with several pops.

    I screamed. My vision filled with dots and my stomach grew sour as the immensity of the pain threatened to swallow me. I yelled, long and loud as I jammed the shoulder up a second time. On the third try there was an instant of relief as the shoulder went back into place. It was like an extracted tooth: it may be gone, but, God you still felt the phantom pain of it. My head grew light and those spots in my vision became larger. I stumbled from the bathroom and into the room that belonged to the boy. With the door closed, I slid the dresser in front of it.

    To tell the truth, I don’t remember crawling into the bed or setting my pistol on the nightstand beside it. I don’t remember pulling Humphrey from the bag and setting him – her – on the pillow next to me.

    What I remember is waking up with the sun shining through the slats in the blinds, my body aching and a tickle in my throat. I sniffled a snot runner and wiped my nose. A moment later I sneezed. Then again. And again. And several more times after that just because my body wanted to.

    My breathing came in phlegm filled rasps. I sat up, fully alarmed at what appeared to be a cold setting in. My shoulder hurt, but not like it had when it was out of socket. It was more of a dull throb that let me know it was there. At any other time, a cold would be just that, a cold. But, in these times where a cold started this whole mess, my mind seized on the only truth it could: I was dying and sooner or later I would be one of them.

    I sat up in the bed, swung my feet to the floor. My boots scuffed against the hardwood floor and I stood too quickly. The swooning in my head forced me to sit back down. I waited, eyes closed, head down, for the world to stop spinning. When it did, I stood slowly. My heart hammered my chest and the thoughts… the thoughts that traipsed across my mind…

    What if I’m dying? What if this is the Zombie Flu that took so many others? What do I do? There’s no cure. Do I…

    I shook my head to that thought. If push came to shove, I guess, then I would. That reminded me of what someone said long before the zombies became a reality: Always keep a bullet for yourself just in case the worst happened. I checked my weapon. Plenty of bullets there. Which one had my name on it?

    A tickle formed in the left nostril, provoking a sneeze that was followed by four more. I coughed, told myself that the scratch in my throat was nothing.

    I limped my way to the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet. I don’t know who owned the house before the end came, but they had medicine, both for colds and pain. I took two of the cold pills dry and wished I had grabbed a couple bottles of water before I took off. But, I hadn’t.

    Another cough.

    Another sneeze.

    Another snot runner sniffled back up into my nose.

    “I can’t be sick. There’s been few people… barely enough to…”

    The Paul Marcum look-alike came to mind. I bludgeoned him badly and this was Karma biting me on the ass. Humphrey said something when I got back in the truck. He said I had blood on my face. I wiped it away – black gunk, thick like sludge.

    I couldn’t help but laugh. Like my brother, I had been done in by Paul Marcum – Lee by the real deal and me by the phony. How do you like those apples?

    Down the hall in one of the other bedrooms I found some clothes. They were a little big for me, but they were clean and clean was good. I changed, dumped my old clothes into a trash bag that would probably never be moved outside that house. With my old boots on, I grabbed the pistol. The end of me may have come, but I wasn’t going to go without a fight. And if I was going to fight, I needed my guns…

    “Stay here,” I told Humphrey after shoving the couch out the way. He sat in the center of it, a loaded pistol on his lap. “I’ll be back.”

    “Are you sure?”

    I gave a nod. No, I wasn’t sure. To be honest, I had no intentions of going back. Humphrey had been with me for a short while and he – she, damn it – had probably kept me sane through much of the Hell, and I didn’t want to turn into a zombie with her there to see me. I wanted to leave and die somewhere else without Humphrey having to know. In a way, I guess I was sparing her the pain of watching me die. “You bet, buddy.”

    The door closed with a click and I lowered my head. He – she – was just a stuffed toy. She wasn’t real. All of the conversations we had were in my head. Right? Still, the guilt of lying swelled in my chest. I bit my bottom lip and shook my head. A deep breath and I headed down the steps, passed the dead person at the base of the stairs and kept going.

    I limped, but barely. My ankle and knee were tight, but my shoulder hurt more. I sneezed and grimaced as something tore free in my chest. I spat a string of yellowish phlegm out.

    Life is funny sometimes. Not that haha funny, but more like a curve ball you just can’t hit. There were no zombies walking around when I reached the road. I walked that same stretch back toward the shopping district, saw the overpass in the distance. The closer I got the tighter my chest became. The anxiety of meeting death head on scared me as much as dying itself.

    The first of the dead that appeared made my skin prickle. I moved between two cars, ducked down and hurried around it. At the overpass I looked down at my truck. Bottled water lay on the ground and the dryness of my mouth begged me to run down and get some, but I didn’t. Instead, I eyed a drug store about a block or so away. I hurried around the burned bodies and the car with the man’s head splattered against the windshield.

    After crossing the overpass I realized that I had made a mistake. They were there, many of them wandering aimlessly about. I didn’t have near enough bullets to take them all out. I detoured into a parking lot where several cars sat and then hurried along the edge of a building, checking the corners when I had to step away and out into the open. At the drug store, I stepped over a body in the doorway. Flies hummed about it, no doubt getting their daily fill of rotting flesh and laying their billions of eggs.

    I eased into the door and my heart trip hammered. A little girl leaned against the counter, her hair dirty and matted. I eased down a side aisle, almost frantic with panic. If I shot her the others were sure to hear.

    The pharmacy sat at the back of the store. Several corpses lay back there. I went through the half door, made sure it closed behind me. It would take a little work for the girl to get it open and with the upper half clear, I could see her if she heard me and managed to make it back there.

    In the pharmacy I nudged the bodies. Someone had given them each a bullet to the head. I rummaged around in the semi-dark area. Though a lot of the drugs had been looted, there were still several bottles of good painkillers and cold medicines. Even better was the large bottle of 500 mg Amoxicillin in pill form. I set my pack on the floor, unzipped the front pouch. The Amoxicillin and painkillers went in, along with the prescription cold syrups.

    I realized as I stashed the drugs away that I wasn’t ready to die. It had been extremely foolish of me to leave the safety of the house, but maybe… maybe if I could make it back with the meds, things might be okay. And even if I died, at least I would have Humphrey there to comfort me.

    The sneeze was as sudden as the longing for my little stuffed traveling partner was. Snot and phlegm shot out of my mouth and nose. I inhaled deeply and several more sneezes came. After the sneezing fit subsided I heard the shuffling feet from outside the pharmacy door. I scanned the back part of the area for anything that could keep me from firing either of my guns. Sure, I could have used old Babe’s butt again, but swinging the rifle with the arm as stiff as it was didn’t seem feasible.

    What I found was a broom. That’s all. I grabbed it, and broke the broom head off on one of the counters. It made a loud crack that seemed to echo in the room. By the time I looked up, the little girl stood in front of the half door. She groaned or growled or mumbled. I don’t know, but she sounded angry.

    “Hey there, little girl,” I said. She looked to be eight, maybe nine. I thought of Humphrey, of the voice I heard the day before. That girl had sounded about the same age as the one in front of me.

    She growled and bumped against the door hard. She reached a stiff arm out that seemed to creak when she moved it.

    Deep breaths wheezed in my chest and that tickle came back in my nose. I stepped forward, the broom handle raised over my head. My scratchy throat only got worse as I swallowed hard.

    The girl tried to break through the door, the one arm outstretched with blood crusted under the nails. Her eyes were cataract white and seemed to glow in the gray of the building.

    “I’m sorry.” I swung the handle down on her head as hard as I could. She stumbled back. If she had been alive it would have dazed her and knocked her to the ground. She was far from alive and though it seemed to daze her, she stumbled forward, a howl in her throat and black blood oozing down the center of her forehead. Again, I swung the handle, then opened the half door before she could step forward again.

    I was vaguely aware of the pain in my shoulder, but not enough to lesson the force of the blows. The next swung was like a baseball bat, coming across and catching her in the side of the head. She toppled over and I quickly brought a boot down on her throat. Still, her jaws chomped at me. A moment later, the jagged end of the broomstick jutted from the center of her skull and she moved no more.

    “I’m so sorry,” I repeated.

    My breaths came in wheezing gasps and my eyes itched. A sneeze came and snot bubbled from my nose. I wiped it on the shirt and went back to the pharmacy, grabbed my pack and old Babe. I scrounged about a little more back there, found a shoulder brace and arm sling. I pulled it from the packaging and tucked it in the center pouch of the bag.

    Out in the store, I scrounged the few water bottles left behind. There were some chips and, holy cow, a can of beanie weanies. I drank down one full bottle of water, let the coolness of it relieve the scratch in my throat and quench my thirst.

    I caught a glimpse of the dead girl and my heart began to ache, not only for her, but for my little stuffed buddy and the girl in my head that owned her. That guilt resurfaced and I thought of Bobby. Would I have ever left Bobby alone in an unfamiliar house with the dead walking around outside while I went off to die? No. But, I had left Humphrey, my travelling companion these last few months. I hated myself. In my mind I could hear her–cause that’s what she is, a girl–crying and I could feel her fear as the dead surrounded the house and threatened to bust down the door. And I hadn’t bothered locking up, so getting in wouldn’t be all that hard for an intelligent walker.

    Before leaving the pharmacy, I checked behind the counters. There had to be–and there was–a weapon. It was nothing more than a steel bar that someone had placed back there, something you would use for leverage on a lug wrench, but it was sturdy and hard and would probably only take one shot to take out any of the dead if they got too close.

    As I had before, I hugged close to the buildings on the way out. In the parking lot, blocking my way to the road stood an emaciated zombie. Skin hung off his body as if he had been a huge man at one time and lost a full person’s worth of weight. His head was bald and he held that blue/gray tint of a person who had asphyxiated. His jaw hung slack and the steps he took were nothing more than toe drags along the ground. I ran toward him, my knee and ankle no longer hurting like they did the day before, my pack heavy on my sore shoulder.

    His skull cracked and he collapsed to the ground. Very little blood spilled from the gash in his head. Later on, I would think about that slight bit of sludge that leaked from the wound and wonder how long he had been dead. I would wonder about the longevity of the deads’ afterlife and if all the living had to do was wait them out, until they finally rotted away.

    That was for later and if there was going to be a later, I had to hurry. The mass of dead seemed to have grown since going into the pharmacy. How many were there now? Forty? Fifty? A hundred? I always thought one was one too many. In this case, I faced a hoard of shambling, stumbling zombies and if they…

    The good thing about being alive during this… this… zombie apocalypse is you could run a hell of a lost faster than they could. Even on a bum leg. Many of them turned to me, their groans loud and I could hear the hunger in them. They were still pretty damn fast.

    I ran and I didn’t break the one rule you always see getting broke in horror movies: looking back. No, I ran straight ahead, passed a car where a woman reached out for me. Her head cocked to one side when I hit her and she slumped against the car. At the road I darted across the overpass.

    Being sick didn’t help me, though. My breaths came in sharp bursts and sounded like weak whistles in my chest. I reached the long dirt drive and turned. That’s when I looked back. I had thought there were maybe a hundred zombies behind me. I thought wrong. They seemed to come from everywhere, as if someone rang the dinner bell and I was the main course. They weren’t slowing down.

    I ran on up the road and wished I were young again. At the yard I saw a zombie in all its glory come from around the corner of the house. She was an older lady, her hair somewhat blue and gray and matted, not one tooth in her mouth, but blood caked along her chin and the front of her moomoo just the same. I didn’t bother with the steel bar. The bullet split her skull and she crumpled.

    I took the steps two by two and reached the door. For a moment I thought the handle wouldn’t work and at first it hadn’t. Then I realized I turned it the wrong way. Looking back, I could see them on the road. Some of them had already reached the dirt driveway.

    The door came open and I hurried inside. I slammed it, locked the knob and dropped my pack to the floor. I ran to the couch, pushed it in front of the door.

    Then I grabbed Humphrey…

    “You came back,” she said. Always a she. Never, ever a he.

    “Yes, I came back. I told you I would.”

    “I thought you were lying.”

    Tears touched the corners of my eyes and I pulled the bear from my chest. “I did.”

    She said nothing.

    “But, I came back. And I promise, I’ll never leave you behind again.”

    It was all in my head, but Humphrey felt warm. Or maybe it was me. A fever had taken hold by then and the weakness of being sick settled into my muscles and bones and I could feel the rattle of death in my chest.

    The thump on the steps outside brought me from the embrace of a stuffed animal. I looked to the door and hoped it would hold against the hoard outside. I grabbed the pack and the shotgun and Humphrey’s gun that lay on the couch and took them up the stairs. I ran back and moved the coffee table and a couple of nice chairs in front of the stairwell, even pulling them up the first couple steps for good measure.

    At the top of the steps I looked around, saw nothing I could use to barricade that portion of the floor.

    “I’m scared,” Humphrey said in her small voice.

    “Me too.”

    In the boy’s room, I closed the door and set Humphrey on the bed. The dresser went back in front of the door and I moved the stuff from off the end table next to the bed. My guns–I only had three of them, the others lay near my truck off the ramp heading out of town–went onto it, loaded and ready. I cracked Babe open. Two shells. Maybe one of them would be for me.

    We sat and waited. In the meantime, I took an antibiotic and a pain reliever, then pulled the sling and brace from my pack. I slid the shirt off and read the instructions on how to use it, then slid it up my arm, put the flap over my shoulder and put the Velcro ends together. The next part went around my chest where I again connected two Velcro ends, holding my shoulder in place. The pressure of the brace relieved some of the pain and kept my arm from sagging.

    With the shirt back on, I pulled a chair to the window. Part of the roof extended out from there and I realized that it wasn’t a roof, but more of a patio area, a means for escape if I needed to. I longed for a rifle as I watched the dead approach the house.

    I sat quietly, watching from that window, all the way up to when the sun began to go down. Some of the dead had turned course and went back up the road. Others stood idly, as if they slept on their feet. I went to the bed, lay down beside Humphrey. My head was in a daze and the room spun. I reached for a pistol, set it on my chest.

    “What’s that for?” Humphrey asked in her soft child’s voice.

    “Just in case,” I said, but didn’t tell her in case of what.

    I closed my eyes and prepared to die…

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