Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Hey everyone. First, I want to say thanks to everyone who has taken the time to check out my blog and comment on Google Plus and other various book forums. And second, I won't take up too much of your time but if you'd like to help a fellow writer please check out www.brookskohler.com for free downloads of his writing and samples of his music. Through his site you can also find the link to his Small Doses blog. He is a talented, friendly writer who is just trying to make it like everyone else who has chosen this profession. Like my blog, his site offers free stories so it won't cost you anything to check him out. Thanks again and I hope you keep reading.
Friday, November 8, 2013
Genre: Horror (Zombies)
IT’S ESTIMATED that at every second of the day, 1.8 people die from natural, accidental, or premeditated causes. This accounts for roughly 105 deaths that occur each minute that passes. Yes, this is a dreadful fact. But this is no startling revelation. It’s a part of life we all have to accept at one point or another.
The part we can’t accept is when the dead start rising from the ashes and gorging on the flesh of the living. Call them zombies if you must. That certainly seemed to be the word of the day when panic first struck. And the media christened them as Biters when the plague began to spread.
On December 18, 2012, Brian Henderson arrived at St. Vincent’s Hospital and was pronounced DOA. He came back to life… two hours after he had been declared legally dead.
But Brian Henderson was just the catalyst. Soon, there was news extending across the globe; confirmed reports of mass resurrection. The dead clawed and dug their way up from their graves. Rotting corpses were spotted running through the streets as if this were an everyday occurrence. The dead were biting, clawing, ravaging everything that stood in their path of destruction. Anyone that survived an initial attack after being scratched or bit fell extremely ill. They developed fevers, rashes, hard-hitting flulike symptoms. Then they were dead in a matter of hours or even minutes depending on the severity of their wounds. Only–as you could probably assume–they didn’t stay dead either.
The army, the marines, and the National Guard were all dispatched to contain the outbreak. Towns, villages, even whole states like Florida, California, and New York were put under quarantine. But that didn’t stop the plague from spilling out.
The dead were just another growing part of society now. The more the military massacred, the more would spring up from their graves or rise from piles of corpses stacked in the streets.
The countdown to extinction had begun. The uninfected all thought the same. They all sensed the end was near. The clock was ticking. The sand was trickling down, filling up the hourglass. Soon, every last living person on earth would be reduced to a mindless corpse shuffling through the streets in search of raw meat.
CODY MURDOCK had made some major alterations to his home. With twelve solid hours of intense labor, Cody was able to convert his house into a nearly impenetrable fortress. The only form of entry or escape was a set of brass cellar doors that Cody had chained and locked from the inside. He carried the only key in his back pocket at all times.
Armed to the teeth, Cody’s one goal was to protect his son, Owen. In the past, he had failed to protect the ones he loved, and he wasn’t about to fail his only child.
Most people would condemn the idea of keeping your wife chained up in the cellar, unless of course she’s into that sort of thing. It’s an atrocious, unspeakable act. But if your wife technically has no pulse and she’s developed a craving for human flesh, the act can be justified.
Cody refused to let it sink in that his wife was not human anymore, not in the sense that he and Owen were. That’s why he was keeping Abby shackled in the cellar. Every night he hoped, prayed that somehow this spell would be reversed. That our military would persevere and win the battle. That the government would pull through and develop a cure for this mysterious affliction.
By the end of January, all power was cut off. There was no heat, no running water, no electricity. They lived off the canned and dry foods, bottled water, and soda they had swiped from the market.
Cody had swiped a lot of useful items when the proverbial shit hit the fan. When in Rome, Cody thought when he saw everyone in town looting back in December. He stole flashlights and candles, which they used to guide their way through the house in the days following the loss of power. He also made sure to grab matches and batteries of every size. Every night, Cody would chug an energy drink or swallow some caffeine pills he took from the pharmacy to stay alert and keep guard with his rifle.
A large quantity of the batteries was used to power Cody’s radio, their only connection to the outside world. Except it had been weeks since anything had been broadcast. All the stations were dead, the airwaves filled with static. But Cody kept it running day and night at a low volume in case news suddenly broke.
He had it on that February evening in the living room when he could’ve sworn he heard it working. Through the static and distortion, Cody made out a voice. It wasn’t clear, but to him it sounded like HELP IS COMING.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Owen.
“Hear what?” his son replied.
“The radio,” Cody stammered. “I heard a voice.” He turned the volume up and nothing but static hissed from the speakers. He turned the volume back down and sighed.
“Dad, don’t take this personal but I think you’re starting to crack up. You should try and get more sleep.”
“I’ll have plenty of time to rest when this is over, son. I’m going to sleep for a month straight.”
They had a small brick fireplace, and plenty of chopped wood and old newspapers to keep the fire burning for months. But Cody wanted to conserve every supply they had, so in the day they kept bundled and saved the fire for night. Cody also feared that the visible smoke filtering from their chimneystack would only draw more zombies to their front door, another reason he refrained from burning wood in the daytime.
“I miss Xbox,” Owen whined as he roasted marshmallows over the fire that frigid February evening. It was so cold inside the house that Cody could see the fog of his son’s breath with every word he spoke. And he could feel the tiny little hairs rising on the back of his neck, the hairs almost shivering along with him.
Owen had discovered the forgotten marshmallows stashed in the pantry earlier that day. They were outdated and not nearly as soft and fluffy as they once were, but the melted treats reminded him of his camping trips.
“What’s that?” Cody asked. “Some kind of videogame console?”
“Yeah, you should know,” Owen said with that sharp, wiseass tone that always drove Cody berserk and made it feel like Owen was undermining his intelligence. “You bought it for me last Christmas.”
“I don’t know what it’s called,” Cody replied. “I just know how much it cost me. And when did those systems get so complicated? I miss Sega and Nintendo.”
“What’s Sega?” Owen asked, his head tilted as he exanimated his father like the prehistoric fossil he saw him as. He ate one stale, melted marshmallow off his skewer and pushed another through the pointed tip before returning the skewer to the fire.
“Those are the systems from my era,” Cody explained. “It was a bit before your time. Before you had Grand Theft Auto and all that violent crap, we had fun games like Sonic and Super Mario Bros.” He tossed a thick chunk of wood over the fire and fed the burning ambers beneath with wadded newspapers.
“Well you had Mortal Kombat. Those games were pretty bloody, right?”
“I guess that’s true. And how would you know about Mortal Kombat?”
“The same way I learn about everything; Google. I’ve learned more from that glorious search engine than I have from school.”
“Glad to hear all the money I invested in that private academy paid off.”
“I was fine with public school. But you said no. You said it was either the academy or military school.”
“I should’ve booted your worthless butt to military school,” Cody chuckled, but a part of his tone said he was sincere. “Remember, I pulled you out of public school because your friends were a bad influence on you. Like the fireworks incident for example, or the fire extinguisher prank that almost got you expelled. Your buddies were trouble, especially that Pete Dayton. I never liked that little thug. In the yearbook, he probably would’ve been voted most likely to end up in prison.”
“Pete’s not as bad as you think, dad.”
“Didn’t he hit some kid in the head with a glass bottle?”
“It was self-defense.”
“What about when he stole the same kids bike afterwards? Was that self-defense too?”
“Hey, the kid had a really nice bike. What was he supposed to do?”
“You scare me sometimes,” Cody shook his head disapprovingly in a Hank Hill fashion. That boy ain’t right.
The flames crackled as Cody gently stoked the wood with a fireplace poker. He was craving a marshmallow, but he didn’t want to deprive Owen from enjoying them.
In the cellar, the chains clinked loudly as Abby struggled to break free. She was howling like a wolf with its paw trapped in a snare.
“Will mom ever be normal again?” Owen asked, scarfing down another melted marshmallow hanging from his skewer.
“I hope so, buddy.”
Outside, they could hear the Biters gathering, clawing to make their way in. Owen edged to the center window which was the only window in the house not completely sealed or boarded up. He peered out between the 2x4s nailed across the window diagonally. In this festering mass of the undead, one rotten face stood out in particular.
“No,” Owen moaned, shaking his head. He could feel the tears coming. “It can’t be… Pete?”
Pete Dayton crept slowly to the window; his lifeless eyes peeking back at Owen. He ignored his father’s stern voice, which was advising him to step away from the window immediately as Owen stared on with a look of astonishment. His young body had never experienced shock before, but this was the closest he had ever felt.
Owen fought back the tears. His father had maintained his strength for him; the least he could do was return the favor. He didn’t want to appear weak in front of his old man or add to his father’s stress. He could see his father on the verge of complete physical and mental collapse. His son was the only adhesive that was loosely holding him and his sanity together.
“Oh, Pete,” Owen lamented. “Not you, too.” His head hung low with grief. Pete was tough, feared. If this could happen to Pete, it could easily happen to him. All the guns in the world couldn’t save them. If the zombies didn’t get to them, the lack of sleep and the inevitable loss of supplies surely would.
CODY WAITED for Owen to curl up in his sleeping bag by the fire before sneaking off to the cellar. Abby struggled against the chains that restricted her as Cody sat at a distance in a dusty old rocking chair that creaked every time he adjusted his position. He stared lovingly into his wife’s despondent, pupil-less eyes.
“Do you remember how we first met?”
Abby’s response came in growls and strands of drool that dribbled down her black, rotting chin.
“After I got kicked off the force, I took a job at my uncle’s detective agency. One of my first clients was your ex-husband, Grant Walker. He was paying me to confirm his suspicion that you were having an affair. But the more I followed you, the more I began to realize you weren’t capable of dishonoring your marital vows. It was Grant who was sneaking around behind your back with his secretary and plotting a divorce with his lawyer. He wanted to know if you were cheating too so they could use it as a defense during the divorce proceedings.”
He waited for a sign that she understood; a nod or wink of acknowledgment. When he received none, he continued with his story.
“I switched sides and took your case free of charge. I tracked Grant and his secretary to some seedy, hourly-rates motel, snapped a bunch of pictures. In the end, everyone got what they wanted. Grant got his divorce and I found the woman of my dreams.”
She growled ferociously.
“The end,” Cody said, weeping soundlessly. He didn’t want to disturb a sleeping Owen. Truthfully, he didn’t want his son to see him at his weakest. Cold, tired, and feeling utterly defeated, Cody needed to cry. He desperately needed some kind of release. It helped him manage; it helped remind him he was still human.
He thought of the radio transmission; wondered if it was a prank, a hoax. He pondered if it was just a hallucination, if it was all in his head. He was the only one who had heard it after all. Either way, he knew sleep was going to elude him. The anticipation was going to make him restless. He doubted he would get any sleep at all, and so he began to tell Abby the story of their wedding, followed by their honeymoon in Aruba.
CODY spent that night alert, restless. He kept his radio going all night at a fair volume. Just loud enough to hear any incoming transmissions.
Owen conked out early that evening. The trauma of seeing Pete Dayton in his decayed state had drained the boy. He slept through the night without any disturbance.
There was one story Cody neglected to share with Abby. The story of how she became infected.
When panic first struck, Cody took Owen to gather supplies. He didn’t want Owen to tag along, but he insisted. Abby was locked safely inside with one of Cody’s guns for protection. He had taken Abby to the range a few times to let her fire it off and get the feel for it. He wanted her to know how to operate a firearm in case there ever came a time for her to use one.
He warned her, just as he had warned Owen, to stay away from those damn windows. But she couldn’t pull herself away. She had to see the carnage that was unfolding so she could attempt to digest it all. If she was going to survive in this new world, she had to adjust.
It was old man Leary who tricked Abby into letting him in.
He was being chased down by Biters and she finally caved and opened the door for him. There was blood, but he assured her it was just a cut from when he escaped a car through a broken window.
Cody and Owen were gone for hours, the streets jammed up with abandoned vehicles and roaming looters grabbing everything that wasn’t hammered down.
In the time that passed, Leary had developed a boiling fever that killed him within the hour.
Abby struggled with the task of putting a bullet in Leary’s head before he turned. She hesitated too long and it was enough for Leary to sink his reanimated teeth into Abby’s delicate forearm.
She fired one shot that brought Leary to a halt. But the damage was already done. When Cody and Owen returned, her forehead was burning up and she was near death. Cody cradled her gently in his arms as she passed.
Then it was off to the basement with her. He could never bring himself to pull the trigger. He still had hope that this catastrophe would be resolved. He still believed Abby would one day be human again.
HE WAS STILL AWAKE when morning came. He could see the sunlight spying on him through the boarded windows.
Owen was asleep when he heard the radio again. This time the transmission was clear as crystal. His eyes ignited with hope as he listened to the announcement.
THIS IS THE EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM. STAND BY FOR AN URGENT MESSAGE: TO THE UNINFECTED POPULATION OF AMERICA, YOU HAVE NOT BEEN FORGOTTON. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT HAS NOT THROWN IN THE TOWEL. WE HAVE TOP RESEARCHERS WORKING DAY AND NIGHT AND WE ARE PROUD TO SAY WE HAVE DEVELOPED A CURE TO REVERSE THIS TERRIBLE AFFLICTION. ANTIDOTES ARE BEING AIRDROPPED ACROSS THE COUNTRY AS THIS MESSAGE AIRS. REPEAT, ANTIDOTES ARE BEING AIRDROPPED IN YOUR AREA. IF YOU HAVE ANY INFECTED FAMILY OR FRIENDS, THIS ANTIDOTE WILL CURE THEM. WE HAVE FOUND A CURE. REPEAT, WE HAVE FOUND A CURE. HOPE IS ALIVE, AMERICA.
This was no dream. No hallucination. His imagination had not gotten the best of him. He heard every word with stunning clarity. After the recorded message reached its conclusion, it broadcast again from the beginning. Cody wanted to speak along with it. He wanted to sing the words. He wanted to shout them from his rooftop.
There was hope. There was a cure. And that meant Abby would soon be normal again. Owen would have his wish and Cody would have the love of his life back in his arms.
But what if the cure doesn’t work? The pessimistic side of his personality made him wonder. What if this “cure” kills Abby for good? What if she comes back to life and dies three hours later? What if there is no cure. What if it’s all just a bunch of hot air?
He tried to stay positive for his son’s sake. Owen soon awoke to hear the same recording his father had listened to again and again since dawn.
“You weren’t kidding when you said you heard the radio last night,” Owen said as he listened to the radio with joy.
“That’s right,” Cody said. “Your dad isn’t cracking up yet.”
THE ROOF gave Cody a full view of the neighborhood. He had crawled up through the skylight in his bedroom and watched for hours, waiting for a plane or helicopter to pass through.
In the distance, the rumble of the propellers became clear and the helicopter swooped in at an alarming speed. Sealed black cases parachuted from the sky and sailed briskly to the ground below. One case landed three houses down and Cody waited. Nobody made a move for it. Either they were too scared to expose themselves, none of their family members were infected, or Cody’s neighbors were all dead. All he knew was that case was his for the taking.
Cody crawled down from the roof through the skylight again and summoned Owen to the living room.
“Owen… I know you don’t like to see your mommy the way she is now, but right outside that door is something that’s going to make her whole again. We can’t rip all the boards off the front door because that’ll leave us wide open to any Biters. I’m going to have to use the cellar doors. And I’m going to need you there to keep those doors shut and to open them when I get back. Can you do that?”
Owen nodded hesitantly. “I think I can manage."
Downstairs, Owen shielded his eyes from his mother and made sure to keep his distance. Cody unlocked the cellar doors and passed the key to Owen. “I’ll be back before you know it. And don’t you dare go outside for any reason. No matter what you hear. You don’t open these doors unless you know it’s me and it’s safe. Understood?”
“Understood,” Owen repeated.
Cody opened the cellar doors and stepped out. He slammed them shut behind him and listened to make sure Owen locked them as he was told. He ran around the side of the house and made a dash for the street.
Across the road, three Biters were rummaging through his neighbor’s overturned pails when he ran by. Several more Biters emerged from one of his neighbor’s backyards and that’s when he sped up the pace.
He ran three houses down and snatched the black case by its handle. Then he made a U-Turn as more Biters appeared from his neighbor’s houses and yards.
Cody was not the star athlete he had once been in his high school heydays. His heart ached, his chest burned, his muscles were on the verge of seizing, his body heading for a breakdown. And yet he continued to run as though his life depended on it… probably because it did.
He zigzagged through walking corpses as they tried to snap at his neck and claw at his face. They moved fast for zombies, but Cody moved faster. And they only seemed to move fast when an appetizer was presented to them. The rest of the time they shuffled about like shiftless slackers.
Fifty feet from his backyard, Cody’s ankle got snagged by the skinless arm of a Biter whose legs had been amputated. He tumbled to the ground, his chin smacking the pavement and chipping one of his teeth in the process.
They all advanced upon him at once– drooling, snarling, growling, preparing to devour.
It was then Cody realized that out of his whole collection of firearms, he didn’t have a single gun on him. He was in such a hurry to snatch the case before anyone else could that he didn’t think to grab one of his guns. And this oversight would be his undoing.
One Biter leaned down and stared Cody straight in the eye. He recognized the man behind those spark-less eyes and that decomposed flesh. It was Arthur Pickman, his next-door neighbor.
With no family members left on Cody or Abby's side, Pickman and his wife were asked to be Owen’s Godparents. If anything happened to Cody and Abby, Pickman would become Owen’s legal guardian. He trusted them more than anyone. The Pickman’s had been married thirty years and rarely argued or disagreed. They were stable and Cody knew Owen would need a stable environment if he lost both his folks at once.
Pickman slobbered over Cody’s face, his mouth open and ready to feast. Cody’s eyes snapped shut and he prayed silently as the horde of Biters circled around him like buzzards fighting over a fresh meal.
Pickman’s head snapped back and the sound of the gunshot sent the rest of them scattering slowly throughout the neighborhood. Cody’s eyes opened and he looked up to see Owen standing above him, smoking gun in his hand.
“I never wanted to live with that old geezer anyway,” Owen remarked.
“What did I tell you? I told you to stay inside, Owen.”
“I just saved your ass, dad. You want to argue? Grab that case and argue inside. I don’t know about you, but I want my mom back. And we can’t make that happen if we end up as hamburger meat for these Biters.”
Cody was at a loss for words. His boy had evolved into a man before his very eyes. And more importantly, he finally seemed to understand the value of family. With this, Owen handed the gun over to his father and they returned to the cellar unscathed.
THE CASE contained two hypodermic needles filled with a strange yellow liquid. Owen had used a single nail to attach a raw, discolored steak that was two months past its prime to the end of a 2x4. Standing at a safe distance, Owen waved and dangled the rotten meat in front of Abby’s face. She snapped her teeth ferociously and bit into the steak, snarling like a hound as she jerked her head back and forth to yank the meat free. While her mouth was full and she was incapable of biting her husband, Cody pierced the back of her neck with the needle and pressed down on the plunger. He released and stepped back as Owen dropped the 2x4 and huddled in the corner.
He watched her body twitch and convulse. A horrible screech escaped the back of her throat. It was enough to scare Owen right up the stairs. Her eyes rolled back and the chains clattered as Abby collapsed to the cold cellar floor.
What have I done? Cody thought. I’ve killed her. Oh, Abby… please forgive me. All I wanted was to help you. All I wanted was to be a family again.
He dropped to his knees, brushed the remains of his wife’s chestnut hair. His hand stroked her surprisingly warm cheek and the tips of his fingers touched against her neck. There, he felt it.
It was a pulse.
WITHIN A DAY, the entire process had been reversed. The antidote healed Abby’s damaged skin cells and brain tissue, even replenished the lost brain cells. Her color returned, her chestnut hair grew back thicker and more lustrous than ever. She had fully regained her senses. She no longer craved flesh with the insatiable appetite of a George A. Romero film creature. The first thing she requested was a cold glass of water and a turkey sandwich. With no turkey on the menu, Owen ran upstairs and fetched his mom some water and whatever rations he could scrape together.
This wasn’t just a cure. This was a medical breakthrough that changed everything we knew about life itself. It was a cure that squashed every other theory about death, including the belief that the brain cannot function again after a person has been declared dead for more than twelve minutes. The only side effect of the reanimation appeared to be temporary memory loss.
“Do you know who I am?” Cody asked. “Do you remember?”
“You look so familiar,” she stared deeply into his eyes. “But I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name.”
“Do you remember me, mommy?” Owen asked.
“I’m sorry, kid. I just can’t remember. And why am I chained up? What did I do?”
“Nothing,” Cody smiled as he produced the key for the shackles and unchained her. “You didn’t do anything at all, Abby. I’m sorry about all the trouble. But I have a feeling things are going be all right now.”
THE ARMY moved in a day later, rounding up the infected to administer the cure to. By the end of February, ninety-five percent of the population was cured. There were still a few stragglers that managed to slip by undetected, but the army was back in full force and they vowed to cure every last Biter they could hunt down.
And as the month came to an end, Abby had regained her memory. She remembered Grant Walker and actually thanked him for being the one to bring Cody and her together. She remembered their wedding and their honeymoon in Aruba. She remembered the day Owen was born and the feeling of overwhelming joy she experienced the first time she cradled him in her arms.
But as the days and weeks progressed, the long-term effects of the cure began to show. Abby’s bones withered and started grinding down to dust. Her beautiful chestnut hair turned gray overnight. Her skin wrinkled and dried out like rotten fruit. By mid-March, she had aged twenty years in two weeks.
“What went wrong?” Abby turned to her husband for answers.
“I don’t know,” Cody sighed. “Maybe God is punishing us for trying to fill his shoes. Maybe all those people–Biters or not–were meant to be that way.”
“I don’t think God would punish us. Not like this.”
“Then maybe whoever developed this cure didn’t test it thoroughly. Maybe they didn’t foresee the long-term effects.”
“I can’t live like this. At this rate, I’ll be dead in a month. There are others like me. I’ve seen them around the neighborhood. The cure has affected everyone that took it. And the government is not helping us. They’re not giving us answers. They haven’t even caught all of the Biters yet. They’re still telling us it’s not safe to go outside or return to work.”
This was true. The army was still scouring the country for the last remaining Biters. Cody had even heard a few outside one night, roaming through their trash.
As Cody watched near the window that afternoon, he saw Harvey Wise rush outside as the half-track rolled through the neighborhood. Several soldiers–their faces shielded by helmets that covered all but their eyes–stood on the back of the half-track with M-60 machine guns.
Since the army had been in cleanup mode, Cody had shed some of the boards and planks from the windows. He cracked one of the windows and listened closely as Harvey pleaded to deaf ears.
“My wife,” Harvey moaned. “She’s very sick. She’s lost most of her hair and she weighs only 75 pounds. What have you monsters done to her? You said you found a cure. You promised to help us. This is help? She was better off the way she was. What, you’re just going to stand there like a bunch of mannequins? Say something! I demand answers! This is my fucking wife we’re talking about here!”
Without warning, the three soldiers opened fire on Harvey.
The half-track rolled to the end of the block and turned left. Cody stared in awe at the bullet-riddled body of his neighbor splattered in the street.
Abby shook her head. “They’re not going to help. And I can’t live like this. Not anymore. I’ve given this a lot of thought… I’m going back.”
“To the way I was before the cure.”
“You can’t,” Cody said. “I won’t allow it. Give it time. The government will fix this. They will figure out what went wrong and remedy the situation. We just have to be patient.”
“Time is one thing I clearly don’t have,” Abby pointed out. “I can’t afford to be patient. If I wait any longer, I’ll be a bag of skin and bones.”
“How are you going to do it?”
“The Biters are still out there. There aren’t as many as there were, but they’re still among us. I’m going to sneak out one night after Owen falls asleep and let one of them infect me again.”
“Do you realize what you’re suggesting?”
“I’m afraid I do. And I’m not suggesting it. My mind is made up already. I can die in a month or take my chances with immortality. As a Biter, I could potentially live forever.”
“And you could potentially be cannon fodder for the army.”
“But I’m not alone,” she smiled. “The others–the cured–have agreed to join me. By tomorrow, the whole town will be infected again. Then, more will join in. Then the state will be infected. It will start to spread again. We will persevere.”
“I’m going with you,” Owen entered and hugged his mom tightly, refusing to release his grip. “You’re not leaving me again.”
“Owen,” she yelped, her eyes so dry they were unable to produce tears. “I didn’t want you to find out. You can’t come with me. You have to stay behind with your father. He’ll protect you and keep you from harm as long as you do what he says. This is where you belong.”
“I belong with you,” Owen responded.
“No, we belong together,” Cody corrected them both. “We’re a family. And all this talk about converting ourselves into Biters is nonsense. Abby, I lost you once before. Please, don’t do this to me again. I can’t go through it a second time. I’m not strong enough.”
“But you are,” she insisted. “You survived without me. You preserved your supplies, you fortified the house and kept it warm at night, and you kept our son safe and alive.”
“There’s nothing I can do to change your mind…”
“I’m sorry, Cody. I love you.”
“I’m sorry too, dad. Let’s leave tonight, mom.”
“Owen,” Abby started with that motherly tone of hers. “You can’t come with me. That’s final.”
“But mom, we don’t stand a chance here. Once we run out of supplies, we’re doomed. And the army isn’t going to fix anything. They’ve just made things worse. I don’t want to live in a world with fear. I want to be out there with Pete Dayton. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’m ready to accept it.”
“This is really what you want?” Abby asked, actually considering the option as Cody stood aghast.
“Yes,” Owen shook his head over and over. “This is what I want.”
Cody needed to sleep on all this. He couldn’t harness the energy to argue any further. He was so physically and mentally strained he felt like one of those Stretch Armstrong dolls being pulled and twisted in every direction.
He kissed his wife, hugged his son, and excused himself to get some shut-eye. In the hours that past while he slept, Abby slipped out to meet with Sherri Pickman, Arthur’s wife.
* * *
“I’d offer you coffee,” Sherri said, “but I’ve been fresh out for three months now.”
“I’ll live,” Abby shrugged.
“Not too long by the looks of it,” Sherri said frankly. “I know why you’re here. We both know Arthur was a scientist, that he was employed by the government. It was no big secret. But no one ever really knew what he did for them. Abby, his specialty was biological warfare. And no, he was not responsible for this. The government has no idea how this started and they have less of a clue about how to fix the problem. When the Biters first came around, he was summoned by the government to find an antidote. He and eleven other scientists slaved day and night. They finally got it right. But something went wrong along the way.”
“What went wrong, Sherri? Please, I need an answer before I go through with what I’m about to do. I need to know if this is fixable.”
“The antidote, one of the components they needed to make it work was blood. Don’t ask me why, but that’s what Arthur said. Blood from a living test subject. They had multiple volunteers. But one of the volunteers neglected to inform he was suffering from Werner syndrome. A syndrome that causes premature aging. The subject was dead within a month and Arthur warned them not to administer the cure. He didn’t know what long-term effects it would have, but he was almost positive the syndrome would spread. He urged, begged, and pleaded. But they refused to listen to reason. When Arthur had realized what he did, what he was a part of, he couldn’t live with himself. He went out there and became one of them. Just like you’re thinking of. You didn’t have to say it; I knew it the minute you walked in. Abby, it might be your only chance. This ‘cure’, it’s not fixable. Not at the moment. And you’re running out of time.”
“Thanks Sherri,” Abby got up. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to say my goodbyes.”
HE SLEPT until nightfall when Abby shook him from his slumber. “It’s time,” she said wearily. He stared up at those puppy dog eyes crying out to him behind her dry and shrunken sockets. Deep down, Cody knew she was right about everything. Help wasn’t coming. That still didn’t change the fact that they were a family and they belonged together.
Cody watched helplessly from the porch as his wife and son joined hands and walked off into the darkness on their quest to join the ranks of the undead. By morning, they would be Abby and Owen no more.
They would be Biters for eternity, or as close to eternity as they could hope for.
They would be Biters for eternity, or as close to eternity as they could hope for.
Time seemed to slow as Cody stood alone on the porch and reached into his waistband to remove his pistol. Only one bullet left inside it. For a second, Cody almost felt it was meant to be. One quick squeeze of the trigger was all it would take. He had lost everything that gave his life purpose. There was nothing left to fight for.
His options were whittled down to three. He could use his pistol and take the easy way out. He could continue to survive and see what changes the future would bring. Or he could step out into the darkness and join his wife and son.
Cody took a seat and rested the pistol beside him as he stared into the darkness, deep in thought.
THE GARBAGE MAN
Like most Americans, Jerry Spradlin had grown to hate his job with a burning, undying passion. Jerry was a glorified citywide janitor. Every day he was forced to ride on the back of that filthy truck and endure all the conditions, the blazing heat or the frigid cold. The smell of the garbage would seep into his clothes, get into his hair. He’d go home every night reeking like a landfill and would shower twice just to get the stink off.
His younger sister had already accomplished more than he would in a lifetime. Jessica was a straight A student who missed five days of high school in the entire four years she was there. And she was expected to graduate from law school by the end of her final semester.
Jessica’s only flaw was she still hadn’t left that whole Goth phase behind that she had experimented with in high school. Jessica still had a penchant for dark baggy clothing and always used black nail polish that her brother found repulsive.
As Jerry quickly discovered, you can learn a lot from people’s trash. Jerry savored that aspect of the job. It was the only thing that kept him hanging on the back of that truck from summer to winter.
For instance, Jerry knew that his neighbor, John Bulzomi, was using Viagra from the discarded pill bottles Jerry would find in his receptacles. He knew that old Blaine McCormick owed back taxes to the IRS and that Mrs. Federico was two months behind on her car payments.
He noted that rich people usually have lobster shells or steak bones collected in the bottom of their garbage cans. While poor people tend to have microwave dinner packaging and macaroni and cheese boxes stuffed inside their pails.
The truck came to its first stop of the day and Jerry hopped off. He walked to the curb and fetched his own pails and dragged them to the back of the truck. Wednesdays were garbage day for his neighborhood and his house was always the first stop on their route.
He lifted both pails and dumped all the trash into the waste collector. In this mass of chicken bones, rotten fruit, drink cups, disposable utensils, and other uneaten food, he saw it. It was a severed human foot, wrapped tightly in plastic and duct tape. He could clearly make out the black nail polish through the lucid plastic.
Jerry shook his head apathetically, walked to one side of the truck, and pulled the lever that operates the hydraulically powered mechanism used to compact the garbage. He heard the gears chirp and squeak as the metal plate descended, compressing all the waste and squashing it down to virtually nothing.
Genre: Dark comedy
My father once told me it’s a give and take world we live in. It just tends to take a hell of a lot more than it ever gives. He shared these words of wisdom with me from his deathbed. When that monitor flat lined, so did my existence.
That was when my endless streak of bad luck commenced. Which is the only form of luck I ever had any experience with. Actual, genuine luck has avoided my like some baneful plague my entire life.
Most guys don’t get fired for starting a contained fire at the company Christmas party. Then again, most guys don’t come home early to find their fiancé in bed with a Filipino dwarf named Rubin.
I’ve heard the best revenge is living well. Whoever said that can frankly go to hell. If you call being crammed into a windowless studio apartment living well, then I guess I’m doing pretty good for myself. My apartment is so small there’s not even enough room to pace back and forth. I have to go outside just to get away from myself for a couple of minutes.
My next-door neighbor thinks her apartment was converted into a night club and so she blasts techno music nonstop. The girl who lives above me is a fitness buff and uses her apartment instead of a gym to do her exercise. Sometimes it sounds like her and her treadmill is going to crash through the floor and squash me like a bug.
Javed, my landlord, is always busting my hump about the rent. I make it my mission to avoid him like you would avoid an itchy crotched girl in a bar or club. He can’t call me because my cell phone got turned off months ago. Apparently that can happen if you don’t pay your bill.
Some days I think about leaving it all behind, packing up and starting fresh somewhere new. Then I remember I have less than five hundred dollars in my bank account and starting fresh isn’t an option.
Javed, my landlord shows up five. I have no chance of escaping without windows so it looks like he’s got me cornered. I open the door after letting him knock for five minutes straight and he looks pissed off. I make up a lie about being in the shower even though my hair is dry as a bone. “No more excuses,” he yells with his thick accent that always makes me crack a smirk. “You pay rent now, motherfucker.”
I dust off my checkbook and write him a postdated check for the rent. It’s dated three years from now. He pockets the check without noticing the date and scolds me some more with his strange, possibly Middle Eastern accent. “You nothing but bum. You can’t pay rent, can’t work. What good you for?”
I wait until Javed is gone before I laugh it up good at our brief encounter. Then I realize I don’t have much to laugh about. Eventually he’s going to discover that check is worthless and he’s probably going to evict me.
Oh well, things can’t get much worse. If I wind up moving, I won’t have much to move. Most of my things were destroyed in storage when the place caught fire. All I have is a bed, a small wardrobe, and an old television that even the most desperate robber wouldn’t dare steal. I don’t even have a car anymore.
I got nailed for DWI two weeks after the incident at the company Christmas party. My office refused to press charges against me, but the incident combined with the DWI forced the judge to suspend my license. The judge also made attending AA meetings on a weekly basis a mandatory requirement. I wish they had given me ten thousand hours of community service instead. The people you meet at those kinds of meetings are the reasons judges exist in the first place.
I check the mini fridge; find that it’s empty again. I have another meeting in two hours and I don’t feel like going grocery shopping. I don’t even know if I have the money to spare.
My friends used to call me Lucky Lenny. I don’t know if they were being ironic, but if they saw me now, they’d probably cry. Or laugh. Lenny’s luck ran out like his fiancé and it’s not coming back.
* * *
There’s an old joke my father used to tell me. “Doctor gives a guy six months to live. He can’t pay his bills, so the doctor gives him another six months.” In my father’s case, the doctor gave him two years at best.
My old man refused treatment at first, until the cancer spread through his lungs and restricted his breathing. For fear of it spreading to the rest of his body, he signed on for chemo and radiation.
He went through a range of side effects caused by the treatments. His hair gradually fell out. He lost a considerable amount of weight. His appetite diminished. Some days he was sluggish and dead to the world. Other days he was energetic and still full of zest.
We spent the last six months crossing off every line on his bucket list. Visit the champagne room of a strip club. Free the animals from a local zoo. Go streaking. Build a fort. Take a ride in a hot air balloon. Go to a bar just to start a fight. Yes, these were all things on his bucket list.
Though, we did get arrested for our stunt at the zoo. Thankfully the zookeeper and the owners refused to press charges since nobody was hurt and no real damage was done to the property. I can’t say the same for the guy who had monkey shit smeared all over his windshield.
Eventually the chemo and radiation took its toll and dad was reduced to a virtual zombie. He didn’t eat. Some days, he rarely even spoke. The day he finally let go, a wave of relief washed over me. I took solace in the fact he wasn’t suffering anymore.
* * *
My AA meeting starts at seven o’clock. Everyone helps themselves to a cup of coffee and munches on stale doughnuts brought by Frank, the alcoholic who ran over his neighbor when he crashed through his fence and blew a 0.10 on the breathalyzer.
Among this group of degenerates and lowlifes, I spot a new face. Since it’s her first time around, she gets up and introduces herself as Anna. Like me, she is here by order of the court.
I like her because she reminds me of my ex-fiancé, though Anna doesn’t seem like the type who would cheat. Then again I’ve proven to be wrong about that sort of thing in the past. She has fair skin and shoulder-length red hair. There’s something about red hair that drives me wild.
I approach her after the meeting with an attempt at confidence. I look at this opportunity as a last ditch effort at turning my luck around. I ask if she wants to go out for coffee.
“I honestly hate coffee,” she admits. “I just drink it here because that’s all they serve. It tastes like liquid chalk to me.”
“I hate coffee too,” I say, relieved that I won’t have to down more of that crap. “You know, you’re not the only one the courts made come here.”
“Oh yeah?” she smirks. “What’d you do?”
I hesitate for a second before I confess, “I started a fire at my office.”
“Awesome,” she laughs and pats me on the back. “I stole my boss’s car. Guy was a total perv. He always used to hit on me and say the most inappropriate things.”
“If I’m not being too straightforward, how’d you like to go out to dinner with me sometime?”
“I could go for a drink instead,” she smiles and takes my hand.
Gripping her hand loosely, I smile back and think that maybe starting fresh is an option after all.