Wednesday, June 4, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART THREE
Genre: Horror (Zombies)
IN THE FLESH
THE WRATH OF THE ALMIGHTY
Officer Brent Blaze wanted answers.
He and Willard Pickman sat on the mezzanine floor, near the unattended popcorn machine. The popcorn was four days old and stale. The excess of salt was the only flavor it still provided, but Blaze found himself snacking away, the old popcorn crunching loudly between his teeth.
He would’ve preferred a cold beer and a rib eye, but as the old song goes, you can’t always get what you want.
The food court had already been raided. All that was spared were a few packages of hamburger buns and a handful of petrified churros that were so rock-hard you could use them as weapons.
“Spill it, Pickman,” Blaze demanded. “Tell me everything you know. Tell me why the dead are coming back to life. Tell me why the whole world’s gone to shit in less than a week. Tell me why there haven’t been any more reinforcements?”
“Reinforcements? Don’t you get what I was trying to explain to our little group before we came under attack? There aren’t going to be any reinforcements. It’s not just America, Brent. It’s the whole fucking world. There’s no more law, no more order. There’s nothing left to reinforce.”
“But there are other survivors. It’s only been four days. We can persevere, we can rebuild and repopulate.”
“Not from a plague of this magnitude.”
“You did this,” Brent pointed one accusing finger in Pickman’s direction. “You and your wife and Raymond Clark, you’re all connected to this.”
“I’m afraid you’ve only got part of that correct. As you know, my name is Willard Pickman. That rotten bag of flesh you saw back at the house was my wife, Julia. She died ten months ago, brain embolism. I saw an opportunity to bring her back and I took it. But the reanimation process was a complete failure. And I couldn’t bring myself to kill her again. So I locked her away and hoped that time would take care of the problem for me.
You see, I do work for the CDC. I’m a scientist. Years ago, a handful of black suits with dark sunglasses came to us on behalf of the US secretary of defense. They wanted us to make the impossible possible. They wanted us to come up with a cure for brain death.
Even in death, the brain still retains a small electrical charge that takes months to dispel. So we toiled day and night until we invented the SCT-3 pathogen. The virus, when introduced to the bloodstream, produces a massive surge that sort of recharges those electrical impulses the way you’d use a booster to fully recharge a car battery. To put it in layman’s terms, it brings the dead back to life.”
“You don’t say,” Brent muttered.
Undeterred, Pickman continued. “But our experiment was a total disaster. The test subjects brains reanimated, but the body failed to keep up with the progress. They continued to decompose and rot away. And while the virus did jumpstart their brains again, they failed to progress above the intellectual level of toddlers. They couldn’t speak. They couldn’t communicate in any form or fashion. All they retained were simple motor functions and their most basic impulses. The impulse to survive through consumption.
I used the SCT-3 pathogen on my wife before I was even aware of the full consequences. I wanted more than anything to have Julia back. And I risked everything smuggling that pathogen from the lab. But as I explained, Julia came back, but she was no longer Julia. At least, not the Julia I remembered.
As far as me having anything to do with this, you’re dead wrong. It could be biological warfare, a terrorist attack. It could’ve been an inside job. All I know is that virus didn’t escape on its own. Raymond Clark came into contact with Julia. He got infected. Then his body spilled into the reservoir and infected the water supply of Cherrywood. That’s how the plague spread throughout Long Island. But even an airborne virus this potent wouldn’t have stretched overseas.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that Raymond Clark was the catalyst. The inciting incident that somebody was waiting for to release this virus on the world. It’s the perfect cover. The news breaks out about what’s happening in America and then it starts spreading across the globe in hours. That’s no coincidence, my new friend. Somebody put a lot of thought and effort into this. But it’s ok, because I have excellent news, my new friend…”
Arnold Vesti’s block was deserted, but it appeared as if some people still remained, barricaded inside their homes. Several front yards had been converted into deadly obstacle courses and rigged with booby-traps to ward off zombies and deter intruders.
Vesti’s property–a two-story ranch house with blue vinyl siding–was virtually unscathed. In the backyard, a lone Biter staggered through the waist-high grass, looking lost and bewildered. Not wanting to draw any attention with gunshots, Damien Albright removed a Bowie knife from the sheath taped to his thigh and rammed it through the Biter’s eye, piercing the brain. He retracted the blade and smeared the blood onto the leg of his pants before placing the knife back in its holder.
When Kenny Sudrow stubbed his toe on a dome shaped hunk of metal protruding from the earth, they knew they had found the bomb shelter. Carson Ryder peeled the grass back and found the wheel mechanism used to lock and unlock the hatch. Ryder twisted the wheel counter clockwise, and the hatch rose with a screech of the hinges.
As Damien poking his head down into the shelter, he was greeted by Arnold Vesti’s Remington twelve gauge shotgun being racked in his face.
“Easy big fella,” Damien said raising both hands in front to signify he didn’t pose any threat. “We’re not looking to hurt anybody. The boys and I are just looking for a place to crash.”
“How many?” Arnold asked, the shotgun still pointed at Damien’s head.
“Too many,” Arnold barked. “Take a hike.”
“Please, Mr. Vesti,” Kenny Sudrow pleaded. “We’ve got nowhere else to go.”
“Is that you, Kenny?” Arnold shouted up from the cavernous shelter. “Who is this man you’re with? And where in God’s name are your parents, boy?”
“They’re gone, Mr. Vesti,” Kenny sighed. “Everyone is…gone.”
Arnold lowered the shotgun. “Well, come on down I guess.”
Albright descended the stepladder first and gave Vesti a nod of recognition for his kindness and generosity. Kenny was next down the ladder and he was both joyful and relieved to see a few more familiar faces. Carson was the last one in and made sure to seal the hatch again.
“Let me introduce you to everyone,” Vesti said, standing as he made the proper introductions. “The couple to my left is Regis and Janice Whitfield. As you can see, Janice is currently expecting. The man to my left is Chase Crawford, next-door neighbor. And that young man whose been trying to get his cell phone working for the past eight hours is Chuckie Razzano. Well, now you’ve met the group. How long do you plan on hanging your hats here?”
“Not long, I hope,” Damien said. “No offense, sir.”
There were seven cots, and five of them were taken. Vesti offered the last two up to the local boys he recognized, Trevor Virden and Kenny Sudrow. Ryder, Albright, and Morris were stuck with the floor, and just satisfied with a place to sleep without the fear of having something sneak up on you and eat the terrified look off your face.
Regis was seated beside his wife on her individual cot, his arm around her. A shit eating grin covered his face as he tried to project the image of the ordinary, dull happily married couple. But the subtle nuance of Janice’s body language indicted they were anything but happy.
In addition to being five months pregnant, Janice’s right eye was as swollen as her belly was gradually becoming. Nobody asked why because they wanted to spare themselves the lies. I fell. It’s nothing serious. Honestly, I’m fine.
Arnold Vesti knew better than that. Vesti had lived in Cherrywood for fifty-three years, and he knew the Whitfield’s for at least six or seven of those years. He had heard enough with his own two ears and seen enough with his own two eyes to pass judgment on Regis Whitfield and assess just the kind of man he really was underneath that smiling façade. A no good, rotten, beer guzzling, wife beating son of a bitch.
In any ordinary situation, Vesti wouldn’t flex a muscle to help Regis. If he was drowning, he would’ve thrown Regis a cinderblock before he tossed him a life preserver. But this was no ordinary situation, and Vesti felt that Janice shouldn’t suffer any further for her husband’s transgressions.
Kenny Sudrow rolled his eyes at Chuckie Razzano, who was wearing a green mesh tank top and shorts like he just came from the gym. A gold Rolex was fastened to his wrist, a Christmas gift from his folks. Despite being trapped in an underground shelter, he still had has hair spiked with styling gel. He had half a bottle left and was rationing it.
Chase Crawford sat on his cot, his hands folded in his lap, a silver crucifix pendant dangling from his neck. “You heathens brought this on yourselves,” he muttered.
“Chase, don’t start in again,” Arnold said sternly.
“Why shouldn’t they hear the truth? These junkies, these fornicators, these sinners that sit here amongst us are the ones that plunged us into this state of darkness and despair. It’s them that brought down the wrath of God. That’s what this is, you know? This plague is our punishment. We’re all paying for your sins.”
“Save your sermons for the next crowd of transients,” Damien said with such bass in his voice that Chase piped down immediately. He sat quietly afterwards, rubbing the crucifix between his thumb and forefinger as if it was his lucky rabbits foot.
While the rest of them snored away, Carson pretended to be asleep, watching out of the corner of his eye as Janice and Regis squabbled. Janice gasped and stifled a scream when the back of Regis’s hand struck her across the face.
Ryder sprung from the floor, showing no affect from the lack of consistent sleep and food. Carson’s fist rocked Whitfield’s jaw, drawing blood from his lower lip. Whitfield had grabbed a hold of Carson’s Hello Kitty T-shirt and was still clutching the neck collar on the way down, tearing the shirt down the center.
Arnold awoke from the scuffle and sat up, his eyes half open. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” Carson assured him. “By the way, got an extra shirt you can spare?”
“I give you dry food and shelter, now you want the shirt off my back too?” Arnold laughed, confirming he was just kidding around. “That old shirt didn’t suit you anyway.” Arnold rolled off his cot, fetching Carson a clean black T-shirt to put on.
Regis was still reeling from the blow to his jaw and nobody, not even Janice, had lifted a finger to help him.
By now, the others had woken and caught wind of what had happened. Damien was the first to commend Ryder for his actions.
“What’s the plan for today?” Damien asked after things settled down.
“We got up to the surface and gather more supplies. See if there’s any late breaking news, though I seriously doubt it.”
That’s right, go to the surface, Chase thought silently. Meet your makers. You’ll all get what you deserve. This is what you get when you sin against God, against nature, against his wondrous creation. You will all feel His wrath.
To be continued with Part Four: Death Is Only the Beginning