Sunday, August 24, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART EIGHT
Genre: Horror (Zombies)
Carson Ryder: Former Marine/Former police officer/Suffers from retrograde amnesia/Searching for clues to his past
Damien Albright: Found and saved Carson/Has no family/Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world
Kenny Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
Janice Whitfield: Six months pregnant/Wife of Regis Whitfield
Chuckie Razzano: His only concerns are his Rolex and his hair gel
Chase Crawford: Religious zealot/Loner/Keeps to himself
Willard Pickman: Scientist/Worked for the CDC/Knows of a cure
Ally Burton: Mall survivor/Sister of Eli Burton
Eli Burton: Mall survivor/Brother of Ally Burton
Vern Sheldon: New associate/Drives a box truck/Carries a badass flamethrower
Arnold Vesti: Biters got him
Regis Whitfield: Biters got him
Devin Morris: Strangled in his sleep
Darren Mays: Shot by Damien Albright/Claimed that Carson arrested him at one point
Trevor Virden: Biters got him
Brent Blaze: Vern Sheldon shot him after he got bit
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
About two months later. The group had spent weeks on the road. Weeks without proper shelter. Weeks of sleeping piled on top of each other in the van and the box truck. If it weren’t for the abandoned vehicles and fallen bodies blockading the roads, they would’ve made better time. But it had taken them roughly two months just to escape from New York and make headway through Pennsylvania.
They had run through most of their rations, food supplies. But they still had plenty of gasoline to keep trucking along. And that’s what concerned Carson Ryder.
His memories were still a jigsaw puzzle to him, but he did remember something crucial. Like all things, gasoline has an expiration date. Once the gas went bad, their journey would come to a screeching halt. It was imperative that they kept moving.
But the group had exhausted all their other resources and was in desperate need of rest, shelter. Stopping was inevitable, and on Day Ninety-One, they took a reprieve midway through Pennsylvania.
“The baby is kicking again,” Janice said. “Feel,” she said, taking Ally Burton’s hand and pressing the palm to her swollen belly. Ally felt the gentle thump of the baby’s kick against her open palm.
“That’s amazing,” Ally remarked. “Have you decided on a name?”
“If it’s a boy, I’ll name it Hank after my father. If it’s a girl, I’ve always liked Allison. We can call her Ally, too.”
“I really hope it’s a girl,” Ally said, flashing a benevolent smile.
“Hold tight back there,” Vern shouted from the cab of the box truck. “The van is coming to a stop and so are we.”
Vern tapped the brakes and the box truck rocked as it came to a halt. Vern climbed out from the cab as the group piled out from the van. He opened the back of the truck to let Janice, Ally, Eli, and Chase outside.
“Why’d we stop?” Eli asked.
“We can’t carry on like this,” Carson said. “Food supplies are running low and we need to replenish. We also need rest. Half a mile back, Damien spotted a house that wasn’t boarded up or rigged with booby-traps. It looked abandoned. We’re going to take a vote, and if the majority votes we rest, we’ll backtrack a tad and spent a night or two.”
The vote was nearly unanimous. They were doubling back to catch up on some much required sleep.
As winter approached, the group had ditched their fall attire, opting for more appropriate apparel. Arnold Vesti was a great man, but he was also a hoarder. This paid dividends when the group raided Vesti’s wardrobe with his blessing, acquiring hats, gloves, scarves, and heavy winter jackets.
They piled back into the vehicles and Kenny turned the van around and waited for Vern to follow.
“It’s getting colder and colder as the days go by,” Kenny said from behind the wheel. “I’ve been thinking, what if all the Biters freeze? Problem solved, right?”
“That solves our problems until the spring, when they thaw out,” Damien said.
“You always have to put a damper on everything,” Kenny said.
“I’m just being a realist,” Damien said. “Besides, they’re already dead, numbskull. I doubt a little frostbite is going to slow them down.”
“There you go again,” Kenny said. “Pessimist.”
“In a world like this, how can you not be pessimistic?”
Carson Ryder listened to their banter, never joining in. But he couldn’t help but agree with Damien’s sentiments. In this horrific new world, there was no room for optimists. Only those who expected the worst, prepared for the worst, would survive.
So when they rolled up to the house that Damien had spotted, Carson had his machete handy and Remington shotgun loaded. He wasn’t going to take any chances.
“What do you think of all this, Pickman?” Kenny asked as he brought the van to a stop in front of the house.
“I can’t say for sure,” Willard Pickman said. He was the oldest member of the group. He sported a livid scar below his right eye, a scar he seemed to wear with modest pride. Though, he never once offered an explanation for the mark. “But I have to agree with Damien. I doubt the cold will stop them in their tracks. And if it does, they’ll just thaw out by spring, like Damien said.”
“Well if their asses don’t freeze, ours will,” Kenny said. “We might have to find a place to settle down for a while.”
“Maybe this is the place,” Pickman said.
“Only one way to find out,” Damien said, exiting the van first.
They cleared out of the vehicles, lugging supplies and bare essentials.
“Has anyone seen my cologne?” Chuckie Razzano asked anyone who was paying attention.
“It’s up your ass and to the left,” Damien said. “Now go be a gentleman and help Janice unload some things from the box truck.”
Thoroughly intimidated by Damien, Chuckie quickly disregarded his cologne and did as Damien suggested.
Like Carson, Damien was prepared. He had both pistols at his sides, loaded and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The house was two-stories with a semi-circular driveway that no cars occupied. The house itself was a mock Georgian style home comprised of red-brick and mortar. The windows were not boarded, but all the curtains had been drawn.
As they approached the door, Carson first checked under the Welcome mat and found no key. As he was about to ram the door with his shoulder, Vern grabbed hold of his arm to stop him.
“Let’s try this first,” Vern said, turning the knob. The door opened with a slight creak and Carson stepped in first, pumping the mechanism of his shotgun.
“Put your guns down,” a voice called from the kitchen. “I mean you no harm.”
“Show yourself,” Carson demanded.
A man stepped out from the kitchen alone and moved with his hands raised in the air towards the foyer.
“The name’s Dennis Pinkle. Like I said, no harm intended. I heard cars pulling up and I said thank the good Lord. Civilization prevails.”
“I don’t know for how long,” Damien said as they stepped in from the cold one-by-one.
“Your door was unlocked,” Vern said. “That’s a big risk to take, isn’t it?”
“Those things out there, they’re not nearly as evolved as say you or me. They don’t think to open doors with their hands or simply turn a knob. Humans on the other hand, they know what they’re doing. That’s how I knew I was safe when you arrived. Those things don’t drive cars and they damn sure don’t open doors.”
Carson lowered his shotgun and Dennis released a sigh of relief. There was light coming from the kitchen, not very bright, but it did the trick.
“Quite a large group you’ve got here,” Dennis said. “Oh well, the more, the merrier. You arrived at the perfect time. I was just about to make dinner. Where are you all coming from?”
“New York,” Kenny answered. “It took us forever to get here.”
“I’ll bet,” Dennis nodded. “Come on in the kitchen. There’s plenty of room at the table.”
“Sounds good to me,” Chuckie said. “I’m starving.”
“I hope none of you are vegetarians,” Dennis said, leading the way to the kitchen, which was lit up by several Maglite’s propped up on counters or shelves.
“You’re eating meat?” Damien asked.
“I’ve got a wood burning stove,” Dennis said. “It’s not very traditional, but I’m sure as hell glad I invested in it. That thing saved my life. Now come and make yourselves comfortable. This might take a little while.”
Chase Crawford lifted the crucifix from around his neck up to his lips, gave it a small peck, and whispered a silent prayer of thanks.
* * *
That night, the group enjoyed a sumptuous feast of meat and aged Italian cheeses. For dessert, they treated themselves to a bottle of red wine that Vern had been hoarding for a special occasion. It seemed only right to Vern that they celebrate, as well as share some token with their generous host.
“That meat was so fresh,” Kenny remarked after dinner. “Where’d you find it?”
“I didn’t wanna say anything because I figured it would gross you guys out. But it’s venison. I shot a deer with my bow and arrow. I’m not proud of it. I used to love animals. Now, sadly, I just think of them as food.”
“Don’t feel too bad about it,” Kenny told him. “You gotta do what you can to survive.”
“Excuse me,” Eli Burton said, getting up from the table. “I have to use the bathroom.”
“I’m afraid the plumbing’s gone to hell, along with everything else in this world,” Dennis informed him. “You’ll have to use the backyard.”
“No problem,” Eli shrugged and walked from the table to the backdoor. Outside, he unzipped his fly and before a drop could hit the overgrown lawn, the red storage shed grabbed Eli’s attention.
He knew it wasn’t any of his business, but then again, Eli didn’t have much respect for the property or the affairs of others. So he zipped his fly up and wandered quietly to the storage shed. Like the front door, the shed wasn’t locked.
But perhaps it should’ve been.
As soon as Eli opened the door, the stench of rot overpowered him.
A circle of blood stained the floor of the shed. And in the center of that circle laid a limbless man in a state of shock. He was still alive, but barely. His legs were skinned down to the bone, the flesh, muscle, and tissue torn away.
This was the source of the meat Dennis had fed them. This fact had become quite apparent to Eli. But quite shockingly, the thought barely made him flinch. He didn’t even blink when he saw what Pinkle had done to the man’s legs. His face was a mask of indifference. A face that said, “I’ve seen worse.”
Eli didn’t recoil in horror. He didn’t bolt from the shed to alert the other members of the group about this discovery. He didn’t call out their new host for being the monster he really was.
Instead, he closed the door to the shed and wandered back inside. He pretended he didn’t see a thing.
* * *
As it grew darker, the group retired to their separate quarters Dennis had assigned them. Vern, Eli, Willard, and Chuckie were all crammed together on the guestroom floor. They had pillows and blankets that Dennis had provided, and a candle for light, but that was all.
Chase Crawford, who kept to himself, opted to sleep on the living room sofa. His crucifix was all the companionship he needed.
“Shit,” Vern muttered as the others were drifting off to sleep. “Left the flamethrower in the cab again.”
Carson, Damien, and Kenny were given one of the rooms on the first floor. There was a bed, big enough for one person. So they did what all reasonable adults would do in this situation. They played rock, paper, scissors for it.
Kenny won and claimed the bed for the evening. He rested his back against the headboard, pulling the semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and placed it on the nightstand. The gun had been a gift from Damien to use for protection.
Possession of the gun made Kenny feel older, more mature. It was a big responsibility for a small town Long Island kid. But he still needed to practice his aim.
“Have you thought of a name for your gun yet?” Damien asked him.
“A name?” Kenny asked.
“Yeah, every gun should have a name,” Damien said. “And it should always be a woman’s name. For instance, my pistols are Angela and Andrea. Twins from birth, so I’m told. Now it’s your turn to come up with a name.”
“How about Tristan,” Kenny said, thinking of an ex-girlfriend.
“I dig it,” Damien shook his head in approval. “Slutty, but not too slutty. I’d love to meet this chick someday.”
“Yeah, well, good luck finding her.”
“I don’t have a name for my shotgun,” Carson pointed out.
“Then think of one,” Damien suggested.
* * *
Janice and Ally were given their own room with twin beds on the second floor. Exhausted, Janice was the first to fall asleep.
It took Ally a while to get comfy and drift off, but her rest was short lived. She awoke in the dead of night to see a shadow looming over her body. And a voice was whispering, “Fresh meat.” She could hear the wet smacking sounds of Pinkle’s tongue. The sick freak was licking his lips in anticipation.
“Fresh meat,” he uttered again. “Fresh meat.”
A wet rag was clamped over her mouth before she could make a sound, and the noxious chemicals the rag was soaked in assaulted her senses. Janice heard nothing of her muted struggles. She lost consciousness in mere seconds.
Pinkle hoisted Ally’s limp body over one shoulder and snuck her down the stairs, leading her out the backdoor, to the red storage shed.
He plopped her unconscious body down next to the vagrant whose legs had been flayed. Pinkle fetched his grey toolbox and produced a sharp scalpel.
“Fresh meat,” he muttered again.
Vern Sheldon stood in the doorway, thumbing back the hammer of his .357 Magnum. Dennis Pinkle heard the click and turned to face him. “Let the girl go,” Sheldon advised him.
“Never,” Pinkle shook his head in defiance. “You’re all mine for the taking. The good Lord led you here to me, like lambs to the slaughter. Now there’s plenty of fresh meat to go around.”
“Last chance to drop the scalpel and step away from the girl,” Vern said.
"Have it your way," Pinkle shrugged. Dennis stepped away from the girl and inched towards Vern, scalpel still in hand. As he made his move, Vern fired two shots into his chest. Then one final shot to the head, to make sure he wouldn’t come back as one of those things.
Vern heard rustling and turned to see several Biters staggering through the waist-high grass. He still had several shots left in the .357, but he didn’t want to waste the bullets.
He heard the blast of the shotgun before he even saw Ryder’s face. Ryder pumped the shotgun and fired again. Out of ammo, he used the machete to dispatch the remaining Biter by slicing off its head with one rapid slash.
“Thanks,” Vern called out.
“Don’t mention it,” Ryder said. “Is that a .357 Magnum?”
“My Dirty Harry gun,” Vern said, waving it in the air for Ryder to see.
“Too bad you didn’t have that flamethrower handy. You got to stop leaving it in the cab.”
“I’ll write myself a note,” Vern said, tucking the Magnum into his waistband. “Wanna give me a hand with the girl?”
By dawn, the group had awakened and were all made aware of the horrific discovery in Pinkle’s shed. Ally Burton had regained consciousness, and she couldn’t thank Vern enough for saving her life. As for the man in the shed, the man in a state of shock and clinging to life, the group took a vote. They agreed the humane thing to do would be to put him out of his misery. He was beyond saving at this point.
Damien volunteered to do the honors. He used one of his pistols to put a single bullet in the man’s skull. He made it quick and guaranteed he wouldn’t come back as a Biter.
The group raided Pinkle’s pantry and took whatever canned and dry foods they could find, along with several jars of preservatives. Then it was out the front door, the same way that they came. But they were welcomed by a gathering of at least three or four dozen Biters.
“Fuck,” Damien said. “They must’ve heard the shots.”
“Let’s just make a run for the vehicles,” Kenny suggested.
“There’s too many of them,” Pickman said. “We’ll never make it.”
“Besides,” Damien said. “We don’t run. We fight.”
“If you guys can distract them or something, just lure them away from the vehicles, I get to the cab and get my secret weapon,” Vern said.
“Fast thinking, Vern,” Carson said. He racked his shotgun and fired one round into the air. That grabbed their attention. In seconds, every Biter in the street was lumbering in their direction.
Vern broke loose from the pack and made a dash for the truck. Damien drew both pistols, gave Angela and Andrea a little kiss for good luck, and open fired on this mob of the undead.
Carson racked his shotgun again and followed suit.
Kenny, semi-automatic in hand, finally got a little target practice in. But he missed a hell of a lot more than he ever hit. He ran out of bullets after fifteen shots, which killed all of three Biters. Carson was running low on shells, and Damien was out of ammo as well.
And there were still two dozen or more Biters crawling over one another to get a taste of their flesh.
“Duck!” Vern screamed and the group all dropped to the ground. A surge of flames cut through the crowd of Biters, sending them scattering in different directions, like soldiers looking for retreat.
The ones that had caught fire, the ones that writhed and kicked in the streets—the group saw to it that they were taken care of.
As they packed the van and the box truck with supplies, Carson pulled Damien aside. “I’ve thought of a name for my gun,” Carson said. “Caroline.”
“Because I just remembered…that’s my wife’s name."
To be continued with Part Nine: Another One Bites The Dust