Sunday, August 31, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART NINE
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: Seven 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
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
Day One Hundred and Thirty-Five.
The group had found their way in to Tennessee. Carson Ryder had been craving a cigarette ever since he swiped a pack from the mall. In retrospect, he should’ve swiped as many packs as he could. But he wasn’t thinking at the time.
Now, with months spent on the road, he had nothing to do but think and try to mend his broken memories.
The recollection of his wife’s name had come as a major surprise. It just popped right into his head. He saw a woman’s face–the same face from the picture he had taken from his house in New York–flash through his head and the name just came to him. Caroline.
When his driving shift was over, he’d sit in the back of the van and study the picture for hours. It was Carson standing next to a red haired woman with fair skin. Beside the woman was a little girl with pigtails, no older than nine or ten.
In the photo, Carson was wearing a blue uniform and police hat.
“Is that your wife?” Willard asked that day as they sat in the back of the van together.
“I believe it is.”
“And your daughter?”
“I think so. I just can’t remember her name.”
“So I’m told. You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?”
“Afraid not. But don’t fret. Your memories will all return eventually. Consider yourself lucky. I have many memories I only wish I could erase.”
Pickman traced the livid scar below his right eye, a scar he wore with modest pride. “You know how I got this? My wife gave it to me on the night of our anniversary. I was younger, no gray hair. I was, dare I say, handsome, and I could be quite the charmer back in my day. I had fooled around behind her back on more than one occasion, but this particular time she happened to catch wind of it. She struck me with the back of her hand across my face. The hand she wore her wedding ring on. It’s amazing what damage a diamond can do.”
“And you wish you could erase that memory?”
“That’s not all I wish I could erase.”
“I’ve been looking at the maps,” Kenny chimed in. “There should be a hotel about thirty miles or so from here. If it’s not crawling with Biters, it could be a good spot to settle down until winter passes. A few more nights on the road, we could freeze to death.”
“A hotel would be sweet,” Chuckie said, adjusting his Rolex. The time band had broken and the hands no longer moved, but he wore it as a souvenir of his past life as a spoiled rich brat. “Everyone could have their own bed to sleep in. And maybe the place even has running water. Imagine how great a hot shower would feel right about now.”
“What kind of fantasy world do you live in, kid?” Damien asked from behind the wheel.
“One where zombies aren’t trying to devour me like I’m raw hamburger meat,” Chuckie replied.
* * *
Ally Burton was scarred after her terrifying encounter with Dennis Pinkle. If her brother had come forward about what he saw in that storage shed, he could’ve spared her the psychological trauma. But Eli refused to speak a word of it to anyone. Not even after Pinkle tried to convert his sister into an entrée. What dark secrets was Eli Burton hiding? There were things about him not even Ally knew of.
“Something’s not right,” Janice said, clutching at her belly. “The baby hasn’t kicked in days. I know something’s wrong. Very wrong.”
“I’m sure the baby’s fine,” Ally tried to reassure her.
“Oh, child,” Janice said. “Don’t fret over me. You’ve been through so much lately. I don’t want you worrying about me, too.”
“There’s a difference between worrying and caring,” Ally said. “I care about you, just like you care about me. You’re the only other girl in the group. You’re the only one who understands me. And when that baby is born, I’ll be there to help.” Ally forced a smile. It was the first time she had smiled since before Pinkle’s house, and it was something she’d have to get reacquainted with.
“That’s so sweet,” Janice said, smiling back. “Thanks for the thought, darling. I just wish the baby would kick again or give me some sign that it’s ok.”
“God won’t take your baby,” Chase Crawford spoke as if he was speaking for God himself. “He’s punished us far enough. I have faith your baby will be born healthy and live a full, rich life."
“He may live a full life,” Janice said, “I just don’t know how rich it will be.”
The box truck rocked as they came to a sudden stop.
“Why are we stopping?” Chase asked.
“We’ve got company,” Vern shouted from the cab. “Biters.”
“Just run them down,” Eli said.
“No can do. There are a few cars blocking the road. We’ll have to push them out of the way. But we can’t do that until we deal with the Biters first. You guys stay in back. You’ll be safe in there. Damien pulled the van over. We can handle this.”
Vern opened the door and stepped down from the cab, remembering to take the flamethrower this time. He looped the straps over his shoulders and lifted the torch. The pilot light had blown out and Vern knew what a bitch it could be just to get it lit again.
Damien, Carson, and Kenny had exited the van, weapons in hand. Carson racked his Remington shotgun and blasted one Biter right in the face. But the shot only seemed to encourage the other Biters to pursue them. Fifteen or more lurched forward, snarling, growling, snapping their black rotted teeth.
“Torch them, Vern!”
“This may take a minute or two,” Vern said, using his Zippo to try and spark the pilot light on the torch.
“Fuck it,” Carson said, racking the shotgun again and firing a second shot, which tore the head off the shoulders of an impending Biter.
Kenny raised his semi-automatic pistol and wrapped his index finger around the trigger.
“You sure you’re ready for this, Squeak?” Damien asked.
“My name’s not Squeak, it’s Kenny. And you better believe I’m ready for this.” Kenny pulled the trigger and capped one Biter right in the skull.
“Not bad,” Damien nodded his head in approval.
“I’m improving,” Kenny said, firing a second shot which took down another Biter.
Carson had pumped out the last of his shells. The rest remained inside the van, and so he resorted to using his backup weapon. The machete.
“Hold your fire, boys,” Carson shouted. “I’ve got this.”
When Carson was done slicing and dicing, the street was riddled with the decapitated heads of a small army of Biters.
“I’ve got the pilot lit,” Vern shouted.
“You’re a bit late,” Carson shouted back. “I think we’re about through here.”
When Vern returned to the cab, the group breathed a collective sigh of relief. “That problem is dealt with. Now Eli, Chase—how about you give us a hand moving those cars?”
While the men set about clearing the road, the girls remained safely in the truck.
“How are you doing Ally?”
“I have my days,” Ally said. “Days where I think about what happened. Most of the time, I try not to focus on it. I’m alive and Pinkle’s dead. He can’t hurt me anymore. I would’ve loved to have killed the bastard myself.”
“And I would’ve loved to have helped you.” The girls shared a brief laugh.
“So when did you find out you were pregnant?”
“It feels like it was ages ago…” Janice said and trailed off.
THREE MONTHS BEFORE DAY ONE
Janice Whitfield was holding a store-bought pregnancy test in her hand. She had read the instructions carefully. Blue was positive and purple was negative.
The test strip showed blue. She was pregnant, and she was going to need to see a doctor immediately. But she was also going to have to keep this a secret from Regis. Regis had recently lost his job at the factory and was picking up night shifts at local bars.
She didn’t know how he’d handle the news. And she didn’t have the first clue as to how they were going to afford all this. But the money wasn’t what worried her. It was Regis’s reaction to the news that terrified her. So she kept it a secret for as long as she could.
The only people who knew were her mother, who she phoned as soon as she took the test, and one of her girlfriends.
Janice’s mother never approved of her marriage to Regis. She maintained that if Janice’s father were still alive, he’d stomp Regis to oblivion.
“Mom, I’m pregnant,” Janice told her over the phone.
“Have you told Regis yet?”
“Of course not. I’m not even a hundred percent sure. These tests aren’t always accurate. I should check with a doctor first before I tell him.”
“I wouldn’t bother telling him at all,” Janice’s mother said.
“He’s going to find out eventually,” Janice said. “I can’t keep it a secret forever.”
Her mother sighed on her end of the line. “Why don’t you just leave him while you can? Come live with me and we’ll raise the baby together.”
“Regis isn’t as bad as you think,” Janice said, rubbing a fresh welt on her arm that her husband had given her. “He’s just misunderstood.”
“Uh huh,” her mother mumbled. “When you come to your senses, I’ll be waiting for you.”
Janice hung up before her mom could badger her further. Regis or no Regis, the anticipation of her first child had boosted her spirits. And she wasn’t about to let anyone or anything bring her down.
She called her doctor, made an appointment for that Wednesday. It was mid-afternoon and Regis was sleeping off a terrible hangover. He didn’t have to be at work until seven o’clock and Janice figured he’d probably sleep until six.
So she grabbed her car keys, slipped out, and took a drive to her friend Karen’s house. Karen was married with two kids in grade school, and Janice couldn’t wait to share the news with her.
Karen had a glass of champagne to celebrate the good news. Unfortunately, Janice couldn’t join in.
“Have you told Regis yet?” was one of the first questions out of Karen’s mouth.
“Not quite yet,” Janice shook her head. “I’m waiting for the right moment.”
“That no-good bastard better keep his paws off you now that you’re with child. Make sure he doesn’t smack you around, Janice. Please. If not for your sake, then for the safety of your unborn child.”
“Regis doesn’t hit me anymore,” Janice said, a lie as transparent as glass.
“Mm hmm,” Karen said, unconvinced. “All right, enough about Regis. Let’s move onto happier things. Baby clothes; you’re going to need a ton of them. Are we talking boy or girl?”
“I don’t know yet. I still haven’t seen the doctor. I’m not sure I want to know ahead of time. I think I’d like it to be a surprise.”
“That’s a nice idea,” Karen said. “But you’ll be buying all your baby clothes at the very last minute, then. Well, I suppose I could always help you out. I have plenty of old baby clothes; boys and girls.”
“I couldn’t take those from you,” Janice said.
“Of course you can. It’s not like my kids are ever gonna wear them again. And besides, two kids are enough for me. I’m not planning on having a third. I even have Emma’s old crib I can give you.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Janice said. “I can’t thank you enough, Karen.”
“Nonsense. We’re friends. We help each other. And this little miracle of yours is truly a blessing. Motherhood is going to change your life.”
Janice returned home at five-thirty, and found Regis awake and waiting for her at the kitchen table.
“Where were you?” Regis asked as soon as she walked in.
“I went to see Karen,” Janice said, a quiver in her voice.
“For two and half hours? Bullshit. Tell me where you were.”
“I told you,” Janice said, trembling. “I was at Karen’s house. Call her if you don’t believe me.”
“I wouldn’t waste my breath on that bitch,” Regis said. He eyed her up and down, perusing every inch of her body, and finally settling on her wide brown eyes that looked as though they were about to tear up. “You’re hiding something from me. What is it?”
“I’m not hiding anything from you.”
“Have you been sneaking around behind my back again? Who is it? Who have you been fucking this time, Janice? I demand answers!”
He got up from the table, staggering over to her, the smell of alcohol on his warm breath. As he raised his hand to strike her, Janice produced a canister from her purse and sprayed Regis right in the eyes. He recoiled in pain, mashing his knuckles into his red eyes.
“Oh, Christ!” Regis cried. “It burns!”
“It should burn. It’s mace. A little present from my friend, Karen. You want to know what I’m hiding, you lousy oaf? I’m pregnant! You got it? Pregnant! And for the next nine months, you won’t dare raise your hands to me or I’ll have you behind bars! Got it?”
“Got it,” Regis muttered on his knees, his red eyes starting to tear up.
“Good,” Janice said, tucking the mace back into her purse.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Thirty-Five.
“I made a lot of mistakes in my life, but Regis Whitfield was the worst.”
“No woman deserves to be a doormat or a punching bag for their husband,” Ally said. “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but that rotten bastard got what he deserved.”
“No he didn’t,” Janice said. “He deserved so much worse than what he got.”
The back door of the truck rolled up and Eli and Chase climbed back in. “The road’s clear,” Eli told them. “The guys think this is a good spot to rest for the night. Then we can pick up again in the morning.”
“I’m going to get some air,” Ally said, excusing herself. She wandered over to the van, brushing shoulders with Vern as he headed back towards the cab. She wished him goodnight and told him to tell the others she was going to switch things up and crash in the van that night.
“Hey guys,” Ally approached the men as they were preparing to sleep for the night. “Do one of you gentlemen mind switching with me for the night? That preacher guy is starting to get on my nerves a bit and I need a break from him.”
“Chase can be a handful,” Pickman said. “I’ll switch with you for the night.” Willard got out from the van and headed for the box truck.
“Hello beautiful,” Chuckie said as Ally got into the back of the van and slammed the door shut.
“In your dreams,” Ally said.
“We’ll see about that,” Chuckie said, curling up with a blanket and pillow and falling fast asleep.
The group all seemed to find sleep except for Ally. Still tormented by flashes of a deranged Dennis Pinkle, sleep continued to elude her. And so she crept quietly from the van, taking a large hunting knife with her for protection.
Guns, she didn’t have the first clue about. A knife she could understand at least. And the night was silent as she walked up and down the car lanes flooded with abandoned vehicles. Some still had passengers inside, though they were quite dead. Their bodies severely decomposed and left to freeze in the dead of winter.
The thought sickened her, so she tried not to focus on it. Instead she found herself praying for the health and safety of Janice’s baby. That baby was the miracle this group desperately needed. Something to renew their weakened hopes and show them that life was still worth living.
As she walked further down the road, she spotted something in the distance. In the dark, she couldn’t tell if it was a fellow weary traveler or a lone Biter staggering about in search of food. But the object soon came into focus and she identified this unwanted visitor as a Biter, its teeth grinding with anticipation.
“You can do this,” Ally said, standing her ground. “When it gets close enough, just stab it right in the head. No fear.”
She let the Biter wander over to her, and when it was ready to lunge towards her, she took a stab. But she missed, instead plunging the blade into the Biter’s shoulder, where it stuck and refused to budge.
The wound didn’t seem to slow it down a bit. In seconds, Ally was down on the ground, struggling for her life. With a pair of black rotting teeth snapping at her face, Ally did everything she could to avoid inevitable contact with her undead assailant.
Eventually, Ally’s arms could no longer fight to retain the knife lodged in the Biter’s shoulder or hold it at bay. Her arms fell to the ground in surrender and she breathed a sigh of defeat before the Biter sank its teeth into the nape of her neck.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Thirty-Six.
The group discovered Ally wandering around the following morning. But she wasn’t Ally anymore. The gaping hole in her neck and the discoloration of her skin made it undoubtedly clear that Ally was dead.
She was now one of the Biters.
“Oh, Ally,” Eli cried. “Not you.”
Janice was on the verge of tears. She tried to be strong, but she could no longer hold them back and quickly ran behind the truck to be alone. Vern considered following her, but figured it best to leave her be.
“What are we going to do?” Carson asked.
“What needs to be done,” Damien said, removing one of his two pistols from its holster.
“Hold on a second,” Eli said. “That’s my sister.”
“Not anymore,” Damien informed him.
“You said there’s a cure, right?” Eli asked Pickman directly. “If there’s a cure, she can be saved.”
“Yes,” Pickman said. “But we can’t take her with us. And if she’s your sister, do you really want to leave her out here to be cannon fodder for any other survivors that follow our path? Suppose we don’t make it to Texas. Or suppose we make it there, but we don’t make it back. What kind of life will Ally have then?”
Eli wanted to argue, but Pickman had covered all the bases. And Eli knew he was right. It just took a few moments to admit it. “Do what needs to be done,” Eli said.
Damien walked towards the girl. Seconds later, a single gunshot rang out through the area, and the tears from Janice’s eyes refused to cease flowing.
“There’s a hotel not too far from here,” Carson said when he regained his composure. “If we hurry, we can make it before dark.”
“Sounds like our only real option,” Kenny said. “And I’m terribly sorry about your sister.”
“It’s ok,” Eli said. “We grew up together, but we were never that close. We had different friends, different interests. Still, I loved her. And I think she knew that deep down inside. And that’s all that counts. I just hope Janice will be all right. Her and Ally were really getting close. She was the only other girl in the group.”
“I’ll talk to Janice,” Vern said.
“Maybe you should give it some time,” Eli suggested. “She thinks the baby isn’t doing too well and this whole thing may crush her if we’re not delicate."
The whole time, Janice was huddled behind the truck within earshot. She heard everything Eli said. And he was right on all accounts. Despite their difference in age, Ally and Janice had really bonded and the loss crushed Janice.
Janice wasn’t sure how she was going to carry on after this. More than anything, Janice needed to be reassured right now. She needed to know her unborn child was alive and well. She needed to feel it kick. So she pressed her open palms to her belly and waited for signs of life.
* * *
By dusk, they had reached the Starlight Hotel. The front doors were boarded shut from the outside, but Carson had a crowbar in the van he used to remove the planks.
The interior was virtually unscathed. The lobby furniture remained, the floral carpets were intact. The light fixtures were all accounted for, though no bulbs illuminated the dense lobby, so they relied on flashlights to navigate their way past the front desk.
They traveled down the first corridor, which led to a stairwell, and a set of out-of-order elevators. The hotel had two floors in total, one kitchen, and one dining room.
The second corridor led them to the first set of rooms. Carson had raided the key cards from the front desk and handed them out to each member of the group.
He handed out nine key cards in total, to open the first nine rooms. “No more sharing rooms tonight,” Carson said. “Tonight we all have our own beds, our own rooms. But I want us to stick close together incase anything goes down suddenly.”
“We should probably do a full sweep of the hotel before we settle down,” Damien said. “Make sure no Biters are lurking around.”
“I concur,” Kenny said.
“Shut up, Squeak,” Damien said. “The grownups are talking.”
“Eat me,” Kenny said.
“When we run out of food supplies,” Damien joked.
They split up with Damien and Kenny doing a sweep of the east corridors while Carson and Vern checked the west corridors. The first floor was clear. But as they entered the stairwell, they heard the sound of descending footsteps. The four men froze at the base of the stairs, guns aimed forward.
Damien had taped a Maglite to the barrel of his gun, which illuminated the entire stairwell. The footsteps stopped at the landing, where a middle-aged man came into sight. He had his arms raised high as he had expected his intruders to be carrying weapons.
“Don’t shoot,” the man said. “Take what you want and go. Or just take hotel. But please, let me live.”
“We’re not here to kill you or steal your things,” Vern said. “We’re just looking for a place to ride out the winter.”
“Well, you found it,” the man said. “Can I put my arms down now?”
“Of course,” Vern said and the gang lowered their weapons as the man’s arms settled at his sides.
“Terry Watts,” the man said, introducing himself. He was gaunt, pale, with long reddish brown hair that was tied back in a ponytail. “I used to own and operate the Starlight, before things went to shit. Now, I just occupy the place, still waiting for the cavalry to arrive.”
“I don’t think they’re coming,” Damien said.
“Well, you guys came,” Terry said. “That’s good enough for me. I haven’t seen or heard another human being in months. Once in a while, I’ll spot one of those things stumbling about outside in search of food.”
“We call them Biters,” Kenny told Terry.
“I can understand why,” Terry said. “I’ve seen what they can do. And it ain’t pretty.”
“What have you been eating?” Vern asked. “If you don’t mind me asking,” he added. “You look quite thin.”
“I don’t mind,” Terry said. “And not much since the power went. I’ve been living off canned foods and preservatives. Last week, I ate an entire bag of raw sugar. Big mistake. I smashed the vending machines a while ago. There might still be some candy or chips, but they’re probably stale by now.”
“Any Coca-Cola?” Kenny asked.
“No soda,” Terry told him.
“Rats,” Kenny said.
“Well, we have food and other supplies,” Vern said. “You’re welcome to whatever we have for as long as you allow us to stay here.”
“That sounds fair to me,” Terry said. “I only have one condition. You guys can have the entire first floor as long as you leave the second floor to me. Respect my privacy, and I’ll respect yours.”
“Deal,” Carson spoke for everyone. “Now, would you like to come down and meet the rest of the group?”
* * *
The gang retired to their private rooms after Terry Watts greeted them all individually. The group was wary to trust another outsider, but this was Terry’s place and they’d have to respect that for as long as they stayed.
Watts was older, clearly smaller and weaker than Dennis Pinkle. And he was on his own. There was no way he could take all nine of them on. So if Watts played it cool and kept to himself, they would all do the same in return.
“Will you teach me to shoot?” a restless Eli asked Carson as he was trying to sleep.
“Damien is a better shot than me,” Carson said.
“I asked Damien, but he told me to fuck off,” Eli said.
“All right, kid,” Carson said. “I’ll show you tomorrow. Now get some rest, will you?”
* * *
“Janice,” Vern called, knocking on the door of Room Seven. It was early morning, and he wanted to talk to her and make sure she was holding up ok.
“Janice? Are you awake?” No response.
He continued rapping his fist against the door, again to no response.
“Janice, please answer me and let me know you’re all right,” Vern said.
When Janice failed to respond a third time, Vern stopped knocking and tried the door handle.
It wasn’t locked.
Vern gasped as he pushed the door open and saw Janice’s legs dangling in the air. “Oh, God,” he groaned and turned away in disgust. A bed sheet had been tied into a makeshift noose and secured around a support beam. She waited until everyone was asleep before she did it.
Kenny, groggy and half-awake, stumbled from his room and saw Vern in the hall. “What’s going on?” Kenny asked.
He padded across the hall and peered into Room Seven. He heaved just at the sight. If his stomach was full, he would’ve lost everything that was in there.
“Oh, God,” Kenny repeated, clutching at his stomach. “When did she do it?”
“Must have been last night. She was talking about how the baby hadn’t kicked in days. She thought something might be wrong, that she had a miscarriage or some complication. I think that combined with what happened to Ally pushed her over the edge.”
“We’ll have to tell the others,” Kenny sighed.
“Leave it to me,” Vern said. “You’ve been through enough kid. Just go back to your room. I need some time alone anyway. I need to do something I haven’t done in years.”
“What’s that?” Kenny asked.
“Pray,” Vern said.
To Be Continued with Part Ten: Scavenger Hunt