Monday, September 22, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART ELEVEN
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 or friends outside of the group/Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world
Kenny Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
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
Eli Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a large inheritance when they died
Vern Sheldon: New associate/Drives a box truck/Carries a badass flamethrower
Terry Watts: Proprietor of the Starlight Hotel
Arnold Vesti: A compassionate man who let the entire group stay in his underground shelter/Biters got him
Regis Whitfield: Abusive husband of Janice Whitfield/Biters got him
Devin Morris: Comic store employee from Long Island/Was found dead, strangled in his sleep
Darren Mays: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Shot by Damien Albright/Claimed that Carson arrested him at one point
Trevor Virden: Comic store owner/Biters got him
Brent Blaze: Former Cherrywood police officer/Vern Sheldon shot him after he got bit
Ally Burton: Wealthy sister of Eli Burton/Attacked by a lone Biter
Janice Whitfield: Pregnant wife of Regis Whitfield/Committed suicide when her baby stopped kicking
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
As the Biters continued to stagger down the ramp, the grey cement walls of the parking structure started to look more and more like their tomb. Once Damien had finished siphoning the last drop of gas from the vehicles, he joined Carson and Kenny. They all put their backs against the wall so they were facing the ramp and drew their weapons.
A tall Biter ambled towards Carson. He pumped the mechanism of his shotgun and with a deafening blast, he tore its head from its shoulders. He pumped the shotgun, watched the shell pop out of the breach, and then he fired again. Damien had Andrea and Angela–his two pistols–drawn and was firing at anything that moved.
Kenny’s semi-automatic was spraying bullets like the gun was set on auto-fire. Even Damien couldn’t argue that he was improving as a shooter. With each pull of the trigger, another looming Biter crashed to the cold pavement.
Carson regretted not bringing his machete along when he ran out of bullets for the shotgun. Tossing his Remington aside, he drew the backup pistol tucked into his waistband and resumed fire.
Damien stopped to reload his pistols, and it provided enough of a distraction for one of the Biters to creep up on him.
His back pressed against the wall, Damien dropped his pistols and a struggle ensued as he tried to hold this snarling creature at bay. Its rotting, shambling face was mere inches away from Damien’s as its teeth chattered in anticipation.
Kenny pressed his gun to its skull and pulled the trigger. It flopped lifelessly to the ground and Damien regained his composure. “Thanks, kid,” Damien said as he picked Andrea and Angela up.
Other Biters wandering the area had heard the shots and followed the noise, shuffling down the ramp towards their newfound prey.
“There’s too many of them,” Carson said. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it, boys.”
“If we don’t, it’s been nice knowing you guys,” Damien said.
Tires screeched as a black Ford Bronco came barreling down the ramp, mowing down every Biter that stood in its path. The truck stopped a few feet away from the wall the guys were back up against.
The doors opened and a group of men climbed out, rifles and shotguns in hand.
“I don’t think these guys came to help us or have a friendly chat,” Damien whispered.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Carson whispered back. “That’s right,” he added, still whispering. “I just remembered who Sherlock Holmes is. But I digress…just do whatever they say for now. Let’s play their game for a while and we’ll handle them when they let their guard down.
“Drop your weapons,” one of the men advised. Seeing as they were outnumbered four to three, they lowered their guns and let the men step closer.
“Smart move,” the man spoke again, stepping forward to identify himself as the leader of this pack. “The name’s Lewis. These are my men. Todd, Roy, and Mason.”
“The pleasure’s all yours,” Damien said.
Lewis held his rifle in one hand and scratched his unkempt beard with the other. He kept scratching himself and twitching the way a junkie would shake.
In fact, Damien noted that all the members of the group had hand tremors. They all had a slight twitch as they gripped their weapons.
Damien knew the cause wasn’t drugs. He had read of this before in medical encyclopedias. And it didn’t bode well for him, Carson, and Kenny.
“Mason, gather their weapons,” Lewis ordered him. “Roy, Todd, round these gentlemen up and find room for them in the truck.”
* * *
Kenny and Damien found themselves chained up with bags drawn over their heads. They were knocked out for the duration of the ride, so they had no clue how far the men had taken them from the Starlight. But they knew they were still in Tennessee.
Prisoners of their camp, Kenny and Damien whispered back and forth as they couldn’t see who was in earshot of their conversation.
“We’re fucked, aren’t we?” Kenny asked.
“We’ve faced worse,” Damien said. “Did you notice anything strange about these guys?”
“You mean the way they twitch and shake involuntarily?”
“You think it’s got something to do with drugs?”
“I’m afraid not,” Damien said. “Ever heard of Kuru?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Kenny said.
“It’s a form of prions disease. Prions are mutated protein cells that are usually found in human brain tissue. Kuru can be contracted from eating these cells. In layman’s terms, our new friends are cannibals.”
“So they’re planning on eating us?”
“I would assume that’s eventually their plan. Shaking is a side effect of Kuru. But that’s not the worst of it. It destroys your entire body. Leads to excruciating pain before dementia sets in. Eventually, your body breaks down so much you can’t even walk without something to support yourself. Then you die.”
“Sounds lovely,” Kenny remarked.
“Since they’re infected, I say they’ve got a year, two years tops, to live. So if they do wind up eating us, just know we’re not the only ones that are going to die from it.”
“Do you think they…do you think they’re eating Carson right now?”
“I don’t want to think about that,” Damien said. “Carson is tough as nails. He can take care of himself. He’s a former police officer, a former marine. If anyone can make it out of this alive, it’s him.”
* * *
Deep in the woods, just beyond the camp, Carson found himself bound to a dense willow tree. As he struggled to break free, his hands grazed flesh and for a moment, he thought he had made contact with a Biter. But this flesh was warm to the touch and very much intact, not rotted or decayed. It was then Carson realized someone else was bound to this tree behind him.
“Hey!” Carson shouted out. “Are you alive?”
“I’m alive,” a voice responded, female. “What’s your name?”
“Carson Ryder. What’s yours?”
“Well, Valentina, do you know where we are and why we’re tied to a tree?”
“We’re not too far from a campsite that’s set up just outside of town. There are four men in the group; Lewis, Todd, Roy, and Mason. Lewis is the leader. They’re using us as live bait.”
“Live bait? Bait for what?”
“Zombies. They lure them out from the woods, and then they kill them. And then…they eat them.”
“They’re eating these things?!” Carson was ready to be sick.
“I know,” Valentina muttered. “It’s awful. You can’t imagine the sight of it.”
“I think I can,” a queasy Carson uttered. “So why are you here?”
“I refused to partake in their buffets,” Valentina said. “Lewis is Lewis Jackson. My father. I didn’t agree with his ways, so he decided to punish me.”
“That sicko is your dad? No offense honey, but your dad is a few cans short of a six-pack.”
“None taken. Believe me, I’ve said much worse about him.”
* * *
“What time is it?” Willard Pickman asked Chuckie Razzano back at the Starlight Hotel.
Chuckie held out his wrist and flashed his gold Rolex. “Can’t tell you,” he said. “The thing stopped working a while back. I just wear it as a souvenir now.”
“It got dark hours ago,” Vern Sheldon said. “I know it’s the winter, so it gets dark earlier, but still, they should’ve been back by now. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. I think we should go look for them.”
Chase Crawford was absent from the conversation, so Eli Burton decided to interject.
“Too dangerous,” Eli said. “It’s dark. We don’t know the area. We’ll get just as lost as they are. If they’re not back by morning, I’ll help you look for them myself. You have my word.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Vern sighed.
They all sat in the lobby, warming themselves by the fireplace. Vern had spent the day chopping firewood and it looked as though they were set for winter.
But that wasn’t on anybody’s mind at the moment. They all found themselves praying silently for their comrades to return safely. All except for Eli, who had other things on his mind.
* * *
“We’ll probably freeze to death out here before any Biters come along,” Carson remarked.
“Biters?” Valentina asked.
“The zombies,” Carson said. “That’s what my friends and I call them.”
“Ah, gotcha,” she said. “Well, I’d rather freeze than be torn limb from limb.”
Carson was momentarily distracted by a rustling noise. He looked over to see movement in the brush.
“Valentina, I’ve got a small knife tucked in my boot. I can’t reach it, but I’ve managed to loosen the ropes a bit. See if you can slip one of your hands out from the ropes.”
Two Biters stumbled out from the brush, their sights set on the vulnerable feast that had been presented to them.
Valentina struggled and eventually managed to free one hand from the ropes. “I’ve got it,” she said. “Now let’s see if I can reach that knife.”
“Better hurry,” Carson told her. “Two of them are heading our way.”
Carson lifted his leg up and stretched it back as far as it could go. Valentina stretched down and failed at the first attempt.
The two Biters sauntered over, gaining closer with each shabby step they took. They were frothing from the mouth with excitement, foam dripping down their chins.
Carson pulled his leg back again and held it in the air. He was trying his best not to shake. On the second try, her fingers just barely grazed the blade.
“I almost got it,” she said. “Hold completely still.”
She snagged the blade and yanked it out from Carson’s boot. She started cutting through the ropes at lightning speed. She cut through the first layer, which was enough for Carson to wriggle his arms free.
“There’s no more time,” he said as the Biters approached. “Pass me the blade, quick!”
He reached around the tree and snatched the knife from her hand. He plunged the blade into the first Biters eye, pushing it up into the brain, and then retracting it.
The second Biter growled as its black teeth tried tearing at his neck. Carson forced the blade deep into its skull. With the advanced rot and decay that had set in, jamming the knife through its skull was as easy as slicing through a warm stick of butter.
He yanked the blade free and wiped the blood away. Then he picked up where Valentina left off and finished cutting through the ropes. The ropes fell to the ground and Carson tucked the knife away, rubbed his sore wrists.
They stepped around the tree and met face to face. Carson saw a slight twinkle in her green eyes when they first gazed at each other. She was a young woman with fair skin, curly blond hair, and a slim hourglass figure. For a second, Carson almost forgot for a second time that he was a married man.
“Where’s the camp?” Carson asked.
“Why?” Valentina asked. “Let’s just bail before one of them gets back to check on us.”
“My friends are back there. I’m not leaving them.”
Valentina detected the genuine concern in his statement. She recognized this was a man who didn’t leave anyone behind. So she volunteered to lead him back to the campsite.
“By the way,” Carson said on the walk back. “You don’t happen to have a cigarette do you?”
“I don’t smoke,” she said. Then she added, “Sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it. Just help me find my friends and we’ll call it even.”
Along the way, they encountered a lone Biter. But this one was virtually defenseless. Its legs had been severed from the waist and it crawled on its belly, snarling as it desperately tried to reach them.
It was the first time Carson stopped to actually examine one up close. It was a male, mid-teens, a gold piercing that dangling from one rotting earlobe. The lower half of its face had rotted away completely, exposing its black gums and decaying jawline.
The eyes were all iris, no pupils. For a moment, Carson almost felt sorry for the thing. That was before he bashed its skull in with a rock.
It seemed cruel to Valentina. But Carson was doing the right thing by putting it out of its misery.
* * *
Carson advised Valentina to stay back as he crept up on the campsite. He used his pocket knife to jab into Roy’s back, surprising him and getting him to hand over his weapon, which was actually Kenny’s semi-automatic.
Not wanting to be responsible for any more casualties, Carson used the butt of the gun to smash Roy in the back of the head and knock him unconscious.
Then he snuck up on Mason, who was warming up by a lit bonfire, and jammed the semi-automatic in his face. “My friends, where are they?”
Mason pointed him right in their direction. He bashed Mason’s face with the butt of the gun, drawing blood from his nose and knocking him out like a light.
Then he sprinted to the tent where Kenny and Damien were being held. He yanked the bags off their heads and they both breathed a sigh of relief when they saw it was him.
“I knew you could do it,” Damien said. “So glad to see you, buddy.”
“Save the dick sucking for later,” Carson said. “Where are the keys for these chains?”
“That fucker Lewis has them,” Damien said. “Do me a favor, kill him.”
“You can kill him yourself, just as soon as I get you out of here,” Carson said. “Hang tight. I’ll be back.”
Lewis’s tent was pitched at the far end of the campsite. He blasted one hole through the top of the tent with Kenny’s semi-automatic. He knew the shot wouldn’t kill or even graze Lewis. This was merely a warning shot. The next bullet surely wouldn’t miss.
“The keys,” Carson demanded. “That’s all I want. You get to live, and my friends and I get to walk away. Make the right decision.”
Lewis staled for time as he fumbled around in his tent, pretending to search for the keys.
Todd had heard the gunshot from his tent and was tiptoeing behind Carson, a garrote wire pulled taut with both hands. As he was just about to sneak up on Carson and wrap the sharp, penetrating wire around his throat, Carson heard the footsteps and turned, firing a single shot that went through Todd’s right eye.
Lewis unzipped his tent and tossed the keys out. “Just take them and go, please,” Lewis begged.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone,” Carson said. “But I’ve already come this far. And a man who is willing to sacrifice his own daughter for food doesn’t deserve to live as far as I’m concerned.”
* * *
When Carson returned with the keys, his winter jacket was drenched in blood. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not mine.”
When Kenny and Damien were set free, Carson introduced them to the newest member of the group, Valentina. The guys were more than pleased to make her acquaintance.
They collected their weapons, gasoline, medical kit, and other supplies that Lewis and his men had confiscated. Then, at Valentina’s suggestion, they poured some gasoline around and roaring bonfire, and torched the campsite to the ground.
“Where the hell have you guys been?” Vern asked as they returned to the Starlight Hotel around dawn, looking worse for wear. “And what happened to you? You look like you’ve been through hell.”
“We have,” Carson assured him.
“We were all so worried,” Vern said, exhaling a sigh of relief. “We thought you didn’t make it. And who’s this?”
“Valentina Jackson,” Carson said, making the proper introduction.
“Pleased to meet you,” Vern said with a smile.
“Your man here saved my life,” Valentina said in regards to Carson. “I’ll do anything I can to help you guys.”
“I like her spirit,” Vern said as he welcomed them in through the vestibule and sealed the doors shut behind them.
Carson helped Valentina find a room for herself. Chuckie Razzano was wandering up and down the halls, shouting about his gold Rolex and asking if anyone had seen it.
“I haven’t seen it,” Willard Pickman told him.
Terry Watts had come down from the second floor to see that Carson, Damien, and Kenny were all right. When Razzano asked him about the watch, he said he didn’t have a clue. “Now that you mention it, I think two chlorine bottles are missing from the laundry room,” Terry said.
“Who would steal chlorine?” Willard asked.
“Yeah,” Chuckie said. “I mean, the watch I could understand. But what the fuck would anybody want with chlorine?”
“Hey,” Damien called. “The bottle of rubbing alcohol we took from the pharmacy is missing as well.”
“Maybe we left it back at the campsite,” Kenny said.
“No way,” Damien said. “I definitely made sure to grab it along with the medical kit.”
“Maybe this place is haunted like that movie The Shining,” Kenny said.
“Don’t be silly,” Terry said. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this.”
“Well, I don’t have the answers,” Willard shrugged and wandered off to his room.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Forty-Two.
Chase Crawford had grown increasingly disturbed. The crucifix that never left his side had been abandoned by Janice Whitfield’s gravesite the way someone would leave flowers for a lost loved one.
He refused to join the group for dinner, instead confining himself to his room and eating only when the rest of the group slept. He kept to himself, but at the same time, he kept a watchful eye over Eli Burton.
He had a bad feeling about the kid. But Eli had the group under their spell. Carson was teaching him how to shoot and even Damien and Kenny were starting to warm up to him.
Willard Pickman and Vern Sheldon pitied him for the loss of his sister, and Chuckie Razzano was so wrapped up in the loss of his Rolex, he hardly took notice to anyone or anything else.
Chase was the only one who saw him for what he was. A monster.
He just had to find a way to prove it.
* * *
Valentina had become very comfortable with her new surroundings. The group welcomed her with open arms and made her feel what her father and his lackeys never could. They made her feel safe, secure. They made her feel needed.
Carson had found her wandering the decomposed garden of the hotel that morning.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone,” he told her. “At least not without a weapon.”
“I just needed some fresh air,” she said. “But thanks for looking out for me.”
“Don’t mention it. Hey, I was going to show you this earlier, but I forgot.” He removed the worn photograph from his pocket and unfolded it. “Do you recognize the woman or the child in this picture?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I saw them in town with a group of about three or four other people. It was weeks, hell, maybe months ago. It’s so hard to keep track of the days and months without a calendar.”
“You’re sure it was them?”
“I’m absolutely sure it was them,” she said. “My father and his thugs were out looking for fresh meat and I gave them an escape route, helped them flee the area before they were found. I couldn’t have that child’s blood on my hands. No way.”
“Do you know where they went? What direction they were traveling in?”
“I think one of them mentioned something about going to Arkansas. Something about a commune that was set up there. They said they were taking in survivors, offering shelter. Who knows if it’s really true.”
Carson turned away from Valentina and folded the picture, tucked it back in his pocket. “Caroline,” he whispered. “If you’re out there, I will find you. You have my word.”
* * *
Like Chase Crawford, Willard Pickman was also isolating himself from the group, as he devoted more and more time to a special project he was working on in secret. He had the gold Rolex that belonged to Chuckie Razzano. The bottle of rubbing alcohol Damien had snagged from the pharmacy. The chlorine bottles that had gone missing from the laundry room. And he also had a plethora of other household chemicals and supplies he had accumulated over time.
His plan was simple. He was building a bomb.
Correction: Two bombs.
To Be Continued With Part Twelve: BLOWN AWAY