Wednesday, October 15, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART THIRTEEN
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 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
Chase Crawford: Religious zealot/Loner/Keeps to himself
Eli Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a large inheritance when they died
Vern Sheldon: Former truck driver/Carries a badass flamethrower
Terry Watts: Proprietor of the Starlight Hotel
Valentina Jackson: A new ally that was saved by Carson Ryder
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
Without a calendar handy, it was hard for the group to keep track of the days and months. But Kenny Sudrow estimated they were somewhere in the month of February, maybe even March.
Winter would soon pass. Once the snow thawed, Carson Ryder had decided he’d resume his journey on foot, with or without the aid of the group.
If his wife and child were in Arkansas, it was his mission to locate and reunite with them. He wasn’t going to just forget about them, not after coming this far. He had bonded with Kenny, Vern, Eli, Damien, and even Chase in the months they had spent together. But even with his broken memories, he understood that family came first.
The group still had food, water, supplies, and ammunition. But they were running low in that final category. They had the newly acquired AK-47s from their last trip to town, but each gun had half a magazine left and no backup rounds of ammo.
They also had gasoline, but with both vehicles having been destroyed by Willard Pickman, they had little use for fuel now. Vern had used some to refill the tank of his flamethrower, but the rest of the gasoline cans sat unused inside a storage closet.
The bombs that Pickman had constructed were not the work of a meticulous engineer. They were made with clear haste. There was minimal wiring, but he’d done a sloppy job with it and the first bomb failed to detonate. Sadly, the group could not claim the same for the second bomb. The explosion demolished the group’s van and decimated Vern’s box truck.
They lost Pickman along with the vehicles. Terry Watts was fuming about the damage done to the exterior of his hotel. But he calmed down after a few minutes and came to his senses. In the end, Terry was just thankful no one else got hurt or killed in the blast. And the group promised to do what they could to repair the damage.
The vestibule had been damaged in the blast, the doors blown off the hinges. But the group had already resolved this dilemma. Damien and Carson had managed to get the doors standing and propped back up. The doors were reinforced with scrap metal taken from the wreckage. The lock was busted beyond repair, so Vern welded it shut from the outside with his flamethrower. For the time being, they relied on side doors and emergency exits to get in and out.
After Willard Pickman’s meltdown and subsequent death, Chase Crawford had stepped forward, finally breaking the bad news to the group. He had told them of Willard’s confession about the underground lab in Texas.
Even if the place did exist, without Pickman, they had no hope of finding it.
All that was left for them to do was wait for the inevitable…death. But they weren’t going to wait lying down.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Seventy-Eight.
The snowfall had commenced overnight and showed no signs of letting up. The ground was already a sheet of ice, and the new snow just added to the old snow that had accumulated in the passing days.
It had been a colder winter than the state of Tennessee was used to seeing. Terry Watts, a native Tennessean, was certainly not accustomed to snowfall of this magnitude and spent most nights huddled with the group by the fireplace in the lobby. But the frigid conditions still failed to keep the Biters at bay. Not a day passed that Carson didn’t see at least one Biter roaming past the hotel.
Like the snow, these vectors of disease showed no signs of letting up. They had no quit inside of them, only an insatiable hunger that could never be extinguished or erased.
Vern Sheldon awoke in total darkness with his clothes, sheets, and pillow cases drenched in cold sweat. “Just a nightmare,” he huffed, wiping sweat from his brow and trying to regulate his breathing. In his horrific dreams, he’d seen Chuckie Razzano being torn limb from limb by a pack of feral Biters. He saw the blood, the intestines, the exposed ribcage. It was an image that could never be dissolved from his memory.
Truth be told, no one who witnessed the macabre spectacle had been sleeping well.
Kenny Sudrow was up before dawn. For breakfast, Kenny helped himself to an energy bar and a shot of bourbon. The alcohol helped ease his misery. Without a shred of hope, Kenny could only see a bleak, meaningless future. But he wasn’t about to throw in the towel like others had. He was going to see this through to the end.
So was Carson Ryder, who had woken to a startling revelation. The name of his young daughter.
Her name was Charlotte. He finally had a name to match the face from the picture he kept in his pocket. Caroline and Charlotte; wife and daughter. If they were still out there, he’d find them. The search would no doubt be lengthy and arduous, but the hope of finding them was what Carson needed to persevere.
Carson first shared the news with Damien, who came in his room to check up on him around dawn. He told him of his recollected memories and was delighted to repeat his daughter’s name, Charlotte.
“See, I told you eventually you’d start to remember everything,” Damien said. “But what made you name her Charlotte?”
“I have a feeling it wasn’t my idea,” Ryder said.
“Wives,” Damien chuckled. “I was married once.”
“You? Get out of here.”
“I’m dead serious. She was a stone cold fox. Eve Ellison. But for two and a half years she was Eve Ellison-Albright. But things just didn’t quite work out.”
“Should I ask why?”
“Probably better if you didn’t,” Damien said. “Hey, let’s see if there’s any of that bourbon left. I could use a pick me up.”
* * *
Kenny was splayed out on one of the red leather couches in the lobby, bottle of bourbon in hand. There was about a quarter of the bottle left, and Kenny refused to put it down. The other couch was occupied by Chase Crawford, who was deep in thought.
“I made some instant coffee if you’re interested,” Vern said as he entered the lobby.
“Pass,” Kenny said, raising the bottle of bourbon to show Vern his preferred drink.
“Maybe you should lay off that for a bit,” Vern suggested.
“Maybe you should piss off,” Kenny barked.
Vern shrugged his shoulders as if to say ‘what can I do?” and then turned to Chase.
“No thanks,” Chase said, swallowing a small pill with a gulp of water.
“What are those?”
“Carvedilol. It’s my heart medication. I’ve been spacing them out ever since the outbreak. I only take them when I get bad palpitations.”
“You’re not going to croak on us, are you pops? I’ve grown kind of fond of you.”
“Never thought I’d hear anyone say that. And no, I don’t plan on checking out anytime soon.”
Vern looked back at Kenny and shook his head, then excused himself to return to his coffee. He passed Carson and Damien in the hall and offered them a cup, but both politely declined. They wanted strong drink instead.
They strolled into the lobby and Damien almost cried when he saw what was left of his bottle. “There was half a bottle left!” he shouted, his screams echoing through the lobby.
“Calm down,” Ryder said. “It’s only booze.”
“It’s irreplaceable booze,” Damien said. “I don’t have another bottle waiting in the wings. That’s it. Do you?”
“Here,” Kenny said, waving the bottle in the air. “Take it.”
Damien snatched the bottle from his hand and gulped some down. “Greedy bastard,” Damien muttered. He passed the bottle to Ryder who took a swig.
“How about you, old man?” Damien asked. “Want some before it’s gone?”
“I don’t drink,” Chase replied.
“Should have guessed,” Damien said.
Valentina was one of the last to wake and sauntered into the lobby just as they were finishing up the bottle. They were nice enough to save the left few sips for her.
“So are you single?” Kenny asked.
“Is that a serious question?” Valentina asked back.
“Can’t help a guy for being curious,” Kenny said.
“Can’t help a girl for being not interested,” Valentina retorted.
“Ouch,” Kenny mumbled. “Rip my heart out, why don’t you?”
“Has anyone seen Eli this morning?” Chase asked.
“I think he’s still in his room.” Valentina said. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering,” Chase said.
“I don’t suppose we’ll be going back into town anytime soon, will we?” Kenny asked out of the blue.
“No reason to,” Ryder said. “We’ve got plenty of food, water, and medical supplies. And it’s freezing cold out there. There’s nothing out there worth risking our lives for.”
But Kenny begged to differ…
* * *
When Terry Watts came downstairs to meet Chase Crawford for their daily chess match, he gave Damien and Carson something to occupy their time with.
“There’s a gas generator outside,” Terry said. “Never could get it running. If you manage to start it up, we’ll be able to get the TV’s going. I know the stations have been down forever, but I got a working VCR and a bunch of old movies. Could be a good way to kill some time.”
“Sounds like a fun little project to work on,” Ryder shrugged.
“Beats sitting around all day,” Damien agreed. “I’m bored as fuck in here.”
With Kenny’s head out of the game, Damien and Carson turned to Eli for assistance. They needed someone to stand guard while they worked on the generator.
The men wore appropriate winter attire. Damien and Carson even wore two pairs of gloves as they toiled to get the generator running. But they still felt the sting of frost as it nipped at their exposed skin.
“What’s the deal with Kenny?” Eli asked outside.
“He’s grieving,” Damien said.
“I didn’t know he and Chuckie were that close,” Eli said.
“They weren’t,” Damien said. “He’s grieving over the loss of his own life. Struggling with his mortality. I think Chuckie’s death made him finally realize his old life is gone and it’s probably never coming back. He’s just lost is all. He needs to find himself again.”
“He better pull himself together soon,” Ryder said. “This group is dropping like flies. We can’t afford to lose another person.”
The men were so distracted with the generator they never even heard the side door creak open or saw Kenny take off into the woods. Only Eli had spotted him as he kept watch with Carson’s Remington shotgun. And he never uttered a word to the other men.
* * *
Back inside, heat flowed from the brick fireplace. Vern had gotten the fire going and was gathered around in the lobby with Terry, Chase, and Valentina when the other men trotted in from the cold.
Damien flipped all the switches behind the front desk and the lights in the lobby flickered on. “Let there be light,” he proclaimed.
“You got it running,” Terry said in awe.
“Took a little while but I think we solved the problem,” Damien said.
“Excellent,” Terry said. “I’ll grab the VCR and set up one of the televisions near the fire.”
“Not too close to the fire,” Chase joked.
As Terry got things set up, Eli, Valentina, and Damien looked through the crate of VHS tapes he had brought down from the second floor.
“Mrs. Doubtfire, Ghostbusters, Clerks, Back to the Future, Pulp Fiction,” Damien read the titles off. “I want to watch all of these.”
“I don’t know any of these titles so it’s all the same to me,” Ryder shrugged.
“I vote for Ghostbusters,” Valentina said.
“Pulp Fiction never gets old for me,” Vern said.
“Does he have The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston?” Chase asked. “That’s a classic.”
“Afraid not,” Damien said, rolling his eyes.
“You know back in the 1970s, VHS tapes cost about eighty bucks a pop?” Terry said as he hooked up a television and VCR in the lobby.
“I guess today they’re compliments of the house,” Valentina said.
They all selected a film and Terry Watts tallied the votes, with Pulp Fiction coming out on top. For the next two hours, they were in Heaven. There were no rotting zombies shambling through the snow. No plague that had spread like wildfire. Just a pleasant reprieve from the hell they had found themselves living in.
“Where’s Kenny?” Ryder had asked. He noticed his absence during Samuel L. Jackson’s big Ezekiel 25:17 monologue.
“I think he’s in his room,” Vern told him. “Let him be.”
“You’re right,” Ryder said, “He needs some space right now.”
* * *
Space was exactly what Kenny Sudrow needed, as he had found himself cornered in the same liquor store that Damien had obtained the bottles of bourbon and scotch. It was just one Biter at first that staggered out from the stockroom. A shot rang out from the store as Kenny raised and fired his semi-automatic pistol to take it down.
But the noise just drew more of them out from their hiding places. In minutes, the liquor store was swarmed with decaying Biters that ambled through the aisles. Fourteen shots later, Kenny was out of ammo and the Biters just kept on coming. They had formed a line at the door and were lumbering down the first aisle in Kenny’s direction.
Kenny fumbled with his gun as he dug through his pockets in search for a fresh round of ammunition. With no spare clips in his possession, Kenny was officially out of ammo. He tucked the unloaded gun into his waistband and his eyes searched for an escape route. But the Biters had him backed into a corner.
The Biter leading the pack lurched forward with its arms extended towards him and Kenny could see its fingers had rotted down to the bone. Its stomach had been torn open by some unknown hazard, or perhaps a transient nemesis. Its intestines were spilling out onto the floor of the liquor store as it approached Kenny and showed its jagged, begrimed teeth.
A hail of bullets was fired through the front door of the liquor store. Kenny ducked for cover as the operator of the sub-machine gun didn’t stop firing until the entire throng of Biters was exterminated.
“Tyler Reese,” the man said as he stood in the doorway and lowered his sub-machine gun.
“Kenny Sudrow,” he replied as he got up from the floor and dusted himself off. “Thanks for saving my ass.”
“Don’t mention it,” Reese said. “I’m sure you would’ve done the same for me. Now what good do you have to drink in this place?”
“I haven’t found anything yet. Looks like all the shelves are bare.”
They took a look around the store, but their search was abruptly interrupted by several armed intruders.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” the leader of the crew said, speaking with a thick Irish brogue. He was a tall, stout man with broad shoulders and tree trunk legs and hair as red as fire. “But we’re looking for a few certain individuals that might be in the area.”
“That’s one of them,” a voice cried, and Kenny recognized it instantly. It was the voice of Freddie from the supermarket. Carson had shot him in the chest, but apparently he didn’t finish the job as the bullet had missed his vital organs.
The group hadn’t anticipated that Freddie had more men stationed in the area. Men that would find him and patch him up. They had been combing the area for days in search of Kenny and his group.
“You shouldn’t have bothered coming back to town, fella,” Freddie chided. “You just signed your own death warrant.”
“We won’t kill him yet,” the leader, Malcolm McCredie, informed Freddie. “First he’s going to lead us to the Starlight Hotel.”
* * *
It was past midnight when everyone but Carson Ryder was awoken by Valentina Jackson’s screams. Ryder was already up, waiting on the return of Kenny Sudrow. It was too dark to search for him, but he couldn’t rest until he knew his friend was safe and sound. If Kenny didn’t return by morning, Carson had vowed to go looking for him.
But at that moment, his mind traveled elsewhere as the screams from Valentina drew him from his room and into the hallway where he saw her running for her life. She stopped long enough to inform him that one of the Biters had managed to wriggle their way into the hotel.
Carson went for his shotgun, checked the breech, and saw it was out of shells. By then, the Biter had turned the corridor and was trundling down the hallway.
Valentina’s high pitched screams had also caught the attention of Vern Sheldon, who sprang from his bed with his loaded .357 Magnum and ran for the halls. The Biter was mere inches away when Vern squeezed the trigger and brought it down.
“How in God’s name did it get in here?” Valentina asked when things had settled down a bit.
“It didn’t use the front door,” Damien said. “That’s for sure.”
“He’s right,” Vern said. “It’s welded shut.”
“I just checked all the side doors and emergency exits,” Eli told them. “They’re all sealed.”
“Then the only way it could have got in is if somebody let it in on purpose,” Ryder said.
“That’s preposterous,” Valentina said. “Why would anyone want to do that?”
“Guys,” Terry Watts called from Chase Crawford’s room. “You better get in here.”
They rushed in to find Chase going into convulsions. He was trembling and clutching at his chest. “I think he’s having a heart attack.”
“He needs his medication,” Vern said.
“I can’t find it,” Terry said in a panic.
“Ebb!” Chase cried. “Ebb! Ebb!”
“Ebb?” Ryder repeated. “What’s he trying to say?”
That was Chase Crawford’s last word…
To Be Continued With Part Fourteen: FIRST BLOOD