Tuesday, October 7, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART TWELVE
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
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
Valentina Jackson: A new ally that was saved by Carson Ryder
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
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
Day One Hundred and Sixty-Five.
Chase Crawford hadn’t uttered a word in weeks. His crucifix rested, buried under a mound of snow beside Janice Whitfield’s grave.
He mostly slept during the day, or just remained confined to his room while the others bonded, ate together, drank together. He’d eat at night while the others were sleeping and roam through the halls. The vacancy of the corridors offered Chase the peace and silence he needed to ponder his next move.
He was afraid to speak up at this point for fear that Eli Burton would kill him. And partially because he didn’t think anyone would take his word for it. But when Willard Pickman knocked on his door that day and came in to check up on him, Crawford spilled his guts.
“What’s gotten into you lately?” Pickman asked as he closed the door behind him. Crawford was at the edge of his bed, reading a complimentary copy of the Gideon Bible. Others had been reading Stephen King and Tom Clancy novels that Terry Watts was generous enough to share. But for Willard, the solace of the Good Book was all he required.
“It’s that kid,” Crawford told him.
“Which one? Kenny? Chuckie?”
“No, those boys are fine by me. It’s Eli Burton.”
“What about him?” Pickman asked.
“That boy’s got the devil in him,” Crawford said. “I can see it plain as day.”
“Oh boy, here we go again,” Pickman said, rolling his eyes. “All aboard the crazy train.”
“See, this is why I didn’t say anything earlier. You guys never take me seriously.”
“You make it very challenging.”
“Have you ever heard of the Black Lodgers?”
“It doesn’t ring any bells.”
“They’re an international group of bioterrorists. Their sole function is to spread disease, poison the planet, and bring it back to the dark ages. I read of them years ago, back when they harbored five thousand members internationally. As of last year, there were four hundred and fifty-seven thousand members.”
“What does this have to do with Eli?”
“He bears their symbol on his arm. Every member of the Black Lodgers has to be marked, a way for them to identify one another. I believe Eli knows more about this plague then he’s shared with us. And I believe he’s very, very dangerous.”
“Why haven’t you told the others?”
“The same reason I hesitated to tell you. Nobody listens when I speak anymore.”
“Can you blame them?”
“I suppose I can’t.”
“Now can you keep a secret?” Pickman asked.
“Of course,” Crawford assured him. “I’m all ears if you have something to confess. I promise I won’t judge you. But I can’t promise the same for our Lord.”
“You know this underground lab that we’re heading to? The secret lab in Texas that houses the miracle cure that’s going to save the world?”
“I believe I know what you’re referring to,” Crawford said, waiting for the man to make his point.
“I lied,” Pickman said under his breath. “We did engineer a cure for this pathogen, and it is in an underground base, somewhere in Texas...as far as I know. I mean, that is if somebody hasn’t gotten to it already. But the truth is I don’t know where the base is. I doubt we’ll ever find it.”
“Then why in God’s name did you lead us all the way out here?”
“I don’t know. I guess I was trying to offer everyone the hope to survive, to carry on. At one point, I honestly believed we could find the place. That we could save the world. Now, I’m not so sure. The farther we’ve traveled, the more I’ve lost faith. I don’t think any of us are going to make it, Chase. Just remember, you promised to keep it a secret.”
Willard Pickman wandered off, closing the door behind him. Chase sat on his bed, pondering the horrors that awaited them. He did promise, and he certainly didn’t want to be the one to break the bad news to the group.
There would surely be a riot when everyone found out they had been led astray by Pickman. And if he confronted them now about Eli, with no proof, just accusations and conjecture, they’d never believe him.
Chase was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with no other options except to wait it out, and see what potentially horrific events would transpire.
* * *
The group had finished the bottle of scotch Damien snatched from the liquor store, and now they were working on the bourbon. The guys had offered to teach Valentina how to shoot, but she was already versed in weaponry and fired with the accuracy of a pro.
“I wanna learn how to shoot,” Chuckie Razzano told them as they gathered in the vestibule to warm up after being outside for more than an hour.
“You?” Damien Albright scoffed. “Shouldn’t you be looking for your Rolex?”
“Fuck the watch,” Chuckie said. “It’s just a meaningless material possession. A gun is a foundation for survival. I wanna learn how to shoot. Hell, I need to learn. At least for my own sake. So what do you say?”
“I’ll teach you,” Carson Ryder said.
“Sweet,” Chuckie said. “Let’s have at it. I’m ready to go.”
“Give me a few minutes,” Ryder said, rubbing his hands together. “Let me get the feeling back in my fingers first.”
“This will warm you up,” Vern Sheldon said, passing him the bottle of bourbon. Ryder took a swig and passed the bottle to Valentina.
“Thanks,” Jackson said as she swilled the bourbon and handed the bottle over to Kenny Sudrow.
Kenny quaffed some down and tried passing the bottle over to Eli Burton. “No thanks,” Eli said politely.
“Might as well drink it while it’s here,” Kenny said. “It’s going fast.”
“I don’t drink,” Eli told him. “I like to keep all my senses as sharp as possible.”
“I can respect that,” Kenny said, passing the bottle to Damien instead. “I know you want some.”
“You sure as hell don’t have to ask me twice,” Damien said, guzzling the bourbon down.
“Hey,” Valentina said. “Save some for the rest of us.”
“We’ve still got about half a bottle,” Damien said, drying his wet lips with the sleeve of his jacket.
“Let’s save it for tonight,” Ryder suggested. “Chuckie, I’m ready if you are.”
* * *
Chuckie wasn’t too bad for a beginner. After going over the basics with Carson, two Biters staggered out from the brush and Carson put him to the test. He missed the first shot, but the second shot was on target.
Carson took down the second Biter with his Remington shotgun and commended Chuckie on a job well done.
“Once you get used to the recoil of a gun, it’s a piece of cake. The trick is to have a steady hand. You can never shake if you want to be accurate.”
“Thanks for teaching me all this,” Chuckie said. He went to check his watch, then realized again it wasn’t there anymore. “I never would’ve learned all this growing up on Long Island. I was from Levittown originally. Never thought I’d end up in Tennessee of all places. Life is full of surprises.”
“What’d you do?” Ryder asked. “Were you a student?”
“I was an employee at Best Buy. I was always a big movie buff, so the job was a blast. But I didn’t see myself doing it forever. Then again, I never saw myself doing anything like this either.”
“Do you know what happened to your family? You know if they made it?”
“Can’t say for sure,” Chuckie said. “It was two days before I ended up in Arnold Vesti’s bomb shelter. I waited for two days, but they just never came home. For all I know, they’re still out there somewhere.”
“I showed the photo of my wife and daughter to Valentina,” Ryder told him. “She recognized them. Said they passed through here and were heading for Arkansas. I figure we can search for them once we move on from this place. I just wish I could remember my daughter’s name.”
“It will come to you eventually,” Chuckie said. “I’m sure you’ll find them, alive and well.”
“I can only hope,” Ryder said as another Biter shambled through the thick brush and set its sights on them. Ryder let Chuckie do the honors as he raised his gun, fired, and capped it in the head. “Nice shot.”
“Thanks,” Chuckie said. “I think I’m getting the hang of it. You know, I wasn’t always like this. I know I come across as a total hipster with the cologne and the watch and the hair gel, but that was just my way of fitting in. On Long Island, it was the only way for me to make friends and have a social life. I went to clubs, titty bars, and sports game with my hair all spiked up and my gold chain dangling off my neck. The girls loved it. And I loved the attention. So I just kept it up. I got stuck playing this character. And this character consumed my life.”
“I’m sure you’re not the only one, kid. But in this new world we’ve found ourselves in, it doesn’t matter who or what you were. All that matters is what you become now.”
“You’re right,” Chuckie said, nodding his head. “I never thought of it that way.”
“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?” Ryder asked.
“Nah,” Chuckie said. “Sorry. I was never a big smoker. That was another thing I used to do just to fit in. You know what I really wanted to be growing up?”
“Nope, tell me,” Ryder said.
“I wanted to be a firefighter,” Chuckie told him. “I used to be mesmerized by fire trucks whenever I saw them on the television. I wanted to be one of those heroes riding on the back of that cool truck, climbing up that big ladder and saving people trapped on the third floor of a burning building. When I was five, my dad let me watch Backdraft. You ever saw it?”
“Can’t say I remember it,” Ryder shrugged.
“It was a great movie,” Chuckie said as they walked back to the vestibule to warm up and rest their guns. “It really inspired me. But I just never followed through on my dreams.”
“I wish I could tell you there’s still time,” Ryder said as they entered.
“I know it’s a major risk, but we’re going to have to venture into town again,” Damien said, interrupting their conversation. “There’s plenty of ground we didn’t cover; plenty of houses and stores we didn’t search. There could be a ton of supplies were missing out on. Food, water, clothing. We can’t pass all that up.”
“I hate to say it after what we went through last time, but he’s right,” Carson said. “This time, we take more people though. You, me, Kenny, and Vern.”
“I’ll go,” Valentina said.
“Darling, you’re one hell of a shot,” Damien said. “But we can’t put you at risk like that. You’re staying behind.”
“I’ll come along,” Chuckie said. “It’s time for me to earn my keep.”
“You sure about this, kid?” Ryder asked. “You’re still new at this.”
“I can handle it,” Chuckie assured him. “Have some faith in me.”
* * *
A few Biters were shambling around aimlessly outside the market. Vern Sheldon had left the flamethrower behind, as the tanks fuel was running low, and he figured it wouldn’t be needed on this occasion.
Carson pumped his Remington and took the first Biter down with an earsplitting blast. Chuckie stepped up and took two more Biters down with two well-aimed shots. Kenny did the honors of tagging the last staggering Biter with his semi-automatic pistol.
The doors to the market were locked, but not barricaded. So Damien saved all of them some time by kicking the doors in.
“That works,” Ryder said as they marched in one by one, their weapons at their sides, as they had no clue what threats lurked inside.
“I found cereal,” Chuckie said, holding up a box of Alpha-Bits from aisle three. “Crappy cereal. But if it hasn’t gone stale, I’m sure someone will eat it.”
“Even if it has gone stale, we’ll eat it,” Ryder said. “Beggars can’t be choosers.”
“I found a jar of cherries,” Kenny called out from aisle five. “They’re still sealed and they look good to me. We’ll just have to eat them fast since we can’t refrigerate them after we open the jar. Oh, I found a jar of peanut butter, too.”
“Good finds,” Damien said. “Take them along. You got anything, Vern?”
“I found a box of tampons,” Vern said from aisle eight. “I’d take them back for Valentina, but I don’t think that’d be appropriate.”
“No, grab them anyway,” Damien said. “She’ll probably be thankful you did. Hey, I got a big score here. Two display boxes full of energy bars. And a bag of Reese’s.”
“I’ve got a case of water over here,” Ryder shouted from aisle one.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Chuckie said. “I found two bottles of shampoo. Jackpot.”
“Hey guys, we’ve got company in the stockroom,” Vern alerted them.
“No threat, boys,” a man’s voice called from the stockroom. “I’m armed, but my gun is tucked away. There are just two of us, and we mean you no harm.”
The group moved to the stockroom, guns raised as they assessed the level of threat. The men were indeed armed, but they weren’t brandishing their weapons. They were sitting peacefully on milk crates as they played cards for jelly beans, their guns tucked into their waistbands.
“I’m Freddie,” the man introduced himself. “That big lug over there is Joel. We’ve been on the road for weeks now, months. I don’t really know how long it’s been.”
“You guys look like you’ve been through the mill too,” Joel pointed out.
“We have,” Ryder said. The five men lowered their weapons and rested them at their sides.
“Joel and I have been holed up here for a couple of days now. I found some pillows and blankets back here. Looks like we weren’t the first to crash here. I also found a whole bunch of preservatives and bags of dry food. There’s still some left if you fellas are hungry. Where are you guys camped out?”
“No place special,” Ryder said.
“Joel found this map of Tennessee in one of the lockers over there. There’s a place not too far from here called the Starlight. We’ll be heading there by morning.”
“Don’t bother,” Damien said. “It’s taken.” Ryder glanced back and shot him a look as if to say ‘why’d you tell them we’re staying there?’
“Now come on fellas,” Freddie said. “I’m sure there’s plenty of room for all of us. Can’t we come to some sort of compromise?”
“Yeah,” Damien said. “The deal is you stay away from the hotel and we’ll let you keep your heads.”
“There’s no call for that,” Ryder told Damien. “Guys, the place is full enough as it is. And we’ve had our share of unpleasant encounters with other survivors. It’s nothing personal. We just have to look out for our own.”
“You’ve got a big group, huh?” Freddie said. “You’ve got women? I can’t remember the last time I had a piece of ass. I bet you got some young ones with you, right? Some jail bait?”
“Don’t push it,” Damien said through gritted teeth.
“So what? You guys think you’re gonna come in here, raid the shelves, take our food and water, and then leave us high and dry? I don’t think so, fellas. I’m sure you’ve done some pretty awful things in order to survive. But so have we. And if there’s a place we can crash until winter, we’re gonna crash there. You ain’t gonna stop us.”
“We’ll just see about that,” Vern said, lifting his .357 Magnum.
“No need for that, fellas,” Freddie said as Joel’s hand crept for his weapon. “Like I said, I’m sure we can reach some sort of comprise. How about Joel and I stick to one side of the hotel and you guys have the other side? Hell, you could stick us in the boiler room and we’d be happy.”
“No dice,” Vern said vehemently.
“We’re staying at that hotel come hell or high water, and that’s final,” Freddie said emphatically.
Vern cocked back the hammer of his .357 just as Joel’s hand snatched the pistol from his waistband. Vern squeezed off one shot before Joel had a chance to even raise his gun, nailing his right above the eyes.
“Kill shot,” Freddie said with his hands raised in the air. “Very impressive. I can’t say I’ll miss him. The guy was slow, goofy, didn’t talk much. Kind of reminded me of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Are you going to kill me too?”
Vern felt the cold metallic sting of a gun barrel press against his neck and he lowered his Magnum. At Freddie’s recommendation, they all dropped their weapons to the floor.
“Allow me to introduce you to the rest of the group,” Freddie said. The gang turned around to face their newest adversaries. “That’s Brick, Crusher, Lobo, Vinnie Mac, and Tommy Boy. And as you can plainly see, they’re all armed with AK-47s. So don’t make any sudden movements, fellas.”
“Ok,” Damien sighed. “You’ve got us by the balls. Take our guns and supplies and let us be on our way.”
“I don’t think so, fella. Hey boys, you know that map Joel found? These fellas know where that hotel is. That’s where they’re camped out at. And they’re going to take us back with them. They got food, beds; I think they even got women.”
“Hot damn,” Brick said. “We done hit the jackpot.”
“Brick here’s been dying for a piece of pussy,” Freddie said. “Ain’t that right, Brick?”
“Damn right,” Brick said, licking his dirt stained lips.
When Damien kicked the door in, none of them had bothered to close it up or barricade it. As luck would have it, a lone Biter had wandered in from the streets and crept into the stockroom.
The Biter sank its chipped teeth into Vinnie Mac’s neck, tearing the skin away like tissue paper. The distraction was enough to allow Damien to remove his bowie knife from its sheath and slice Brick’s throat with it.
Lobo, Crusher, and Tommy Boy all turned their AK-47 on the Biter, blasting it to pieces. But this gave the gang enough time to gather their weapons. Freddie reached for the pistol jammed in his waistband, but Carson was faster, and blasted a hole in his chest the size of a grapefruit with his Remington shotgun.
Vern had retrieved his Magnum and took out Crusher and Lobo with two quick shots to the head. Tommy Boy was the last to go. He cowered in the corner of the stockroom, begging for his life. But Damien showed no mercy or compassion when he turned that blade on Tommy Boy and made him scream to his final breath.
“What was that rule you laid down?” Damien asked Carson. “The one about not killing humans? I think that rule is officially out the window.” They gathered their weapons and supplies, took their newly acquired AK-47s, and bailed.
As they ran from the market, Ryder heard the bloodcurdling screams and turned to see Chuckie getting mauled by not one, not two, but three putrid Biters. The decomposing demons ripped, bit, tore at every inch of exposed flesh. And what flesh wasn’t exposed, soon became visible as they continued to claw and tear away at their prey.
The group stopped dead in their tracks, frozen at the grisly sight. Ryder wanted to act, but his body failed to communicate with his brains demand for action. It was too late to save him anyway. They all knew what happens once you get bit.
They stood aghast as the pack of Biters tore Razzano limb from bloody limb. Ryder snapped out his trance and pumped the shotgun, fired, and pumped it again. He fired three deafening blasts that split their heads in two. It wasn’t just the threat they posed. It was about avenging the friend they had just lost.
The boom of the shotgun just seemed to lure more of them out. In seconds, Biters were spilling out onto the streets. They floundered about in every direction, but most of this undead mob had already set their sights on the fresh meat presented before them.
“We have to go,” Damien said.
“We can’t just leave Chuckie behind,” Ryder said. “We have to give him a proper burial.”
“There’s an entire herd of Biters barreling towards us. There’s no time. We have to grab our shit and go. We’ll say a prayer for him later.”
* * *
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Damien told Carson back at the hotel.
“He shouldn’t have been there,” Ryder said.
“He wanted to tag along,” Damien reminded him. “He knew the risks involved. We all did.”
“I know…if you’ll excuse me, I need to be alone. I need some rest."
“Sure, no problem,” Damien said, closing the door to Carson’s room behind him. As he walked through the halls, he bumped shoulders with Terry Watts.
“Have you seen Willard?” Terry had asked him.
“Can’t say that I have,” Damien said, “It’s been one hell of a day.”
“We usually play chess together, but he’s not in his room. And I can’t find him anywhere.”
“If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”
“Thanks,” Terry said and excused himself.
Damien considered knocking on Valentina’s door, seeing if she wanted a little company. But he suspected Carson kind of had a thing for her, and figured it best to leave her alone. Instead, he knocked on Vern’s door and made sure to bring the bottle of bourbon along with him.
“To Chuckie,” they toasted.
“That was one brave kid,” Vern said.
“Yeah, but he wasn’t made for this kind of world.”
“Who is?” Vern asked.
“Men like you and me.”
“To tell you the truth, killing zombies was never my thing,” Vern said. “I was a petty drug dealer and thief, just doing what I could to support my family. I carried a gun, sure. But that was just for protection. I never killed nobody before all this crazy shit went down. I was a truck driver and a part-time janitor when I wasn’t in jail or selling pot. That was my life in a nutshell.”
“What about that badass flamethrower you got?”
“That thing,” Vern shrugged. “Took it off a dead cop. Didn’t think he’d need it anymore. It took me forever just to learn how to use the damn thing.” They both laughed and passed the bottle back and forth until they got sleepy and retired to their separate quarters.
* * *
“Wake up!” Chase Crawford screeched through every corridor of the first floor. “Everybody, wake up! We have to get out now! Pickman’s gone mad!”
“What in the blue hell is going on here?” Kenny asked as he stepped out from his room, rubbing his tired eyes. Damien, Vern, Valentina, and Carson had also heard the ruckus and joined them in the hallway. Eli soon followed.
“Pickman’s gone mad!” Chase screamed. “He’s going to kill us all. We have to get out.”
Terry Watts had heard the commotion all the way upstairs and ran down from the second floor.
“Sorry about this,” Damien apologized to Terry. “He’s a bit overdramatic. Let’s go find Pickman and see what this is about.”
Chase begged them not to go, but the group trotted over to the lobby, where a strange device sat in the center of the room.
“What the fuck is that thing?” Valentina asked.
“Is that Chuckie’s watch?” Ryder asked as he took a closer look.
“Oh shit,” Damien said. “It’s a bomb. It’s a fucking bomb!”
“Correct,” Pickman said from the vestibule, his voice grabbing their collective attention. “One of two bombs to be precise. I’m sorry I lied to you all. I’m sorry I led you all this far. I’m sorry I can’t save you. I’m going to help you, though. I’m going to spare you all this endless suffering.”
“Run!” Ryder said. In mere seconds, the lobby was deserted. They ran down the longest corridor of the first floor, which led straight to the emergency exit. Outside, they put as much distance between the hotel and themselves as humanly possible.
Watching from the adjacent woods, they heard a loud boom that emanated from the front of the Starlight. An explosion that took all of Willard Pickman with it. They cupped their hands over their ears, waiting for the second boom. But it never came.
“Could it be…?” Kenny said. “Hey guys, I think one of the bombs was a dud.”
“Let’s wait a bit longer just to be safe,” Ryder suggested. And so they did. After a full half an hour had passed, they returned to find the interior of the hotel unscathed. The bomb that Willard Pickman had constructed indeed turned out to be a dud.
The same could not be said for the bomb he planted just outside the vestibule, the bomb that took his life, and destroyed Vern’s box truck and Arnold Vesti’s van in one fell swoop.
“We’re doomed,” Chase muttered. “Doomed.”
To Be Continued With Part Thirteen: CHARLOTTE