Tuesday, November 18, 2014
IN THE FLESH: PART SEVENTEEN
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/Was married once/Bad tempered/Doesn’t seem to care at all about family or traditional values
Kenny Sudrow: Youngest member of the group/Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else/Lost his family to Biters
Eli Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a large inheritance when they died
Vern Sheldon: Used to drive a truck/Lost his family/Carries a badass flamethrower
Valentina Jackson: Tough as nails/Has no fear/Knows how to use a gun
Tyler Reese: A young man who saved Kenny Sudrow’s life/Carries a submachine gun/A native Bostonian/He used to be a mechanic
Taryn Mills: One of the newest members of the group/Little is known about her at this time
George Verdi: Taryn’s clumsy boyfriend
Diego Garcia: A ticking time bomb
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
Day One Hundred and Ninety-Seven.
“There’s a crack in the engine block,” Tyler Reese informed the group after a thorough inspection of the RV. “That’s why it keeps overheating. In addition to that, there’s a blown head gasket and it’s in desperate need of a tune-up. It also needs oil.”
“Can you repair the crack?” Carson Ryder asked.
“I can’t,” Reese said. “A crack in the engine block usually means it’s a lost cause. But it can possibly be welded. And there’s only person I know that can handle that job.” He looked in Vern Sheldon’s direction.
“I’ll do my best to repair the crack,” Vern said, trotting off to retrieve his flamethrower.
“If he can do that, I can get her running again. I’m just going to need a head gasket, some spark plugs, a fuel filter, oil, and a few other things. We can head for the highway and take parts from abandoned cars. But it all depends on Vern repairing the crack in the engine block first.”
“Damien, you and I can stand guard outside while Vern works,” Carson said.
“What about Kenny?” Damien asked.
“He’s been slipping lately,” Carson said. “And he’s hitting the booze way too much for his own good. No, he’ll just put us at risk out there.”
“I’ll stand guard with you,” Eli Burton offered his services.
“No, it’s all right,” Carson–who was having second thoughts about Eli–assured him.
Vern returned with the flamethrower and followed Carson and Damien out through the front.
* * *
Kenny Sudrow woke up late that morning with his throat burning and the smell of Tequila on his breath and clothes. He stumbled through the hallway and out into the lobby where the group was gathered, waiting to see if Vern could weld the crack in the block.
Kenny helped himself to a bag of pork rinds and started munching away.
“Pork rinds for breakfast?” Tyler asked.
“Why not?” Kenny responded, shrugging his shoulders.
Valentina Jackson had a bag of dried figs and apricots and offered them to Taryn Mills. Valentina and Taryn had formed quite a bond in the days they spent together. Valentina loved having another woman to talk to. She was grateful that she was no longer the only female in the group. But Valentina was also concerned about her new friend’s health.
“Eat up,” Valentina told her. “You’re too skinny.”
“I keep telling her she has to eat more,” George Verdi said. “She’s as skinny as a rail.” George still had the white bandages wrapped around his head.
“So what happened to you exactly?” Tyler inquired about the bandages. “You weren’t attacked by Biters, were you?”
“Hell no,” George said. “It was clumsiness on my part. I was running from those undead freaks and I was too busy looking behind me to see the brick wall. I ran right into it. Luckily I had Diego there to save my ass.”
“Just in the right place at the right time I guess,” Diego said. “If I had caught up with George a few seconds later, he would’ve been chow.”
“It’s true,” George nodded. “Without Diego, we probably wouldn’t have made it this far.”
George and Taryn were sold on this guy, but Valentina wasn’t a hundred percent convinced. He seemed liked a nice, harmless man. But there was something about his dark eyes, his blank, vacant stare that made her tense.
Valentina knew it would be wrong to excuse him of anything when he had been nothing but helpful up to that point. But she made it a note to keep an eye on him when possible.
* * *
Carson pumped his Remington shotgun and fired a thunderous blast, tearing the head off the shoulders of an impending Biter.
“Everything okay?” Vern shouted.
“Just fine,” Carson said. “Keep working. We’ve got this.”
And work was just what Vern did. He worked away to seal the crack in the engine block with his flamethrower, and was successful in welding it shut. Damien fired it up to test the RV out. It wasn’t overheating, but it was still shaking and idling high from the lack of a tune-up and the blown head gasket.
“Everyone give it up for Vern Sheldon,” Carson said as they returned to the lobby. The group all cheered and clapped in appreciation for Vern.
“It was nothing,” Vern said, smiling. “Happy to help in any way I can.”
“Now the easy part is out of the way,” Tyler said. “Here comes the hard part. We’ll have to journey out to the interstate and see what parts I can find.”
“Who goes with?” Vern asked.
“You stay behind on this one,” Carson told Vern. “You’ve done more than your share for the day. I’ll go.”
“I’m coming too,” Damien said.
“So that’s three,” Tyler said. “I’d feel safer with one more person.”
“I’ll go,” Kenny volunteered.
“No, you and Eli stay behind and guard the hotel. Diego, is it?”
“That’s right,” Diego said.
“You feel like earning your keep today?”
“Sure,” he shrugged. “Let’s rock and roll.”
* * *
The interstate was crawling with Biters. Tyler searched as fast as he could to find the right parts needed to get the RV in working condition while the men kept the Biters at bay with their weapons.
This time around, it was a walk in the park. They had taken the AK-47s donated by Malcolm McCredie and his men. Bullets were flying everywhere across the interstate. Blood, brains, and skull fragments littered the pavement as every Biter that tried to advance was cut down by a hail of gunfire.
“Have you got everything yet?” Carson shouted over the racket of the AK-47s.
“Not yet,” Tyler said. “Keep holding them off. I’ve got the sparkplugs, the wires, and the fuel filter. I just need the gasket. And I’m going to have to drain some oil from one of the tanks. I brought along one of Kenny’s empty liquor bottles from that. Should take two of three minutes. Just hold tight.”
“I’m running low on ammo,” Diego shouted.
“How many bullets do these things hold?” Carson asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s a-fucking-lot,” Damien shouted.
“Did you bring any extra rounds?” Diego asked.
“No,” Carson said as he emptied his AK and tossed it aside. “All we had left was the ammo inside the other five AK-47s, and I figured these three would suffice. But I have this.” Carson removed the machete from its leather casing and went charging.
The blade cut through the air with speed and precision as Carson sawed off the heads of several Biters that remained. The putrid stink of death befouled the interstate and made Carson gag slightly. The Biters were decaying faster, rotting down to their bones. But they were still coming. There seemed to be no quit inside of them. No end to this baneful plague in sight.
No hope for panacea.
A fresh horde of Biters spilled out onto the highway. They must’ve heard the shots and tracked the sound.
“I’ve got it!” Tyler shouted. “Let’s go!”
“We won’t make it,” Carson said. “There’s too many of them. And we’re out of ammo.”
“Quick,” Damien said, pointing to a yellow Dodge Dart. “Get in.”
They all sprang for the doors and jumped inside. They hit the lock buttons and watched the Biters shamble towards the windows, pressing their rotting faces to the glass.
“We’re fucked, aren’t we?” Tyler said.
Diego Garcia was born on April 5th, 1984. For the first eight years of his life, he didn’t attend public school. He was homeschooled.
And by homeschooled, I mean he spent the first eight years of his life locked inside a dark closet.
His mother knew what he was right away. It was in his eyes. She had given birth to a creature of pure malevolence.
On his eighth birthday, he pushed his mother down a flight of stairs, snapping her neck like a frail twig in the process.
It didn’t start with people. Animals were his original target. Insects, actually. He’d use matches he swiped from his mom’s drawer to light spider webs on fire, coercing spiders out of their holes.
Then he’d tear each leg off one by one, watching it writhe and squirm until all eight appendages were severed. He’d do the same with ants. He’d find an anthill, douse it in liquid accelerant, and light a match. Then he’d watch the entire colony march out in flames. The ones that managed to survive the fire, he’d tear limb from limb.
Call it a case of bad head wiring. Call it bad fortune. But Diego Garcia was destined to be a killer.
It was after his mother found the dead cat that Diego had stuffed inside the crawlspace that he started spending more time locked up in that closet. It afforded Diego nothing but time to think, and plot, and scheme.
Then, on his eighth birthday, came the big push. His mother went sailing down the staircase and he heard the sickening thud when her body reached the floor and her neck snapped.
When the cops showed up, he played innocent. He told them he was in his room playing with his toys when he heard the fall. There were tears and moans and whimpers. He put on a good show for the police. They surmised that Ms. Garcia must’ve tripped or lost her balance going down the stairs. They wrote it off as a fatal tragedy, a terrible accident.
With no father in the picture, Diego was left in the hands of foster care. His father walked out on his mother before he was even born. Got cold feet and bailed one night while she was sleeping. He sent her a letter with some petty cash in the envelope, told her he wasn’t ready to be a father.
By age thirteen, Diego had been shuffled around so many times and lived with so many different sets of foster parents he couldn’t even recall half their faces. He only recalled tales of the ones who abused him, and the ones who disappeared without explanation, never to be seen again.
By eighteen, Diego Garcia was living by himself and had seven notches under his belt. The sickness had taken over. It was uncontrollable.
With a talent for pickpocketing, Diego had amassed a small fortune over the years that none of his foster parents had ever discovered. He used the money to buy a black Ford Bronco, which he lived in for several years.
It was the same truck he used to lure bums and prostitutes to their deaths. This was the only way to silence the voices in his head and make those pangs in his gut go away.
But if he was going to live with this affliction, if he was going to evade capture, he’d have to learn to control it. Prison was out of the question. The idea of a prison cell reminded him of the hours he spent locked away in that closet that was no bigger than an outhouse.
Diego vowed he’d never get caught. And he never did…
Day One Hundred and Ninety-Seven.
Biters crawled onto the yellow hood of the Dodge Dart. They circled the vehicle, pressed their rotting faces to the windows and growled. Their dark, grey, pupil-departed eyes told a tale of madness and hunger that was insatiable.
Out of this mass of decomposing flesh, Carson saw a boy in a bright orange shirt, the corners of his mouth smeared red as he munched on a piece of raw meat. He swallowed and showed his blackened choppers, a piece of flesh still clinging between his teeth.
The child made him think of the girl in the picture. His daughter, Charlotte. And the sight turned his stomach.
Was this the horrible fate that awaited his family? Was it already too late to save them?
“There must be someone else out here besides us,” Damien pointed out. “That kid wasn’t carrying that meat around in his pockets. But if they’ve already eaten, why are they still hungry?”
“Maybe it’s not even the hunger that drives them,” Tyler said. “Maybe it’s instinct. Or maybe their hunger is just irresistible.”
“Well if we want to get out of here, we’ll have to do something,” Diego Garcia said. “We need bait to lure them away.”
“Who’s dumb enough to donate their body for that stunt?” Damien asked.
“I will,” Diego said. “We just need to clear a path so I can open the door and start running. Once they follow me, you head back to the Starlight and I’ll loop around in a circle and catch up to you once I’ve lost them.”
“You’re crazy,” Carson said. “But you’re also brave. And the right combination of crazy and brave just might make this work. Tyler, give me that bottle of motor oil.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“Just give me the damn bottle,” Carson said. “We can always collect more later.” Tyler passed him the bottle and he ripped off a thin strand of material from the frayed sleeve of his jacket. He soaked the fabric in oil and kept a piece of it sticking out of the neck of the bottle.
Ryder had been carrying a lighter in one of his pockets ever since he swiped some cigarettes from Cherrywood Mall. He was holding onto it ever since, in case he found more packs of cigarettes along the way. He rolled his window down, let the fabric, and tossed the bottle out the window. It flew over the pavement and shattered in the grass, igniting on impact.
The small explosion took several Biters down and the flames started slowly drawing their attention as they shambled down the interstate towards the fire. Diego swung the door open and bolted.
The Biters saw him take off and they all followed his trail, limping and staggering across the interstate.
Once the coast was clear, Tyler, Carson, and Damien exited the vehicle and took off in the opposite direction. They were a quarter mile from the Starlight when Diego caught up to them, his clothes caked in blood and flesh. There was fresh blood smeared across his knuckles, which appeared to be bruised and swelling.
“What happened?” Carson inquired.
“A few of them caught up to me,” Diego said. “I had to do what I had to do. I…I killed them with my bare hands.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” Damien said. “First time for everything I guess. But the second time you might not be as lucky. So I suggest we don’t stand around and wait for more of them to show up. We can talk about it back at the Starlight.”
“What about the oil for the RV?” Tyler asked.
“Back at the hotel,” Damien repeated with exasperation.
* * *
They returned to the Starlight just before dark. Diego changed his blood soaked clothes and wrapped his swollen knuckles. Then Carson discussed the plan for morning.
“Tyler will stay behind and do the tune-up and change the head gasket. Vern, you’ll guard him with that flamethrower of yours if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Vern assured him.
“A few of us will have to take a risk and venture out again in search of oil to replace what we lost today. But we’re not going back to the interstate. It’s too risky. Too many Biters. I saw an auto supplies shop when we were in town. The door was boarded up, but I saw through the windows and the place still had some supplies.”
“I’m going to have to vote against this idea,” Damien said. “Every time we go to town, something awful happens to us.”
“Not this time,” Carson said. “This time we take four men, four AKs, and all the extra guns and ammo we can carry on our backs. How many AK-47s do we even have left?”
“Five,” Vern told him.
“Good enough,” Carson said. “You know I have no problem leading the pack. All I need is three volunteers.”
“If you go, I guess I’ll come too,” Damien shrugged.
“That’s two,” Ryder said.
“I’ll go if you’ll have me,” Diego said.
“After what you did today, I’d be proud to have you along tomorrow.”
“If Diego is going, so will I,” George Verdi said. “It’s time for me to earn my keep.”
“No,” Taryn told her boyfriend. “It’s too dangerous.”
“Sweetheart, I have to do this. I have to prove myself.”
“You’re in,” Carson said. “So that makes four. Perfect.”
“There are five AKs,” Valentina Jackson said. “Five guns, five people. I’m coming with you.”
“There’s no sense in arguing with you,” Carson said. “You’ll win either way. Fine, you can come. So it’s settled then. We leave at sunrise.”
“Then what?” Eli asked. “What happens when you return and Tyler’s done working on the RV?”
“Then we head out to Arkansas,” Carson said. “And I find my wife and daughter.”
* * *
Day One Hundred and Ninety-Eight.
The five of them–armed with AK-47s–set out just after the sun poked out above the horizon. Just around the same time Tyler Reese resumed his work on the RV. His goal was to have the tune-up finished and the head gasket replaced by the time they returned with the oil.
Carson also brought along his Smith & Wesson pistol and machete that was tucked into the leather sheath laced around his waist. Damien brought his dual .38 pistols for backup and his trusty hunting knife. Valentina took the .27 Beretta along as a backup weapon at Carson’s suggestion. Vern had lent his .357 Magnum to Diego so he could have an extra gun on him. And Kenny had lent his semi-automatic handgun to George Verdi.
They crossed paths with several stray Biters on the walk to town. The first time they came into contact with one, George immediately raised his AK until Carson said, “Don’t waste the bullets unless we run into a herd.”
He used his machete to take them down and they made it all the way to town without incident.
“So where are you guys from originally?” George asked as they walked cautiously, observing the area for impending danger.
“Most of us are from New York,” Damien said. “We met Valentina out here in Tennessee.”
“New York,” George repeated. “How’d you end up all the way out here?”
“We were following the interstate,” Carson said. “Trying to make our way to Texas. A member of our group, Willard Pickman, worked for the CDC. He possessed more knowledge of the outbreak than anyone else we encountered. He promised us there was a cure, a universal remedy.”
“Panacea, if you will,” Valentina said.
“I’m not familiar with the term,” Carson said.
“It’s a cure-all, a universal solution or remedy.”
“Panacea,” Diego laughed, brandishing his polished AK-47. “This right here is panacea. This is your cure, your universal solution.”
It was at the auto shop where the real trouble began. Damien kicked the door in and released two Biters that someone had most likely trapped inside. Carson used the machete again to sever the heads from their shoulders and Damien retrieved as many quarts of oil as his bag could hold.
Across the street, Valentina heard a faint din that emanated from inside a local fried chicken joint. The front door burst open and a horde of Biters came spilling out into the streets.
“Now you can waste your bullets,” Carson yelled as the gunfire commenced. Bullets ripped through the air and tore at the flesh of every Biter that ambled forward.
“The heads!” Damien shouted. “Aim for the heads!”
A standard AK-47 magazine holds thirty rounds. And they had no spare magazines for the guns. Now in the movies when you see a person shoot, they rarely ever miss. Well, it’s not like that in real life. Most of the time, you miss a hell of a lot more than you hit, even at close range.
And this was the case that morning, especially in regards to George Verdi, who missed twenty shots out of thirty. He had terrible aim and Carson was regretting the fact he volunteered to tag along.
When the AK-47s were emptied, the Biters were still stumbling out the doorway of the fast food restaurant. They tossed the unloaded weapons aside and pulled their spare pieces. But even those bullets were not enough to keep the Biters at bay.
“Run!” Carson shouted and they all broke off in different directions. He tried to keep everyone together, but panic had struck and it momentarily dissolved into an every man and woman for themselves situation.
Diego headed for the abandoned hardware store and George Verdi followed. They barricaded the doors with what they could find, but neglected to check the utility closet, where the door was slightly ajar.
A lone Biter stumbled out, growling, its teeth chattering as it shuffled down the aisles. Diego raised Vern’s .357 Magnum, and then lowered it as he seemingly had second thoughts.
“What are you waiting for?!” George shouted, and then reached for Kenny’s semi-automatic pistol. But Diego squeezed the trigger, firing one round into George’s leg.
“I’m not saving you this time,” he said, the rage bubbling to the surface. He hadn’t lost control. Quite the opposite.
Diego was in complete control. He’d learned to channel his rage and release it at the most appropriate or opportune moments. And this was one of those moments. With the group temporarily disbanded, Diego was free to turn this town into his own personal playground.
Diego pried Kenny’s semi-automatic weapon from George’s fingers and tucked both guns into his waistband.
Diego slipped out the front door, closing it to drown out George’s high pitched screams for mercy. “Diego! Please, don’t leave me here, man! Not like this! Not like this! Come back! Please, come back! Somebody! Anybody! Help me!”
The solitary Biter kneeled, the bones of its knees scraping and grinding together as it hunched over and ripped through George’s stomach lining with its grimy fingers. A length of intestines was yanked from his gut and the Biter chowed down like he was gnawing on sausage links.
They all met up and regrouped at the supermarket when the Biters dispersed. “Where’s George?” Carson inquired as Diego was the last to arrive to the market, alone.
Diego shook his head and lowered his eyes to the floor. “He didn’t make it,” he told them. “I tried to save him, but there was no time. Biters got him.”
“Damn,” Carson sighed. “How do we break the news to Taryn?”
“Leave it to me,” Valentina said. “I’ll break the news to her gently.”
“Then it’s settled,” Carson said. “We’re heading back to the Starlight. Everyone have their guns? Because I have a feeling we might need them…”
“Emily!” Jordan Price cried out for her friend. She could not see, as she was blindfolded with a dark cloth. She had given up struggled against the shackles that pinned her to the floor of that dank, freezing cellar.
Her lips–chaffed and crusted with dry blood–were starting to turn blue from the lingering cold. So were the tips of her fingers and toes. Her dry skin was red and blotchy. The only sensation she could feel in her manacled limbs was that of pins and needles.
The hinges squeaked as the cellar door was thrust open and Jordan heard the descending footsteps.
The house had been acquired by Diego Garcia when he turned twenty-three. And the cellar was where he spent the majority of his spare time.
“Please,” she wailed. “Just let me go. I won’t say anything, I promise. It’ll be our little secret.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Diego informed her.
“Emily!” Jordan cried. “Emily, can you hear me?!”
“Your friend can’t hear you,” Diego assured her. “Not anymore. It’s just you and me. And I have loads of fun planned for us.” Diego turned the attention to his wall of tools and pulled a chainsaw down from the rack.
The roar of the chainsaw drowned out Jordan Price’s cries for help, and soon, her cries ceased entirely.
To Be Continued With Part Eighteen: ARKANSAS