Sunday, December 21, 2014


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
Valentina Jackson: Tough as nails/Has no fear/Knows how to use a gun/Claims to have crossed paths with Carson’s wife and daughter at one point in Tennessee
Taryn Mills: One of the newest members of the group/Lost her boyfriend, George Verdi/Not afraid to use a gun
Nikki Fox: A native Tennessean/Former registered nurse
Reggie White: Born and raised in Arkansas/Has never left the state
Scotty Loomis: Originally from Utah/Friends with Reggie/A perpetual fountain of random facts and useless information

By Daniel Skye


          Day Two Hundred and Thirty-Seven.
The teeth were so decayed that they had broken off and were embedded in Kenny Sudrow’s shoulder.
“What about painkillers?” Kenny asked as Nikki Fox prepped him for surgery.
“Fresh out,” Carson Ryder informed him.
“Maybe not,” Scotty Loomis spoke up. He was holding what looked like a lunch box made out of metal. The outside was so rusty and corroded that it took Ryder a few seconds to make out the red cross and the words FIRST AID scrolled across the front.
“Drake was a good man,” he said. “But he certainly had his habits. These are his leftovers. There’s everything in here from weed to heroin.”
          “I don’t see how marijuana will help us,” Ryder said. Adding, “You know I used to be a police officer, right?”
          “Not anymore,” Loomis told him. “Besides, heroin is an analgesic. It can numb the pain and help him sleep.”
          “How do you know this?” Nikki asked him. “Did you work in a hospital? Were you a med student?”
          I wish,” Loomis said. “I just know things. I liked to read a lot. Now I don’t really have the time or the reading material for it.”
          “Well, he’s right,” Nikki shrugged.
          “You really want to shoot him up with heroin?” Ryder asked, his brows arched.
          “We don’t have to shoot him up,” Nikki said. “He just has to sniff a little of it.”
          “I’ll huff paint if it helps with the pain,” Kenny moaned. “Just please give me something for it.”
          Ryder nodded and Loomis opened the first aid kit, dug out the balloon of heroin. He took a pinch between his fingers and sprinkled the powder into Kenny’s hands. “There you go, buddy,” Loomis said. “Remember, not too much. Just a little bump.”
          Kenny inhaled a small portion and waited for it to kick in. Two minutes later, his eyelids were heavy and he was filled with an overwhelming sensation of warmth, like his body was wrapped in a heated blanket. He felt no pain, no sorrow, just bliss.
          He didn’t even feel it when Ryder used the machete to hack his arm down to the bone.
          Damien had the flamethrower strapped to his back. The pilot light was lit, set on a low flame. It was hot enough to cauterize the wound, but safe enough that it wouldn’t burn him alive or torch the whole place to the ground.
          The steady flow of the blue flame was applied to the wound, causing a dark, blood filled scab to form around the wound. By then, Kenny was fully sedated. Unconscious would be the better word.
          The heroin had taken effect, and there was more left over for when he’d wake up screaming in agony.
          “Thanks,” Ryder told Loomis.
          “Oh, yeah, don’t thank me,” Damien said, extinguishing the pilot light and removing the flamethrower.
          “I’ve thanked you dozens of times already,” Ryder said, laughing. “Let someone else have a turn for a change.”
          “Don’t mention it,” Loomis said. “Just glad I could help. And at least Drake’s death is not in vain.”
          “Not to change the subject,” Ryder said. “But we’re running low on ammo. This place you were telling us about, where is it?”
          “Maumelle, Arkansas,” Loomis said. “It’s northwest of Little Rock. Not too far from here. Can your RV make it?”
          “We’ll sure as hell try,” Ryder said.
          “When do we leave?” Damien asked Ryder.
          “It depends on how long it takes him to recover,” Ryder said, referring to an unconscious Kenny. “I don’t want to move him until the wound has had a little time to heal and he’s ok to move on his own. I don’t want to risk the chance of infection.”
          “Understood,” Damien said, nodding.
          “If you’ll excuse me,” Ryder said. “I need a little air. This has been one hell of a day and my head is spinning. I’ll go out the back so we don’t have to clear the front entrance. If you hear me knocking, please come running.”
          “Will do,” Reggie assured him. “But don’t wander too far. You’ve only got a few bullets left in that Magnum.”
          “Thanks for the reminder,” Ryder said, walking to the backdoor. “I’ll stay close by.”
          Nikki fetched a pillow and blanket. She covered Kenny and gently pushed the pillow under his head. Then she bandaged the wound.
          With Ryder gone, Damien was running the show. But he had other things on his mind. And a whisper in his ear from Taryn was all it took to lure Damien back to the stockroom.
          “Guess that just leaves us,” Reggie pointed out to Valentina and gave her a wink.
          “Ugh,” Valentina said, and walked off in disgust.
          “Oh, well,” Reggie said. “So what’s in that first aid kit anyways?”
          “There’s a few grams of weed,” Loomis said. “Some rolling paper. A balloon of heroin. A one hitter. A salt shaker full of crystal. A few Xanax. And some mushrooms, but they’re really dried out and discolored. I wouldn’t risk eating them.”
          “You know how to roll, right?”
          “Does the pope shit in the woods?” Loomis asked. “Yeah, I know how to roll.”
          “Then roll us a fatty and let’s blaze,” Reggie said.
          “You’re not smoking in here,” Nikki said.
          “Oh, lighten up,” Loomis said. “Who’s it going to bother?”
          “Me,” Nikki said. “I don’t like smoke.”
          “Have you ever smoked weed before?” Reggie asked.
          “Hell no,” Nikki said. “Some people offered it to me in college. But it was never my thing.”
          “It’s never too late to start,” Loomis said, grinding up some of the weed with his fingertips.
* * *
          Valentina Jackson followed Ryder outside and caught up with him behind the market.
          “So your wife was heading to Washington,” Valentina said. “I was right.”
          “Valentina, not now. Please.”
          “I just don’t want you to think I’m a liar.”
          “I don’t. But she was here. Maybe she told you Washington and she told Nikki Arkansas. Maybe Nikki crossed paths with her before you did. Maybe neither of you really even remember what she said. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that my wife and daughter are gone. I’m never going to see them again. EVER. And I’m trying to learn how to cope with that.”
          “Well, what’s the big deal?” Valentina asked. “A few months ago, you couldn’t even remember them. You still can’t remember them completely. And chances are you never will. Stop focusing on the past when you should be focusing on what’s right in front of you.”
          “What are you talking about?”
          “I’m talking about us. I’m talking about the future.”
          “There’s no us,” Ryder said vehemently. “Get that straight. We’re friends. That’s it. You’re a good ally. I don’t want to screw up our relationship or make you think it’s something that it’s not.”
          “Who is it?” Valentina probed him. “Taryn? No it can’t be her because Damien is already fucking her. Is it Nikki? Do you want to fuck Nikki? What does she have that I don’t, Carson? Tell me!”
          “You need to relax,” Ryder said. “Go for a walk. Clear your head. You’ll feel better.”
          “Don’t patronize me, you bastard! You’ll regret this!” She stormed off like Damien after one of his temper tantrums. Ryder was left baffled, concerned, and craving a cigarette.
          Valentina had been wrong about one thing. His memory was getting stronger. He was starting to remember more of the little things–movie titles, sports teams, rock bands, the election of George W. Bush, the panic of Y2K.
          He recalled that Caroline’s favorite artists were Neil Diamond and Stevie Nicks. One of her favorite songs was “Sweet Caroline”. He remembered her closing her eyes when she listened to it. She liked to pretend that he was singing directly to her.
          He remembered that Charlotte loved Disney movies and aspired to be a doctor when she grew up. Ryder remembered encouraging her aspirations, something he’d never be able to do again.
          And he was starting to recall all those intimate moments with Caroline. It wouldn’t be long now before he remembered everything.
* * *
          Willard Pickman was right about one thing. There was an antivirus. A cure. And it did rest somewhere in the heart of Texas.
          It just never had the chance to be implemented. Eli Burton saw to that. He lined all the right pockets with money, gave them plenty of notice. Plenty of time to stockpile supplies and flee to their uncharted islands, to safety and obscurity.
          The Secretary of Defense was paid a very generous sum to sway the CDC into generating this pathogen. The whole time, they were never truly aware what they were working on. What purpose, if any, this experiment had. But they created the antivirus just to be safe.
          And the Secretary of Defense was paid an even larger sum to see that it was destroyed.
          But the day they met to exchange the rest of the money for the pathogen, Eli changed his mind.
          “The antivirus,” Eli told him the week before the outbreak. “Don’t destroy it.”
          “Having second thoughts?”
          “You never know.”
          “Am I still getting paid the same?”
          “Then it’s your money.”
          “You know you only have about a week or two to enjoy that, right?” Eli pointed out to him.
          “You’d be surprised how much I can spend in a week,” he said, grinning from ear to ear as he accepted the leather briefcase and handed a set of keys over to Eli. “It’s all in the trunk. The license plates are government issued, so nobody should stop you for any reason. That shouldn’t be any trouble though. The real trouble for you is smuggling this stuff out of the country to all your friends.”
          “I wouldn’t worry about that,” Eli said, returning a sinister smile. “You’d be surprised what people are willing to do for money. They don’t even bother to ask questions. They just take the money and ship whatever I give them without thinking twice.”
          “So is it safe to assume this is goodbye?” he said.
          “In a week or so, you can say goodbye to the whole entire world as you know it.”
* * *
          Ryder knocked several times before Reggie wallowed over to let him in through the backdoor. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot, and the whole market reeked of marijuana.
          “Hey,” Nikki giggled. “Look who came back.”
          “You’re smoking too?” Ryder said, shocked.
          “Hey, when in Rome,” Nikki said, giggling again.
          Her laughter was infectious, causing White and Loomis to join in. Soon they were all laughing at nothing as they sat Indian style in a circle and passed the burning joint around.
          "Ah, what the fuck?” Ryder shrugged and sat down beside them. “Let me try some of that.”
* * *
          “Where’s Nikki?” Ryder asked when they were all settling in that night. “And where’s Valentina?”
          “Beats me,” Eli shrugged, curling up on the floor with a pillow and blanket.
          “I think they wandered off together a little while ago,” Loomis said. “Girl talk.”
          “In the dark?”
          “They took a flashlight,” Loomis said.
          “Still,” Ryder said. “That isn’t like Valentina. She knows better than that.”
          “Girls,” Loomis shrugged and turned in for the night.
          Ryder wasn’t convinced though and grabbed a flashlight and his .357 Magnum and went looking for them.
          He used the backdoor again and walked around the back of the market, crept along the side. It was dark, but he could navigate his way with the flashlight. But he didn’t want to use it unless he had to. The light could easily draw the Biters out.
          Ryder used the shadows to his advantage, slinking through the streets and following their trail.
          He found them a few blocks up from the market, but remained in the shadows, not drawing any attention to himself. He waited for Valentina to reveal her true motives.
          “So what’s this all about?” Nikki asked her. “I mean, what’s this really about? I suspect you didn’t just want to talk about your family.”
          “It’s true,” Valentina said. “I did want to talk to you about something else. But there’s nothing I can say to change anything. He loves you, not me.”
          “Oh, stop,” Nikki said. “He isn’t in love with me or you. He’s just lonely. He misses his wife and daughter.”
          “Oh wake up, you stupid bitch!” Valentina shouted in her face. “They’re dead! Gone! They’re not coming back! And what he’s looking for right now is a replacement! And that just so happens to be you!”
          “You’re insane,” Nikki mumbled.
          “Am I?” Valentina cackled. “Let’s find out. Let’s see what happens when you’re out of the picture and Carson has no one else to turn to.” She drew her revolver with six fresh bullets loaded inside. The gun didn’t have a safety, but it did have a hammer which she cocked back with her thumb and pointed it directly at Nikki.
          “Valentina, no!” Carson shouted and stepped out from the shadows, .357 Magnum in hand. “Put it down now!”
          “She has to die!” Valentina screamed. “It’s the only way!”
          “You’re wrong,” Ryder said. “I don’t want either of you. And there is another way. We put our guns down and walk back together like nothing happened.”
          “You know that won’t work,” Valentina said. “Not after this.”
          Valentina squeezed the trigger of her revolver and Ryder took a shot at her. The bullet got lodged between her ribs and she fell to the ground, bleeding profusely.
          Nikki sighed as she realized Valentina had missed. At the very end, she had no intention of killing Nikki. She knew all she had to do was fire a shot and Ryder would finish her off.
          “Hold me,” Valentina moaned as she lie on her back, bleeding internally. “Please, hold me.”
          “She’s not going to make it,” Nikki told him.
          “I know,” Ryder said, whispering. “She was crazy, just like her old man. I hate to say it, but it’s better this way.”
          Ryder pried the gun from her lifeless fingers and tucked the revolver in his waistband. He lifted his flashlight, the beam illuminating three rotting faces.
          The Biters has heard the gunshot and were on the prowl for fresh meat. Nikki gagged and pinched her nose like a clothespin with two fingers. “They smell awful,” she exclaimed. “They look like they’ve been dead for years.”
          The one in the center, its stomach had been torn open and its intestines now dragged along the street like sausage links. The one on the right was wearing a charcoal suit and dirty red tie. Behind all that rotten flesh and those dead eyes, Ryder saw a businessman who was not cut out for this kind of world.
          On the left, a girl, a teenager. Maybe a local. Maybe someone who got separated from their group. Either way, she didn’t make it.
          “Let’s book,” Ryder said. “We can’t waste the bullets if we can beat them on foot.”
* * *
          Day Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight.
          Carson Ryder waited until morning to announce to everyone what transpired the night before with Valentina. But her death was overshadowed by the loss of another.
          That morning, when Kenny Sudrow had yet to wake, Ryder checked up on him. But when he couldn’t shake him out of it, he checked for a pulse.
          “He’s dead,” Ryder mumbled in disbelief. Shock was already setting in. “Kenny is dead…someone broke his next last night while he was sleeping.” It was then Ryder noticed the blood. “And then they stabbed him through the back of the head, made sure he didn’t turn.”
          “Who?” Reggie asked. “Who killed him.”
          “It sure wasn’t Diego Garcia,” Ryder sighed. “Whoever it was, I’m giving you fair warning. I will find out who you are and I’ll give you one chance to explain yourself…before I kill you.”
* * *
          Nobody had gone back to retrieve Valentina Jackson’s body. Too risky. And the Biters had already had their fill. Little or nothing remained of her now.
          They buried Kenny three blocks from the market, in an unmarked grave beside Drake Sharpe’s. Carson poured the first shovel of dirt into the hole and then passed it to Damien, who took a turn. They all poured one shovelful of dirt into the grave and then Damien and Carson finished the job as quickly as they could.
          Short on breath, Carson and Damien let Eli say a few words first.
          “Kenny was a good man,” Eli said. “He was always friendly, helpful, easy to approach and talk to. He always tried to keep his spirits up and I think that helped raise the spirts of the group. I’m really sorry to see him go. Rest in peace, buddy.”
          Nikki, dabbed the tears from her eyes, and spoke next. “I didn’t know Kenny for as long as some of you did. But he was nice to me. He accepted me. He made me laugh and smile. And I’ll miss him. Rest in peace, Kenny.”
          “I didn’t know him that well, either,” Taryn said. “But I’m so sad to see him go. And I’ll miss him dearly. He was one of us. And he’ll always be one of us as far as I’m concerned.”
          Even Reggie White and Scotty Loomis stepped up to say a few words for their fallen comrade.
          “I’m not big on speeches,” Damien said. “But Kenny was my friend. And I’ll miss him. Rest easy, big guy.”
          Carson lifted the crucifix from his neck to his lips and gave it a slight peck, said a silent prayer. Then he spoke. “Kenny was one of my best friends. I would have done anything for that kid. I taught him how to shoot. He taught me how to laugh and have a good time again. I’ll miss him as much as I miss Arnold and Vern and everyone else we’ve lost. Kenny, if you’re listening up there, rest in peace, brother.”


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