Sunday, July 12, 2015

MOTHER'S DAY (Revised)

Genre: Horror (Zombies)

Daniel Skye

            In the darkest corner of the Fisher family kitchen, Casey positioned a stepstool so that Bo could reach the toaster. At six years old, Bo still couldn’t reach the Formica countertop without a little assistance. Casey made sure she knew what she was doing with the toaster and then he set about making the batter for the pancakes.
            Casey was a short boy and paper thin, but compared to Bo he was a giant in the presence of an ant. His dark brown hair was shoulder-length and covered the sides of his face, concealing the scars he had bared for three years.
            He fetched a mixing bowl from one of the cabinets and brought it to the sink, where he filled the bowl halfway with tap water. Then he added the pancake mix and stirred clockwise with a metal whisk, just as he’d watched his mother do time and time again.
            Casey was only nine, but he’d watched his mom do it enough times to know he needed to add water before adding the mix to prevent the formation of lumps. Casey stirred vigorously until the batter was rich and thick. Then he scooped out a raw glob of batter with his finger and licked it off. It wasn’t as good as cake batter, but he couldn’t help himself from trying. His dad would’ve brained him good for that one, had he been around to see it.
            Sunlight peeked in through the cracks of the wooden planks that were nailed horizontally and diagonally to the windows. The front and backdoors had also been boarded up and barricaded for good measure, making both entry and escape quite impossible at the moment.
The clocks were still running and Casey could see it was just past dawn. He was learning quickly how to adapt and operate on little to no sleep. He and Bo usually took turns sleeping in shifts. Casey had been keeping track of the days with the only calendar they had in the house.
            It had been nearly a month since the chaos erupted and the whole world had plunged to the depths of hell. Nearly a month and the cavalry had yet to arrive. Every day, Casey’s hope dwindled. But he fought to stay strong for Bo and for his mother.
            He often thought back to that first day. The day the dead rose from the ashes. Everywhere he looked, there was carnage to be seen.
As one would imagine, people weren’t proceeding in a calm and orderly fashion. There was panic. Confusion. Disorder. And bloodshed. Oh, how Casey tried to erase the bloodshed from his mind. But alas, the memories lingered.
            Casey walked to the electric stove and turned one of the burners on, placed a skillet over the top. He waited for the skillet to heat up a bit, then he tipped the bowl gently and let the batter drip into the pan.
It astonished Casey that they still had running water and electricity. But he figured it wouldn’t last forever. Sooner or later, the plug would be pulled and they’d be thrust back into the dark ages. He had a box of flashlights, batteries, and candles set aside for when the power inevitably went. Most of the clocks in the house also ran on batteries, which meant Casey would still be able to keep track of the time.
And Ben, their father, had stockpiled enough cordwood to heat the house for two or three winters if they rationed it. They had plenty of dry and canned foods and Casey wanted desperately to believe that this conflict would be resolved before their supplies ran scarce. But there was a looming doubt in the back of his mind. Something told Casey that they weren’t going to make it through the first winter.
“Don’t forget to flip them this time,” Bo reminded him.
“You just keep an eye on that toast,” he whispered. “Don’t let it burn. And remember to keep your voice down.”
“Sorry,” she whispered back. “Do you think mom will enjoy this?”
“I hope,” he said, flipping one of the pancakes with a spatula. “She hasn’t eaten in weeks. And it’s Mother’s Day, after all. What mom doesn’t love breakfast in bed?”
“It’s not really breakfast in bed, is it?”
“Okay,” Casey shrugged. “Breakfast in basement.”
“It just doesn’t have the same ring to it,” Bo said.
Bo pressed the buttons for the toaster and four crispy brown slices sprung up from their individual slots. She slathered butter on them and spread them out on a porcelain plate. Casey topped off the stack of pancakes with a little butter and syrup. He placed all the food on a silver tray and considered adding a glass of orange juice. But they were running low on OJ and Casey knew his mom wouldn’t drink it. Since the accident, she had acquired a thirst for something different.
“Do you miss dad?” Bo asked as they walked through the hall, Casey carrying the tray and Bo toting their father’s nickel-plated shotgun. Casey didn’t have the heart to tell her the gun wasn’t loaded. He didn’t trust her with a loaded gun and let her carry it for false security. He always kept the shells in his pocket for when they were needed.
He balanced the tray on one hand and used his other hand to brush his fingers over the scars under his long hair. He experienced cursory flashes of the day he got between his mom and his dad when they were having a fight and his old man swung an empty coffeepot at him. He remembered the sound the glass made when it splintered across his cheek. It sounded like ice shattering.
Ben Fisher seemed to really have it in for his only son. The beatings were just a small fraction of his abuse. He would verbally abuse Casey on a daily basis just as he would curse the players on TV when they missed a field goal. Ben constantly ridiculed Casey for his long hair and would taunt him about it and threaten to cut it off every chance he got.
“Cut your hair, you little queer,” Ben would say. “If your grandpa was around to see you, he’d buzz your head and boot your ass straight to military school.”
One night, Casey accidently spilled his father’s Blue Ribbon when he was running through the living room and Ben snapped, ran to the kitchen, and grabbed a butcher knife. “Boy, if you pull that shit again, I’ll scalp you like an Injun, you understand?” Casey only nodded his head, the sharp knife glistening under the dim lights.
            He suffered for years under the terror of this cruel, twisted monster. And now his father was gone and Casey couldn’t help but feel liberated.
“Dad got what he deserved,” Casey muttered.
“Still, we could have used him. He could have protected us.”
“Dad was more harm than good,” Casey explained. “I’m here to protect you. That’s all that matters.”
“You did a great job protecting me the other day,” Bo rolled her eyes. She was smart and sassy for her age. But she still required constant supervision.
“I warned you not to get that close. Don’t worry, it’ll heal up.”
They approached the basement door and Casey undid the latch. “I can’t go near her,” Bo pleaded, itching at the bandage that covered her infected wound.
“Stay back then,” he cautioned her. He twisted the knob and pulled the door open, placing the tray on the top step. “Mom?” he called out and peered into the darkness below. At the bottom step, a head rested. But Casey could not see the body, nor did he wish to. Because what remained of the head was nothing more than a gnarled, mangled stump.
Their mother emerged, ascending the staircase slowly, awkwardly. Casey locked eyes with her and for a moment, he was certain he caught a brief glint of recognition from those blank, lifeless pupils.
Casey slammed the door, locked it, and watched silently through the peephole he had drilled with one of his dad’s power tools. The dark, rotted flesh still clung to her body, and even with the door closed, the stench of decay was overpowering. She leaned over, growling, drooling over the food as she sniffed and poked at it. In seconds, the tray was flung down the stairs and she was clawing at the door, growling and screeching like the rabid animal she had been reduced to.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” Casey whispered as a tear rolled down his cheek and grazed his scars. He relieved Bo of the shotgun, steering her away from the door.
* * *
            It was a crisp autumn day when all hell broke loose. Bo had been playing with her jump rope in the front yard and was the first to hear the sirens. The sound eventually dragged Casey outside so he could see what all the fuss was about. He couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from. It sounded as if the sirens were emanating from every part of town.
            Over the wail of the sirens, Casey heard muffled shrieks and turned to see Mrs. Freemont sprinting down the sidewalk in a wild panic. She didn’t stop to warn them. She just zipped right past them and ran three houses down and locked herself inside. A moment later, Casey saw who she was running from.
            Harold Moss, the old man who lived at the end of the block, was lumbering along the sidewalk. But Casey could see something was different about him. He had this glazed look in his eyes and as he moved closer, Casey could clearly see the wound. He was missing a large portion of his forearm, and it didn’t seem to faze him one bit.
            “Bo, get inside now,” Casey ordered her. Bo dropped her jump rope and made a run for the door. Just as she scurried inside, Alana Fisher had come out to investigate.
            “Mr. Moss?” Alana called from the porch. “Are you alright?”
            Moss turned his attention from Casey to his mother and started ambling across the lawn, but he was off balance with every step he took, staggering forward like a drunk who just got booted out after last call.
“Ben!” Alana called. “Come quick!” But Ben was nursing a hangover and didn’t answer Alana’s cries for help.
Casey made a dash for the porch to try and get between Harold Moss and his mother, but he was a second too late. Just as Alana had turned for the door, Moss had lunged forward and sank his teeth into her shoulder.
            Casey, small as he was, used all of his might and clocked Harold on the back of the head and knocked him to the ground. They ran inside and Casey locked the door behind them.
            Ben, massaging his throbbing temples, came stumbling into the foyer. “What the hell is going on around here?”
            He saw the blood on the floor and then looked up to see Alana’s shoulder wound. “Jesus Christ! What happened to you, woman?”
            “Mr. Moss from down the block…he…he bit me. The bastard bit me.”
            “I’ll kill him!” Ben exclaimed. “I’ll kill that miserable son of a bitch!”
            “Dad, you really don’t want to go out there right now.”
            “Don’t you ever tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, boy.”
            “Yes, sir,” Casey muttered.
            “Now go get some bandages and some alcohol to take care of your mom’s wound. I’ll be right back.”
            “Where are you going?” Alana asked, applying pressure to her shoulder to slow the bleeding.
            “I’m going to get my shotgun.”
            Ben returned with his nickel-plated shotgun and racked it. He swung the front door opened and stepped out onto the porch.
            Harold Moss was waiting for him. But he wasn’t alone. A small congregation had formed on their front lawn. They all shared that same lifeless stare, their pupils fixed and dilated.
            “You’ve all got exactly ten seconds to get off my property,” Ben warned them. But none of them budged.
            “Nine,” Ben said.
            A few of them stepped forward. “Eight,” Ben said, still counting down.
            “Seven,” he said and a few more stepped forward. “Ah, the hell with this,” Ben said and fired his shotgun into the air. But the noise didn’t send them scattering like cockroaches as he had intended. It all seemed to awaken something in them and they moved closer to the porch.
            Ben ran back inside and locked the door. He lowered his shotgun and saw that Casey had already bandaged his mother’s wound, but it was still bleeding through. “What the hell is going on around here?” Ben asked.
            The sirens were getting louder. And the end was just beginning…
* * *
“She didn’t like it?” Bo asked, already knowing the answer.
“Regular food won’t do the trick,” Casey sighed. “We tried. But she’s one of them now. And dad wasn’t enough to satisfy her hunger. The only option is to find her another source of food.”
“There’s nobody out there,” Bo insisted.
“There has to be. If we survived, so have others.”
“We can’t do that,” Bo said, scratching at her infected arm. “Dad was one thing. But hurting innocent people is wrong.”
“Who said we? I’ll handle it.”
“I’d never let you do such a thing,” Bo informed him.
“What other option do we have?”
“Do you think maybe they’ll actually find a cure like dad said?”
“I don’t think there’s anybody left to clean up this mess,” Casey said regretfully. “Our only option may be to…” Casey didn’t finish his sentence. He just let his eyes drift towards the shotgun.
* * *
It took two days for Alana Fisher to turn. It started with a low grade fever and some occasional aches and pains. Then her temperature skyrocketed and the infection spread at an exponential rate. On the second day, she passed.
She returned a few minutes later with no recollection. She had lost the ability to speak and she had no motor skills, no coordination. Just the most basic of survival instincts. All she could recall was the need to feed.
Ben couldn’t bring himself to put Alana down. So he locked her up in the basement and convinced himself that this would all blow over. That the government would step in and find a cure and everything would be peaches and cream again.
But Casey saw things differently. And even Bo wasn’t that naïve. There was no solution to this epidemic, no stopping it. It was survival of the fittest now.
Ben was attempting to feed Alana one day when Casey kicked him down the stairs. It wasn’t for the scars or the constant threats or the verbal abuse. It was for Ben raising his hands to Bo for the first time ever. When Casey saw his father lose his temper and strike Bo, he promised it’d be the last time.
All it took was one swift kick when his father’s back was turned. Ben went plummeting down the stairs and when his head connected with the bottom step, Casey heard the sound of his neck snapping like a twig.
“We’re free,” Casey mumbled to himself. And a wave of relief washed over him. “We’re finally free.”
* * *
            But their freedom was short lived, as Bo’s wound proved to be quite problematic. They had managed to stop the bleeding. But the infection was undoubtedly spreading. And Casey knew too well what happened to those that had been bitten. It was only a matter of time now.
They moved to the living room, where Casey tried the television again. All stations were down. Every channel he flipped through flashed a blue screen with white text that read TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES, PLEASE STAND BY.
Casey heard the soft approach of footsteps, followed by the loud growling sounds that emanated from their front porch. The porch made him think of the day Bo fell running up to the house and skinned her knee. Ben Fisher was passed out in the recliner, empty Blue Ribbon cans strewn about the floor. And their mother was working at the market that day. So Casey dabbed the wound with alcohol and bandaged it. Once her tears dried up, she gave her brother a peck on his scarred cheek and thanked him. It was that day that Casey realized he was more a father to Bo than Ben would ever be.
Being the older brother is usually a tough chore to handle. But now he was playing the role of the brother and the parents. And he was charged with the task of dealing with Bo’ injury; the wound their mother had inflicted when Bo simply tried to pass her an apple. Soon, Bo would develop a bad fever and grow weak. She would die and come back as one of them…unless he spared her from that miserable fate.
Bo shuffled away from the boarded windows until she could no longer hear the clawing sounds and shrieks from outside. The sound of the zombies used to frighten her. Now what frightened her was the fact she was getting used to it.
“I’m not going to get better,” Bo blurted out. “I’m going to turn into one of them, aren’t I?”
          “Not if I can help it,” Casey said, slipping one of the shells into his dad’s shotgun and pumping the mechanism. “Forgive me for this. I love you, Bo.”
          Outside the house, a small army of the undead continued to gather as a single gunshot rang out through the neighborhood. Then another shot soon followed, this one emanating from the basement.
            When Casey had cleared the front door and pried the last board off, he stepped out and embraced the undead with open arms.

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