Thursday, January 7, 2016
ONE FOR THE BOOKS: PART TWO
ONE FOR THE BOOKS (A Jacob Slade Story)
By Daniel Skye
PART TWO: ZOMBIE PALOOZA
Sunday, October 4, 2015.
Three days before the funeral of Harold Moss…
Jeffrey Gross awoke to a startling revelation. As his alarm clock sounded and he reached out to hit the snooze button, he observed a bizarre irregularity he’d never taken notice of before.
His index and middle fingers were the exact same length.
How was it possible he’d never noticed? It was as if his index finger had sprouted nearly half an inch overnight.
He sat up in bed, caressing his thumb over the tips of his fingers. He couldn’t help but stare at them in awe, the way a stoned teenager would marvel at the sight of a lava lamp or a 3D art poster. It was certainly odd, but it wasn’t life threatening. Jeffrey was positive if he looked it up on Google, he’d find similar cases. He’d read of people being born with one leg longer than the other. This wasn’t any more unusual than that.
Jeffrey rolled to the side of the bed and rested his feet on the floor. He brushed back his long, multicolored hair. Jeffrey’s natural hair color was brown. But it had been dyed and highlighted so many times it was now a mix of blonde, green, red, purple, and orange. He looked like he had ran headfirst into a rainbow.
It wasn’t a look his mother was gaga over. She cared even less for his black wardrobes and studded belts and bracelets. But it was a look that made him popular with a lot of the girls that attended his school. And that was the only approval Jeffrey sought at this point in his life.
He felt a sharp, sudden pain explode inside his chest. He lolled off the bed, falling to his knees. He leaned forward, clutching at his chest as the pain spread through his diaphragm. Another pain–sharp and unexpected–shot down his left arm from his shoulder.
It felt like he was having a heart attack.
I can’t be having a heart attack, Jeffrey thought. I’m young. I’m in shape. I’m in the prime of my life. This can’t be happening to me.
An unpleasant chill rushed down his spine and his skin broke out in gooseflesh. And beneath that flesh, Jeffrey could feel something twisting, writhing, squirming, fighting its way to the surface.
The flesh of his back began to swell and pulsate. His shoulders broadened, the muscles rapidly expanding underneath the flesh. His legs swelled to the width of telephone poles. He let out ten individual cries, as one by one, his fingertips gave birth to claws.
He heard a loud tear that was his T-shirt ripping from his back. Then another loud tear as the flesh ripped from his body. His chest tore down the center, revealing a vest of blood-matted fur.
Jeffrey would’ve screamed at the sight, had he been capable of screaming at that point. Something had torn his throat open. It was a hideous, grey, wet snout. And it was forcing its way out of his mouth.
Downstairs, a voice called out to Jeffrey. The voice of his neighbor, Harold Moss. Harold was close with Jeffrey’s father. Hell, he was close with just about everyone who lived in Dorchester. He’d caught an earful of Jeffrey’s distressing screams and rushed over to see if everyone was okay.
Jeffrey’s parents were not home at the time, but Harold had a key. Jeffrey’s parents trusted him with it. They trusted him with their lives. And Harold’s only mistake was doing the same.
“Jeffrey?” Harold called, now from the upstairs hallway. He knocked on Jeffrey’s door, waiting for a reply. “Is everything all right in there?”
But Jeffrey could not respond with words. All he could do was howl. Harold thrust the door open and his jaw nearly hit the floor. The Howler’s snout wrinkled back, displaying its razor-sharp teeth. It was the last thing Harold Moss would ever see.
* * *
Wednesday, October 7, 2015.
Tonight was going to be the night. The night that Cynthia Rockwell and her boyfriend went all the way.
Most of Cynthia’s friends had already lost their virginity by age fifteen. But not Cynthia. At seventeen, Cynthia was still carrying her V-Card. Before she met Wesley Reese, she thought she was going to die a virgin.
Wesley had just moved to Dorchester. He wasn’t muscular or into sports. He wasn’t model material. He was just average. Someone Cynthia felt she could match up to.
Wesley read comics, played video games, and listened to alternative rock. He was geeky, but in a way that Cynthia found strangely adorable. And seeing as how she was an alt rock chick herself, she figured she could give him a pass on the comics and the video games.
Comics were never her thing and she saw video games as nothing more than a waste of time. But she let it be. They didn’t have to like all of the same things in order to be a couple. After all, Wesley didn’t share her affinity for horror movies.
Cynthia loved the originals, but despised the remakes. Chucky and Pinhead and Leatherface and Freddy and Jason and Michael…these were Cynthia’s friends outside of school. But her favorites were what her father referred to as the Universal Monsters–Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy.
But the endless hours of blood and guts and carnage could not have prepared her for what Cynthia was about to endure.
Cynthia had made all the preparations. She told Wesley that her parents were out of town and stop by around eight o’clock. She told all of her friends not to call, text, or drop by uninvited. And most of them were going to be at the Hell Cats concert anyway. She phoned her parents to make sure they were enjoying themselves on vacation and that they weren’t planning on coming back early. She had even taken measures and purchased protection in case Wesley did not come prepared for this scenario.
The doorbell rang and she answered it. But it wasn’t Wesley Reese standing on the porch. It was Jeffrey Gross. And he was covered in blood
“Oh my God!” Cynthia exclaimed. “Jeffrey, are you all right?”
“Fine,” Jeffrey assured her and a grin spread across his face. A grin of pure malevolence. “It’s not my blood,” he added. “It’s Wesley’s. He put up a good fight for a skinny little weakling like himself. I wonder if you’ll do the same.”
Cynthia’s lips parted, but no words escaped her mouth. She was slipping into a state of shock.
She trembled as Jeffrey transformed before her unblinking eyes. He was starting to get the hang of it. He now possessed the ability to transform at will.
The skin peeled back from his torso. His throat ripped in half and gave birth to a gruesome wet snout. The hair coalesced with flesh and became one.
He can’t kill me, Cynthia thought. I’m a virgin. Virgins don’t die in the horror movies. They’re the survivors.
She heard moaning coming from the bushes. It was a low whimper. The sound of someone trying to call for help.
Wesley was just barely alive. Cynthia cried out for him, “Wesley, help! Help me please!”
But it was already too late as the Howler pounced, knocking her to the floor. Then it locked its jagged teeth locked around her neck, and the blood began to flow.
* * *
Jacob Slade’s profession had taught him a valuable lesson: It was better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.
So when he was driving in his pickup down River Street and saw several corpses ambling through the street, he was thankful he had his pistol. Slade pulled over and they stopped as soon as he got out, turning their attention towards him.
Main Street was just up the road, a stone’s throw away from Shadmoor Stadium. Slade knew it was best if he let Booth and his men handle the situation. But he couldn’t let them reach the stadium. If they did, hundreds of lives would be in danger.
Slade looked them over as they stumbled awkwardly through the streets, no coordination in their movements.
These weren’t the corpses that had disappeared from the morgue. Jacob gathered from the advanced rot and decay that these were the ones from the cemetery. They had dug themselves out from their own graves.
Their grey, lifeless texture and blackened teeth told Jacob they had been dead for years. As they circled around him, he caught a whiff of the lingering stench of death, and it caused him to gag like a punch to the throat.
Jacob was no expert on the subject of real life zombies. But he had seen enough George A. Romero movies to know what to do in this scenario.
He raised his pistol. The first one, who was missing his two front teeth, lunged forward. Jacob pulled the trigger and its head exploded like a pale ripe fruit. He felt someone creeping up behind him and turned quickly, squeezing the trigger again. drooling and snarling, its arms out, hands reaching for its face. He let it get mere inches away before he pulled the trigger.
“Two down, two to go,” Jacob whispered.
They were closer now. Too close for comfort. Their arms were extended out, hands reached up for his face. They snarled and flashed their eroded, jet-black teeth. He fired two more shots that echoed through River Street and dropped the two remaining zombies.
But Jacob’s powers told him the night was far from over. He had to get to Shadmoor Stadium and make sure everything was okay. But he was going to need backup.
* * *
Drake Furlong is a technopath. Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself what the hell is a technopath. Well, Drake has a very rare ability. He can manipulate anything that’s powered by electricity. Whether it’s turning a radio on or off without touching the dial or flipping through the channels without touching a remote, Drake abuses his powers to no end.
But Drake’s powers have merit beyond his own selfish needs. If he concentrates hard enough, he can cause a citywide blackout or cut the power to someone’s house. Or he can electrify a floor with his fingertip.
Drake had one thing in common with Jacob. They shared a particular mark. Drake had the number 81 branded into the flesh of his arm, just as Jacob had the number 99 branded into his. Both men were unwilling volunteers of Project Blackbird.
Drake had assisted Jacob a number of times in the past. And he’d always been compensated for his troubles. But after the death of Molly, Drake’s sister, he and Jacob didn’t speak for months. They managed to patch things up, but Jacob didn’t come around as often as he used to.
So when Jacob showed up that evening, Drake knew there could only be one reason.
“Let me guess, the shit has hit the fan?”
“I don’t even think the expression applies to this situation,” Jacob said. “We’ll have to come up with a whole new phrase for this shit-show.”
“We have to stop meeting under these circumstances.”
“Will you help?”
Drake sighed and turned off the TV without even lifting a finger.
“You already know the answer to that. Let’s get cracking. You can fill me in on the drive. Where are we heading?”
“Shadmoor Stadium. The Hell Cats are playing there tonight. And something tells me trouble is heading that way.”
As they climbed in Jacob’s pickup truck, Drake asked, “So are you going to fill me in?”
“Not enough time so I’ll just sum up this particular state of affairs with one word: Zombies.”
And on that note, Jacob put the pedal to the metal.
“Zombies!” Drake said, elated as opposed to terrified. “I knew it would happen one day. Haven’t I been saying it for years?”
“So, what? You want a pat on the back?”
“Just some general recognition would suffice.”
“Okay, you were right. You happy now?”
“So since you’re the zombie expert, what do I need to know?”
“Kill-shots are the only thing that will put them down. You got to aim for the heads. Please tell me you brought your gun.”
“Brought it. You got yours?”
“After the shit we’ve been through, my gun never leaves my side.”
“What else is there to know?”
“Bites. Avoid them like the plague, because that’s what it is. A plague. You get bit, you become one of them. That’s really all there is to know. Zombies are relatively simple.”
“As opposed to vampires and werewolves?”
“What’s what supposed to mean?”
“You’ll find out soon enough. You got your cell phone on you?”
“Yeah. When the hell are you going to get one?”
“When I have the money for it. Look, just dial Booth’s number and tell him Shadmoor Stadium. Tell him to bring every man he has on the force.”
* * *
The Hell Cats were a death metal trio from the UK. They were part of that whole post-grunge alt-metal scene. A mashup of the likes of Korn and Marilyn Manson. But they also drew influence from bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden. It wasn’t a mystery why they were popular with the younger generations.
Jacob personally wasn’t a fan. He listened to one of their albums and it made his bowels churn. Drake was a fan though. He’d been listening to them for years. He even tried to score tickets to the show, but they sold out in less than five minutes.
When they pulled up to the gate, they heard no music. Only a chorus of screams as the panicked spectators attempted to flee in every direction. There was no order, no control. Only chaos. With security preoccupied, they were able to slip right into the stadium without being detained.
Reanimated corpses shuffled through the stands, biting, clawing, and tearing at the flesh of anyone in their path. They raised their guns, but couldn’t get a clear shot. Too many civilians in the way. Amongst the living, Jacob counted over two dozen members of the undead.
They were the bodies from the morgue, and the remaining bodies that had gone missing from the cemetery.
Jacob moved closer and one of them saw him out of the corner of their eye. It snap-turned in his direction and lumbered towards him, drooling, snarling, clicking its rotten teeth. Jacob fired one deafening blast that echoed through the stadium. The velocity of the slug tore its head right from its shoulders.
Jacob heard Karl Booth barking orders, and in seconds, his deputies stormed the stadium.
“The heads!” Drake shouted. “You’ve got to aim for the heads! It’s the only way to kill them!”
And that’s exactly what Booth’s men did. They stood in a line, raised their service revolvers, and opened fire on anything that wasn’t technically living.
* * *
When the dust had settled and the horde of the undead had perished, they only counted just over two dozen bodies that were not victims. That accounted for all the bodies from the cemetery, but it didn’t account for all the bodies that had fled the morgue. They were still out there.
Drake watched the paramedics first clear out the victims. There didn’t appear to be any survivors. And that’s what Drake’s eyes were scanning for. Survivors.
Just one bite, just one scratch was all it took. And then the infection would spread farther. There would be no containing it.
“What’s the word?” Jacob asked when Booth came to his senses. He was off in his own little world the minute he saw all the blood and the remains of the victims. Booth had seen plenty of blood over the years, but that didn’t make him anymore adjusted to the sight.
Booth shook it off and turned to acknowledge Slade.
“My guys found another Howler victim. Cynthia Rockwell. And Wesley Reese, her boyfriend was found in the bushes outside her house with multiple bite wounds. He was brought to the hospital, missing a chunk from his forearm…and his calf…and his right ear. He was delirious. Wesley can only remember being attacked by a large, hairy animal. My men also found three more victims dumped by the train yard, drained of their blood. Marks on their neck just like Jenny Washburn. But here’s the kicker. Washburn died tonight, an hour or so before her body was found. These bodies aren’t so fresh. They’ve been there probably since the day Harold Moss was murdered. And Dane Hall has been missing since the day Harold died.”
“You think he’s our Howler?”
“Either that or he’s just another victim.”
“You know where he lives?”
“Down on Bishop Street.”
“Then that’s where we’ll start. In the meantime, we need to evacuate the town.”
“There’s not going to be any evacuation," Booth said, frustrated.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Some genius decided that instead of running for his life, he was going to stop and film that whole graphic scene in the stadium. He uploaded it to every site on the net. The thing’s gone viral. The government has intervened and they’ve ordered a quarantine. Nobody gets in, nobody gets out.”
“So in other words, we’re fucked.”
“You can say that again.”
“So in other words, we’re fucked.”
They were so preoccupied they didn’t see the only survivor being wheeled out on a stretcher. Johnny Gallo. Not even Drake Furlong spotted them taking him out of the stadium.
A shark tooth necklace dangled at his side, stained with blood.
He was bitten, but still alive. Not for long though. Soon the infection would spread through his body. He’d turn. And when he did, all hell would break loose.
To Be Continued With Part Three: SEEING REED