There was a burning itch clawing at my throat. No matter how hard I scratched at it there was no escape from the searing agony. My fingers were numb, yet ached intensely as I ground them hard into my itchy flesh. But it was no use.

The car lay crumpled against a rock, smoke billowing from the smashed engine while it emitted its mechanical death throes. It was Zara’s fault, I knew that much. If she hadn’t been smiling at me, enrapturing me with her wondrous eyes and her beautifully soft smile, I would have seen the old man who wandered out in front of the car before the very last second. I wouldn’t have hit him. I wouldn’t have panicked and lost control. I wouldn’t be lying here now, desperate to find Zara.

I tried to push myself up from the dirt, my arms straining and vibrating with a nauseous intensity deep in my belly. I failed to do it and fell hard, my face smashing into the dusty ground. My burning throat yelled at me once more with a callous, victorious tone. My whole body felt like it was on fire, the midday sun cooking my bare skin as I lay sprawled and helpless.

I attempted to stand once more, the pain in my neck intensified and suddenly appeared in my hand too. I felt my stomach cramping with the effort but I battled through it. As I made it to my feet an anguished cry escaped. My vocal chords grated as though they had been severely damaged somehow, as the cry came out quietly like an almost inaudible moan. It sounded as though I had been recorded onto cassette and played back at half the speed.

I coughed a thick mucus that tasted like blood and spat it onto the ground. It fizzed against the dirt like butter in a hot frying pan. My throat felt like it had been ripped from my neck, the now scorching sensation throbbed viciously from it.

I tried to shut out my pain and focus on what was going on. Zara; my love, my soul mate. I needed to be with her.

I scrunched my tired, salty eyes and stared at the dying vehicle. It took a couple of seconds for them to focus but as the image became clear I could see her inside, her body slouched forward in the passenger seat. I had to get her out of there.

I’d surprised her with the news that our holiday to the States was to be extended by an extra three days. I’d hired a car and arranged for us to drive up the scenic West Coast from San Francisco to Seattle and catch a flight home from there. Zara had been so excited at the prospect of an extra long holiday, more time together before flying home to the overbearing family. The empty, open road would be our world for those few days and I couldn’t wait to get to our first overnight stop in Eureka to pop the question. I’d soon be part of her family, not that I would be too welcome. I’d never felt accepted by her parents and sisters and Zara knew this, but she was always on my side in times of disagreement.

I’d been staring at her as I drove, and turned my attention back to the road and screamed in panicked shock and fear as a man dawdled, hunched over, in front of the car. My body refused to respond for a second too long and I when I finally slammed my foot on the brake it was too late. The windscreen smashed and the roof sagged suddenly, then the car started to spin. The last thing I remember was the giant boulder on the side of the road getting larger and larger before blackness invaded my senses.

I dropped down to my knees again at the exertion of trying to walk. I grabbed at my neck as the pain shot down through my shoulder to my arm, then into my hand like a flame along a path of gasoline that exploded when it reached my fingers.

I squinted my eyes as something caught my attention. In the distance were a group of people, maybe four or five. As I struggled for breath I realised they were heading towards me, shuffling the same way that I remembered the old man had been, before we hit him. I had to get to Zara, whoever these people were, my first instinct told me they were not here to help.

I’d had it all planned out. I’d bought champagne and strawberries, the ring concealed inside the punnet for her to find. Our cheap, no-nonsense hotel room would be the perfect setting, the smile on my face when she’d say ‘yes’ would brighten any room. We could be anywhere together and I’d be the happiest man in the world.

I must have passed out as when I opened my eyes, I found myself on the hard ground once more. My hand didn’t obey me when I tried to use it to stand again and the fire sensation returned to my fingers. The group was closer now. Against the sun I could make out very little about them, but could tell that they were all deformed somehow. Their arms were outstretched and their feet dragged on the ground in a peculiar and harrowing gait. One appeared to be carrying something on the end of a leash that swung back and forth as it stumbled towards me, but I saw no more details as the bright sun forced my eyelids closed.

I glanced down at my hand for the first time since waking. The sight caused me to fall backwards in horror.

I let out a desperate and guttural, slowed-down moan and brought my arm up to my face to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. My hand was missing. A piece of jagged bone stuck out from the mass of tissue and sticky, congealed blood, and my forearm was covered with what looked like teeth marks.

I rolled myself over and started to stand, using my other hand for leverage this time. My tired legs scraped against the dirt in desperation and I pushed myself up, fighting against the searing flames that seemed to enrapture my whole body. As I finally made it to my feet I felt faint and ready to fall again, but managed to regain control and turn around. There was a small pile of bones on the dusty ground. My fingers lay there lay fleshless and bloody.

I watched the group approaching like a rapid creeping death and I could now see that their bodies were all mutilated too, their tattered clothes covered with blood that was glistening in the sun. An arm was missing from one; the flesh from the torso of another was ripped apart; another’s head was split open; and I now realised that what before I thought was a leash of some kind, was actually the intestines puking out of the abdomen of one more of them. Shadows blurred their eyes but I could feel them watching me.

I needed to get to the car and save Zara, fast. The pain in my neck roared like a demon from hell, burning and bubbling like I’d been attacked with acid. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it for fear of what it would be like.

I ignored everything, moving as quickly as my crippled body would allow towards Zara. She still hadn’t moved but I refused to give up on her. I would ask her to marry me, even if it was the last thing either of us would remember.

I could hear the terrifying groans from the walking corpses right behind me, but my initial fear had almost vanished. It was all about Zara now, I had to just get to her before those monsters could devour her.

My feet were dragging and the dust floated up, surrounding me as I approached the car. The engine was now spluttering, preparing to die and be forever silent. The driver’s door was open and inside Zara’s chest still moved gently up and down. She was alive. As this thought registered the groans from behind became more frenzied, like a pack of wolves salivating over their prey.

As if she sensed my presence, Zara moved her head and slowly opened her eyes. She looked right at me and her expression changed from one of confusion to one of absolute terror. I shouted to her, to tell her it was OK, I was going to get us out of here, we’d be safe. But all that came out was the same tired grunt that I was fast becoming so used to.

I continued towards her. She was banging her fist on the window and desperately trying to open her door. Her dilated, wild eyes pleaded with me to leave her alone. As I bent forward to lean into the car I felt my companions behind me, my new family. Zara’s door was jammed closed and the blood in her lap indicated she was too injured to move herself anywhere. Her cries deafened me, I’d never heard her in so much distress.

“George, no. No! What have they done to you?”

I grabbed her arm and pulled her towards me. My teeth punctured her skin with virtually no effort. Her blood flowed across my face and down my throat as I tasted her flesh, the flavour was divine. I was scratching at the muscle and ripping it from her bones. Another of my clan clambered over my shoulders and began tearing at her skull. I heard it crack and felt her brains splatter onto the back of my head. I released her arm and rubbed the moist, pink tissue into my face and scoffed at it like a wild animal.

Soon there was little left of her other than bones and blood. I chewed on a portion of what tasted like a lung, the pains in my neck and absent hand now a distant memory. As were the memories of the times I’d spent with the prey I had just devoured. Now nameless, only meat.

A new-found energy swept through my body as I emerged from the car, my pack following me. There was a scent of another meal wafting through the foetid air. We knew where we had to go, and with a murmuring of grunts and moans we shuffled ourselves towards the distance in search of our next prize.

As we stumbled on I looked down and noticed the blood and viscera on my ripped shirt. My own vocal chords and oesophagus lay wilted like a dead, fleshy flower upon my chest. The only thought in my dead yet reanimated mind, was that I was very hungry indeed.

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Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.

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2 Comment on “Joining the Family by Morgan Tanner

  1. Pingback: Horror Olympics – Zombie Horror | Deadman's Tome

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