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Bikers VS The Undead

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Move over The Walking Dead, you’re time of soap opera with zombies is over! Deadman’s Tome presents Bikers VS The Undead. An action packed, adrenaline pumping thriller where bad ass leather clad roughnecks face off against a horde of rotters. A book that pairs well with a glass of whiskey, a tall boy of beer, and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades.

Kindle version

Paperback version

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The Blackout – Gary Buller

 


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Enhance your coffee today



The Blackout

by Gary Buller

 

London had been his candle as the man plied his trade into the early hours of the morning, the prolonged wails of the sirens ensuring that he remained alert and awake. Business had been booming, but he marked out the plots and sunk the spade into the damp clod with burdened shoulders, one of his recent clients had been his wife.

His toil was disturbed by another sound that vibrated the darkness. Machinery purred overhead extinguishing the stars, and he was raising his spade in a futile gesture when he realised that the sky was falling. Before he could dive for cover the shell ploughed into the icy soil, not twenty yards from where he stood, and he felt the impact vibrate through the thin sole of his boots. He braced for an explosion but none came.

He returned to his shed tired and shaky- he would visit the warden under the safety of dawn.

Inside the diminutive retreat with a mug of tea warming his leathery hands the man’s eyes drooped as low as the blind that covered the single window. The September winds of nineteen forty were frigid and brought with them lung scratching dust and the odour of destruction. However, it was a strangely fetid stench that prompted the man to rise and pull the blind aside.

A thick unnatural mist clung low to the grass out of which the stones rose like teeth. In and around them he could see movement- silhouettes backlit in the miasma by a city on its knees. Heads emerged from the ground like poison mushrooms craving the darkness and marionettes rose on unsteady legs with arms outstretched.

The air grew heavy with a fusion of sweet decay and chemicals. Gravel scattered underfoot as the strangers encroached.

“I know it’s you, Jerry bastards!” the man cried, failing to cloak the tremble in his voice.

He picked up his trusty spade and listened for a response but received none. Fingers explored the walls like autumnal leaves scraping across granite. They tapped on the windows and pushed eagerly against the doors.

“You’ll not scare me, I’ll chop your heads off- you see if I don’t.”

With suddenness the window imploded and peeling hands explored his space from behind the undulating blind, probing the space eagerly. One of them had a gold ring into which a ring of sapphires was set.

The man wasn’t religious but he sank to his knees, dropping the spade with a clatter that only served to increase their efforts. The blind was ripped free and fell to the floor.

Framed in the jagged teeth of broken glass the Luftwaffe flew in formation over a sky that flickered amber. Beneath this his wife stood, reaching out to him with her mouth agape and white pupil-less eyes boring into his soul. The right-hand side of her face was caved in where the debris had collapsed on her, and she was biting at the air with a mouth of cracked and shattered teeth.

The man thought that he could hear the air raid siren again, but it was all too loud. Then he understood-

the sound came from his own throat.

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Deadman’s Tome LIVE with Martin Richmond

 

Horror writer Martin Richmond, author of Zombie-con, meets with Mr. Deadman to talk about his zombie horror short, the relation to The Walking Dead (if any), all things zombies, and more.

This week’s Deadman’s Tome podcast will be hosted live on YouTube at the usual day and time, Friday at 10PM CST. Streaming on YouTube will allow for Mr. Deadman to really dig into Martin Richmond’s inspiration as writer, his experience, his knowledge and opinions on zombie culture, and much more.

If you watch LIVE and chat you will have a chance to win a FREE digital copy of the Book of Horrors II!

 

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ZOMBIE-CON – Martin Richmond

       Darkness plunged the prison cell into a box of stark, uneasy shadows. An external security light switched on, throwing a sickly yellow pattern through the bars and over a group of four prison officers sharing a common silence. It was the youngest of the group who broke the icy stillness with a fearful cry.

“Why us then, hell’s teeth, – WHY – WHY?”

“Keep quiet you fool, they’ll hear you,” hissed Danny Chard, senior officer of the group.

He gripped the young officer’s shoulders and hurled him backwards onto the lower bunk bed. As he fell back his head battered against the metal frame of the upper bunk and he shrieked out in pain.

The officers froze, afraid to even breathe heavily, looking anxiously towards the closed cell door.

 

They could hear the shuffling gait of the zombie horde dragging their lifeless shells aimlessly along the galleries outside. The hollow groaning of an unnatural hunger filled the remaining, uninfected with a helpless terror.

When the zombie plague erupted within their walls its ferocity took the D hall prison staff completely by surprise, pouncing from one body to the next, like a sickening chain of bloodlust tag. As it tore across the prison hall, Chard was on the second floor landing. While others stood gaping in a state of shock he bundled a few of the officers into the nearest cell. He slammed the door behind him, locking them all in, saving them from being torn apart or becoming a soldier of the living-dead army.  Inside they were met by the strong smell of stale urine hanging in the air, an eye-watering cloud of bitter ammonia, although the stench of the rotting dead lingering outside was far greater.

The young officer, Iain Caine, clutched his head, trying to stem the blood flow from his injury and rolled over the urine soaked mattress to face the wall. It was his first day as a prison officer, a virgin screw witnessing prisoners and staff, bitten, mauled and instantly transformed into hellish creatures. It was a vision that screamed in his brain. Not a first day that he could ever envision or could prepare for, not that any other officer would for that matter.

 

It was a sight he couldn’t un-see and a waking nightmare he was trying hard to forget, but failing miserably.

“Sorry I was so rough lad,” said Chard, leaning on the bunk bed, “but hey, we’ve survived and we’re damn lucky to be alive.”

Lucky,” snapped Caine, turning back to face him, “you call this lucky? Don’t you see, we’re trapped, they can’t get at us and we can’t get out, doesn’t that say to you that we’re going to die – one bloody way or another?”

Caine rolled back toward the wall and pulled his knees up into a foetal position, hoping he could escape this thing by ignoring it and praying that, maybe, it would just go away by itself?

Chard shook his head and threw his peaked cap onto the top bunk. He turned to the other two officers he had ushered in, Hawkins and Baker, both normally reliable under pressure, but this event could hardly be described as normal. They were seated on the floor beneath the barred window, shell-shocked and silent. Both were in shirt sleeves, heavily stained, but thankfully, not with their own blood.

“Ideas guys?”

They both shrugged, as if ready to surrender themselves to the inevitable.

Chard moved across to the cell door and leaned against it, pressing his ear to the cold wood.

He could hear the scraping sound of a hundred or so inmates and officers, who were now un-dead monsters, staggering around the ground floor and upper galleries. Occasionally one would bump its shambling body against the cell door and he would hold his breath until the thing moved away.

Chard was a big man, of height and girth and his broad shoulders carried the chrome pips of his rank on the epaulettes of a light blue shirt.  Spanning the width of the doorway he dipped his 6ft 2inch height to be level with the spy hole, but the slide was down and blocked any vision of the hell that stalked his prison hall.

It was probably better that he couldn’t see the monstrous, charnel house parade that now outnumbered the living.

He was about to move away from the doorway when he heard a strange sound spiking out amongst the incessant groaning.

It was a musical sound that filtered up, echoing, from the ground floor to their second floor cell.

The television room that had been abandoned when the devil marched in was still playing to itself.

He recognised the strident sounds of an old movie and its rousing musical score and turned to the two seated officers.

“You guys ever seen the movie, ‘ZULU’?”

“Sure,” said Hawkins, the bearded one of the solemn pair. His companion, Baker, nodded, but looked perplexed.

“Boss,” piped up Baker, “if we’re going to kill time with a sodding movie quiz then count me out, I’m not really in the mood.”

“No quiz,” said Chard, moving across and seating himself in a chair beside them, “but you remember when the Zulus were breaking into the hospital area, you remember what the British soldiers did?”

“Shoot ‘em?” said Baker.

“Yeah, sure, but they also dug their way out through the wall into the next room! There’s two cells between us and the corner of the building and then – y’know what’s on the corner?”

“The fire escape!” said Hawkins, excitedly.

“Exactly” he said, standing back; “now how about breaking this chair up, the metal legs will do for digging. There’s only a couple of layers of brick and plaster in these connecting walls so they should be easy to get through.”

Hawkins and Baker leaped up, energised by the promise of escape. They quickly broke the metal legs from its welded frame and began eagerly pummelling the wall. Chard stayed by the door raising a hand to cease their action whenever he heard a movement close by. A blanket was laid across the floor to reduce some of the noise from the falling rubble.                             

Caine began weeping and mumbling into the blanket he’d buried his face into, shutting out the savage world.

They chiselled at the wall, breaking away the thick plaster, one strike swiftly following the other with plaster dust slowly clouding the air. It coated their faces and hair as they worked; producing some brief fits of coughing. The bricks soon fell away and a hole soon appeared and they struck more vigorously, steadily widening with each blow. They eventually stopped when they created a gap wide enough for even Chard’s huge bulk to squeeze through.  

Hawkins eagerly stooped down towards the darkness beyond the jagged porthole and suddenly heard a terrifying growl!

He immediately jerked backwards just as the bloated face of a creature from hell thrust its head into view! Its mouth was torn open from ear to ear, exposing rows of barred, broken teeth like a battle-worn shark’s, dark maw.

It’s wild, blood-shot eyes bulged and swelled, threatening to explode. It snapped and spat, desperate to reach them, hissing and screeching like nothing they’d ever heard before.

They were all frozen in shock horror, until Danny Chard burst forward from the doorway and tore the chair leg from Baker’s fist. He lifted it high above his head and brought it down, spearing the zombie’s skull from temple to ear. The sickening crunch as the metal bar punched through the exposed head was enough to cause each man to recoil in revulsion. Barring the stomach heaving of Caine’s vomiting, the eggshell crack sound punched the cell into a full stop of silence.

As the flaring light in the zombie’s eyes flickered and went out, its head sagged onto the edge of the hole and the group quickly found the remnants of their courage again.

Chard extracted the bar by resting a boot on its face and Hawkins kicked it back into the other cell. After a cautious glance, making sure there were no more lurking dangers, they bundled their way through, dragging the unwilling Caine with them.

They immediately set to work on the next hole breaking through even faster than before, but were far more wary of finding another hungry occupant this time. They exposed the final hole in the last cell through to the fire escape just at the moment when Caine turned!

A sudden, howling savagery gripped him in a whirling frenzy and he leaped at them, shedding tears of blood with a fiery glow staining his bulging eyes.

Chard left him pinned to the wall, pierced through his face, right between the eyes and only paused to look back when they were stood in the safety of the fire escape staircase.

Caine’s un-dead body was still wriggling like a macabre, dancing puppet dangling against the wall.

Chard realised Caine’s blow to the head must have become infected with zombie blood when they dragged him through the hole, another sad casualty of the deadly plague. A gut punch of guilt hit Chard, but he knew that the mindless creature the boy had become could well have been one or all of them, without his actions. When they exited the fire escape into the yard outside, they found flame throwers were sweeping over the building, creating a huge funeral pyre by the Army’s guaranteed cure to the zombie menace.

Chard looked up as the flames took hold, curling around the cell block roof. The jail contained the outbreak but the plague was still out there waiting to return and he wasn’t about to let it back in – not on his watch!

 

THE END

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The Four of July by Shawn M Riddle

 

I wake with a jolt, dreaming of being lowered steadily into a thumping cement mixer.  As I struggle back to the waking world, I realize that the sound isn’t only in my dream; it’s resonating throughout the whole cabin. Damn! Those helicopters again. They’ve been flying around here at all hours of the day and night for the past two days. Helicopters in Washington D.C. were common enough, but not all the way out here.

“I’m gonna find those flyboys and tear ’em a new one,” grumbles Jack as he sits up in his cot and rubs his eyes.

“I don’t know man. Something doesn’t seem right,” I say.

“We’re in the middle of the Shenandoah Mountains, for Christ’s sake! I expect this kind of crap at home, but I came out here to get some peace and quiet!” Jack’s voice gets louder with every word.

“I don’t know which is louder; you two or the damn helicopters! Will you shut the hell up? I’m trying to sleep over here!” Mike yells from his bed.

“This is starting to freak me out a bit,” I say. “Maybe there’s something wrong.”

“We can ask at a gas station on the way back, if you like,” Jack says with a shrug.

Since there’s no cell phone reception out here, and the local radio stations aren’t much better, it’s about our only option. I nod in his direction.

“Why are you worrying about a few helicopters anyway? They’re probably just on an exercise or something,” Mike says.

“Well thanks to those damn choppers, we’re already up, so we might as well get goin’,” I say. “Let’s get something to eat and pack up.”

Jack and Mike mutter a few unhappy remarks, but finally get out of bed. We get the coffee pot going and load the car. We finish up, lock the cabin and head down the road. After an hour or so of hairpin turns and narrow mountain roads, we finally turn onto the paved road that leads to the Interstate. Jack turns on the satellite radio. The speakers remain silent.  

“Did you pay your bill this month, Einstein?” Jack asks me with a smirk.

“Yeah, I did. It should be working. Try the regular radio.”

He switches the receiver to AM/FM and thumbs through about a dozen stations; nothing but a soft hiss. I lean back in my seat and light up a cigarette. I must be looking grim because Jack turns around and tells me, “You worry too much, man. It’s probably just the antenna. I’ll check it when we get to the gas station.” Deciding that Jack is probably right, I hand him my MP3 player and he kills the quiet with some music.

There are no cars on the road, but that’s not unusual for this remote area. Along the way, we pass a couple of people walking in the road, staggering back and forth. One of them is limping. “Looks like they’ve started nipping at the Kentucky sipping medicine a little early today,” Jack chuckles as we pass them by.

We reach the gas station and hope to pick up a snack and fill the tank, as well as hopefully get a few answers. The lights aren’t on inside and neither is the electronic display on the pump.

“Well, this sucks,” Mike says as we get out. “Ten thirty in the morning and the place is still closed? What the hell’s up with that?”

“Closed or not, I gotta take a leak,” says Jack.

Jack walks around the side of the station toward the restroom. When he turns the corner, he stops.

“Hey man, what’s up?” I ask. “Didn’t make it to the can? Should we bring you some dry clothes?”  

Mike and I chuckle, but instead of the expected sarcastic remark, Jack says nothing and still doesn’t move. We start to walk over to him. Before we reach him, an acrid stench catches in our nostrils. Mike turns his head and retches and I gag and swallow back bile. With eyes watering, Mike and I turn the corner of the building and see what’s rendered Jack speechless.  

A few feet from the restroom entrance, a man is sprawled on the ground, his skull split wide open, pinkish gray remains of his brain smeared on the sidewalk. On the wall, next to the body, there is a reddish brown stain. Maggots are crawling over the rotting flesh of his skull.  

“Holy shit!” I gasp.

Mike gapes at the corpse. “What the hell?”

Jack’s face is deathly white. He turns around, falls to his knees and throws up. I struggle to contain the contents of my stomach. Covering my nose and turning my head, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

“You OK, bud?” I manage to ask, as Jack regains some composure. He slowly nods his head, but says nothing. I help him to his feet.

“I’m OK man,” he says finally.

Mike pulls out his cell and stares at the display. “No Service. Hey, either of you got a signal?” he asks as he flips his phone closed.  

Jack and I check our phones. “No dice,” I say as Jack shakes his head.  

“Well, let’s not just stand here with our dicks in our hands.  Let’s get inside and call the cops,” says Mike.

“What if the guy who did this is still here?” I ask, glancing around nervously.

Mike turns and heads towards the shop. “You gotta be pretty stupid to hang around after doing something like this.” Jack and Mike, despite being the best friends a guy could have, can be impulsive and reckless at times. As if to prove this point, Jack follows Mike without a word.

“At least keep your eyes open, guys,” I say as I hurry to catch up.

The shop is unlocked and the interior has been trashed. Packages of candy, chips and cans litter the floor. I go behind the counter and pick up the phone. It’s dead.

I take a long look at the mess. “What the fuck is going on?” I ask. Neither one of them say a word.

I light up a cigarette and inhale deeply. Mike follows suit.

“Hey man, hand one over,” Jack says.

“I thought you quit?” Mike asks.

“Just give me a damn cigarette!”  

I toss Jack my pack and lighter. He lights up and inhales half the cigarette in one drag.

“What do you think happened?” I ask finally.

“Who gives a shit?” says Mike. Motioning in the direction of the corpse, he says, “All I know is someone popped that guy’s head like a zit and we need to get the hell out of here!”

“You’re right,” I say. “Let’s just go.”

Before we get to the front door, Jack says, “First things first. Hold up.” He heads to the cooler in the back and opens it. Pulling out a twelve-pack of beer, he frowns and then says, “Well, warm beer is better than no beer!” He opens up a bottle and downs it in seconds.

“What are you doing?” Mike asks, incredulous. “Isn’t this is a fucking crime scene?”

After belching, Jack says, “Do you think the cops are gonna give a shit about a twelve-pack of beer? Are they gonna come in and take inventory? No, they’re gonna walk straight over to dead Fred or whatever the hell his name is, stick a meat thermometer in his ass and vacuum up what’s left of his brains.”

Mike and I glance at one another then, despite the situation, we start chuckling and it doesn’t take long before we’re out right laughing.

“Fair point,” I say and head for the door.

As I open the door, something grabs me by the arm and pulls me toward it. I stare into my attacker’s face and nearly piss myself. The thing looks like a man, with pale greenish, bloodshot eyes, but half of the left side of its head has been torn away; its left eye bulging from its socket and dripping with thick yellow pus. The bones of its jaw protrude through the torn skin. It moans as it tackles me to the ground, opens its mouth and lunges forward. I lash out, yelling, “Get this fucking thing off me man!”

Mike kicks the creature in the head, sending it reeling across the floor. It stands up as I scramble away. Jack stares into its rotting face, his eyes wide with shock. Mike is fixed to the spot, staring in horror.

It begins to move toward him. Jack reacts first. He punches the thing in what’s left of its face, knocking it back to the ground. Breaking the empty beer bottle against the wall, he jumps on its chest and jabs it straight down into its left eye. Thick yellow-brown fluid shoots out the top of the bottle, splattering his shirt. It twitches, and then lays motionless.

Mike helps me up. I stand there, shaking, staring open mouthed at the bloody corpse on the ground. My heart is pounding in my chest; every beat sounds like an earthquake. I’m sick to my stomach, sweat pouring off me. My friends look first at me, then at the body on the ground.

“Thanks, guys.” Neither respond, just nod numbly. They’re dazed, almost like they’re moving in slow motion.

“What the blue fuck is going on?” Jack asks. “We’re in the middle of a bad horror movie! That thing was a zom–” “Don’t even say it,” Mike interrupts. “We all know what that thing was.”

“We have to go. Now! Maybe we can find some help.” Jack looks around and walks over to the service island to grab a few paper towels. After wiping some of the blood and pus from his shirt, he comes over to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Come on man. Let’s get out of here.”

A moan sounds from across the road. One of those things is running from the rear of a house, heading right for us. Its moan becomes an ecstatic howl.

“Get in the fuckin’ car!” Mike yells.

As we race away from the station, tyres squealing, I look out the rear window and see the creature chasing the car. It falls behind quickly and then disappears out of sight.  

Mike lights up another cigarette and, offering me one, says, “You gonna be OK bud?”

“Yeah.” I take a cigarette from him, my hand trembling slightly.

“I don’t know about you two, but I need to get to my parents’ house and check on them. I hope they’re OK,” Jack mutters, staring ahead.

“Me too,” says Mike.

My family is Jack, Mike, and Jack’s parents. I’ve known these guys since grade school. They’re the closest things I have to brothers. Jack’s parents sort of adopted me after my parents died. I spend holidays, weekends, and most of my spare time with them. I’m just as worried about them as he is. If something’s happened to them while we’ve been off screwing around in the mountains, I don’t know if I could deal with it.

We drive for a long time. As we reach the outskirts of civilization, we see other vehicles, broken down and abandoned. At first there’s only one or two, but then more and more clog the roadside. On the other side of the highway, we see another vehicle heading our way. It shoots by at high speed. Several more pass us before we merge onto Interstate 66, east bound towards Washington D.C., and home.

We all live in Rosslyn, just outside D.C. proper. We see signs of further carnage as we drive. Burning vehicles and numerous bodies litter the highway. Many appear to have been torn to shreds. Jack has to swerve several times to miss creatures that are wandering in the road. Some chase after us as we pass them, but most of them continue to stagger aimlessly.

“What do you suppose started this shit in the first place?” Mike asks the question we have all been wondering.

“Don’t know and don’t care right now,” Jack says. “What I do care about is finding some gas for this heap before we end up walkin’. From what we’ve seen so far …” Jack pauses and points to one of the creatures stumbling in the road, “walkin’ ain’t exactly my preferred choice and we’re damn near empty.”

“We also need to start thinking about where we are gonna get supplies too,” Mike adds. Jack and I nod in agreement.

Jack takes another look at the gas gauge. “Keep your eyes open, and let me know if you see anyplace we can stop.”

A little further down the road, just outside the City of Manassas, we come to a rest area and coast into the parking lot, out of gas. Two other vehicles are here, one SUV and a large van with the markings of the Virginia State Police on the side.

The SUV’s driver’s side window is smashed; the half eaten corpse of a woman hanging out the door. Bite marks cover her torso and arms, and her severed head is lying on the ground a few feet from the vehicle, cheeks and eyes gouged away. The van appears to be intact, with the exception of one flat tyre.

The rest stop is a small single level building, with two separated sections for public restrooms and a lobby in between. There’s a small picnic area and a pet rest area at the side of the structure. Scanning the area, we see no signs of life or movement. Dismembered bodies are littered everywhere.

“Fuck me,” Jack says as he takes in the scene. “It’s a war zone.”

A man, – or what used to be one, – staggers out from behind the building near the pet rest area. Its left arm is missing from the elbow and its torn business suit is covered in blood and gore.

“Shut up and get down,” I whisper, pointing to the creature. We kneel down behind the car, out of the creature’s line of sight. We and wait for a few minutes. The creature shambles on aimlessly.  

Jack scans the area. “We can’t sit out here all day, man. There’s got to be more of those things creeping around.”

“Well, we can’t just walk by that thing,” I say.

“I’ve got a plan.” Mike leans into the open door of the car and takes out a long metal flashlight. “I’m gonna go around the other side of the building, sneak up behind that thing and crown its ass.”

“Are you on drugs?” I ask him. “What if there are more of those things around back? They’ll rip you to pieces!”

“What choice do we have?” Mike replies fiercely.

Jack and I look at one another and then nod to Mike. I don’t like the idea at all, but it’s all we’ve got. He is small and fast, so he has the best chance of the three of us.

He inches around the side of the car and takes a peek. The creature is standing motionless in the pet rest area, looking in the opposite direction. He takes his chance and darts around the side of the building and out of sight.

Several tense minutes pass before I see Mike appear around the other side. He crouches low and creeps up behind the creature.  It seems oblivious. Once close enough, he swings the flashlight over his head and brings it down onto the back of the thing’s skull.  Blood spurts upwards and it falls to the ground with barely a sound. He jogs back with a big smile on his face. “Fucker never saw it coming.”

“Don’t bust your arm patting yourself on the back man,” Jack says, but manages a smile.  

We head for the building, stepping over bodies along the way. We see dozens of empty bullet and shotgun casings amongst the dead. I reach the front door first; it’s locked and chained from the inside.

“Stop right there and put your hands up!”

Looking up, I see a woman on the roof with a machine gun pointing at us.

“Hold it lady, we’re not armed! We just want to get inside,” I say, putting my hands in the air.

“Are you bitten?” she asks.

Jack looks to me and Mike then to the woman on the roof. “What?”

“Are you bitten?” she snaps.

“No,” Jack says. “We’re not! Will you put that thing down before someone gets hurt?”

She stares at us down the barrel of her weapon. “I give the orders here. If you want in, you’re gonna have to strip!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask.

“Strip, now, or get the hell out of here!” As if to emphasize her point, she pulls back the charging handle of her weapon, chambering a round with a series of dry clicks.

We strip fast. We’re standing there naked, in front of a rest stop off Interstate 66. Under different circumstances it would all seem pretty funny. “Turn around nice and slow; now!”

After we’ve turned a full circle, her tone more relaxed, she says, “OK, put ’em back on and get over to the front door. I’m coming down.” We nod, getting dressed even faster than we stripped.”

A short time later, she appears at the door, wearing the uniform of the Virginia State Police. She fumbles with her keys, unlocks the chains and gestures at us to come in.  Keeping her eyes on us, she chains the door once more.

“Look, lady, if you wanted a date, there are certainly better ways to ask than that,” Jack says with a smirk. Leave it to Jack to make a smart ass remark to someone who just threatened to shoot us.

She ignores his comment. “I’m sorry. You can’t be too careful; I let some folks in here a few days after I got here and one of them had been bitten. In a couple of hours, she turned and chewed up her family and two of my men before I put the bitch down. You three are the first living people I’ve seen since then. My name is Sergeant Diana Ortiz.”

After somewhat shell-shocked introductions, she leads us into an office and hands us some bottled water. A table in the centre of the room is cluttered with a variety of shotguns, pistols and ammunition.

“That’s a nice piece!” I say, gesturing to the machine gun in her hands. “I didn’t know cops were allowed to carry those.”  

“I’m a trooper; it took me a lot of hard work to earn this uniform.” She scowled at us to emphasize the point then added, “It’s an MGA MK46LE SAW; very useful as an attitude adjuster. We had a few back at the barracks.  They’re issued on a limited basis – crisis situations, terrorist attacks, that sort of thing.”

“OK, sorry,” I say. “Can you please tell us what the hell is going on?”

“Where the hell have you three been?” Sgt. Ortiz gapes at the three of us in astonishment.

“For the last three weeks we’ve been out at Jack’s cabin.” I gesture with my thumb toward Jack. “Out Shenandoah way. We went up there for the Fourth of July weekend … and our yearly vacation. We heard helicopters flying around the past couple days, but besides that, we don’t know a damn thing about what’s going on. We come down from the cabin this morning and find the world has gone to hell.”

Sgt. Ortiz nods at this and says, “About two weeks ago we started getting calls in like you wouldn’t believe. Out of the blue, we were getting hundreds of them an hour. It gets busy at times, but never like that. Murders, attacks, looting, you name it.  When people started describing the attacks, we thought we weren’t hearing things right, thought maybe they meant dog attacks, an outbreak of rabies or something.”

“Dog attacks?” Mike asks.

She takes a drink from her water bottle. “Yeah, we kept hearing about people being bitten. But it didn’t take long to figure out it wasn’t dogs doing the biting.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mike mutters, shaking his head.

“He has nothing to do with it. Within hours, all the law enforcement agencies in the Washington D.C. area were completely overwhelmed and simply couldn’t respond to every call. It spread so quickly, there wasn’t even time for the National Guard to be properly mobilized. A few units here and there were rumoured to have gotten moving, but we never saw any kind of help from them.”

“Did anyone have any clue what was causing these things to walk around?” Mike asks.

“The same bullshit you always hear on the radio and TV, people talking like they knew what was going on, but no one had a fucking clue. After I lost my partner on a call, I decided not to ask any more questions. Before long I couldn’t raise anyone on the radio anymore to ask. All the channels had gone dead. The few times I was actually able to raise someone; they were just as clueless as everyone else. Some were begging for help that I was no longer in a position to give. What’s the point of knowing why or what anyway? The only thing we can do is deal with it! Those things have taken enough, they’re not gonna take any more away from me!” She gestures to the table next to us, pointing out the small collection of guns and giving a curt nod.

“What happened to your partner?” Jack asks.

Sgt. Ortiz takes another drink from her water bottle, brushes her hair away from her eyes, and continues. “I was on duty in the Fairfax area with my partner. The call came through as a domestic dispute. We normally don’t answer calls to residences, but the shit was hitting the fan and the local cops needed our assistance. When we arrived at the house, the lights were off and the curtains drawn. Knocking on the front door didn’t elicit any response. My partner David and I kicked in the front door and went in. What we found there …” She trailed off, her eyes glistening brightly.  

I pull out my water bottle and say, “Maybe something to drink?”

She takes it. “Thanks.”

Jack grabs a cigarette from the pack I had left on the table and lights up. “So you just walk up to the house and kick in the door? Not too bright if you ask me with those things running around.”

“At that point we didn’t know those things were the cause of this shit! Perhaps I wasn’t clear on that point. Can I continue now?” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Sorry,” Jack says, looking as if he has just been slapped in the face.

“We saw the woman of the house – neighbours said her name was Wilma Simmons – dead on the kitchen floor. No, not dead, worse than dead. When I looked at her I thought she’d been torn apart by a wild animal. Blood was still oozing from her wounds, she hadn’t been dead long. Nothing left of her face – it had been bitten … ripped off. Blood was everywhere. Then like that,” she snaps her fingers,” a loud crash and David was screaming. I turned around and saw a man on top of him. It must have been Mr. Simmons; he had his mouth around David’s throat and was tearing at him like a wild dog. When he pulled away … well a mouthful of blood and David was dead.  I shot the fucker in the chest. He jerked but he didn’t fall. Then he ran right at me. I shot him right between the eyes, which put him down for good.”

“Talk about fucked up!” I say.

She ignores me and continues. “I didn’t even have time to take more than a couple breaths, and then the old lady … just got up off the floor and came at me. I never thought an old lady could move that damn fast! I shot the bitch in the head before she got too far. I looked over at David lying on the floor. His eyes were wide open, blood still oozing from his neck. I checked for a pulse, I got nothing. Then he started to stir; I stood up and put my foot on his chest to keep him down. He began to moan and thrash, jaws snapping at the air, trying desperately to bite me. His eyes were a milky greenish colour, all bloodshot and cloudy … I put a round in his head, there was nothing else I could have done. I’d known David Brown for ten years, and I put him down like a rabid dog.” Tears roll from her eyes.

“I … I’m really sorry,” Mike says, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She shrugs off Mike’s hand. “It’s done, and I can’t change what happened.” She wipes the tears from her face and takes another drink. “Shortly after that is when things just went to shit. Buildings were burning out of control, people in the streets with guns, shooting those things and each other. All order broke down, it was anarchy. I came back to my barracks and loaded up the van with as many guns and men as I could. I lost five men in the few hours after we left, two were torn apart by those things, and the other three were killed in a shootout with some looters. The whole world was coming to an end and these motherfuckers were out looting DVD players and shooting people? When it’s all said and done, people will never change. It makes me sick. There were only three of us left when I decided to get us the hell out of the war zone. The situation had escalated far beyond anyone’s ability to control. We heard reports on the radio of several local towns completely engulfed in flames. Other reports stated that the President had ordered non nuclear bombing runs on major cities. We were driving on Route 66 West, trying to get as far away from D.C. as we could when we saw a formation of bombers in the air, headed for D.C. It didn’t take long for the city to be reduced to a steaming pile of rubble. The explosions and flames were incredible. Did it do anything but kill thousands of people? No, those things are still everywhere. What a waste.”

I feel as if someone has just hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer. I stare at my friends and a look of absolute horror is etched on both of their faces.

“D.C. is gone? No … I don’t believe … Mom? Dad? No! I’ve got to find them!” Jack shoots out of his chair. Sgt. Ortiz gets up, firmly puts her hands on Jacks’ shoulders and forces him back into his chair. She brings her face up to his, so they’re staring nose to nose. Speaking very clearly and firmly, as if to a child, she says, “I’m telling you … D.C. is gone, there’s nothing left. All you’re likely to find are those creatures.” Jack begins to sob, slamming his head on the table.

Mike’s eyes are wide with shock. He slams a fist down on the table. “I don’t believe this shit!” I put my hand on Jack’s shoulder, trying to offer him comfort; I do the same for Mike. I feel a burning hatred welling inside me. These creatures, they’ve taken everything from us, I want to kill every last one of them with my bare hands!

After a few long minutes of silent sobbing, Mike wipes tears from his eyes and looks at Sgt. Ortiz. “Excuse me offi–”

“Trooper,” she corrects.

“Sorry, there’s something bugging me about those things,” Mike says.

Jack lifts his head from the table and glares at Mike, “You mean besides the fact our families are most likely dead because of those motherfuckers?” His eyes are filled with a rage you only see in movies.

“As I was saying,” Mike continues, a little stunned. “The thing that kind of bothers me here is the one that attacked him.”  He pauses and gestures to me. “It didn’t move very fast, but the other one we ran into at the gas station moved faster than a redneck seeing a ‘free beer’ sign. If these things are dead, they shouldn’t be walking at all, but since they can obviously walk, shouldn’t they be stumbling around, you know rigor mortis making them all stiff or something?”

“Didn’t move all that fast? Try being at the receiving end of that bear hug and tell me it didn’t move fast!” I snap.

Sgt. Ortiz puts up her hand. “From what I’ve seen and heard in the initial reports, the ‘fresher’ they are, the better they seem to be able to function. I’ve seen people get up and run, climb ladders, jump over barriers, and even use some basic fighting skills just seconds after they were killed. The ones that are a little older move pretty slowly, with no real co-ordination. You can almost walk past them. So it’s the fresh ones you have really to worry more about. I wouldn’t want to get caught with my pants down in even a small group of the slow ones though. I don’t really know how long it takes for them to slow down, probably a few days or so.”

His voice still rather weak, Jack looks at us and says, “I think it’s time we all thought about what the hell we’re gonna to do. We still need supplies and we sure as hell can’t stay here forever.”

I nod. “Man’s got a point.”

Just then I hear a ‘whoop whoop’ noise in the distance that can’t be mistaken; a helicopter. “You hear that?” I ask.

Sgt. Ortiz bolts from her chair and yells at all of us to follow her to the roof. She runs out of the room and down the hallway that leads to the roof hatch. We follow her as quickly as we can. We climb the ladder and open the hatch to the roof. “There!” Sgt. Ortiz points to the helicopter. It’s swaying back and forth and I see smoke coming out the back.

“Oh man, they’re fucked,” Mike says. Another larger puff of smoke erupts from the passenger compartment and flames become visible. It auto rotates to the ground about a quarter mile from the rest stop. We watch as it circles around and around, trying to keep some measure of control in its descent. It hits the ground hard, landing on its runners just on our side of the highway, near the edge of the woods fifty yards or so from the rest stop. Two people jump out before the chopper explodes, sending shards of metal and debris everywhere. We duck down behind the parapet wall for cover. The sound of the explosion is almost deafening.

The people who escaped from the chopper are on the ground, not too far from the building. They’re barely moving. “They need our help! I’m going out there!” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Me too,” Jack and Mike say simultaneously. I hesitate for a moment, frozen with fear. I’ve spotted dozens of those things coming out of the tree line – about 100 yards or so from the downed chopper.

“Holy shit! Look at all of ’em!” Jack yells.

“Downstairs in the office, there’s more guns. Get down there, grab something to fight with and let’s get out to those men before those fuckers do!” Sgt. Ortiz commands.

“Come on man, these guys need our help!” Mike shouts to me as he heads down the ladder.

I slide down the ladder and run to the office. I grab a 12 gauge shotgun, as many shells as I can manage to stick in my pockets and a 9mm pistol from the table. Jack and Mike grab some shotguns and pistols as well. Sgt. Ortiz holsters her pistol, grabs her SAW and leads us to the front door. After she unchains the door, we run as fast as we can toward the crash site and the injured people. It’s an Army chopper; the men who made it out are wearing digital camouflage fatigues. They’re on the ground, blood covering their uniforms. We bolt into the field as fast as we can, but it’s too late. We hear the men scream as the things reach them first, tearing them to pieces. There’s nothing we can do. Several creatures notice us and start to run toward us.

“Move it! Get your asses back inside!” Jack screams. The four of us turn and run towards the rest stop.  Twenty more of the creatures have appeared as if out of nowhere, blocking our retreat. They’re runners, explains how they closed the gap so quickly. Sgt. Ortiz opens fire. She cuts the first few of the things down in mid stride. The chatter of her SAW is deafening enough; the addition of our three shotguns in the mix makes my ears scream. The blasts keeps coming and coming. The creatures in front of us are falling – blood, bone, tissue, and every type of matter possible in the human body are being ripped apart by the hail of bullets and buckshot.

Once the last of the runners are down, we continue back to the building. “They’re down, let’s go!” Sgt. Ortiz yells to us. I’m surprised that I can hear anything at all with the ringing in my ears.

Before we get to the front door of the building several of the runners come around the opposite side of the building and grab Mike who’s a few feet behind the rest of us. We hear him scream; all of us turn around at the same time. They have him down on the ground, sharp broken teeth sinking into his limbs and torso. He screams again and again as he lashes out, trying to fight them off.

Jack shoots two of them, but it’s too late to save him. As Mike is being torn apart, I raise my pistol and shoot my friend in the head – his screaming brought to a sudden, brutal stop.

We enter the building and chain the doors behind us, barely making it inside ahead of the creatures. Looking through the glass doors, we see the area is now teeming with them. Some of them are the runners, but many of the ones that move slowly, making their way methodically toward the building, and us. They’re everywhere, the sound of the crash and resulting explosion must have brought them.

I begin to panic. “Those things killed Mike! They’re everywhere! We’re fucked! There’s no way out of here!” My vision flashes white and I feel a white hot sting on the side of my head as Jack slaps me hard across the face. I fall to my knees, stunned and sobbing.

“Get yourself together man! There’s nothing we could have done for him. We have to stay cool!” Jack growls at me. Shocked, but gathering my senses, I rub my throbbing cheek and jaw, stand up and nod silently.

There’s loud banging on the service entrance door in the back. More of the creatures have made their way behind the building. Sgt. Ortiz rushes towards the noise and yells, “Cover the front!” The back door begins to shake and buckle under the onslaught of the creatures.

After reloading, Jack and I look to the front and see twenty or thirty creatures pounding on the safety glass, desperate to claw their way in. Bloody handprints stain the glass. A loud crash signals the demise of the back door. Sgt. Ortiz’s SAW begins to chatter. Another crash and the creatures break the safety glass and start surging into the lobby. Jack and I dive behind the information desks. We raise our shotguns and start shooting. A heady cocktail of rage and terror are burning through my veins; hate for these things, these murderous God damn things. I bellow and scream as the blasts tear apart the rotting corpses.

As I glance at Jack, his shotgun clicks empty. He raises it like a club and runs at the remaining creatures.

“You pus-brained motherfuckers! You want some, come and get it!” Jack screams as he charges them. He hits one in the side of the head, shattering its skull. He continues to wade into them as I fire into the crowd. Still hearing the chatter of the SAW in the back of the building, we continue to fight. One creature manages to get behind Jack and grabs him.

I aim at it and pull the trigger, but instead of a recoil, I hear a dry click. It sinks its teeth into Jack, tearing a chunk of flesh from his arm. Howling, Jack discards the shotgun and lifts the creature off the ground.  As it snaps at him, he twists it and slams it head first into the ground with a sickening crunch.

An arm tears away from its socket in his powerful grip and he uses it as a club; adrenaline lending him extra strength. He uses his improvised meat club and beats several others back before he’s overwhelmed by them; they take him to the ground. As the things rip him apart, he yells “Hope you choke on it you fucks!” They tear him to pieces in front of my eyes.  It takes less than ten seconds.

Screaming, I take out the remaining creatures near me using the butt of my shotgun, crushing skulls.  The ones who have just murdered my friend get extra treatment, smashing their heads into mush. I turn to face another one; it lunges at me and sinks its teeth into my throat. I manage to throw it off and cave in its rotting skull with one final swing. I fall to the ground, choking on the blood pouring from my neck and into what’s left of my throat. As the world begins to blur, I hear pistol shots coming from the back of the building. My final thoughts before all goes dark are of my friends …

Blackness …

I feel … Strong … powerful. I don’t hurt.

I hear loud noises close by … What are they?

My eyelids feel like lead, but I force them open.

Where am I? How did I get here?

I look around and see someone at the back of the building. Loud noises and screams are coming from her.

She looks familiar … but … I can’t … remember …

She’s holding something in her hand … a gunshe’s shooting the others.

Rage … searing, blinding rage … and hunger, a burning, uncontrollable hunger. What’s happening to me?

I stand up and run toward the woman in the room.  She doesn’t see me, her back is turned. All I can think about is this woman’s flesh. So alive, so warm. I want to rip it from her body, tear her to pieces … hungry … this hunger’s unbearable! I must have her! I’m so close, I can smell her, even taste her in the pungent air. She turns around, raising her pistol. I see a flash of bright white light and the sound of thunder roars through my head …

 

THE END

 

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Happy Birthday, Joshie by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

 

 

Usually Rachel Harding did not want to go to her brother Joshie’s birthday party. This year was different. She had finally figured out what to get him.

Rachel made sure her parents did not see the change in her. She took as long in the shower as she usually did. She hesitated between two dresses before deciding on a third. She intentionally left her backpack-slash-purse up in her room so she had to run back for it. She slipped her birthday present for her brother into the backpack and then pouted down the stairs and out to the car.

“Really, darling, I don’t understand why you make such a fuss.” Her father’s seatbelt clicked with a sense of finality. “It’s only twice a year.”

Three times a year. Rachel’s mother dragged their family to the viewing home on Mother’s Day too. Christmas, Mother’s Day and Joshie’s birthday. Rachel’s three least favorite days of the year. She suspected her mother went more often, but she hadn’t figured out a way to prove it.

“She’s here. That’s the important thing.” Rachel’s mother cradled the boxed cake in her lap. “This is a day for the whole family.”

This was a day for Rachel’s mother. Rachel and her father were just in the car to keep her happy. Rachel kept her mouth shut and looked out the window. The countryside blurred into streaks of dying grass and withering trees that made Rachel feel sticky just looking at them. The weatherman predicted rain sometime this week. She knew how the sky felt. Stifled, like it could burst at any second. If only conditions were right.

The drive out to Eternal Rest Viewing Center only took an hour and a half, but it always seemed longer to Rachel. At last the family car passed the ruins that meant they were getting close. Rachel often wondered if they put the viewing center out here simply because no one wanted it in their back yard, or if there was a conscious irony. A viewing home in the middle of a ghost town.

They pulled up in front of what looked like a large hospital. Rachel supposed it had been a hospital, before the Troubles. Whatever had happened out here must have been bad. No one wanted to move back. But when the U.S. got control again, the viewing home had taken over the hospital. As the family got out of the car, Rachel resisted the temptation to slam the car door. No sense in overdoing things. She did trudge up the steps after her parents.

Her mother signed them in. Someone who looked like a nurse but wasn’t ushered them into the waiting room. Rachel and her father sat in the hard plastic chairs while her mother paced the floor. Rachel lost count of how many times she went back and forth.

She had been moving back and forth ever since Joshie got sick. Carrying Rachel and her father in her wake.

“Party seventeen, we’re ready for you in viewing room three.”

Rachel’s mother was off, making it hard for Rachel to keep up with her. Beyond the waiting room ran a corridor with marked doors. The viewing room was only slightly smaller than the waiting room. It was dimly lit. A curtain ran the length of the long side opposite the door. Rachel could never decide if the curtain was grey or blue. Rachel’s mother already had the cake out of the box and was setting up the candles. A large one and six made of red wax. The curtain slowly drew back.

The entire length of the wall was a large window. It looked onto a room decorated as a small boy’s room. Rachel knew Joshie didn’t live here. The bed and dresser and toys on the floor were just for the rest of the family.

“There’s the birthday boy. Happy birthday to you…”

Rachel joined in with the song, but the room swallowed up the sound. The glow from the candles lit up the face of a boy about ten years old. His dark hair was buzzed short. He wore jeans and a striped polo shirt. His skin had a greenish pallor, his eyes a milky film.

Joshie, Rachel’s older brother.

“Look! He’s smiling! He’s happy to see us.”

The creature that had been Joshie was opening and closing his mouth, revealing grey-black gums. No teeth, just in case. Rachel thought it more than likely that her zombie-brother realized the light from the candles meant there was food nearby. Of course he was happy to see his family. He thought he was about to get a snack. Of course Rachel didn’t say anything.

Their mother stood right up at the window rubbing her fingers against the glass where Joshie pressed his face. He gummed at the window as if he were trying to eat her fingers and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t biting down on human flesh.

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

Rachel’s mother didn’t say anything. There were times when Rachel wondered if she had gotten the cancer instead of Joshie, would her mother gone through all the trouble and expense to…preserve her. Rachel didn’t think so. She didn’t know whether she hated or loved her mother for that.

Rachel’s father rested a hand on her shoulder but he was staring at the viewing window. His face bore the same expression Rachel had seen on it when they passed a highway accident. Or when he watched the news on the last of the Troubles. Compassion mixed with disgust and horror. And curiosity. You didn’t want to look, but you still couldn’t look away.

“Do you want me to go with you, darling?”

It gave Rachel some comfort that she wasn’t the only one in her family who thought what had been done to Joshie was wrong. But her father had never said anything about it, in six years. Was that love, or cowardice?

“Dad… It’s…personal stuff…”

Rachel had hated it when she started menstruating. It was messy and gross. But she had learned a new power came with her period. Especially since her father didn’t keep track of her cycle. He blushed.

“Well, um, hurry back.”

“I’ll do my best.” She shouldered her backpack and headed out of the viewing room.

There were bathrooms near the viewing room. Rachel went in, making what she told her father not a lie. She waited a minute and walked right out. A quick look around. No one else was in the corridor. Rachel pushed open the door marked Authorized Personnel Only.

Rachel expected alarms to sound and half a dozen security officers to swarm her. Nothing happened. She stepped through the door. It swung closed behind her with a solid, final thud.

She could do this. Rachel looked around her. She shouldn’t be too far from the other side of the viewing rooms. She turned the corner and found a large door — more solid than the one she had just passed through — marked Viewing Rooms 1-4. A heavy steel door, with the hinges on the inside. A steel bar fit over the door in two heavy brackets. Next to the bar was a key card slot, its red light staring at Rachel.

Before the girl could even curse, footsteps echoed down the corridor. She heard female laughter and a male voice in reply.

“Don’t worry. That one could be there for the rest of the day. You can tell it creeps the guy and the girl out. She must really have him by the short hairs.”

More laughter. Rachel ran away from the sound as quietly as she could. Only after she started did she realize she was going further into the former hospital. She turned a corner, listening for pursuit. When she stopped, she nearly gagged. Something smelled awful.

A loud whirring sound made Rachel jump. It continued for a full minute and stopped again. The putrid smell grew stronger. Rachel put her hand over her nose and pressed onward. There had to be another way to get to Joshie.

The whirring sound started again, louder this time. Light spilled onto Rachel’s path from a half-open doorway. The stench and the whirring sound both came from inside. Rachel crouched down and stuck her head inside. The sound cut off.

A man stood at a long black counter like the lab tables at school. He wore a long dark apron, black gloves up to his elbows and enormous safety goggles, giving him a mad-scientist look. He was standing at an industrial-sized blender and singing off key to himself.

“Feeding the zombies, feeding the zombies…”

He reached into a grey bin to the side and pulled out a brain. A cow brain, Rachel hoped. He stuffed it into the blender and added organs and bits of intestines and other things Rachel couldn’t identify. He put the top on the blender and started it up. Rachel had to turn away. She still threw up into her mouth. She forced herself to swallow it.

As she looked away, she saw a white lab coat draped over the back of a chair. More important was the name badge clipped to the lapel. If it was a dual badge and key card, it was Rachel’s ticket further into the viewing center.

The sound of a viscous liquid poured into a container. Rachel didn’t look. As the blender whirred again, she crept forward. When it stopped, she stopped. She didn’t look at the man. If she didn’t look, he wouldn’t look. That’s what she told herself. He kept singing. Rachel inched forward with each pulse of the blender.

As she made her slow progress, Rachel found herself wondering if Joshie liked the slurry the man was making. Did cow guts taste as good as human flesh? If she got caught, would she find her way into the blender as a special treat?

She reached the badge at last and unclipped it from the lab coat. Scott Bridges looked like an ordinary guy in his photo. Not at all like the goggled ghoul in the room with her. Rachel slipped the badge into her pocket and turned to make her way back to the door.

“Where did you get to?”

Rachel froze. Had the man known she was there all along? She envisioned him cheerily pulling her intestines from her guts and adding them to his mixture. She hazarded a look in his direction.

The man was bent over his table, evidently trying to chase down a bit of organ that had escaped.

“There you are. Into the soup you go.”

When the blender started again, Rachel crawled to the door as fast as she could. She sat outside the gruesome kitchen panting. This was crazy. There was no way she could pull this off.

She saw Joshie’s face in her mind, and the glow of the candles on her mother’s face. She adjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder and rose. She had a birthday present to deliver.

She wondered how long she had been gone. Were her parents worrying about her? Her mother was probably still glued to the window, laughing at everything her precious not-Joshie did. Her father usually zoned out at a viewing, in his own world of loss and guilt. Rachel had plenty of time.

Would there even be a back way into the viewing area? The viewing center did everything to make its wards as non-lethal as possible, but they were still dangerous. The lock on the door leading to the viewing rooms, not to mention the bar on the outside of the door, suggested that they didn’t want to take any chances of the zombies escaping.

No. There had to be a way in. Rachel owed it to Joshie to find it. She owed it to Joshie, to her father, to herself. Even to her mother. She crept further into the viewing home.

Rachel wondered why her mother couldn’t see what she had done. Rachel couldn’t even remember Joshie’s face any more. Not his real face. The face of the brother who had pushed her on the swings and chased her around the back yard. The face of the brother who had held her hand when the Troubles began and made sure she brought Mr. Ted to the relocation camp.

The face of the brother who had held her and cried when the president went on TV and declared the war against the zombies over. The face of the brother as he got sick. The face of the brother nestled among all the tubes and monitors at the hospital.

A low sound from up ahead. Rachel slowed. The sound was constant and grew louder as she walked. She fingered the strap of her backpack and went on, looking around with each step.

Over Rachel’s every memory of her brother had spread the face of the zombie. She understood why her mother did what she did. But she just didn’t get it. Turning him hadn’t kept Joshie’s memory alive. It killed his memory, infected it. The zombie ate away at the real Joshie every time they came to see it. It would continue to eat away at the Joshie who lived in their hearts until there was nothing left.

Joshie was dead. Rachel had to believe that.

The sound grew still louder. Rachel recognized it at last. The moan of the walking dead as they roamed the earth hungering for human flesh. Even as the sound increased in volume, it still had a muffled, contained quality. Rachel frowned. Her muscles tensed, ready to flee from a lurching horde.

She turned a corner and came upon another door barred and locked like the door leading to the viewing rooms. Had she found a back way in? Unlike the other door, this one had a large window. Wire crisscrossed through the glass. Rachel crept closer and looked inside.

The room had maybe been an operating room before. Something big. Any equipment had long since been removed. Chained along the far wall were perhaps a dozen zombies. They wore iron collars and heavy shackles on their wrists. Their feet were unchained. The zombies all walked in place, the chains keeping them from going anywhere.

The zombies moaned as black gums chomped down on nothing. Perhaps they were all waiting for Scott Bridges to make his rounds. The all wore grey hospital robes, some with red-brown stains. Lunch apparently was messy.

Rachel scanned the room. Two of the creatures on the far end were children. There was a gap in the line before the adults began. Collar and shackles hung limply. Rachel just knew that was Joshie’s spot. The zombie-Joshie’s spot.

“Would Rachel Harding please report to the sign-in desk? Rachel Harding to the sign-in desk. Your family is waiting for you.”

That was it then. Her mother was done, and they were leaving the viewing home. They had started to look for her. Rachel had missed her chance.

She looked back at the zombies chained to the wall. She could still do this. If her mother was done, that meant Joshie was on his way back here.

She lifted up the heavy bar and slid Scott Bridge’s card through the lock. The light switched from red to green. She pulled the door open. The scent and sound pushed her back. She forced herself into the room.

The door swung closed. The zombies moaned louder. Could they sense her in the room? See her? Smell her? She heard the sound of chains pulled taught. She waited to hear links snap. Nothing happened. All four walls held zombies, not just the one wall she had seen from outside. But there was a clear space on either side of the door, about four feet wide. Rachel stood against the wall next to the door hinges.

She opened her backpack and pulled out her present for Joshie. The machete her father used for clearing out brush in the yard. She heard footsteps and voices in the hall. The door opened.

Two guards marched the Joshie-thing into the room. One was a man, the other a woman. They directed the zombie with a long pole with a noose on the end. The door swung closed.

Rachel let out a shout. She swung the machete. The guards were too shocked to do anything. The blade cut through the restraining noose. It stuck in the zombie’s neck.

Rachel yanked the machete out. She shouted and swung the blade again and again. She closed her eyes at the dull, wet sound of the blade. Tears streamed down her face. She didn’t care.

Hands grabbed Rachel’s arm. She swung the machete a final time. The zombie’s spine gave way with a sticky snap. The guards pulled her back. The blade clattered to the floor. Her whole body felt limp. It didn’t matter. She had done it. She looked at her big brother’s body.

“Happy birthday, Joshie.”

And she could have sworn that Joshie’s head smiled at her from the floor.

 

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Joining the Family by Morgan Tanner

 

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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Schrodinger’s Dilemma by Dan Lee

 

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I’d been staring at the box for nearly an hour contemplating the consequences of opening it before the time was right. The beer in my hand was half empty, warmer now from being held so long and hardly as satisfying as it had been when I started drinking it. The whole world had gone mad but here I was, sitting in the living room of my little apartment staring at Pandora’s Box and wondering what madness still could be waiting inside. The floor was covered in fresh mud and dirt, streaked brown and green from where I’d drug it inside. I’d vomited twice at the memory of burying it, at the smell that came crawling up through the earth as I disinterred it. It might have been easier to move if I’d had some help and who better to help than my brother? He’d been more than happy to bury it with me two months ago but he never would have agreed if he’d known what was coming, of the questions I’d have. Once it had been done he refused to ever speak about it again so I was left no choice but to dig it up and drag it back here by myself. Even so, I knew I’d be seeing him soon. I was certain of that much.

I had sent him a picture of the box an hour ago, fresh from where I’d dug it up.

As if cued by my thoughts on the matter there came a desperate banging on my door. I gave a wry smile and took another sip of my beer. It was somehow less bitter now.

“It’s open,” I called to him from my recliner.

My brother Roger barged into my living room, his face flushed red, hands trembling as he glared at me. He was twenty eight, the baby of the family with those generic good looks that had always driven the girls wild in school. He’d gotten by on those looks for a long time but now, shaking in my doorway, his charm was useless. He would have leapt into the chair with me, those quaking arms swinging fists towards my head except that his eyes caught the box and froze him dead in his tracks. Pressed down by the unfathomable weight of his guilt he fell to his knees beside it and covered his mouth with his hands.

“What have you done?” he whispered.

“I recall asking you the same question a few months ago.”

I took another swig of beer.

“This isn’t funny, Steven!” The rage was quick and loud. “We don’t have time for this. We should be getting out of town and now we’re going to have to bury it again.”

“Bury it? I’m not burying anything. We’re damned, little brother. Where do you think we can run to avoid our judgment? Besides, aren’t you curious?”

“No.” he said sullenly.

“You came to me with tears in your eyes and asked me to help you make it all go away.” I said. “Looked just like you did when you were six and you accidentally crushed your pet mouse. You remember how you cried when Narf died in your little hands? You remember coming to me to help you? You wanted to hide what you’d done, hide from the consequences that would come your way. Can’t very well hide now, can we?”

“This isn’t a joke, Steven.”

“Does it look like I’m laughing?”

“We’ll have to ditch it on the way,” he muttered to himself. “There are lots of woods between here and dad’s cabin so we should have plenty of places to dump it.”

“There’s no ‘it,’ baby brother. There never was an ‘it.’ Always a ‘who,’ though.”

He ignored me and yanked the handle of the mud caked foot locker as if his rage would make it fly out the door and into the breezeway. Instead it barely budged. Something inside though began to rattle and scratch.

“You ever hear about Schrödinger’s cat?” I asked, polishing off my beer.

“I don’t have time for a lecture. Get up and grab your shit so we can leave.”

“And go where, Roger? They’re everywhere now. Looking for her I bet. Yeah, God woke ‘em all up just to find her. Where do you plan to run to when the cemeteries are spitting out bodies to hunt for us, huh? Where can we go when the dead are scouring the earth for you and me?”

“I’d rather run than wait here like an idiot.” he argued. “Now let’s get up and go.”

“We’re not going anywhere until we talk about the cat.”

“You’ve lost your damned mind.” he shouted. He stood, kicking the box as he did. He turned to walk off, to storm away like the spoiled little child he was. I snatched my revolver off the end table beside me and fired a shot into his leg. Blood spurted as Roger yelled and collapsed in the floor.

“The cat is locked in the box with a vile of poison,” I said. “There’s a Geiger counter and a piece of radioactive material inside. When it reaches a certain level of radiation a trigger snaps and breaks the vile, killing the cat instantly. From outside, there’s no way to know if the cat is alive or dead. At that moment the cat is in two separate states of existence, both alive and dead. Only when we open the box does reality manifest, does the cat become either one or the other. With everything that’s been going on, what do you think that means for what’s inside our little box here?”

“You’re crazy.” he sobbed, clutching his wounded leg.

“No. Crazy was getting drunk and trying to drive home in the rain. Crazy was helping you clean the blood off your hood and hide the evidence in the woods. This is an exercise in thought. Now tell me, is it alive or dead?”

I reached down and popped the latch on the foot locker.

“Crazy was seeing her little face on fliers and milk cartons, in papers every day and going about my life as if I didn’t know where she was. Crazy was pretending that I could ignore the grief I saw in her mother’s eyes when she pleaded for someone to bring her baby home on the ten o’clock news.”

I lifted the lid.

“Even now, opening the box doesn’t answer the question. Alive or dead; one or the other? Or neither? Or both? Or is it something new entirely?”

“Please, Steven,” Roger cried. “Not like this.”

Tiny hands reached up from the box, mottled skin gray with putrid veins rippling black lightning across the marbled surface of her arms clutching at the open air.

“She was dead when we buried her,” I continued. “No questions there. So now what is she?”

Dirty pigtails crested the lid, milky eyes staring lifelessly at us. Crusted patches of maroon formed a river of red from her nose and mouth that ended in a lake on a molded pink jumper. Slowly, the little girl, her frame twisted, broken, crawled into the carpet towards Roger.

“Even when observed she’s alive and dead.  Schrödinger’s cat refuses now to conform to the laws of reality and existence.”

“Please, Steve,” Roger sobbed. He tried to crawl away but only managed to back himself into the corner. Little hands pulled a broken body across the floor, tiny teeth chattering hungrily towards her killer.

It was a strange new world I had created, opening that box, but it would all be over soon.

 

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 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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The Night We Aired the House by Chris Campeau

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I knew my mother was sick, weeks before we tried to take her to quarantine. There was no denying it. I first suspected it when she stopped opening her bedroom blinds in the morning. I knew it for sure when she started sleeping ‘til dusk. I was even more convinced when the upper floor took on that sulphur-like smell. The air was thicker, foul. I would hold my breath when passing her bedroom; the smell was strongest there. The door was always open. She would face the wall, hair leaking from the top of a blanketed lump. And the heat. Had the daylight been able to shine in, you might have seen a sheet of the hot stink wafting into the hallway like a fevered mirage. Yes, my mother was sick. No, it wasn’t your ordinary flu. She was aware too, of her sickness I’m sure, but gave herself no fighting chance. Not that she stood one; this we never said aloud to one another, Darry or I, but we knew. They all end up the same. We had seen it.  


I wish she would have come to terms with it earlier. We could have done more with the last of her time in the house, if only to read together like we used to. Instead, she surrendered, let the sickness consume her. And just as sure as the sky is blue, as sure as the mourning dove sings to dawn its warm song of welcome, a hand from Hell cradled my mother snugly within the fiery furs of its palm. And I knew, on that Sunday evening, as Darry helped her down the front steps and I locked the door to our house, that it would be the last time she would leave it.


From behind the wheel, Darry scoured the radio waves for a station. We sat closemouthed as static rolled over the speakers. Finally, Rod Stewart started in with,  ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, and Darry let off the dial.


“Baby, can you turn it up? Please?” my mother asked.
He kept his hands on the wheel. “Don’t you think we oughtta talk?” he said.


She shrank towards the passenger-side window. From the backseat I could make out only the relief of her face: her nose and cheekbones reflected in the side mirror; the shallow terrain of her face buried within the hood of her sweater. I looked sparingly.
“Mum…,” he said. “Please. We have to.”


She inched her head off the window so that she was staring not at Darry but directly ahead. I looked out the windshield too—the road lit up by two pistons of white, scanning a desolate stretch of pavement, the dotted line being eaten by the hood of the Oldsmobile.
“We don’t,” she replied.


Darry was frustrated, working out the arithmetic to find the right words. In the rear-view, he wore the same look he used to when Dad would gift him a last-minute curfew, seconds before slipping out of the house to snowmobile with Samantha Herrin. We don’t take the ski doo out nowadays. Darry doesn’t wear his sledding bomber anymore either. It’s boxed up in the cedar chest in the garage. He says it reminds him too much of Sam. That was before the spread. Before the deaths.


Darry turned the volume knob clockwise, and the heap of sweaters that was my mother began to tremble, while Rod Stewart’s voice masked the sound of her tears. The streets were mostly vacant; they had been for many months. I watched the storefronts pass as we drove out of town. Most were boarded up—only a handful of shops remained afloat—but some had their lights on, and they stood as rectangles of illuminated hope, foreseeable futures, contrasts to the dark of the night.


“They’ll figure it out, Mum,” I said from behind a gauze mouth-covering. “They will. Why it’s still spreading I mean. Once they do


“I need to be home, Thomas.” She spoke into her lap. “I need to be in bed. Can’t you boys see that?” Her voice grew. “Has everyone gone mad? How am I supposed to gain strength if I’m taken from my home? How?” The last word rode on a pitch as deep as an operatic bass note. I caught Darry’s eyes in the rear-view. They mirrored the fright in mine. It had reached her larynxanother symptom they had taught us to watch for. The notion that she might not survive the drive pounded at the back of my skull, pleading its way in. If it were to be, if she didn’t make it, Darry and I would likely witness her return as well; those who had succumb to the illness hadn’t stayed down for long. I wiped my palms on my pant legs. Darry put his foot to the pedal.    


She sighed a lengthy expulsion of air and returned her head to the window. The stench of her breath made its way to the back of the car. It was all I could do to subdue the gag reflex. When she was gone, Darry would take the car, and I wondered if the smell wouldn’t resonate in the fabric of the interior, immortalizing our last drive with her. On the seat beside me I toyed with the leather tassels of her slippers. They were the only things I thought to grab for her on our way outnot a family photo album, her glasses, ibuprofen for the drive, but the shrivelled foot coverings that so rarely left her feet. In the dark they looked like hairless carcasses of small animals. I was waiting to tell her. I wanted to give them to her when the hazmat officials took her over. I knew the slippers would fetch us a final smile from her face, so I held them back in anticipation. It was worth something.
We pulled over on the curve of county road fourteen, a few hundred yards from the tracks; she said her stomach was queasy. The crossing was broad and deeply-set, with just a marginal length of iron cutting across the road. The rest extended into infinite black on either side. Not a half mile beyond the tracks the quarantine centre stood like a bright white pillow, the four-acre dome lit by spot-lights surrounding its perimeter.
The cold had entered the car, but I was grateful for the fresh air. I leaned forward and rubbed the middle of my mother’s back as her head hung out of the door. I applied pressure in an attempt to soften the heaving. There was nothing to come up. At this stage, it was just the hunger forcing her body to lurch.


“Jesus Christ!” Darry threw his gloved hands over the wheel and let his head drop. The engine wouldn’t turn. He twisted the key over so many times I thought it would snap. My mother sat back and wiped her mouth, the nausea passed. Darry threw open his door and rounded the front of the car. My stomach began to reel as I watched him staring blankly at the hood. I knew there was nothing under it that he could fix, still he propped it anyway. My mother moaned, and the crank on my stomach tightened.


“I have an oat bar,” I said.
Silence.


“Mum, you have to try.” I fetched the green foil package from my pocket and probed her arm with it. With a pale hand, cracked like fissured parchment, she took the bar and turned round to face me. She pushed her hood back, and while I prayed for a smile, she just stared blank-eyed. In the little starlight coming in through the windshield I could see acne along her jawline, and her umber hair no longer breathed, but clung to her scalp, hanging in ropes like greased silly string.


“For you, Thomas,” she said,  “I’ll try.” Before she turned around I caught a glimpse of the top of her chest where her sweater hung loose, where extra veins had begun a hike up her neck.


“Thomas?” she said, barely above a whisper. I hunched over the centre console, and she latched onto my sleeve. Her wedding ring hung loosely between two pronounced knuckles. Her hand slid down and found mine. Her flesh was no longer hot, not even warm. It was ice. It stung. “Thomas,” she said again and placed a hand on the back of my head, drawing my ear towards her lips. “I think we ought to hurry up, baby.”


A rumble sounded deep within her, and I stole my head back. A wild appetite was growing in her belly, I could sense it. As I sat back in my seat, I could feel her eyes on me in the passenger-side mirror. I drew my zipper up to my neck and reached for the door.
“Darry.” I came around to the front of the car.


“I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at,” he said. The metal innards of the old beast were nothing more than dark shapes, complete gibberish to us both.


“We’re going to have to walk,” I said. “She’s getting worse.”


Darry stepped away from the car and stared across the fields of black snow, fields so vast they rendered us pebbles, loiterers on a stretch of nowhere highway.


“We have no choice,” I said. I curled my bottom lip and guided a breath of hot air towards my nose, warming the interior of my mask. “Darry. Look at me.” I went ahead and said it, what neither one of us wanted to admit. “I think we might have waited too long.”
He faced me. Stray curls spiralled out of his tuque at the ears. We shuddered in unison as the wind came at us. A sheet of snow trailed behind it. It grazed over the road in a hurried fashion, and then it was gone into the field on the other side, as quickly as it had come. Again, all was still. Darry drew on a cigarette, pitched it into the dark, and yanked his mouth covering up from his chin. “You’re right. Go on and fetch your gloves. Let’s get moving,” he said.


We didn’t look at each other much as we carried our mother toward the dome. I’m not sure we would have survived each other’s sorrow had we. Darry had her torso in his arms, and I, her legs. She was looking up at the stars, brilliant, full. A ring of white had invaded her irises another symptom, one of the final stages. It wouldn’t be long now. My legs began to feel the added weight not only of my mother, but of the helplessness that was suddenly birthed by the inevitable. Ahead, our dome-shaped haven looked smaller than ever.
“It’s not so cold out anymore,” she said. Darry and I halted. “It’s really quite a nice night. Don’t you think, boys?”  Her breath didn’t show in the cold. The snowflakes on her face didn’t melt.


“It’s beautiful, Mum,” Darry said, brushing the snow from around her eyes.
“You’re father loved this kind of weather.”


We walked along the shoulder of the road, trying to be quick but only wasting energy in doing so, and in turn slowing us down. I concentrated on my Kodiaks to confirm that my toes were in fact wiggling.


“I have to go back to the car,” I said.
“Thomas, what? Why?”
“Her slippers. I have to get them.”
“What?”
“Take her!” I dropped her legs and Darry scrambled to balance her weight.
“Thomas! Stop!” he yelled.


I ran with all the fire in my legs, kicking up chips of ice with my heels, but the Oldsmobile was hardly getting bigger. Under only starlight it looked long abandoned, like it hadn’t seen an owner in years. Behind me, Darry was a frenzy of shouts and hollers.
“There’s no time!” I heard him say. “Thomas! There’s no time!” Then he blurted something I couldn’t make out. He screamed it again, but I kept running. Only at the sounding of the air whistle did I draw the connection. Train.


My heart nose-dived to the base of my stomach. I pivoted brashly, slipping to my knees on a patch of black ice. Pants shredded and knees bleeding, I scrambled to my feet and raced back towards Darry and my mother. If we didn’t make the tracks before the train … the setback could be devastating.


When I reached them, however, Darry had already laid her out on the tracks. I wanted to scream, but my lungs were gone.
“Don’t look,” he said.


I tore over to her and winced as my bloodied knees pressed against the iron. The tracks were buzzing with the momentum of the impending train. To my right, a dime-sized light was broadening in size.
“Thomas! Get back!”


I placed my bare hand on her cheek. Her lids were closed, but her eyes were running rampant beneath them. My heart hit my throat as the whistle soundedmove or die, it announced.


“Thomas! Get the fuck off the tracks!” Darry swung himself under the flashing arm that had lowered between us.


But a heat flooded my mother’s face beneath my hand. She became a searing furnace. The blood of renewed life surged into her veins, and my tears hit her flesh with a hiss. The headlight bore down on us now. She opened her eyes, seeing life again for the first time, and the last. With the train’s light, I could see bright candy red where the whites of her eyes should have been. I knew then that Darry had done what I couldn’t have. The sickness had completed its work. The woman on the tracks below me was no longer my mother, my friend, but a parasite desperate to drain the blood from my body. Her eyes scanned mine with unfamiliarity, widening as they landed on my throat.


Darry’s arm hit my neck and yanked me backwards. I cupped my hands to my ears as the air brakes screeched at a soaring decibel level. Before he spun me around, I glimpsed her on her knees: her frothy open mouth, her poor attempt to try her legs. Her bleeding eyes. The metal beast roared into frame with bullet-like velocity. My mother went with it in a burst of dark wet, fragments of her assaulting the snow in my peripherals.


As we walked, the train’s rhythm chugged steadily alongside us, synching to my pounding heartbeat and diminishing only when we reached the car.  I clambered into the back seat, and Darry took rest beside me. Our breath was just as visible inside, and between us, the cold slippers were stiffened like museum pieces. I disregarded them and awaited the grief to infect and transform me.