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  • KevinF { Rockin'. A good, simple story. Who needs zombie mayhem? A recognisable slice of childhood nicely captured. Boys being boys described... } – Jul 29, 1:56 PM
  • Jonny { Good story, emotionally touching. Have to say, though, rather irresponsible of their parents to be letting them far off by... } – Jul 29, 9:47 AM
  • DaisyMaeGoGo { I'm happy to see Hank (and this site) are back in business! This installment made me think about how tough... } – Jul 29, 4:10 AM
  • 0973317 { yay! best story ever. i might suggest that if humfrey is staying with the little girl, that he give the... } – Jul 28, 9:31 PM
  • Brettagher { Nice little slice of life story. I think the narration is a touch overwrought. I would suggest paring down some... } – Jul 23, 10:47 AM

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    BOYS IN TIMES OF WAR by Justin Dunne
    July 29, 2014  Short stories   Tags:   

    At about what age do young boys stop fighting over whether or not their pretend bullets merely maimed or killed their friend?

    “You can’t shoot me. I already shot you!”

    “No! You only shot me in this arm, so I shot you with my other hand!” Are they just playing together one day when one of them finally realizes it doesn’t make sense to argue about it?

    “It’s just EEE.MADGE.IN.ARY…idiot! Your pretend bullet didn’t hit me anywhere! It’s pretennnd.” Or does the game just fade away and they wake up one day not knowing what they have lost?

    “PEOW PEOW!”…gone?

    And, in times of war, is it different? What do boys do then? When danger is expected and reality harsh. Are boys still just boys?

    The boys playing here in an overgrown sun drenched paddock, a few trees plotted here and there for shade, are left, for now at least, to do what young playful boys do and enjoy the freedom and escape of the games of youth. It’s not the same as it is for the older generations. They haven’t merely done what the grown-ups try to do, that, ‘stop and smell the roses’ nonsense. No, they dance and drink of the miracle of life unquestioned. They let the day take them away, to a place not of here, a safe enjoyable destination full of unashamed desire. It’s not a thought, something they must remind themselves to do, or act at, it just is. It is a blessing of childhood. Elton is running. He trots like a horse, jiggles like a sweaty pregnant sow with prepubescent boobies, and he nervously giggles like a girl. It ain’t graceful. Imagination runs wild in this one. He bounces along in fear, not just of his friends armed with lasers, hand guns and retractable claws, but he must also be wary of the fiery hot lava pits and the deadly panther that roams these parts. A small slice of his laughter is from real fright–imagined danger–but real fear. Gosh, the thrill of the game. His friend, James, hides, grinning from ear to ear, behind a sunburnt bush. His hands are clasped tightly together with index fingers pointing to the cloudless, late summer sky and his thumbs are cocked and ready to fire. James chose to go with a hand gun today. He checks a knuckle to see the safety is off. He waits patiently. Like a ninja. Elton’s heavy footsteps give away his position. Armed and looking down the fingers, James pounces on his friend. “Pow! Pow!… Pow!” James fires three deadly accurate shots, two to the chest and one dead between the eyes. Elton clutches both hands to his chest; apparently the head shot did not kill him. A long and loud time of writhing and screaming in pain later, and James stands above his victim.

    “Looks like it’s a nice day to die, my friend.” He blows swirling smoke away from his expelled fingers and triumphantly puts one bare foot on his successfully hunted pray. From a nearby tree another bare foot foe appears, falling from the sky yelling, “Cowabunga!”

    This one is deft of foot, scrawny, little, and cat like. He army rolls across the dry and prickly yellowed grass once, twice for good measure and from the contraption on his wrist, fires off a retractable claw. This new foe’s aim is also deadly. Blood sprays from James’s guts as the claw grapples down. Spit sprays from the enemy’s mouth as he tries to mimic the noises.

    “Sploooosh” and “Kersplurt.” Smitty is this boy’s name. His head and mouth move in exaggerated movements and out of sync to his speech “Come. Ovah. Heayah.” In mime like fashion he draws on the invisible tether and brings his screaming victim closer. Elton comes back to life ever so briefly, “Finish him!” he bellows, reaching one arm to the heavens, and with his last and dramatic dying words, “…avenge me.” Limp arm crashing to the itchy ground, he lies motionless, with one eye squinting open, watching, smiling. Drawn hand over hand to his doom James will not give the enemy the pleasure of pleading mercy. It will be a good death, a warrior’s death. Plus, it’s Smittys’ turn to win. James, however, is not destined to die today and Smitty is to be denied his victory. The appearance of William saw to that. Not Willy or even Bill, this young man was William. No older than the other boys, but almost a foot taller, and wider across the chest. He looks upon them, not with anger, but with a sad sort of disappointment and loss. The seesaw of responsibility versus fun was heavily grounded on one side for him. The game is over, that much is for certain. William is sad that it is, sad that he had ended his friend’s fun just by being. He remembered playing the games, just not how it was he managed to play them. Elton, who had been waiting patiently on the itchy grass for his revenge to be dished out, spoke, unaware of William’s presence, “C’mon, kill the greasy scuzbucket already. Kill him until he is deh…” Sitting up he spies the reason his friends stopped playing, “…ed.” The smile is gone from his face.

    If a bike was to back pedal as fast as Elton did, it would take off in reverse. “Oh shit, sorry William, we didn’t see you man. We were just playing around. We didn’t mean no harm or nothing, man. Shit, I swear, man we woulda never…” William doesn’t even look at him, ignoring the words that weren’t needed to be spoken. James however, does speak up. “Shut up Elton.”

    “What? I was just saying is all. We didn’t mean nothing by it is…”

    Smitty uses a little bit more force, “Shut it, you fat lard.” He follows it with a burning glare that seems to work. William smiles because he thinks he should. “It’s all right Elton.” He extends a hand to help his friend up, “We all know you aren’t fat.”

    “That’s right,” says Elton, finding his feet, planting one hand to help support his weight, “Dad says I just got to fill upwards a little more and I’ll be right.” “Yeah, if you think tall and fat is all right!” Says Smitty. A smile, whisper thin and too grown up for William’s face smirks over at Smitty, and with it he drops Elton back on his chubby ass. The tension in the air is broken by laughter, a moment in time, out of time, the boys laugh full and hard and loud and without a care in the world. Like boys should. The rest of the afternoon went much the same way. Each boy knew their part to play, when to joke, dance and what songs to sing. Strangely beautiful, much like a choreographed dance they enjoyed each others’ company late into the sun setting day. Walking in no particular direction. With no specific goal in mind. Careful not to get too close to the adults so as not to be dragged away from their fun. And careful also not to get too close to the fence line, because of the dangers that lurked on the other side of it. Drooling, chomping, decaying things.

    If you’d asked any of these boys at this stage what they had done all day, you’d be lucky to get a groan or a grunt. Maybe a shoulder shrug and an “I dunno”. Truth be told, they had a very productive afternoon. Why, they named Old Lady Polkinghornes’ Wart. The one that called that spot on your face where the skin of your nose joins your cheek home. Sir Pussington was his name. They sang a song about him.

    Believing they had solved one of the world’s greatest mysteries they rhymed orange with doorhinge. An in depth conversation followed that. The usefulness of the letter ‘Q’ the topic. And as they often did they discussed a long running theme about which super power would be the best. Smitty, coming in to that age, decided being invisible might be pretty good. Productive by any one’s standards.

    Elton and James did most of the idea raising, James speaking and Elton encouraging. Smitty mainly called Elton a fat ass while William smiled and added just enough to not raise suspicions of his underlying thoughts. In this manner of aimless wondering, an afternoon gone, but certainly not wasted, they came to find themselves by the tree. Atop Windy Hill, the highest peak and a lookout of sorts for the compound they called home. For the second time that day, the laughter stopped. Three sets of eyes fell on William. He didn’t notice. His eyes were fixed squarely on that tree. Sam’s tree. Three boys stood still watching. One boy walked forward. Over the crest of a hill into the setting sun he walked alone with leaves blowing by. A warm seasonal breeze brought a warning of a change in the mood and the weather. Sam’s tree. If Sam wasn’t helping in the garden, back for the dinner bell or generally just not where he should be, Sam could be found at Sam’s tree. A unique boy, a good boy, Williams’s kid brother.

    Always smaller, always slower and always on the outside, but never really sad because of it. Content with chasing behind the bigger boys, laughing with little legs pumping, happy and in awe of the games they played. He did his best to not get in the way, but ultimately, he always did. Instinctively, he knew when to leave his older brother alone. He would go to that point, then a little bit further. Why? Just because. After, he would go play by the tree. Lately, that had been often.

    Guilt and deep sadness caused a stabbing pain in Williams’s heart, taking his breath and churning his guts. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes as his throat began to tighten and burn. He had cried so much in the last few days and was sick of its draining effects. No more tears, he decided. Smiling courageously he turned to look back at his friends.

    One by one they raced to Williams’s side, Elton that chubby, awkward step behind. Unafraid to show feelings, they pat him on the back and embraced him briefly. They had all witnessed more than their own fair share of loss. It never got any easier. Words were useless.

    Three days. Sam had been missing for three days now. An unexplained disappearance with no trace of his whereabouts. Three days ago Sam got in Williams way. Three days ago Sam fled, emotionally hurt and unwanted, to his tree. Not a sight had been seen of him since. Everyone knew what three days alone in these times meant. Sam would not be seen again

    The weight of emotion was too heavy for William to bear. Cry again, he would. He fell heavily to his knees and sobbed gently into his hands. The ‘If Onlys’ drowning his soul. If only he hadn’t been so mean to his kid brother. If only he had sent him back to their parents. If only he’d gone with him.

    If only…if only… His friends did what they could to help him with his burden, giving him some space and time before helping him to his feet. There was no shame or judgement, just love and friendship.

    Dark clouds had moved in, blocking what was left of the sun almost gone over the horizon. This was Sam’s favorite time up in his tree. His young mind full of joy and wonder. He loved to watch the sun set, day turn into night.

    Without discussion the boys climbed Sam’s tree. In a strong branch a few meters off the ground, the four of them sat quietly. The sky was painted a tumultuous display of pinks and purples. Wind buffeted them and threatened their safety so high up. A storm was coming.

    On the ground below, leaves danced and swirled. Windy Hill earned its name most days, blowing natural debris from the surrounding grounds here to be collected. There was a mountain of mulch, undergrowth, and leaves nudging the trunk like an old friend. It seemed it never really moved. It was never raked, never organized to be put there, it’s just where it always was. In a pile, under Sam’s tree. From the lower branches Sam loved to let his legs dangle, count how long he could hold on before falling into the cushioned pile.

    The smell of it now, earthy and dead, wafted upwards, stronger and more pungent than normal. The death tang more evident and sticky than it should be.

    With the storm and night coming, the gentle suggestion of death on the air, the boys decided it was time to go. Mourning was important, but safety was too. Smitty got down first, James followed close behind. Elton, chubby, clumsy Elton struggled with holding his weight while he descended. His arms weakened quickly and his breath got frantic and deep. Smitty yelled instructions for his friend, James did too. William, still in the tree, wanted to help, didn’t want to see his friend fall, but was helplessly stuck above. Elton made it a few more feet down, not wanting to fall, but too fat to do anything about it. Knowing that he would plummet regardlessgave him angry, scared tears. He shook with pain and worry. The cursed, thick wind blew his hair across his face and wobbled the tree. Gripping, willing strength to his burning limbs, his foot slipped in a sap like substance, a branch already fractured gave way. He hung momentarily. James and Smitty looked away, screaming their nononono’s. William reached out a hand, crying his friends’ name, but to no avail. Elton fell.

    The cracks of branches rang crisp across the paddock. The cries of the boys got lost in the wind. The snap of a bone, wet and thick sickened them all and the thud of the boy hitting the ground silenced them. Elton lay whimpering in shock in the pile of leaves. His mind took a moment to check and see what the damage was before feeling anything. Swift and nimble, William was out of the tree, and the other boys joined him by Elton’s side. Blood pooled from a compact fracture to Elton’s leg. White bone and yellow cartilage poked through the white, chubby shin. The four boys looked at it.

    William acted first. Elton was pale, repeating “Shit damn, shit damn,” over and over again. The pain hadn’t hit him yet, that was good. William took off his shirt and told James and Smitty to hold Elton still.

    They had all been told what to do in this situation. It took only seconds for the seriousness of the situation to register, and they were at it. They started working as a team, tending the gaping wound, using the shirt as a tourniquet.

    That thought, that, “Shit damn, shit damn, things couldn’t possibly get any worse” thought. It is a curse. A call to the universe to prove you wrong. No one is as big as the universe.

    Red tainted and soaked into the leaves. The smell, that smell of copper and earth mixing, it stung their nostrils. Wind howled, and the sun was now gone, retired for the day. Gusts picked up the debris of the earthy pile and flung it at the boys while they tried to tend their fallen friend. No rain, not yet, but it wouldn’t be far away.

    William set Smitty off in search of a suitable tree branch, something to splint the leg until they could get home. William and James moved Elton so that his back was rested up against the trunk of the tree. Being out after dark was not an option

    Smitty moved almost knee deep in the mulch pile, searching for a suitable piece of wood. He flicked leaves and moist dirt everywhere, rushing in his search. Something moved by his foot. Something touched him. Something gripped hard on his ankle. The something pulled.

    Smitty screamed and kicked. Thrashing like a fish out of water, he fell heavily on his ass. Smitty must have thought that terrible, ‘things can’t be worse’ thought, and in answer, rain fell, lightning flashed, and thunder boomed. The leaves moved. The something revealed was a young boy’s arm. The something had a face and teeth, and the something was hungry.

    Elton screamed and pointed when he saw the monster that was once his young friend. James froze. William stood. Clumps of moist earth fell from its leathered features. A gasp of death, dry and searching, rasped from its cracked lips. Sam was at Sam’s tree. A skin and bone version, wearing Sam’s dirty clothes, smeared in mud, and crawling with insect life, hungered for flesh. Not the Sam they knew.

    Smitty finally managed to get his hands on a decent piece of wood. It was not going to be used for his friend’s leg. No, he was going to use it on his young, dead friend’s head. He raised it up to the sky and swirling, wet winds. With one hand, he brought it down quickly. William caught it, slapping in to his palm before it could meet the desired target.

    Simply, “No,” he said, and he took the branch from his friend. One swing, strong for a boy his age, broke the little monsters grip, freeing Smitty to scamper back to James and Elton. Sam, the little creature not alive, but not dead, did not feel the pain of the blow but moaned in anger at losing his meal.

    The Sam monster was broken. It did not possess the upper body strength in its young, dead arms to drag its useless lower half across the wet ground. An injury to its back, the cause of Sam’s death, had seen to that.

    It reached and clawed at the meat so close to it, whined and groaned, gurgling blood and black rich dirt.

    If only…if only… thought William.

    He said the good byes he didn’t think he would ever get to say. He looked at the yellowed devil’s eyes belonging to the monster, once, but no longer his brother, and he brought the tree branch down. Once, because he to. Twice, because he was angry, riddled with grief and sadness. Three times, well, just because, all he had left was…if only.

    His tears were camouflaged by the wet weather, but nothing could silence his pain. A cry of desperation and hurt beat out all other sounds, and momentarily stopped the world.

    He had blood splatter on his face, diluting with the cold rain and running off his clenched jaw.

    He had guilt

    He had sorrow.

    He had some answers.

    This boy, who had watched his friends playing freely earlier in the day, he knew then, what was asked earlier.

    Trick questions.

    He knew…there are no boys in times of war.

    DREDGING UP MEMORIES PARTXVII by A.J. Brown
    July 21, 2014  Longer stories   Tags: ,   

    I don’t know how many people died between the outbreak and the time I laid in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar house. Thousands? Millions? Billions? I didn’t know if the entire world was infected, people dying and getting back up, the dead killing and eating, a relentless army of rotting flesh, never stopping, never resting, always hungry.

    How many people did the dead kill? How many of them were screaming and crying and begging for someone to help them, begging for their lives against creatures too unfathomable to believe were real, though they were? Creatures who may have understood inside their rotting brains, but were helpless to stop because of the hunger that drove them?

    I thought of Max Baxter. He had killed his boys while they were asleep in the bed. He did the same to his wife before turning the gun on himself. He opted out. He didn’t give his family a chance to survive. He was a coward. Or maybe he knew something some of the rest of us didn’t.

    I thought of Jake, not more than a young man when I sent him with the rest of my family, forcing him into a leadership role he probably wasn’t ready for. He tried so hard to take care of the group. He tried so hard to protect Jeanette…and Bobby. The last I heard it was just Jake and Bobby. I didn’t know if they were dead or alive, but the odds weren’t too good for them to still be among the living. But he had tried.

    My baby brother had tried…

    I thought of Jeanette dying. I hadn’t been there, but I had seen Lee die and turn and I had a real good image of what it may have been like for her.

    What would she think about me after this? Would she think me a coward like Max Baxter and all those others who opted out?

    Probably…

    Lee’s figmented ghost came to mind. He still held a beer in his hand, and he was looking down on me.

    “See? I knew you had already given up.”

    Given up? Is that what it was? Given up?

    I thought of Davey Blaylock.

    Davey Blaylock was my best friend. We grew up together. Our families lived six houses apart when we were kids. We played baseball together and were a pretty good double play combo—he a short stop and me a second baseman. As adults, Davey and I lived four blocks from each other. He was the best man at my wedding. One day I hoped to return the favor.

    That never happened. Never will.

    My mind spun back to the last time I saw Davey.

    Pop and Lee were dead—my brother just in another room where I shot him and covered him with a blanket. At that point we hadn’t been completely surrounded. At that point…we still had a chance to get out of there.

    We were in something like a storage facility, a building probably owned by a nice business, a law firm or accounting firm or something along those lines. There were desks and office chairs and useless computers, all in their own section of the large room we stood in. There were wooden shelves—a couple hundred of them—along one wall. Lamps and light fixtures, a huge fan that looked like it belonged on a swamp boat, tables and tablecloths, and a ton of nice plates, glasses, mugs and silverware.

    We had few bullets and I had my machete. Davey had a baseball bat, the barrel stained red to go along with his pistol.

    There were steps that led to a catwalk that circled the inside of the large room. There were other rooms, smaller by comparison, offices. The main floor windows had been boarded up. There were a few bodies inside when we arrived carrying a feverish Leland Walker, sweating and delusional. They were dispatched of easily enough and without using our guns.

    All we need was a moment to rest. Just a moment. That’s all we needed. A moment to get Lee comfortable before he died.

    The moment turned into three hours and three hours turned into six more. By the time Lee had died and risen and I had put a bullet in his head with tears in my eyes, it had been almost eleven hours, most of them spent in the dark as night passed us by.

    It was early morning; the sun was on its way up. Unlike us, I’m sure it was well rested. A gray fog covered the land.

    “I need to bury Lee,” I said.

    “Hank.”

    “He’s my brother.”

    “We need to get out of here.”

    Davey was right, but I was stuck in an emotional storm. I couldn’t leave Lee in some room where he would rot and where someone may find him, or maybe not. No, I wanted to bury him. I needed to bury him.

    I went out to my truck as the first rays of sun started to burn off the fog. Davey was behind me. There were a few corpses walking around, but they didn’t seem to notice us.

    “Hank, we need to get out of here.”

    I turned on him. “If you want to go, then go. I won’t hate you for doing it. I’ll understand. I promise. But I will not leave him like that.”

    Davey stepped back. His hazel eyes held gray and purple bags beneath them. He had a full beard–something I hadn’t noticed until right then. His hair had gotten long and touched his shoulders. It was the hippie revolution all over again. All he needed was a peace sign on the front of his shirt and a lit joint in one hand.

    He frowned. “I’ll stay. I’ll help you.”

    I wonder if Davey regretted that a couple hours later.

    I do.

    We hurried, finding a soft spot of land and digging for all we were worth. It wasn’t a deep hole, but one that would serve its purpose. We wrapped Lee in one of the long tablecloths in the warehouse and carried him out to the hole. Gently, we laid him in the ground and hurried to cover him up.

    By then the fog had burned off completely.

    “Hank,” Davey said as I tossed a spade-full of dirt on the grave.

    “Yeah?”

    “We need to get out of here. Now.”

    I looked up. This is it, I thought. This is the end.

    The dead were shambling from all around us, stumbling droves. My truck was on the other side of the building and all we had were shovels, the bat, the machete and two guns that would be useless soon.

    We ran.

    We were always running.

    The building grew closer, but it didn’t matter. Around the corner came several rotting corpses that were little more than bones held together by drooping skin. I had the brief thought that they must have risen at the very beginning of the outbreak.

    They were on us quick. Quick. I swung the shovel at the nearest one, then at another one and another and another. We were almost to the corner of the building. Another few steps and my truck would have been in clear view.

    I swung the shovel again, connecting with the side of a woman’s head. She did a pirouette, her entire body spinning as she fell to the ground. I swung again and…

    …and Davey screamed.

    I whirled around. Davey leveled what once was a woman square in the face. Her forehead caved in and she dropped to the ground, but she had done her damage. There was a hole in his shirt to the side of one shoulder blade. Blood spilled from the wound.

    “No!” I yelled over and over and ran for him. I don’t know when I dropped the shovel and pulled out the machete, but I swung it in wide arcs, taking out as many of the dead as I could.

    Most people would have given up. Most people would have let the shock kick in, and then let the world end around them. Not Davey. He swung his bat harder and harder, crushing fragile skulls with ease. And he moved away from me, going the opposite direction of the truck.

    “Davey, this way,” I yelled, and took out another three of the dead.

    “No! Get out of here! Leave!”

    Right then I had a movie moment. The world, as it had done some many times before, and as it would do so many times after, slowed down. The sounds became distorted and everything brightened and became clearer. The rotting corpses stood out like three-dimensional objects on a video screen.

    “Get out of here,” he said, but I wasn’t listening. I ran toward him, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him with me. Davey shoved me away, shook his head, his eyes wet with tears and full of resolve. I could see him so clearly. A few strands of gray in his beard, the speckled brains and blood on the front of his shirt and face, the red in his eyes. His lower lip was bleeding and there was a smudge of dirt on one cheekbone. It was all so vividly clear.

    Then the world sped up and he said, “Get out of here.”

    “I’m not leaving you.”

    “I’m a dead man, Hank. I’ll lure them away.”

    I started to argue, but he shut me down and shoved me back toward the truck, back in the direction where there were fewer dead coming toward us. I swung the machete, took out a little kid with dark hair and slack eyes.

    “Run!” Davey yelled one last time, before doing the same thing, but away from me instead of with me.

    I stared at him for a moment until the hands of one of the dead touched my arm. I turned, screamed and swung my machete, taking off the top of the man’s head.

    “Run!” Davey yelled again.

    And I did. I’m ashamed to say that.

    I ran and hacked at the dead. I rounded the building and saw my truck was by itself. The driver’s side window was slightly down–enough to hear the world as it passed by. It took maybe a minute to reach it, to crawl in and slam the door shut, and then crank it up. Without really thinking I floored it, determined to save Davey one way or another. The back wheels spun, and then caught traction. Panic set into my chest and my hands squeezed the steering wheel tight.

    The truck swerved around the building. Bodies bounced off the front and sides and I could see the hoard was lurching away from me. A few turned back and I ran them down, angry and sad and full of guilt, and hoping I would find Davey alive and…

    …then I heard the gunshot. One. Single. Shot.

    The truck came to a stop. I could see the dead had stopped as well. There was a crude circle of decaying bodies near one edge of the building. In the center of that circle was my best friend, Davey Blaylock. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was there, and I knew he was the reason the hoard had stopped, and that they were feeding on him.

    The thump of a hand on the side of the truck pulled me away. The woman was missing most of her face. Her bottom lip was barely there and she was mostly bald. If not for the top she wore I wouldn’t have known it was a woman. For a moment, I didn’t care. I didn’t care at all. I could see myself opening the door and stepping out of the truck and into the waiting arms of the rotting female. Go ahead, bitch, eat me.

    My hand was on the handle. I was going to do it, but…but…I couldn’t. As far as I knew Jeanette and Bobby were still alive. Jake and the rest of our families were holed up in a cabin in Table Rock. Yeah, as far as I knew was all it took for me to let go of the handle and focus on getting out of there.

    I put the truck in reverse and backed over several more of the dead. The truck didn’t so much as bounce over them as it crushed them like soft melons in an overripe field.

    I whipped the truck around, shifted into first gear and mashed the gas. A minute later I was on the road and speeding away, leaving the dead behind. Leaving Davey behind.

    As I lay in that bed later on, the gun in my sweaty hand, my tears soaking into my hair and the pillow beneath me, I thought of Davey. It was my fault he was dead.

    My fault.

    My fault.

    He had wanted to leave, and if we would have, he might have still been alive.

    Maybe not. I don’t know for certain.

    What I do know is if not for him, I would be dead. He led them away, using his bleeding back as bait.

    My thumb found the safety of the gun, and flipped it on. Then I sat up in the bed. My head sang a chorus of angry lyrics as it thump thumped. My mouth was dry. I stood from the bed, and pushed the dresser from in front of the door.

    I entered the living room, searched the house, saw the picture of the pretty brunette and wondered if she were still alive, and if so, where was she.

    I had been running for so long at that point, like a fugitive from the law, but the law in this world didn’t want justice. All it wanted was to offer the death penalty to any and all that came across it. I was tired of running and if I were going to stop doing so, then I needed to hole up somewhere safe.

    I stepped through the back door. The high deck and steps were safer than the ones on the other side. I needed to take those down if I planned on staying there. If I was going to die, I would do so fighting, but not for me. For Davey Blaylock, for his memory.

    For his sacrifice.

    In the back of my mind, I could feel Lee smile.

    BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by Courtney Button
    July 15, 2014  Short stories   

    His backpack sways lightly on his back as he walks, the worn straps hanging low from his shoulders. He can feel the few items knocking against him with each step, a constant reminder of the bag’s emptiness. His breathing echoes loudly inside of his gas mask, his hot breath reflecting back on to his skin. He clutches the hammer in his right hand, his calloused palm gripping its eroded rubber handle. The muscles in his wrist ache from the swinging weighted end of the tool. He flexes his hand around it as he reaches the turning for the street. The sun burns down, toasting his exposed arms.

    The street lies in ruin, a scattered collection of destroyed cars, discarded clothing and possessions. The houses look on with a sense of surrender. Their once proud surfaces are now boarded up, chipped away, overgrown and splattered with stains. The sunlight shines on the destruction, giving the scene a mocking glow of warmth. His throat burns as he swallows stringy saliva. The heat makes the inside of his mask suffocatingly hot. He looks out of the tinted plastic and takes in the view, one that now appears on every street. Out of this new reality, hints of an old familiarity come biting at him. The large tree that squats in the front garden two houses away, its thick trunk burrowing into the ground. Tendrils of roots piercing out from below the grass. He looks around and sees the old porch swing on the house opposite, its once white paint now dulled and chipped to a patchwork grey. He scans the street for movement, any shuffling or a hint of clothing ducking behind the discarded items of life. Something catches his eye, a rustle or a flicker. He turns to look, his grip on the hammer tightening. The hem of a dress flutters in the wind, its once blue and white dotted fabric now stained by violence and rot.

    He starts to walk towards it, his shadow splaying out behind him. A shape starts to emerge and the recognition of a distorted acquaintance picks at him again. The fabric rises and falls across a mangled shape, clinging and dropping. The form seems to be sinking into the ground, indentations and ridges creating a gnarled mockery of a body. He looks down at the desiccated corpse, the skin now grey and tight, the bones and tendons pushing up from underneath. The face looks up in a frozen shout of agony, the long jagged teeth exposed to the sky, the eye sockets black holes revealing the inside of the skull. He looks back up and steps over the body, continuing on down the street. He walks past broken and immolated cars, past split open bags and discarded clothing, over smashed mobile phones and a child’s teddy bear.

    He picks his way past the former signs of life, now discarded and forgotten, with no owner to keep hold of them, their use rapidly disappearing into the distance of another time. His eyes scan the surroundings, looking for any other movement, any sign of danger. The road gently curves round before revealing a house at the end. It stands proudly, its high windows gazing over the destruction before it. He comes to a stop when he sees it, feeling the weight of its presence. It projects a lingering image of security, a pretence of happiness and safety that was shattered in his mind long before everything changed. He had never consciously decided to come back here. It felt like he was always coming here, but he hadn’t known until he’d noticed the stained street sign.

    He steps closer, his weary muscles dragging him forwards. They burn in his thighs and his feet ache, trapped in the stuffy confines of his shoes. His laboured breath echoes loudly inside his mask, whispering his own weakness to himself. A gentle breeze brushes through the overgrown grass in the garden in front of the house and cools the sweat on the back of his exposed neck. A car sits in the driveway, covered in old leaves and a thin, pale layer of dust, its tyres deflated, the rubber seeming to melt on to the concrete driveway. A dull white, low wooden fence rings the front garden. Smashed and rotten planks reveal holes ruining the once sought after illusion of land ownership. He feels anger threatening to rise up in him. A pain. A fear. This house scares him more than any other and it stands ready to swallow him. The house had always sat inconspicuously, blending in with the gentle ideal of the surrounding street, projecting a façade of happiness and security. But nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors.

    A movement in the corner of his eye, breaks the trance of the house, and he turns quickly, raising the hammer. The scrawny form of a dog pads towards him, its flesh clinging to its emaciated body. The ribs push against its pink, rashed skin which is a patchwork of matted fur and old wounds. The dog sniffs at the tarmac, its tongue lapping out from between sagging lips. He watches as it takes two tentative steps before it catches his scent. Its head snaps up and its lips peel back to bare vicious teeth. He sees the jagged yellow outcrops, protruding from dull pink, receding gums. Spit bubbles at the edges of its mouth. The dog’s dark eyes stare at him, narrowing. Hungry. Crazed. A bead of sweat rolls down the side of his face before settling at the rubber bottom of his mask. They stand locked in a duel, neither human nor animal willing to give an inch or drop their guard.

    Suddenly a howl fills the air, followed by a scratched groaning. They both turn, their eyes darting back down the street, trying to see the ghoul through the wreckage. He see’s nothing but knows hey cannot be far away. He turns back to see the scrawny tail of the dog disappearing into the back garden of an adjacent house. He lowers his hammer, the weight suddenly feeling so much heavier. The dog was the first truly living thing he’d seen in days. He turns back to the house and opens the gate. He closes it, putting down the latch and heads towards the front door. As he climbs the two small steps up to the porch the memory of his last visit comes back to him, the heavy bang of the door closing behind him as he’d stomped down the two steps, powered across the carefully maintained lawn and slammed the thin gate behind him. When he’d been old enough to leave, he’d never looked back. The large metal door knocker still hangs in the centre of the door, waiting to call out to those inside.

    He tests the front door, gently pushing, but it does not move. He tries a little harder, but it will not yield. Defeated, he walks back down to the garden and goes to the side of the house. He walks round until he sees the kitchen window, the pane already smashed. He tentatively looks in, checking the room. It lies in disarray, smashed crockery and displaced pans, the normally always pristine floor spattered with dirt and stains. He reaches a hand through the hole in the glass, taking care not to cut himself, undoes the latch and pulls open the window. It squeaks slightly as the unused hinges labour against each other. He pauses, continuing to assess the inside and, finding it to his satisfaction, he shakily hauls himself in.

    He slides to the floor and squats, scanning the room and doorways. Confident he is safe, he stands up and looks around the kitchen. The flooring seems different though he can’t be sure. The cabinets definitely look different, he can’t remember them being wooden. He walks to the cupboards hanging on the wall and starts opening the stained wooden doors, searching through for any food or items he can make use of. They already look like they’ve been cleaned out, but he manages to find two cans, one of sweetcorn and the other with its label torn off. He checks the rest of the cupboards, but finds nothing more of use. He gives up the search and walks into the living room.

    The sun pours through the large windows, bathing the ransacked room in a bright light. He feels an unexpected sense of shock and confusion. He has been in countless houses just like this one, all of them ransacked, dirty, rotting and messy, but this one sets him back. Its familiarity pokes through under the layer of grime and neglect. The old record player his father used to play worn Beatles vinyl on, the sound clicking as the needle picked up tiny imperfections. The last book his mother was reading left open and face down on the coffee table. Their collection of films, mixing both the terrible and classic, most of them still on the shelf. Two picture frames, both of them holding fond pictures of them. He can’t see the ones that he used to appear in. He imagines they were taken down before it all changed. The house was always kept spotless, rarely a thing out of place. There is no reason why this house should be in a different state than all the others, but still, a part of him expected it to be unchanged. He almost expected them to still be sitting there, their faces a mix of surprise and anger as he walked in. Instead he looks upon an empty and disordered room, robbed of its soul and purpose.

    He nudges himself onwards. After food comes water. He walks through the living room to the bottom of the stairs. He slowly ascends them, one hand on the bannister, the other clutching the hammer, ready to strike. His worn shoes pad against the wood of the steps. Reaching the top, he gives a quick glance down the corridor. It sits in a sullen gloom, snatches of light from under doors and between doorways, dulled by the plastic visor of his gas mask. All seems quiet and still. He sets his eyes on the hanging string of the attic door. As he walks down the hallways he glances to his side and catches a glimpse of a room through a small gap in the open doorway. He stops and stares inside. The room where he’d hidden so many times, where he’d sought sanctuary and tried to forget about the rest of the house and everything that engulfed him.

    His old belongings sit exactly where he had left them, all abandoned long ago. The bed where he’d spent so many nights, where he’d cried himself to sleep, where he’d had his first clandestine sexual experiences. The duvet is pulled back and the fabric ruffled but it is still the same bedding that he’d slept his last night there in. The room seems alien to him, like a memory from another life, like it is someone else’s. This hasn’t been his for so long. It feels like it could have been a friend’s, like the details could have been told to him through a story. He walks to a mirror that hangs on the wall. He wipes the layer of dust from it, his scarred fingers leaving lines through the dirt. He stares at a monstrous face, with its large cylindrical mouths and gaping, black reflective eyes. He pulls up the mask and feels the sweet relief of cool air on his face. Opening his eyes he looks into the mirror again. The face looking back seems just as monstrous. Bloodshot eyes sit in dark circles. His chin and cheeks are covered in wiry facial hair and streaks of dirt. An old stain of blood dribbles from one of his nostrils. Tiny cuts and scars cross their way across his skin. He pulls back his lips to reveal yellow and black teeth, some of them missing small chips. His eyebrows are almost completely bare. An acrid smell creeps up his nostrils and slides like tar down his throat. He pulls the mask back down and his breath fills his ears again.

    He turns his back on the room, and closes the door behind him. He walks to the end of the corridor and tugs at the hanging cord, releasing the door and stairs up to the attic. The torch rattles as he pulls it from his backpack and ascends the stairs. The white beam from the illuminated bulb pierces the darkness of the attic, sweeping over carefully stacked cardboard boxes, each with their own handwritten labels. Linen. Photos. Crockery. Books.

    He walks through the attic, careful not to tread on any exposed ceiling of the rooms below, to the water tank at the back. He opens it up and shines the light in, it catching on the swirls and waves of the full tank. He pulls out a flask, unscrews the cap and plunges it in before pulling back his mask and drinking deeply. It stings his cracked lips and dry throat. It tastes old and dusty, but he drinks anyway, feeling its coolness flow through his body. He dips the flask again and screws the top back on, before filling two other plastic bottles. He secures their lids, stores them back in his rucksack and starts to walk back across the attic. That’s when his knee fails and, with a shot of pain, gives way under him. He goes down hard, missing most of the hard flooring and slipping between two beams, through the insulation and the thin ceiling into their bedroom. Something cracks as he hits the floor. Pain shoots through his body, screaming at every nerve ending. He tries to move but his muscles refuse to obey. That’s when he hears the scratched breath and harsh groan, the movement of bodies against fabric and then the laboured slow padding and dragging of feet across the carpet. He sees them loom in to view. His father, his face a contortion of anger that he’d seen a hundred times before. His teeth exposed through ripped lips, grinding together, his skin tight across his jagged skull. His eyes black and staring, filled with hate. His mother, her hair grey and thinning, one ear missing, the other pierced through with a single gold earring. Her face divided by a long gash, the blood dried and crusted, a small flap of skin wobbling as she moves. Her eyes a soft blue standing out against the grey of her skin.

    Slowly they come towards him. Their hands reach out for his body, for his soft flesh. He feels their fingers reach him, feels their grip, feels them tearing through his ragged clothing. He feels their nails start to dig in and wrench. He watches as their faces creep towards him, their mouths opening.

    He always knew it would end this way. He always knew his parents would tear him apart.

     

     

     

    BLACK RIVER COUNTY by Craig Young
    July 12, 2014  Short stories   Tags: ,   

    The rain was driving down when the police came for Melanie Atkinson. She lived in a trailer on the verge of town and had, ever since the fire that obliterated the childhood home she had shared with her dad, Mitchell.  It had been a story of thwarted aspirations and dead ends, that sometimes occurs in depressed rural areas. About ten years before, Mitchell had moved to the town to start up a mechanics business, but the promised Taranaki oil boom had never eventuated, and the strains on his marriage with Alannah had led his soldier wife to take up with another man.  Or had it been Mitchell and Irene, the school teacher, at the same time? For whatever reason, Melanie became cold and distant. And then, one evening, she came running into town, with the night torn by the sound and fury of her home going up behind her.  Blackriver was a small, insular New Zealand town, and in such places, prejudice and rigidity are the main course. Anyone with ambition and drive left when they hit eighteen and went off elsewhere to learn a trade, or headed off to polytech or university. They never came back. (more…)

    Update 7-8-2014
    July 8, 2014  Announcements   

    Hey zombie fans,

    First, sincere apologies for the radio silence on the part of your editor. It’s been an insane 2014 for numerous personal reasons, including the death of a parent. Given the multitude of things happening in and around my life I need to face facts and step down as the editor of this fine publication. 7 years feels like a good run.

    That being said, I’d like to open things up to a new editor: you(?). Given the number of outstanding authors and contributors we have on the site, I’m sure one or more of you would be a great, likely better editor than yours truly.

    If you’re interested, email the story submission address on the site and Pete and/or I will get back to you.

    I will continue to pay for hosting the site and will continue to keep the technical side of things up and running. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to working with the submissions we receive.

    Thank you all for your patience.

    Ryan West

    THE NOTHING MAN V by Justin Dunne
    May 15, 2014  Short stories   Tags: ,   

    SEQUEL TO PART IV

    It’s a weird fact of life and it still stands, even though what I have now can barely be referred to as a life. It’s an existence. It used to happen to me a bit, the ratio has changed dramatically now though. I only assume you know what I’m talking about. Maybe it never happened to you at all, maybe it was only a fact of my life. I don’t know things anymore. But that thing, the fact that I’m talking about, it happens to me all the time now. (more…)

    VOICE IN THE DARK by W. Zach Griffith
    April 29, 2014  Longer stories   

    The massive box of a building stood nestled in a wasteland of dirty cars, rotting corpses, and great bundles trash blowing about in the wind. Sam and Grace surveyed it from the edge of a forest several hundred meters out, Sam scanning for danger through binoculars while Ruck whined from around his knee.

    “The dog is hungry again,” Sam said tersely.

    “I got him.” (more…)

    DREDGING UP MEMORIES PART XVI by A.J. Brown
    April 16, 2014  Longer stories   Tags: ,   

    SEQUEL TO PART XV

    Rain. It was appropriate.

    There were no real clouds in the sky when I left Healing Springs. But an hour away, my life changed yet again, clouds appeared off in the distance. Fat, nasty gray clouds with black ones lurking behind them.

    I pulled off the road at a gas station that I’m certain had little gas to give. I still had plenty of full tanks in the back of the van, but it wasn’t gas I was after. I needed a map.

    A rumble of thunder came from overhead. In the far away clouds I could see the strobe effect of lightning. Then came thunder again. (more…)

    WALKING THE DEAD by Jez Patterson
    April 11, 2014  Short stories   

    The ocean of bodies ebbed, swayed, leaning as if caught by a wind. There was the familiar moan, keening in time with the currents and Josephine could feel their longing; it was difficult not to give in to the urge and let her own throat vibrate softly, join their song.

    The aroma of fresh coffee kept her from stepping off the back of the Landrover towards them.

    “Full moon,” Stephen said, holding up a cup. “No moving them tonight.” (more…)

    THAT DAZZLING SMILE by Kevin Fortune
    April 8, 2014  Short stories   Tags: ,   

    For over sixty five years now – nearer seventy – ever since we were kids in the street, me and Ben have been joined at the hip. When we were young we were reasonably fashion conscious, mostly in our efforts to get girls, but nowadays we’re like dirtied up versions of Gandalf and Radagast, facial hair and all. It’s a kind of a disguise, you see, as our unwashed, shuffling, old man movements can sometimes fool the Dead into thinking we’re them. Except when we’re on our bikes, of course.

    In recent years, in this suburban desolation, we’ve had to avoid corpses entirely because we can’t defend ourselves too well anymore. Bad joints and malnutrition have made us slow and feeble; Ben even more so than me. His arthritis barely lets him walk. So for us its eyes peeled all the time and ears open all the time, but this morning we dropped the ball. Not a single whiff of danger registered on our radars. I mean, with our experience we really should have seen them coming. It just goes to show how charmed we’ve been all along. (more…)

    THE NOTHING MAN IV by Justin Dunne
    April 5, 2014  Short stories   Tags: ,   

    Sequel to The Nothing Man III

    Hot, dry. It was approaching the end of summer and oh, it had been a long summer. Summer used to mean lazy afternoons by the pool, floating in something that floated and drinking something delicious and intoxicating. Now, summer means hot, that is all.

    A heat haze still blurs the horizon. The flies are out, buzzing, pooping, vomiting and eating. A fly only lives for an average of 15 days. Now days that’s 15 days of uninterrupted decomposing regurgitating bliss. A cloud of happy flies living their short lives to the fullest swarm around half a rotting corpse as it sings its mournful soft song of death. A breath, just a whisper it manages while dragging its pitiful self, sadly on the hot asphalt road. To whom it cries is unknown and who would hear it? Not a living soul. (more…)

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