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    All The Dead Are Here - Pete Bevan's zombie tales collection


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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    MEMORIAM by Jheri Potts
    August 18, 2014  Short stories   

    She sits by a lake, a massive body of water so cold that just thinking about it should have made her shiver in the morning light. But her legs are splayed out in front of her carelessly, and her arms lay unfeeling and cold on the dying grass that bristles on the sloping banks.

    The girl tries sorting through her web of tangled thoughts, but gets snared despite being the spider. She tilts her gaunt face back to stare at the sky, so clear it seems to be deliberately mocking her. So many tears have already been shed that nothing will come; only the vaguest feeling of loss permeates her chest and travels slowly to her jumbled thoughts like a storm cloud over a playground.

    The world, my world…ravaged and taken like the coins for Charon. Take it, take them, take everything. It’s alright. Her eyes are focused on everything and nothing across the water. It’s our only defense, this endurance. This…blind, nonsensical, simple, unending existence.

    We can never see the next move, so we wait.

    She stretches her feet out in front of her, worn boots tearing the brittle grass. Time is ours, but nothing else will ever be. Her failing eyes scan the banks, but nothing like her is around yet, or anyone else for that matter.

    So here I am…I will wait. They can come back whenever they please, whenever life’s road makes them nostalgic or lonely, whenever they hurt for something I can give.

    A ladybug wanders aimlessly across her leg, mistakenly seeking warmth no doubt. She lets it walk across her fingers, knowing that when it pauses it’s actually biting her. She feels nothing, brushing the bug from her hand.Her brittle bones protest as she gets to her feet.

    She tries to forget what she was thinking about as she shuffles back up the trail. But her moment of clarity has temporarily burned into her flickering thoughts.

    You will wait, you will endure. And you will do it alone until they give you the brief honor of remembering.The epiphany is like an anchor; it fastens around what’s left of her heart and holds her tighter than anything she’s ever made the mistake of trusting before.

    Hunger growls briefly through her, but she doesn’t care enough to fully acknowledge it. In recent months she never really has. Her carelessly uncoordinated steps scatter leaves and echo loudly in the cold air. The few birds left in the trees dart away, scrawny and frightened.

    She stumbles along the trail, coming to a fork. Having wandered enough by the lake’s edge, she is far from lost, but that isn’t saying much. On the surface of her bitter thoughts, she knows it will never really matter. Her shoulders are just turning to the western path when the distant whisper of human speech comes to her ears on the icy breeze.

    Fear, hope, anxiety, annoyance.

    Hunger.

    They blossom in her mind suddenly as she cocks her head to the side, trying to determine where the sound came from. She hears it again, closer. The dense brush and overhanging trees distort sound, but she takes a guess and begins walking.

    Her ragged boots crunch twigs and crush frost as the girl moves. She becomes aware of an acrid smell, smoke; foreign in the isolated reaches of the lake. Almost hopeful, she pushes forward and emerges into a small clearing.

    Tents make a small ring around a campfire that burns brightly. Men and women her age go about their tasks, gathering wood and drying their worn clothes. She is awestruck in recognition.

    I remember you, all of you.The girl is not hopeful enough to believe they have come just for her, but their simple presence almost warms the icy pallor of her skin. Her face twitches in what could be joy, and she staggers forward, savoring the moment before something heavy strikes her backside.

    Thrown to her knees, she never feels the pain. A dark haired girl circles her, armed with a dented metal baseball bat, its shine tainted by dark brown stains. From her knees, she looks up.

    I missed you.

    A man comes forward, kicking her onto her back almost gently. His dark eyes are hard and full of the things she longs to feel again.

    I missed you.

    A younger man watches from the side, a look of painful disgust marring his pale face. She tries to smile, her lips pulling away from her teeth.

    I missed you.

    The dark eyed man above her raises an axe as other people move in to watch.

    I missed all of you.

    The notched blade whistles down, biting into the girl’s skull and sinking into the frozen earth. Slowly, they move in to dispose of the zombie. A fleeting second before her mockery of life fades from her decaying body, the girl realizes she is being buried.

    Buried like one of them, not burned like an outsider.

    They remembered.

     

    DREDGING UP MEMORIES PART XVIII by A.J. Brown
    August 7, 2014  Longer stories   Tags: ,   

    The trailer wasn’t safe. It didn’t take long to figure that out. I could tear the steps away from the front door, and take down the patio deck, sure. But there was the issue of the patio doors, two sliding pieces of glass with just a thin aluminum frame holding them on their tracks and a small lock to keep them closed. It wouldn’t take much to bust in that way. The ramp leading up to the patio wasn’t a good deterrent either. A handful of the dead could push it in, break the trim-like frame and possibly crawl in.

    Then there were the living threats. The front door was nothing more than a closet door used as an entryway. It wasn’t hollow, but it wasn’t sturdy. That led me to looking at the back door. It was much higher up and the steps to it would be difficult for the dead to climb. I doubted many could make it past the third step, if they could make it onto the concrete slab at the stairs’ base. But the living would have no problems reaching that door, or the windows on the deck leading to it.

    The bathroom where the homemade wine and shine were wasn’t in that good of shape, either. The floor felt like it could give out. I certainly didn’t need to be taking a leak and have it collapse beneath me. Who knows how many bones would break when I landed?

    In the end, the trailer was a death trap for anyone trying to survive in these days.

    The brick house on the backside of the trailer was a different story. There was a nice size deck on the front and a set of stairs along the side. It dawned on me then that the house was built on a descending hill, and though the front door was only about six feet off the ground, with a set of five steps leading up to the porch, the back door was more like twenty feet up, eighteen steps leading to it.

    Someone had been careful. The windows were boarded up from the outside with screws, not nails. There were no gaps—the job had been done right, the boards measured, and screws placed two per board on both sides. Wilted flowers sat in pots lining the brown stone paver sidewalk.

    I rounded the outside of the house, searching for a straggler, and found none. A wire fence circled behind it and stretched down to the lake and across a small alcove, wooden posts every six feet or so. It must have been a pen for animals—there was a small building that could have housed a large dog or some goats or maybe even a donkey. The hay suggested it hadn’t been a large dog. Back to the front, I went up the steps. A patio table sat in the center of the deck, four chairs around it—one on each side. To the right was another chair. The glass storm door was unlocked. I started to knock on the wooden door beyond it, and then tried the knob instead.

    It turned.

    But it didn’t open.

    It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

    Around the side, I made my way up the steps, holding tight to the handrail. I reached the landing. There was no glass door here. I tried the knob.

    It turned.

    This time, the door opened with a slight vacuum sound, a SWOOSH.

    The door opened into a kitchen that held a dining table off to the left and a stove, microwave and cabinets straight ahead.

    The first thing I really noticed was the smell. It wasn’t stale. It wasn’t the reek of decay. It was pleasant. Lilacs.

    The house was neat and clean. The living room was off to the right, as well as the hall that led to the back of the house. Wood grain furniture right out of the seventies decorated the living room. It had that homey feel to it. Along the hall was a bathroom and three bedrooms. All the rooms were neat, the beds made.

    It was as if the family left for a vacation and was planning to come back.

    There was soap in the bathroom, towels hanging on the shower rod, toilet paper on the back of the tank. Bottles of water packed a refrigerator that had long ago become warm. Clothes were folded neatly in dresser drawers.

    On the dining room table sat a letter on plain copy paper. When I first walked in, I didn’t notice it. Or maybe I did and it didn’t register. I picked it up.

    To Whom It May Concern,

    Welcome to our home. If you are here, then you have managed to survive so far. Feel free to stay a while. Drink the water, eat the food. This house is on a well that is powered by the windmill near the lake. The shower still works.

    We have left for the Saluda Armory where my unit is stationed. It is the safest place in South Carolina. If anyone reads this, please, try to make it to the Saluda Armory. It is a safe zone.

    Hoping there are more survivors out there,

    Jay.

    I set the letter down and stared at it. There were people out there. The Saluda Armory—it wasn’t too far away. It was a supposed safe zone. Honestly, I doubted there was such a thing. Everywhere I travelled had been overrun for the most part.

    Lyrics from a band I used to like came to my mind, and I shook my head. The cynical part of me that had seen little good in this new world refused to trust the words of someone no longer living at that residence. I wouldn’t be leaving there for a while. I wouldn’t go searching for a safe zone that wasn’t there. No need to chase misprinted lies.

    Instead, I moved my gear into the house. It wasn’t neat at first, but I was more concerned with being stuck outside in case the dead came.

    A hangover headache lingered, and I emptied the van as quickly as I could. Hauling everything up those steps wore me out and my headache intensified. On one of my last trips to the van, I came across the box of doll clothes I had picked up for Humphrey a while back.

    My heart sank.

    She had been so much a part of me, of my survival…

    I became angry. If I’m sure of anything, it’s that I felt betrayed. Abandoned.

    I took the box from the van and threw it across the yard. It tumbled, end over end, through the sky and then along the ground. A trail of little articles of clothing littered the yard.

    I started to go inside. Like so many other decisions in my life, I should have gone with my first instinct. Instead, I made my way back to the trailer and into the bathroom with the homemade shine. I took several of the smaller bottles on the first trip, and then went back for two of the larger jugs.

    It was stupid.

    I made one last trip into the trailer, but not for alcohol. I took the picture of the pretty brunette off the wall and carried it with me to my new home.

    That was one of the worst mistakes I ever made.

    Days past. I drank. And I talked to the picture. Before I hung it on the wall, I noticed on the back was the brunette’s name: Cate.

    “Looks like it’s just you and me, Cate.” I said and lifted a bottle of clear moonshine that read Apple Cider on the label. Surprisingly, it had a strong apple flavor to it.

    I remember little else for the next few weeks.

    Drinking and loneliness are two things that go hand in hand, and they’re one bad combination.

    Things happened. I know they did. But I don’t know in what order they occurred or how true they were in my mind, or if they really even happened.

    It was a binge like none I had ever gone on in the pre end of the world days. I know I fired my guns a few times. I think I checked out a few of the houses, searching for anyone or any supplies. Did I build something? I didn’t know.

    It was like I was asleep and all the nightmares were just far enough into the dark to scare me, but not for me to know why I was scared.

    Then I woke up. Someone, somewhere was screaming. I opened my eyes. They felt crusty, and stung as if there were salt in them. I had been sitting at the kitchen table when I passed out the last time. The bottle of whatever moonshine lay tipped over on the table, most of its contents spilled out. I set the bottle upright, and then placed my head back on the table. It was just another nightmare.

    But it wasn’t.

    It wasn’t…

    It wasn’t just another nightmare.

    I lifted my head again. The screams were closer, and there was panic and fear in them.

    I stood too quickly. My head swooned, and my stomach rolled over. I barely reached the sink before throwing up nothing more than phlegm and alcohol.

    The scream. It came again. And again. And again.

    My legs were unsteady, but I managed to make my way across the kitchen to the back door. On the way I grabbed a gun from off the counter, and checked the clip.

    The sun was bright, and the sky was clear blue. The air outside was cool, and a breeze blew off the lake. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust, but when they did, I could see where the screaming came from.

    The guy ran up the dirt road, coming from the lake—there was a dock down there. He had just rounded the corner and probably didn’t realize he was running back toward the street this one circled back to.

    A pack of the dead was behind him. Though they moved considerably slower, they weren’t too far away. I realized then that he was limping, and not really running at all.

    “Hey!” I yelled and started down the steps.

    The guy heard me. He started to run toward me, and then stopped.

    “Come on!” I called to him.

    From where I stood, he appeared confused. He looked to the horde following him, then at me.

    “What are you waiting on? Come on.”

    I stumbled down the steps, holding tight to the railing. My hand was shaking as I raised my gun. I squeezed off a shot that missed everything.

    “Steady there, Hank.” I was far from steady. I had been drinking for too long.

    Then the guy bolted for me. He hopped a ditch, then crumpled to the ground.

    I ran.

    Head pounding, stomach churning, cotton-dry mouth, sweating like a pig, but I ran. All those other instances came back, and my hands became as even as they ever were. I don’t know how many shots I fired, but most of them hit home, taking the tops or sides of heads off and dropping the dead where they walked.

    The guy struggled to crawl.

    I tried to yell for him to get moving, but nothing came out. My voice had disappeared deep inside of me. I reached him as one of the dead was almost on top of him. It was a young girl, probably not too long deceased. She moved quicker than the others. It seemed the young ones always did.

    My knife was out by then and I drove it into her right eye, shoving her backward and to the ground.

    The guy was terrified, but as I would find out seconds later, he wasn’t afraid of the undead horde after him. He was afraid of me.

    “Come on. Let’s go.”

    I reached for his arm, but he pulled away.

    “I’d rather die.”

    I was dumbfounded.

    “You don’t have that choice,” I said. I hate to admit what I did next, but it was the only way to get him off the ground and save his life. I pistol-whipped him in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious.

    I turned and fired several times. The closest of the dead fell. Others stumbled over the bodies, some of them tripping and falling as well. It didn’t buy much time, but it was enough. I bent down and grabbed the guy beneath his arms and slung him over my shoulder. I wavered for a second as my head spun.

    Then I was running.

    He wasn’t very big. He weighed maybe a buck fifty, if that, but having been drunk for who knew how long, I wasn’t in the shape to be carrying him and running.

    Then I saw…

    I saw…

    I almost stopped when I saw what the man had seen when I ran up to him. I didn’t focus on the scene to the side of the house. If I would have, I may not have made it.

    I passed the first of the bodies hanging on crosses—how did I miss that when I ran to his aid?—and hit the steps in a clumsy sprint. I pulled myself up the stairs until I reached the landing. When I looked back, the dead had ceased their pursuit.

    Did they see the bodies? Did they smell them? Every part of me said the souls trapped inside could see and smell and sense, and to go any further was to be the end of them.

    I went inside and lay the man on the couch. His head was bleeding, as was his leg. I grabbed a couple of guns, shoved them in my waistband, and…

    Where did the machete come from? Mine was gone—left on interstate 26 toward Charleston. But there it was, sitting on the counter like an obscene finger. The blade was crusted with dried blood and there were blackish red spots on the floor, leading away, or to, the door, depending on how you looked at it. I grabbed the machete. It felt right in my hand, like it belonged.

    Then I was out of the house, and standing on the landing. The dead had come no closer than the first cross. There must have been thirty or forty of them. Maybe more. Some of them had turned around and were shambling away, but most of them just stood there.

    I thought about running headlong into them, the machete raised over my head like a medieval warrior going into battle. There was no need, though. They weren’t getting any closer, and they weren’t really staring at me.

    They were staring at…

    They were staring at the bodies…

    Bodies.

    It didn’t quite click until then.

    The side of the house was littered with crosses made from the posts of the fence that had once spanned the backside of the house. The crosses had been placed in the ground as if they were still posts. Nailed or tied to the cross were the decomposing corpses of the dead, each one missing part of their heads.

    What the hell?

    When the hell…

    I looked further. The crosses stretched behind the house, each one holding a body. Flies buzzed about them, and many of them were nothing more than skin and bones and worn clothing. One in particular caught my eye. It was a child, maybe no more than three or four, bare-chested and barefoot. It was high on the cross, his little arms stretched out, his hands nailed to the cross. His head was, too.

    I leaned against the doorjamb, stunned from what I saw. Then I went inside, my stomach having sunk into my feet and my heart having leapt into my throat. I closed the door, locked it, and dropped the machete to the floor. I sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the spilled moonshine.

    I didn’t know what to think or what to feel. I didn’t believe I had done those things, but who could have? There were no bodies here when I arrived. The fence was intact then. How did I manage to get the posts out of the ground and cut and made into crosses?

    What had I become?

    I stood, picked the bottle up from the table and went to the sink. Its contents went down the drain.

    “Why did you hit me over the head?”

    I turned. The man was sitting up on the couch, one hand on the back of his head. He pulled his fingers away to look at a patch of dark blood.

    “You were being difficult,” I responded.

    “Difficult?”

    Looking at him, he struck me as someone much like myself. He had seen a lot, probably lost a lot of loved ones, if not all of them. He had probably put down his fair share of the dead. His hair was thinning, but still dark and scraggly. A beard covered the lower half of his face. His eyes were bloodshot and his clothes were caked in dirt and blood and who knew what else.

    “Yeah, difficult. I was trying to help you and you said you would rather die.”

    “Gee, Rambo, I guess you haven’t seen the graveyard of biters you have around this place.”

    “Honestly, I hadn’t. Well, until I picked you up and started back for the house.”

    “Yeah, right.”

    He stood, grimaced, and limped a few feet. “Are you some kind of drunk?”

    I lifted the bottle that was still in my hand, set it on the counter.

    “Yeah, I reckon so. I don’t remember much about the last few weeks or however long. That mess outside—I don’t remember doing it, but I’m the only one here, so I must have.”

    “So, you’re not only nuts, but you’re a drunk, as well. Nice. Psycho drunk people are the best. Of all the people to get saved by, I get you.”

    “Yeah, you got me. But you don’t have to stick around. You can take yourself right on out that door. Good luck, though. They got us surrounded and I doubt you’re going to get very far.”

    “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to die anyway.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    He lifted his shirt. There were teeth marks on his stomach–just enough to break the skin and leave a bloody imprint.

    “One of them got my leg, too.” He pulled at a hole in his pants, exposing a deeper wound–one that had already begun to turn gray.

    He showed me his hand. A huge gash stretched across three knuckles. “I punched the one that bit my stomach.”

    I stared at him.

    “Where’d all the, what did you call them? Biters?”

    “Yeah. Biters. That’s what they do. They bite and tear the flesh off your body.”

    “Biters. That sounds about right. So, where’d all of them come from?”

    “I don’t know. I just kind of ran into them as I was trying to get out of this area.”

    “So, you ran this way?”

    He laughed. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

    “What would you call it?”

    “Limping lamely, maybe?”

    “Where were you coming from?”

    “A house a couple of streets down. It’s not much of a place, but I holed up there for a couple of days until my buddy died. Then I left.”

    “Did you put him down?”

    “My buddy?”

    “Yeah.”

    “I think.”

    “You think? You don’t know if you put him down? You either did or you didn’t.”

    “I think I did.”

    “Why do you think that?”

    “Dean had been bitten and it was all I could do to make him comfortable. He wanted me to go ahead and put a bullet in his head before he died. He didn’t want to turn…and I didn’t want to kill him.”

    “You didn’t finish the job?”

    “I rigged the bedroom door.”

    “Rigged the door?”

    He nodded. “Yeah. With an axe and a rope. If he gets up and tries to open the door, the rope will pull a lever and the axe will split his skull. It’s the only thing I could think to do, other than be there when he died and do it then. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”

    I thought about that, and understood where he came from. I put Lee down, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the way his head snapped back, and the way blood and hair and brains splattered the wall behind him.

    “I hope it did the trick. If not, your buddy’s going to suffer for a long time.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “What did I say? He’s going to suffer.”

    “But he’s dead.”

    “Not completely. He’s still in there.”

    “Impossible. He’s dead. They’re all dead.”

    “I’ll show you,” I said, then went to the door. “Come with me.”

    “Out there?”

    “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine.” I opened the door. Minutes earlier, I went out there and noticed the chill in the air, but I didn’t notice the brown and orange and yellow leaves on the trees, mingled in with all of the greens. Fall had set in pretty good by then, I reckoned.

    “What month is it?” I asked.

    “Late October, if my watch is right.”

    “Late October?”

    More time had passed than I thought. It was mid-September when I arrived here.

    “I didn’t catch your name,” he said.

    “I didn’t throw it.”

    Silence fell over us like a cloud.

    “It’s Hank. Hank Walker, but you can call me Walker.”

    “I’m Hetch.”

    “Come here, Hetch. You won’t believe this unless I show you.”

    He looked apprehensive. I guess he had reason not to trust me. I did whack him pretty solid on the head, and there were all the bodies in the yard on crosses. I went down the steps. Most of the biters—yeah, I liked that term—had shambled away. Only a few stragglers hung behind. I don’t know if they were waiting for a meal or for the angel of death.

    The closest one was a man, maybe in his mid-forties. His brown hair was missing in places and his eyes drooped in their sockets. Even as a corpse he had seen better days. I drove the machete into his head, and pulled it free. A second male moved toward me, a low groan in his throat that I ended with another over the top plunge of the blade into his skull.

    The third guy was a big man—not fat, but in life, he had been muscular. The muscles he probably prided himself on were still fairly solid looking, and only sagging around his chest and mid-section. If he got hold of you, there would be no breaking his grip. His hair had been cropped short and his shirt was ripped and barely hanging on by one arm. He had been bitten on the shoulder. For all the weight lifting and being in shape the guy had probably done, he was still like the rest of us: raw meat, and one bite was all it took to spoil it.

    “This guy, Hetch. Look at him. You see him?”

    “Yeah.”

    “He was someone’s son. Maybe someone’s brother or dad. Look at his hand—he was married. He liked to work out. He might have been a jock when he was in high school. His appearance was probably important to him. Are you getting all this?”

    Hetch stood at the top of the stairs. He looked ready to run back inside if things got out of control.

    “Why does any of that matter?” he asked.

    “The body is dead, but the person inside isn’t.”

    “You really are crazy, aren’t you?”

    “Maybe we all are,” I said, and then added, “Pay close attention.”

    I picked up a hand-sized rock and moved toward Muscles. If this were the world that once was, I would have probably never approached him. I certainly wouldn’t have tried to taunt him. A few feet away, I threw the rock. It hit Muscles in the chest. It sounded like someone punching a bag of sugar—a heavy THWOCK.

    Muscles growled.

    “I think I made him mad.”

    He staggered forward, his right hand reaching for me. I sliced it off with a quick downward slash of the machete. Muscles leaned to the right and let out a loud moan.

    “Did you hear that? That’s the sound of someone in pain. He may be dead on the outside, but on the inside, he feels everything.” My eyes never left Muscles, and then I spoke directly to him, “Ain’t that right, fellah?”

    His jaws snapped shut, and then opened. He shambled closer to me, this time extending his other arm. I took it off at the elbow. He howled like an angry wolf.

    “Now what are you going to do, fellah?”

    I hated what I was doing, but I had to prove a point, I had to make Hetch understand that there was so much more to the biters than just being reanimated corpses with an insatiable hunger.

    I kicked Muscles in the kneecap. His leg buckled backward and he fell to the ground. His groans were agonized.

    “Come here,” I said to Hetch.

    “You’re crazy.”

    “Come here. I have a headache the size of Montana, so don’t make me tell you again.”

    I thought he was going to bolt. His eyes held that weary stare, that look that said if he had somewhere to run or a car to get into, he would. He could have just went in the house. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did.

    He didn’t.

    Hetch limped down the stairs, holding tight to the railing.

    “Help me roll him over.”

    “What?”

    “Help me roll him over. I want to show you something.”

    “Haven’t you shown me enough. Just put the machete in his head and get it over with.”

    “I will, but you have to see this, first. You won’t believe me if you don’t.”

    We stood in silence for several seconds before he finally nodded. He pushed from one side as I pulled on one of Muscles’ shoulders.

    On his back, Muscles snapped his jaws at us several times.

    “Damn it,” Hetch said and fell on his bottom. “Are you crazy? He almost got me.”

    “It doesn’t matter—you’ve already been bitten. You’ll be one of them soon enough, right?”

    I grabbed Muscles by what little hair he had on his head. “Listen up in there. Do you hear me? I know you do. Answer a question for me. Can you do that?”

    “He can’t understand you, Walker.”

    I knocked on Muscles’ head a couple of times. He growled and gnashed his teeth.

    “Hey now, that’s no way to act toward the man who’s going to end your suffering.”

    “Walker, that’s enough. Just put him down and…”

    I spun on my knee and grabbed him in the leg where the hole was. He dropped to the ground, a scream escaping him. I had my gun out, and pointed at Hetch’s head.

    What was I doing?

    My grip on the world had slipped too far away. But I couldn’t reel it back in. Not right then, at least.

    “You know what the problem with this world is? It’s not the dead. It’s the living. We’re all too busy being scared of those things, those biters. But, you know, maybe they’re just as scared as we are. Did you ever think about that? Did you?!”

    Hetch had a hand over his head and one forearm at my chest. “No. No, I never figured they would be afraid of us. They just march along, killing and killing and killing.”

    “They can’t help it,” I said and pulled the gun away. I slipped it back in my waistband and turned to Muscles. Hetch was right about one thing—I should have just put him down and ended his misery right then. The other biters had begun to turn around, many of them making their way back to us. “Unlike the living, they can’t help their impulses.”

    I stood, and pulled Hetch to his feet. “Look at his eyes.”

    “What about them?”

    I chopped off one of Muscles’ feet. He wailed.

    Hetch backed away. “What the hell?”

    “You saw his eyes–they changed, didn’t they?”

    “But he’s dead.”

    “No. I’ve told you already. His body is dead. He’s still in there.” I looked to the biters migrating toward us. There were more than a dozen. “They’re all still in there. They can’t help themselves. But we, the living, we can. I don’t know how many living people you’ve come across, but most the ones I’ve met have been crazier than an asylum.”

    Hetch gave me raised eyebrows.

    “Yeah, I know how I must look to you—like one of those crazies. But I’m not. I’m just trying to survive and not doing a very good job of it.”

    I didn’t know if Hetch believed a word I said. I didn’t know if I believed it either. To be truthful, I don’t know how anyone in this world—the way it is now—could be completely sane. Every one of the living had to be a little off kilter from the things they’ve seen, the things they’ve done. Sanity’s just a pipe dream.

    I turned back to Muscles, and shook my head. He looked like he was in pain, like he was screaming on the inside. And me, well, I had caused that pain.

    “Nothing personal, buddy,” I said to the poor guy. His head split open easy enough underneath the blade of the machete.

    To Hetch I said, “Stay here. I have to help these people.”

    Help them? That’s somewhat laughable if you think about it. In any language, it was murder. Or maybe it was assisted suicide, like that Dr. Death guy. He supposedly assisted in the suicides of over 130 ailing patients. He went to jail for murder, though really all he did was help those people leave this world.

    At that moment I was Death—not so much Dr.—to these people. I provided the machinery. No, it wasn’t the Thantron or the Mercitron, as the good doctor called his machines. It was the Machetetron, and it was just as lethal.

    “Come on, people,” I yelled and stepped away from the house, and away from the hanging corpses, which I can only believe I used to keep the dead at bay—if they couldn’t smell me, they wouldn’t want me. Oh, but they caught my scent right good, and several of them picked up the pace.

    I sliced through them with ease, the machete lopping off the tops of heads or splitting them all the way to their noses. My arms grew heavy and ached—but the blood rush and adrenaline kept me going. Finally, the last one went down—a young man with long tangled hair and wearing only shorts.

    Hetch stood at the bottom of the steps, one hand on the rail. Again, he looked like he would bolt.

    I walked through the corpses—easily two dozen or more—and stopped a few feet from Hetch. I said nothing as I passed him and went up the steps. At the top, I looked down. The scene from there was worse than up close. I had cut off more than just the tops of heads. There were arms and legs lying here and there, and the blackish red blood painted the grass in splotches.

    I was no Dr. Death, but on that day I was Death all the same to twenty-seven trapped people.

    I motioned for Hetch to come in, and then walked inside.

    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…)

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