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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.

January 7, 2008  Longer stories   Tags: ,   

Since working out exactly how to close the metal security gates at the entrance of the Triggs hypermarket, our group of seven had been huddled in the men’s clothing section, toward the back of the store. We each stared off in our own thoughts for a time. The only sounds came from the mall area. Out there, the children shimmied up and down the front gates, hacking and whooping with those croup-like coughs.
From nowhere Crystal began to sing, repeatedly: “Rock-a-bye, baby – In the tree tops – When the wind blows – The cradle will rock – When the bough brakes–”
“Will you shut up, you hillbilly bitch!” Lars eventually barked.
Lars was a bald, beefy guy with a large man’s disposition toward being an intimidator. That much he had made apparent while we’d been trying to figure out how to get the front gates closed. Crystal, on the other hand, she was a dainty little number with a strong southern drawl. By the time Lars said what he did, she’d been singing that nursery rhyme and rubbing her pregnant belly for at least fifteen-minutes.
“This place’s bigger’n a rodeo stadium,” Crystal said to Lars. “If ya don’t wanna hear me singin to my baby, just head on over the produce aisle and stick a carrot in your butt, big boy.”
“Don’t think I’m not low enough to punch a woman, now,” Lars said.
“And don’t think I won’t stomp your ass if you try,” the other large fellow of our group piped in with. Until then, he’d proven the silent type, but obviously wasn’t afraid to speak his mind once he marked something unjust.
“And just who the hell are you, Blondie?” Lars wanted to know.
“Name’s Pippin. You shouldn’t talk to a pregnant woman like that, friend.”
“Pippin.” Lars chuckled. “You mean like Lord of the Rings, hobbit, Pippin?”
“Do I look like a hobbit to you, beefcake?”
The two eyeballed one another for a time, until Kia chimed in with a husky voice. She said, “Will you guys cut it with this macho bullshit already!”
“No d-d-doubt,” Flory added.
Lars said, “I don’t need to hear no sass from a nigger lesbian or her honky g-g-girlfriend, thank you very little.”
Kia and Flory had been sitting against a display rack of men’s casual wear, kissing, and doing their best to disregard the rest of us. Up till that point, they’d been doing a hell of a job.
“I’ll kick your ass myself,” Kia said to Lars, and gained her feet. She looked the man of the relationship, if their existed such a thing. Stout, grim eyes, fists like burnt meatballs.
“All this bitching is doing us no good,” I said. “We need to work together if we plan on making it through this.”
Janice said, “Hank’s right. We should be more worried about provisions than who can kick whose butt.”
Janice and I had been exchanging glances since we’d found ourselves holed up in the situation we were lucky enough be in. She looked to be thirty-something, brunet. A figure I was having trouble willing my eyes to stay away from.
“Provisions.” Lars grunted. “We’re in a hypermarket, sweet cheeks. I’d say we have all the provisions we need, wouldn’t you?”
“You and me,” Pippin said to Lars, “we’re gonna have it out before it’s said and done.”
“Make your move, Pip. I’m standing right here.”
Pippin made to get up but I stopped him with a look that said: ‘It’s not worth it.’ He seemed to catch my drift.
I said, “Food, beverages, clothing; yeah, we’re alright on those things. But has anyone considered that there might be other ways to get in here? Back doors, side doors, the loading dock?”
They each gazed at me as if I suddenly stood as the ringmaster of our motley crew. I guess in opening my big mouth and trying to be the voice of reason, I’d become just that.
“What do you suggest, Hank?” Pippin asked me. “…Split up and take different sections of the store?”
“Ain’t ya ever watched a horror movie, cute stuff?” Crystal said to Pippin. “We split up, and them hellions out there’re likely to pick us cleaner’n chicken bones.”
“Agreed,” I said. “We need to move as a group … no matter what we’re doing. We’ll come up with a schedule of sorts. Bathroom breaks and the like.”
“If you think I’m following your lead then you’re sadly mistaken, mister Hank,” Kia said. “I’ve never followed what ‘the man’ has to say. Or any other man, for that matter.”
“No d-d-d-doubt,” Flory added.
“Fine by us,” Lars put in. “Stay here and munch fur-burger for all we care. And tell your pasty-faced girlfriend to get some new material. If she says ‘no doubt’ one more time, I’ll kick her like the stuttering mutt she is.”
Without warning, Kia shot up from her position on the floor and rammed a fist in Lars’s crotch. He doubled up, and when he did she spit on him and said, “Once your done coughing your balls out your throat, say something else. I double-dog dare you, you bald prick!”
Between hacks and sputters, Lars mumbled, “I’ll cut your throat, black bitch. Before we get out of here I’ll–”
She kicked him in the crotch another solid shot. He went down so hard you could practically hear his knees crunch as they made contact with the floor.
Kia looked back at Flory and said, “C’mon, Flo, let’s find a spot to call home for the night.” Then they headed in the opposite direction from where we stood.
“Got anything of a plan in mind, Hank?” Janice asked.
She placed a hand on my shoulder and goose bumps ran up and down my body.
“Well,” I said, “I say we start at the front gates, make sure we’re still secure up there, then do a circuit around the whole store.”
“Sounds fittin’ to me,” Crystal said. “But I’m gonna need to get some chow in me, and soon. The baby’s gettin’ awful twitchy.”
Pippin went to her side and started rubbing her lower back as if they’d known each other for years on end.
“Are we ready?” I said. “Lars, you alright, buddy?”
He found his feet and said, “Yeah, I’m ready.” His voice sounded small.


“My God,” Janice breathed when we’d reached the front gates.
Crystal made the Holy Sign, and Pippin wrapped one arm around her, pulled her close. She began to sob.
“Would you look at those bastards?” Lars yelled, and whomped the gate with one large work boot. “Fuckers are mean.”
Children, from what looked to be the ages of just a couple of months to five-years-old, climbed and clung and scampered opposite side the security gates. They lashed out at one another like too many rabid dogs in a confined space; their bruised bodies the color of hammered steak. The blood vessels in their eyes had burst to a shocking red.
“They’re just babies,” Janice lamented. “Babies.”
“Them ain’t babies no more.” Crystal said in a soft but unwavering voice. “Them are hellions.”
The bodies of adults who had apparently tried to find shelter since we’d closed the gates lay twisted and ruined on the floor of the outer mall area. Some of the children still worked feverishly at their spoiled flesh; not content with what death had provided their elders.
“The gates seem to be holding them back,” I said between hot tears, unconsciously pulling Janice close to me.
Soon as those words left my lips, a girl wearing a tattered blue dress with little ballerinas on it began to squeeze her head through one of the slots in the metal gate. She grunted, coughed, and pushed with terrible might, and if raw conviction could have possibly won out, she would have definitely reached us, but that the slot in the gate proved too small of course. Her body convulsed, twitched, and then dangled there like a victim of the gallows.
Nobody had to mention that it was time to get moving, we just collectively did so. Perhaps twenty paces away from the front gate, Kia’s husky voice rose up from the other end of the store.
“C’mon over here, gang,” she shouted. “Electronics section. Clyde Allan’s about to give the lowdown on what’s making the kiddies go bad.”
Eager to get some answers, we ran in the direction of Kia’s voice.


Five television screens displayed the graven face of Clyde Allan. His necktie was loosed and his shirt cuffs rolled up. After shuffling some paperwork, he said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think I speak for the greater majority when I say that the past forty-eight hours have been nothing less than harrowing. Due to the countless reports of absolute depravity that have been coming out of the states of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, we are broadcasting this Special Report to try and shed a bit of light on the whys and wherefores centering around this unimaginable crises.
“We have with us tonight Mr. Ronald Dash, who is a member of the FDA and a leading scientist with the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Before we speak with Mr. Dash, however, I’m to announce that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued what they are calling a Nationwide Obedient Quarantine. In short, this is urging all civilians of all states to stay within a closed and secure area. Although the epicenter of this crisis seems relegated to only the tri-state area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, they stress not to leave the location you are in lest said area is in unalterable peril.” Clyde took a deep, labored breath. The stress of the situation showed haggard on his unusually gaunt face.
The picture went to a split-screen and a short, heavyset man appeared on the right side.
“Mr. Dash,” Clyde said, “…can you explain exactly what it is that’s happening to the children of these three states? And should we expect their neighboring states to be affected in any measure?”
Dash cleared his throat and said, “Well, there are no exact answers as of yet, Clyde. I want to make that much clear from the onset. However in regards to your first question, as to what we think is happening, we’re leaning heavily toward Bioterrorism. This is to say, germ warfare of the airborne contagion variety. Now–”
“And from whom do we suspect this attack originated?” Clyde asked. “North Korea, the Taliban? Or are we talking about a radical faction within our own country?”
Dash looked annoyed. He said, “Seeing as it’s not my place, I’m certainly not here to point fingers, Mr. Allan, just to try and provide some speculative answers.
“Now, after doing some DNA sequencing on numerous young cadavers, we’ve come to the conclusion that something is attacking the brains of our children. Such as seen in a condition known as meningioma, tumors are forming within the brain. But, whereas meningioma will attack only regions pertaining to the protective membranes of the spine and brain, this condition seems to be affecting the hypothalamus, pituitary and amygdalae regions. This undoubtedly disrupts the emotional state and hormone production of the children, therefore causing an inconceivable spike in aggression.”
“So what you’re telling us, Mr. Dash, is that Bioterrorism is what’s causing these children to become monsters?” Clyde looked real tired.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t have worded it quite like that, Mr. Allan. But for want of a better: yes. You see, a child’s brain is very susceptible to such a contagion because it’s still in the developmental stages. We suspect this Biological agent to be so powerful that it can cause even an infant–that has no due right to walk or crawl let alone move aggressively, mind you–to act out and manipulate its body into doing things otherwise impossible. You see, the electrical impulses received by the–”
“So what does the government plan to do about this shit?” Clyde spat, tears brimming in his eyes. He was obviously losing it on national television.
“Well, Mr. Allan, since you so adamantly make mention of the government. The Department of Homeland Security and Military personnel believe they have devised something of a solution. As to the specific time I can’t be certain, but within the next twenty-four hours numerous aircraft will deploy non-contagious agents in the form of bombs over the three states being influenced. These bombs will detonate four-hundred-feet from ground zero. We are in high hopes that this will act as a cure for these childre–”
“What is the government going to do, Ronald?” Clyde barked. “My brother’s family lives in Dearborn, Kentucky, Ronald, and he watched his two children rip his wife to fucking shreds. And I want to know what the fuc–”
Then the broadcast went dead. A humming blue filled the five screens.
“They pulled the plug on him,” Pippin said.
“Gee, do ya think, Blondie?” Lars said. “Don’t state the obvious now.”
“That’s it, you and me, right now.”
“I’ve already been jabbed and kicked in the nuts. Think you can do worse?”
“You’re soon to find out.”
But a noise from a near distance dissolved both their aggression in an instant. A scraping, scuffling sound that had each of us at a stand still.
“We have a guest,” Lars whispered as he stepped away from the electronics area and into the main aisle way, a sinister gleam alight in his eyes. “And there she is.”
Just down the way, maybe fifty-feet from our group, a girl with strawberry-blond hair appeared to slither on her belly, one aisle to the next, leaving a crimson trail in her wake.
Janice gasped, “She has no feet.”
“How do you guys think she got in?” Kia wanted to know.
“Doesn’t matter,” Lars answered, peering back at her with hate-congested eyes. “She’s here now.”
“What’re we gonna do?” someone said. Crystal, I think. My ears were ringing, so I can’t be sure.
But I’m positive it was Lars who said: “Let me handle this.”
He walked in the direction of the girl, and then took a hard left down one of the aisles. He soon reappeared holding a frying pan and a dog leash. Looking back over one shoulder and grinning, he held one finger to his mouth as if to say, ‘Shhhh’.
There proved no need for such a gesture, though, because as soon as he turned his attention back on the girl, she had spotted him and us both. With something between a whooping cough and a scream, she somehow mindlessly defied logic and rose up to stand on the ragged stumps of her legs–chewed to the ankles–and proceeded to gallop clumsily at Lars, her hands raised to form claws, those stumps gushing. He wasted no time in taking off toward her.
The girl stumbled, fell, got back up, and fell again. Lars had the frying pan at the ready when they met and bashed her face in with the thing. The coughs, the screams, the ridiculous slosh-patter of her stumps smacking the floor, it all came to an abrupt halt. With the ease of seasoned cowboy, he lassoed the dog leash around her neck and dragged her away to the far end of the store. We waited. We heard a few stifled screams from the girl. We waited some more. Finally he came strutting down the main aisle way, soaked in gore and smiling as if the cat got the mouse.
“He’s crazy as a loon,” Janice muttered from behind me.
“Don’t you forget it,” Pippin said.
“And that’s how you deal with an out of control rug rat,” Lars announced, halfway from us.
“What did you do with her?” Janice asked when he’d gotten closer.
Lars scrubbed a hand across his forehead and said, “Don’t worry about it, sweet cheeks. I took care of the situation and that’s all you need to worry your little self about.”
“Why do you have to be a bona fide penis about everything?” Kia said.
“Don’t you worry your black self, neither,” Lars snapped. “I still owe you and your pasty-bitch lover a little s-s-somethin’ somethin’. Don’t you go forgetting that, ‘cause I sure as shit haven’t.”
Flory’s face went beet-red, and she stomped off in the direction of the restrooms.
“Well, well,” Lars cackled, “guess the old girl’s got some life in her after all.”
Kia shot him a look as if to strike him dead, then yelled after Flory: “Flo, c’mon, don’t let him worry you, babe.”
She started out after her, stopped midway, turned and said, “She doesn’t talk much because she can’t. When she was a kid, her uncle raped her and drove a drill bit through her skull. He left her in a ditch. Left her for dead. She might be slow, yeah, but she has more warmth in her little toe than you have in that slug you call a body.”
“Bleeding hearts unite,” Lars said. “Not my fault you chose to split the beaver with a chick that’s been lobotomized.”
Pippin laid him out cold. Kia grinned like a Cheshire cat, said thanks, and headed off to look after Flory.


An hour or so later and the four of us were working out sleeping arrangements. Kia and Flory had yet to return from the restroom. Lars sat brooding in one corner, a raw steak slapped over his eye.
“What ya’ll reckon we could use for beddin’ down?” Crystal asked between mouthfuls of double-fudge ice cream.
“I spotted some of those blowup mattress jobs in the camping section,” Pippin said. “Those would due.”
“Good thinking,” I said. “But the real question is should we consider sleeping in shifts? You know, in case we have anymore uninvited guests.”
“You all can do what you like,” Lars put in. “I’m sleeping as far from you turds as I can get.” Then he got up and marched away.
Crystal made to say something, but Janice put a firm hand on her shoulder, and Crystal went back to her ice cream with great relish.
About the time that Lars was out of sight, Kia came walking down the way.
“What’s going?” she asked.
“Sleeping arrangements,” I said. “How’s Flory?”
“Rattled. But I calmed her down. Hey, Flo and I are gonna sack out in the ladies john. I know you all wanted to stick together, but if it’s all the same,
I think we’d be better off on our own. No offense. But that asshole has her a nervous wreck.”
“Whatever suits you two best, Kia,” I said. “It’s not like there’re any rules, or anything. Just suggestions. Wait here a minute, and we’ll be back with some blankets and stuff.”
“That’s cool,” she said.
A few moments later Pippin and I left off for the camping aisle.


Some time later, after the four of us had had our fill of food, we lay on our inflatable mattresses looking up at the large industrialized lights that hung from the warehouse-like ceiling. We were quiet for a time, until Crystal said:
“Where ya’ll reckon that peckerwood Lars got off to?”
“Who cares,” Pippin said, snuggled beside her. “The further away the better.”
“I don’t trust him,” Janice said.
“I’d venture to say that none of us do,” I said. “What do you say we change the subject?”
“Good idea,” Janice said. “…Anyone have a game we could play? You know, like the ones you played in the car when you were a kid. … I don’t know, something to occupy our minds.”
Considering that the noises from the front gates hadn’t let up a bit, I figured sleep wouldn’t come easy.
“Games?” Crystal said. “Not much for playin’ games. But…” She faltered, sounded choked up.
“What is it?” Pippin asked.
“Well, I figure I’d like to talk about what happened to my baby’s daddy.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I need to vent, is all I’m tryin’ to say. Besides, he deserves to be talked about. He was a fine man. I miss him.”
“Then tell us,” Pippin said.
“You’re one helluva good dude, Pippin,” Crystal said. “And I thank you for that. …Cute, too.” Pippin’s face went three shades of red. “Bashful to boot. I like you awready.” She kissed him on the hand, and then drew a breath and said: “Jacob’s his name. We’ve been together for goin’ on about four-years now. You see, we was comin out the doctor’s office from the baby’s checkup–out there in the waitin room–and that’s when all heck broke loose. I mean to tell ya it was like monkeys hangin’ from the ceilin’s out there. Kids goin’ this way and that. One had its mother all tied up like some fancy ribbon, and another had its little-boy face all covered in chunky stuff. Everything was blood and screams and Jacob hollerin’ for me to get down and lay low, that the Devil’d come on up from Hell and was havin his wicked ways with the world. He pulled me close and startin’ kickin’ and punchin them little hellions like they’s nothin but a bunch of roughnecks. Jacob, he was always a fighter, you see. Kinda like Pippin here. Big and broad in the shoulders. Never have to worry about bein’ safe with a man like that by your side.”
Then she abruptly broke down and let loose a stream of tears. Pippin held her close and whispered some words into her hair. Between sobs, she said:
“We made it out of that office. But on account of all them hellions, I still can’t be sure just how we done it. But we did. And once we made it outside, it was like the end of the world had fallen down on everything. Cars were slammin’ into the sides of buildin’s and people was squabbling’ in every direction like headless chickens. I saw a school bus whiz by with no driver at the wheel, then it crashed into a telephone pole and kids flung like arrows from out them tiny windows. Some of them got up, broken bones and all.
“Jacob lifted me up in his arms and swore to heaven that our baby girl was gonna live to see the light. He ran like folks in them horror movies always should but never do: like grease lightin. And I’m here to pay witness, it was like Jacob had been given a strength that could only be set down by the Lord Almighty. But then we made it to the entrance of this here mall, and it seemed like God had right changed His thinkin’ to the idea of forsakin’ us.”
A look came into her eyes, so serious, so intense, that even Pippin registered it and slightly moved away.
She said, “There was a bunch of them, but I remember one red-haired boy more’n the rest. He kept lookin from my eyes to my belly, my eyes to my belly. Like he was tied fit to have my baby for supper-chow and my eyeballs for dessert. They all just kinda stood there, you know, ever one of them, like they really had a plan workin between them. Well, Jacob leaned in close and told me he loved me, that he wanted nothin more’n our baby to see the light of day. He said that when he ran into that mob of hellions, I should make a beeline for the front doors, get inside and hide myself and baby-girl away in the safest place I could find.
“I shed tears and told him it wasn’t worth it, that we should stick as one and face them hellions head on. He slapped me a good one across the jaw, kissed me a better one on the lips, and told me to get with it. I knew not to cross Jacob when he had his mind fixed on somethin, but I went right on and said it anyway. I said that the world had gone sour and that God was to blame. I said that our God Almighty had forsaken us.
“I thought for sure he’s gonna plant another one on me–a slap, not a kiss–but he didn’t. Instead he told me that God’s creations could not work on good things alone, that the bad had to come along with the good or else everything was worth nothin’. But that for every bad act our God is forced to bear against us, He will return two good favors to try and make things right again.
“Now, I’d heard him say this exact thing on more than one occasion, mind you, but the way he looked at me … the meanin’ in his voice. … It gives me goose bumps even now.
” …Well, anyway, after another fast kiss he bolted straight for them little monsters like he’s on fire and they’s the water. …Jacob gave ‘em hell. I saw that much as I made my way in here, but they also had him tore up real bad and real quick. I saw that much, too. And here I am.
“I gotta give birth to our baby. If nothin’ else, I gotta give birth. His daddy deserves that much.”
Things went silent for a few minutes. Then Crystal asked Pippin if he’d take her in his arms again, and he did just that. She shed tears in the bulk of his chest.
Pippin rocked Crystal in his arms and repeated what Jacob had said to her: “For every bad act our God is forced to bear against us, He will return two good favors to try and make things right again. …Now that’s a beautiful philosophy to hold faith in.”
The quiet that followed was unsettling, so I asked Janice if maybe she had a story to tell.
“No,” she said. “I own and operate the Blossom Rise Preschool right next store to this mall. Me and my sister, actually. She was there, along with three other women. I was the only one that made it out.” She shuttered. “…Will you hold me, Hank?”
I did. Her body thrummed like a live wire.
“Do you have a story?” she asked me in a shaky voice.
Of course I had one, but I didn’t want to tell it; didn’t want to tell them how I’d been forced to empty two clips out of William Snodgrass’s pistol just to make it across the street and into the mall. Despite such internal wishes, I said:
“Yeah, sure.” I drew in a deep breath. “Well … I’ve worked for Knightdale Insurance Agency for going on eight years now. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s right across the street from here. Well, things were going as usual until around 12:30, I guess, when I heard what sounded like a riot from outside. Soon as I got up to see what was going on, William Snodgrass came barreling through the front door from off his lunch break. He was screaming blue murder, and it didn’t take long to see why. A baby–couldn’t have been older than two-years old–had latched onto the back of his head and was literally pulling chunks of his scalp away.
“I just stood there, you know? It’s all I could manage. Shock, I guess. He yelled for me to get the pistol from his desk drawer–‘Get that goddamn pistol, Hank.’ He just kept on repeating the same thing. I hesitated, and he stumbled toward me with mad-dog eyes. I aimed at the baby … but missed and shot William in the forehead.”
“Oh my God, Hank!” Janice yelped.
“Yeah. A man prefers to think he can hold his composure in a stressful situation, you know. But when you’re actually put into that type of situation, well … it’s just different. My hands, they shook real bad and–”
Just then, two screams lifted up and held dominion over the whole store. The four of us shot looks at one another, and no one needed to mention that they’d originated from the ladies restroom, just down the way. As if on cue, the front gates began to rattle with fresh vigor. We took off toward the restrooms.
Once there, Pippin flung the door open to reveal a bloody nightmare. At first, all I could make out was Kia standing in one of the open stalls, her back to us, and swinging a toilet seat over her head like a giant horseshoe. She brought the thing down and back up with a fierce speed. Two ragged stumps for legs, and what looked to be the end of a dog leash, trailed out from the stall and lay at her feet.
I pulled on Kia’s shoulder so as to move her back and out of the stall. She wheeled around, her eyes wild and unseeing, and made to swing her burden at me. Pippin luckily caught hold of it, and I managed to wrest her in a bear hug of sorts. She buried her face in my shoulder and began to wail.
The sight that met us in that stall made my gorge rise.
Flory, squeezed in beside the commode, had no face left. The girl that Lars had supposedly ‘taken care of’ lay atop her; brains oozing from her strawberry-blond hair and the dog leash embedded into her neck.
Pippin made a hissing sound between his teeth and said, “That sonofabitch held the girl somewhere in the store and then let her go in here.” He looked hard at me. “Tell me I’m wrong.”
I gave him a stare that confirmed what he already knew. Crystal and Janice held each other and bawled.
“Where is that sick fuck?” Pippin barked. “He’s out for more than an ass beating.”
Then came the sound of running feet and laughter like a witch’s cackle and Lars’s voice diminishing, saying: “I’ll cut your throat, Pip. I’ll cut you and that black whore.” He’d been standing outside of the restroom the whole time, checking in on his handy work.
“He’s heading for the hunting aisle!” Pippin grunted while sprinting out the door.
We took off after Pippin; Crystal pleading with him to leave the sidewinder be, that he could get him in his own time.
As it was, Pippin’s instincts hadn’t failed him. We caught up with the two of them in the hunting aisle. Lars was armed with a huge knife and Pippin with a metal rod of sorts. They circled one another like some scene from Westside Story. Lars jabbed once, twice. He missed both times. Pippin smacked him a good one in the elbow.
Then we heard the front gates come crashing down, followed by the patter of many eager feet. They coughed and yowled, and their noises filled the whole store like something from a battlefront.
Pippin clocked Lars upside the head, turned, and screamed for us to find shelter.
“Not without you!” Crystal hollered, and then doubled up and started screaming that her water had just broke. Janice went to her aid.
Pippin made to deliver another shot to Lars’s head (who was down on one knee from the first blow), but that Kia lunged in from seemingly nowhere and buried a blade of her own into Lars’s right eye. We tried to pull her away with words, warning her of the fallen gates and the hellions that would follow, but she just kept right on butchering Lars like he was something meant for a feast of many. It was a terrible thing to watch, even if only for a few fleeting moments.
As we made our way, the children, all frothy mouths and chattering teeth, crowded in at the far end of the aisle way. The last things I saw as I pulled Janice along was Kia opening Lars’s throat up, and then the two of them being overtaken. Kia’s screams died away within seconds.
As we rounded a corner and passed by the restrooms, I spotted the strawberry-blond girl that Lars had sicced on Flory and Kia slowly pulling herself out of the open doorway, and I knew that whatever biological agent worked in these children was beyond imaginable. In this one girl alone there existed proof positive: her feet had long been chewed off, her face bashed in and her neck lacerated, the plates of her skull undone, and yet still she moved with some misguided purpose.
We made it to the door of the back loading dock without further incident. The coughs and screeches behind us were all but deafening, yet not so much that we couldn’t hear the likewise commotion on the other side of that door. I cursed myself for not checking all possible entrances, as I’d earlier mentioned we should do.
Just like with the restroom, Pippin shouldered the door open to yet another nightmare in waiting. There must have been a hundred or more crazed children in that loading dock. They climbed in and over soiled boxes, empty skids, and open truck cabs. Two large garage-like doors stood wide open. The place reeked of shit and chaos.
Pippin swung Crystal up in his arms and wasted no time in heading for a metal ladder that reached into an upper storage area of sorts. The children bit, chewed, and clawed at each other as if their anger depended on it. Midway to the ladder, they must have smelled us.
Holding Crystal up with just one arm like some circus act savior, Pippin clubbed quite a few with that metal rod he was still gripping. Unfortunately, I had nothing save fists and feet to shield them off with. For that fact, Janice proved the worse for wear. A dark-haired boy with a mouth like a meat grinder, he bit a deep gouge into her neck. By no small miracle, we somehow made it up that ladder and into the upper storage area.
Once up top, we were met by three more children. They came sprinting at us from what was apparently a back stairwell. With a dreamlike quality, I recall Pippin and I pitching them over the upper railing. They landed with a solid sound, yet they still twitched like squashed insects refusing death.
A series of quick yelps came from behind us, and we turned to find Crystal laying on her back, legs spread-eagle, taking deep breaths and gasping that the baby was on its way. Janice sat beside Crystal, running a hand across her forehead and clasping the other at her own wounded neck.
“I’m havin’ this baby!” Crystal spat. “Help!”
Pippin ran to the steal door, which let on to the back stairwell, and slammed it shut, then was at Crystal’s side in one loping bounce.
I went to Janice to have a better look at her condition, and when I pulled her hand away, blood came as if from an open faucet. My guts knotted up. I took my shirt off and used it to hold pressure against her neck.
Pippin removed Crystal’s pants, propped her legs up on two discarded boxes, and talked her through the ordeal in reassuring tones.
“Breath,” he kept saying.
Then her pale, taut belly began to move unnaturally, as if something roiled from beneath the sheet of her skin. She screeched in a way that could only be described as primal, and, as if in accordance, the mob of children down below matched her with a chorus of shouts. Her stomach convulsed harder, faster; tiny hands and feet kicked and clawed to be let out.
Pippin backed away with a stoned look on his face, then rushed right back to her side and started waiving his hands inches over her body, as if to cast some sort of a spell.
Janice looked over at the confusion, and whether it was due to the horror of Crystal’s belly or whether blood lose ensued, she lost consciousness.
Continuing to hold pressure at her neck, I looked over at Pippin. He was glaring right at me, but I don’t think he was actually seeing me. His hands still trembled over Crystal’s body, his ritual proving ineffective.
She too had lost consciousness, and for a moment, it seemed that the infected infant within her womb had as well. Then the assault on her inner workings awoke, and a muted ripping sound brought Crystal right back to consciousness. Her eyes shot open, she made a few weak gagging noises, and went as silent as she’d been just seconds before–but with an almost imperceptible finality about it. Pippin put a hand to her neck, paused. He began to sob.
I looked back down at Janice. I dreaded the thought of putting my hand to her pulse. As I reached over to do just that, a series of deafening explosions rocked what must have been the whole hypermarket. Pippin and I had time enough to pass a solitary look of confusion off to one another before a noxious, pale-blue fog flooded the loading dock by way of the open garage doors. It pricked my sinuses and forced my eyes shut. I knelt down blindly overtop of Janice and reapplied pressure at her neck.
From within the ringing darkness behind my eyes, I recalled what that pudgy scientist had said right before Clyde Allan went bananas on live television. He’d said that within the next twenty-four hours or so, the military would drop bombs from the sky filled with non-contagious agents. Agents that carried with them the hope of a cure for the children.
Time passed with half of me lost in thought and the other listening to Janice’s weak breaths. I applied pressure and listened and thought about many things. I remained in the darkness.
Then Pippin was griping my shoulder and telling me to get up, that I had to see this.
The gas had noticeably dissipated, and the screams of the children seemed to have gone right along with it. Pippin stood at the railing and peered down, a curious look of pity lining his features. After I tied my blood-sodden shirt firmly around Janice’s neck, I got up and went to the railing.
The gas had done it’s job. But what the government had failed to anticipate (what no one could have reasonably foreseen under the dire circumstances) was the condition the children would be left in. Infants, toddlers, adolescents; they writhed not with the heat of the Biological agent that had once manipulated them, but with the pain of their nerve endings that the agent had once masked from them. The bites, scrapes, gouges, and amputations they’d inflicted on one another were now accounted for and equally anguished over. And the cries hadn’t lessened along with the gas as I had assumed, but instead consolidated into one collective melancholy moan.
Seeing them down there made me think of paintings depicting Hell’s tortures in their many, and photographs of manmade pits occupied by lifeless bodies. Seeing them made me wonder why humankind had to be so cruel.
Then I was hauled from my thoughts as Pippin pulled me into his arms, and I, without conscious thought, did likewise. And we stood in that upper loft embracing one another as two soldiers might after surviving a battle that had seemed too much like certain death. We wept hot tears for Crystal and Janice, Flory and Kia, for the multitude of children and a world that could never be the same.
Somewhere between our tears, the loud whirring of helicopter blades began. It reverberated within the expanse of the loading dock as if right outside the hypermarket. Then the sounds of heavy boots on the concrete flooring below us were followed abruptly by the voices of men.
A shout lifted up to our level: “Survivors! Any survivors?”
We looked down to see five men taking measured steps amongst the wreckage of the children below. They were each fit with military fatigues, guns and gas masks. One of the five shouted into a handheld transmitter: “Get the evac. Unit in here a.s.a.p. We have a multitude of children. I repeat, a multitude of children.” Then, again: “Survivors! Any survivors?”
Just where I found the voice I’ll never know, but I screamed: “Here! We have injured up here!”
Four of the soldiers shot cursory glances up at us, but were soon back to the business of cataloging atrocities. The one manning the walky-talky kept his sight trained on us. I heard him say something about survivors and getting a medical team in here, pronto. Then a sloshing-like noise came from directly behind us, and arrested both our attention.
My first thought was of a stray hellion, one that had somehow avoided the changes the gas had wrought. And I can only guess that Pippin had come to the same conclusion, because we both wheeled around as if our lives depended on it.
How very wrong we were.
There, from between Crystal’s slack, pale legs, purple and wet and fighting for oxygen, an infant wriggled on the floor.
As we fell to our knees, I gasped: “Its airway needs to be cleared.”
Not concerning whether the newborn was still infected, Pippin swung the infant upside down by its feet and firmly patted its back until it began to make that beautiful music of tear shed.
Pippin gazed down at the newborn in his hands and said, “How? Crystal … she’s gone. Is such a thing even possible?”
I listened to the sounds of the men down below, shouting orders, swearing against things unholy, even whispering at times; and then said: “Possible? I’m not so sure what’s possible or impossible anymore.”
He looked hard at me, tears brimming in his eyes. “…It’s what Crystal and her husband wanted most: for their daughter to see the light of day.”
“Why did she have to die, Hank?!” he sputtered, and then began to sob so hard his entire body heaved up and down.
I took the crying baby from out of his arms and asked, “What will you name her?”
This seemed to bring him back to the moment. He said, “Crystal. …I’ll name her Crystal. And if I have anything to do with it, I’ll be a father to her.”
“Crystal said something earlier tonight, Pippin, and I have to agree with her: you are one helluva good dude. But, sorry to say, I can’t agree that you’re all that cute.”
Despite everything, we laughed and cried and we shared that unforgettable moment with baby Crystal. She chirped, goggled, and farted a few times.
Exactly how long we stayed like that I can’t be sure (moments of such magnitude cannot be measured in time) but we soon heard the sound of the metal ladder we’d earlier ditched being set back into place.
I looked over at Janice, who was still unconscious, and reached for her pulse. I felt nothing.
A man in a white uniform and gas mask came rushing over to Crystal.
“She’s gone,” Pippin muttered. “But this woman needs your help.”
The man then went to Pippin and baby Crystal.
“I said that this woman, Janice … she needs your help!” Pippin shouted into the man’s mask.
“She’s gone,” I said.
Paying me no mind, the man crouched over Janice’s body. She had turned pale as paper. After a moment’s pause, he hollered at the other white uniformed man that had just cleared the ladder: “We have a live one over here, and a newborn. This one here has lost a lot of blood though. Call down for some stretchers. Tell them to clear all casualties from off the back stairwell. We need to get a blood transfusion going here. And call Saint Elizabeth’s and tell them to get the number three medical chopper out here with an incubator on board.”
My lips quivered and my heart thudded. I asked: “She’s alive?”
Pippin pulled on my arm and said, “Do you remember what else Crystal told us tonight, something her husband used to say? ‘For every bad act our God is forced to bear against us, He returns two good favors to try and make things right again.'”
Then he rocked baby Crystal in his arms and I held Janice’s hand until the men with the stretchers made it up the back stairwell.


  1. Well written! A great spin on the how the great panic could be different!

    Comment by rhino on January 16, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  2. Oh wow, this is like the opposite of Ross Campbell’s “The Abandoned”, where it was the adults over 20 who first dropped dead when the storm came (or on the day of their birthday), and then their bodies woke up as a flesh eating zombie that can only be killed through destruction of the brain.

    This is less scary, but much more heartrending. The people who are in charge, the adults, weren’t zombified, but goodness, it’ll be hard to put children down, especially since they are still there inside.

    Comment by Mercurial Georgia on January 19, 2008 @ 8:15 pm

  3. Although;

    Wouldn’t it be more fitting to the theme of mercy if Janice was never critically injured in the first place, so that god’s second flavour was that Crystal survives?

    Crystal was the one Jacob told the bit about the two flavours to, Jacob died believing it, seeing his wife and their unborn child to safety. It just doesn’t seem fitting if Crystal died before their child is born, and before the antidote gas came, she’ll have no way of knowing if the flavour came through.

    Pippin is a good man, he really wanted the baby to be alright, that’s his first flavour, his second really should have been Crystal’s survival, because he doesn’t know Janice well.

    …couldn’t Janice have gotten her hand mangled instead of being in the neck?

    Comment by Mercurial Georgia on January 20, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  4. …and um, by flavour I meant favor. Oops.

    It just that, god seem kinda cheap, instead of giving the two unitarians (both thought of the entire good) their two good favors each, god divided it up!

    Comment by Mercurial Georgia on January 20, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  5. At the end of the story,the authorities call a medi-vac chopper in and order the all the casualties cleared from the back stairwell to make way for the blood transfusion gear, and to wisk the baby away on board the choppr…would they really have all that manpower to spare when the carnage would be on such a grand scale?Wouldnt it be spread so thin that it would almost be non-existant by all the recovered and badly injured ‘hellion’ children alone?Not to mention the hordes of other mutilated survivors as well.

    Other than that…the story was great!

    Comment by SMEAR on July 25, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

  6. Any kind of “god” that could commit such a genocide, I sure wouldn’t want anything to do with with, thanks but “no thanks”! Plus, there’s no way the incompetent fools running our Fed. gov’t. now could get their act together at all, much less find a cure so quick. FEMA can’t even handle hurricane relief efforts. The woman’s unborn baby being infected, that was pretty creepy, a zombie “Rosemary’s baby”, cool idea.

    Comment by AtomicWarBaby on August 4, 2008 @ 11:37 am

  7. hey i like your stories and hoping that you do well in the future with them. love ya ttyl and chat with ya later!

    Comment by Alley on January 2, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  8. it’s good!

    Comment by Alley on January 7, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  9. SMEAR. I totally agree except for one thing. Crisis management would come into play and an MCI would be called out. Simply put for those that don’t know it’s a “save who you can, leave the rest”. With so many bodies needing attention the focus would quickly go to those that can be helped and try to make those that can’t, comfortable.

    Comment by Terry Schultz on September 2, 2009 @ 12:33 am

  10. This is one of the best stories I have ever read!! I Love it!!!

    Comment by Jen on April 19, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

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