The first indication Gil Pevney had that anything was wrong was when the power blipped, just past 3:30 am. He was sitting in the station’s small common room with his feet up on a table eating his lunch: a sardine sandwich. It was a little silly to call a meal eaten at that hour “lunch,” but as it was the second meal of his day, “lunch” would have to suffice.
“Aw, shoot,” he said as darkness enveloped him. He waited expectantly for the backup generator to come online, and relaxed when he heard it powering up, exactly as it was supposed to do. The generator at the transmitter shack a mile or so away would be doing the same, he knew. Sure enough, within 15 seconds of the outage, the lights came back on. The security lights outside in the parking lot stayed dark, but this was no surprise. They were off the main circuit and wouldn’t come back until full power returned. Gil glanced around while the fluorescents flickered back into life, waiting for further problems, but nothing else happened. It was unlikely that any listener would notice the brief signal drop-out.
He snarfed the last bit of his sandwich, and drained his can of diet soda. Chucking his trash into the bin he fumbled absent-mindedly in his pocket for his cigarettes. He’d have to log the outage but it was a non-event, really.
“God’s will be done,” Gil muttered, grinning. He moseyed through the station’s little front office to main door, headed outside for a smoke. It was one of the station’s on-air catchphrases. As a lifelong Christian, he approved of the sentiment but deplored its use with the syrupy background music used for some of the public service announcements. He had produced a few PSAs himself, using more cheerful music, and ran them exclusively when he was on duty.
Gil Pevney prided himself on not being a follower. He couldn’t be bothered with the Fox Family Channel, gave the Left Behind books a pass, and disliked being exhorted by radio evangelists. Still, his pastor’s reference had gotten him this job at a time when he needed one, and he was grateful enough to say a daily prayer of thanks.
Heat and humidity smacked into him when he opened the station’s front door. The rain poured down as it had for the past few days. The mere sight of it brought the plight of the Delaware Valley residents to his awareness. Many had already been driven from their homes. Bulletins from the National Weather Service said the skies would clear by morning, but that would be less than comforting to the hundreds of distraught property owners in the region who were receiving their most recent punishment from Mother Nature. He was thankful he didn’t live by the river.
Gil dragged on his cigarette, looking into the dripping darkness for any sign of nearby lights. Nothing. The power failure, almost certainly caused by a downed line somewhere, would probably last a while.
The WGWR building was a single-story structure no bigger than a three-car garage, into which was wedged with devilish ingenuity two studios, a tape and disc library, a work area for the engineers, a teletype room, a small front office, and a lavatory not appreciably larger than a closet. There were just chairs enough to seat the entire staff at one time during the weekly progress meetings. Gil had been present for only two or three such get-togethers during his six months as a staffer; they occurred during his daytime sleep hours. As the night guy he was barely in the loop, but he didn’t mind. Memos stuffed into his mail cubby kept him up to date.
Aside from the power blip, the night was looking to be routine; that is to say, completely and totally boring. Gil hadn’t realized how much he would miss human contact when he took this job. It was very different from his recently ended college days, when he was chief engineer for the school’s FM radio station. Then he’d been in the thick, setting up PA equipment for live events at the coffee house, engineering local bands playing at the station, and covering live sports broadcasts around the U.S. Of course there was also the scutwork: closing down and/or opening the station, turning the transmitter off and on when working morning or late night shifts, and so forth.
None of that carried over to the Christian station, which was AM to begin with, with smaller facilities located out here in the boonies. His training, background, and familiarity with computers and sound equipment had gotten him hired to cover the third shift as engineer, weather announcer, carpenter, vending machine repairman: in short, anything that needed doing when no one else was around. The job itself was turning out to be a real dead end. Easy enough, and appropriate for a night-owl type like himself, but with no future. Pretty soon he’d have to decide what to do about that.
The college years had also gotten him pretty deeply into drugs and alcohol, mostly from hanging around with bands. The defining moment had come in his junior year, during a party at which he’d gobbled down what turned out to be a horse tranquilizer, the most powerful downer he’d ever had. At some point he found himself sitting fully clothed in an empty bathtub, hands wrapped around his knees, vomiting all over himself. The next day, with his head still swimming, he sought out the pastor of his church, where he had not set foot in over a year, and begged for help.
Now, at age twenty-three, he’d been walking a path of recovery for nearly half a year, and intended to stay on it. All in all, what he liked best about this rediscovery of his Christian roots was the sense of caring community it gave him. That had been lacking in his life for a long time.
With a sigh, he flipped the butt of his cigarette out into the rain, where it hissed to death when it hit the asphalt in the parking lot. His chores for the remainder of the night until five AM consisted entirely of scheduled meter readings.
With the parking lot lights out, his eyes had gotten used to the rainy darkness, which is why he saw a figure approaching from across the fields to the southeast.
Staggering, stumbling over the uneven ground, whoever it was seemed injured or disoriented. Someone escaping from the flooding Delaware? Or—worse—a zombie?
Four months previously, a terrorist bomb hidden in a cargo container exploded at the Port Newark Container Terminal, spreading a lethal airborne cocktail of chemicals and disease-snippets. This caused an outbreak of a mutated form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease that attacked its victims’ brains, causing them to degenerate into wandering predators ravenous for flesh and blood. They were all over the news as “zombies,” even though, from what Gil gathered, being undead they were more properly called “ghouls.” Still, the horror-movie nomenclature took hold and couldn’t be dislodged. Whatever you called them, though, they were dangerous. With their senses rendered painfully acute, they shunned bright lights and loud noises, and fanned out into more rural areas far from the blast point, traveling by night, attacking the unwary. Local and federal law enforcement officials were tracking the zombies down, but some of them always managed to elude capture.
They couldn’t live long once infected, but often they retained enough autonomy to be able to drive cars far from the infection point, only to abandon the vehicles and wander off in search of food once the illness destroyed their ability to drive.
But as the ghostly, staggering figure drew nearer, Gil saw that this was not a ghoul. It was a girl about his own age, ragged and pale but unmarred by the wens and unheeded injuries marking the bomb victims. She had to be a refugee of the flood.
“Hey!” she called out weakly as she stepped onto the wet asphalt of the parking lot. “Can you help me?”
That decided him; zombies didn’t retain the power of articulate speech. “Yeah, sure,” he said, hurrying into the rain. She sagged in his arms when he reached her and he found himself all but carrying her into the shelter of the station. The heavy glass door clicked closed behind him.
She leaned heavily on him, looking around almost uncomprehendingly, squinting in the lights, swaying from exhaustion, dripping wet. He sat her down in a plastic chair in the common room.
She grimaced and shielded her eyes against the fluorescents. She looked terrible in their purple-white glare. “I have such a wretched headache,” she groaned. “Can you turn off some of the overheads?”
“Umm, okay,” he said, and flipped them off. The room, illuminated now by under-cabinet lights and the vending machine, took on a slightly mysterious aspect.
The girl began shivering violently. He moaned in concern. It was air conditioned inside, and she had just made a trek in the steaming darkness of an August night. He pulled open a locker and seized a couple of maintenance uniforms.
“Here,” he said, thrusting them at her. “Dry yourself with one, and put the other on. There’s a bathroom,” he added, pointing to a door.
She stood and nodded. “Thanks,” she said. “I don’t know your name,” she added shyly.
“Oh! I’m Gil,” he said, and stuck out his hand. She took it in hers, which was small and cold. Then she tottered into the lav, leaving Gil to wonder what in the world he had done.
He wasn’t supposed to have visitors: station policy. But she wasn’t a visitor, she was a victim of the flood. Well, the smart thing to do was to call for help. He was no doctor, and the girl looked like she needed one. There was a phone on the common room wall. He lifted the receiver and put it to his ear. Dead.
With a sigh he took the cell phone off his belt and flipped it open. NO SERVICE. “Balls,” he muttered. A falling tree had probably taken down a relay tower somewhere. It might be hours before service was restored on either the station’s land line or his cell. Now what? Well, once she was dried off, she’d be fine. He could feed her from the vending machines, and let her rest. There was a cot in the maintenance shack out back; he would bring that in and set it up for her. She certainly looked as if she needed some sleep.
From the bathroom he heard the sound of running water. Nodding to himself in satisfaction, he went to the snack machine and selected cheese crackers, a candy bar, and a small packet of trail mix. After a moment’s debate he poured a cup of hours-old brew from the coffee maker. It was slightly burned, but hot. He put the cup on the table along with the selection of snacks. Then he dumped the last dregs of the old coffee down the sink and set the pot aside to be cleaned after it cooled. He tore the last paper towel off the roll hanging below the cabinet where coffee makings were stored and wiped the counter.
“Better get more,” he muttered, heading for the utility cabinet in the front office where the paper towels were stored. While he opened the cabinet he glanced out through the glass front door. The office was unlit save for the reduced light from the common room behind him, which was too faint to show anything outside but a rising mist and the rain. He took a couple of rolls of towels out and closed the cabinet.
The dark form of a young boy stood at the door, looking in through the glass. He wore khaki shorts and was using a branch as a staff, leaning on it. Gil gasped; where in Heaven’s name had the kid come from?
As soon as he saw Gil notice him, the boy raised one hand in a tentative wave, then tapped on the glass. “Hey,” he said. “Is my sister okay?”
“Sister?” Gil said, approaching the door. Now he saw that the kid was looking a little banged up, as if he’d spent the past few hours in the woods. He was scratched and dirty. The staff kept his weight off his left leg, which looked swollen. He couldn’t be more than about nine or ten years old.
“Yeah, Toni… Antonia. My sister, you know? I was with her but I twisted my ankle pretty bad across the fields there.” He gestured back across the parking lot. “Then we saw your lights, so she came on ahead.”
The light in the common room grew dimmer behind Gil. At the same time, a voice called “Tommy!”
The voice was so close behind him that Gil jumped. He whirled around. The girl—-Toni–dressed in the too-large maintenance uniform, had managed to clean herself up and looked almost pretty. “Please,” she said to Gil, “it’s my brother, he’s hurt. Let him in?”
“Uh.” Gil glanced back at the door as Tommy tapped on it again. He could see the resemblance between the two; Tommy had his sister’s light hair and narrow face. “Well, okay. The phones are out, though,” he added, unlocking the door. Tommy limped inside and Toni hugged him.
“Everything okay?” she asked him.
“Sure, everything’s fine,” he said. “I’m soaked through, is all.”
“You didn’t tell me you had a brother with you,” said Gil, unable to keep a slight note of accusation out of his tone.
They turned to look at him. Gil thought he saw a flash of dark anger flicker in their eyes, but it was gone almost instantly. Toni said, “I’m sorry, I was in such a state when I got here.”
“We’ve been wandering around out there for a couple of hours,” said Tommy, adding a grin to his words. His nighttime excursion apparently hadn’t quelled his spirit. “Power’s out everywhere around!” He sounded just like an excited ten-year-old having an adventure.
“Want me to take a look at your ankle?” Gil asked, looking closely at Tommy’s leg. Even in the semi-darkness he could see that the exposed flesh was a nasty dark purple color. The kid was wearing hiking boots; a good thing, because they’d give the injury some pressure and support. Otherwise, even with the staff, he would have had a terrible time walking on the uneven ground at night in the rain.
“Huh? Oh, no; no, it’s okay.” He gave a pained look as he moved. “Maybe a place to sit down, and a towel to dry off?”
“Paper towels’re about all I got,” said Gil, leading the way into the common room. “But I can prob’ly find some more overalls if you wanna get out of your wet clothes.”
Gil gave the roll of towels to Tommy. “So,” he said lightly, watching the kid dry off, “anyone else out there with you?” He grinned at the sibs.
Toni chuckled. “Nope, no, it’s just us.”
“Where are your folks?”
Again he thought he saw their eyes go dark when they exchanged glances. “They’re back at the house,” said Toni. “Mom slipped and broke her arm in the dark so Dad is staying with her. We don’t have any phone, either, so we went out looking for help. I guess we got lost.”
“I guess you did,” Gil said. Anyone living around here would have to know more or less where they were, even in the dark. Of course, without lights, and in the pouring rain, people could get disoriented. “Whereabout’s your house?” he asked casually.
Toni gestured vaguely to the south. “Oh, uh Frenchtown, you know, near the roller-skating rink?”
He nodded. Locals would know about that place, but most outsiders wouldn’t. “Well look,” he said, “there’s a fold-up Army cot in the shed out back, so let me get it. It’s pretty late and you look like you could use a rest.”
Toni cast him a grateful look. “That would be super, thanks,” she said. As he left the room, he saw brother and sister lean closer together, exchanging murmured conversation.
Outside, the rain continued pouring down. “Stopping by dawn, huh?” he muttered to himself as he unlocked the shed. “Yeah.” The cot was going to get a little wet during the dash back to the station, but that couldn’t be helped. He grabbed hold of it, levered it outside and kicked the door shut behind him, then ran for the station.
Inside he set it down and started brushing water off himself. Hearing a footstep behind him he said, “Well, it isn’t much, but let me clean it off a bit, and you—” The swish of air behind him made him look up just as Tommy’s staff connected with his head.
“At least you didn’t kill him,” he heard Toni say from a long way off.
“It wouldn’t have mattered much if I did,” Tommy replied. He was a little closer, Gil thought.
“That’s not what they’d say.”
“They won’t say anything.”
Gil managed to open his eyes. Things swam into focus. The common room, lights still off, everything else dark. Not yet dawn. How long had he been out? He tried to move and discovered he was duct-taped to a chair.
He licked his lips.
“Water?” Toni asked, putting a plastic cup to his mouth. He drank.
“What’s going on? What are you doing?” he managed to ask. A bit more awareness returned. The air conditioning was off, and the room was getting stuffy. A faint odor of decay rattled in his nostrils. Tommy sat across the room, examining his leg. His boot was off and he had the station’s first aid kit on his lap. His ankle was as purple as an eggplant and terribly swollen. In fact, it was lacerated, and Gil’s stomach flip-flopped when he saw a spur of white poking through the boy’s flesh. A compound fracture?
“Won’t be going far on this,” Tommy said in disgust, looking at the injury.
“You won’t have to,” said Toni. “Gil here has a car.”
“I’m not driving you anywhere,” Gil said. “You kidding?”
Brother and sister laughed. “That’s right, you’re not,” said Toni. “Don’t worry, Gil, you’re staying right here.”
Gil strained against the tape. The effort made his blood pound in his head, and he worked to stifle a groan. He thought his left hand might be a bit loose.
“You better wrap that up anyway,” Toni said, wrinkling her nose at her brother’s injury.
He shrugged. “I s’pose,” he muttered and busied himself with the first aid kit.
“Listen,” said Gil. His voice broke, so he cleared his throat and began again. “You don’t have to do this.”
Tommy glanced at him, rolled his eyes, and went back to dressing his wound. Toni dragged a plastic chair over next to Gil and sat. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Gil chewed his lower lip. If he was to free himself, he didn’t want her so near. On the other hand, perhaps they could be talked out of doing—whatever it was they intended. “Okay, look,” he said. “We all have choices to make. Sometimes we make bad ones. That’s if we just listen to ourselves. You know? But if you listen to a higher authority, you make better choices.”
“Is that what you’re doing here?” she asked. “Listening to a higher authority?”
“Yeah, like on AM,” said Tommy. “I’d try FM at least. Maybe a Podcast.”
Gil glanced at him. “You’re awfully cynical for a kid your age,” he said.
“You think we have a moral issue,” said Toni. “Right? Like we’re here to rip this place off, or something?”
He shrugged against the tape. “Well, yeah,” he said. “What else?”
Tommy rolled his eyes again. Then he stiffened. “Car!”
“How can you—” Gil broke off as light slid into the front room: headlights.
“Expecting someone?” Toni asked, standing. “Some late-night lady friend?”
Mystified, Gil shook his head. “No… it might be the station manager. Sounds like his SUV. He lives a couple miles away. I suppose he might’ve come by to see if everything’s okay after the power outage.” Gil expected the car’s lights to go off, but they remained on, shining into the darkened front office. Bryon had obviously noticed the inside lights were off, and wanted to be able to see when he went inside.
“Fuck me dead,” said Toni. “Tommy?”
“I’m on it,” said the boy. He used his staff to help himself get to his feet, and limped into the front room while Toni tore off a strip of duct tape and slapped it over Gil’s mouth.
When he tried to protest she pressed a clasp knife to his throat. “Listen, asshole, you and I both want you alive,” she whispered as the car door slammed. “So don’t make a sound, capish?”
Gil did his best to calm himself but his breath whistled raggedly, wetly, in and out of his nose. A creak from the office: Gil’s eyes went wide. He knew that sound. The little cabinet in the front office containing a fire extinguisher and an axe… its hinges needed lubricating but no one ever got around to it. Tommy was going for the axe.
The tip of Toni’s blade pushed a little more firmly against Gil’s neck and he swallowed so hard it hurt. He heard Byron’s keys enter the front door lock and turn. The door opened.
Against the glare from the SUV’s headlights Gil saw shadows move. The entire drama was astonishingly clear. Byron, silhouetted against the light, entered. Tommy stepped in from the side. Axe upraised. Then, amazingly, Byron’s shadow dropped out of view and Gil heard a thud as he hit the floor.
Slipped in a patch of water! Gil thought. And, to Jesus: Oh thank You! Thank You!
Tommy’s axe whistled through the place where Byron’s head had been.
“Judas Priest!” Byron’s profanity, the only phrase he ever used.
Then shadows wrestling, and Tommy snarling. A confused motion, a shriek from Tommy. Shadow of an upraised axe, a flash downward and a sickening noise unlike anything Gil had ever heard: the axe head smashing Tommy’s breastbone.
Toni screamed and stepped away from Gil, the knife in her hand faltering. He worked frantically at the tape restraining him and felt it give way. Sweat coursed down his forehead as he glanced up and watched Byron’s shadow as the station manager, gagging, leaned over and tugged the axe out of his assailant’s chest.
Alerted by the girl’s cry of horror that there was at least one more possible attacker in the station, Byron took a cautious step into the common room as Gil finished ripping himself free. Toni leaped for the station manager just as Gil pulled the tape off of his mouth and shouted wordlessly.
But Byron was ready. He brought the axe handle up, catching Toni a brutal blow under the chin. Her head snapped back and she went down without a sound.
As abruptly as it had started, it was over. Byron automatically groped for the light and flicked it on. There he stood, a beefy man in his forties with a buzz cut and a look of astonishment in his pale eyes.
He took in Gil, still draped with duct tape, and said, “By thunder, Gilbert, what is going on here?”
Gilbert smiled tiredly. He hated being called Gilbert, but Byron was not one for nicknames.
“I’m not really sure I know,” Gil said while Byron helped him free himself from the tape. “The girl showed up in the rain saying she was a flood refugee, and her brother came along a few minutes later.”
“Judas, Gilbert, they’re zombies!” Byron said.
“Well, I never saw any except on TV. And they weren’t falling apart or growling. How was I supposed to know?” Together they hoisted the girl into the chair where Gil had been bound.
Byron snorted. “They’re just not that far along, is all,” he said. Using the rest of the duct tape, they secured her to the chair. “There,” Byron said when they stood back. “That ought to hold her.” Toni’s head hung down so that her hair hid her face.
Gil stared fearfully at the unconscious form. “What are we going to do with them?” Gil asked. “A captive zombie and a dead one?”
“Let me go.”
Startled, they looked at Toni. Her head was up and she regarded them from clear, unblinking eyes. “Let me go,” she said again, straining against the tape.
Byron simply laughed humorlessly. “Soon’s the power comes back on, we’re calling the authorities,” he said to Gil. “They’ve got holding facilities for these things where medics study them for a cure.” He went out to turn off his car’s headlights.
Toni bared her teeth. To Gil, they seemed somehow longer and sharper than normal human dentition. “Concentration camps!” she said. “All they do there is destroy us.”
“But you’re not like most of the others,” Gil said, crouching down next to her. She stared at him. He added, “If you agree to help them, let them examine you…?”
She shook her head and sighed. “Sometimes you just get hooked into things and find yourself trapped. It’s like… well, did you ever do drugs?” She leaned forward and sniffed at him. “Yeah, you have. Not for a while though.”
“How can you possibly…?” He glanced at Byron, who had come back in in time to hear the exchange. The manager’s eyes went wide. “Ah, you’re just guessing,” Gil said hurriedly. “Guy with long hair, tattoos, must be a druggie.”
“No, you smell vaguely of cocaine and marijuana. What happened to us gives us a bigger high than anything that crap ever gave you.” She smiled wanly. “Our senses are way ramped up. We see in the dark, we can detect odors a mile away. Or more. No drug does that.”
“Gilbert, you never said anything about… substance abuse?” Byron said.
Gil looked uneasily at his boss. “It was just between me and my pastor,” he said.
Toni grinned. “Not anymore!”
“Listen, you, you—”
A dull chonk brought Gil back to awareness of his surroundings. Byron toppled over, the fire axe protruding from his back. Behind him stood Tommy, impassive, a ragged unbleeding wound in his chest where he’d torn the axe free after Byron’s attack. Toni had been deliberately distracting them while Tommy recovered.
Gil saw at once that the boy had somehow passed into another stage of the illness. His face had gone lifeless and dull, and his lower jaw hung slightly open.
“Tommy! Help me!” Toni struggled against the tape. Turning his eyes to her, Tommy stepped over Byron’s lifeless form and reached out to assist his sister.
Gil moved without really thinking what he was doing. He seized the axe handle and wrenched it free of Byron’s corpse. Standing and swinging in one move, he aimed a blow at Tommy’s back. At Toni’s warning shriek Tommy started to turn and the descending blade caught him in the upper part of his thin arm. It sliced in and ripped through. The severed arm fell to the floor with an indescribable sound.
Insanity exploded in Gil Pevney. He aimed blow after blow at the mumbling young zombie while the girl screamed in horror and rage. It was, a distant part of his mind told itself, as easy and as hard as chopping wood, though wood didn’t move while it was being cut.
In moments it was over. There was blood, but surprisingly little. Gil wasn’t sure if that was because Tommy was small and didn’t have that much blood in him in the first place, or if the zombie disease somehow diminished the amount in a person.
Poor Byron, lying there, oozed far more blood than Tommy. Clearly there was some sort of difference.
But Gil found it all but impossible to think through Toni’s wailing and shrieking. Understanding that it would be useless to try to talk to her, he set the axe down on the table and checked the tape holding her, decided it was still secure, and set about the most distasteful and revolting task of his life: clearing Tommy’s body parts from the room.
His first burden was the youth’s trunk. One arm and the head were still attached. Gil managed to lift the mutilated segment, was surprised at how light it was, and got it outside the station’s back door before vomiting. He leaned his head against the rough stucco outside wall, letting the rain spatter down on him, keeping his thoughts as clear as he could by muttering a prayer for forgiveness.
It had never occurred to him that he could kill another human being. Never in his worst nightmares had he thought that he would have to kill someone. But, in a way, he was obscurely pleased that when the crunch came, he had been equal to the task.
Recovering some of his poise, he wiped the moisture from his eyes and went back in. After all, Tommy had attacked and murdered Byron, and would obviously have attacked him next had he not done something to protect himself.
He finished the rest of the disgusting chore more easily and was back inside without having gotten sick again. Come daylight there’d have to be something done about the dismembered corpse outside and Byron’s body in the common room, but for now Gil felt he had done his best. He covered Byron’s corpse with a tarp from the utility shed.
Toni had fallen silent. She sat with her eyes fixed on the mound under the tarp, with a strange light in her eyes. Gil wanted no hint of what hideous thoughts might be passing through her mind. He slumped down into a chair and lit a cigarette. There wasn’t supposed to be any smoking inside the station, but he muttered a curse at the rule. Let ‘em reprimand him. He’d been through enough tonight; he’d earned the smoke.
He was exhaling the first big plume of smoke when the girl spoke.
“You think you’ve won.”
He sighed through another lungful of bitter vapor. “Won? Why, was this a game? All I know is, I was trying to do you a good turn, you and your brother. You repaid that by assaulting me and killing Byron. And you’re complaining because I defended myself?” He snorted and took a deep drag on the cigarette. “You can bitch about it to the cops.”
She looked at him and smiled, and a chill rippled up his spine. The light of madness shone in her pretty eyes. “I don’t expect it’ll come to that.”
He opened his mouth to respond when the station’s front door crashed inward in an explosion of broken glass. Shocked, Gil whipped around in time to see the trash can that normally sat by the door roll to a stop just outside the common room. Someone had thrown it through the glass!
He leaped to his feet but before he could take more than a step he heard a horrible blubbering moan grind through the humid air. It was wordless, furious.
“Mom! Daddy!” shouted Toni. “In here! Help me!”
Dad? Mom? The implications slammed together in Gil’s head.
Growling, muttering, Toni’s parents stumbled into the room, preceded by a graveyard stench such as Gil had never experienced in his life. If he had had anything left in his stomach he would have vomited again. Toni’s mother fumbled at the girl’s bonds while her father turned to Gil. What was left of the man’s face contorted in rage.
Gil snatched up the axe from the table and brandished it. The adult zombie took an uncertain step back, clearly wary of the bloodstained blade.
“No, Daddy! He’ll get away!”
Alerted, Toni’s mother turned away from her fumbling efforts to free her daughter and advanced on Gil from the other side of the room. Desperate, Gil swung at the male and it stepped back again, allowing Gil to duck out the door. With the zombies in pursuit, he raced for the back door. Once outside he knew he could easily outdistance the slow-paced monstrosities.
He threw open the door and dashed outside, only to trip over something on the threshold and fall headlong onto the walkway. His hands took his weight when he landed and searing pain lanced up his arms. Looking up he found himself peering directly into Tommy’s glazed, staring eyes. The boy’s dismembered torso had dragged itself forward by its one remaining arm. The other one, and the legs, had been piled against the steps to form a barrier.
Gil shrieked as Tommy’s severed arm snaked around his neck. Tommy’s legs levered themselves up onto his back. Tommy seized Gil with his attached arm and yanked himself forward, fastening his discolored teeth in the bleeding hand Gil raised to shield himself. Tommy bit down hard and Gil felt bones snap.
Something heavy landed on his back. Slimy talons dug into him.
Lightning flashed overhead, allowing Gil a final glimpse of his attackers. His screams were lost in thunder.