Morris blinked, looked down at his coffee on the table, then back at the restrooms where he’d been. Something had happened. Something big. The whole coffee shop was empty, only wisps of ash floating in the air. The peppy morning music still poured out of the CD player on the shelf above the milk machine.
There were no sirens, no honks from the street, though it appeared there’d been a massive accident, and several cars were pushed out of line. An SUV was actively burning, but no one was doing anything about it. Morris swallowed, took a big sip of his coffee, and put it down. He had to see this.
At the window to the shop, he looked out onto the street. He’d never felt so odd. There was just…no one there. Not a single person. He let himself out. The morning commute provided an abundance of cars, now bereft of their human payload and in various postures of “crash”. Many still idled as they protruded from store fronts or clung together in a knot of twisted of sheetmetal. No blood on any seat, no irate motorists threatening violence or lawsuits. Just the eerie whisper of unquiet engines.
“What the hell?” Morris asked. The sound of his voice rebounded, loud and frightened in his ears. The deep wrongness of the scene hung on him like a concrete veil. He went from one vehicle to the next, looking. Any clue would be fine, but he needed something to cling to, some brief and scanty explanation. None was forthcoming. He turned off ignitions if he could. The burning SUV appeared to be in no danger of setting anything else ablaze, so he let it pass.
Approaching an Olds from the 80s, his heart jumped in its chest. Someone was in there, thank God. He reached for the driver’s side window, rapping against the glass. The person in there, a big guy with a thready red beard, swung his head to look. Morris didn’t care for the vacant, glassy look in the guys eyes.
He wondered if the guy had a concussion, maybe a fractured skull. He did have a welt high up on his forehead, and the Olds hadn’t come through the events of the morning unscathed. Morris stepped back, a tickle of warning coming up his brain stem from the old, animal parts below. Things were not hunky dory with the pilot of the Olds. Unable to quantify this flesh-deep feeling, Morris held still. The door opened and the guy lurched out, movements imprecise as a drunk’s.
“Dude, are you okay?” Morris asked. A small part of his mind registered the stupidity of that question. Of course he wasn’t. In no stretch of imagination was anyone okay, himself included.
The guy didn’t reply, nor did any evidence that he’d heard cross his face. Without preamble, he reached for Morris, clenching his damp, soft, huge hands around Morris’s throat. The awful strength of the man’s grasp instantly shut off Morris’s air, and his vision pulsed in weird rainbow waves like oily water.
Shocked, he hung there, nearly hauled clear of the ground, for just a moment. The instinct to survive shot fear and adrenalin into his veins, however, and he lashed out, kicking his assailant in the groin with all his strength. Looking directly at the man’s glassy eyes, he couldn’t detect the slightest hint of a response. Morris, who’d taken Judo for a while, desperately chopped at the man’s elbows and wrists, trying to break his grip before he passed out.
Fists clenched, Morris pounded on the guy’s left arm until the smothering grasp on his neck weakened. He slipped away, putting two cars between himself and the homicidal driver. Morris tried to shout at his attacker, to ask him what the hell the idea was, but all that came out of his bruised throat was a wheezing noise.
The red haired motorist plodded forward, following him with dispassionate, thudding steps. Morris sprinted twenty yards and turned back. The guy still followed him. He looked around, finding a sizable chunk of asphalt. He threw it at his pursuer, hitting the guy in the left leg, but that didn’t seem to even register.
“Like a fucking zombie,” Morris wheezed to himself. Suddenly, looking around, he became concerned that he’d lost his mind, that he’d fallen asleep on the john and was having a bad dream. It was tax season, and his had swerved sideways into a nightmare of bookwork. He hadn’t been getting enough sleep…
He touched his throat, raw and swollen. Every breath stung his damaged larynx. No, this wasn’t a dream. He didn’t have dreams with strong sensory stimulus. Not that it wouldn’t have been cool. All those horny little vignettes about Susan Millman in school would have been a lot neater if he could have felt what he pictured.
He probably would have never worked up the courage for a real girlfriend, had he been able to cup a breast or put his lips to the tender spot below an ear while dreaming. Probably a good thing not to have those abilities. Society would have never flourished if people did.
Morris jogged further down the road, opening up enough distance between he and the shambling Olds driver. Where was everyone? It seemed like it was just he and the walking stupid back there. His coffee started turning to acid in his stomach and the pain in his throat wasn’t dying down at all.
A latina woman in Jiffy Lube coveralls that announced her name to be “Inez” appeared to his left. She had the same dead, cheer-down expression as the guy from the Olds. She surged in his direction, arms pinwheeling. Morris tried to push her away, but she was strong. She grabbed his hand and tried her best to get his fingers close to her mouth. Her teeth, pearly white and even, clacked together like the clappers that started and ended a scene on a movie set. With a blank-eyed avidity, she tried to feed herself his fingers.
Normally amiable, Morris totally lost his sense of humor. He punched Inez from Jiffy Lube in the face with his left hand. He felt teeth rock back, felt flesh give under his knuckles, but she only staggered and released her grasp on his right hand.
With his good fist back in his possession and with its full complement of fingers, he sent it out with all his force, catching Inez on the chin hard enough to knock her to the pavement. Where any normal person of her size would have been knocked cold–Morris wasn’t a wimp, and had been in more than a few fist fights in his day–Inez, sullen and expressionless as ever, started to rise. No spray of bright blood, but only a trickle of dark and motor-oil thick junk decorated her chin below those wrecked teeth.
“Fuck this,” Morris rasped, kicking Inez in the arm she was using to brace herself up. The elbow joint hyperextended, the wet popping sound of ligaments letting go giving him the willies. He turned, the Olds guy almost on him, and got the hell out of there.
He didn’t stop running until the pain in his side was too searing to keep on. He found himself in a residential area he wasn’t familiar with. He hadn’t really paid any attention to where he was going. He’d lost his shit, forgetting his car, everything. Not that his car would have done him much good. Most of the busy streets were filled with crashed vehicles, burning heaps of metal, and other impassable obstructions. A bicycle would be the way to go, or one of those moped-scooter deals.
Morris didn’t see Inez or Olds guy at this point. He sat down on the curb in front of a sprawling bunglow-style house from the late 70s, holding his head in his hands. “Man, this is all wrong,” he said to the dusty tarmac between his feet. He said it several times, though his protests didn’t bring about any kind of paradigm shift in the situation. He heard a strange moaning sound, and the scrape of a shoe nearby.
A kid, no more than thirteen, was advancing toward him with an aluminum baseball bat. Morris rolled out of the way just in time to avoid getting the full end of a swing that would have sent a ball down the right field line. The kid’s eyes were equally as vacant as Inez’s had been. Morris suddenly had a perfect-memory remembrance of W.C. Field saying, “Get away from me kid, you bother me.”
Caught between horror, laughter, and plain exasperation, Morris rolled to his feet. The kid was a bit more agile than the adults had been, and he was friggin’ armed. Morris looked around for anything that he could use as a weapon. All that he came up with was the mailbox. It was a 4×4 painted off-white, topped by a desert-themed mailbox with a roadrunner on it. He put his back into it, ripped it out of its post hole, and swung it straight down, like an axe splitting kindling. The mailbox shattered as it hit the kid’s head, and he went down.
Morris stepped on the kid’s wrist and pulled at the bat, trying to get it away from the boy’s grasp. He was rewarded for his efforts by getting bitten on the calf and punched repeatedly in the backside. Dancing away, though, he had the ball bat, and felt good about himself.
It occurred to Morris that it didn’t auger well for the day when his first big triumph was pummeling a pint-sized, homicidal weirdie with a mailbox.
“Any day without zombies…” he breathed. His voice was finally starting to come back a bit.
The kid was up again, and the mailbox incident hadn’t done anything for his looks. One eye had collapsed, and the jelly of his eyeball rolled down his cheek. Morris found that, under the thin paint of being the office manager at Lamb Data Entry, he was capable of not giving one rat’s ass about this kid, and whatever had put the tombstones in his eyes.
Morris swung the bat. Hard. The jolt of a cranium beneath the aluminum bat stung his hands. Down, the kid kept struggling to stand. Morris kept swinging the bat until the kid’s head completely popped, the mush of his ruined brain spread across the lava rocks of the parking strip.
Out of breath, not wanting to look at the mess of the kid’s shattered skull, Morris swung the bat over one shoulder and walked further into subdivision. After about a block, he had to rest his palms against his knees and throw up. Sweat popped out all over, and he had to sit down, his back leaning against the side of a Buick Skylark from the late 90s. He blew air out, his vision becoming indistinct. “Man, this is all wrong,” he told the barrel cactus nearby. The plant didn’t appear perturbed. Then again, the zombified remnants of civilization weren’t trying to eat it, either.
Morris knew that, if he ran around town like a dill weed for long, he’d end up as a food item. He didn’t know how this had happened, or why, or if it was happening all over, but those were secondary questions, questions too big to address right now. He just needed a plan. He needed something to get him through the day, and then the night.
“I’m gonna need guns for this,” he told himself. “Big guns.”
The human mind is adaptable. Morris had heard people say as much from time to time. He’d never had any axe to grind one way or another on the topic. Seemed like you could get over some things, other stuff really got to you. People could learn to live with all sorts of crazy shit–except when it drove them batty. Everyone had their breaking point.
Morris supposed that he hadn’t reached his yet, though he’d lost his composure here and there. He thought that he could have probably done a lot worse. Getting throttled to death or eaten, or both. He was far from rock bottom. As the morning stretched out and noon seemed like a hundred years away, he wandered the abandoned streets of the subdivision, looking for tools to help him survive.
“No hitting bottom just yet, little brohim.”
He’d been able to find a bicycle after only a few minutes and one incident of breaking and entering. Now mounted, he rode with the aluminum bat protruding from between his thighs, its thick end stuffed into the upward-facing water bottle carrier. He had seen a few more zombies, but the speed of the Trek bike had been enough to get away.
Though his mind recoiled from the consideration of people becoming zombies, he had to admit that the term applied. No sense in deluding himself. It was the apocalypse, and these were, indeed, staggering flesh-cravers. They weren’t exactly like the George Romero zombies, but they certainly weren’t according-to-Hoyle people anymore, either. “Zombie” was as close a terminology as he could find at the moment.
By 11:30, Morris was tired and hungry. The smoke from a lot of unchecked fires lay thick across the city’s skyline. The power was still on, but he wondered how long that would last. If the population was as decimated elsewhere as it was here, many of civilization’s amenities were going to get scarce.
He wheeled into a Safeway grocery store and rode up and down the aisles on the Trek. The strange, guilty pleasure of doing something he’d have gotten in trouble for as of 8:45 this morning was unusually sour on his tongue. Someone had said that hell was other people once, but Morris thought that he could do with a little of that hell.
He scanned the dry goods section, not really paying attention. He felt safe. Hey, it was a Safeway, right? In a moment, he felt the impact of a body against him, sending him sprawling into the shelving. He felt a long cut open up on his arm, and bruises were driven into his flesh as the bike went all wrong and he was pummeled by the inertia.
Someone landed on top of him, raining slow, hard punches down on his head and shoulders. One hit the back of his skull and drove his face into the shining floor tiles. He felt a bone in his nose give way, and the wet, full feeling of blood leaking out of his nostrils drove Morris to stand. His mouth filled with hot copper and salt, choking him with his own crimson life.
He threw off his attacker and moved away, holding his face. Blood now splashed down to his chin and against his business casual shirt. He turned, seeing a Filipino guy of at least fifty. He had a pot belly and wore a Hawaiian shirt. His eyes were as hard and unresponsive as polished flint.
The Filipino zombie came for him, mouth chewing on air, hoping for flesh. Morris reached for the nearest thing–a jar of dill pickles–and threw it with all possible velocity. It slammed into the guy’s face, shattering and sending pickles and brine all over the place. The zombie swayed on its feet, but didn’t go down. Morris grabbed cans of olives and other nearby items, pelting the zombie with them until it sagged. He edged closer, grasping the ball bat, and put a messy end to the Filipino guy’s trip into the land of the shambling cannibals.
Shaky, out of adrenalin, and bone-weary, Morris grabbed a packet of dinner napkins from aisle nine. With napkins and duct tape, he bound his lacerated forearm. He touched the bridge of his nose, feeling where the bones weren’t synched up. He squeezed and straightened, sending a blast of fresh agony through his head that nearly knocked him to his knees. Putting the bones back in order hurt far worse than the initial disarrangement.
Morris cleared a segment of the cold case with uncaring abandon, then lay back in the chill, trying to staunch the flow of blood. He swallowed blood until his stomach quavered and threatened to eject it all. Finally the platelets did their work and the blood clotted. Morris’s eyes eclipsed. The cool of the refrigerated case calmed him. If zombies came for him…well, let them come. He couldn’t go any longer.
After dozing for a short stretch, Morris roused himself and drank a bottle of chocolate milk. He managed to find the staff restroom in the back. It had a shower stall, and he made good use of it. He picked a t-shirt out of the left-over bin on aisle twenty-one. Better than the blood-laced button-up he’d been wearing. It said “Shamrock Power”, and was marked $5.99. He considered it a fair trade for services rendered, and didn’t feel he needed to pay.
The staff break room in back had a microwave and an electric fry pan. Morris treated himself to strip steak and a microwavable noodle side dish. By the time he’d eaten his steak and drained a twenty ounce Pepsi, it was nearly 2:45. He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked like he’d been attending Fight Club. Frequently. And losing. Still, alive and beaten was better than dead and pretty. The bruises would heal.
“Firearms, motorized transport, and a safe place to crash. That’s what I have to find,” Morris enumerated. Though he hadn’t resorted to such archaic measures for years, he cracked open a local yellow pages and started looking around for what he needed.
The little Kymco scooter fired right up. After the rider had disappeared, or been vaporized, or had been whisked off to heaven with the pious, or whatever the hell had happened, the little guy had run down a grassy gulch at the side of the road and fallen on its side. Morris couldn’t see any damage. Even the brake levers were straight.
He rode it back up to the edge of the road, then pondered the best method of carrying his ball bat–his whompin’ stick vs. the weirdies. Couldn’t very well leave that behind. After some experiments, he found that he could use his belt to affix the bat to the scooter. He’d have to find a better solution, but it would serve for the moment. Now, off to find the proper ordnance for weirdie control.
He made a conscious decision to call them weirdies from that point forward. At least it made him smile. They said that, in war, you had to dehumanize your enemy. Here, he had to humanize it a bit, if only to blunt the yawning minefield of questions regarding the universe and its nature. Weirdies didn’t bring up all the uncomfortable questions that zombies did.
The bicycle had been nice, but being able to squirt away from the lingering weirdies at better than forty miles an hour was a real boon. Besides, the wind in his face revived him a little. The pain of all his injuries weighed heavily on Morris, but he knew he had to keep plugging along. He just wondered if he’d be able to move at all, come morning. Assuming that he made it to morning.
His scooter came to a halt in front of Fuller’s Firearms. Every window had heavy wrought-iron bars, and the front door was an all-steel security model. Morris hoped like hell the place had been unlocked when the apocalypse hit, because he doubted he could get in by force or craft if it was locked. He grinned for a moment as the door knob turned.
Inside the cool confines of the gun store, he looked around, taking it all in. It was a wonderland of firearms. Pistols, rifles, shotguns. Sorts of guns he’d never seen, and he watched a lot of television. Along one wall, there was a colorful profusion of ammunition boxes. There were knives in spinning cases. A variety of holsters and other accouterments filled one quadrant.
At the back, a hallway led into the back of the store, where there was a full indoor shooting range. He opened the door to the range and looked down the shooting lanes. The number 25 appeared at the end of them. He guessed it was 25 yards. Morris hadn’t shot a gun since Junior High, when he’d gone with his uncle to shoot cans with their old pump action .22. He’d always meant to get back into it. It had been great fun, and he’d been a fair marksman for a little dude, but there had never been that fabled “right time”. Now, as the song said, “here’s that rainy day”.
Morris went around and locked all the exterior doors. He didn’t want weirdies wandering in and somehow getting smart enough to pick up an AK. With all the hatches battened, Morris started to look around. He thought about what sorts of weapons would be the most effective against the weirdies. They were tough, and hits that would put a normal person down seemed fairly ineffective. Particularly, blunt force didn’t seem to make much of an impression, unless it broke a bone or mutilated a joint.
From his experience with the ball bat, you had to essentially smash their brains out to get them to stop. Yes, shooting their legs off would probably suffice to allow you to get away, but if you didn’t want to contend with a maimed weirdie later, it was probably advisable to apply maximum cephalic carnage.
Morris touched the graceful lines of a hunting rifle, the heavy breach of a double-barrel shotgun, the business-like harshness of an assault rifle. In the pistol case, he caught sight of one of the massive handguns they liked to show in the action movies. Desert Eagles, they were called. He put his hand around one and pulled it out. It was staggeringly heavy, and the grips were so big around that he felt as if he could only get a tenuous grasp on the weapon.
“Nope. Too huge,” he muttered.
He tried a few rifles. Many of them didn’t have any sights. He guessed that they needed scopes, but he wasn’t sure he could install one. Anyway, he wasn’t looking to hit the weirdies from a thousand yards. He just needed to be able to clear them out when he was moving around town. Whatever he chose had to be portable, simple, and effective.
Morris came down to a group of possible candidates. He had several handguns, a small combat rifle that appeared to be based on a pistol, and a combat shotgun. Where he could, he skimmed the instruction manuals for these weapons. The revolvers seemed simple enough, and he’d watched enough cop shows to understand the basics of how the shotgun and automatic pistols worked. He searched for ammunition for his preliminary picks, finding a dizzying array of choices. He grabbed an assortment and stacked it near the weapons. He also grabbed a few knives that looked interesting.
The longer Morris stayed in the gun store, the more it seemed to him that it would make a perfect base of operations. He would have to get plenty of food, of course, but since the place was secure and filled with weapons, it seemed ideal. He’d need to make several trips with supplies, though. The scooter wouldn’t carry that much. If he wanted to get started with that project, he’d have to get moving tonight.
The pistols would be easiest to carry on the scooter. Morris wrapped the guns in a towel and took them back to the range. He found a pair of ear protective muffs and some man-shaped targets behind the clerk’s desk. He pinned up several targets and ran them out to the nearest range, seven yards. He tried the .44 magnum revolver first. He’d always been a huge Dirty Harry fan, and remembering the part about the .44 blowing a punk’s head clean off sounded promising.
He took aim and pulled the trigger. What followed was a terrifying noise and a fearsome kick that left his hand buzzing, much as it had when he landed a good clout with the ball bat. There was a clear hole in the middle of the target’s head. After the first shot, though, Morris found that he was flinching, a little overawed with the revolver’s noise and recoil. He flexed his wrist and put the .44 down as a bit too much gun for him, at least in a pressure situation. He didn’t have time to acclimate himself with something that intense.
Next up, he had an old-fashioned .45 auto. He loaded the magazine and inserted it. The sound of the .45 was a big, cheerful boom. The kick, while still significant, was light compared with the .44. He was able to put five of the eight shots in the head. On the last shot, the gun’s slide stuck back, showing an empty chamber. He put the pistol down, nodding. Not bad.
He did notice that it had somehow taken a chunk of skin off of his hand. It was oozing blood, a shallow but stinging injury. He was concerned that all the guns seemed to hurt the shooter a bit when they went off. Still, it seemed like the .45 would do the job. The ominous size of the neat, round holes in the paper made Morris feel that any skull that they collided with would be in grave jeopardy.
The 9mm Beretta didn’t kick much, but the noise was an unpleasant crack that the muffs didn’t fully erase. Morris found that his shooting was erratic with the 9mm, but he wasn’t sure if it was the gun or just a twitchy hand. The trigger seemed sort of heavy, and he felt like it complicated the process of holding the gun steady. Finally, there was an old-west style gun made by Ruger.
It was in .45, but the “Long Colt” style, rather than “A.C.P.”. The difference was clear as he held the two sorts of ammo side-by-side. The automatic ammo was sort and squat, with a different type of lip on the back, while the Long Colt type looked more like the .44. He hoped that it wouldn’t be as painful to fire, though.
The old-style gun was easy to aim, and cocking the trigger made all the westerns of his youth come back. He fired, and found that the kick was mild, the noise no higher than the .45 auto had been. He put five of six shots in the target’s head, though one wasn’t a really solid hit. The mechanics of the old gun were really easy to understand, and he felt that it would be easiest to use if things got tough. Since it also didn’t injure him, he declared it the temporary winner.
With an old-west holster and ammo belt, a loaded .45, and a backpack to carry supplies in, Morris revved away on his little Kymco scooter, evening beginning to shroud the landscape of the deserted and burning city.
The smoky sky, awash with deep red and purple, covered him with the odd light of a fallen world, and the emotion nearly overcame him. The light of his little scooter’s headlight became indistinct and blurry as he road back toward the Safeway. The cars, caught like dinosaurs in the midst of some sheetmetal Ragnarök, had mostly fallen silent. The few that still idled, Morris broke their windows out and switched them off.
“Probably fix global warming, at least,” he mused. The awesome revelation that everyone he’d ever known was gone, that he was possibly the only whole person on a silent planet full of zombies, came to rest on his shoulders. Morris sank down next to the oversized tire of an F-350 and tried to make himself breathe. Two weirdies shambled around the edge of an old Skylark nearby. Gritting his teeth, Morris forced himself up.
He drew his .45 and stepped closer, perilously close. He cocked and fired right into the nearest weirdie’s face, blowing it to bits. It fell like a bowling pin. He turned, a low, primal roar building in his throat, and shot at the other. The first shot hit it high in the sternum, smashing in a fist-sized area of its chest. It kept coming. Firing again, Morris blasted away its cheek bone. Finally, from only a few paces away, he shot its forehead away, sending it to the ground. His body shook all over.
He knew he couldn’t take vengeance on the weirdies for all that had happened–it wasn’t their fault. Still, it felt good to act, to fight, to control something, if only the booming report of an outmoded revolver. Perhaps, though, its time had come back again. The west, he thought, had never been so wild as this.
It took the last two shots to shoot his way clear of the following group of weirdies. Morris holstered the empty revolver and sped away on his scooter. In his rear view mirrors, he saw the accumulated shadows of a group of at least nine more. The final two he’d capped were crawling on the ground, broken inside but still animate.
Their buddies, hungry and deprived of the sweeter flesh, fell upon them and started ripping flesh free. He looked away, putting the throttle to the stop and heading for Safeway. He’d have to reload, but he didn’t want to chance it until he was in the clear. They were teaming up now, and big groups were dangerous in a way that ones and twos could never be. He’d have to be careful, even packing heat.
That night, he managed only one trip, carrying three gallons of water underneath the seat and a whole backpack full of no-prep food like Power Bars and Yoo-Hoo. He had to fire a few shots as he rolled through, but he got back to Fuller’s intact and locked himself down. He laid down all the camo vests and jackets, all the trap shooter t-shirts, and anything else soft. He rested his head on a sand bag that seemed to be for target shooting with a rifle.
He had four ibuprofen tablets in his system, and he was as tired as he’d ever been. It was almost noon on the next day before he rolled up and forced himself to stand.
Morris ate a few nutrition bars, drank a Yoo-Hoo, and splashed water on his face. He had deep, livid bruises under both eyes, scratches on his face, and a prize fighter’s nose. He looked almost as bad as a weirdie himself. He stretched, washing out the deeper wounds. Popping more ibuprofen, he replenished the open loops on his ammo belt and took a look at the revolver, wondering if it needed to be cleaned. There was a little hint of powder on the business end of the cylinder, but he thought it was probably okay. Likely as not, he’d be putting it to work again soon.
He tested the combat shotgun in the range, and with the ammunition marked 00 Buck and 000 Buck, it worked really well. It pretty much peppered the head on the target from seven yards. Aiming was really only of the “general direction” level. That was fine with Morris. It took a minute to load it, but it held nine shots, so that wasn’t too bad.
He tried the little Beretta rifle, and it proved to be very easy to shoot. He moved the target out to the full length of the range and found that, if he held the rifle tight to his shoulder and took his time, he could put every bullet in the head. It only carried eight shots, but he had two magazines for it, so that was sixteen.
Morris put the rifle in his backpack, cinched it up tight, and tucked the shotgun behind his back. It was a little tenuous, but it would hold while he rode the scooter. With his cowboy revolver, a shotgun, and the little rifle, he decided to go hunting. If he could kill off a bunch of the local weirdies, he wouldn’t have to worry about them getting up to no good when he wasn’t ready.
At the door, he paused, the chicken inside him making it hard to go on. He understood that fortune favored the bold, but the bold also died by misadventure with some frequency. Morris leaned his head against the glass, closing his eyes. When he opened them, he found that there were five weirdies shambling toward him from across the street.
“Shit,” he whispered. “Damn. Son of a bitch.” Out of curses for the moment, he pulled the shotgun out and set it against the inside of the door. Digging in, he found the rifle, inserted the magazine, and took aim. It took all eight shots from the Beretta’s first clip to drop the five weirdies. He reloaded in time to see that there were several more approaching. The Beretta spat its lead and fell silent, yet there were still more coming for him.
They were crawling out of the woodwork, whatever that meant. Morris switched to the shotgun and blasted down six weirdies with its full load. The final two weirdies took every bullet in the Ruger, and sweat poured from Morris’s face as the last one fell, nearly close enough to touch. He ducked back inside Fuller’s and bolted the door.
“Jesus. Jesus. Holy mackerel.” Mechanically, he started to reload all the guns. “If Morris won’t go to the weirdies, move the weirdies to Morris,” he droned. “Thanks, uncaring supreme being. I needed that.” His voice sounded strange and distant, all sounds muffled in the crawling, cottony realm of partial deafness.
His hands shook, and the profuse sweat took a long time to recede. Looking outside, there were several more weirdies, now at work chewing on the flesh of their fallen comrades. Morris felt his gorge rise, and only just made it to the bathroom in time to empty his stomach into the toilet.
He was crying and snotting and shaking all over, his every impulse offended by what had become of the world. For a moment, he felt like he was going to lose it, like the next bullet was going to go up his nose and end the show right there. They never showed that part in the movies or the cop shows.
Yeah, they had to go to counseling or whatever, but they didn’t tell you how hard it was to swallow the idea the people wanted to kill you, and that you had to kill them first. They surely didn’t make mention of anything like what he’d just seen. The images of heads burst open, of arms shot away in a mess of bone fragments and ropey muscle. No, the censors wouldn’t have gone for that. No way.
“I’m probably gonna have to get drunk,” he mused. First, he had to smoke the rest of the weirdies. His gut and heart ached, set hard against the need to pick up the shotgun again. He had to. He couldn’t have them loitering around out there, eating the dead all day.
Perhaps too late, he put the ear protectors on, going out the door in a hail of buckshot. It was dirty work, and the smell of the street became unspeakable as the warm sun baked the bodies. The noisome stench of pierced body cavities and liquefied brains jolted the senses.
Through that day, Morris had to go out five different times, each time blowing away at least a handful of weirdies. He was literally knee deep in the dead by twilight, his shoulder so sore from repeated shotgunning that he could hardly move his arm.
Though he stunk from fear sweat, gunpowder, and puke, he didn’t have the energy or the requisite courage left to go back to the Safeway that day. He washed up as well as he could in the sink and fell into the pile of woodsman’s clothing. In the deep parts of the night, he could hear the weirdies outside, moving, feasting. Utterly exhausted, he ignored them. The morning would have to be soon enough. It would have to be soon enough for the booze, too.
The morning of the third day, Morris had to shoot down the better part of a dozen weirdies outside his door. They kept coming, drawn by something. Perhaps the noise, perhaps the smell. He didn’t know.
More confident with guns now, he found that an AR-15 with a thirty round clip was equal to the task. The bullets were small, but they’d pop skulls like a champ if you did your part. Amidst the cool morning air, thin wisps of steam rose from the rifle’s barrel.
Pushing the ear protectors down around his neck, he surveyed the scene. The whole area suffered the barren, hollow silence, the woeful aftermath when the thunder of guns fades away.
The carnage at his front door had become unacceptable by now, looking like an open mass grave. With his trusty shotgun and friends, he went in search of some recourse to the problem. Nearly a mile away, he found a huge bulldozer in the middle of a block where all the buildings had been knocked down and the land flattened for new development.
Those plans, of course, were doomed to never see fruition. The minds who’d thought them up were gone, either disappeared or erased by the tombstone agenda of the weirdies. All the things that had mattered so much and been fought over for so long now couldn’t stack together to reach the height of a dime.
While coming to grips with the ‘dozer’s complicated controls, he shot down four weirdies. A numbness, a dull acceptance of the facts of his new existence crawled up his spine and bloomed like dead flowers behind his eyes. He fired up the ‘dozer. It belched black smoke, and with a rattling cacophony, it pushed its way through crashed cars and everything else.
It relocated piles of dead weirdies without complaint, and Morris learned that if he didn’t look too closely at the pummeled remains it piled, he was fine, and his lunch would stay put. Armed with the ‘dozer, he managed to push a clear lane through all the wreckage between his various destinations by day’s end. Weirdies made their appearance, but they couldn’t climb a moving dozer. Some of the slower ones he crushed to puddles of red beneath the tracks.
Taking possession of a Toyota Prius with only superficial damage, Morris whispered back and forth between Fuller’s and Safeway until his immediate needs were met. That night, he found a way up onto the roof, a sealed and whitewashed tar expanse. It was nearly all flat, and he set up his charcoal hibachi there, cooking ribeye and washing it down with a six pack of Amstel.
From his high vantage, he could cap any varmint weirdies that shambled by. The smoke from the big pile of them down the road still filtered skyward, now alone on the horizon, as most of the car fires and isolated areas of burning had now smoldered to a halt. Morris guessed that this was how the world ended, at least for the people. You could watch our going as the fires subsided, behind us the empty eyes of broken windows. In silence and charred earth, we retreated forever, our collective strivings meaning so little in the end.
It was too hard to look inward, though, to ache for the afterimages of the world that had been. Better, at least, to remain in the grasp of objective reality. Better to turn one’s attention to the tasks at hand.
It was hard not to notice that, after a few days of short rations, the city’s dog population was starting to get pretty frisky. He shook his head. He supposed a little dog-on-weirdie violence couldn’t hurt him too bad. He’d probably have to watch out for the packs that were forming, though. They’d go back to feral and see him as a food source in another few weeks.
“Ah, the good life,” he muttered. He sat back in his folding camp stool and watched the stars wink on in the heavens. A bright yellow moon rose, three-quarters full. He didn’t know if it was waning or waxing, but without television or the radio, he’d damned well find out. He’d have time to read all those books he’d been hoping to get through, too.
He’d need a few hobbies to keep himself sane. The grim work of staying alive couldn’t do that. Morris just wondered if every word, every image he looked at would remind him of the world that was. It would hurt. Every idle thought would be tinged with pain, but maybe that was a good thing.
Much as he didn’t want to face the raw surface of a planet gone quiet, he had to imagine that there were others out there. Morris needed to believe that he wasn’t the last man standing. He had to hang onto that, the idea of a world of people, rather than an empty place haunted by fetid mockeries of human form.
As he nursed the last of the Amstel, a rolling blackout moved across the city, all the street lamps dying out in a wave, as if blue cloth were being thrown across the whole valley. Even though he’d known it had to happen, it put Morris’s heart in his throat.
The awful stillness, the unleavened darkness…he trembled with a cave man’s fear of the dark. He got up, looking out of the darkened domain where he seemed to be the soul survivor. His eyes could still pick out features in the moonlight, but the shadows hung deep in every alley, next to every mangled car.
The easy days were over. This part–the surviving–would be a bitch. He’d have to go out there, finding a place where he could do more than sweep the streets clear of weirdies and hide in a forlorn gun store. Somewhere out there, by the side of Eden’s desolate highways, he’d have to carve a niche for himself. Maybe he’d be alone at first, but he had to believe that someday, he’d find a friend. Someday, he’d look into another pair of eyes that wasn’t filled with tombstones.