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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Story One: Two Men, Alone And Beset By Zombies

1. The small cottage had been barricaded well. The previous occupants had done their due, though the legions of undead had made their way in anyway. Arthur Wells had happened upon the stone cottage, boarded up tighter than a Sunday school virgin, and decided that zombies wouldn’t comb over the same place twice. He had also figured that the cottage was far enough out of the way that he’d be the only one to enjoy its safety. He was wrong on both accounts. It was the third day in the cottage. He’d eaten half of the almost exhausted pantry. The previous occupants were at least seven in number and had held up for at least a month and a half before the zombies came. The pantry was probably better stocked than. He was working over a can of creamed corn when the report of a shotgun sounded through the cool air. Arthur mouthed the word, ‘No’ while corn dripped down his chin.
2. Another report sounded, and another. The sounds echoed from the Far West, but were edging closer and closer. Arthur prayed silently that the dead men would crack the shooter’s head open and turn away. Maybe they’d choke on his peace-murdering hide and die all over again. Unfortunately, the shooter didn’t get his head cracked open and therefore the dead men couldn’t have choked on his peace-murdering hide. The reports stopped and the rustling started. Whoever was shooting, was now trying to force his way in. Arthur picked up a small knife meant for mincing, out of the kitchen and prepared to drive the bastard off. The blade was undersized and Arthur grimaced at the thought of letting someone profane his shelter long enough to get enough hand in to stab. The hand slid in with a burst of grim daylight and Arthur drove the blade into the man’s meaty hand. A roar of pain erupted from the outside, but Arthur lost his knife when the hand recoiled.
3. “Fucker! Motherfuck…fuck! Motherfucking motherfucker…I’m not one of them! They don’t fucking shoot guns! Motherfuck! Fuck. FUCKER!”
Arthur peered out from the hole the shooter had made to see a big, hulking man dancing wildly about in the hazy sunlight. The man’s hair was gray and well trimmed. The fact that his hair wasn’t shaggy like Arthur’s suggested how right Arthur was to stab him. He was part of the dwindling few who trusted that humanity was going to come out on the other side of the zombie apocalypse. They tried to live life like the one they had before. They wanted to like right on the other side. Arthur knew there was no other side. There was always the possibility that a meager, insignificant few might tuck themselves always long enough for all the undead to starve to death, but whatever came out on the other side wouldn’t be human. They’d be more than dead, but not quite alive. They’d be animals on two legs and they’d never trust the smell of a fresh haircut.
4. The shooter tore a piece of his shirt to make a bandage before he started toward the cottage again. They never learned their lessons. Back when scientists were trying to understand the infection, rather than outrun it or be devoured by it, they tested the undead’s learning capacity. He had watched drooling ghoul after ghoul electrocute themselves, Cajun style, on an electric field trying to get at the yummy brains on the other side. These people were just like them. He had to know I had something else. He had to know I knew he was regular and therefore, he had to know I didn’t want company. Arthur scurried to the kitchen and palmed a potato peeler. He was more careful with this knife. If he had lost it, he’d be reduced to stabbing the man with wood splinters.
5. The man peered in through the hole he had made and Arthur ducked away into the shadows. He wouldn’t reach out with the peeler, lest the shooter outside had good reflexes, which wasn’t ridiculous considering that he was alive in this world. If the man outside grabbed Arthur, Arthur would be defenseless. He’d lose his weapon, his shelter, and possibly his life. The man seemed to know where his power was, because he kept his limbs outside and was wary of any movement inside.
6. “I’m not looking to hurt you. I’m not even looking to stay for long. I just need to rest for a little while. I’ve been travelling.” The shooter called into the still darkness. A light clack sounded and Arthur’s mind turned immediately to tear gas. He held a cloth to his mouth and waited for the gas. However, as his eyes searched for the rising cloud, he realized the ploy wasn’t so blunt. He’d thrown the knife back in. He was trying to draw him out, figure his position.
“You can have it. I don’t need it. I just need to rest. I’m trying to find someone and he’s moving all the time, from what I’ve been told. I won’t be round long at all. I swear.” The man pleaded. Arthur could hear the fatigue bleeding from the man’s voice, but he knew how easy it’d be to fake that fatigue.
7. The shooter got much livelier, for instance, when the wet slapping of bare feet echoed in the distance. Arthur closed his eyes, imagining the cracked country road that led to the long dirt drive. He had a little time and he wasn’t going to waste it waiting for the man to make his move. He upturned the heavy kitchen table he’d been sitting at, spilling his cream corn, and shoved it against the wall, blocking away the piercing daylight.
8. The shooter saw the sudden motion and started shouting in a panic, slamming the butt of his gun against the now sealed opening. The sound was getting closer; the groans were reverberating through the open space. The trees, the soil, the air was excited with their approach. “They’re coming, god damn!” The shooter cried to Arthur, but he just knelt down low, with his weight against the table.
9. The first of the reports came and Arthur gritted his teeth. “Damn guns.” He whispered. Post mortem and Post-post mortem examinations showed that the undead weren’t completely brain-dead. Though zombies suffered from impaired higher cognitive functions and diminished sight, they enjoyed a compounded sense of smell and hearing. Arthur had lived amongst the rotted stink of the dead just to conceal his stink of the living. The shooter, out there, had shattered the other end of his cover. Arthur gathered that the gunfire, that slue the first group, would attract the second and likely a third.
10. Flecks of wood exploded from the wall. The shooter outside had turned his weapon on the cottage window in final desperation. Soon the shooter would be in and with him a long line of rotting horror. Arthur abandoned the table barricade and scrambled, moving low along the floor. He came to a cord that would drop a ladder leading into the attic. He pulled it down. The ladder slid down with a dangerous clatter and Arthur rushed up into the attic’s darkness.
11. The shooter spilt into the cottage and didn’t waste time wondering where the cottage’s occupant was. He harried about the darkened home, sealing the hole he came in through and the other damage he might have done. Once the shooter was sure he could do no more, he slid to his ass and wiped his brow. He closed his eyes and made a silent prayer as the zombies reached the cottage and began their scratching and clawing.
12. “We’re on the same side.” The shooter called into the empty cottage. “My name’s Frank Pine. I’m from Rockport.” He continued, but he stopped once he realized that only scratchy silence would comfort him.
13. Arthur spied down on Frank, listening in on the scratching. They would be in soon enough, he believed. Once they did, they would kill the shooter and then amble about the cottage and then they would leave. Arthur estimated that he would be hungry in the darkness for maybe three days. He assured himself that he could bring himself to such lengths.
14. The first day with the shooter came and went without the zombies breaking the barricades. Arthur assured himself that only one day was added to his three-day estimate.
15. Another day came without Frank’s brutal murder and Arthur became less sure of himself. He reminded himself of the 3-3-3 rule: three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. He always kept a canteen on his person, so water was not an issue. However, the big question was, could he possibly last three weeks for this man to die? He did not think so. He had to rethink his strategy.
16. On the third day, while Frank worked over a can of beets, Arthur dropped the ladder down. In a shock, Frank skirted back and away from the only weapon, he had brought. With foolish confidence, he had left his gun leaning in a corner, and out of his reach. Arthur cut for the gun the moment that he descended. Frank launched forward the moment he realized that Arthur was not one of the dead, but he was too late. Arthur had the gun.
17. Frank bounced back against the wall as the barrel rose to a path between his eyes.
“I’m not one of them,” He croaked. “Why can’t you see that?” He showed his forearms and bared his neck, displaying his unbroken flesh.
“You may not be one of them, but you’re making noise like you want to be.” Arthur whispered. He unfolded his unarmed hand and revealed a pre-looped length of shoelace.
“I’m not going to ask you to leave, but I am going to restrain you.” Arthur said, inching closer with the shotgun leading. Arthur pressed the barrel into Frank’s belly and gestured for the man’s wrists. Frank gave them and Arthur synched the lace tight and then secured each to a sturdy looking planter’s hook that hung higher than Frank’s comfort.
18. “You’re from Rockport, too.” It was not a question, so Arthur did not give it an answer. “I know your face.” Frank whispered with definite surety. “You killed my son.” Arthur froze for a moment, but he finished securing Frank and started toward the diminished pantry.
19. Arthur’s options were split between something called Pink Salmon and Pickled Peppers, which he was surprised was real outside of the tongue twister. He chose the food he had the most experience with and worked the pickled peppers under the mechanical can opener. He plucked the wrinkled red and green peppers out and ate them jealously. 20. Frank glared from the wall. His lips rolled up along his teeth, to his gums and itching anger burned away in his veins. The man, who had murdered his son, was there, plain as day and smelling like shit.
21. “You going to say anything?” Frank asked. He strained on the shoelace and ignoring the chords bite. Arthur did not speak; he just sat on the opposite side of the room, rubbing his stomach. Apparently, the peppers had not agreed with him.
“Huh!” Frank barked and startled the sitting man.
“Quiet.” Arthur hissed, craning his head side to side, trying to determine if the scratching outside had grown more excited. He could not tell, but he had noted Frank’s agitation at being told to be quiet.
“You fucking killed my son.” Frank barked, making no effort to calm his voice.
“Okay.” Arthur said through his teeth. “Have you spoken your mind?”
“You killed the fucking world. It would be just if I just threw you out there. Let them paint the lawn with your insides, you shit soaked rat-fink”
“You want to know something…” Arthur started, but cooled himself. He knew adding to his hysteria would only encourage him, but Arthur had heard these accusations repeatedly and they grew difficult to abide.
22. What Arthur almost said was, ‘You want to know something, and my work didn’t cause this. The U.S. government employed me to create a viral strain to curve the growth of poppies in Mexico. I did that. Mexican chemists mutated the strain trying to undo my work. Your son, whoever he is, was probably some goddamn addict who would have died of an overdose if he hadn’t snorted the fucking virus up his nose or shot it in his arm.”
23. One desperate moment had brandished Arthur with what the 21st century offered as the Mark of Cain. A reporter had tracked the plant virus back to America and the State Department had redirected the national press to the conveniently independent laboratory headed by the unfortunate Arthur Wells. Though the clinical name for the virus was Serum VV5, the press regularly referred to it as Wells’ Disease. He would have been arrested if the authorities weren’t preoccupied with the undead threat, back while they still attempted to contain it.
24. Frank breathed in heavily, watching the sunlight drain from the cracks in the cottage’s barricading. The scratching had hit its peek and he had held hope that the things on the other side had lost interest in the cottage. He had hoped, but some sense inside him knew that the danger was not gone and it had nothing to do with the filthy man sitting across from him with Frank’s gun resting in his lap.
25. A wet thwacking shook the wooden boarding late in the night, and the two men shocked into waking. Frank roused first and Arthur rose his head afterward. Though the thudding led to no breach, it did lead to a revelation for both men. Arthur had feared that he had some ailment, something rotting in his belly and now Frank had seen. It was small, it was slight, but Arthur feared that it was seen. One thing Arthur had learned to trust was that nothing held forever. The shoelaces would break. The hook the shoelaces were bound to would break. The barricades would fall. The smart man trusted these truths and left before it happened. Whatever was wrong with him was going to make that harder. He had to start thinking, unless he wanted to start dying.
26. Frank did not feel the biting in his wrists. They had bled red runners going down his forearm, but still he pulled. Had Frank known what Arthur had dragged his shoelaces through, he might have reconsidered such effort. However, the torn flesh was exposed to filth, and muck, and the slightest remnant of the viral strain that viciously ripped through the world. Frank had lost his life and would never understand why.
27. It was a sudden snap followed by a terrible grunt of nerves waking after being numbed. Arthur had vomited across the floor in the middle of the night. The discomfort of the hot sick pressed against his face had kept him in an odd realm between waking and sleep, and therefore he was not slow to react to Frank’s attack. It was not anything as poetic as a knife in the heart. It was just Frank’s heel being driven downward toward Arthur's head.
28. Before the apocalypse, Frank was not a violent man. Before the apocalypse, he had learned to shoot by duck hunting with his father as a boy. He had cried the first time a rifle recoiled in his hands. He had felt ashamed of it, crying in front of his father, rather than fearing the gun. He owned the gun he brought to the cottage in the same way someone might own a house in a city one has never been to. It was there and he knew about it. But the virus had a way of finding the worst in people.
29. Arthur scrambled to his feet, but felt the room spin around him. His throat began to burn. He spewed what was left of the pickled peppers across the floor and across Frank’s shoes. Frank recoiled in disgust, but fought through it. Something that Arthur could not hear was whispering “kill Frankie, kill” in Frank’s ear. Soon, Frank would not be able to hear it. It would just be the fire in his eyes and the hunger in his belly. Frank curled his fingers around Arthur’s shirt and slammed him into the wall. Frank was strong. He was a big man, and the wood behind Arthur and Arthur, himself, could attest to that.
30. Arthur crumpled into a heap on the floor and he was vaguely aware of the shotgun rising away from him. Arthur slid his hand into his pocket, closing his fingers around the small bladed knife he had stolen in the darkness of night. The shotgun leveled on Arthur and a feeble click sounded. Arthur pulled the knife out from its hiding place and planted it in Frank’s leg. He screeched aloud, which did not do well for the migraine that was brewing in Arthur after the blow against the wall.
31. The gun clattered to the ground and Arthur rolled away, not worrying about collecting his knife. Frank crashed against the wall and cried out more. Arthur rushed toward the attic and Frank collected himself enough to chase after him. As Arthur rushed up the ladder, Frank gripped Arthur by the pants and tore them. Shotgun shells sprinkled out from the tear and Frank relented. He loved the idea of crushing the man’s throat with his bare hands, but shooting him was as good an idea as any available.
32. Arthur rested on his back, gasping in between dry heaves. An ache was pumping poison into his side. He was regretting the sudden burst of motion, and soon he was regretting the cease of that motion. The floor very close to his right calf exploded in a shower of wood splinters. The sudden disruption released a shocked scream from Arthur’s throat and that was the next of his regrets. A white-hot pain sliced through the meat of his shoulder. Arthur bit down on his tongue to avoid repeating the second regret, and instead tested his wounded arm. He could move it, so the damage was not anything he would waste time thinking about. He hobbled along on his knees, wincing across the attic.
33. An explosion ripped a jagged hole in the floor and Arthur rolled away in panic. He hit his wounded shoulder and bit his tongue again, drawing blood this time. He kept rolling until he hit the wall, then he scanned his surroundings. Thin wisps of moonlight stole from behind a stack of dust-caked boxes.
34. Arthur took a moment to consider the situation he was in. He was beset by a horde of undead cannibals on one side and a man with a gun and a grudge on the other. Things did not look good. He then considered his options. Submitting to either side meant death. The more Frank shot at him, the more zombies showed up for the dinner bell. However, the more Frank shot at him, the fewer bullets he would logically have. Arthur had taken six shells from the gun and therefore Frank could only fire six times, he had popped three off already. Frank also had the knife. There was the outside chance that he had just pulled it out and thrown it aside, but Arthur did not want to assume something like that. He would have to go down again, and did not want to be surprised.
35. Frank limped about the cottage, grunting with a raw throat. The holes he had blasted in the ceiling were not telling him anything. They were just three black voids echoing with shaky breaths. It was getting harder to focus and harder to breathe. He wanted to sit down, but a firm fist was gripping him by the mind, wrenching him to his feet.
36. There was a clatter by the far wall and Frank fired first into the wall and adjusted to fire toward the noise. There was a secondary clatter and Frank fired again. This was immediately followed by a hoarse scream. Frank fired into the scream and was met by a metallic click.
37. Arthur made noises that he did not know that he was capable of making. It was bad, he could not take care of it, but he was not sure if he could get up to take care of Frank. His mind was on fire. It made spastic leaps from whether the thudding sounds approaching him were imaginary to bacterial infections to the zombie infection. He had not anticipated ricochets and that oversight gave him a metal sliver in his leg and it was bleeding badly.
38. Frank was wincing and gasping psychotically as he rose up into the attic, the small bladed knife choked in his hand. He spotted the pool of blood where the murderer of his son once rested. The red had turned white in the moonlit glow.
39. Dazed from his short fall, Arthur heard the soft shuffle of confused feet. They were still ambling about, but the ambling was in his direction. They could smell the living stink of his blood. He forced himself to his feet, fell to his knees, and decided to crawl away.
40. Behind him, Frank screeched wildly, bashing the wooden barricades down with the butt of his gun. He spilled out into the night and more than one zombie turned its head to witness the noisy, thing that smelt like fresh meat.
41. Frank moved forward, but between him and Arthur, was a small horde of interested zombies. They grabbed at him and he slashed at them, roaring as he did so. That noise caught the attention of the last of the zombies inching toward Arthur. Frank fought hard, harder than he thought possible. Nevertheless, the undead overtook him, biting and tearing, scratching and roaring.
42. Arthur moved with all the vigor of a stuck pig fleeing a second strike. No one and nothing was chasing him, not that he would look back long enough to know. He only ever stopped to purge foul emptiness from his stomach. Arthur was an unapologetic survivor and felt nothing for the wild, wounfed shouts that echoed into the night.

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