Authors: Mark Terence Chapman
“Hmm. Very interesting.”
The subject screamed again and then passed out.
“Hmm,” the doctor repeated. “I’ll have to hurry and develop some compatible treatments to keep the subjects conscious longer.”
* * * *
Even after the child fell asleep, Jay continued to sit with his arm around the female. It felt right, somehow. Then he began to feel something strange. It was a warmth, a tingle in the place where he pissed. His ragged pants got tight and uncomfortable. He pulled them down to see what was different.
His piss thing had changed. It was bigger and stiff and not at all familiar looking. He pushed down on it and it sprang back up. Intrigued, he did it again.
The female saw what he was doing and looked down at it, too. She touched it and that started a whole different feeling in Jay’s body.
Without understanding what he was doing, he turned to the female and bit her lip. She bit back and soon he was on top of her. After a few minutes of fumbling with clothing, he was inside of her and that began an entirely new set of sensations. Sensations he really, really, liked.
There was much grunting, shrieking, and howling from both of them. But not like the usual alarms and calls to fight. This was different, much different. The sounds had no meaning, yet somehow expressed how Jay felt.
The commotion caused the rest of the pack to stare in confusion.
Minutes later, it was over. Jay rolled onto his back. He looked up to see the child standing nearby, staring down at him.
“What were you doing? It sounded like it hurt. Are you okay?”
Jay said nothing.
“I saw Mommy and Daddy doing that once. I thought Daddy was hurting Mommy, but she said she was okay and told me to go back to bed.”
Jay grunted once and closed his eyes. He needed sleep. He would remember this new thing, however. It was like having a full belly—only better.
* * * *
“What the f— Sarge, come here! You gotta see this.” Jesse Jefferson, scouting ahead, waved Daniels forward. Jesse crouched behind the filthy alley dumpster as Daniels caught up to him and gestured at the commotion ahead.
A group of armed people was crossing the street ahead of them, heading for the alley on the other side.
Daniels whispered, “I didn’t realize there was anyone else in this part of town. I wonder, are they friendly or likely to attack on sight?”
“Dude, I think they’re Zoms.”
“Zoms? What are you talking about? They have machetes. Zoms don’t use weapons. Hell, I doubt they’d know what a weapon was if it bit them on the ass.”
“Really? How ‘bout now?” He pointed as one of the people hooted and shrieked and chased after a rat that crossed his path. The other Zoms set off in pursuit.
“Holy shit! Armed zombies. That’s bad, really bad. We have to tell the others.”
* * * *
“I’m telling you,” Daniels repeated. “They were Zoms. And they had weapons. Knives and machetes.”
Chrissy snorted. “Okay, so they found some knives and picked them up. Maybe Zoms are like magpies and like shiny things. It doesn’t mean they know how to use them.”
“Trust me, Chrissy. They were holding those things like they knew how to use them. Things just got a lot scarier. We don’t want to cross paths with those Zoms. The big question is are those the only ones with weapons, or are they all like that now?”
“Jeez. That’s all we need.”
Moose Villa spoke up for the first time. “Man, if the Zoms have weapons, it’s gonna make life a lot harder around here. The four of us have done okay so far, but we don’t stand a chance against a bunched of
Zoms. I’ll say it again. I think it’s time to get outta Dodge.”
Daniels nodded. “You might be right this time, but before we resort to that, maybe we should look for reinforcements. Last we heard, there were still some people on the other side of town. If they’re still alive, maybe it’s time to join forces. If the Zoms are arming themselves, then the others are in just as much trouble as we are. They just don’t know it yet.”
“Maybe,” Jesse said, “but they don’t know us any more than we know them. What if they decide to shoot first and ask questions later?”
Daniels shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”
The quartet left at first light. Because they had no idea where the other humans were, or if they even still lived, there was no telling how long it would take to find them. They packed their meager belongings—mostly food, weapons, and ammo—and set out.
This early, there were still plenty of shadows to use as cover. Crossing streets was always risky. It couldn’t be helped. Unless they wanted to stay on the same block forever, they had to cross some streets.
Movement up ahead forced them to duck inside a church. They peered through the stained glass in the apse. For a moment, Daniels thought they might have gotten lucky and spotted other humans right off the bat; but no, these were Zoms. At least they weren’t armed. That gave his team better odds if seen.
The Zoms passed by and disappeared down the block. The humans ducked out the back of the church and hopped a fence, figuring the odds of avoiding detection were better that way, in case there were any more Zoms in the street lagging the others.
By noon they had covered several miles.
“How much longer, Sarge?” Moose asked. He was a big man, standing six-foot-four, and heavily muscled. Before the plague he’d been muscular; however, a fondness for fast food had him tipping the scales at over 320 pounds. A starvation diet in the months following the outbreak had melted of the excess. Still, a man his size wasn’t built for quickness and all the ducking for cover had him overheated. He opened his water bottle and poured some over his head. It was only early May, but it was beginning to feel like summer already. They’d decided to rest for a few minutes in the shade of a maple tree.
“We’re just about in the area where I saw them, but who knows where they are now? We have to keep moving. If we don’t find anything by the end of the day, we’ll have to spend the night somewhere and then crisscross the area tomorrow. If that doesn’t work, then we move to another area and try again. Oh, and Moose? If you start asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet,” I’ll shoot you in the foot and leave you for Zom fodder. Got it?”
Moose laughed. “Got it. So…are we there yet?”
That got the others laughing and they pressed onward.
* * * *
Amanda had gone with The Pack when they went hunting, but her little legs had trouble keeping up. After a while the female carried her on her hip, with one arm around the girl and the other holding the machete.
“What’s your name?” Amanda asked again. As before, she got no answer. “You remind me of my friend Suzi’s mommy. I don’t know her name, so I’ll call you Aunt Suzi. Suzi died. So did her mommy.”
Amanda kept talking, about her friends, about her mommy and daddy, about the preschool she used to go to, about lots of different things. In fact, she never
Jay made a hissing sound and held up a hand. Suzi put Amanda down and covered the girl’s mouth, while scanning the area.
After a moment, Jay began walking again and Suzi picked up Amanda and followed.
“I was the bestest speller in preschool. I know my ABCs and everything.” Amanda reached out and tapped Jay on the shoulder. He stopped and turned toward her with a quizzical look on his face.
“J-A-Y,” she said, pointing at the name sewn on his coveralls. “That spells Jay! I’m going to call you Uncle Jay. You’re my Aunt Suzi and Uncle Jay.” She said it with a nod, as if that settled it.
Jay turned back around and began walking again. Thirteen Zoms and one five-and-a-half-year-old girl continued the hunt.
* * * *
The sun beat down on the streets, raising heat shimmers from the pavement. It was early afternoon and there was little shade to be found.
Trying to stay inconspicuous, Daniels had led the others into the back of a drug store. The door had already been kicked in at some point. The only sound the group made as they entered was the crunch of broken glass under their boots.
The place had long since been looted. There wasn’t much left of interest to the quartet. Still, they managed to find a few things they needed that had been overlooked in the looting: a box of gauze, a small bottle of iodine, aspirin, and some loose Band-Aids that were scattered on the floor but still individually sealed.
At least it was relatively cool inside. It made a good place to stop for lunch.
A day-and-a-half of wandering around hoping to find fellow humans—while avoiding Zoms and aliens—had proven fruitless. The search had already began to wear thin.
“Sarge, I think we have to face facts,” Jesse said. “Whatever people were around here before are either gone or dead.”
Moose nodded while chewing a forkful of canned tuna. “I still think it’s time to skip town. This place is dead, in more ways than one.”
Daniels sighed. “We all know your opinion on the matter, Moose. You don’t have to keep repeating it.”
“Well please don’t.”
Even Chrissy had begun to lose faith in the plan, if not in Daniels himself. “Chick, maybe they’re right. Maybe there’s no one left in town but us and maybe we’re tempting fate if we stay behind. How long can we hold out against an entire city full of Zoms and aliens? Why don’t we grab what supplies we can, grab a truck or something, and head for the hills. Find a small town somewhere that we can hole up in and clear out whatever Zoms are there. Somewhere we can be at peace for a while. I’m so-o-o-o tired of fighting and hiding.”
Daniels took a deep breath, ready to snap back at her, at all of them. Then he let out the breath. “Okay, you win. If we don’t find anyone by tonight, we’ll leave in the morning and head somewhere quiet—if there is such a place anymore.”
Moose made a fist-pump. “Yes! Finally, we—”
A clatter coming from the group’s right startled everyone.
Before they could grab their guns, a harsh voice rang out. “Hold it right there! Don’t move a muscle.”
Four armed men and a woman came around the corner, weapons leveled at the quartet. “Who are you, and what do you want here?” the man who had spoken continued.
The other four gathered the quartet’s weapons.
“I’m Sergeant Byron Daniels, Marine Corps, Retired. This is Hector Villa, Jesse Jefferson, and Chrissy Montoni. And we came here to meet you.”
“Me? I don’t know any of you.
“Not you, specifically; your people. We need to talk.”
“What makes you think we’d be interested in anything you have to say?”
“I suppose you’ve seen the aliens around the city?”
The other man nodded. “Yeah, so?”
“But have you seen the armed zombies?”
“Armed zom—? What the hell ya talking about?”
“I thought you might say that. That’s why we need to talk to your leader.”
“You’re the leader? Is this all the people you have left? It was a much bigger group the last time I was around here.”
“It’s big enough to get the job done.”
Daniels shook his head. “If this is all you have left, then it’s already too late.”
The woman looked at the man. “Tony, maybe we
take them to see Geoff.”
“Shut up Kitty! You’re givin’ too much away.”
“Tony,” Daniels interrupted, “Kitty’s right. You really need to take us to Geoff.”
Tony glared at Kitty. “See? Now they know our names.”
Kitty glared back. “So? What good’s our names gonna do them? Let’s just take them to Geoff and let him figure out what to do with them.”
Tony pursed his lips. “Fine.” He gestured at Daniels’ group with his hunting rifle. “Get up. Hands on your heads. And no monkey business. I got no reason to keep you four alive. You give me any trouble, and I’ll leave your corpses here for the zombies to pick clean.”
Daniels and the others did as he commanded.
“We’re not here to make trouble. Just to talk,” Daniels said.
“Fine. Talk later. For now, shut up and walk out the back door. Kitty, John, take the lead and shoot anyone who even looks like they’re makin’ a break for it.”
“Right.” Kitty and John went first, followed by Daniels and the rest of the quartet, and then Tony and the two unnamed people.
“We’re off to see the wizard,” Jesse muttered under his breath.
* * * *
Jesse Jedediah Jefferson was born the youngest of eight children to a hellfire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher. He grew up spending every Sunday attending revival meetings under a tent in the hot Mississippi sun. He’d much rather have spent his Sundays playing baseball with his friends. His father would have none of it. Idle hands were the Devil’s workshop, he’d say, followed by chapter and verse:
. Sloth was one of the seven deadly sins, he’d say. And he’d threaten to put the fear of God in his son at the very idea of gamboling on the Sabbath.
Jesse grew up simultaneously fearing God and hating religion. After his sophomore year of high school, he dropped out, much to the embarrassment of his parents, left home and never returned. He got a job as a carwash attendant in Birmingham, Alabama. The pay was shit, but the work was honest.
One thing he did learn from his father was the value of hard work. He also learned not to hold onto things too tightly, because one day they might be gone.
When the zombie plague struck, he recognized early on that it was going to be bad. He stuffed a backpack full of clothing, tied a rolled up blanket around his waist, bought a black-market revolver and some bullets with half of the cash he’d squirreled away for emergencies, and hitchhiked out of the city and into the country.
He found an abandoned farm with a reasonably dry barn, and lived alone for months, only seeing anyone when he hiked to the edge of the nearest town to buy food. Eventually there was no one left to sell him food, so he took what he could find. Twice he’d had to fend off hungry Zoms. Eventually he decided he’d had enough and walked out of there, heading north, just to see what was going on in the world.
What he found shocked him. He had no idea things had gotten so bad. Mangled, rotting carcasses littered the streets of the small towns he passed through. He was fortunate not to have run into the hunting packs of Zoms that had begun to form.
And then he ran into Daniels, Chrissy, and Hector Villa, and struck up an uneasy alliance until they all got to know one another. It wasn’t long before they’d had to fight off their first pack of Zoms, seven of them. That sealed the deal.
* * * *
Daniels and the others were marched into the back of a nearby apartment building. From the effort needed to push open the door, he guessed that it was a heavy-duty fire door. Not one a Zom could get through easily. The door led into the basement maintenance area, with power panels in one room, water pumps in another, and a room full of tools used in the normal maintenance of the building, including the elevators. The hallway smelled of axle grease and mildew. At least it wasn’t crawling with Zoms.
They passed several closed doors and entered into what clearly was a storage room. There were wire racks along all of the walls, containing spare door locks and deadbolts, window glass, service parts for the built-in appliances, and so on. Some items had been tossed into a corner to make room on the shelves for food and other supplies. A refrigerator had somehow been wrestled down there and made a loud humming noise just inside the doorway.
Inside the room stood a middle-aged man, unarmed, with seven others arrayed behind him. They most definitely
unarmed. Shotguns, pistols, hunting and assault rifles, knives, machetes, and even a garden scythe were visible in the hands or holsters of those present.
The quartet was ushered inside, leaving the five who escorted them on sentry duty just beyond the doorway.
The man in the center of the room spoke. “My name is Geoff. I’m told y’all wanted to see me. Why?”
“As I told Tony, My name is Byron Daniels. My friends call me Chick.”
This pronouncement was met with stony silence.
Daniels looked around the room. “Is this all the people you have?”
Geoff bristled. “It’s enough to feed you four to the Zoms if y’all don’t get to the point.”
Daniels held up placating palms. “Sorry, that came out wrong. I wasn’t criticizing. I was hoping you had more, because you’ll need them.”
Geoff’s face turned beet red. “Are y’all threatnin’ us?
The four o’ y’all?
“No, not at all.” Daniels sighed. “Now you know why I’m a soldier and not a diplomat. Look, there
a threat, but it’s not from us, it’s from the Zoms.”
The room burst into laughter.
“No kiddin’. Son, if y’all ain’t as brain-damaged as those damn Zoms, I suggest you get straight to the point. Another minute and I’m gonna kick y’all’s ass to the curb—minus your weapons.”
“Okay. Fine.” Daniels took a breath to compose his thoughts. “You know how dangerous the Zoms are, obviously.” The other man just stared at him. “Well, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.”