Authors: Robert R. Best,Laura Best,Deedee Davies,Kody Boye
Tags: #Undead, #robert r best, #Horror, #zoo, #corpses, #ashton memorial, #Zombies, #Lang:en, #Memorial
“No!” said the chubby man.
“You must all stay with me! Stay with the fire! The fire will
protect us! The fire is our salvation!”
Angie spun back on the man.
“You destroyed my fucking house!”
“I saved your house, you
foul-mouthed whore!” the man screamed.
“Watch your mouth!” yelled
Park, shoving the man back. He turned to Angie and the kids. “We
need to get out of here!”
Angie stared at the man. Smoke stung her
nose. She heard the crackling of flames around her. Flames
destroying her street. Her home.
“Mom,” said Dalton.
Dalton pointed at the man's leg. Angie
There was a small bloody hole in the man's
pants. Beyond that was a small bloody tear in the man's shin.
The man saw them looking.
“Yes! They tried to consume me! The demons tried to eat me as they
ate my family. But I purged them! I purged them all with
Angie, Park and the kids stepped
The man faltered, his mouth
hanging open. “What?”
“You don't know,” said
“What don't I know?” said
the man. “The secret of fire has been revealed to me! The fire
embraces and purifies!”
“Shut up about the goddamn
fucking fire for a minute,” said Angie.
“We need to go before he
turns,” said Park.
“The bite,” said Angie. “If
you're bitten, you...”
The man blinked, some of
the wildness draining from his eyes. Angie imagined she could see
what he looked like yesterday. How he looked before the world
descended into madness. “What are you saying?”
“She's saying you're going
to turn into one of those things!” said Park. “I'd shoot you to
help, but I've just got the three bullets and you're a crazy-fuck
arsonist. Now enjoy setting shit on fire, we're getting out of
Park started back toward the car, stopping
when Angie stayed put.
The man looked at Park,
then back to Angie. The madness was fading from his expression.
“No, the demons.”
“You said they ate your
family,” said Angie. “Did any of them get back up?”
“My wife, the demons took
her shape, to try to fool me, but...”
“It wasn't her shape,” said
Angie. “It was her body. She was gone, but it was her
The man stared at the street. Park sighed,
“I'm sorry,” said Angie. “I
shouldn't be. But I am.”
“Mom,” said Dalton, taking
Angie's hand. Angie looked down at her son. He looked up at her
with pleading eyes. “Can we go?”
Angie took one last look at the man. He
stared dumbly at the ground.
Angie turned to Park and
her kids. “Come on. We have to go.”
“Really?” said Park. “If
only someone had been saying that for the last two fucking
Angie started walking for the car. Maylee,
Dalton and Park turned with her.
“You guys should have
stayed in the car,” Angie said, desperate to talk about anything
but their house. She could smell the smoke of it burning. All their
“I said so, too,” said
Dalton. “But Maylee insisted.”
“I'm sure she did,” said
Angie, her throat thick as they passed the house itself. In the
corner of her vision, it registered as a shapeless mass of smoke
and fire. “But don't be a tattletale.”
The man started laughing behind them. Angie
heard liquid splash. The man gurgled and sputtered but kept
laughing. Against her better judgment, Angie stopped and
The man held the gas can over his head, the
spout pointed downward. He shook the can up and down, pouring
gasoline over his face, shoulders and body.
“No!” said Angie, taking a
step toward him.
Park held out a hand to
stop her. “What exactly were you going to do?”
Angie swallowed, looking around. Looters,
corpses and fire. Madness. Chaos.
“Kids,” she said quietly.
Dalton buried his face in her side. Maylee
and Park kept looking.
The man dropped the can, still laughing.
He looked straight at Angie.
He lit the lighter. Flames engulfed the man
and he screamed. He twisted from side to side, then slowed.
Finally, he toppled over.
Angie blinked back tears and looked over at
her home. Flames and smoke poured from windows and doors. She
caught glimpses of the living room. Their furniture, their TV.
“It's all gone, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” said Park. “You got
any other family?”
Angie swallowed, her mouth
bitter. “I have a brother. In Ashton.”
“Looks like we're all going
Angie nodded, then turned
to her kids. Dalton was still averting his eyes. Maylee was staring
at the house. “Back to the car.”
Lori strained against the cords around her
wrists and bit at the tape over her mouth. She screamed into the
tape. Her throat hurt. She'd screamed more in the last few hours
than in all fifteen years of her life.
Mom was dead. The thought of it weighed on
her like something physical. If Mom were alive, maybe she'd have
the strength to break free.
Dad stepped into view. No, not Dad. Gregory.
The man who'd married Lori's mother years ago. Lori'd be damned if
she ever called him Dad again.
Gregory looked at her. Lori looked back. His
balding head, trimmed beard and round cheeks had smiled out from
many a family photo. Now, Lori hated that she even knew what he
He knelt in front of her and smiled. She
strained against her bonds and screamed at him through the
“Please, Lori, stop it,” he
said. Calm and quiet.
She screamed, muffled, until her breath ran
out. Then she settled for panting and glaring at him.
Gregory reached out to touch her. She jerked
back as best she could. He sighed and let his hand fall.
“See, Lori,” he said. “This
is the part where I'm supposed to say how disappointed I am in you.
But I'm not. I understand.”
She swore at him through the tape.
“Poor Lori,” he said,
nodding. “What you've seen. You were in shock. You're still in
shock. Why do you think I restrained you? Why would your own father
Lori panted and shot her
eyes around the room. Where was she?
Somewhere in the zoo
, she thought.
But where? She'd never seen this room before.
“That's right,” Gregory
said, nodding again as though she was somehow responding to him.
“You're panicked. You're a danger to yourself. I have to keep you
restrained until you calm down. I have to keep you
He stood and started pacing. Lori followed
him with her eyes, taking in more of the room. It was an office of
some kind. But not Gregory's normal office. She'd been in that,
back when she called it Dad's office. It was much nicer than this
He walked to a desk and
leaned back against it. The desk had a computer monitor, a series
of switches and a microphone. “And I can keep you safe. Both you
and your sister. I made this zoo what it is, Lori. The most
technologically advanced zoo for five states around. Maybe even the
country. St. Louis can't say that, Memphis can't say that.
can't say that.
Ashton can, thanks to me. Do you know how hard it was to keep a
project like that under control? But I did it. I managed that, and
I can manage this.”
Lori stared at him, wishing
she could kill with her eyes. He started pacing again, leaving Lori
to stare at the switches and microphone. Lori recognized the setup.
One of the communication centers he had installed in the zoo. You
could talk to most rooms in the zoo, or broadcast your voice over
the entire zoo at once. “The most expensive intercoms ever,” her
twin sister Ella called them. Ella was always saying smart-ass
things like that.
He stopped with his back to the desk. It was
clean and shiny and very out of place in the dingy room. He smiled
at her. She wanted to spit at him but knew it wouldn't get past the
tape over her mouth.
“I like you, Lori,” he
said. “I really do. You're much more levelheaded than your sister.
I'd hoped you could even run the zoo one day. Ella could never do
that. I love her, you understand. She's my daughter, but she
couldn't run things.”
His face shifted and he
took a step toward her. He wasn't smiling anymore. “So maybe I am
disappointed in you after all. You're acting like Ella, Lori. All
emotional and flighty. You have to be levelheaded!”
He took another step forward. He was calm
and methodical in his movements, but there was a hardness to his
face Lori hadn't seen before. Lori pulled back in her chair, more
out of fear than hatred.
Gregory looked down at her.
“Don't disappoint me, Lori.”
He blinked, looking around
the room. The smiling face from the family photos returned. “But
what am I saying?” He reached out to stroke her head. Lori couldn't
pull away any farther. She hated the feel of his hand on her hair.
“I'm sure you won't. You'll calm down eventually. You'll
He knelt down, his face a
few inches from hers. “You have to understand. I had to do
He nodded at her.
“I had to kill your
* * *
“Watch it!” yelled Park
from the passenger seat.
Angie blinked and realized she was nearly
off the road. She jerked the steering wheel to the left, almost
sending the car into the other lane. She eased the car back as
smoothly as she could, her chest pounding. What had happened?
“You okay over there?” said
Park. “You falling asleep?”
“No,” said Angie, rubbing
her eyes and blinking. A thin film started to form over them,
obscuring her vision. She blinked again to clear it. The road sped
by, trees and farmland on either side. And no shoulders, only
ditches. “I'm fine.”
“Fuck you are,” he said.
“You're falling asleep.”
“I said I'm not and I'm
not,” Angie said, casting him a quick glare. She let her voice drop
to almost a whisper. “And could you please stop swearing so much
around the kids?”
She glanced in the rear-view mirror,
positioning her head so she could see all of the back seat. Both
Dalton and Maylee were asleep, leaning against their respective
windows. They'd fallen asleep ten minutes out of Lakewood.
Park shot a quick look back
at the kids, then back at Angie. “Look, we aren't even on the
freeway yet. And if you pass out there we're ultra-fucked.
Ultra-screwed. I can drive if you want.”
“We've all been up all
night,” said Angie. “I'm fine.”
“Up all night, sure. But
I'm not exactly gainfully employed.”
Angie frowned over at him, confused.
“What I mean is I sleep in
pretty late. Wanna know what time I got up yesterday?”
Angie shrugged, thankful
for the conversation. Thankful for something to focus on other than
the monotonous hum of the car. “Eleven?”
Park chuckled. “Try two.
Angie smiled and shook her
head. “Shit, Park. What do you do all day?”
“Park!” she said, glancing
back at the kids. “I said watch the swearing.”
“'Jerk' and 'off' are both
Angie chuckled as the car rounded a hill.
The exit to the freeway came into view. Farther up, the road they
were on became an overpass. Under that, the freeway to Ashton ran
east to west. A few cars sped by, but not many. A gas station sat
to the left, just before the exit.
“We need gas,” said Angie.
“Our little road trip was unexpected.”
She slowed the car and
pulled into the gas station's parking lot. It was empty. The neon
sign in the window said
, but Angie could see no one
“No one's here,” said
“Yeah, but this station's
pay-at-the-pump. It should be all automated.”
“You know that?”
“I hope that.”
She pulled to the nearest pump and pushed
the shifter up. She looked at the pump, relieved to see its
automated display was still lit. She shut off the engine.
“What's going on?” said
Dalton from the back seat. Angie turned in her seat to see him
stretching and looking around. Maylee was waking up as
“We're getting gas before
we get on the freeway,” said Angie.
“Are we really gonna stay
with Uncle Bobby?” he asked.
“Maybe,” said Angie, her
stomach clenching at the thought. “But we have to get to Ashton
She opened her door,
letting the cold fall air into the car. “You guys stay here.” She
climbed out and shut the door.
She shivered, looking around. She was still
wearing her hospital smock and the wind went straight through it.
The sky was gray and cloudy. It looked like rain.