Read Ashton Memorial Online

Authors: Robert R. Best,Laura Best,Deedee Davies,Kody Boye

Tags: #Undead, #robert r best, #Horror, #zoo, #corpses, #ashton memorial, #Zombies, #Lang:en, #Memorial

Ashton Memorial (40 page)

“I know,” said Angie, her
hand still on the handle. “At least I hope I know. I'm just trying
to make myself feel better.”

Angie stepped farther inside the office as
Park shut the door behind her. Maylee and Dalton were sitting at
the bank of monitors and switches. A box of crackers was open in
Maylee's lap. She sat watching the monitors, slowly raising a
cracker to her mouth and chewing. The crackers were a big find the
night before. One of the zookeepers’ lockers had thankfully been
left open. And inside, among various articles of clothing and a few
books, was a half-eaten box of stale crackers. That and a working
water fountain in the breakroom had provided a very meager
dinner.

Dalton was chewing a cracker in his hand and
staring at the screens. He saw Mom and swallowed.

He snatched the box from Maylee. Maylee made
no protest, sitting back farther in her chair and chewing
slowly.

“Mom!” said Dalton,
standing and walking over with the box. “Have some
more.”

“No,” said Angie, shaking
her head. “Park and I have already eaten. You guys need to have
most of it.”

“Why?” said Maylee from her
seat.

Angie sighed. “Because you
guys are hiding in here while Park and I go to get
Lori.”

“What?” said Maylee,
sitting up straight.

“Don't start,” said Angie.
Dalton shrugged and started pacing the room, carrying the box and
watching all the screens.

“But I want to help,” said
Maylee.

“I said don't
start.”

Maylee stood and walked over.

“I can't believe this,”
said Maylee. She spoke quietly, calmly. Angie noticed this. Just a
few weeks ago, Maylee would have screamed and stomped around. “I
can't believe you still don't trust me.”

Angie glanced over at Dalton. He was oblivious to
them, investigating some maps of the zoo that were plastered onto a
far wall. Angie turned back to Maylee. “I am trusting you, Maylee.
I'm leaving you in charge here. Dalton's still limping. He needs to
rest. I'm trusting you to keep him safe.”

Maylee fell quiet, looking
at Dalton. She looked back to Angie. Angie could tell she was
conflicted. She bit her lip, then nodded. “Okay.”

“Thank you,” said Angie,
and meant it. She unslung the rifle from her shoulder and handed it
to Maylee. Maylee took it, frowning. “Take this,” said Angie.
“Darts are in the desk over there.”

Angie walked to the gun case to get the last
remaining rifle. She saw Maylee frowning at the rifle and looking
at her bat propped up against her chair.

Angie took the rifle from
the case and slung it over her shoulder. “Not everything can be
knocked on the head, Maylee.”

“A lot of things can be
knocked on the head.”

“Still, try to keep things
far enough away that you don't need to.”

Maylee nodded. She walked back to the chair
and sat, placing the rifle upright on the floor in front of her.
Angie wanted to change her mind. To hide with her children there in
the office and make the best life they could. But she knew it was
untenable. She knew eventually they would have to deal with the
corpses, the animals and the crazy man who had made the zoo his own
kingdom. They would have to deal with Gregory. And she'd rather
have the kids safe here than in the middle of that.

Angie turned and looked around. She found
another of the hand-held communicators sitting in a chair across
the room. She walked over and picked it up. She took the one she'd
been using from her pocket and read the number on the back.
Dropping hers back into her pocket, she adjusted various dials on
the one she'd just found.

“You're becoming a real
whiz with those things, Mom,” said Maylee.

Angie smirked as she
adjusted settings. “Well, we had lots of free time last
night.”

Satisfied she had it
working, she walked back to Maylee and handed her the communicator.
She took hers from her pocket. “Try it.”

Maylee frowned at the
communicator. She clicked the large button on the side and held it
to her mouth. “Hello?”

Her voice came from the communicator in
Angie's hand. But not from the speakers set all over the room and
zoo.

“There you go,” said Angie,
smiling and putting the communicator back in her pocket. “This way
you can talk directly to me. I can tune mine to talk back to you if
you need anything.”

Maylee nodded. She shifted
in her chair to hike up one hip. She slid the communicator into her
pocket and sat back. “Got it.”

Angie nodded and looked at Dalton. He was
staring intently at one of the maps on the wall. She looked over at
Park, who shrugged back at her.

“So what's the plan?” he
said.

“Well,” said Angie. “Here's
what I've been thinking. There are lots of people scattered all
over this zoo. They hate being trapped here. They hate Gregory.
They hate the crazy zookeepers.”

“We ran into a few of
them,” said Park, looking over at Maylee. Angie followed his eyes
and saw Maylee nod. Park nodded back and continued. “They seem a
little on the bat-shit side.”

“They're desperate,” said
Angie. “They feel helpless. We'll give them weapons so they can
defend themselves against the corpses. And the animals. And the
zookeepers. We'll round up as many as we can, we'll get food for
them, we'll find Lori, and then...”

“Mom,” said Dalton from
across the room. He was leaning forward on his tiptoes, staring
intently at a large map on the far wall. “Come here a
sec.”

Angie stepped over and looked. Park and
Maylee followed. The map was far more detailed than the ones for
the general public. It detailed staff-only buildings, security
routes and shortcuts for employees to take.

“According to this,” said
Dalton, “there's only two places someone could have opened all the
cages from.”

“Where?” said Angie,
leaning in to look more closely.

“Well, one's here, where
we are,” said Dalton, pointing at a spot on the map labeled
Communications Office
.
Several icons on the building indicated the services housed there.
One of the icons was a small padlock. Angie guessed it indicated,
as Dalton had said, the ability to control the locks in the
zoo.

Dalton kept pointing and
moving his hand in a long line clear across to the other side of
the map. It came to rest at a small building labeled
Emergency Backup Station
. “And the other one's here,” he said.

Angie scanned the map
quickly. Dalton was right, only the Communications Office and the
Backup Station had the padlock icon. “So that must be where Gregory
is.”

“That must be where Lori
is, too,” said Park.

Angie nodded and stepped
away from the map. She took the folded map she'd grabbed the night
before from her pocket and unfolded it. She held it up to the large
map, comparing. She found the spot on the smaller map that
corresponded to the Backup Station. She made a mental note of it,
then folded the map and shoved it back into her pocket. “Okay,
then. Now we know where we're going.”

“Then what?” said
Park.

“Hmm?” said
Angie.

“You said we find Lori,
then something. Then what?”

Angie thought about it.
“I'm sick of running, Park. We have no home left back in Lakewood.
This place is big. We can clear out the corpses and lock it back
up. Let everyone who wants to go, go, and everyone who wants to
stay, stay. We could stay here for who knows how long.”

“What are you saying, Mom?”
said Dalton.

“I'm saying that once we
get Lori and force Gregory to step down, we're taking over the zoo
for ourselves.”

 

Seventeen

 

Lee sat on an overturned milk crate in the kitchen
of the Bites. He wiped a steak knife on a rag in his other hand.
The knife left a thin line of blood on the rag.

Lee smiled at the young
blonde woman sitting on a second milk crate across from him.
“You're all set.”

The young woman smiled, sweat collecting on
her forehead. She rolled down her sleeve, trickles of blood running
down her arm.

The woman stood, revealing a line of Keepers
behind her. Some looked stern and focused. Many looked scared. Lee
felt for them. These were tough times.

“Next,” said
Lee.

A young man with fat cheeks stepped up and
sat down on the milk crate. He looked around nervously. He looked
at the knife in Lee's hand, then over to Lee's left. Lee followed
his gaze to the three bodies stacked in the corner. All with
throats sawed open and heads pushed back. Dark blood stained their
faces and the floor beneath them. Darts were embedded in each of
their foreheads, assuring they wouldn't get up again.

Lee looked back to the young man. The young
man swallowed and looked back at Lee.

“It's sad, really,” said
Lee. “I think one or two of them might have changed their minds at
the end. I saw it in their eyes, but by then the knife was already
in and the blood was already out.”

The young man blinked and nodded.

Lee smiled at him. “But
this isn't about them. This is about you. About us. The Keepers.
Are you a Keeper, son?”

The young man, who might
have actually been a year older than Lee, nodded. “Yes, sir. I
am.”

“Do you commit to the
Keeper’s Code? Do you promise to keep order? To keep the weak ones
safe and the strong ones in line?”

“I do, sir.”

“Good,” said Lee, nodding.
Outside, the rain picked up. Lee heard it pounding on the windows.
It was late morning but the room was dark. “Lift up your
sleeve.”

The young man paused, then swallowed again.
He grabbed his left sleeve and rolled it up, exposing his bicep and
shoulder.

“Lean in,” said Lee. The
young man did, turning to present his upper arm, just below the
shoulder. Sweat already collected on the young man's
forehead.

Lee leaned forward and
brought up the steak knife. Slowly, carefully, he carved a
large
K
in the
young man's shoulder. Blood pooled in the lines and the young man
winced with each stroke.

Lee finished and sat back,
examining his handiwork. Blood trickled from the
K
, but Lee knew that
could be wiped away. The
K
would last. Lee was proud.

“Good job,” said Lee. “You
can go.” The young man nodded and rolled down his sleeve. Blood
seeped into his shirt. He stood and walked to the side.

Lee wiped the knife on the rag and surveyed
the others. Still quite a few to go. It would be a long
morning.

The communicator on his belt crackled to
life. Lee jerked in surprise. He'd almost forgotten he had the
thing.

“Lee?” came a voice from
the communicator. It was Gregory.

Lee placed the rag and
knife on the crate in front of him. He took the communicator from
his belt and held it to his mouth. He clicked the button on the
side. “Sir? Is that you?”

 

* * *

 

Lori strained against the ropes holding her
legs to the chair. Gregory had his back to her, focusing on the
microphone on the desk. She desperately wanted to believe the ropes
were looser after days of straining, but she knew they were not.
She wasn't going anywhere, but she couldn't stop trying. She pulled
at the ropes with her fingers, tips already raw from effort. The
ropes wouldn't budge.

As she struggled, she stared at the remains
of her phone in the corner. She wondered if she could put it back
together. She longed to try. She wanted to rip the ropes free, run
to the phone and call Ella. Just speak to her for a few seconds
before the phone finally fell apart for good.

Gregory spoke and Lori flinched. His voice
grated on her, even when he wasn't speaking to her. He spoke into
that stupid microphone. Someone responded over the speaker that
also sat on the desk. Lori thought she recognized the voice. It
sounded like Lee, the quiet zookeeper boy. But then, it didn't
sound like Lee. Not anymore.

“Sir?” said Lee's voice.
“It’s an honor to hear from you. We've been listening to your
broadcasts and I would like to thank you for all you've
done.”

Lori rolled her eyes to no one and pulled at
the ropes. Her heart jumped when her right leg shifted. Just a tiny
bit. Nothing that would even be visible. But it was more than she'd
managed in days. Lori almost couldn't believe it. She had hope.

Mom looks like something is wrong. She
stares blankly at the road as she steers the car.

“Are you okay, Mom?” says
Lori.

“No,” says Mom.

“Thank you, Lee,” said
Gregory into the microphone. “You're too kind. I'm calling because
I need your help.”

“Help, sir?” said Lee's
voice. Lori pulled and tugged at the ropes, desperate to replicate
the movement she'd managed a few seconds ago. She couldn't.
“Anything, sir,” said Lee. “The Keepers are at your
command.”

“Good, good,” said Gregory.
“That's good to hear. As you're no doubt aware, a woman has brought
chaos to our zoo. First she let those things outside in. Then she
and her gang have somehow turned the animals themselves against the
zoo. They should be attacking the creatures, driving them back. But
instead they attack our own citizens. It breaks my heart to see it.
She has to be responsible. It is the only explanation.”

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