Authors: Bryan Smith
Until he tripped over Danny and fell to the ground.
The .38 flew from his hand.
An open palm scraped against a rock as he smacked the ground, drawing blood. He rolled onto his back and stared at Danny.
Stared at his slack features.
At the terribly still eyes.
And at the open cavity that had once contained his intestines, half-devoured fragments of which were arrayed around the body of his dead friend.
Danny gaped in disbelief at the body for a moment.
Then the grief hit him, a welling of intense emotion that rocked him backward, sent him scooting away from the body until his back met the base of a thick tree. He sat there and stared in helpless, sick fascination at his deceased friend for a brief time. Then it occurred to him to wonder what had become of the dead bitch. She was nowhere in sight. Where had she gone?
He didn’t have to wonder about it long.
That graveyard breath was unmistakable.
Rick surged to his feet, but before he could flee the dead bitch emerged from the shadows behind the tree and seized him by an arm. She pulled him close and wrapped him up in that same faux-lovers’ embrace, only this time it was more exuberant. She hooked a leg around him and writhed against him. The push of her titanic breasts forced the air from him again and he struggled to breathe.
, he thought
. I’m being molested by a fucking zombie dead bitch!
This went on for a time.
He even began to feel a mild arousal.
What the hell, right?
He was dead anyway. Might as well go with it.
The dead bitch twisted her head away from him and snarled. Then she was ripped from the embrace and Rick staggered backward. He felt woozy and his vision blurred. He gave his head a hard shake to clear the cobwebs and gaped at the sight of a reanimated, zombified Danny locked in a thrashing, savage battle with the dead bitch. They rolled on the ground and tore at each other with their fingernails. Strips of the dead bitch’s flesh came away from her back as Danny raked at her.
And a glint of light on steel caught his eyes.
He picked the gun up.
Approached the combatants.
And fired again.
The bodies of the zombies went still.
Danny stared at them for a long time. At first, he couldn’t connect Danny’s violated body with the man who’d been his best friend since childhood. Then a wash of memories assailed him. Forts built in the woods. Secret clubs formed with their other friends. The wild times as teenagers. The quiet sadness they never talked about as their other friends grew up and started families, became responsible. The subsequent total commitment to drugs and booze as the only way of life that made any sense to guys like them. And now this. One of them dead in some anonymous section of wilderness. Eviscerated. And here he was, smoking gun in hand, no idea what to do next. After a while, he turned and walked back out to the road.
He swept the glass fragments from the driver’s side seat—barely noticing the sting of multiple cuts to his flesh—and slipped behind the steering wheel.
He stared at the road ahead.
It was almost full light out now.
The road was just a road.
Leading everywhere and nowhere, like always.
But maybe there was a monster lurking somewhere toward the horizon, after all.
Maybe a lot of them.
Rick switched the radio over to the AM dial, found a 24-hour news station.
An announcer’s static-garbled voice told him some things he’d already guessed at: “Washington has declared a national state of emergency. Citizens are being advised to stay in their homes until the crisis has passed. Again, the bodies of the dead are rising to attack the living. Authorities urge everyone to avoid contact with the dead. If you must engage a reanimated corpse, be advised that you must destroy the creature’s brain to kill it. A team of top scientists is working around the clock to solve this problem, although at this time no one knows the cause of the uprising. Some theorize radiation from—”
Rick stopped paying attention.
It was weird how on some level he was completely unsurprised by this. As if somehow he’d always known it was going to happen, that it was inevitable.
He switched the radio back to the tape deck and picked up Danny’s Zune. Scrolling through the list of artists, he stopped on one and laughed.
Tears welled in his eyes.
“You fucking liar.”
He cued up “The End” by the Doors and pushed play.
After the song was over, he did the only thing he could think to do. He lifted the gun and put it to his head. He closed his eyes and spent a last few moments thinking of the good things in his life. Family and old friends. Fun times he’d had. The music he enjoyed. Yeah, there were some people and things he would miss. But the world was dying, and he didn’t want to face that alone. He began to apply pressure to the trigger.
And a voice from the passenger seat said, “Don’t be a dick.”
Rick’s finger eased off the trigger. He opened his eyes and lowered the gun, turned his head toward the source of the voice. “Um…”
Danny’s ghost sat stretched out in the passenger seat, one arm propped on the door, that familiar smirk on his face. At least he appeared to be a ghost--he had that sort of glowing spectral transparency they often had in movies. A more rational part of Rick’s mind reminded him that he had done a lot of drugs in his life, had in fact done a lot of drugs within just the last twenty-four hours, and so this could very well be a hallucination.
Danny chuckled and said, “I’m not a hallucination.”
“Fuck, you can read my mind.”
Danny shook his head. “Nah. It’s just you’re as transparent as I am in your own way. And Rick, seriously, you weren’t really about to blow your brains out after listening to “The End”, were you?”
Danny’s smirk deepened. “My God, you really were gonna do it. Look, unless you’re some kind of morose high school kid, that’s just weak. Even then, it’s weak.”
Rick nodded. He set the gun down in the tray beneath the radio. “You’re right.”
“Damn right I’m right.”
“So how is it I can see you?”
Danny shrugged. “Who knows, man? Maybe all the drugs you’ve done have opened receptors in your brain that are usually closed.” He giggled. “The fucking doors of perception. You’re probably gonna have to stay high as hell to keep me around.”
Rick smiled. “Makes sense.”
He fished a half-smoked joint from his shirt pocket and lit it with the dashboard lighter. He inhaled deeply and made like he was going to pass the joint to Danny.
Danny scowled. “Dude, I’m a ghost. Non-corporeal. Get it?”
Rick frowned. “Oh. Right.”
“So you’re gonna have to get twice as high for both of us.”
Rick choked on another lungful of smoke, laughter wheezing out of him. “Yeah. Shit. Didn’t think of that. Good point.”
Danny shifted in his seat, clasped his ghostly hands behind his non-corporeal head. “What can I say? I’m a smart motherfucker. Now cue up some tunes. And not fucking “The End” again. Some good road tune. Then let’s get mobile again. We’ve got us a goddamn zombie apocalypse to check out.”
Rick picked up the Zune and scrolled through the selections until he found “Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’”.
He clicked Play.
And made a sound meant to mimick Jon Lord’s keyboards.
Danny unclasped his hands and played air drums.
In a few moments, the Chevelle was rolling on down the road.
Walter Percy’s wrinkled face was expressionless, a calm exterior that betrayed none of his inner rage. He had always been good at masking his true feelings, a dubious talent that had contributed greatly to the breakup of his marriage. He was nearly as adept at blocking out emotion as he had once been at playing The Game.
The Game was baseball, of course. And he loved it with an obsessive passion; it ruled his life, touching every facet of his existence. It was the only thing left that still held any real meaning for him.
Today was the home opener for the Rochester Red Wings, a triple A club in the Orioles organization, and he should have been happy. The hell of off season was over, spring training and its petty controversies all but forgotten. He was in a ballpark, as close to nirvana as he ever got.
But the fucking kids were ruining it for him.
They laughed at him, giggling wildly like fucking idiots, taunting him with rude remarks about his enormous girth. They were clean-cut teenagers, all-American in appearance, and drunk on grain alcohol and youth. Kids who would have been begging for his autograph had his career not come to such an untimely end.
Instead, they were throwing paper beer cups at him. Only one found its target, striking the bridge of his nose, and then falling into his lap. A small quantity of beer—mixed with a liberal dose of saliva—poured out of the cup, soaking the crotch of his jeans.
“Hey fatso!” one of the brats yelled, “You piss yourself?”
He knocked the cup away, and continued in his attempt to ignore the creaseless barrage of insults. There was a game to watch, after all. A good game. The bottom of the sixth inning was just getting under way, and the score was tied. Mike Jensen, Denver’s premier power threat, was stepping to the plate. The crowd rose as one, a tidal wave of flesh, and booed in unison.
Except for the assholes Walter Percy was sharing this otherwise deserted section of the right field bleachers with. They had lost all interest in the game, finding the verbal abuse of Walter more worthy of their attention. This was sport of a decidedly crueler nature than baseball, and to their way of thinking, more fun.
His head rigid, motionless, Walter’s eyes moved side to side in their sockets, scanning the immediate area for security guards; none were in sight. They were apparently content to focus their energies on problems in the more crowded areas of the park.
Ordinarily, he enjoyed sitting out here, isolated from everyone else, apart from all the bullshit and the swarming mobs of children. He could see the action on the field well enough, and he had his binoculars, after all. So rarely did anyone else ever sit out here, he had come to think of this remote section of the bleachers as a home away from home, his own personal property. This was the only place that made him feel everything was right with the world; it acted as a sanity buffer, an assurance that maybe things weren’t really so bad, and maybe he could cope with life another six months, hell, maybe even make it through yet another dreary off season.
Now, though, these fuckin’ little jerks were violating his space, defiling its sanctity. He was royally pissed off, but he knew any action on his part would just inflame them, make the whole situation even worse, if that was possible. If he could just concentrate on the game properly…
Goddamn! Just leave me alone
, he thought
. Go pick on someone else, for Christ’s sake!