We’ve Had Better Days
Chapter two of our latest project, Phantasms.
(See here and here for character descriptions)
Junior couldn’t decide what was worse, the cramped claustrophobic room, or the noises outside it. He leaned his head back against to cement block wall and sighed. The room was about 9 feet by 12 feet and was mostly taken up by a large piece of machinery, labeled as the pump for the fire sprinkler system. The smell of grease, dust, and neglect was starting to get to him.
“How’s your arm, Cal?” he asked the man leaning against the wall next to him. The man did not look good. He had his left arm cradled tight against his chest, but blood had leaked through the makeshift bandages already. The man’s tanned skin was taking on a grayish cast and sweat beaded his brow.
“It’s alright, man,” Callum said trough gritted teeth. “Good thing you were near the tee shirts, huh?” He gestured toward the bandaged arm.
“Yeah, good,” Junior agreed grimly. They were going to need to get Callum out of here soon.
Something slammed against the outside of steel rolling door and slid down, hitting the ribs like a washboard. A moaning was followed by more growls and even some screams. Seth had been sitting on the edge of the concrete pad for the pump and jumped up at the noise, eyes wide.
“Just sitting here isn’t going to do us any good,” Alex started pacing again. The noise outside had subsided again.
“And what do you think we should be doing, Alex?” Junior tried to stay calm, but the man was starting to get on his nerves. Today as already not going according to any plan he may have made.
It had started off as a normal day. Junior had gone into the station and dealt with paperwork for most of the day, a few phone calls and lunch with his partner. Nothing exciting, almost boring really, but the life of a cop was not all gun battles and car chases.
On his way home, his mother had called, asking that he pick up her blood pressure medication on his way home. Of course she insisted on using the mega store pharmacy, because usually she loved wandering around filling her basket with cheap, foreign made shit while she waited for her prescription. The pharmacy was located right in the middle of the massive store, so Junior had been waiting in line somewhere between ladies shoes and band aids when shit went weird.
He had been distracted at first by the young man in the next aisle, something about him had caught his attention. He was acting a little nervous, looking around a little too much. Was he going to try to steal something? He was near the vitamins, did people really steal vitamins? Of course he had been with the police force long enough to know that the answer to that was yes. People would steal anything that wasn’t bolted down.
The line was moving slowly. The old woman in front of him kept picking up every item in the aisle and putting it back in a different spot as she lost interest in it. The poor kid behind the counter looked like he was about to have a breakdown. A middle aged woman with more flesh than clothes was currently yelling at him for not having her prescription ready when she got there, despite it not having been called in by her doctor yet. This was ridiculous.
He glanced at the kid again, but the young man had frozen in an attitude of listening like a deer in the woods. Junior looked around, but no one else seemed to be hearing anything odd, he began to wonder if the boy was hearing voices. Mental illness was no joke and frequently made situations more dangerous for responding officers if they were called.
A bump on the back of his legs brought him back to the line. The woman behind him was getting impatient with his lack of response when the line moved a few inches in front of him. He gave her a glare, but moved up the social acceptable crowding distance, because those few inches were going to make a difference in how quickly they reached the window apparently.
Junior sighed. This was taking too long. He was tired, hungry, and just wanted to be at home on front of the television with a beer in his hand.
“Kolby!” Someone from the back of the pharmacy called out to the harried young clerk. “Get that line moving!”
Good luck, Junior thought, that woman isn’t going anywhere until she has made sure everyone in the store is miserable.
It started with a mummer, somewhere in another part of the store. Was that what the kid had been listening to? He glanced back in that direction and saw the young man with wide eyes and a look of fear. The sound got louder and closer, it came with a pressure in his ears like going up a mountain or in a plane. His head started to swim and he closed his eyes briefly as a wave of pressure swept through the store and past him. It felt like the floor shook slightly, and the murmuring got louder then faded as the florescent lights blinked out in a wave from one side to the other. Junior looked around to see if anyone else had experienced the same thing and was met with wide blank stares in the now dim light.
The young man he thought was shop lifting was not looking at him, but his eyes were blinking rapidly and darting side to side. The woman with the cart behind him staggered back, knocking into the display beside him, but quickly righting herself. The look on her face made him hesitate to go see if she was ok, her expression was almost completely blank, her jaw slack and her gaze vacant.
“Are you ok?” he started toward her despite his gut telling him to stay away. She did not react to his words, but shook her head hard, like a dog getting out of water, and stumbled away from him. A moaning sound behind him made Junior turn before he could figure out what was going on with the pushy woman with the cart.
The people in front of him in the line were starting to move again, but they seemed almost mindless. They wandered aimlessly or swayed in place for a moment. The woman at the counter, the one harassing the hapless Kolby pushed herself back for hard that she toppled over, landing sprawled on the floor as her fellow shoppers ignored the commotion.
The poor red haired young man stood frozen, looking shocked and confused, but not blank like the rest. Junior caught his eyes for a moment and he saw pure confusion there, but movement behind him soon caused the young man to turn. The previously unseen pharmacist was stumbling from his work bench in the back, his eyes empty and a deep moan coming from his slack lips.
In a moment of pure panic, the clerk launched himself over the counter, landing on the sprawled customer and ending up sprawled next to her. He tried to scramble to his feet but more of the people were starting to move and it was getting chaotic. Junior shoved his way over to the young man and reached him at the same time as the boy he had been watching earlier.
“What the hell is going on?” the suspected shoplifter complained as they got Kolby to his feet, but no one had time to answer since the belligerent customer chose that moment to suddenly decide to come to life. She grasped Kolby’s pant leg and moaned like she was in pain.
“Oh shit, did I hurt you?” Kolby was obviously torn between concern for the customer and fear of her hands clawing his leg. Fear won and he slapped her hands away in a panic when she turned blind eyes to him a bared her teeth.
Get off me you psycho!!” Junior turned to see a man close to his own age wrestling with one of the mindless patrons. The bigger man was actually drooling and trying to bite the screaming man’s arm. He tried to push his way though the milling people, but he saw the large bald man’s teeth sink into his victim’s forearm before he could get there. The man screamed and ineffectually beat his attacker with his fist.
Junior grabbed a glass bottle of wine and slammed it against the things head, drawing blood, but in no way stopping it. He hit the man harder, finally wrapping his arm around the man’s throat in a choke hold, putting all his weight into the grip. Only then did the mad man release his hold on the arm and let out a sound that Junior was sure was going to haunt his dreams for a long while.
“Get out of here!” He shouted at the man as he stood clutching his arm to his chest.
The young man from the pharmacy and the dark skinned boy rushed over and both tried to guide the man away, but he seemed stunned, and kept staring at the hole in his arm where the other had bitten him.
“Go to the front!” Junior shouted at the pair while he tried o keep pressure on the thing beneath him. He was relieved when he finally felt the muscles release and sag beneath him. Whatever was wrong with him, not being able to breath was still enough to drop him.
Junior made sure he had not accidentally killed the man, and hurried after the trio in front of him. The inside of the store was chaos. Almost all the people in the store seemed to be affected, and more than one had begun to attack others. The floor was already spotted with blood, and not all of it was from the other man’s arm. Junior grabbed a box of gauze and a tee-shirt off a rack as he hurried to catch up. He dodged affected shoppers as best he could and pulled out his phone. It showed that he had no signal and almost no battery life left. He had just charged it before leaving work. That was unusual. He had frequently taken and placed calls while in this store.
“Head out front,” he told them, placing the tee-shirt over the gaping wound. “I’ll call this in and take you to a hospital.” The group was forced to stop at that point because they had come up on the checkout area and found it to be a madhouse of mindless moaning creatures.
“Looks more like black Friday, than a Tuesday,” Kolby said.
“At least someone has a sense of humor still,” the injured man tried to laugh.
They ducked back to the a nearby dressing room and Junior took the time to grab more shirts and pulled out his phone again. Still no signal.
“What’s your name,” he asked the injured man.
“Callum,” he replied, letting himself slide down a wall until he was seated on the cheap carpet.
Junior looked up at the others.
Kolby,” the pharmacy tech said, huddled into himself against another wall.
“What’s it matter?” the youngest asked.
“Come on man,” Callum winced as he spoke. “It’s better to not to sit here dying with strangers.”
“You aren’t dying,” Kolby said. “You’ll be ok.” He looked at Junior as if the man could make his words more true. Junior looked away.
“You guys can call me Junior,” he said, fidgeting with his phone again.
“Do any of you have signal?” He asked.
“My phone is in my employee locker. We can’t have them when we are at work.” Kolby shrugged.
Otis pulled one from his pocket and frowned at it. “No, not even a bar. The battery is almost dead too.”
“I have no idea where mine went,” Callum said through gritted teeth.
I have to get outside and get to my car so I can get a hold of the station. I’ll get an ambulance here and come back and get all of you.”
“I knew you were a cop,” the young man complained.
“I imagine you have a lot of experience spotting us,” Junior said dryly.
“Yeah, what of it?” The boy was starting to sound belligerent.
“We don’t have time to worry about that right now. If none of you have any signal then I have to get outside.”
“You want us to just sit here in the dark?” Asked Kolby. He sounded really nervous.
“Can you think of somewhere better to wait?” Junior snapped.
“No,” Kolby admitted quietly.
“If I see anyone else who seems sane, I will send them this way,” Junior opened the flimsy door and looked out into the little corridor. The walls didn’t go all the way up to the high roof deck, and he could easily hear the restless shifting and vocalizations of the other occupants of the store, punctuated with cries and inhuman sounding growls. This was turning out to be a terrible day.
Luckily the skylights let in enough light for him to be able to make his way slowly to the front doors.
The loss of power had affected the doors as well, but it was a simple thing to force them open. He was afraid the noise might get the attention of the wandering mindless things inside, but they seemed fairly oblivious to anything going on around them if it was not in their immediate sphere. That was good news.
Junior stepped out into the parking lot and stopped like he had hit a brick wall. The scene outside was as bad, if not worse then the one inside. Cars were haphazardly stopped, some crashed into each other or objects, people wandered aimlessly, or fought and bit and scratched at each other like animals. What ever had caused this, and caused the power outage inside the store was obviously more widespread than he originally guessed. He fished the keys out of his pocket, but the fob did not initiate to expected chirp from his car. That was out too apparently.
He had to actually use the key to get into the car for what must have been the first time since he bought it several years ago. His phone still showed no signal and was low enough on battery that it shut itself off as he searched for even one bar. Swearing, he plugged it into the car charger and put the key in the ignition. Nothing. He turned the key again. Still nothing. Not even a click. His battery was completely drained.
Evening was coming quickly and he had no way of contacting anyone. He felt helpless and angry. It was not something he was used to feeling, at least not since he had become an adult.
Before he could wallow in self pity much longer, he heard the sound of helicopters overhead. He got out of his car at started waving his arms frantically, but they just kept moving, with no indication that they had seen him.
Out of other options, Junior looked back to the store. He had no way of helping Callum on his own, and no way of contacting anyone else. He had to go back in there, but now with the setting sun and the already dark store he found it hard to make himself go back in.
A groan from behind him spurred him forward. An overweight woman in too small yoga pants lurched in his direction. He saw blood on her mouth and it looked like clumps of hair had been pulled out. He wasn’t hanging around to ask questions. Though he had lots of them.
“Hey!” he heard a voice from somewhere in the store as he passed into the darkness. Daylight was dying fast. “Hey! Over here!” There was a man crouched inside of a rack of clothing.
“What the fuck is happening, man?” he asked.
“Damned if I know.” Junior admitted, grabbing the man’s arm. “You hurt?”
“Nope,” the man said, I got hidden in time, I guess. “I’m Seth,” he said holding out his hand.
Out of habit, Junior took it and gave it a perfunctory pump. “Junior,” he mumbled back, still on the look out for roaming morons.
“Junior?” Seth asked. “Is that your for real name, or just a nickname?”
“Nickname,” Junior admitted. “But we do not have time for chit chat, there are some others in the dressing room. If you want, you can come wait this out with us.”
“Ar the cops coming?” Seth asked as they slipped further into the store, trying to keep out of sight of any of the now cognitively challenged patrons.
“I am the cops,” Junior admitted.
“Fuck me,” Seth breathed. “No offense, but I don’t think you will be enough.”
“Just shut up and get in there,” he gestured toward the little area with the even smaller rooms. “Last door on the right. The accessible stall.”
“Kolby, Otis?” Junior tapped at the door. “Open up, I’ve found another person.”
The door opened a crack and Kolby peered out before opening it all the way.
“Were you expecting one of them to be able to trick you?” Seth asked, settling himself on the floor, back against the mirror.
“We have no idea what is going on, better to be safe,” The redhead said, looking down the whole time. His long hair had come loose from its tie and he twisted it around his finger absently.
“You did the right thing,” Junior assured him with a pat on the back.
“Callum, how are you holding up?” Junior asked.
“Just fucking peachy,” he hissed. He sounded slightly out of breath.
“Do you have any medical conditions we should know about?” He asked as he pulled the pulled the top layer of shirts from the wound, leaving the lowest place so as not to restart any bleeding that may have stopped. He replaced it with some new shirts and tied one fairly tightly over the top to keep pressure on it.
“We need a better place than this,” Seth said. “Those zombies aren’t going to be stopped by this flimsy shit.”
“Zombies!” Otis scoffed. “Those aren’t zombies, those are people.”
“Zombies used to be people,” Seth argued. “This is just like in the movies or a game, right?” he tried to get anyone toe agree with them. “Mystery bullshit happens and people start eating each other.”
“Ok, he has the part about trying to eat people right,” Callum said grimly.
“We are not calling them zombies!” Junior insisted.
“Might as well have something to call them,” Kolby agreed sheepishly. “Its kind of awkward to say ‘the people that used to be normal but are now drooling monsters that will bite your face off’ every time you try to refer to then.”
“Maybe you could make an acronym out of that,” Callum suggested.
“Stop,” Otis snapped. “Don’t even try.”
“You had the idea to relocate, Seth,” Junior changed the subject, where do you think we should relocate to?”
“Beats me,” Seth admitted. “I don’t know anything about this place, other than where the beer cooler and chip aisle is.”
“You say that like you are proud,” Otis sounded confused.
“Why not, what else do you need in life, bro!”
“I am not your bro, and what we need now is an idea of where to hole up until this passes over.” Otis said firmly.
“If it passes over,” Kolby said morosely.
“Easy there, no need to give up just yet. Whatever this is, might right itself by morning, and if not, then someone will be here to help out by then.
“Where in this store is there a room with full height sturdy walls?” Junior asked, just as the sound of scratching came from the outside of the wall separating them from the sales area.
“There is a room in the back where they keep the fire pump,” Kolby suggested.
“That sounds good,” Junior said. “How do we get there?”
“I don’t know where the key is though,” Kolby admitted. “I am pretty sure it is locked.”
“Where is the office the manager uses?” Otis asked.
“In the back,” Kolby answered.
“Anywhere near this room?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Kolby admitted.
“Ok, we have part of a plan. It will have to do,” Junior said. “Callum, can you walk?”
“Sure,” The man said, but he made no move to stand. “Maybe.”
“We’ll help you,” Kolby offered, offering Callum a hand.
“How awkward,” Callum complained. “I have to say that dying from a zombie bite in a discount store was not how I would have thought I would go.”
“How did you think you would go?” Kolby asked, giving the man an arm to lean on.
“Jet ski accident off of Maui,” Callum said with no hesitation.
“That’s kind of specific,” Otis said. He opened the door and looked around the almost dark area. “Nothing out here as far as I can tell,” he said, stepping out in to the small hallway. The exit to the sales floor was a faintly gray rectangle to their left. They all froze for a moment as one of the zombies shambled by, but it did not stop to investigate the fitting rooms. A scream and a chorus of groans almost made them abandon the plan and head back into the room.
“Maybe they will be busy for a minute,” Junior offered. He made his way to the doorway and looked around again. He could see the feet of someone sticking out from the aisle about 10 feet from the door, and as he watched in horror, they slowly slid out of sight. Judging from the angle either someone was crawling with their feet twisted around the wrong way, or someone or something had just dragged them away.
“Move quickly, but do not attract their attention,” Junior whispered. “They do not seem to have a very large sphere of attention, but let’s try not to test it.”
“That is a no brainer,” Otis whispered back.
Junior went first, with Kolby and Callum next, Seth and Otis brought up the rear. As they moved, Junior looked for something he could use to defend himself, with out killing the creatures. He still didn’t know what had happened but he didn’t want to kill anyone, even if the others wanted to call them zombies. He held up his hand and everyone stopped.
They were at a main aisle, and in the wide open space between departments, they could see someone in the distinctive uniform of a store employee, hunched over an unmoving form on the floor. If it had not been for the horrible wet smacking noises that came from the pair he could almost have believed she had been trying to help the prone person.
“Is she eating his face, for real?” Seth sounded almost excited. Kolby stifled a gag.
“I know her,” he whispered hoarsely. “She’s a vegetarian.”
“Not today,” Otis observed.
“Just keep quiet and cross quickly,” Junior ordered. The group made it across the aisle without incident, though it still sounded like Kolby was trying not to vomit.
“Told you they were zombies,” Seth said.
“They are not zombies,” Junior hissed. “Whatever happened might be reversible.”
“Not for the guy that just got his face eaten,” Otis said.
“Or whoever that was,” Callum sounded a little shaken. They all looked in the direction Callum was looking.
“Gross,” Seth breathed, though he did not sound upset in the least. “I’ve never seen a real person’s intestines before.”
“What kind of sick fuck are you,” Otis said. Junior clamped his hand over the young man’s mouth.
“Not so loud,” he hissed.
“What the fuck, man, he’s one sick puppy,” Otis whispered loudly.
“We will deal with it when we are safe, just keep moving,” Junior released Otis and motioned for the group to move forward again, but a snarl stopped them in their tracks before they could get out of the cover of the clothing racks.
“Does this seem to be getting worse to anyone else, or is it just my imagination?” Callum asked after the old woman with curlers in her hair shuffled by, still dripping blood from a leg wound.
“We don’t really have enough information to say one way or another,” Junior led them into the sporting goods aisle, grabbing a baseball bat as they passed by.
“Sweet,” Seth grabbed a heavy barbell. “You think would kill them?”
“No killing!” Junior hissed. “This is not a movie.”
“Fine, whatever,” Seth put the barbell back and picked up antoehr bat, Otis did the same thing. Kolby looked apprehensive.
“You look like you’ve never seen one before,” Otis said, making it clear he was less than impressed.
“I’m not much for playing sports,” Kolby admitted.
“Yeah, kinda figured,” Seth sneered.
“Be quiet!” Junior warned. The sound of someone bumping into a rack only a couple aisles down was loud in the darkened store.
“Flashlights?” Kolby grabbed a couple, but both were completely useless. “I guess whatever happened ruined all the batteries.”
“Better not have,” Otis griped, I just replaced this one.
“Not critical right now,” Junior said. He stepped into the main aisle and waved them forward.
The next stop was an aisle just in front of some swinging doors that led to the stock area.
“Is this the right way?” Junior asked Kolby.
“Yes, we need to go in and go to th right, the mangers office will be on the left hand side of the corridor. But it was getting to be time for a shift change, so I think there will be a
lot of people back here.”
“No you mention it,” Seth complained.
“I didn’t think of it until now.” Kolby shrugged.
“Wait here, and be quiet for god’s sake,” Junior said. “I am going to take look around and see what the situation is back there.”
He quietly pushed the doors open and slipped inside. He did not see anyone in the immediate vicinity, but he could hear the growls and moans of the affected employees somewhere in the tall storage racks to his left. Kolby said to go right, so that is what he did.
The hall was long and cluttered, but there was very little in the way of cover. He checked one room, and came face to face with an employee who was literally foaming at the mouth. He quickly shut it again and prayed that it didn’t have enough mind left to open the door after him.
The first door on his left was labeled AP. He assumed that was store security. He tried the door, but it was locked. It might have been nice to see if any of the surveillance equipment was still working ,but the odds were against it any way since everything else electronic seemed to have failed.
The next door was unlabeled, but was also locked. He was starting to get nervous and feel very exposed. The third door, was thankfully unlocked and he opened it cautiously. No sound or movement inside. He waited for another few heartbeats to be sure before stepping inside and closing the door behind himself.
He felt to his left and immediately found a wall with a sweater hanging on a hook. He followed the wall around until he came to a file cabinet and set of bookshelves. He felt around on each, but found nothing that felt like keys. He opened a few drawers, but found only paper files in each. Moving on he found hanging baskets with papers, a TV monitor, and finally a desk with papers and a phone. With far more optimism than the situation warranted, be picked up the phone, but as expected. The line was completely dead. Junior even tried some of the common numbers for accessing an outside line, but nothing gave him a dial tone. Frustrated, he placed the receiver back down onto the cradle and began searching trough the drawers for keys. In the shallow drawer in the middle he finally found a ring with about a dozen keys, all connected to a flat fob. Maybe this was it. He closed the drawer and went back to the door, just as a shadow passed in front of the tiny window.
Junior froze and grabbed the bat he had propped just inside the door. The door handle rattled and his heart hammered. Maybe he had been wrong about the affected people being able to open doors. This would be a very bad development. The door swung in slowly and a hand reached in and felt against the wall, like it was looking for a switch. Junior stopped himself at the last second, this was far too organized a motion to be one of the drooling idiots.
“That’s not going to do you much good,” he said quietly, causing the hand to first freeze and then quickly withdraw.
“Holy shit,” he heard a man’s voice say. “Who the fuck are you?”:
“Who the fuck are you?” Junior countered, letting the man into the room and shutting the door again.
“I’m so relieved!” the strager said. “I thought I was the only one left.”
“There are four more waiting outside the stock room,” Junior said. “We are looking for the room with the fire pump.”
“Great idea! But you need the key,” the man said. Junior held up the key chain and gave it a soft shake.
“That’s not the right one,” he began feeling along the wall again until he found a metal box with several keys in it. “I can’t see well enough to tell which one it is,” he admitted and my phone battery is deader ‘n shit, ya know.”
“That seems to be a common problem,” Junior agreed.
“It’s one of these three,” he grabbed the keys from the cabinet and went to open the door again.
“Not so fast, we need to go get hte others.” Junior reminded him.
“Oh, right, you did say there were more people.” He pocketed the keys and looked out into he hall again.
“Lead the way,” he told Junior.
Quietly they slipped back to the doors leading out of the stockroom and back onto the sales floor.
“It’s just me,” Junior said in a stage whisper and saw the end of a bat being lowered from the aisle just to their left.
“Good thing you said something,” the new guy said. “That could have been uncomfortable.”
“Who’s this?” Seth asked as he came around the corner. Junior noticed that it looked like the bat might had blood on it, but he decided to not ask.
“This is-” Junior paused. He hadn’t even asked the guy’s name.
“Alex,” the guy offered, shaking hands with Seth. “I work back in the stockroom, but I was in the big freezer when everything went bat shit.”
“Not sure that had anything to do with it,” Junior said, “But we will have time to sort that out later. Alex here has the key to the pump room, so we are going to follow him over there now.”
“Follow me?” Alex sounded unsure.
“You know where it is and have the key,” Callum said. It sounded like his patience was wearing thin and the blood had soaked through the makeshift bandage again.
“Uh, sure. Yeah.” Alex said. Something off about the guy, but Junior couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Let’s get moving then,” Junior once again peeked into the dark stockroom, but quickly ducked back out. “Is there another way back there?”
“Yes, through Home Goods,” Kolby pointed to their right.
“Oh! I know you!” Alex said. “You work in the pharmacy, you think you can hook me up with the good stuff?” Kolby gave him a disgusted look.
“Fine, no need to be a snob about it,” Alex huffed.
Slowly the group moved forward, stopping at the head of each aisle to check for threats. The noises around them were taking their toll on all of them, even Seth seemed slightly less enthusiastic by the time they stood in front of the large metal door to the room. It was the roll up type.
“This may not be good,” Junior said, while Alex tried the different keys in the lock. “This is going to be really loud when we open it.”
“They seem to be getting more aware,” Otis sounded nervous.
“We will have to move fast,” Junior agreed.
“Got it,” Alex whispered loudly.
“Seth, you and Alex life the door. Kolby and I will get Callum in. Close it as soon as we are all in. No dawdling.”
“Bossy much?” Seth asked.
“You can stay out here if it others you that much,” Junior growled. “We’ve been here way too long, we are bound to get somethings attention soon.”
“Can this be locked from the inside?” He asked Alex.
“I have no idea,” the dark haired man admitted, and glanced at Kolby who just shrugged.
“I guess we will just have to deal with that when we get in there,” Junior sighed.
“On the count of three, go,” Junior took Callum’s injured arm and Got it around his neck. Hearing the man hiss in pain he said. “Sorry, but he have to move fast.”
“Just do it,” Callum panted.
“One. Two. Three!” Junior whispered and winced as the sound of the big metal door rolling up was even louder than he anticipated. It rattled and squeaked in a way that was bound to attract the wandering employees.
“Go!” He moved forward before the door was even completely up, almost dragging Kolby and Callum with him. “Close it!” he said as soon as they had cleared the door. “Close it now!”
With more rattling and squeaking the door came down with a resounding crash at hte bottom, just ahead of a crash against the outside.
“Shit, did we get everyone?” Seth said, trying to see in the dark room. At least the stock room had skylights, this room had a louvers in the wall that had failed open when the power went out. That was the only source of light, and with night coming on quickly, that was not much.
“A chorus of heres,” followed.
“Then who was that?” Junior asked, just as a deep growl and another strike to the door stopped him.
“More like what was that,” Seth said.
“We need to see if we can lock it,” Junior helped settle Callum against the wall and moved to the still shaking door. Whoever was out there wanted in very badly. More growls and moans joined the first, and for a moment at least they seemed to have forgotten about the door, and were focused on each other. Not that it sounded like that was going to end well for anyone.
“I don’t think it locks from this side,” Alex finally said.
“Then someone needs to stay by it at all times,” Junior said. “And we all need to pray that they don’t remember how to open it.”
“I’ll stay here,” Otis said, sitting on the floor next to the handle, far enough away that no grasping fingers or errant fluids might touch him, but close enough that he could easily reach out and grab the handle.
“How’s your arm, Cal?” Junior asked again.
“It’s alright, man,” Callum said trough gritted teeth. “Good thing you were near the tee shirts, huh?” He gestured toward the bandaged arm.
“Yeah, good,” Junior agreed grimly. They were going to need to get Callum out of here soon.
Something slammed against the outside of steel rolling door and slid down, hitting the ribs like a washboard. A moaning was followed by more growls and even some screams. Seth had been sitting on the edge of the concrete pad for the pump and jumped up at the noise, eyes wide.
“We can’t just sit in here like trapped mice all night,” Seth said and started pacing in the limited space that he had.
“What exactly do you suggest?” Junior asked wearily. “This is the safest place we can think of in this store.”
“There is an exit to the outside here, we could make a run for it?” Callum suggested.
“Somehow I doubt you are up for much running,” Otis said.
“Besides, it is going to be dark soon. We have no idea how widespread this is, and no transportation. Car battery was dead too.” Junior added.
“No way I want to be wandering around in the dark with whatever those are,” Kolby said.
“He has a point,” Alex admitted. “We DON’T know how far widespread this is, and pretty soon we are going to need food and water.”
“We’re in a store, you know.” Otis sounded peeved, but another growl from down near the place the door met the cement floor had him turning his full attention to making sure he had a good grip on the handle.
“So you think we can just waltz back out there and say ‘pardon me, but we just need to do some grocery shopping.’ To them?” Seth asked querulously.
“And what do you expect to find out there?” Junior asked. “A welcoming committee with Evian and caviar?”
“No need to be an ass about it,” Seth sulked.
“Actually, I really could use a drink,” Callum admitted sheepishly.
“The Grocery stock is pretty close by,” Alex offered.
“I think we may have to wait until they forget we are here,” Otis offered. “If they forget.”
“We can go get some,” Seth offered. “We have the bats, just bash the heads in, works every time.”
“This isn’t a fucking movie,” Otis barked. “You can’t just go bashing in heads.”
“There will be no killing,” Junior said.
“There aren’t any cops around to help us, why the hell not,” Alex insisted.
“I am a police officer,” Junior said calmly, and while I am not able to do much to fix the situation as it is, I am not going to allow you to kill people until we know what is going on.”
“They’re zombies, for fuck sake!” Alex doubled down on his earlier statement.
“They are human beings!” Junior shot back. “End of conversation.”
“They are killing each other out there!” Alex insisted.
“That bitch was eating that man’s face,” Seth pointed out, “and what about the guy with his guys hanging out like that?” Kolby made a small coughing noise, that may have been a gag.
“There is that,” Kolby agreed.
“There is such a thing as being unable to tell right from wrong, and whatever happened may have made them temporarily insane, we are not killing them.” Junior said firmly.
“It’s awful damn permanent for those poor fuckers that are getting eaten out there,” Alex said.
“Irrelevant. There is nothing we can do to help them right now, but it is no reason to kill anyone.”
“It’s gotten quiet out there,” Otis said, his ear was too the metal door. “We might be bale to send a couple folks out and grab some water or something.”
“Opening the door will be too loud,” Junior said. “It will bring them right back, and anyone we send out will be stuck out there.”
“We can open it just enough to let them slip out,” Otis offered. “We raise it a foot or two, make sure nothing comes running, and off we go.”
“We?” Seth asked. “Hy do you get to go?”
“It doesn’t have to be me,” Otis said. “But I am fairly small and could get out with out raising the door as far.”
“Alex could go,” Alex piped up. “I can fit under there easily and I know where everything is.”
“I’ll go too!” Seth sounded excited.
“No,” Junior said. “Otis and Alex can go. Take a bat with you. Otis, you carry it.”
“Wait, who made you the boss?” Seth sounded muleish.
“I did,” Junior said. “We cannot have two of you going out there that think it is a good idea to beat the heads of the people out there. Alex knows the store and Otis volunteered.”
“Uuuuh wow,” Kolby said quietly.
“Listen,” Seth said. “If those fuckers try to kill me, I get to kill them.”
“That isn’t how that works,” Junior explained. “This is not a stand your gorund state.”
“It is where I’m from,” Callum said.
“Well, it isn’t here,” Junior repeted.
“Where you from?” Seth asked.
“Florida,” Callum said simply. “Miami, actually.”
“What brought you here?” Otis sounded incredulous.
“I’m just passing through,” Callum sighed. “I hit freaking bug hell out there and didn’t have any more washer shit for my windshield. I just stopped in here to grab some and get the hell out.”
“Bummer,” Kolby said.
“Yeah, no shit,” Callum agreed. “I thought it would be fun to drive to LA instead of flying. One of my houses is there, but I wasn’t in a hurry so I thought I’d drive. Fuck that. Never doing this again.”
“You have a second house?” Alex sounded impressed.
“That’s just one, I have several,” Callum sounded like this was something everyone had.
“Dude, you are SO out of your element here,” Seth said.
“Tell me about it,” Callum sighed.
“Ok, let’s go,” Alex went to the door and stood next to Otis. “Ready?”
“Ready,” Otis pulled on the the handle and slowly raised the door a few inches. It made noise, but not as much as it had when they were in a hurry. He waited a few heartbeats before lifting it a little more.
“You fit through there?” he asked Alex. The wiry dark haired man dropped down to the floor and gauged the distance.
“Yeah man, you?”
“Yeah,” Otis agreed. “Kolby, come hold the door here, we don’t want it closing on us or crashing down and getting any thing’s attention.” Hesitantly, Kolby complied, taking the handle from Otis’ hand.
“Might as well get it over with,” Otis dropped to the floor next to Alex and slowly pulled himself under the door. Alex did the same and soon both of them were fully out of the pump room. Otis stuck his hand back under and whispered, “Hand me the bat.”
Seth reluctantly gave up the bat he’d been holding went back to sit on the large cement slab where the apparatus rested. Kolby stayed squatted down, keeping the door propped at the level Otis and Alex needed to return.
“So what’s your story?” Callum finally asked.
“Me?” Seth Asked.
“Yes, you seem to have a lot of opinions, how’d you end up here?”
“I fucking live in this hell hole,” Seth admitted. “I’m a ghost hunter,” he said proudly.
“That’s a job?” Kolby asked.
“Of course it is,” Seth insisted. “I’m the best in the whole state.”
“Well, that explains your hope that these were zombies,” Junior chimed in, making Kolby and Callum chuckle.
“Don’t be absurd,” Seth huffed. “They are zombies, but those are completely different than ghosts.”
“I’m sure that is true,” Callum sounded tired. “Tell us about these ghosts you hunt.”
Junior put his hand on the man’s forehead, it was clammy. The hair was almost dripping with sweat.
“Kolby,” he asked. “Do they keep any medicines back here? We need to find something for Callum here.”
“No,” Kolby admitted. “Everything is kept in the pharmacy.”
“I’m fine,” Cal said. “Go on Seth, tell us about some of your ghosts.”
“They aren’t MY ghosts,” Seth said.
“Of course,” Cal said. “Just tell us about some interesting ones or something.”
“Well, one time, we were looking at this old warehouse,” Seth started.
“It’s down by the tracks, and hasn’t been used in years, right, but everyone knows it’s haunted and shit.”
“And condemned, and private property,” Junior added with a disapproving tone. “However, given the circumstances, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“Oh, right,” Seth said. “Anyway. We were walking around to he first floor and found all these penatgrams and shit all over. There was this big ass one right in the middle of the floor and we set up our ghost box and-”
“What’s that?” Kolby asked.
“A ghost box.”
“It’s this thing that like scrolls through radio channels real fast like and hte ghosts can talk through it.” Seth explained.
“Sounds shockingly unscientific, but OK,” Junior leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. He was getting a headache.
“Oh, it works. It works really good,” Seth insisted.
“Anyway, we set up the box in the middle of that pentagon-” A water bottle rolled under the door and came ot stop at Seth’s feet. Quickly more followed it, and then a few packages that crinkled as they were slide past the door.
“You scared me to death,” Kolby scolded the pair as they crawled back under the door. “I almost dropped it.” Slowly he lowered it after both the other men were inside.
“That wouldn’t be too hard,” Alex joked. “You seem pretty easy to spook.”
“Maybe,” Kolby shrugged.
“What were you talking about?” Alex asked. “I thought I heard you say ghost box and pentagram.”
“Yeah, we were out at the old warehose district one time, looking for ghosts and we found-”
“Guys?” Otis sounded upset. “I think Callum is dead.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Seth said. He was just talking to us.”
Junior leaned over and put his hand to Callum’s forehead. It was very cold now. He felt and the neck and wrist, and finally put his head against the man’s chest. There was no heartbeat and no breath.
“What the hell,” Junior sounded shaken. “He really was just talking to us.”
“What happened?” Kolby asked. “That bite looked nasty, but it shouldn’t have killed him.”
“Human bites are really dirty,” Alex offered.
“It’s been a couple hours,” Otis said. “That’s not enough time to get an infection and die.”
“Flesh eating bacteria?” Seth offered.
“Ewww,” Kolby said.
“I have to assume that he went into shock,” Junior admitted.
“What are we going to do with him?” Seth asked.
“Help me move him,” Junior said. “We will lay him over here by the wall.”
“So we will be sitting in here all night with a dead guy?” Alex asked.
“We can’t exactly set him outside,” Otis reasoned.
“Why not?” Seth asked. “He isn’t getting any more dead.”
“It is disrespectful,” Alex said, surprising everyone. “You odn’t want to fuck around with teh dead, trust me.”
“I’m a professional ghost investigator,” Seth bristled.
“Then you know that already,”
Their talking seemed to have attracted some attention outside the room and the shuffling and moans were getting louder.
“Seth,” your turn to hold the door,” Junior said. “Alex will help me move Callum.
“Sure,” Alex agreed, taking the dead man’s feet and lifting them as Junior lifted under the arms. The clothing was soaked with sweat.
Seth grumbled, but went the the door and put his hand near the handle. The moans became a scream and them sounds that were best described as ripping wet cloth.
“Don’t fucking puke in here,” Otis whispered urgently at Kolby, who now had his hands over his ears.
“Looks like it is going to be a long night,” Junior said, settling back down by the wall. “We’ll take turns holding the door. Once it’s light, we’ll decide what to do.”
“I’ll sit up for now,” Otis volunteered.
“No way, Seth said. “I’m already here. I’ll take the first shift.”
“Have it your way,” Otis huddled into himself in a corner.
“Why don’t you finish your story, Seth,” Junior suggested.
“It was just kinda freaky. Said things like we were all gonna die and how much it hated the living,” the heart seemed to have gone out of the man.
“Sounds more like a demon,” Alex said. “If it was the big red pentagram, you might want to go get a cleansing,” he offered.
“How’d you know it was red? You been there?” Seth asked.
“A few times,” Alex sounded evasive. “There is some pretty twisted shit that happens out there, I wouldn’t go back if I was you.”
“What does that mean?” Seth asked.
“I am inclined to not know,” Junior said. “There are limits to what I can pretend I didn’t hear.”
“Right,” Alex said. “Gotcha.” An uncomfortable silence fell over the room.
The cement floor was chilly and the smell of fuel, grease and dirt was unpleasant. Junior rested his head back and closed his eyes. What a horrible day. How far had this spread? Was it limited to the immediate area? Was his mother frantically calling around wondering where he was? She had become very dependent on him since his father passed the year before.
A chill passed down his spine. Was she even safe? Had it affected her, or what about her neighbors? She lived in the little retirement community on the edge of town. Normally he felt good about her being there, but suddenly the thought of the burly assistants or even the other residents wandering around as mindless animals made him feel sick.
He heard someone, slapping frantically around for a moment and assumed it was Kolby. Poor guy was not exactly brave. Though he had been one of the easiest to herd.
“Spider?” he asked in a tired voice.
“Yes,” Kolby sounded apologetic. “It was in my hair.”
“Well, if you would cut you damn hair that wouldn’t happen,” Seth bitched from his place across the room.
“Shut up,” Kolby sounded sulky.
“Dude, my sister doesn’t have hair that long,”
“Leave it be, Seth.” Junior didn’t want to mediate an argument.
“Look, you may thing your the boss here,” Seth said. “But you are not the boss of me.”
“Very mature,” Alex sighed.
“Everyone give it a rest,” Otis snapped. “Arguing isn’t going to change a damn thing. It just reminds those things we are in here.”
“Good point,” Junior agreed. For a punk ass kid, Otis had a good head on his shoulders it seemed.
“Where did those bags of chips go?” Alex asked.
“You’re hungry?” Kolby sounded amazed.
“Hell ya,” Alex said, obviously feeling around the flood by the door. “I didn’t get my lunch break, damn zombies started crawling all over about 10 minutes before. Assholes.”
“Not Zombies,” Junior muttered, almost out of habit.
“Then what would you like to call them?” Alex asked, a package crinkling as he pulled it open.
“People,” Junior refused to relent. “Maybe sick people, but people. There is no such thing as zombies.”
“How can you say that when actually faced with them? They just killed that guy.” Alex said, with his mouth full of crackers.
“And yet, you are eating,” Otis chuckled.
“No thanks,” Otis replied. “I think I will pass.”
“Suit yourself,” Alex sat back down, still rustling the bag as he took out more food. The sound of chewing and plastic crinkling was counter balanced by the shuffling feet and occasional scream out in the stock room.
“I wish they would just shut up,” Seth complained. “That noise is enough to make anyone go postal.”
“People still say that?” Otis sounded incredulous.
“Not those people,” Alex gave a bark of laughter.
“Ug, so not funny,” Kolby complained.
“You need more of a sense of humor, man” Alex said. “I thought it was really funny.”
“Glad someone did,” Otis sniffed.
“Tough room, man,” Seth offered.
“No, shit.” Alex agreed, and once all conversation failed.
“Is there another way into this room?” Kolby asked suddenly.
“Just the door there behind Boss man,” Alex sounded confused. “I Thought he decided we were not going out that door tonight.”
“No, I don’t want to go out, but I don’t think we are alone in here.”
“What are you talking about?” Junior asked, ignoring the bait Alex had thrown out.
“I just heard something move there in the corner,” Kolby may have pointed but the room was not completely dark.
“We’re the only ones in here,”Seth said.
“Are you sure?” Kolby asked. He sounded really nervous.
“We were just over there with Callum,” Junior said. “There is no one there. Maybe the sound just echoed a bit.”
“Yes, sure.” Kolby was quiet again, but the silence was no a little more tense.
“You know,” Otis said finally,” Kolby may be right, I just heard something too.”
“You and your boyfriend over there can keep your imaginations out of this, for fuck sakes,” Seth said firmly. “This is stressful enough without you two faggots imagining shit.”
“That’s more than enough,” Junior said, louder than he originally intended and quickly quieted himself. “There is zero need to be saying shit like that.”
“Look, boss man,” Seth growled. “We don’t need these two mouthing off thinking every mouse is a monster. We got real problems here.”
“We do have real problems, that’s why you need to watch your tone.”
“Easy, Captain,” Alex tried to sound calm and reassuring. “How about I sit over there for a while Seth and you can try to chill out for a few.”
“I don’t need to chill out for a few,” Seth snapped, I need-” He stopped mid sentence. “Cute, very cute.”
“What are you talking about,” Alex asked.
“Which ever one of you is back there needs to quit actting like a child and go sit the fuck down.”
“No one is over there,” Junior said. “No one has moved.”
“I’m over here,” Alex said from a place near Junior.
“I’m here,” Kolby’s soft voice.
“My ass is right over here,” Otis added.
“All of you fucking suck,” Seth bitched. You need to just let us got get some guns and blow these motherfuckers away and get our asses home.”
“It is non-negotiable,” Junior insisted.
“Non-negotiable my ass, once the sun is up me and Alex are heading to the gun room and going Rambo on this fuckers.”
“Wait, why are you dragging me into this?” Alex asked.
“You seriously want to sit here and play like these are fucking people?”
“Well, no” Alex admitted. “But making plans for me is bit much.”
“Suck it up, buttercup,” Seth argued. “We can’t let this prick tell us what to do. No one died and made him god.”
“Guys-” Kolby started to say something, but his words where cut off by a sharp intake of breath from Seth.
“Not fun-”Seth’s words became a strangled gurgle and something hit the metal door hard and repeatedly. The dark room became chaos as everyone tried to figure out what was happening. Shouts and screams were intermixed with what sounded like a brawl at near where Seth had been watching the door. Finally Alex pulled out a lighter and in the brief moment of light they all saw something they never thought possible, even given the events of the day. Callum was clearly standing and actively killing Seth. The man’s teeth had already severed the major artery in the man’s neck and the scene was covered in deep read blood.
The brief flame flickered out and everyone stood frozen for a moment. Junior jumped in after a heart beat and tried to pull Callum off his victim, but the immense amounts of blood made it impossible. He felt sharp nails and maybe even a tooth graze his arm before he backed up.
“Grab the bats,” he ordered. “Everyone to the exit!” The chaos and noise inside the room was now joined by renewed sound outside the room.
Junior hit the crash bar with all his weight, and almost fell out onto the pavement. It had not occurred to him that the delayed exit would also be disabled, but those were electronic as well. Kolby, Otis and Alex tumbled out after him, but Callum was not far behind. Junior threw himself against the door to keep the creature inside.
Dim moonlight light the scene at the back of the store. Abandoned wooden pallets, an empty semi trailer, and a dumpster were all clearly visible. He grunted as Callum obviously attempted to push his way out by brute force. How was he this strong? How was he even alive?
“Can you guys move that dumpster over here?” He called to the other three. He kept his back against the metal door, watching for any sign that the noise was getting the attention of any unwanted guests.
Thankfully, the back of the building seemed to be fairly deserted. A high cement block wall separated the asphalt drive from the subdivision behind. It was suspiciously still over the wall. Maybe it meant the problems were isolated.
The dumpster rumbled over toward Junior, Otis, Alex, and Kolby straining to move it. He noticed that without Seth and Callum, the group was short on muscle. Hopefully that did not become a problem.
The metal contraption was maneuvered into place, but Callum’s attempts to escape cause the hollow metal door to slam against the metal Dumpster. It was as good as ringing a gong.
“This is not going to work,” Junior squeezed in between the door and the dumpster again, keeping them from making any more racket.
“We need something to pad the lip of the dumpster,” Kolby suggested.
“Cardboard?” Alex offered.
“That’ll work,” Junior said, feeling a particularly hard thump against the door. Callum was fairly determined, which was not a trait they had been seeing earlier.
“There is a baler where they break that down and wrap it up. Some pallets are back here,” Alex patted his pockets. “I don’t seem to have a knife on me.”
“Here,” Otis tossed something from his pocket to the man. “I better get it back, damn it.”
“Right on,” Alex agreed, heading off to a location near the wall, but far enough away to be completely obscured in shadow.
“Kolby,” Junior caught the nervous young man’s attention. “Can you go with him, I don’t want any of us to be alone right now.”
Alex just shrugged, but did not protest. “Kolby obediently trotted over to Alex like a colt. He wondered just how old he was. The boy seemed either very young or sheltered.
“Want me to take the door for a bit?” Otis asked Junior.
“Actually, my kidneys are starting to feel pretty abused. Be my guest.” Junior let the smaller man slip into his place, but had to stifle a smile when the first heavy thump almost threw him to the ground.
“You good?” He asked.
“Just great,” Otis said through gritted teeth.
“Sounds like it,” Junior rested his back on the dumpster. It smelled just like you might expect a large retail store dumpster to smell, but he was suddenly feeling exhausted. He ran his hand along his arm where he had gotten between Callum and Seth. He felt something damp, and wiped at it. Zombie spit. Gross.
When had he started thinking of them as zombies? He tried to mentally correct himself, but it was a much more concise way of saying it. They could say zombie for now. His arm stung a little, but he ignored it. Obviously he was feeling a little paranoid.
“Seriously, did he eat Seth?” Otis complained.
“Do what?!” Junior felt a kind of horror hearing that question.
“Not literally, gross,” Otis said. “I mean that he feels heavier than I would have expected.”
“Oh, right,” Junior let out a breath. “My guess is that self preservation is not high on their list right now so he is going full out.
“I am starting to agree with Alex,” Otis admitted. “This is turning into a bad horror movie.”
“The good news is,” Junior said. “Someone has to survive for there to be a sequel, so your odds are better now than when there were 6 of us.”
“Wow,” Otis whisted quietly. “Dark, man.”
“I grew up on those kinds of movies,” he admitted.
“Ok, we are back,” Alex said from a few feet back. “Don’t hit us with that bat.”
“Good thinking,” Otis said. “Lets get these in place and bounce.”
“We brought a bunch, and some blocks to make sure the dumpster doesn’t move,” Kolby said, putting the heavy cement clocks down on the ground.
“Not a bad plan,” Junior agreed.
“How about Alex hold the door for a while and me and Otis will go grab more blocks. “Kolby, can you get the cardboard in place?”
“Sure thing,” Alex pushed Otis out and slid into place.
“Careful, he’s heavier than he looked,” Otis warned as they headed in the direction of pallets.
“We will grab as many as we can carry,” Junior said. “The longer we can slow him down, the better off we will be.”
“Something we can all agree on,” Otis said. His voice was so deadpan, Junior wasn’t sure if he was joking at first.
They both grabbed several of the cement blocks, and started making their way back slowly.
“God damn, these are heavy!” Otis said when they were just in sight of the dumpster. “These better fucking hold him.”
“Fingers crossed and pray,” Junior agreed. His arms ached and he could feel the rough edges digging into is skin.
“You pray,” Otis said. “I’m not wasting my time.”
“Noted” Junior was in no mood to discuss religion with the irritable young man.
They came back to see Alex standing in the dumpster, while Kolby kept his back to the door and maneuvered layers of cardboard over the metal lips of the bin.
“Whatever gets the job done,” Junior said as the both dropped their bricks to the ground.
“Almost ready,” Alex said.
“We’ll just scoot these into place and then we can get out of here,” Junior said, moving a brick to block a wheel and then another.
“Sounds good to me” Alex vaulted out of the bin as if he did it every day.
With three of them placing bricks and Kolby at the door, they were done quickly. Junior took a bat, and handed the other to Alex.
“You finally starting to come around to accepting that these are zombies?” he smirked.
“Don’t push it,” Junior warned.
“Ok, Kolby, slide out of there quick as you can,” The lanky young man dropped his head under the layers of old boxes, but didn’t see the cement block by his foot. He stumbled, just as a hand shot out of the crack in the door, snagging his long red hair.
Panicked, Kolby tried to pull away, but Callum had a good grip and he wasn’t able to move.
“Oh shit,” Otis swore. “You have my knife!” He said to Alex.
For a long heartbeat, Alex once again patted his pockets, but came up with the blade, handing it back to it’s owner. Otis hurried over to the now squealing Kolby. The noise was enough to make his skin crawl.
“Chill the fuck out,” Otis snapped. “I got a knife.”
“What are you going to do?” Kolby had stilled but his eyes were wild like a horse’s.
“Cut your throat so you don’t become a zombie,” Kolby jerked so suddenly, Otis almost lost the knife.
“Holy shit, that was a joke. Now stay still. I have to cut your hair.” Kolby tensed and stilled so suddenly it was like having a statue next to him.
“Not fucking funny,” Kolby whispered.
“Try to breath, dude. If you pass out, you are SOL,” Otis tried to hide his smile.
“Right, gotcha,” Kolby said, but even with that he almost fell on his face when Otis managed to cut through the hair and free him from Callum’s grip.
“Now get up and run,” he ordered.
Seeing Kolby free, Alex, and Junior joined the two of them as they hurried toward the side of the store. Junior knew it was a chain link fenced area for plants and gardening tools, but hopefully if there was anyone inside, they would be contained.
They passed the loading dock, and were horrified to see smears of blood on the side of the cab for the truck backed into the dock.
“That’s a bad sign,” Otis said.
“Let’s hope he’s no longer hungry,” Junior said.
“We aren’t talking about lions or tigers,” Alex said. What makes you think they are about hungry or full?”
“You watch too much TV,” Junior said.
“You’re the one that grew up on the classic zombie movies,” Otis reminded him.
“You don’t have to make me sound so old,” Junior started, but had to stop them before he finished. He could see the garden area now and there was a lot of movement.
Maybe we should have gne the other way,” he said, frowning.
“Nope,” Alex said. “Tire area was still open. Those garage doors would be up. Bet it’s crawling with the fuckers.”
“Have a little respect, none of them asked for this to happen,” Junior was tired of arguing about it.
“Well, they would be happy to eat me now, so I don’t have any issue calling them what they are.”
“So the other side is out, but I am not sure that they are contained over here. We need to be a lot more careful.”
“Oui, mon Captian,” Alex gave a half as salute.
“I am starting to wish I could beat the hell out of you.” He admitted.
“I get that a lot,” he smirked.
“No doubt,” Kolby agreed.
They crept forward slowly and quietly. They stayed as close to the wall as possible until they ran out of wall.
“So far, it looks like they are all inside,” Otis observed.
“And some of them have insides outside now,” Alex sounded unperturbed.
“Don’t you dare,” Junior hissed at Kolby, who had his hand over his mouth. “Just don’t look,”
“Easier said than done,” Otis swallowed hard. The chain fence was literally crawling with the mindless moaning people. Some were employees, but more were customers. They clawed and bit at the fence like dogs, falling over each other to try to move forward, just as often tearing into the one n front of them viciously.
“We have no idea if any of these cars are occupied,” Junior gestured toward the parking lot. “Keep your distance from them just in case.’
He had no sooner finished that sentence then a middle aged man wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt gave roar and threw himself at the fence from the outside.
“Where the hell did he come from?” Kolby asked. “I didn’t wee anyone out here a minute ago.”
“Beats the hell out of me, but if they are getting faster, we are getting more fucked by the minute.” Junior did not sensor himself this time.
“Fast zombies are a kind of new thing,” Alex said. “Let’s hope these aren’t and he was a fluke.
“We need to keep moving. Maybe he will keep any more distracted with that noise.” Otis suggested.
“Alex, take the lead, you have the bat. I will take the back.” Junior ordered.
“When we get to the road, turn right, we are heading for the neighborhood just over the wall. Maybe we can get lucky and find someone to let us in.”
“I guess it is better than no plan at,” Alex groused.
“Shut up and move,” Junior growled.
“Aye, aye,” Alex agreed. They crept forward slowly, the sounds of a zombie dog fight at the garden center fence making their skin crawl and their nerves fray. They passed a row of cars, but nothing moved, but several rows over the frantic barking of a small dog threatened to give their location away.
“Somebody need to shut that thing up,” Alex growled.
“Don’t!” Kolby sounded genuinely upset. “Can’t we just go get it?”
“Hell no,” Otis objected. “We are having enough trouble without adding a pocket dog with an attitude to this mess we are in.”
“We are going to leave the dog alone,” Junior broke in. “We are not taking it with us and we are not wasting time killing it, just keep moving before it gets someone’s attention.”
Alex had no snarky remark, he just slowly crept forward again. The street was now in view and it was even worse than the parking lot. It was clear that people had been affected here as well, cars were haphazardly stopped, many were damaged beyonf repair. Windshields and car doors were spiderweb-ed and streaked with blood. The pavement was horrifyingly littered with parts and pieces of what must have once been the occupants, but now all was quiet.
“Not sure I trust this,” Otis said. He looked worried. “Where did they are go?”
“That is something I am not sure we really want to know the answer to.” Junior said grimly.
“Something tells me you are right,” Alex agreed before creeping forward again. Nothing stirred and the sounds behind them were now muffled by the cars parked in the lot. Even the dog had quit its barking.
The street lights were out as was everything else, but they were able to slowly creep their way down the road, hugging the brick wall to their right. The scene became more and more grim as they approached the neighborhood. It had been a pleasant little middle class refuge once. Plain little house, with neat little yards were lined up street after street, but nothing moved in the moon light.
They stopped just past the entrance, tucked behind the brick wall and screen of manicured green bushes to reevaluate. Junior couldn’t help but rub at his arm. It had gone from a faint tickle to the angry itch of poison ivy or maybe even a jelly fish sting. It felt hot to the touch and his nails raked across angry red welts.
“What did you get into, dude?” Otis asked.
“Must have been something in that room,” Junior said, pulling his sleeve back down to cover it. “I must have let my arm rest on something.”
“Looks like we have more unanswered questions,” Alex interrupted them.
“All the doors are open,” Kolby added. “Its like everyone just up and left.”
“Should we go see?” Otis asked.
“I don’t like this much,” Alex said.
“What isn’t too like?” Otis asked. “The zombies, the dead bodies, or the creepy missing people? All looks legit to me.”
“”I think we can all agree that this is all highly unusual,” Junior said.
“There’s an understatement,” Kolby said quietly.
“Hey,” Alex gave him a hard slap on the back. “You do have a sense of humor.” Kolby looked offended but didn’t say anything else.
“The big question is,” Junior continued. “Do we split up and have a couple of us go check out a house or two or all stay together?”
“At this point,” Alex shrugged. “I would say jsut all go together. There’s only four of us. We can stay together easily enough.”
“I agree,” Otis said.
Me too,” Kolby added very quietly.
“Ok, same order as before. We will start at the first street here and check the first house on the right. We can see it from here and I haven’t seen any movement yet.”
“That’s kind of a big space to cross to get there,” Otis said, looking at the expanse of cement and asphalt. “I never noticed how little cover is in a neighborhood like that.”
“That’s for a good reason,” Junior said. “We can’t hide, but neither can the type of people you don’t want sneaking up on you when you come home at 2 am.”
“Oh, that kind of makes sense,” Kolby agreed. “But it sure doesn’t help us.”
“We haven’t seen or heard anything for a while now,” Alex said. “If we go slow and stay quiet, we might be fine.”
“It’s that or sit here in the planter all night like four chicken nuggets on a salad bar,” Otis added.
“Excuse me?” Junior couldn’t help but laugh a little.
“What?” Otis tried to look innocent. “I’m hungry.”
“We’ll find you something in that house,” Junior patted him on the back. “Let’s move.”
Once again they were out in the open. Nothing stirred, not even wind. No dogs barked, no cats slunk into the shadows, nothing. They all kept watch for anything that might indicate they were not alone, but they made it all the way to the front door of the house without seeing any signs of life or unlife. But it was here that they started to see part of what may have happened.
The once manicured lawn had deep gouges in it. A large and very heave vehicle had driven up onto it recently. Chucks of sod and grass were strewn onto the driveway and road. A discarded shirt lay on the pavement in front of the garage and a hand print clearly made of blood marred the white door.
“This is getting creepier and creepier,” Otis frowned.
“The rest of the yards look like this too,” Kolby was looking at the house across the street and next door.
“The zombies haven’t shown any signs of being able to drive,” Alex kicked a clump of grass back into the turned up lawn.
“Nothing electronic or battery operated has worked since…”Junior searched for a word.
“The world ended?” Kolby suggested.
“I wish that was less accurate,” Otis replied.
“I guess we can go with that,” Junior sighed. “Anyway, cars would not be running. Based on the mess in the road, I would say the cars quit running almost immediately.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Alex said.
“Then how did trucks get into these yards, and why were they dragging people out of their houses,” Kolby asked.
“Now you’re putting the pieces together,” Junior said.
“We don’t know that this happened after this afternoon,” Alex insisted.
“This could have happened days ago,” he gestured around them.
“You don’t believe that,” Junior said.
“I just don’t want to jump to conclusions here,” Alex looked a little wild eyed.
“Ok, Mr. They are Zombies,” Otis sniffed.
“They are Zombies,” Alex almost shouted, but quickly quieted himself.
“Look, I don’t like the direction these clues are pointing any more than you,” Junior said. “But it is really damn hard to ignore them.”
“Can we maybe not stand out here any longer?” Kolby asked.
“I’m not sure that I want to go I there,” Otis eyed the open door suspiciously.
“Kolby is right,” Junior said. “We need to see if we can make this place safe to stay the night.”
“Right,” Alex also looked uncomfortable. “Should be a piece of cake.”
“Safe as houses,” Otis added.
“Alex, give the bat to Otis for a bit,” Junior said. “You and Kolby stay close behind me. Otis will watch our backs.”
“Uhm,” Otis hesitantly took the bat. “OK.”
Junior took the lead and stepped through the threshold of the house. Inside he immediately was almost overcome with the feeling of empty. It was not just the peculiar quiet of house when they were unoccupied. It was also the complete lack of any electronic noise. No AC, no television, no fans, or radios. All the sounds you associate with houses, even if only subconsciously, were not there. It was completely dead inside.
“This feels more like a tomb than a house,” Alex said in the eerie quiet, his voice sounding loud in the silent room.
“I am not sure I want to know why you would know that,” Junior said.
“Hey,” Alex replied. “You are the one that said you didn’t want to know some things.”
“I did, and I stand by that,” Junior agreed.
“Is it safe to close the door?” Otis whispered from just inside the threshold.
“Yes,” Junior said at he same time Kolby said, “No.”
“Which is it guys?” Otis hesitated with his hand on the door.
“Yes,” Junior insisted. “Though I want to know why you said no, Kolby.”
“It just feels so wrong in here,” the red head looked even paler in the faint moonlight, like an ethereal creature made of dust and spider webs.
“It’s just because there’s no AC,” Alex said.
“No,” Kolby insisted. “It feels abandoned and dead.”
“Ok, that’s creepy.” Otis shut the door, shutting off the view of the silent street.
“We’ll die in here,” Kolby whispered and hugged himself.
“Ok,” time to get some food and water into all of you,” Junior tried to change the subject.
“Everyone will feel better after something to eat and drink.”
They stumbled through the house to the kitchen. The floor in the living room was littered with toys and building blocks, causing Kolby to almost have a melt down, Alex tripped on the coffee table and banged his shin hard enough to set off a string of curses, but finally they all huddled around the little kitchen island.
“I am going to have to say that the owners are probably not going to care what we take,” Junior said. Opening the refrigerator. The inside was dark and warm.
“Don’t think we want anything out of there,” Alex said.
“Food poisoning was not on my to do list today,” Otis agreed.
Bags of chips, a box of sugary cereal, and a loaf of bread were piled onto the island. Bottles of water were found in the pantry and brought out as well. Junior leaned back against the warming refrigerator and scratched his arm again. It hurt even more now. He grabbed a bottle of water, he was also insanely thirsty. Draining it in one drink, he reached for another.
Otis and Alex were happily spreading peanut butter and hazelnut spread on the bread, but Kolby was just staring at the food vacantly.
“Go ahead and eat,” Junior urged the by. “You will feel better when you aren’t so hungry.” Kolby just shook his head, but he did open a bottle of water.
“I could kill for a beer right now,” Alex began to look through the cabinets again.
“Warm beer?” Junior sounded appalled?
“In a pinch,” Alex admitted, looking in a small room off to the side. “Score!” He announced enthusiastically. He emerged carrying a six pack of beer.
“Lite Beer?” Otis asked.
“Warm Lite beer,” Junior amended.
“Fine, more for me,” Alex opened the first can with a hiss. He barely got started on it when a sound from the laundry room got their attention. Alex had left the door open when he retrieved the beer and now something was moving in there.
“Please be a cat,” Junior whispered, grabbing for the bat that he had leaned against the wall next to the refrigerator.
“Too big,” Kolby moaned. “It’s too big to be a cat,” he was backing away slowly, but his progress was halted by the cabinet with the double stacked ovens. He stood there paralyzed with the fear. The first groan floated out of the room just before the sound of shuffling feet.
“It’s a child,” Kolby whimpered.
Once he said it, they all realized that he was right. The noise had come from down around the height of a 6 or 7 year old kid.
“We need to move quickly,” Junior said. “Everyone go to the front door and get outside now.” He was trying to keep his voice calm, but the sound of small feet dragging across the tile had them unnerved.
“Keep your cool, but go,” he hissed. Otis, Alex and Kolby moved at the same time, almost colliding in the door way. Alex and Otis made it to the door and flung it open, but realized that they were alone.
“What the hell,” Otis called. “Don’t fuck around!”
From the darkness, Kolby and Junior staggered into the moon light. Kolby was dragging the bat in his left hand, but his right was pressed tightly to his middle where a patch of red was spreading. Kolby pulled the door closed once they passed through, but there was no sound on a little monster trying to get out.
“What happened?” Otis, hurried to Junior’s side.
“I couldn’t do it,” he said brokenly.
“Couldn’t do what?”
“The kid,” he whispered. “I couldn’t-”
“What did it do to you?” He pulled the arm away from Juniors shirt and was shocked to see the deep wound furiously pouring out blood.
“We have to stop the bleeding!” Otis frantically looked for something to wrap the arm with, and Alex tossed the shirt that had been lying in the driveway to him. He tried to press it over the gaping hole, but Junior pushed him away. Kolby had still not said anything, he just stood there supporting the bleeding Junior and carrying the blood stained bat.
Suddenly Junior’s words made sense. Kolby had killed the child to try to save him.
“Otis,” Junior indicated the bat Kolby was holding. “Get them out of here, find somewhere to stay until morning. Head out of town once the sun is up.”
“You say that like you aren’t coming,” Alex said.
“You need to just get going,”
“What’s with the leave me behind hero shit?” Otis asked taking the bat.
“This,” Junior held out his arm. “I guess Callum got me worse than I thought, it had already started to get bad, even before-” He didn’t finish the sentence.
“Don’t be crazy,” Otis took the bat from the unresisting Kolby.
“It is in the bite,” Junior insisted.
“What is?” Alex asked.
“Whatever causes this.”
“You can’t be sure of that,” Otis insisted.
“I can,” Junior said firmly. “Callum must have scratched my arm with his teeth back in the pump room,” He showed them the back of his arm. The skin was black and nearly shredded where he had scratched it. “Go find another house. Don’t open any doors. Stay there until full dark.”
“What are you going to do?” Otis asked.
“I will go back in here,” he gestured toward the house. “I will lock the door and will not be a threat to anyone else.”
“Can’t we just go to the police tomorrow?” Alex asked. “Why go out of town?”
“Call it a hunch,” Junior pointed to the tire tracks in the yard. “I don’t think this was an annoying neighbor doing donuts late at night.”
“What do you mean?” Otis asked.
“This is the government.”
“Shit,” Otis breathed.
“Pretty much,” Junior agreed. “Never tell anyone what you saw here, and never tell them where you are from,” he pleaded. “Hurry, the sun is coming up now,” he looked to the east just as the sky started to turn a rose gold color. He looked wistful for a moment. How many people got to know when they were seeing their last sunrise he wondered briefly?
“Go on,” He gave Kolby a gentle push toward the other two and turned back to the house. “With any luck, I’ll bleed out before anything else.” He gave them a rueful smile before closing the door and the click of the lock sealed him in.
This is cross posted over on The Horrible Wolf.
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