Authors: J.V. Roberts
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
Copyright 2013 by J.V Roberts
To my Wife: For
being a light during the darkest of days
To my Mom:
For your constant encouragement and unwavering love
~This is for you~
I turn, twirl, and trip. I had missed the same fall-away twice during practice. It was my Achilles heel going into this performance. It just killed me. My throat and chest tighten, I want to pack it in and shuffle off, stage left, but I won't give my detractors the satisfaction.
I push on.
The spotlights perched above the audience blind me, the strings soaring in from the speakers shield my ears from their mockery.
I dance for me.
No one else. Just the music and me.
I repeat this in my head, trying to believe it, to make it real.
I stumble during the body roll, almost tipping over sideways and eating the freshly waxed stage. I can't hear the laughter, but I know it's there. The one-liners are being punctuated and will be delivered promptly come homeroom on Monday.
No one else, just the music
It's no good. No good.
The final chords strike. I fall to my knees, my head following my hands towards the ceiling. I hold the position, waiting for an applause that never comes. There are a few nervous whistles, and some broken clapping, but it's drowned out by the uncomfortable clearing of throats and chairs squeaking out, as audience members dismiss themselves to the bathroom.
I rise, give a brief bow, and move quickly towards the stairs.
Principal Anglin avoids meeting my eyes as he rushes past me to introduce the next act.
“Hey, yo, Two-Step, who taught you to dance, your mom?” Jeff Fullers voice comes riding through the darkness like a flurry of arrows, most of them finding their mark. It's only a preview of what Monday morning will bring. He’s standing in a group of three other boys. I recognize them from my homeroom. They laugh and point, mocking me with pirouettes and curtsies.
“Yeah, actually she did,
” I counter, acting as if I might leave the consoling embrace of Momma and challenge them directly. I won’t, and even if I could, Momma wouldn’t let me. She pulls me in closer, kissing the top of my head.
“Don’t let them get you riled up
, sweetie, you did great in there. We need to work on a few steps, but once you get them down, they’ll be licking the stage grease from your heels.”
The laughter continues as we keep on towards the van. The high strung lights from the school auditorium still blaze from the windows behind us, casting themselves in squares and rectangles of silver illumination at our feet, the flower pattern on Momma’s sun dress dances in and out of shadow as if framed by the twist and turn of a kaleidoscope.
“Those few marks I missed killed me. I couldn't nail them during practice; I never should have gone on stage.”
“You were great
, Tim, looked like a pro to me.” My sister Bethany bends around Momma’s waist long enough to grant me a low five, the tiny piercing in her eyebrow winking at me, the purple streak coursing through her hair barely discernible in the semi-darkness.
, I’m glad someone didn’t notice the screw ups.” They weren’t the big moments, the big moments I’d nailed, but those little chips had been enough to shatter the entire thing. Who was I kidding anyway? I didn’t stand a chance to begin with. Even if I had given a rousing recital worthy of the greats, I still would have lost to Chase Griffin and Sheldon Jenkins pyrotechnic laden re-enactment of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The people in this town are thick-necked overall types, and the yearly Oconee County High-School talent competition is a testament to that fact. Last year, Steven Stedman won first prize for taking a Power Wheel outfitted with Rhino Shocks and oversized tires and ramping it across the stage. The folks in this town would wipe their asses with the Mona Lisa and frame the shotgun cartridge responsible for downing last year’s venison if given half a chance. I don’t fault them for their roots; I can’t because they’re my roots too. But does being country mean you’ve got to be ignorant of the arts? I’ll wear ropers to my wedding, but does that mean I can’t appreciate the sounds of Rossini, Pachelbel, and Strauss?
Nothing ever changes here, “Why you
dancin’ like that?” They’d asked me after my freshman performance three years ago.
“It looks gay. You got your blue jeans and your hat and you’re
movin’ around all dainty, looks super gay.”
I'll hear it again on Monday. Nothing changes. Not here.
Outside of my family, my fan base is non-existent. There’s Lee, Momma's boyfriend, but he's never been to a show. Always busy with some art show or local gallery opening. He flings around all the right words though, words of encouragement, which is more than most grant me around these parts.
Anyway, I’ve still got one more show before I graduate
, which means I’ve got one more chance to place. Maybe I’ll find my audience, maybe I won’t.
Dance for you, no one else.
“Alright you two, ice cream and a movie?” Momma asks clapping her hands together.
“Sure,” I’m buckling my seatbelt as Bethany slides the backdoor of the van shut and scampers across the seat.
“That works. Just please, Momma, no more subtitles or black and white movies. I’d rather watch sports or grass grow, or Timmy’s recital one more time.”
“Hey now,” I reach back and attempt to swat her legs.
“I’m just kidding, but seriously, no more of the black and whites.”
“She’s got a point
, Momma, it’s getting painful.”
“Okay, sheesh, gang up why don’t
ya. Excuse me if I try to culture my kids a little.”
“We’re over-cultured,” Bethany pops a pink bubble of chewing gum across her lips.
“No such thing, but I’ll let you two pick, happy?”
Bethany and I shout simultaneously, throwing our hands in the air.
With some soft serve, a good movie, and the weekend in front me, my spirits quickly lift.
I walk into Monday morning homeroom steeling myself up for a barrage of insults concerning my performance at the talent show on Friday. Heads turn, but no one speaks. I suppose I have Ms. Geoffery to thank for that small mercy. She is early to class and is standing at the blackboard drawing out the day’s lessons as I take my seat. She's the no nonsense type. No one will dare take a shot at me in her presence. They all want to go home after the 3pm bell. Any lip and she'll have them hiking over to detention hall instead.
I drop my books down and slide back in my chair, pulling my hat low over my eyes, still feeling the sting from my 6am alarm clock.
“Alright class, go ahead and open your textbooks to page ninety while I finish up on the board. Feel free to begin getting acquainted with the chapter, and do remember that there is going to be a quiz about this on Thursday, so prepping now will serve you well.”
There are a few moans and groans, followed by the sound of turning pages.
I follow her advice, turning the pages in lazy clumps until I fall across the number ninety printed in small block print on the bottom right hand corner of the page. My eyes are growing heavy as I begin perusing the dry introductory lecture on elements. Just as I'm about to fall asleep at my desk, a noise perks my ears.
Two desks up from me
sits Jeff Fuller. He's lurching forward, arching his spine. He sounds like a cat trying to rid itself of a hairball. On the third retch, he loses his breakfast, covering everything in his immediate vicinity in a thick layer of foul smelling brown liquid.
Bennets new white on pink boutique sneakers.
Time slows. Every head in the room turns.
Ms. Geoffery stands frozen by the blackboard like a cardboard cut-out, a nub of white chalk still crammed between her fingers, one end frozen on the half drawn portrait of a nuclear atom; the electron and proton yet to be conceived.
There is a slight pause after the first batch of barf, a hush falls over the room (except for Maggie who is dancing in circles, screaming
as if the devil scorned). Ms. Geoffery looks as if she is about to take hold of the reins, she’s brought her chalk hand to her side, and is in the process of formulating words, but everyone whose anyone knows that these things come in waves.
My classmates and I
make a hasty retreat for the corners of the room as Jeff relinquishes a second round of his stomach contents across his pencil scarred desktop. It clops and claps into the ready-made pool from his first evacuation. Like leftover chili being poured back into the mother batch. It drips thick and heavy onto the tattered carpet beneath him, and branches off into smaller pools and streams of sour stink.
Eww,” groan the girls.
proclaim the boys.
Jeff gasps for breath between each involuntary contraction, though it appears the well has run dry. His efforts now produce little more than thick strings of stained saliva. His spine goes rigid. His head recoils back with such force that I expect it
just to pop right off. It doesn't. Instead, his mouth hangs open, as if he is trying to call out for someone, but sound is absent. After a couple seconds, all the life goes right out of him. He comes down hard, face first, right into the ocean of stink. It's as if a boulder has been dropped from a crane directly into the center of a wading pool. All of us are a safe distance from the splash damage. The same cannot be said for most of the textbooks and notepads within a three-desk radius. Thankfully, my belongings are spared as his body takes most of the impact that is due my way.
Geoffery recoils at the explosion of puke, gathers her wits, and times her approach. Jeff’s form is slumped and lifeless. “Jeff? Jeff honey, talk to me.” She is careful to tread around and over the puddles of puke that have begun to disappear into the carpet. She is reaching her chalk hand cautiously towards his sweat soaked hair.
I pace foot to foot, a cold sort of fire in my chest
and I'm beginning to feel a little nauseous.
“Jeff, talk to me, I need you to talk to me so we can get you some help.” Her hand is on the
center of his saturated scalp; her face does not attempt to hide the disgust she feels.
She looks as if she may puke as well.
Then it happens.
It happens fast.
His body jolts as if he’s been hooked up to a power source and the switch has been flipped into the
His hands come up first, moving with lightning speed.
Moving with surgical precision. They coil around her extended arm like twin pythons.
There is a discernible crunch.
Like someone opening a tinfoil wrapper.
The splintered bones and torn cartilage are confirmed by her cries of anguish. She sounds like a kicked puppy, not loud, but more broken and desperate.
He rips her to him, bouncing her head against the foul surface. She looks like a ragdoll caught in the schizophrenic spin cycle of a toddlers mid-afternoon play session. Pushed and pulled this way and that, with such little effort.
Jeff's head rises from the desk, his face dripping with filth. His eyes are different, just two white screens, everything else had been erased. He growls and gurgles as he holds her face down, surveying her with violent intention using the milk white orbs
now protruding from his skull. Her arms and legs flail helplessly beneath the power of his grasp, only serving to add to the horror of an already horrific scene.
And then he bites her.
doesn’t really do it justice.
He chomps into her neck with every ounce of force he can muster. He burrows in deep, like a dog searching for that winter bone, slicing through the grit and gristle, tearing the vocal cords asunder; he chomps as a man possessed.
With the shower of blood and the strings of gore come the screams, boy and girl alike. Their voices sound in unified terror. I’m among them, though I can’t hear myself. The only sense I've got
, is the spinning in my head and the clenched up feeling in my chest.
Is this real?
Curiously enough, despite the terror surging through my classmates and me, we make no attempt at movement, we don’t try to attack or run away, we are stuck in the moment, watching as one of our peers slaughters our science teacher like a farm raised pig.
Finally, as if he’s found what he’s been looking for within the throat of my second
favorite teacher (I’ve always been partial to Ms. Williams, easy A), he comes up for air. His face now resembles an Avant-Garde finger painting. Crimson saliva hangs from his lips and stains his teeth. He rolls her body to the floor, and stands from his desk, hunched at the knees. He surveys the room, twisting back and forth like a table top fan, taking us in with those unseeing eyes, that gurgly growl beating rhythmically in his throat.
“Jeff, bro, chill out, it’s ok.” Mikey has a significant tremble in his voice.
“Jeffery please, stop it.” Tilly pleads.
moment, I forget to breathe, as that dead glare washes across me. He sees us, eyes or no eyes; I know he can see us as clearly as we can see him. I also know that no pleas in the world are going to stop him.
I begin inching my way towards the door when he decides to pounce.
Jeff isn't a little guy by any stretch of the imagination. He has always been a heavy set kid, and normally moves with the speed and precision of a one-wheeled tractor. So, imagine my surprise when he clears two rows of desks in a single bound, and lands on top of Mikey Stackhouse, one of our best Jr. Varsity linebackers, crumpling him up like an old newspaper.
The rest of the class joins me in my sprint towards the door. People are
being trampled, pushed, and punched. There is no more room for decency; it’s become all about surviving, about getting out of the kill zone.
As I am being herded by the rushing wall of my screaming peers
, I look back over my shoulder; it’s curiosity more than anything. I expect to see Jeff hot on our heels, tearing through the crowd, trying to get his teeth into my neck. What I see instead is much worse. It makes the blood run cold in my veins.
She is standing exactly where she’d fallen. Her head is hung over sideways, her ear resting against her shoulder, a thin wall of tissue the only thing keeping her noggin from rolling away.
But, it isn’t the wound that disturbs me.
It is those eyes
Those same white eyeballs, staring right through me.
I have to find my sister and get out of here.
My sister, Bethany, is two grades below me, a freshman. I am separated from the freshmen wing by a thick set of stonewalls and a short walk down the main hall.
That is my mission.
If only it could be that simple. For starters, the halls are absolute insanity. It’s what I’ve always imagined a fire drill involving an actual fire would look like. Loose-leaf paper and discarded backpacks litter the linoleum. Locker doors swing idly, the contents within snatched or left to spill out onto the floor. I drop into a slow jog, cupping my hands on either side of my mouth, trying to make my voice heard above the madness that surrounds me, “Bethany!”
I am bumped and pushed aside, rolling against the wall to shield myself as my panicked
classmate’s dash past me in search of the nearest exit sign. I feel like the Sunday driver hogging the fast lane on the interstate. I can’t really blame them though. Judging by what I can hear echoing up and down the halls, the violence I’d witnessed isn't an isolated incident. There are shrieks of agony cut short, voices pleading, and something heavy and metal smashing to the floor. Then there is that wet growl. The same one I heard coming from Jeff as he’d scanned us like some beast selecting its evening meal, it is faint, but that sound, is inked permanently into my psyche.
I check the corner to ensure the coast is clear, inching my head out just enough to get a solid peripheral view of things, before turning into the main hall. I move cautiously towards the
freshman wing, my knees cocked, trying to lessen the acoustics created by the heels of my boots. It is a feeble maneuver. I sound like a Clydesdale crossing over a marble street.
situation deteriorates further as I advance into the building. This is where my sister had been. My heart is in my throat as I survey the area around me. Light fixtures hang precariously by their roots, the bulbs blinking in and out, creating a rather unnerving strobe effect. On the floor, there are red handprints and finger shaped drag marks where someone had been hauled off against their will. Every instinct for survival that I possess is telling me to turn around and get out, but not without Bethany, I will not leave this building without her.
There are footsteps approaching from up ahead.
Right at the intersection. Right where the freshmen hall connects with the main vein.
Without much thought
, I press myself to the inside wall, looking around anxiously for something to defend myself with. My options are quite limited. All I have is the skin on my hands and the desperation in my gut. I've never been in a fist fight. I hit a wall once. Red brick. Bloodied my knuckles up good.
Those footsteps are getting close now, a shadow has begun to form at the tips of my boots, flickering in out with the rhythm of the broken light fixture. I’ll swing and pray. I can hear their breath. They’ll breach the corner, and I’ll pounce on
em’. I get low, preparing myself. I’ll get my hands around their throat before they can get their mouth around mine.
There they are.
A tennis shoe clad foot.
That’s all I need.
I charge the still partially concealed figure, my boots kicking up quite a ruckus as I do my best to gain traction. This will not go down in history as the smoothest attack, but I am learning as I go.
I glance up at the last second, just before I get my arms around their waist, and I see the face of my gym teacher, Mr. Fitzpatrick. I also see the two-foot wooden spear he is clutching in his hands, drawn back, ready to plunge into my chest.
I skid to a stop like some cartoon bird at the edge of a cliff, almost spilling backwards onto my rear end.
These boots are anything but practical.
“What in the world kid, what are you doing over here?” He asks, still reared back like some tribesman, the business end of what I now see is a converted broom handle staring me in the face. Red stains dot his button down oxford. His eyes pulse in their sockets. He’s been on the front lines, he’s seen things.
Maybe he's seen Bethany.
“My sister, I’m looking for her, have you seen her. You know, Bethany, she’s got the purple in her hair, face piercing?”
“I dunno kid, but you can’t stay here. The halls are crawling with those monsters.” He grabs me underneath my arm with one of his oversized mitts before I can form a protest, using the other to tote the Broomspear. I lock my legs, leaving black scuff marks in my wake, as he tugs me along behind him as if I am luggage.