Authors: T. W. Brown
The window didn’t fog up! This thing’s mouth was all over the glass, and it wasn’t fogging up even a teensy bit. Crazy.
An equally pale hand with a chunk missing, and what looked like just a stub for a thumb, smacked against the increasingly slime-smeared window. I heard a rattle of the door handle. This thing was trying to open the door, albeit clumsily. Time to go!
I made sure I was still in reverse and goosed the accelerator. Our friend came with us as he still had a grip on the door handle. I swung around and brought that side of the truck almost flush with the rock wall. A gout of blackish fluid made a macabre Rorschach pattern on the glass. Thalia screamed again and was practically in my lap. Her arms clutched about my neck so that I had to crane around her to see. My head turned just enough to allow me to see a shape rising in the shadows of the breezeway.
I eased the little girl down next to me and wrapped one arm protectively around her. She buried her face in my side and for that I am grateful. She didn’t need to see what was staggering our way. The thing outside the passenger’s side was not letting up in its effort to try and get at us, so I gave another tap on the gas. Gripping Thalia, I hit the brakes and shifted back in to drive.
Directly in front of me was Pluck. Without any further thought, I floored it. The time was long past to be outta here. The big truck lurched just a bit as our tag-along fell free and ended up under the rear wheels. Then the front sorta bounced like we’d hit a speed bump.
That “speed bump” was the end of my boon companion. My best friend. My foot warmer. I looked in the rearview mirror long enough to know I’d crushed his head like a jack-o-lantern in November. My dog, good old Pluck, lay still in the middle of the
Villa la Puerta
apartment complex parking lot. I think, in a lot of ways, I was relieved.
One sentiment that popped up in most of the zombie books and movies was the desire to ensure friends and companions didn’t “come back.” I get it now. Not just the fact that I didn’t want him wandering around as
one of them
, it was much more. Honestly, that thing wasn’t Pluck. It is just so vile to see somebody you knew and loved become a part of the cause. To think that his body would still be moving after his… essence?...soul?...whatever the hell you want to call it, is long gone? It just ain’t natural.
I pulled out onto the street just as I saw Thalia’s mom appear in my rearview mirror. I’m really glad that sweet little girl never saw what I did at that moment. What she had seen moments before, as well as what she would see in the next hours…days…weeks…would provide enough nightmare fod-der.
I turned right. Away from the airport and towards the freeway seemed the best choice. A few blocks ahead, I could see that the power was on! That held some definite plusses and minuses.
Plus—I could see. I did a quick look-over of Thalia. Not that I’m heartless, but I had to make sure. Thankfully, there were no bites or scratches. I was really hoping there weren’t any that I couldn’t see. Her face was nestled right in my side. If she turned…
Minus—I could see. Here and there, singles, doubles, and mini-herds of those things were on the move. Or worse, feeding. Again, really glad Thalia couldn’t see this. A couple of times, I had to swerve to avoid one of those things as they wandered out into the street after the few passing cars. I saw no reason to play Death Race with…
Zombies. That’s it. That’s what they are, and I can’t avoid it. After Pluck and Thalia’s mom, I have no doubts that the dead are, in fact, returning. For whatever reason...instinct, anger, hunger...they are attacking and feeding off the living.
As I hit the I-5 South on-ramp, it dawned on me to switch on the radio. A monotone, obviously recorded message, was repeating on every station I scanned to:
The Emergency Broadcasting System has been acti-vated. Please stay tuned to this local station for information…”
The message was on a loop. I tried the two-way radio. It came alive with all sorts of frantic chatter.
“...advised, we have lost contact with units seven, nine, twelve, and seventeen.”
“…came out of no place and just grabbed Duran…”
“…where the hell is anybody!”
“…damn lady just bit me! I mean took a chunk out of my arm!”
As I drove down the interstate listening to the insanity unfold, I passed a couple of cars that were pulled only partially off the road. In the opposite lane, a few cars whisked past heading north. There was no way I would even consider heading into downtown Seattle. Within hours, if not already, that place would be a chaotic death trap. I was considering my options when a snippet of conversation caught my attention.
“…of people grabbed Ed. I heard him scream as they dragged him into the bushes. I stayed up on the pole. God forgive me, but I was scared to death.”
“Then what?” a female voice demanded. “You said you lost the truck. So what the heck happened?”
“A few minutes later…five, maybe ten…one of them came out of the bushes and took off with the vehicle.”
I turned off the two-way. There was nothing I could say or do now that wouldn’t take forever to explain or clear things up in any manner. There was little doubt that it was my ‘Ed’ they were discussing. The problem being, I was pretty sure my explanation would not be very welcome. Not yet. If things held true to form, nobody would acknowledge or believe what this was until too late.
I reached over and opened the glove box. Thalia didn’t make any attempt to move away, not that I blamed her. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I rummaged, keeping one eye on the road as I felt around. Two wallets! That was the same moment I realized that I left mine. For somebody determined not to make stupid mistakes, I wasn’t doing so well.
I spotted an off-ramp that advertised FOOD-GAS-LODGING. Veering right, I decided it was time to get just a little proactive. I made up my mind that I
what was going on, and it was my responsibility to this child beside me to start taking steps to prepare for the worst eventuality.
A fully lit service station was perched at the top of the off-ramp. You know the kind; the mini-mart disguised as a gas station with a garage added as an afterthought that was good for nothing beyond a tire change. A small car was parked in a dark corner across the expansive asphalt lot from where the entrance was—probably the on-duty cashier’s.
I pulled up to the pump station closest to the doors. No surprise, I saw no sign of an attendant...or cashier...whatever. My head was on a swivel, searching for any movement. Inside or out. I pried Thalia loose and took her tear-streaked face in my hands.
“I’m gonna take care of you, but I have to get out of the truck for a minute. I will lock the door. Don’t open it until I say. Can you do that?”
“I will leave the engine running. So don’t touch anything. Okay?”
I looked around again. This was a bad time for any surprises. At the moment, the coast was clear. I climbed out, locking the door, closing it carefully, and checking it to be certain. So far, so good. I fast-walked to the glass door and tugged.
Damn. Locked. Naturally.
Trying to watch everywhere at once, I scooted to another set of doors around the corner. Nothing was moving inside or out of the store. Yet. I could hear the occasional vehicle speed by on the nearby freeway. I think I heard gunshots from somewhere distant. I briefly wondered what I would do if another vehicle arrived with people having the same idea as me.
Damn! Damn! Damn!
Just a tiny bit desperate and a whole lot scared now. I looked everywhere for an idea. Turning my attention fully inside, I knocked on the glass. I don’t know if I wanted somebody to be there or not, but old habits die hard.
I knocked again. Louder. Still no response from within, or thankfully, out. That left me with what I saw as my final option: the metal ashcan sitting next to the door. I picked it up, dumped the contents on the ground, backed up a few steps and hurled it as hard as I could at the glass door.
I had half-expected the thing to come bouncing back at me. Lucky me. The entire door exploded inwards. Fine cubes of glass glittered like fake diamonds under the white glare of the fluorescent lighting.
Now it was time to be quick. I glanced back at the truck. Thalia was staring wide-eyed but calmly back at me through the windshield. I noted that pump nine was closest. Peering over the counter to be assured of no nasty surprises, I quickly climbed over and found the panel allowing me to turn on my pump. In no time, I had the nozzle in place and put the lock on so that I could tend to other issues while the tank filled.
Back in the store, I stopped at a rack of those burlap carry bags imprinted with pictures of Mount Rainier, the Space Needle, and other local touristy things. Grabbing a few, I literally ran up and down the aisles scooping stuff from the shelves. The medicine aisle was almost empty by the time I finished. Mostly basic things, like allergy pills and aspirin mixed in with the first aid stuff, filled six of those bags. I grabbed food second, which made me sorta proud that I was thinking clearly. Food would be easier to grab than medicine or hygiene as this dragged on. At least that was my logic.
I decided that milk would likely become a luxury. It would do good to get some while I could. I paused at the wall of the glass-doored refrigerators when I came to the milk section. My hand grasped the handle and I totally froze, my heart pounding in my throat. I had found the clerk. Plus one.
Inside the refrigerated stock area, behind the tilted display shelves, stood two zombies. They were staring at me from the shadows, behind the orderly rows of beer, orange juice, and various name-brand sports drinks. A quick look behind them at the main door to the chill box helped ease my heart rate back under triple digits. The big, metal door looked shut.
I backed down the aisle a few steps away from the milk towards the soda. Sure enough, my ‘friends’ followed. I tapped the glass like you would an aquarium. They both lunged forward, tangling themselves in the shelving and each other. I bolted, popped the door where the milk was, grabbed a couple of cartons, and headed to the exit.
I ducked out into the open lot to hear Thalia pounding on the glass of the driver’s side window. A quick glance confirmed that a small pack of zombies were crossing the asphalt towards us. They still had some ground to cover, and I transferred our haul to the truck pronto. That finished, I pulled out the nozzle and hung it up as I replaced the gas cap. I dashed around the front of the truck and Thalia opened my door.
“Please let us go now!”
“I totally agree, sweetie!”
Climbing into the cab, I gave the approaching zombies another look. It was like the introduction to a dirty joke. An Asian, a naked lady, and two policemen walk into a gas station parking lot…
I revved the engine.
“Put on your seatbelt,
Without a word, Thalia did exactly what she was told. I heard the ‘click’ and fastened my own. I pulled away from the pumps and made a wide U-turn. A glance in the rearview…then side-view mirrors…now for a slight turn of the steering wheel to get things right. I shifted into reverse and stomped the gas.
I felt the impact and the ensuing bounces as I rolled over the bodies. Three of the four lay twitching on the ground. The fourth, Naked Lady, still stood. She turned towards me, arms outstretched, mouth open. Back into drive, and again I put the pedal to the floor. I swerved just enough to catch her with the driver’s side corner of the bumper. A satisfying thud and crunch rewarded the effort, coupled with the body flying several feet. Down, but not…dead? I briefly pondered the idea.
Thalia exclaimed her surprise when I slammed on the brakes and flung open the door. All of the zombies were in varied stages of struggling to their feet. On their backs they are a lot like turtles.
I approached the first downed policeman and was very disappointed. No gun. The second was my payoff, though. His wide, black leather belt held several toys for me to examine later once I had more time. I grabbed a window squeegee as I closed in on my target. With one swing I brought it down as hard as I could. My blow found an eye socket which exploded with thick jelly-like fluid. This thing began thrashing, arms flailing, hands grasping. A second swing…another…and another as the face shattered and the eye socket hole expanded. Finally the brass and hard plastic squeegee broke through to something softer. The thing at my feet quit struggling. Instantly. It’s like hitting an
I worked the belt off the
while watching the others. The other policeman and the Asian were back on their feet, headed my way. Naked Lady was bent almost entirely backwards. She was trying to pull her unnaturally vee-shaped self along the asphalt. Yuck. Prize in hand, I made it back to the truck with relative ease.
Dropping the gun belt on the seat, I closed the door and headed for the exit. A car zoomed past, heading for the interstate presumably. A screech of tires sounded as it slammed on the brakes, then sped back to us in reverse.
The car, a sporty foreign model by the looks…what can I say, I’m not much into cars…halted directly in front of us. I considered our chances of ramming the little car without taking too much damage ourselves, but decided to wait a second and see what this person wanted. He or she could be just like Thalia and me. Still, no sense in being stupid. I pulled the gun from the holster and glanced to see if it was loaded. Check. Safety off. Check. I’m savvy enough to know it is a nine millimeter. I glanced in the rearview. The zombies were still a fair distance away. Problem was that now there were seven. I had enough time to at least give this person in the car a moment. I wouldn’t waste time, but I also was not about to let my guard slip.