Here's Part Two of my zombie story...
WARNING: Due to scenes of violence and mild language reader discretion is advised!
The End of Days
The front doors of the hospital exploded as Jessica ran towards the closest building: the hanger near the airfield where she landed in town only a week ago. She was sure that one of the engineers there would be able to help her. They could explain, make sense out of everything...
Heartened by the sight of the open doors, she rounded the corner, nearly losing the use of her ankle in the process. She ventured into the darkness, ducking under the wing of the fire-engine-red crop duster housed there.
“Hello?” she cried. “Is anyone here?”
She froze in place, listening intently for a reply. At first she was encouraged by the sound of movement and breathing. She tried to silence her own panting to focus on the source. Suddenly she felt as if she’d been stabbed in the stomach with an icicle. The sounds were coming from behind her.
Jessica whipped around and screamed as she saw two crippled silhouettes emerge from the corners of the hangar. Before she could consider her best method of flight, something emerged from under the plane and grabbed her leg.
Her screams came anew. Thinking reflexively, she pulled herself free. Filthy nails tore through the hose she was wearing on her legs and pulled off small divots of flesh. Off balance, Jessica tumbled back into the embrace of one of the mechanics.
Or what was once one of the mechanics.
Her head was seized and she could feel putrefying claws breach the skin on her cheek. At once, she was transformed into a creature of instinct, a dervish of flailing limbs and ear-piercing shrieks. She broke away, spun in the direction of the doors and barreled towards the promise of deliverance. She could barely see her potential attackers blocking her passage through a haze of tears.
Fueled by pure adrenaline, Jessica plowed through the two fiends standing there and burst out of the hanger. Now hysterical, she fled, not caring about her course. She just knew she was getting further and further away from those things.
As she ran she wished she could jettison the smell of the grave all over her: the musty earth, the corrupted flesh, the stench of something meant for inside turned out.
She kept running, feeling hot tears spread out over her face as if she were standing in a wind tunnel.
His eyes sealed in concentration, Father Paul continued to recite prayers of protection even as the sound of atrophied feet dragging across the wet earth came closer and closer. He knew that the shambling bodies closing in on him were only one small manifestation of the evil at work. He had to finish, for fear that the dark pall descending on the town would consume all.
‘May God guard and protect my senses so that misfortunes may not overcome us. In the name of God the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen!’
Feeling drained by the effort, but content that he’d stemmed the tide for the time being, the priest thought about his next move. A clarion scream from the hanger building came like an answer to his thoughts. He started off towards that path, wary of the shambling horrors bearing down on him.
He didn’t have far to go before he spied a woman in white coming towards him out of the darkness. At first he was relieved since the girl was moving fast, so he knew at once it wasn’t one of the ghouls. Then his thoughts flashed to fear since she was running as if the Devil himself was hot on her heels.
She was also headed straight towards him, head down and oblivious to what was in her path.
“Miss, MISS!!!” Father Paul bellowed, but the woman was undaunted. He braced himself as she tried to halt her flight all too late.
They collided. He tried to steady her but she was berserk with terror, pounding on his chest, batting his arms away as he tried to reach out to her.
“Miss! It’s alright now! I’m not one of them, please stop!”
His mannered authority cut though Jessica’s red panic.
“Oh my God,” she said between wracking breaths. “I’m so sorry. Oh, thank God you’re here. You have to help me.”
“I will endeavor to try, my child,” he replied in a tone that seemed to reassure her. “But first you have to calm down. Tell me what’s happening.”
She managed to look directly at the priest for the first time after spending several moments doubled up from fatigue.
“I have no idea what’s going on. The whole north end of town is swarming with these...things. Do you know...do you know what’s going on? Who are all those lunatics?”
The priest put a hand on Jessica’s shoulder. She seemed to be regaining her composure but he was disconcerted that he might be losing his own.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, my dear, but I’m afraid they’re...us. Back from a place best not discussed.”
The nurse laughed involuntarily.
“Well, if that’s the case I’m not even going to ask my next question,” she said, dabbing at the blood on her cheek.
A sound like a gunshot caused her to flinch.
“What the hell is going on in this town?” she demanded. “It feels like the end of the world.”
Father Paul was silent for a moment and it was enough to cause the panic to start to rise again in the eyes of his company. He couldn’t deny it; things were much worse this time. Despair fell upon him like a pall. The Almighty might be there in the end to set things to rights, but what if there was nothing left to salvage?
A chorus of rattling groans close by broke the priest out of his daze.
“I’m afraid we’ve already overstayed our welcome. You need to seek shelter...”
“No argument from me,” came the girl’s terse reply. “Problem is, I just moved here...I have no idea where to go.”
“I’m sorry, my child. I make it a point to know everyone in my congregation but I haven’t met you before...I’m Father Paul.”
She accepted the priest’s hand as he offered it. She was reminded of her grandfather’s handshake and it fortified her somewhat.
“My name’s Jessie...er, Jessica. I certainly hope it isn’t always like this around here.”
“Oh, certainly not,” the priest said. A world-weary smile lit his face but it was gone as quickly as it came.
“Something like this hasn’t happened in at least twenty years.”
Father Paul picked a direction, at random it seemed, and began to walk off. Struck by how distant the priest appeared to be, Jessica lingered for a moment but rushed to catch up, unwilling to let any mortal company venture too far away from her.
Still afflicted by his adrenaline palsy, Bobby put the gun on the ground for fear of setting it off by mistake. He buried his head in his hands and was shocked as to how wet his hair felt. It was as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on him. His brain repeated a mantra of shock:
‘What the Hell is going on? What the Hell is going on? What the Hell is going on? What the Hell is going on?’
A snapping branch caused him to jump. He fumbled for the gun and was on his feet at once, sweeping the weapon back and forth in all directions. He paused and held his breath, hoping the intruder would betray his approach.
All he heard was the exhalation of the wind and the sound of bare, skeletal tree branches clacking together. He whipped about face when another snapping sound came from behind. The woods here weren’t thick, but it was pitch dark and his eyes were filling in blanks.
But then he saw it, shambling out from around one of the thick oak trunks, it’s twisted frame looking for a moment as if one of the smaller trees had come to horrible life. He let the moonlight play across the thing’s face to identify the tell-tale dead eyes set in mortar-hued flesh. The absence of recognition save as a source of food. It was enough to convince Bobby to act again.
The revolver went off with surprising ease this time. Even with the kick back and the plume of gunpowder, he knew at once his quick sight down the barrel was true. The creature twisted and fell to the damp earth where it rightfully belonged.
Before the boy had a chance to be ill again, he heard a dreadful coughing sound coming from behind him. He turned and spied a gaunt figure just outside the boundary of the woods, emerging from the cornfield. It was stumbling, like the others, limbs swinging in front, head lolling to one side. He felt disgust as he raised the pistol, anxious to annihilate yet another abomination.
After the shot, his relief quickly gave way to doubt. He’d inspected his first two kills and could tell at once that he’d spared the world something monstrous, something unearthed. Something expelled from its resting place like a splinter from flesh.
He had to be sure this time as well.
Bobby crept closer, weapon at the ready. He could tell at once that it was a woman this time and felt an instinctive twinge of guilt. What if he’d been too hasty?
He bent down to inspect the corpse but knew at once that it wasn’t necessary. The smell of putrefaction was overwhelming, like something turned inside out and then left to bake in the sun for days. He shot back up again without looking and thumped unto something with give.
The boy turned around to look into eyes that were vacant. He was distracted momentarily by the sight of its jaw hanging askew. It fumbled out towards him, blind, anxious claws pawing at his neck, raking his skin. It exhaled, like a phlegmy, excited hiss of triumph.
Reflexively, Bobby brought his forearm up to bat away the gangrenous limbs and then shoved, taking care to avoid the skewed jaws snapping open and shut in front of him. The thing stumbled back a few paces, just enough for the teenager to raise his pistol and fire again.
He braced himself for the discharge and what was sure to be a rain of gore at this close range, but the hammer just snapped and was silent.
It was too late to remember that he’d only found three bullets in his father’s lock box.
Harmony’s strategy proved sound. Claustrophobic and eerie to anyone else, the cornfield was womb-like to the young farm girl. She knew how easy it was to find the clearest row and she knew when to pause to listen for odd noises. The wind was picking up so the corn rustled like dry rain, but the sound of something crashing through the field would be very distinct. She adjusted her path accordingly and the things following her were none the wiser.
Her original plan was to cut across the rows and emerge close to the park, but the undeniable sound of yelling then gunfire put her off that course. Instead she came out next to the power plant and ducked behind the big generators up front, keeping well out of sight from the trigger-happy lunatic who seemed to be shooting up half the countryside.
For a split second she mused that the plant night watchman would probably spot her creeping around in the shadows and do the job himself.
The amusement was fleeting and sudden, hot tears began to leap from her eyes. She stifled the wracking sobs that threatened to seize her and kept moving.
Although the person in the park wasn’t very discriminating, they had the right idea. The axe she still carried would be fine in a close-quarters melee but she wanted to make sure that it didn’t come to that. After composing herself for a moment she tore off towards the gun shop, hoping that her quick movements would disqualify her as one of those “things.”
Any what exactly had she concluded were those “things” anyway? Maniacs? Drug-addicts?
‘Walking corpses,’ her fevered brain told her.
Harmony thought this ridiculous as she approached the gun shop, keeping low so the bright lights inside wouldn’t reveal her approach. She had to live a under a rock just a bit bigger not to know that zombies were experiencing a major revival in movies and such. Were some chemically-spun lunatics just taking this a bit too far?
To her considerable discomfort, she noticed that one of the double doors to the gun shop hung open a bit. Harmony edged closer and peeked inside, squinting at the harsh fluorescent flood of light inside. She looked at the bright tile of the floor and though how institutionalized the shop looked. Of course, in a place like Styler the gun shop was an institution.
Harmony winced as the door creaked open. She crept inside, holding her axe at the ready, silently baiting anything lurking inside to challenge her. The farm girl had plenty of practice cutting cords of wood over the years and she could quarter and stack anything who dared to cross her in record time.
Before she could re-enforce her resolve any further, her world flew out of sorts. A figure sprung up from the counter just opposite of the door like some maniacal jack-in-the-box and screamed an unintelligible warning.
And just as she’d always expected, the experience of being on the business end of a double-barreled shotgun was proving to be far from reassuring.