Here's Part Four of my story about the living impaired...
WARNING: Due to scenes of violence and mild language reader discretion is advised!
The End of Days
Despite the walking dead being thick as thieves during his aimless pilgrimage, Father Paul managed to avoid any altercations with them. He wondered if his oblivious demeanor fooled them into thinking that he was one of their own.
He stopped dead in his tracks and considered this.
Why wasn’t he dead? Why was he headed towards the plant? What did he expect to find there?
He turned about face and struck back towards civilization, wondering if the Almighty considered an unspoken curse to be just as sinful. Surely there should be some allowances, especially where it concerned the dead rising from their graves.
He was hoping to catch up to Jessica but emerged from the woods close to the general store. The place was still lit up so he decided to sweep through en route to the gun shop. He’d sent that poor girl off by herself and prayed that she’d made it to safety.
There were clear signs of struggle just inside. The cooler had been tipped over and there were broken bottles of Coke and orange juice scattered across the wooden floor. Fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered periodically overhead. The cash register on the counter was open and skewed to one side. At first glance it looked as if the place had been robbed by thieves of the still-very-living variety.
That is, if not for the horrifying scene right in the middle of the store.
Father Paul had known the shopkeeper, Paul Manton for at least a baker’s dozen years. He’d never expected to see him corrupted into the twisted abomination that now sat on the floor, awash with blood.
For a moment the priest couldn’t tear his eyes away. There were certain things a person was never supposed to witness. Like the process by which an unarmed man might acquire the contents of another man’s skull.
The priest backed out the door he came in, sickened by the spectacle of a scalp being peeled back like the flesh of an orange. Anxious fingers wormed though the crimson stew. He was spared the sight of the skull being breached, but not the sound.
Sickened, he turned and was relieved to glimpse something in such contrast, he wondered why he ever left it in the first place.
He staggered towards the cobblestone path leading to the front doors of his sanctuary, hoping to find something within that he’d possessed from the very beginning.
Jessica hated to wallow in stereotypes, but the one regarding small town folks and their penchant for firearms was proving to be uncomfortably accurate.
“Wait! Stop!” she screamed, fanning her hands out in front of her. “I’m alright! I’m not one of them!”
Clint, clearly still twitchy due to multiple system shocks, looked down the sight of the shotgun.
“Who the Hell are you then?” he demanded. “I never laid eyes on you in my life!”
“Wait, Clint,” Harmony said, lowering her gun. “She’s from the hospital. She’s that new nurse they brought in from Ravenswood.”
Bobby blew out a deep breath and lowered his weapon but continued to appraise the nurse with a dubious expression.
“My name is Jessica Mewes,” sputtered the new arrival. “I was on duty at the hospital. One of the bodies, it was Ed Munroe, he got up, he was walking around...”
“What?” Clint muttered. The barrel of the shotgun began to shake again. “What did you just say?”
Harmony tried to signal for Jessica not to answer by looking dire and shaking her head. By the time the nurse picked up on the subtle signal it was too late.
“I don’t know how it happened but, when they first brought him in he was dead. Then the next thing I knew he...”
Jessica cursed herself for moving to such a small town.
“Did she just say your name was Clint?”
“Are you tellin’ me,” the mechanic replied, his voice thick with emotion, “That my daddy’s turned into one of them...things?”
Jessica put her hands up higher, as if they could shield her from the combination of rage and impending buckshot.
“I’m sorry, Clint,” she said, trying to remain measured, hoping it would be harder for him to shoot someone who seemed calm.
“I just ran out of there. I didn’t know what else to do. I met up with a priest, he told me to come here, he said I’d be safe...”
“And you are,” Bobby announced, casting a harsh look at Clint. “Put the gun down, man.”
The mechanic squinted down the length of the shotgun one last time before he slowly put it down on the counter. He backed into the wall behind him and slid down it, weeping silently. Harmony instantly at his side, trying to console him.
Jessica watched as Bobby arched his eyebrows and pursed his lips in reaction to this latest mini-crisis. They shared a brief moment of understanding as their eyes met and she walked over to him.
“Thanks,” she said.
Jessica tried to summon a smile but it withered as quickly as it came.
“It’s been an interesting week for me. Adjusting to small town life, getting to know all the local hypochondriacs, dealing with the living dead for the first time in my medical career. Not to mention being on the short end of a Mexican standoff.”
He looked at her and nodded incrementally.
“You look pretty beat up.”
“Naw, I’m alright,” he replied.
She took his forearm and rolled the sleeve up gingerly. They both grimaced in unison.
“Hardly,” she muttered. “Here, let me bandage it up at least...”
She produced gauze from one of her many pockets and started to wrap up the angry-looking wound.
“We need to get this cleaned up and sterilized as soon as we can. I’d suggest that we go back to the hospital but I’m afraid that the contents of every slab is up and strolling around by now.”
Bobby cracked the hint of a smile.
“You always talk this much?” he asked.
“Only when I’m trying to survive an apocalyptic event,” she replied, putting a little extra force into tying the bandage. The quarterback winced and then chuckled in spite of himself.
The job was makeshift at best and she still had the nagging issue of her own injuries to contend with. Jessica maneuvered past the quarterback, pushed the swing gate aside and went behind the counter. She immediately spied something bolted to the wall.
“That’s what we need,” she whispered.
She pushed aside the calendar (featuring a “tasteful” shot of October’s “Miss SPAS 12") and grabbed the greasy-looking white metal case behind it. She cleared a spot on a nearby computer desk, popped the clips of the first aid kit and dove in, using the contents to clean herself up and staunch her still-bleeding wounds.
Just as she finished up, a sudden sound startled everyone. They all looked up to see rotted fingers streaking one of the windows and then vanished, its owner clearly intent on the open door.
“They’re here!” Harmony shouted and jumped up.
She rushed towards the exit, brandishing her pistol.
“No, wait!” Bobby yelled as she ran past him.
The farm girl pushed open the door and turned on the approaching corpse shambling towards them. She leveled the revolver and braced herself for the kick.
The sound of the hammer clacking into place punctuated Bobby’s warning from back inside.
“You didn’t load that pistol yet!”
Despite realizing that she was unarmed, Harmony could only feel an overwhelming sense of relief as the figure revealed itself in the light.