YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE...MAYBE TWICE!
(C) All rights reserved
THE BAD ONES
The turning of the lock was almost soundless. The screen door closed with a whisper. She had taken a good half dozen steps before she was aware of her surroundings. Not wise at night. With a careful turn of her head she surveyed the neighborhood as her lungs drank in the musty post-rainfall air.
The bruise on her cheek still ached, hidden by makeup from all but the most careful of observers. You’ve gotten good at this, she thought, covering up his evidence. His, that’s right, his. Why do it? Her footsteps were slow and deliberate down the sidewalk, trying not to attract any attention. Why? The façade of a normal family. But normal was not something you would call life now.
Nobody really had a name for it. They just called it when it happened: “Then, when it happened I lost my brother and husband….” that sort of thing. Kate had only heard people say “When the dead came back to life” a few times. It just seemed so impossible. But there it was.
Five years ago, it had started slowly. But by the end of the first year of when it happened, half the population had been slaughtered by them. Yes, them. They moved so slowly and aimlessly, appearing out of nowhere. They were relentless hunger that never slept. Friends dying. Then rising slowly and tearing limbs from screaming neighbors and feasting on the entrails. Then the victims opened up their eyes. Rose to their feet and shuffled off to feed, a vast and bloody game of dominoes.
It wasn’t really like a war. It was in every street and neighborhood. There were no battle lines, no strategy, just neighborhoods running red with blood and desperation. At night, you used to be able to see the distant lights of the city reflecting off the clouds. Now, most cities were pitch black. The dead shambled through the streets that had long been surrendered. The larger the city,
the greater the chance we would never be back. Instead, we lived in small towns and villages. Hoping one day for a return to the life of five years ago but suspecting a chapter had been closed that would never open again.
Kate had a sister who had lived in Toronto. She had been a stock trader on Bay Street. Every day brought a hope that the phone would ring and the Red Cross would have finally found her among the millions of displaced. In her nightmares, Kate saw the little girl she had once played jacks with and pushed on a swing in the park slowly walking up University Avenue. A disfigured face, eyes discolored and huge bloody wounds, stalking up and down the streets of her former life until the end of time. Everyone had these nightmares, she knew that.
Meeting Brad was like a blur. His moving in was a blur. Did you love him? Never, but it felt safer to have him around. Like strength in numbers. Now, it’s like waiting for a bomb to go off. When will he fly off the handle? Will he? Some nights he just passes out. Maybe drinking is what he has to do to survive. We are a world just hanging on. Doing what we have to do and justifying it with survival.
“Survive.” Kate said the word louder than she meant to as she came to the end of the sidewalk. A field of ankle-high grass stretched into the darkness. The shapes of a thick forest were barely visible in the distance.
“Survive.” She repeated the word. Softer this time as she walked into the grass toward the trees that looked like large billowing black orbs in the distance. Darkness and silence now a nightly companion. No one ventured out after dark. Well, some did but there had to be a very good reason. No matter how safe the neighborhood watches tried to make it. There were always a few around. Silent statues in the darkest of places, they waited.
Kate listened to the silence. Then, she took a few more steps towards the trees. Her hand crept down to the small holster in her belt. The cold metal of the .38 gave her a warm feeling of safety. It was always there on every person you met. So much so that no one took any mind of it. Kate remembered going to the store and forgetting to pack it in the car. It had filled her with a fast, spreading anxiety. Like when she was out with her friends when she was fifteen and forgot her cell phone. Okay, maybe this was a little more serious, her eyes scanned the forest for anything that moved.
The sudden windgust rustled the leaves, pushing the tree branches this way and that in a slow motion dance. The mustiness after the rainfall was beginning a slow retreat. The darkness had tricked her and she knew it. Kate realized suddenly how close to the trees she was. That was when she saw him shuffling out of the forest depths.
He had been a large man, perhaps six-foot-two with a chest that seemed to be a size smaller than his rotund belly. He was wearing some kind of mechanics overalls that were stained with blood. A name was stitched into the heavy material. It was a short word that started with an “M”. The mouth was caked with dried blood and the dark eyes looked back at her.
It had been about a year or so since she had seen one of them. After all that had happened, you’d think it wouldn’t cause panic. But it always did. You took a deep breath and looked at the face. You felt your legs tremble and stomach go cold. A slow shaking started somewhere within you like a distant song you couldn’t get out of your head.
The impossibility of it all was what rooted you to the ground. He’s dead but he’s still alive. He’s dead but he’s still alive. He’s dead but he’s still alive…
Kate watched as it stared at her unblinking thirty yards away. The sense of smell was what triggered its next response, a low growl and movement in Kate’s direction. Slow at first, but picking up speed and momentum like a freight train. Thirty yards was a good safe distance, she thought as the wind shifted. The sudden stench caught her totally off guard. It was just suddenly….there. Then cold fingers grasped at her hair.
It was like being gripped by a frozen tentacle.
Kate turned and saw her just a half-arms’-length away. She had been dead a long time. The skin on her lips had peeled back or rotted away to reveal uneven rows of black teeth. The nose was gone. Strands of black hair hung in clumps from a barely concealed skull. A white nurse’s uniform hung in shreds but still reflected in the moonlight.
Kate heard a scream that was hers. She slapped the dead fingers away from her face, instinctively drawing her .38 as she backed away. She took careful aim and…large hands grabbed at her gun. The mechanic was trying to get a firm grip on her wrist. Kate twisted away violently, falling into the slippery, still-wet grass. She rolled in the grass toward the sidewalk as her predators swiped at the musty night air.
As Kate got up, she swore she felt dead hands just barely miss her. Fuck! She felt the complaint of pain from somewhere. Run. Concentrate on running. Don’t look back. You could stumble, fall and sprain an ankle. Then, you were dead. You were one of them.
Her legs moved in wobbly rhythm. She had a detached feeling between her and her body. I am not running right, she distantly observed. Not a run. More like a limp, much slower than normal and much easier for them to catch. I feel just like them now. It was a bizarre thought but very real.
The pain started slowly. It worked its way up through her body. Her ankle stung horribly, slowing her down. Letting them catch up. When Kate reached the sidewalk, she dared look back. The mechanic was moving quickly for one of them. The nurse jerked along in a stagger that was almost hypnotic to watch. A body rotting away that still found a way to move. It was like watching someone dance while having a seizure.
Ten yards away.
“Run,” it was a plea. She had a flash image of her sister in her slow stagger through time. Is this how it happens? She was suddenly very cold in the muggy night air. The first time her sprained ankle supported her body weight, she almost dropped to her knees from the pain. Her teeth clenched and the ankle held, barely. She sobbed and forced her ankle to stay steady as her eyes water and blurred her vision. Don’t look back. Don’t look back.
Kate had never seen a more beautiful place of refuge than her own front porch. It seemed to glisten white in the moonlight like a beacon. The concrete had been washed clean in the evening rain. With her pursuers falling behind she made the front porch and then remembered she had locked the front door. She swung open the screen door. The key. Where was the key?
It’s amazing how life can move at two different speeds at the same time. Kate’s fingers seemed so slow and ponderous as they searched her pockets for the key. The two figures approaching suddenly seemed to accelerate to impossible speeds. You’re not going to make it, she thought. As the mechanic approached the front porch a piece of cold metal found its way from her pocket to her fingers. Get it in the lock, get it in the lock.
The key slipped into the lock and turned. Thank god for WD40, she thought, remembering just last week when she had oiled the rusted keyhole. Kate concentrated on turning the key and opening the door. She knew that she could not fight off the large bulk of the mechanic. They were always weaker than people but he looked like he was 260 pounds while Kate tipped the scales at 130.
The door slammed on two clutching hands. She quickly bolted the door and began to breathe for the first time since being near the forest. It suddenly occurred to Kate how much her ankle hurt. She wasn’t going to be walking right for a while.
“Where the hell have you been?” Brad demanded behind her. She turned slowly, trying to catch her breath and collect her thoughts; Brad was standing five feet behind her in the hallway, wearing grey track pants. His bare chest slowly gave way to an expanding stomach.
“I heard something outside.” She panted, pausing to think. “They just came out of nowhere.”
“That was stupid,” he observed.
You’re such a bastard, she thought. What the hell happened to you? How did you get this way?
Brad walked over to the hall closet and retrieved a .45 caliber service pistol. He snapped a magazine into the pistol grip. Drama queen, she thought, getting behind him in the hallway.
Holding the pistol ready, Brad silently slid the bolt back. He took a deep breath and flung the door open. He stepped away from the door to get a clear shot.
The gunshots echoed off the walls of the tiny hallway. The sound waves seemed to be amplified a thousand-fold. Kate swore it was the loudest thing she had ever heard. The body dropped like a wet bag of sand. No reaction, nothing. It just smacked onto the floor. Kate jumped to the door and slammed it quickly, putting the bolt firmly back into place. She looked out through the small, double-paned window in the door. The mechanic still stood on the porch. A neat, silver dollar-sized hole adorned the center of his chest.
“Mel,” she said to the silence. “His name was Mel.”
“This is the police.” The answer came after three rings. He sounded like he had just woken up. The man was trying to hide his sleepiness with a tone of authority. ‘What is the nature of your emergency?”
“Sergeant Walker.” Her voice shook, “This is Kate Benson. I live on 43 Dufferin.” She paused and swallowed hard. “We met at the town picnic a few months ago.”
A pause lingered on the other end of the phone “Why yes, Kate, I remember.”
There was a genuine sense of recollection in his voice. “Is everything okay?”
“Sergeant Walker,” She let tears creep into her voice. “I thought I heard something outside and two of them attacked me and….”
“Is everyone okay?” Here was the leading question.
“I accidently shot Brad.” She sobbed.
“Okay, don’t worry,” said the now-excited voice on the other end of the phone. “Don’t touch anything. Just stay safe and stay where you are. “
“I’ll be right over to deal with the ones in front of your house.” You could hear him through the phone grabbing things off a night table. “I’ll be right over.”
“Thank you.” She sobbed again but the phone was already dead.
“Mom?” a tiny voice called out and then repeated more urgently. “Mom?”
She quickly tossed a throw blanket over Brad’s body and limped toward her son’s room. She made it just as his small form was approaching the door. She could see his eyes that were so much like hers, even in the dark.
“Hey.” She dropped to one knee and placed gentle hands on his shoulders. “What’s up, bud?”
“I heard something,” he said sleepily. “It was really loud.”
“Don’t worry,” she assured him. Then she pulled out the famous parent parent tactic: subject change. “What was that thing you learned in school today?”
He fell for it. “What to do if you see one of the bad ones?”
“The bad ones?”
“You know.” He was still a little tired. “What daddy became after he was hurt.”
“Yes.” She shivered. Children can be as calm as bathwater about the most horrifying things and hysterical about trivial occurrences. A defense mechanism perhaps? “What do you do?”
“Run, run as fast as you can,” he rhymed, even clapping his hands. “Find an adult, that’s the plan.” The eyes brightened in memory of the lesson “Don’t let them bite, don’t let them near. Run and shout. Someone will hear.”
“That’s very good.” She smiled, watching it produce a smile on his precious face. He wasn’t afraid anymore. He never would be again if she had anything to do with it. “I’ll tuck you in. Later, I’ll come and sleep in your room tonight.”
“Okay.” He held out his fragile arms and was carried back into the safety of his room. Her ankle complained about the weight but she was beyond caring.
“Survive,” she whispered later, pulling the throw blanket back to look at the neat hole in the back of Brad’s head. The blood flow from the body that covered the floor was beginning to slow a bit. Outside, she could hear weak hands scratching on the front door, desperate for a handhold to force their way inside.
Kate hobbled over to the liquor cabinet and poured out a shot. She didn’t care what it was as long as it burned the back of her throat and stopped her hands from shaking. She dropped into the La-Z-Boy.
“Survive,” she whispered again and for the first time she wondered if she would actually get away with it.
Google : Correll 5 Years After