Thursday, November 24, 2016
Abe walked down the side of the street very slow. Listening for anything, bird, voice, a groan. His shotgun was heavy in his hands but a welcome and comforting weight. Ofcourse he would never use it, unless it was at last resort. The 22 or 38 with silencers at his waste was his go to weapons. Even the camp hatchet was used more than the short barrel pump 12 gauge. But it felt so good knowing you had it with you. He is 5 days out from the camp where he is a scavenger for the group. 37 people thrown together to survive if they could. 37 people to bring civilization back to the world.
Crunch.. Abe squatted and scanned the area. That sounded like someone or something stepping on broken glass. His ears strained to hear anything. Just wind. No smells out of the ordinary. Slowly Abe starts to stalk from abandoned car to wall, to broken street lamp. Always scanning for any movement, listening to even a single unusual sound. He moves to a broken newspaper box in the intersection. On the corner in the next street he see's 2 figures standing. Looking over the top, he cant believe his eyes.
Even from a distance, they were the unlikeliest survivors he could have imagined. The man … well, he was assuming it was a man only because of the flat, undefined chest, was covered head to toe in black leather. Every single inch of him was sheathed in one of those gimp sex suits. A black hood covered his head and face. He stood about six foot and was thin. But then, most were these days. Food was getting scarce. A machete hung from a army belt wrapped around his waist and he had an old bolt-action hunting rifle slung over one shoulder.
The woman appeared to be in her fifties. She was maybe five foot tall and had somehow managed to keep her grandmotherly roundness. She had thinning brown hair and wore a dull green pantsuit. Strapped to her chest in a baby bjorn was what appeared to be a stuffed toy cat. She had two revolvers holstered in a leather belt and was holding a small bush ax in one hand.
It was nearly noon and a faint breeze rustled the red and yellow leaves in the gutter. Tall, bare-limbed trees lined both sides of what had once been an idyllic suburban street. He watched with renewed energy. People. If they were actually people, that is. Which is why he stayed still. If they were zombies and he moved away, they would definitely chase him. If they were human and he moved towards them, they would assume he was a Z and shoot him. The safest thing to do was to not move. It turns out there’s an etiquette to these things. Not everyone figures it out of course, but most of the ones who haven’t are dead by now. Abe stood up.
The two people froze also. After about thirty seconds, he gave them a cautious wave, lowered his shotgun and walked slowly towards them. He was pretty sure they were all human by now, but it never hurts to follow the rules. When he got to about ten yards out he stood in the middle of the street and slowly turned around, arms extended out from his sides. His guess is that the point of this maneuver is to show that you have no bites on you. Or maybe to prove you don’t have a zombie clinging to your back. It doesn’t really matter if he understand it or not; it’s part of the ritual. He went through the motions, and watched as they did the same.
They were in the outskirts of what used to be Knoxville, in one of those neighborhoods that had been gentrified enough that people didn’t care how small the houses were. The street was littered with burned-out BMWs and SUVs. Most of the houses were run down but still standing. Abe's been breaking into them, scrounging through the pantries for canned goods and other supplies. It was a dangerous task. There were too many places to hide, too many blind spots where someone, living or dead, could sneak up on you. But you do what you have to if you want to survive. Abe dropped his duffel pack to the street, the cans inside clanking against one another.
“Hello. I’m ABE,” he said.
“Oh, hello, dear. I’m Lori, and this is Bob.”
Abe turned to the latex-covered man and said “Hello, bob.”
Lori’s brow wrinkled. “No, silly. That’s Michael. This,” she indicated the stuffed cat “is Bob.”
“Ah,” Abe said. “Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. It happens all the time. Or, at least, it used to. Are you new in town, Abe? I haven’t seen you around before.”
Turning back to Lori, Abe said, “I’ve been through once or twice, but never to stay. I probably won’t stay this time either. I’m just here foraging.”
“Oh. Pretty lean pickings around here.” said Michael.
“Yeah,” Abe said. “I’m finding that out. I was hoping there would be some MREs left at the old military base.”
“No, those were gone in the first six months,” said Michael.
“You two seem to be keeping yourselves fed,” abe added. “Do you mind me asking how?”
“Yes.” Michael’s voice was hostile and he put a hand on his machete. Abe raised both hands and took a step back.
“Fair enough. Sorry" Abe replied.
“How about you? Where are you from?” Snapped Michael, The questions was a challenge.
“Michael, deer, be nice.” lori added.
“No Ma’am, it’s okay. Abe said not minding telling them. "There’s a group of us that found a place to hole up outside of Dandridge.”
“Dandridge?” Robert whistled. “That’s a long haul for a foraging trip.”
“Yeah, well, the pickings are even leaner near home than they are here. We’re living Caveman style, in a cave in a cliff face. We’ve got some crops going on top of the hill, but none of us were farmers, so we’re just barely getting by. The hard part is meat. The Zs keep finding us, and they keep driving off all the game. So we took the last working vehicle and came up here, kind of … hoping against hope.”
“There were three of us at the start. Now it’s just me.” quipped Abe.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, dear.” Lori lowered her brush ax and stepped forward, looking like she wanted to give him a hug.
I backed away again, hand instinctively dropping to the hatchet that hung from his belt. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right. You just tell me roughly what your territory is, and I’ll steer clear. I don’t want to intrude or lure any Zs into your back yard.”
“Oh, you poor dear. You should at least come home with us for lunch. I’ll make some soup.” lori offered.
“Lori! No.” Michael protested.
Lori looked sharply at Michael, then guiltily at Abe.
“Will you give us a minute, sweetie?” Lori asked.
Abe nodded and they retreated a few feet to continue their argument in private. Abe tried hard to look like he wasn’t listening, but apparently it didn’t convince Michael. He spoke lower. After a few minutes they seemed to reach an agreement and turned back to Abe.
“Well, someone had to be reminded of what hospitality is, but you’re welcome to come back with us for at least a hot meal.”
“After that you have to go.” Michael protested.
“That’s fine by me. Abe said, I’ll be grateful for that much.”
Their house was only a few blocks over. It was one of those old farmsteads that get swallowed up by suburbs. It had a nice buffer of cleared land all around, with three layers of barbed wire fence and concertina wire. It was an extremely defendable position, as evidenced by the pile of decapitated zombies in one corner of the property. A half-dozen more were caught up in the wire, in places that made it more difficult to pull them out. They were in various stages of decay, but thankfully the smell wasn’t too bad.
The house itself was a clapboard ranch style with peeling white paint and faded green shutters. The windows had of course been boarded over, leaving small holes to use for sniping. Solar panels had been installed inexpertly on the roof and Lori happily informed me it had its own well. Abe figured you could probably hold out there almost indefinitely, provided you had enough food.
They came in through a small mudroom and past a heavily reinforced door. The kitchen they stepped into was homey and surprisingly bright. It was rustic in a way that reminded someone of their grandparent’s old house.
There were steel-reinforced storm shutters on the inside of the windows, but they were currently thrown open, letting in the bright sunlight. The walls were covered with 70s-era wood paneling, now splintering in places. A cross-stitch type mini tapestry of the Serenity Prayer hung over the table, next to a cheap but functional cuckoo clock.
Abe mentially counted the exits, memorized escape routes, and poked his head through an open doorway to survey their dark but comfy-looking living room. They had an extensive collection of DVDs. He wondered if there were any he hadn’t seen.
Michael and Lori stood in the doorway, watching him. Lori had a soft, contented smile on her face. Michael’s eyes were squinted and angry. He’d be worth watching.
“This is a lovely place you have here,” abe said, leaning his shotgun up against the wall. Abe took a chance, Maybe if he were less heavily armed they’d be more at ease.
“Thank you, dear.” lori hummed
“So … not to be pushy,” Abe smiled his most disarming, aw-shucks smile, “but I believe someone said something about lunch?” They didn’t seem to have any shortage of food. Lori served tomato soup and grilled-cheese sandwiches. It was the best meal Abe has had in years.
“If you don’t mind my asking…” Abe paused and looked over at Michael pointedly. Michael ignored him and kept eating like he was starving. “… where’d you folks get cheese? I haven’t had any dairy in years.”
“Oh, there’s a nice fellow up near Narrows who has a couple of milk cows locked up in a barn; about every three months or so we make the drive up to barter with him. We went just last week so we’re trying to use up all the milk and cheese before it turns.”
Abe finished his sandwich and leaned back from the table, watching my hosts. Lori had eaten peckishly, but michael was still going, just now starting on his third bowl of soup. Abe wasn’t sure how he could eat so much and still be that thin, but his guess was that he did a lot of sweating in that outfit of his. Now that they were in closer proximity Abe could smell the rank odor coming off of him. Lori didn’t seem to notice it.
Lori was pretending to feed the crusts from her sandwich to the stuffed cat. She scolded it like it was a petulant toddler. She caught me looking and smiled at me. I never knew there was a border between sweet, grandmotherly patience and serial killer cunning, but that smile was right on the line.
“How many people live in your cave, dear?” lori asked.
“Thirty-seven … I guess, thirty-five now.” abe replied.
“And do you have any family there?” lori asked smilingly.
“Not from before. They’re all gone. Abe said. But I’ve got a … I guess you could say a girlfriend”
“Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie,” said Lori. Michael piped up with a dull-voiced congratulation of his own.
“So are you two related?” abe questioned.
“Of course we are, silly,” said Lori. “Bob is my son.”
Abe decided not to explore the specifics of that statement. “Oh, sorry, I meant are you and Michael related?”
“No, dear. lori said smilling. I just took him and his lady friend—“
“Mistress,” corrected michael.
“—mistress in a few weeks after the Outbreak. Normally I might have looked down on their … lifestyle—“ lori finished.
“Sexual perversions. You can say it, Lori, we don’t mind.” michael added.
“Oh, dear, I wouldn’t ever say it that way. You know that. Lori said while patting michaels hand. "Anyway, they’ve been here ever since. Michael is such a help, you know.”
“So, then the outfit…?” Abe trailed off, not sure exactly how to phrase the question.
“Yes,” said Michael. “It’s part of our dominance play. She ordered me to leave it on until she tells me to take it off.”
“And…” abe added.
“And she hasn’t told me to take it off yet.” michael said forcefull.
“Michael, honey, you know she—“ wispered Lori.
“She hasn’t told me to take it off!” A momentary silence followed Michael’s near-shout. “Besides,” he continued more calmly, “it’s great protection against zombies. They can’t bite through it.”
“Well,” Abe said, “I could see how that would be helpful.” What abe had intended as a momentary pause stretched into a long, uncomfortable silence.
“This seems like kind of a special occasion,” said Michael, suddenly perky. “How about we have some ice cream?” Oddly, Lori didn’t seem to like the suggestion. She furrowed her brow, and stroked Bob’s head.
“I don’t know, Michael. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Poor Abe is probably stuffed.” lori said.
“There’s always room for ice cream. You’d like some ice cream, wouldn’t you Abe?” Michael asked.
“Sure,” Abe said absent-mindedly. The tiny radio receiver strapped to his thigh under his pants had just buzzed once, then twice. Which meant that Andy and Barb were in position. “Yeah, I could go for some ice-cream.”
“Great,” beamed Michael. “Listen, it’s in the deep freezer downstairs. Could you go and grab it?”
“Deep freezer?” Abe asked.
“Sure, we’ve got all kinds of stuff in there. We have a whole side of beef. You feel free to poke around. I’ll help Lori with the dishes.” Michael started clearing the table. He pointed an empty soup bowl at a closed door, which presumably led downstairs. Lori moved between the door and me and said. “I don’t know that it’s such a good idea, Michael.”
This seemed a bit incongruous with her earlier hospitality, and abe should have pursued it, but just then the receiver went off again. The rest of his team was waiting for my signal. Best to know as much as possible about everything in the place before replying. Plus he could without prying eyes in the basement.
“It’s fine, Lori,” abe said. “I don’t mind getting it.” Abe opened the door, gently scooting her aside as he did so, and saw the rickety wooden stairs leading down into darkness. “Say, you never did say what happened to michael’s girlfriend.” Abe turned back to face the kitchen, just in time to see michael rushing at me with a iron frying pan in one hand.
“She’s my mistress!” he screamed as he smashed abe's nose. His head snapped back and tottered, Abe managed to get a hand on each doorjamb. “Send her my love,” Michael said before planting his foot on his chest and shoving abe down the stairs.
It was a hard trip down. Abe felt like he hit every step along the way. The last several had been broken out, leaving a drop of at least four feet at the bottom. Abe landed hard on his back, and lay quietly for a second, trying to catch his breath. From the darkness came a moan. It was a sound that no survivor will ever forget. Abe heard it more times than he cared to think about. There was a zombie in the basement. Abe scrambled to his feet quickly, one hand going to his belt for the flashlight, the other instinctive reaching for his shotgun. The shotgun was missing, and he remembered propped it against the wall in the kitchen. The flashlight was there, and quickly turning it on and played the beam around the space in front of him.
The Z in front of leaning against the far wall was indeed Michael’s mistress, she wore an identical latex suit. However, in life she must have weighed in at over three hundred pounds. In death from the stench and the stage of decay that she’d been dead for somewhere between six months and a year. The latex suit was still well sealed, and her tissues, though decayed, really didn’t have anywhere to do. They’d just kind of … settled. She was like a giant latex balloon filled with rotting meat. She was moving towards Abe but at a speed that created no sense of urgency. Abe looked back at the stairs. The gap to the bottom stair was low enough that he was confident that he could jump it. It did prove an insurmountable obstacle to Michael’s sweetheart.
Abe scanned the rest of the basement. There were a few wooden shelves filled with the normal odds and ends that collects in basements: rusty tools, empty paint cans, that kind of thing. A stained mattress rested in one corner, and there was indeed a deep freezer sitting against the far cinder-block wall. In the far reaches of the light cast by my flashlight Abe thought he could see some bones. Abe realized he wasn't the first visitor to the basement. The zombie, though slow, had finally closed the distance between them. Abe backhanded her across the face with the flashlight to give myself a moment, then reached in and zipped the mouth hole on her mask closed. Dancing away from her, Abe lifted the back of his jacket, and pulled Mag 22 from its holster. He was just sighting in on the Z’s forehead when he heard the distinctive clack-clack of a shotgun being cocked. Abe glanced up the stairs and saw Michael pointing my own shotgun at him.
“Put down the gun, Abe!” Michael angerly shouted.
Abe ducked to the side, out of his line of sight. “Drop the gun and let me out of here, or I’m going to kill your girlfriend.” Abe said, as he hugged the side of the wall.
“Mistress!” A deafening blast filled the room as he fired. Buckshot clattered against the back cinder-block wall.
“Okay Michael, maybe I spoke hastily. You just put the shotgun down and let me come upstairs and we’ll discuss it like two rational people.” Abe said as calmly as he could make it.
“Michael, sweetie, maybe you should listen to—“Lori could be heard saying.
“No! My mistress needs new toys or she gets bored.” yelled Michael.
“Then she ought to find this fun,” Abe said and shot a hole in the zombie’s leg. This proved to be a mistake. A thin stream of putrid yellowish fluid started spurting out of the hole. The stink in the basement got exponentially worse.
“You leave her alone!” Michael raged, while fired another blast down the stairs. Lori was screaming. Abe pulled out his walkie-talkie.
“Andy, it’s Abe. You copy?” he said into the handset
“About time.” came the crackle voice.
“Later. We got two live ones."Abe laughed. "If you have clean shots on both, take them.”
The walkie talkie crackled, “Are you in the line of fire?”
“Negative. I’m in the basement.” abe replied.
“Gotcha.” A pause. “I only see one.”
“Okay, give me a second.” Abe said back to his buddy.
The Zombie had closed on abe again and was trying to gnaw on my shoulder through its zipper. Abe led it over in front of the stairs, keeping its massive bulk between the door and himself.
“Hey, Michael,” Abe called. “Last chance.”
Michael let out a roar that was more animal than man.
Abe put the mag up to the zombie’s forehead and blew its putrefying brains out. Michael gave something between a shout and a sob and started down the stairs. Abe put four slugs into his chest and he flopped forward, falling on top of the zombie. The impact reminded Abe of a stuntman hitting one of those giant airbags.
“Okay, Andy. Take the shot.” Abe said into his walkie.
A moment later there was a distant rifle shot, then the sound of a body falling to the floor upstairs. Abe re-holstered the pistol and gave the basement a quick once-over to see if he need to come back down for anything beside Michael. It turns out that he hadn’t been lying about having a side of beef in the freezer. The ice cream, however, was a lie.
Lori lay on the kitchen floor, like a discarded doll. Abe looked out the window and waved at Barb as she crossed the yard. Then he started rummaging through the cupboards for food. They hit the jackpot. They had more canned goods than I’d ever seen outside of a grocery store. The supplies that Michael and Lori had amassed would vastly improve their chances of surviving the coming winter. The frozen beef in particular was a great find. Fortunately, they found a working refrigeration truck last year. There were currently two deer carcasses hanging from hooks in the back, but there was still plenty of room.
Barb came in and surveyed abe's ruined nose with the practiced eye of an emergency room nurse, which she had been.
“You’ll live.” She said. “Serves you right for taking so long to signal.”
“Sorry. They were … tough to figure out.” Abe quipped. “You wanna search the rest of the house first, or do you want to start butchering?”
Abe looked down at Lori’s corpse. Soon she and Michael would be hanging from hooks in the back of the truck, just more meat to get them through the winter. They had almost forty mouths to feed. They hadn’t been bad people. Sure, Michael had tried to feed him to his undead girlfriend, but Lori was just a crazy grandmother. Abe stood in momentary wonder at the kind of person he'd become. But, he reminded himself, in the end there were only two kinds of people left in the world: those that do what they must to survive, and zombies. He guess he was the survivor kind.
“Let’s get the butchering out of the way. I’ll take this one, and you can get the skinny guy in the basement.” Abe said as he pulled out his knife.
“Okay,” barb said.
“Oh, and you’ll want to wash him off before you get started. He smelled almost as bad as the z's” Abe chuckled.
“Before what?” barb shot back.
Abe just chuckled and pointed her towards the stairs.