Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to pick up women

In my opinion the easiest place to find them are at a bar. Not the high end or the low hole in the wall, but the average normal bar. However; I've found them at truck stops, all night diners, and during late night walks through the park. Tonight I just wanted easy. I sat down beside a middle aged blonde woman in a halter top and ordered a beer.
"Hey, can I ask you something?" The mature blonde turned her head, met my gaze with unfocused eyes. "Just an opinion really. My friend is really into this online psychic. Do you believe in psychics?" It’s as simple as that. I had my fish hooked, now all I needed to do was reel and land her.
Of course she did believe in psychics. She believed in them very much. You learn to read people.We talked for a while, getting into her safe, friendly zone, then I suggested we go to another bar a few blocks away. I like to get them out of their comfort zone.
At the second bar, I got her a lot of her life story. That's important. I have to know who they are. She was a divorced mother of two grown kids A girl 23, and a boy 21. She had an dead end job as shift manager at a gas station. She was "dog mother" to two Maltese and showed me pictures of the tiny dogs dressed in sweaters.
I asked why she divorced. Her response was what I figured. They fell out of love. I faked concern and asked what the final straw was. With a tear in her eye. She gave me gold. She came home from work on her birthday. Her wonderful hubby didn’t even make it home that night. He was a drunk sack of humanity. He came home the next day, didn't even say he was sorry. Or happy birthday. Nothing. She laughed, but you could see the pain. I knew I had her. She leaned in close to me, exhaling boozy breath in my face, and asked if I wanted to see her apartment. I was in the home stretch.
So, we went. We left the bar and stumbled together down the dark empty streets, laughing and leaning on one another. She was taking me to her place, her shabby little apartment where she lived with her tiny dogs. She unlocked the door and dropped her keys on a little table beside the door. I clamped my hand over her mouth and pulled her head back. My other hand brought up the knife, drawing it across her throat as the tiny dogs leaped and barked around our ankles. I laid her gently on the floor and looked into her terrified eyes as the last bit of life ebbed from them. The blood ballooned out from where she laid. I used her coat to unlock the door so I wouldn’t leave any prints, then I went home.
It's not easy to be a writer. My agent wants stories. My fans demand them. And I need inspiration.
I sat down in my favorite chair when I get home. I wrote a sentence in my little note pad while it is still fresh. "Her eyes locked on mine, searching for human connection we all crave. Me, her friend, her peer, her witness, her betrayer."
I closed the note pad and got ready for bed. Yep another bestseller.

Bush Cove Monster

Bush Cove
Deputy Andy Tyler and Benny Fife explored the area as Sheriff Belfry T. Justice took statements from John and Billy. The two guys attempted to tell the facts to the Sheriff as calmly as they could but shaking and speedy speech told Justice that both were still in shock.
Justice cleared his throat as he asked his first question. “So this monster came out of the water?”
John shuddered a reply. “I didn’t say it was a monster. It was a thing.”
“A thing?” replied Justice as he made notes in his small log book. “A thing that growled? Like a dog?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean it growled but not like a dog. I am not sure how to describe it.” replied John.
“So this growly thing attacked you?” asked Justice.
“No. Not exactly. We ran from the bank as soon as we saw it.” John said.
“And it was scary?” replied Justice.
“Yes. Very big and dark.” Replied Billy.
“And it was so frightening that it scared you so much you left your cooler and beer on the bank?” asked Justice.
“What??” John didn’t understand the comment.
Sergeant Andy Tyler held up Billy’s cooler, apparently retrieved from the waters edge. John sighed and looked back at Justice. “We were drinking. Or rather, preparing to to drink when all this occurred.”
“Uh huh,” replied Justice as he made more notes. “And then the monster came out of the water.”
“I didn’t say it was a monster. It was a thing.” Billy shot back.
“A thing. That growled like a dog.” asked Justice.
“It growled but not exactly like a dog. I don’t know what kind of growl it was.” Replied John
“Uh huh.” grunted Justice.
“Sheriff, I am not making this up. You have got to believe us.” The frustration in John’s voice was clearly apparent.
Justice looked up from his notes and glared at John Hard. “Young man, you want to know what I think? I think all these cans beside your car show that both of you were drinking. A lot. And in your drunken state, you heard a dog growl and mistook that for this monster. That is what I think.”
“But there was a splash and big ripples in the water. I saw them.” cried Billy.
“Uh huh, Really.” Sheriff Justice took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Look buddy. Here is what I am going to offer both of you. Clean up all your cans and leave. I will overlook the public drinking, loitering, and wasting police time and resources. this time. Don’t come back to this spot and keep your drinking at home. If I catch you out drinking again, I’ll charge you with everything I can, even if I have to make up a few.”
“These aren’t all our cans. We just brought a couple of six pack.” replied John.
“And all these cans are from other people” Justice said spreading his hands out over the area.
“Yes. This spot is popular with high schoolers. It’s secluded and good for drinking” John said.
“Young man, I suggest you accept my offer and clean up this spot and just leave,” Justice said.
Billy Cap pulled at John Hard. “John, let’s just go.”
Hard sighed and started picking up the empty cans, placing them in his truck bed since he didn’t have a garbage bag. 3 minutes later, he started the truck and headed back toward town, anxious to leave Bush Cove behind. Their town has always had a reputation for unusual phenomenon. “Present” is just that. A surprise. As far as John or Billy was concerned, they would be happy never to return to the area.
Sheriff Belfry Justice and Sergeant Andy Tyler watched as the car left the area. Tyler then spoke. “What do we do now chief?”
“Nothing” replied Justice. “We wrap up here and write a report on the incident. No follow-up.”
“OK, want me to put up some loitering signs? replied Tyler.
“Yea, that is a good idea. You can pick up some back at the office and do it tomorrow" ordered Justice.
The next evening, Deputy Tyler returned to the Bush Cove with the signs. Tyler was convinced that the story told by John Hard may be truthful and that something might live in this area of the canal. This wasn’t the first weird thing he has experienced while working for the sheriff office. Tyler walked quietly along the bank of the canal for about 30 minutes without anything out of the ordinary. He then sat down to rest for a minute when a large splash in the canal startled him. A dark mud colored monster nearly 9 feet tall and with sharp fang-like teeth came out of the water and approached Tyler. It looked as if a catfish and man was fused together. It wasn’t humanoid, or fish, but something in between. Startled, Tyler fumbled for his gun but it was too late. The monster grabbed his upper torso and tossed the 160 pound man around like a sack of potatoes. Tyler cried out briefly and then went silent.
Sheriff Belfry Justice found the half eaten corpse of Andy Tyler the next day. Justice consoled Fife as he looked around the canal. All was quiet and nothing was out of place.
“What do we do now?” asked Fife as he looked away from the corpse.
“We write this up as a boating accident, the victim being cut up by propeller blades after falling into the water.” replied Justice.
“Sheriff, we have no evidence of that.” protested Fife.
“That is our best theory.” Justice said.
Fife half nodded and called for an ambulance to take the body to the Present morgue.
“Benny? One more thing.” Justice ordered.
Fife looked up at the Sheriff wondering what the older man would say.
“Ask the Department of Public Works to put new ‘No Swimming’ signs along this part of the canal. The last ones were taken down by by the drunks or kids.” Justice said softly.
Fife nodded.
“And Benny. Have them place on the signs ‘Unsafe Water Conditions. Pollution’. We need to do that.” Justice said.
“Chief, we have no evidence of water pollution.” replied Fife
Justice signed and nodded. “I know. But do it anyway. I don’t want any more boating, swimming or drinking accidents.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

War of Conquest

July 2, 1863
It had been a day of blood and pain. When the two great armies had clashed in what would become a historical and costly battle, the ground I now stand on had been a small forest of trees and thick brush. Now that the day was over, the ground was something different - a blanket of spilt blood and shattered bodies. Many of the trees had been split in half by the cannon fire and the constant volley of muskets, making the field of battle, a cursed land of death.
At times like this, I wondered why nature had seen fit to allow the vampire to exist in the image of mortal humans. Despite their physical appearances, the vampire shared little similarities with the common man. I’ve always thought that I was more like one of the large tropical snake who took its meals in one large feeding, slowly digesting it over time until it was ready for the next meal. I sustained myself in the same way, feeding in one massive meal that left me free from hunger for many weeks. It had been a little over a month since my last feeding. I still felt full, and the sight of this battlefield did nothing but sicken me. All the wives and fairy tales about vampires are just that, tales. I don’t grow fangs, and feed on people. I don’t change to a bat, wolf, or mist, or could control the weather or animals. I just healed fast, and don’t grow old unless I want to. A friend who was a scientist and doctor who knew my secret once told me I should write my story for prosperity. To catalog me as a new species of man. I’ve never had the time. Maybe someday.
It was approaching midnight. The fighting had stopped after dusk and a steady mist of rain had begun to fall. For a time, I found shelter under a tree while the rain fell upon me. I was a few hundred yards from the cannon dugout where the Union guns were busy shelling the Confederate line. The volley of shells from the guns came in five minute waves and would no doubt continue all night.
What a few days it had been. The Rebels had surprised us. No one had expected an attack yesterday. I wonder how did it happen? Earlier Union divisions had moved up from Washington and Manassas and had encamped at a town called Gettysburg. It was expected that the enemy were massed. What followed was a day of bloody carnage as each side struggled to get possession of the field. By the end of the day, it was just the beginning of hell on earth. Today was was a bleeding tug of war between one hundred and fifty thousand men. But it wasn’t over yet. There was always tomorrow.
Sitting under this tree, in the constant rain, soaked, cold and uncomfortable, I thought about home and the fire that would warm me if I were there. Though I am a vampire, I was still susceptible to the inconveniences of nature and still dreamed of the comforts of home.
Standing up, I decided to make my way to the log cabin that sat a short distance away and warm himself for a while if possible. My ankle was swollen and painful. Earlier today, I had my horse shot out from under me, injuring my leg. It seemed ironic to me as I hobbled through the rain that I should suffer such an irritation. I am immortal. I’ve seen countless moments of history made through the eyes of a man who could not die. Yet I can still be bothered with trivial injuries such as this. Though the ankle would surely heal faster then it would if I were a mortal man, the nuisance still irritated me.
Trying to ignore the discomfort, I made my way to the cabin, and entered quickly, grateful to get a break from the rains. No one paid much attention to me as I entered; the cabin had been turned into a field hospital to attend to the wounded and dying. All around me, men were lying on every available surface as busy surgeons worked desperately to save whoever they could. On a nearby table, two surgeons were going to work on a hysterical man whose left arm was clearly blown to shreds and needed to be removed. They’d tied a tourniquet around the bicep and placed a stick in his mouth. The two men then held the injured one down as the surgeon began to saw through the bloody stump. The man’s howls of pain and agony were pure despair.
Watching, I could see the fear and pain in the man’s eyes as his arm was being cut away. I had lost a limb in battle once. It was at a place called Copenhagen. A Dane had sliced through my left forearm with a broadsword. It had grown back a few days later. But for this man, lying on a table of his own blood, there would be no other arm to replace the one he’d lost.
As I watched on, I felt a hand tugging at my wet jacket, I looked down to see another man lying at my feet. The man’s eyes were wide with fright.“Please,” he begged. “Don’t let them take my leg.”
Looking down, I saw the shattered remains of the man’s left leg. The musket ball had taken the bone. There would be no saving it. Saying nothing, I walked away as the man continued to beg, “Please, please…”
All around me, the men lay in misery, some moaning, some screaming, some pleading, and all silently praying for mercy. Having seen enough, I stepped out of the cabin and back into the rain. My ankle wasn’t bothering me so much now.
With nowhere else to go, I returned to the tree and once again sat down to endure the rain. The shells from the guns keep blasting away at the Confederate line, adding a man made thunder to the drizzling rain. We had been hit hard today, but reinforcements had arrived that evening and tomorrow they’d push on the Rebel line and beat them back.
Sitting there, I thought about the hospital I just visited. I had seen that type of thing before on countless battlefields and would surely see it again for ages to come. Still, I wonder about the nature of my own being. As a vampire, I did not fear death or dismemberment. It gave me a sense of calmness during battle. Yet still, I felt bad for those who did not possess my gift. Sure, they were only humans, almost like grass that live and die in no more then a blink of an eye it seemed. But they were his men, and it was their horror that I would carry with me long after this war ended.
I almost regretted that, but war was the only thing I have ever known, the only thing I have ever been successful at. I have been with kings, dukes and generals when they set out to conquer the world. That was my right as a vampire, to forge new lives, to see the endless sweep of history through the eyes of a soldier. Each life was lived as if I were a human, living, and pass into another identity, coming up through the centuries with all the knowledge of the past lives lived, feeding when needed, and finding a war. There was always a war.
In this life, I lived in a place called Ohio. I pursued the life of a soldier. I’d chosen my side, though one would have been just the same as another. In the end, the same result would be. Men would die, time would pass, and a new war would be fought. And when I passed into a new life and identity, I would be there for that war too.
As for now, I was here and I had to concentrate on this fight. It was a strange war, I have decided. I hadn’t seen one like it before. Each side was very similar to the other. They shared the same history, the same lands; they were the same people, but they had different ideas of what this land should be.
In the beginning, I had believed that this would be a short war, that each side would soon give up and loose stomach for the fight. But after a few battles, I knew this wouldn’t be true. In fact, this war would probably be one of the worst ever. I have seen the determination of the enemy and the fierceness of those on my own side. They will not give up, not until one side was totally and ruthlessly beaten. That is the only way this war will end.
Looking up, I was brought out of my thoughts by the sound of a man’s footsteps approaching. At once, I recognized the person coming toward me. Though I was a vampire, I still made friends of those mortals who showed superior qualities as to warrant my friendship. The person approaching me was such a man.
When Meade finally reached me, I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes. This day’s fighting had been tough, and it shown. Though it was a military situation, we were on personal terms and often addressed each other by casual names.
“Well, Jahn.” General Meade said. “We’ve had some hard day”
“Yep,” I replied. “We’ll whip them tomorrow though.”

Friday, November 25, 2016

Worlds Greatest Zombie Slayer

My name is Donald Spencer Piccadilly, and if anyone is reading this, I'm already dead. I’m worm food, I’ve traveled over the rainbow.  I’m six feet under.

You get the idea.  Technically, I'll be laying in the bed I plan to be in when I swallow a bottles worth of pain pills I got for an impacted wisdom tooth last year, but it all amounts to the same thing. I know this may seem strange in such a time of renewed hope and opportunity as we now live in, but you see, that's kind of the problem.  I guess I'm not making a whole lot of sense. That's probably because I started at the end of the story. So let me try this again from the beginning.

My name is Donald Spencer Piccadilly, and when the zombie apocalypse struck, I was ready. Don't for a second think I was some kind of hard core, bad to the bone bad ass or anything like that, at least not yet. How many macho guys you know named Piccadilly.  No, I was just a overweight nerd that still lived with his parents at twenty-five, but I had seen every zombie movie ever made. I'd seen every TV show, played every video game and read every book or comic ever created on the subject.  I knew it was possible.  So ever since I graduated college, I started stockpiling things that would be useful when it finally happened.  If it didn’t, then when a natural disaster of another sort occurred.  My family would be ready.  I took 30 bucks a paycheck and purchased supplies.  I had food, building supplies, ammo, guns, any supply a home prepper would have.  So for almost 4 years, I had built a nice stockpile.

The outbreak I saw started as I was ordering a hot dog outside the ball field at a high school football game.  A guy came shuffling up with ripped clothes and grunting and started biting people, I was the only one that didn't panic. It was something I had always known was going to happen eventually. I ran away while everyone else moved in to help. As I pulled out of the parking lot in my  old dented pickup, I saw the people that had been bitten turn on the ones that came to help them. It was a bloodbath.
Didn't these idiots know how this sort of thing worked?  I made a quick stop by the neighborhood grocery store and bought a couple carts full of canned goods. Sirens screamed in the distance when I was throwing the groceries into my truck. I hurried home and locked all the doors and windows. My dad and I both liked guns, so I grabbed all the weapons we had. I then placed them at key locations around the house. Next, I used the stack of old lumber in the basement to board the windows.  I then filled ever available container with water.

I was rather proud of myself. I already had a safe place to hide while everyone else was just starting to realize what was going on.  When I had done all of this, I realized it was a couple of hours past the time my parents normally got home. I felt sick. No, it was worse than that. Somehow I knew the zombies had got to them. It was devastating. I just sat in the living room and waited for hours.  The longer I waited the more the news reported the worst.  I turned the lights off and the tv down to just a whisper. 

It got dark outside, and I heard people screaming nearby. I kept peeking out a crack in one of the boarded windows and saw dozens of zombies shuffling down my street. The way they moved and their moaning and grunting was exactly what I'd always expected, but it still scared the crap out of me anyway.  I didn’t think anything could prepare someone to sit, watch and worry, while the world crumbled around them. 

Right at that moment, something thumped against the front door to my house. The doorknob rattled, and then I heard a soft scratching sound. I crept slowly up to the door and peeked out the peephole. My mom and dad had finally come home.

But both of them were zombies.  I couldn't stand the thought of either of them leading lives as mindless undead, so I did the only thing I could think of. I grabbed my dad's shotgun, threw the door open, and blew both their heads off. Then I closed the door and hid in the dark as other zombies tried to get inside, drawn by the sound of the shotgun blast. They broke the glass out of most of the windows and pried at the boards, and I'm pretty sure I peed myself.  I sat in the dark clutching the gun thinking I was alone now. The sound, the sound was the worst,  but eventually the mob gave up and shuffled away. 

I stayed in the house for the next 4 days without even looking outside.  I worked on making a list of everything I had and what i may need.  Water went off sometime on the 2nd day.  Mid day of the 3rd day, the tv went black.  The next morning, the power went out.  I guess utilities were gone now.  I didnt mind.  I had a generator and 50 gallons of gas on hand, and I doubted it would be hard to find more gas.  I had alot of bottled water.  So no worries there.  I figured most of society was gone now.  I haven’t heard a scream for a since the 3 day of the apocalypse.  I prepared to make my first trip out into this new and dangerous world. 

The next day I made a run to the local hardware store for some supplies to better fortify my house. I pulled the remains of my parents to the sidewalk.  As I'd always suspected, the zombies were less active during the day. I still had to put a few down, but it was easier in the light of day. The zombies aren’t smart, and they were so absurdly slow.  Remember this is coming from a fat guy.   I think that was when I started to enjoy killing them.  I was still upset about my parents, but it had already started to fade. There just wasn't time to mourn loss in a zombie apocalypse. It sort of just came with the territory.

I grabbed the supplies and turned my house into an impenetrable fortress. I built a small deck on the roof so I could sleep outdoors when it was hot.  I even built a little stand up there where I could snipe wandering zombies if I was in a sporting mood. Time moves relatively smooth when you have things to occupy your time.  Things continued this way for weeks. I added to my house's defenses, looted guns and ammo, stocked up an insane amount of food and water, plus I killed a whole lot of zombies. It was great. I was the happiest I'd ever been. 

I know what you're thinking. What kind of sick wacko freak would be happy after so many people died? After the whole world ended? Well, the truth is I didn't think about it much. You see, I never had a place in the old world. I was an ugly, overweight nerd with no real friends. Even my parents thought I was a disappointment. Twenty-five and still living at home, with a dead end job with no plans to better myself.  Hardly a day went by that one of them didn't make a comment about me getting a different job or moving out on my own. And the extended family was even worse. None of them realized constantly putting me down ensured I never had the self confidence to make something of myself.

Then the zombies came, and nobody was there anymore but me and them, and I finally discovered what I was good at: killing the shuffling rotting freaks.  I alone made my house a castle that could withstand assault.  I hunted and salvaged food, clothing and shelter.  I did it all while killing the undead.  I soon began to think of myself as the world's greatest zombie slayer. Nobody could dispute it, so why not?

I killed hundreds just from my rooftop perch, but soon that wasn't enough. I had to find more creative ways to take them out. I once found a dump truck with plenty of gas in the tank and the keys still inside. I went on a little highway rampage, mowing the devils down like weeds, and by my count, at one point I killed thirty zombies in about seventeen seconds.  I am a one man army.

My best zombie kill ever was the old warehouse. I doused an abandoned warehouse with gasoline, then ran around with an air horn attracting the attention of as many zombies as possible. I led hundreds of them into the warehouse, hid in a cubby hole by the door, and when an opportunity presented itself, I ran back outside and locked them in. It was then a simple matter to set the whole building ablaze and watch it burn down around them.  I was the master of my domain. 

I was in heaven. So how did I get from that point to where I am now, about to kill myself? I suppose anyone reading this knows the truth of the zombie apocalypse, so I guess the answer is fairly obvious.

It all went to hell when I was making a run to loot a downtown gun store. The street was more congested than I would have liked, so I crept across as silently as possible, taking a few of them out with a machete to the brain to avoid drawing undo attention. I found all kinds of good stuff inside, including a few grenades I couldn't wait to try out, so I filled my duffle bag quickly.

When I went back outside, a few dozen zombies had surrounded the entrance to the store. It seemed like a great time to use one of the grenades, so I fished one out of the bag and grabbed the pin. 

At that moment, I realized.  I enjoyed the killing.   I killed for killing sake.  I enjoyed it way too much that any sane person should.  I had stepped over the red line, and instead of killing for defense or even survival.  I was killing for fun. 

I fell to my knees, my weapons forgotten. A sense of the most complete helplessness washed over me. . I realized they had never been zombies at all. Not really. Just targets.  Just me lashing out at to feel superior.  Others were looking for other survivors.  Others were trying to bring back civilization.  I was playing the most intense game of zombie killer.  I didn’t scan the short wave or ban radio for any signs of life.  I didn’t scan the area of survivors.  I didn’t go looking for others who might need help.   How many could I have rescued who were fortified in place or stranded on roofs, while played zombie safari. 

It was that moment when the guilt hit me. I thought of shooting the zombies from my rooftop. I thought of the dump truck rampage; thirty zombies in seventeen seconds? Dear God, what had I done? I thought of the warehouse burning with hundreds inside.  I burned a secure strong build warehouse down just to see how many kills I could get. I thought of my parents.  Sure one less zombie in the world gave humanity a better chance of coming back, but if I used that same time looking for a survivor or helping others, the zombie could have waited.  I didn’t have to go the long way home from trips, but I did just so I could get in a few more kills.  I forgot or ignored that the first few weeks after a outbreak was critical to find survivors.  My realization came too late.  Months too late.  It has been if my counting wasn’t off, one hundred and 5 days since the bite at the football game. 
Tears poured from my burning eyes. My world was shattered.  I went out the back, and sneaked and dodged my way home. I didn’t kill a single zombie on my return trip.  So that's my story, and why I felt compelled to end it. I hope you don't think too little of me. I didn't know what I was doing, though even as I write the words, I know it's a poor excuse. So here's one last kill for the world's greatest zombie slayer. 

I'm not a zombie, of course. But does it really matter, I mean really.  I just finished a nice big meal.  I’m going to lay here, let it digest, and think about what I’ve done.  Then when I get tired, pop a bottle of pills and go to sleep.  I hope society can overcome this setback, despite no help from the worlds greatest zombie slayer.

Death runs from Me

Personal diary entry. Dr. James Slater.
 
The subject known as Smith was a healthy fit and tone young man of about twenty years of age. Mr. Smith first came to see me a 6 days ago. He was agitated and under extreme duress. Refusing a mild sedative, he demanded he be given a complete check up, including some procedures not normally associated with a routine physical examination. When he returned to my office yesterday I had the results of those tests. And Smith had a most unusual tale to tell. I will try to retell it as I remember it to the best of my ability.

“It’s good to see you again. Please, sit down,” I said as Mr. Smith entered his office.

“Thank you, Doctor.” replied Smith.

“How are you feeling? You seem more relaxed today,” I asked.

His gaze passed through me. It was his one striking feature: his eyes, black and dull. Even as I think about them now I am filled with an unexplained feeling. Hollow and empty, his eyes were those of a corpse. Some call them doll eyes.

“Yes, Doctor, better, calmer. For now. The tests. Do you have the results?” Smith asked.

“I do, As I suspected and told you, they show nothing out of the ordinary. There is nothing physically wrong with you. Your healthy as a horse,” I replied.

He looked up at me sheepishly, as if afraid to ask. “Tell me Doctor, please.”
Given in I said, “Very well, your vitals are fine. Heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and respiration… all fine. Blood work came back negative, as did toxins and other samples. The only thing which stands out is that your vitals are slightly elevated; stronger than normal. This is certainly no cause for alarm. It just shows you exercise regularly.”

His voice turned anxious. “Go on…”

I continued, “Your reflexes and motor skills scored better than average; eye sight is remarkable. And I have never seen muscle tissue or bone as dense as yours.”

“And the rest…?” With the question Smith once again became agitated. I was struck with the feeling he knew the results before I gave them.
“Well, brain activity and function did test elevated, but normal. You can rest assured you are strong; healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you lived to be a hundred!”

With that Smith began to fidget nervously. My words, which certainly should have assuaged any fears, seemed rather to trouble him. He looked at me intently, those dark eyes studying, piercing. Finally Smith reached into his pocket, withdrew a photograph, and presented it to me. It was the picture of a man with graying hair and other signs of aging.

“How old would you say he is?” Smith asked.

“Oh, perhaps forty five, I guess.” It was then I realized the figure in the picture possessed the same chilling, dark, dead eyes. “Is this your father, or uncle?”

Smith tensed in his seat. His mouth pursed, and then slightly curled in what I can only describe as a failed attempt to smile and said. “No… no, Doctor. It is not. The man in the picture is me.”

While his words were delusional, Smith’s posture remained alert, attentive. “You do realize the person in this picture, however does bearing a striking resemblance to you, is atleast twice your age.”

This time the smile broke through the stoic demeanor. It was a half crooked I’ve got a secret sort of smile. Combined with those hollow, dead eyes it was a look I shall never forget.

“But it is me, Doctor,” he began calmly, with an icy detachment of fact. “This is what I look like when I, if I.”

He paused looking at his hands.

We sat for an indeterminable, uncomfortable time studying each other. Finally Smith seemed to make up his mind and said. “It’s the curse you know. The curse.”

I asked calmly so I wouldn‘t upset him further. “Perhaps you should tell me about this curse.”

He arose slowly, his hands finding the bottom of his pants pockets, and wandered over to the window.

And so began Smith’s strange tale with a large breath. “War,” he said at last, “war is the curse Doctor. War. Killing from the moment Cain killed, man has been marked. Marked with the blood of Abel, and cursed with the thirst to make war; to kill his fellow man. It’s as normal as breathing. There will always be wars, Doctor. And there will always be young men to fight them.”

Those empty, hollow eyes glazed over, turning inward, seeing, remembering.

“I was a corporal in the cavalry,” he continued. “We’d been engaging the enemy all day long, pointless hit and run skirmishes that killed and maimed men and gain nothing. Ironically, it was the day of my birthday. By late afternoon everyone was exhausted, the fighting scattered over quarter mile of rough uneven ground. A shell landed just to my left, knocking me unconscious. When I woke, it was dark. I was alone, the battle had moved on.
 
“Slowly, cautiously I began to make my way through the unfamiliar enemy terrain with a half empty canteen and my pistol. Thankfully it was a clear cool night. I knew we held the north, so that is the way I went according to the stars. After a time, I became aware of something in the woods. It seemed to be following me, marking my progress, moving as I did.
“I turned. Suddenly, there was a flash of metal in the moonlight. Leveling my pistol, I fired twice. A figure stumbled from the brush and collapsed.
Mr Smith seem to freeze. Like reliving the story he was telling. With a deep breath he continued. “I approached my victim. To my horror he was just a boy, eleven, maybe twelve years old. And he was unarmed. Clutched in his fingers was a old crucifix. It was the metal cross that I had mistaken for a weapon.”

“I knelt beside the lad, struck by my detestable deed. Then, without warning, his eyes flew open wide! Clutching at my shirt, his mouth contorted into a soul searing scream. He thrust the damnable silver cross into my hands. And then.”

Beads of perspiration dotted Smith’s forehead. He trembled and began to pace. “Then an incredible expression, one of total and unimaginable peace settled over him. He died quietly in my arms. It was then and there I knew I was cursed; that I would never again find peace.”

It became obvious to me that Smith was suffering from some sort of severe post traumatic stress. The cause of his stress seemed obvious. “It is not unusual,” I suggested, “for a young man as you to have lingering feelings of guilt about tragic events in their lives.”

Smith turned suddenly, his face now ablaze with the most insipid grin. He laughed aloud. “Young man, young man, HA! But you don’t understand, Doctor. I wasn’t a young man. I was thirty five years old! And the year was sixty-four… eighteen sixty-four! I was a Corporal in Hamilton P. Bee 16th Texas Cavalry. It was the Battle of Monett's Ferry, Louisiana, what became known as our own Civil War!”

He laughed again, the terrifying baying of a mad man. And yet, it became evident that he believed what he was saying.

Closing his eyes and looking down Mr. Smith continued, “You said it yourself, Doctor. You said you wouldn’t be surprised if I lived to be one hundred! If only that were true! If only that was where it ended. But no… not at all. After the war I returned home. Things settled into a comfortable routine. The war was all but forgotten. Then, on my sixtieth birthday it began to happen. The changes were slow, subtle. It was my wife who was the first to notice. But within ten years it was quite obvious. I was aging, but aging backwards. I was growing younger! My grey hair gave way to its natural dark color and was growing again where it had stopped years before. My skin seemed to shrink, smoothing itself over my body, erasing the wrinkles of time. Old scars healed and disappeared. Even my eyes grew stronger; I quit wearing my glasses. And I began to feel as I did in my twenties: strong, healthy and alive again. And young! My God, I was. I was young again. A young man of twenty!”

This time Smith’s laugh was grim; bitter. HA. “Providence has its price, Doctor. On the day of my sixty ninth birthday I awoke to find myself once again in uniform. I was a new man, a different man, but with a familiar role to play in life’s fickle game. All that remained of my former life was this." Reaching into his shirt, Smith tore a metal crucifix and chain from around his neck, flinging it to the floor.

“This cursed cross. Before I had a chance for my mind to clear of what was happening I was charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and his Riders. I was twenty again Doctor. I was twenty and once again fighting a war; again slay my fellow man! Returning to the states, I tried to make some sense of this maleficent manifestation. I had a new identity, a new beginning, a fresh start at life. At first I thought myself blessed.”

“How wrong can one person be? How very, very wrong. I was not blessed at all but cursed. About the time of what would have been my eighty-fifth year, although I carried the looks and constitution of a man but thirty-five, I began to regress again, to age backwards. This time the process progressed with amazing rapidity. Changes seemed to take place over night. In three short years I was back to being a young man of twenty again! This time on my birthday I awoke huddled in a mud and blood soaked trench near Somme, France. It was the war to end all wars. Only it didn’t, and certainly not for me.”

Smith returned to his seat. A tormented look of determination and that of a man desperately baring his soul shadowed his grim face.

“Life became a nightmarish roller coaster ride. I would live and age as anyone for a time. Then, one morning, there’d be one less grey hair, one less wrinkle staring back at me from the mirror. And I’d know it would be just a matter of time.

“It was my one hundred and thirteenth year on earth. I was forty five again but looked not a day over twenty-one. I awoke, transported in space and time once more, an Ensign aboard the U.S.S. California at Pearl Harbor. That morning the Japanese attacked. I tried abandoning my conspicuous companion, dropping the insidious cross into the ocean; burning it; even burying the damned thing in a graveyard by moonlight. But to no avail. I became a twenty-two year old lieutenant at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Next, I awoke in a rice paddy, a nineteen year old corporal caught up in the Tet offensive.

“For a time it seemed I had finally beaten the curse. Ten years slipped by… fifteen… I was aging normally again. But it didn’t last. Soon, I began to once more regress. Next I found myself manning the gun turret of a large desert tank. And then, incredibly, not long after, I was back fighting in another desert war. Each time I awoke to kill, the crucifix hung about my neck. I’ve tried everything to stop the endless cycle. Guns, pills, drowning, trains, even jumping from a building. I just wake up the next day in another body. Even death in battle doesn’t stop it. I just wake up in a new person.”
He slumped into his chair, exhausted from his startling confession. Burying his head in his hands, Smith began to softly weep. It was my duty to help this poor man climb from the depths of his delusional mind. I touched his shoulder.
 
“Well,” I encouraged, “whatever it is that is troubling you, I am sure we can get to the bottom of it.”

“No!” Smith screamed, knocking aside my hand. Looking up, his countenance became that of a man possessed. “No! You don’t understand!” He snatched up the photograph he’d shown me. “This picture. It is me! This is how I was not very long ago. But look at me, Doctor… you said I appear to be around twenty! And tomorrow. tomorrow, Doctor. Is my birthday!”
By now Smith was raving, near violent. With some assistance I was able to administer a strong sedative. I placed him in the private room of the hospital, taking precautions to secure him to his bed. The old crucifix, which appeared to be ancient. I locked in my safe. When I left, Smith was sleeping peacefully.

Arriving at the hospital this morning, I discovered Smith was gone. As we searched the facility I heard on the news that war had once again broken out. Further investigation revealed that the crucifix, too, had mysteriously vanished.

Ice Cream Man

Elm street. The middle of June. An ideal Sunday afternoon with temperatures at a comfortable 76 degrees, the air permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby ballfield. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched in their branches. This was it. The perfect summer day.
A young, fair-haired boy named Jackie rode around the neighborhood aimlessly on his brand new, bright blue bicycle, which he had received as an 11th birthday present just a week earlier.

Mr. Rider, the resident Neighborhood Grouch, was watering his lawn. Jackie, being fascinated by Mr. Rider, stopped pedaling and planted his feet to the ground, watching intently from a safe distance. Mr. Rider sensed the eyes on him and raised his head toward the direction, locking eyes with the boy. Normally he would have scowled away anybody he felt was bothering him, which was anybody, but the pleasant warmth of the afternoon Sun seemed to lift even his sour mood. He politely waved at him, and unless the Sun was playing tricks on his eyes, Jackie thought he saw the faint trace of a smile on the old man’s weathered face. Jackie, surprised by this rare show of friendliness from Mr. Rider, waved back, if a little tentatively.

He continued past the Rider place and pedaled on toward the nearby baseball field. As he did, he saw several neighbors, some walking their dogs along the sidewalk. They each exchanged a friendly smile as they passed by one another. Jackie had never seen such a show of happiness and community in the neighborhood before; the weather sure seemed to be having its effect.

Three blocks down and he was there. The field was occupied with two full teams (Timmy, his best friend, was up at bat), with several others sitting on the bleachers, watching and cheering on their friends. There was also a small group of girls just outside the dugout fence watching their favorite players. As the boy rode past them, he heard a single whistle followed by a brief chorus of giggles. He looked back while riding and couldn’t tell who it was, but gave a shy grin just the same.

Setting his bike up against the fence, he entered the dugout just as the game ended. Jimmy met him near the bleachers tucking his bat behind his head with both hands. “What’s up, you butt head!” Jimmy greeted him with a good natured push to the shoulder.

“Nothing,” Jackie replied, “just going around on the new bike.”
“I see.” Jimmy replied.

Jackie saw him look past his shoulder for a moment before looking back at him. “One of them girls is checking you out, man.”

He looked back to see the group of girls; while most were looking and smiling back, he picked out the girl Jimmy was talking about almost immediately. Long, wavy red hair curtained away from her bright green eyes as she gave Jackie a warm, dimpled smile. He took quick glances in between staring at the ground before his feet.

The boys and the girls went off in groups around them, and Jackie was just about to work up the courage to approach the girl when a sound suddenly entered their collective earshot. High-pitched, but distant. The sound quickly rose as it grew closer; the sound of a truck blaring its familiar, pleasant jingle.

“Ice cream!” one of the kids shouted unnecessarily as everybody rushed to flag down the source of the jingle. It stopped at the end of the street, and so did everybody else as they awaited the services of the Ice Cream Man. Jackie, however, had no money on his person, and so he begrudgingly turned around to collect his bicycle, which he sat on idly while he watched his friends buying their ice cream. While watching, he noticed that it was the same man in the truck he had seen the last few times. An older man probably as old as Mr. Rider, with thin white hair and a pleasant smile to light up his slightly wrinkled face.

Within minutes, the other kids, including Jimmy and the girl, had walked off down the street in a group, while Jackie remained where he was. If was not mistaken, so did the truck, although no one else was in the area to buy ice cream. After a minute or so, the group was just about out of sight and Jackie was just about to pedal away when a voice called out to him. “Hey! You, boy! On the bike,” the Ice Cream Man shouted over to him.

As much as Jackie didn’t want to, he reluctantly dismounted his bike and walked it to the truck; he had always been taught to respect authority figures, and that must have included the Ice Cream Man. He was an adult, after all.

“You need to come with me immediately. Your uh parents are uh hurt,” he was looking out the window and down the street, in the direction the other kids had left, and then down the other side.

“What?” Jackie replied lamely. The man’s words had hit him with a brick, and it seemed to Jackie as if he had heard the man from the opposite end of a long tunnel.

“I said your parents wanted me to find you and take you to them. They’re in the hospital. Jackie’s the name, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Jackie answered on instinct.

“Right, of course. Anyway, I know your parents, and they were hurt in a car accident. They’ll probably be okay, but they want me to take you to them up at the hospital immediately.” The man was barely looking at Jackie as he said this, merely looking around for anybody passing by.

Jackie’s parents had always warned him about the danger of strangers, but the ice cream man wasn’t a stranger, had even chatted with him a when buying ice cream. Every kid knew him, and perhaps the man had known his parents in some capacity. The important thing to Jackie was that his parents were in trouble and he wanted nothing more than to see them.

“ Okay, sir. But my bike” Jackie said timidly.

“Your bike will fit in the back of the truck son.”the ice cream man said with that familiar smile.

Jackie decided it would be best to obey him, unless they continue to waste time. The back doors of the truck opened as he walked the bike over to the back, and the man helped Jackie lift it into the truck, ushering him in afterward and shutting the doors with a click behind him.

“You can sit up front with me, Jimmy” asked the ice cream man.
“It’s Jackie, sir” said timidly.

“Oh, Jackie! Yes, of course it is.” The ice cream man gave a friendly smile, as Jackie took a seat next to the him.

Jackie stared out the window blankly, thinking of nothing but his parents and getting to them, making sure they were okay. Hoping and praying like only a little child could that his parents were OK.

Jackie body would be found five days later in a old cow pasture just outside of town, with signs of sodomy, force blunt trauma, and strangulation evident on his body.

The day Jackie was being taken by the Ice Cream Man, the air permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby ballfield. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched in their branches. This was to the small town the absolute worst summer day.



Desperate Desperados

It was an unusually hot day in late September 1892 when Possum Paul arrived in Buster. It was so hot that the vultures refused to fly, preferring to hop about until they found a carcass. The tumbleweed barely budged for lack of wind. It was the kind of day you just sit around drinking something cool and waiting for the evening. This felt like the middle of summer instead the the beginning of fall.

Paul came from the mountain range, which lay just east of Buster. Few people knew him. He only came to town once, sometimes twice a year if he had some unforseen business to attend to. He was one of those men who seemed to have been born old, for one could not picture him as ever having been young. His face had more furrows than a newly plowed field, he was missing half his teeth and what remained of his hair was grayer than a stormy sky. He came with a mule laden with two sacks full of gold nuggets. He had every kind of gold pieces from small placers, to nuggets the size of turkey eggs. He headed straight for the assayer’s office, where the gold was weighed. The value was assessed at a little over eleven thousand dollars.
With his newfound wealth, Opossum Paul made his way to one of the town’s less crowded saloons. There he settled in for a spell, ordering a bottle of whiskey and some food. When asked, he refused to join a game of poker, for he was not a gambling man. To be honest, he wasn’t much on comradery. The old man seemed to be content to sit, taking in the atmosphere, and listening to an out-of-tune piano being played by a man with only 8 fingers.

Every community has its undesirable, and Buster was no exception. A couple of no goods named Turkey Jim and Dan Clinton were about as low as they come. The former was a half-breed apache; long, lanky, and not the sharpest spine on the cactus. The latter was on the stocky side and so shifty that no two raindrops ever hit him on the same spot. Neither one had ever done an honest day’s work, nor even knew the meaning of the words. They observed Opossum Paul enter the assayer’s office with those bulging sacks and emerge with them empty, with a bulge tucked in his jeans pocket.

“Looks like that ol’ timer has made himself a killin’,” Jim said.

“Could be, could be,” Clinton replied, rubbing his scraggly chin.

“Think we should find out?” Jim asked.

“I’m right behind ya,” Dan answered as they followed Paul into the saloon.

They took a table near Paul’s and ordered a couple of beers. The two watched greedily as the prospector ate a steak and potatoes dinner very slowly, savoring every mouthful. The pair tried not to be obvious, but when Paul pulled out his wad of cash to pay for his fare, their eyes grew as big as melons. They looked at each other, failing to notice that the old man was watching them out of the corner of his eye. Opossum Paul grinned slightly as he got up to leave.


From the saloon the ol prospector crossed the street to a hotel, where he rented a room and had a nice, warm bath. The next morning he went to the barbershop for a shave and a haircut. While he was there, Turkey Jim spotted him and ran to get Clinton.

Finding him outside the post office, Jim grabbed his arm and pointed towards the barber’s. “Thet ol’ man’s gittin’ a shave. I think he may be fixin’ to go back to his digs soon,” Jim said.

Clinton’s beady eyes, which continually darted about, settled on his partner for a moment.

“We’ll need horses if we’re going to follow him. Do you have any money?” replied Clinton.

“Not a plug nickel”Jim replied.

“Alright then, we’ll steal us a couple. But first let’s see in which direction he heads fer”, said Clinton.

As they approached the barbershop, Opossum Paul emerged, feeling his clean-shaven jaw. He went into the general store next, where he asked if the owner got his list he sent over this morning.

“Got everything gathered, and ready ta go. Anything else, mister?” asked the proprietor.

“Nope…wait a minute – almost fergot – lemme have six onions” Paul replied.

The storekeeper picked half a dozen onions from a barrel.

“Thankee, thet should do it. What do I owe ya?” Paul asked.
 
Paying for his purchase, the prospector then went to the livery stable. He packed his supplies on his mule, and he bought a fine bay mare and some tack. He walked the animals out into the street, looked about, and eased himself atop his new mount. The day was considerably cooler than the previous one. Paul set his horse at a trot and headed east.

Noting the latter fact, Dan and Jim searched for horses that could be easily stolen. They found two at the end of a hitching post outside one of the saloons. Biding their time, they waited until possum Paul was just a speck on the horizon. Then the pair quickly unhitched the horses, leapt onto the saddles and set off in pursuit of the old timer.

It was about a six-hour ride to Paul’s shack at the foot of Boulder Peak. The prospector maintained his horse’s pace, enjoying the view as he softly whistled. Through hardwood stands, and down prairie draws Possum Paul rode. Then a steady climb up into the mountains. Before long, he reached his destination, dismounted, and led his animals to the water trough. He undid his saddlebags and tack, looked about, took a deep breath, and entered his shack.

Meanwhile, the two miscreants kept well behind their prey, since most of the distance was open country.

“D’ya think the ol’ man has more of them nuggets in his shack?” wondered Turkey Jim.

“Don’t rightly know,” Dan replied, “if not, then he’s probably found a rich lode somewhere abouts.”

“Well, what if’n he don’t?”, asked Jim.

“ There’s still the rest of da thet wad and thet new horse a his – should fetch a good price”, replied Clinton.

“Right now I jest hope he’s got some vittles; ah’m hungry” Jim grumbled.
Reaching Paul’s shack just as twilight was settling in, Turkey Jim and Dan Clinton dismounted, slowing approaching the cabin, and disappeared into it.
Back in Buster that evening, the two victims of the horse thieves were informing the sheriff of their loss.

“We got ourselves a witness to the theft, sheriff,” said one of them, as he pulled an old indian man forward by the arm. “Tell the sheriff whatcha seen, Hesay.”

The old man spoke slowly: “I see Turkey Jim and Clinton take two horses and ride east.” He swung his arm in that direction.

Sheriff Bill Tyler knew ol Hesay was as honest as they come. If he said he saw it, it happened. “Alright, Zeke, we’ll get goin’ first thing in the mornin. Make sure we have supplies and our horses are ready at sunup.” Zeke, his deputy, did as ordered.

The day break the lawmen started out from the livery stable and headed east. The trail was easy to follow, for the earth in that area was just soft enough to retain hoof prints. The sun was over its zenith as the posse arrived at Possum Paul’s abode, where they saw the stolen mounts inside the stable area beside the shack.

“You wait here in case they get past me,” Tyler said after he dismounted. He drew his gun and walked slowly up to the door. Looking in the small window, he was Paul sitting by his self.

Talking alittle loud Tyler said “This is the sheriff, I’m coming in.”

Opening the door carefully, the lawman entered the shack and found Possum Paul in a chair leaning against a wall, picking his teeth with a knife.
“Howdy, sheriff! What can I do fer ya?” Paul asked. “Wanna cup of coffee?”

“There are two stolen horses outside. I’m lookin’ for the men who took ’em,” Tyler replied as he holstered his weapon.

“Ya must mean those two fellers I had fer dinner last night.” Paul replied.

“You made dinner for them?”asked the sheriff.

“Didn’t say thet.” chucked Paul.

A puzzled look appeared on Tyler’s face.

“I said I had them fer dinner.” added Paul.

The sheriff’s jaw dropped, and his eyes went wide. “You mean…” stuttered the sheriff.

“Yup. I et ’em.” Paul folded his knife and threw it on the table in front of him and lifted a shotgun level with the other hand.

“You ate those two men?” Tyler asked.

“Well, not entirely. I took a sample a each. The leftovers is out in mah smokehouse. The tall one was kinda stringy, but the other feller was downright tasty; had jest enough fat on him. And I got a real nice broth from their marrow.” Paul said cheerfully.

“How could you eat two human beings?” asked Tyler, in disbelief.

Paul’s face took on an eerily wistful expression as he leaned forward.
“When I was a young ’un, I was in a predicament where I had to eat human flesh or die. After a while I found I kinda liked it. Ever now ’n then I git a hankerin’ fer it. Those two fellers jest happened along at the right time – fer me, thet is.” Paul tilted his head back and let out a small chuckle. When he finished laughing at his own joke, Paul’s demeanor suddenly became that of a hungry wolf. Staring fixedly at Sheriff Tyler, he leaned forward menacingly.

“Jest drop yer piece on the floor there.” Paul said. “I’d hate to make a mess in my parlor”

The sheriff obeyed and wished he’d brought his deputy in with him.
“Now set yerself quiet in thet there corner,” Paul ordered, motioning with his weapon. “my hankerin’s still with me. With winter a-comin’, ah’m a-gonna need a goodly supply a meat.”

He walked slowly over to the window, keeping his shotgun pointed at his prisoner as he said: “Ya mighta herd about mah folks – mah real name’s George and mah pappy’s name was Jacob - Jacob Donner.” With a strong swing, Paul bashed the barrel of the gun into the side of the defenseless sheriff’s head. Tyler slumped into the corner, out cold.

Pushing the curtain aside with his free hand, Paul peered outside. “I see ya brought a friend,” Possum Paul said, licking his lips.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Art


Man Hunter

A large dark police box truck down the narrow mud strip that passed for a road leading into Belle Swamp.  The vehicle bounced and slid like a old wooden roller coaster car about to jump from the tracks.  The road dumped out into a grass clearing with blue, red, and white lights flashing from a dozen sources.  A number of vehicles were parked haphazardly in the clearing like toys tossed in the middle of a child’s room.   Dozens of people were scattered around the clearing.
 A group of police officers both local and federal stood around a rather large slubbish looking sheriff in the small swampy clearing.  In a booming southern draw he says "We have a escaped patient from Dutchess Mental Facility.  He is a 32 year old white male, average build, with light brown hair, with a history of arson going all the way back to his teens.  He also has 11 outright kills to spice things up amight.  This guy will kill, and not bat a eye.  When D.M. had bedcheck last night at 10 P.M.,he was missing.  Last know appearance was at med check at 630 P.M.  He has at least a 6 to 8 hour start.  He could be anywhere within a 100 radius by now.  We have units searching all the roads and towns in the designated area.  This is the most likely area to hide, since it is scarcely populated, and very rugged.  Treat him as if he was armed because he is most definitely dangerous.  I don’t want any heros.  Be cautious, and dont take any risks.  He has been kept in solitary and drugged for the last 12 years for others protection.  So the higher ups have assigned the Man-hunters for this one.  I know some of you are not very partial to them or their use, but they are superior both in stamina and senses.  They have their own handlers, and you will not have to work with them, so don’t get your shorts in a knot.  Now lets get out there and find this guy before he hurts someone."
Most of the men dispersed, while the large boxed truck pulled up.  Two men jumped out and proceeded to open the back.  In the back was just a 6 by 5 foot box made of metal.  Low moans seem to come from the box.  The men slid it onto a small dolly and hauled it down the hydrolic ramp.  The box was riveted sheet metal with small doors on both sides and a hatch on top.  With the box unloaded, a few of the men standing around in the clearing, edged closer.  The driver closed the back of the truck and went back to the cab, while the other shorter man carried a satchel, and a small electronic device to the box. Placing the device on top of the box, he began attaching two cables to it.  A low, guttural groan rose up from the darkness inside the box.
The men had formed a semi circle about twenty feet from the box.  In a nasally voice the man attaching the wires said to the officers around him "Watch here boys, 1.5 million volts for 3 seconds.  It would kill any one of us, but it just paralyzes old stumpy here.  He'll be still for 5 minutes,  back to normal in 9.  So I'll get the harnesses on and the works done, or you might get a surprise, ha ha." 
With that the short man flicked a switch on the device, and the sound of electricity and the smell of ozone filled the air.  Like a surgeon, who has done a procedure multiple times, the short cop disconnected the wires, and proceeded to open the top of the box.  He reached in with a harness and maneuvered a few seconds, then pulled a rather rugged looking leather and steel mask from the satchel and again reached into the box.  Less that 1 minute later, the short man raised up and announced, "We're ready.  Now don’t be getting  itchy trigger fingers kids."
The short man said in a loud deep voice, "Introductions first.  The name's Gale, as in the wind." as he put a fresh toothpick from his pocket in his mouth.  "Some of you might know how this works, but for the benefit of those who don't, there are a few rules.", Gale added.
A chuckle of nervous laughter rippled through the group before the sheriff's stern look returned the glade to silence. "No Smoking" Gale began.  "It spoils the scent and makes the hunter's job harder. Besides, they're not too keen on fire.  Don't get in front of me once we head out. I need a clear scent line and believe me, once they get worked up, you don't want to get in the way."
A hearty round of laughter bubbled up, causing Gale to pause and wait until it died down. This was what he wanted. Men at ease. There would be plenty of time for second thoughts and uncertainty later.  "I assume you have an article of clothing or something that belonged to the fugitive?" 
The sheriff nodded. "We have a shirt in the cruiser."
"Good enough, lets get stumpy out" Gale replied.
The men looked at the box and then back and forth at each other.  It was amazing how a group of grown men could be reduced to frightened schoolboys. Gale had to remind himself that he had been at this ten years. He has trained, slept and ate with stumpy for the last 3 years.  Stumpy hasnt even tried to bite him in 2 years.  What might seem normal to him would be a hellish nightmare to the average man. “Now just step back. I'll handle this,” Gale said. “And sheriff, I'll need that scent item when I'm done."  He opened the hatch on top and grabbed hold of the leather harness and began pulling a grayish limp body from the box.  A murmur of panic rose up from behind him and, without turning, Gale knew the men had stepped back even further.  He laid it faceup beside the box.  The creature wore rags that had once been a shirt and pants. A ratty belt with no shoes. It was male, with skin a ashen gray, mottled and bore evidence of old, unhealed wounds.  It's eyes were clouded, lacking intellect or expression. Broken, rotted teeth showed each time it's cracked lips opened to moan.  The right arm was missing from the shoulder. The left hand had what looked like a strange leather boxing glove.  
"Don’t worry fellers, the harness has 3 different tasers."  Gale joked trying to break the tension.  "One click from this remote in my pocket, or the one on my belt, and stumpy will fall sleep again.  So no worries if he gets curious." 
The once living creature began to stir.  The sheriff handed gale the shirt, and gale laid the shirt over stumpy's face.  Gale though, “These creatures lived only for flesh and understood only the need to eat.  There was no doubt that dealing with these man-hunters was far more dangerous than using ordinary dogs. At best they moved like drunks and their sense of smell was about on par with a good scent hound. They did, however, have one big advantage.  A killer might not think twice about slaying a deputy or a tracking dog if it meant a clear path to freedom, but even the most hardened con would think twice about taking on one of the living dead.  I've seen the biggest, baddest, criminals give up from just hearing these things moan. Though a vaccine had eventually been created, the undead plague, as it was referred to in popular culture, had taught humanity one thing. There are some things worse than death.”
“OK stumpy" Gale said.  "Lets save the world and make a dollar"  Stumpy stiffly stood and acting like he was tasting the air, started stumbling off into the morning light.

Survive



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.”
“We?”inquired Michael.
“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.