In which Ryan and his allies face off against the unbelievably powerful, virtually unstoppable, and literally unkillable Mama Bear.
I didn’t make my deadline yesterday, which I’m okay with since I make it a point never to feel guilty about inconsequential stuff. However, that “but you promised” whine of integrity tells me I should make it up to my loyal readers. Both of you. So we’ll see how I do that in a day or two.
For now, I present the newly designated Monday Edition, for those Sundays where posting is absolutely impossible. Oh yeah, shirking responsibility! Oh, it’s sweet, like nectar from a flower.
© Copyright 2011
Despite everything, I slept rather soundly that night, much to the dismay of my friends, I’m sure. But you can only take so much horror before you decide to either shut down or keep going. I was going to keep going. I had to keep going.
Mel was still out there. I knew it, and I had to see her again.
So I slept. I slept so I could reawaken and continue to fight my way back to her. I slept, to the lullaby of fidgeting fear and pacing sneakers on slippery linoleum wet with gore.
Saturday morning came with a bang.
I jolted awake, shooting straight up like my spine was spring-loaded, as another bang rattled the apartment.
Jerome and Pete were fighting off a zombie that had managed to wiggle the futon enough to the side so that it could squeeze most of its red, skeletal body through. The creature was emaciated, but didn’t look rotted. It looked more…chewed than anything, really. Like something had been gnawing on it not long ago.
Jerome was pushing the thing back with an axe while Pete fired, blowing off one side of its head, then another, but leaving its gnashing teeth to continue to clack as it pushed forward. Pete took another shot, annihilating the chattering teeth, and hit it with the butt of the gun, shoving it back outside. Another zombie took its place, leaping into frame in an effort to blitz our defenses. Pete popped it right in the chest, the round blowing a hole trough its ribs and sending it flying through the air.
I was up in time to shove the futon back, and hold it in place while Rick and Steve propped the bookshelf in place.
“Fuckin’ zombies,” Steve mumbled past the burnt out butt of his smoke. He took a deep drag, his cigarette flaring a bright orange before going out. Steve made a face, flicked the butt through the air into the kitchen sink. “Where’re your smokes, man? I’m out.”
“Me too.” I felt a surge of hatred for his newly engendered nicotine rush. “Hope that one’ll last ya.”
He made a ticking sound with his tongue. “This sucks.”
“No shit, Steve,” Rick said, making his way to the bedroom. The rest of us filed in when we heard him turn the volume up on the TV.
“…our sincerest condolences to the families of Nicky Sullivan. A friend and loyal co-worker, Nicky was not only our most accurate and dedicated fact-checker, she was also a dear friend to everyone here at the station. At 3:36 this morning, Nicky was discovered dead, from what on sight appears to be purposeful hanging…”
“Damn,” Rick muttered, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. “Everybody at that station’s droppin’ like flies.”
I heard an annoying buzzing in my ear, as thought the immortal zombie fly had been waiting for a thematically relevant introduction before making its appearance. I swatted it away, sending it to Jerome before he, too, waved it off.
“What’s with all the bugs in your place, man?”
“Just the one bug, actually.”
“Don’t worry about it.” A fuckin’ terrible shudder suddenly rippled through the trundle bed frame buttressed against the window. Something goddamn huge had just body slammed it; we could hear whatever had done it slam back into the ground with a protracted, zomboid growl.
I heard Pete and Jerome start to slow their breathing, animal survival instincts telling them to listen to the predators outside.
“We need to leave here, guys. We can’t hold them off forever. Not with those things as smart as they are.”
“Shit man,” Steve started. “How smart can those things be?”
We heard the roar of a motorcycle, and suddenly the trundle bed exploded out of place and clattered against the opposite wall. Mama Bear flew over her handlebars and flipped through the air, her massive body rattling as it crumpled against the carpet.
Everything was still for a second. Mama Bear sat like a lumpy puddle of leather and splinters. The Harley, stuck in the window frame, sputtered and died. The front wheel, now warped and wobbling to a stop, slipped off with a metallic clink, bounced against the floor, and rolled out the bedroom door.
There was a gurgling, rumbling sound inside Mama Bear, and the massive mountain of rotten flesh rose and stood to its full height. I heard loosened ribs grinding against ripped cartilage, muscles popping back into place as the massive zombie stretched and flexed. Mama Bear, the faceplate of her helmet shattered, looked from person to person. She only had one eye, a massive white bulb that twitched whenever it landed on a new face. I don’t know if she lost her lips before or after smashing through the window, but every time she looked one of us in the eye she clicked her teeth together, and gurgled deep in her throat.
She still hefted the mace in one hand. Half of it was still stained from its violent interaction with Tim’s face the day before. There was a disconcertingly solid chunk of something still stuck in place between the spikes.
With a flick of her wrist Mama Bear twirled the medieval weapon, then grabbed it with both hands and hoisted it chest high. She spun on her heels until she was facing Rick, then hoisted the mace high overhead.
Rick grabbed the handle of the mace before she could swing, and did his best to wrench it loose. Rick was huge, a bear of a man. Dude could pick me up with one hand no problem. But Mama Bear punted him away with barely a breath, knocking him clear through the air with a swift boot to the chest. The drywall caved in under his weight, and he slid to the ground gasping for breath.
Steve chopped heavily into its back with his machete, but didn’t even make the zombie rock in place. Mama Bear buried the end of the mace’s handle under his ribs. Steve folded and fell, and pretty quickly started to puke.
Jerome swung, the axe head smashing into a particularly soft spot where her kidney’s should have been and sinking in deep. He pulled back, sending a spattering of grey-green slop and meal worms splattering against the wall.
Mama Bear hefted her mace, hoisting it to the ceiling, and prepared to smash Jerome through the wooden floor. He was rooted in place, too terrified from watching his imminent death to even pee his pants.
The shotgun butt rocked my shoulder. The shot was surprisingly muffled, like a plastic bag that had suddenly popped. Mama Bear’s eye exploded into nauseating chunks, and her helmet went spinning through the air, clattering into a corner.
The back of Mama Bear’s grey skull was gone, but she still stood. Her teeth clenched together, grinding under the pressure. She turned to me, flexed her arms to swing.
I fired again. Teeth exploded in every direction. I briefly thought of it as a particularly disgusting piñata. The spilt jawbone rolled through the air.
I saw the ragged flesh around her nostrils flare, like she was smelling the air. Or maybe she was just pissed. She stretched, rose the mace, and prepared to bring the fucking rain.
I saw Rick spring to his feet and go for the machete still lodged in Mama Bear’s back.
The massive zombie didn’t budge, didn’t even notice him. She was focused solely on me. I was paste.
With every ounce of weight he had, Rick sliced clean through the thing’s right shoulder. The cut made a wet, ripping sound.
For a second, Mama Bear’s arm just sort of swung in place. Its grip slipped, and it thumped to the floor like a fat slug.
She looked to her right, presumably not yet used to not having eyes. Or maybe she never even used them in the first place. I didn’t pretend to understand how these things functioned.
Rick brought the machete down again. I heard it thunk against thick bone as it went through the left shoulder, and then that arm flopped off too. That heavy mace made a deep dent in the carpeted wooden floor when it hit.
Turning to Rick, Mama Bear looked down to see him stab the machete through her gut. This time Rick was able to throw her off-balance, knocking the big lug against the wall. Mama Bear gave him another kick, the massive zombie still possessing enough power to send Rick flying through the air like a baby in the care of an English nanny, despite his size. Rick hit the ground hard, and Mama Bear made to take a step for him. Probably to stomp him into a smear of man-jam.
But something was holding her in place. The zombie looked down, brown goo dripping from her blasted craw.
The machete held her in place, and beyond her it was buried in a thick wall stud, probably a supporting beam. Mama Bear tugged, tugged harder, determined to jimmy herself loose. She pulled, eventually pulling herself through with a wince-inducing sound that made me think of a spoon being pulled from the bottom of a full jelly jar. Stumbling free, Mama Bear looked to the ragged hole left behind by the blade.
I’d been reloading the shotgun as she was pinned, and fired into her left knee. Once, twice, three times. Chunks of meat and bone were spat out of her leather riding chaps. The leg bent at an unsavory angle, and something deep inside the zombie’s leg whined and snapped. Mama Bear went down.
Jerome, still hefting the axe, buried the axe head in Mama Bear’s other knee. The kneecap went with a sound like a crushed eggshell. Jerome hacked into the treelike leg, each blow burying itself deeper into the putrid tissue, smashing through brittle bone and tawny sinews. Eventually all he was chopping into was a balloon of leather and meat goo.
I heard gunshots, turned to see Steve emptying my .38 into a swarm of zombies that were trying to squeeze into the window. The massive Harley was blocking more space than it opened, and the majority of the undead outside were doing their best to haul the metal beast out of the way. A few, however, clambered over their struggling cohorts and did their best to squeeze through to us. Steve emptied eight rounds into the nearest skeletal face he could find, punching a fairly neat hole through where its nose had been. Seemingly perplexed, the zombie clawed at its new orifice, as Rick swung a baseball bat he’d snagged from my closet and knocked it ass-over-teakettle back outside. Steve reloaded as Rick fought another corpse, trying to push it back despite the thing’s solid grip on the bike’s handlebars. Steve clicked the chamber shut, unloaded on the zombie’s hand. Fingers were blasted off, and Rick sent the zombie somersaulting back outside.
With Mama Bear in little pieces and pinned to the floor, we turned our attention to sealing up the window. We had to get the goddamn Harley out of the way if we were going to close off the window again. The only thing is, pushing the bike back would leave a critical window of opportunity for the zombies to pour in. Rick, Jerome and I all shoved as the zombies pulled, while Steve and Pete reloaded behind us.
The fucking bike wouldn’t move. “Fuckin’ push!” Rick shouted.
“I am fuckin’ pushin’!” Jerome shot back. Then, suddenly: “Ahhh! SHIT!”
He let go, and I saw him back away from the bike in what looked like a fuckin’ dance. He hopped on one foot, kicked out with the other. I looked down, saw what he was screaming at.
Mama Bear’s left arm had him by the ankle.
We didn’t have time to pull the thing off him. Another zombie was coming, better equipped to deal with the small gap. A little kid, a boy, probably five, scrambling over the putrid bridge to the window his brethren formed and making his way over the handlebars. His teeth were clenched, his eyes were flared, forming that bizarre, wrathful face little kids can effortlessly make when they don’t get their way. His cheeks puffed like he was huffing air.
Steve pointed the .38, popped off six shots. The first shot took out the kid’s eye, the others picked away at his arms and legs. Taking a moment, Steve fired two more decisive shots, both in the chest, throwing the scrambling little shit off the mound.
Another was already crawling forward in his place. A woman, young. Really young, our age young. Hot too, before. In the confusion I remembered her as a neighbor, one I’d noticed sunbathing occasionally before looking away out of respect for my girl. One cheek was entirely gone, and ragged little strips of red meat were stuck between her molars. Her green sports bra was stained a dark, sick color, and when she moaned at us, her breath smelled like blood.
Steve stuck the .38 in her mouth, pulled the trigger about a dozen times, desperate to keep her outside. Only one shot was actually fired, and it rocked her head back from the gun. Steve stumbled back, started to clumsily reload.
Pete pointed the shotgun, too far into pure survival mode to care that this was the chick he’d once begged me to introduce him to. He squeezed the trigger, the gun squirmed, and everything from her forehead up disappeared.
I think her name was Sherry. I think. Sherry’s mouth opened, and luckily I was too busy pushing against the motorcycle to be sickened by the sight of daylight in the back of her throat. A high rasp emanated from her, and she reached out, grabbed the windowsill, pulled herself forward.
Pete fired again, hitting her in the shoulder. Her thin arm was completely blown off, and Sherry, off-balance, tumbled along her side to the ground.
But the arm remained. I shit you not, I watched it curl its fingers into a fist. When Rick looked down from shoving against the front wheel well, Sherry’s petite arm punched him right in the face.
“Ow! GODDAMNIT!” he shouted, with a tone that implied surprised but honest pain. He plucked the severed limb from its perch and launched it outside. A zombie wielding a scythe swung at his head, but Rick dodged it, suddenly leaping away from window and floated through the air, Matrix-style.
Wait, no, that’s not what happened. Rick had been pulled away from the window, and thrown to the floor. By Mama Bear’s other arm.
Something dug in my eye, scratched at my eyelids. Something that buzzed.
“AHHHH! Fuckin’ bug!” I roared, swatting at my face and only succeeding in slapping myself. The fly dug in deeper, forcing me to let go of the bike and dig at the ocular invader.
The window was unguarded. I heard scratching fingernails grip the windowsill, the scythe chopping into wood, and a blast as Pete shot whatever was coming through. Another shot, and the thud of whatever was approaching hitting the ground beyond the window. I heard the metal scythe blade clattering to the concrete outside.
The mother fucking fly was scraping away like I’d, well, fucked its mother. It would have bitten me if it could. Instead all it did was spit bug goo in my eye, until I could finally get my fingers around its spiky ass and wrenched it out.
I took a minute to look at my personal zombie archenemy. I watched its buzzy legs twitch as it tried to pull free. Then I took it in two hands, and pulled it apart, quietly consecrating the moment with a soft: “Fuck you.”
I shuddered with what, I won’t lie, was this close to religious rapture, and sighed with satisfaction.
Another shot as Pete held the zombies back. A thud as Rick hurled the disembodied arm off his belt and into the wall. Jerome wailing, still having trouble getting free of the arm that held him. I dropped the bug bits, ran to the kitchen sink, sprayed my eye clean of the stinging goop the zombie fly had left behind.
Another two shots, and Pete was empty.
I stumbled back into the room, seeing Steve reloading the shotgun from a mostly empty box of shells. Pete was doing his best to hack away at the groping hands from outside with Rick’s machete, while Rick did his best to pull the arm off of Jerome’s pant leg.
I ran in, grabbed Jerome’s axe, split the head of an invading hillbilly whose overalls hung over a gaping open cavity in his chest. Grey matter spurted through his split “Get Yer Shine On” cap. A red stain started to trickle through his beard. I planted a foot against his pot belly and slid him off the blade.
The Harley lurched back, the wheel well grinding against the sill. More hands gripped the curves of the bike, tugging and pulling, but the bike wouldn’t move another inch.
Rick hurled the arm off Jerome. “Rick! Jerome!” I shouted. “Get over here! We need to get this bike clear!”
“Oh, shit!” Pete moaned. “They’re gonna pour in here when this thing is out. No way we can block this shit off in time!”
He was right. They were coming too fast, and faster and faster by the second. I couldn’t blink without counting a few more out there than there were before.
“What do we do?” Pete howled.
“Hold on!” Rick let go, snatched his tool belt off the floor, and made for the double closet. Specifically, the right side of our double closet. He wrenched it open, immediately went to work on a pipe at the top of the water heater that sat tucked away in the back corner.
Sherry was back, grabbing for my face. I swatted her hand away, shouted: “Rick, what the fuck you doing, man?”
“Just hold on a goddamn second!”
Sherry grabbed my collar, pulled so that the top two buttons were torn off. Fuck, I liked that shirt. I punched her in the face, ignoring the spurt of chunky blood that dribbled over my knuckles.
She reached forward, grabbed my belt by the buckle. Under normal circumstances, I assumed I’d be flattered, but she gave a surprisingly firm yank, and I nearly flipped over the windowsill.
“Shitlemmegoyafuckinbitch!” I screamed in a high falsetto, grabbed the frame, and pushed back. I nearly hauled her inside with me. I punched her again, cutting the knuckles of my middle and ring finger against her molars, and she fell back through the window.
Steve fired over my shoulder, disconcertingly close to the side of my head. He fired again, and again. I wondered how concerned for my well-being he was through all of this.
Skulls and ribs exploded around me. Fragments of bone rained down like gruesome confetti.
The motorcycle shuddered, gave, and disappeared. We were clear.
So were the zombies.
“Get out the fuckin’ way!” Rick screamed. A torrent of boiling water suddenly shot out of his hand.
Wait, that wasn’t right either. It looked that way in the confusion, but really he was just guiding it from an opened pipe, using his wrench as a handle. Steam quickly engulfed the room, and we listened as rotten skin started to bubble and burst against the pressurized jet stream of scalding death he had loosed.
Sherry appeared, again, and she caught a boiling splash dead on in her formerly glorious bosom. In a second her skin, still surprisingly tan despite the pall death typically brings, blistered and cracked. Chunks where the water hit her directly started bunching up and sloughed off.
Rick wrenched the pipe around to cook the old lady Jerome had tripped earlier outside. She screamed, making me wonder briefly if she was just some old lady the zombies had just assumed was one of them, when really she was just trying to get to safety like we were. Eh, whatever. She hissed, she clawed at the air, but eventually she fell back. Her skin wrinkled, even more than it had already, and fell off in a solid, wet flap. The flesh underneath looked like the skin of a pale, boiled chicken.
“This shit’s hotter than boilin’!” Rick yelled at us. “Keep back!”
I watched the stream arc across the room, too fast for the water to evaporate into steam before hitting the zombies. The old hillbilly was nailed right in the chest cavity, fell back clutching his steaming giblets.
Some really fucking creepy little kid appeared. He had little teeth like a doll, and weird wrinkles around his eyes that I guess were the beginning stages of decomposition. He looked impossibly evil, like he wanted to stab me with the screwdriver he held while smiling the whole time. To support my point, I would like to point out that he did in fact stab at me with the screwdriver, while sporting the freakiest grin I’ve ever seen.
The water nailed him in the mouth, forced its pressurized, steaming way out of his ears, his nose, his eyes. His eyeballs popped straight out of their sockets and instantly shriveled like steamed grapes. His whole head was enveloped in mist, his hair crinkling from the moisture. He fell back, trying to shield himself and simultaneously clutching at his throat.
Rick kept spraying. A middle aged man in a suit, the suit shrinking from the heat and grabbing his body like fetish gear. A surprisingly hot zombie in her underwear, who looked like a pot roast after we gave her a boiling shower. A skinny kid in tennis clothes, blasted straight off his feet.
The zombies backed off, cleared the window. Rick sprayed until there was a good four feet of clearance, then wrenched the pipe closed.
“Get the bed up, hurry!” he yelled.
We had the bed frame on its side in an instant, and Jerome and I helped him crabwalk it to the window. Steve fired a round apiece out the window into two zombies already starting back in, firing into their knees and sending them tumbling into the dirt.
Jerome stumbled, tripped by the same creeping arm that had snagged him before. It had slunk blindly around, looking for the one that got away.
Jerome took a step, landed on the shattered shoulder, kept stumbling. A rogue hand, shielded from the boiling bath from the side of the window, ragged stumps where thumb and forefinger once were, reached in, snagged his chain, jerked.
He made a choked face, started to fall back. They had him in an instant. He was on his way out the window a lot faster than the Harley.
Rick and I grabbed him, pulled with everything we had. Not surprisingly, living muscle tissue is a lot stronger than brittle, decomposed joints. A shower of snapped fingers spilled into the room, and Jerome stumbled headfirst into Rick.
We blocked the window frame, held the bed in place with our body weight while Pete and Jerome worked the TV stand in place. The wood was too cracked to hold on its own, though.
“Steve, get the fuckin’ desk!” I screamed.
He was on it, fast, lightning fast. Too fast, actually, hoisting my desk into the air without even clearing it off. My printer cracked open and exploded like an inky bomb when it hit the floor.
“My fucking printer!”
Steve was heedless, threw the desk in place beside the stand.
Another gunshot, this one from the TV. Meg Henderson gave a wide-eyed stare beyond the camera.
We stepped back, listened to the desperate clawing against the mattress, the ragged fingernails ripping and catching against the tightly woven nylon.
While we caught our breath, Mama Bear moaned through her ruined jaw.
I felt something on my shoe, kicked the creeping arm off of me. I scanned the room; where was the other…?
A deafening sound filled the room, and I felt like someone had just punched me straight in the eardrum. I looked down, saw Mama Bear’s disembodied arm hefting a .44 magnum pulled from under the zombie’s studded chaps.
The shotgun was loud, like most guns, but it was a gas press operated semi-automatic. The .44 handgun, by comparison, sounded like a goddamn cannon someone had impregnated with dynamite.
Another BOOM, and I realized it was shooting at me. Somehow, and I still don’t understand how, it knew where I was. I dropped and crawled away, looking back to see two massive holes punched into the drywall.
Another bang, this one more refined, and the hand holding the pistol shattered. Stray fingers flew everywhere; one even tried to crawl when it hit the carpet. Rick crunched it with his steel toed boot, propping the shotgun against his shoulder.
Lying helpless, a castrated powerhouse, Mama Bear groaned in what had to be outrage.
Pete grabbed the mace’s handle, pulled with everything he had. The mace didn’t budge. He kept pulling, with every stringy fiber he had in his mousy body. His face turned a deep purple, and cords poked out of his neck. Finally, the mace was lifted off the floor, and Pete was able to hoist it, dangling, his hands chest high while he penguin-walked over to Mama Bear.
Mama Bear let out one last whine, before Pete simply let the mace go. The rotten skull popped like a moldy egg.
Mama Bear didn’t make any more sounds.
We fell to the floor, as a man. We caught our breath, we relaxed our shaking bodies. Steve buried his face in his hands. “Jesus,” he muttered.
“Yeah, man.” Rick let himself fall back on the floor, lost himself to staring at the ceiling. He didn’t say anything else, just breathed really heavily.
On TV, Meg Henderson continued her report, albeit in a voice significantly shakier than from Wednesday.
“…gunshot, camera operator Chuck Palanium of a self-inflicted knife wound, and, I have just learned, Susan Harper, of field operations, from an overdose of painkillers…”
Jesus. I guess the station was building a monopoly on body counts.
I heard an annoyed buzzing to my right. I turned my head to see the zombie fly dragging its disembodied hind end across the carpet. Too pooped to wanna deal with it, I simply sent it on its way with a flick of my finger.
I kicked the mushy body of Mama Bear, which still wiggled grossly. Bits of the fucker were spattered everywhere.
Our fortifications were failing fast. The undead were growing in size and power. Zombie juice was spattered all over the walls. And now the bedroom smelled like eggs.