Ryan’s final, desperate attempt to reach Mel unfolds. Will he make it? Will he tell her he blew up her mannequin? And how do they plan to take down the virtually unstoppable Shotgun Zombie?
Sorry for the late post, but my internet provider decided it was too good for that whole “exchanging money for services” arrangement we had. Here’s hopin’ you’ll take me back, both of you. C’mon, baby, I’ll treat you right!
© Copyright 2011
The morning started out sunny, but the beginning clouds of a summer storm are rolling in as we tense ourselves in readiness. It’s been raining for an hour now, even before the storm clouds arrived.
There is a clap of thunder as the Lowes truck roars to life. Let’s do this.
Shotgun Zombie barely lunges out of the way as Steve, surreptitiously hiding in the cab, guns the engine and rams the tow truck. Struts break, the truck spins, slides into the muddy common area. Puddles explode on the impact as the tires sink into six inches of soft mud.
The common area is always a mess when it rains. That tow truck isn’t going anywhere.
Rick, Zach and I look to the van. It is a full thirty feet away. Between it and us, there is a veritable ocean of rotting skin.
I breathe deeply from the damp, electrified air. My lungs spark, my body charges.
It is a beautiful, stormy, muddy Monday morning. It is the only beautiful Monday morning I’ve ever seen.
A thin line of the living dead has confronted us, and we open a blitz of gunfire that knocks them out of our way.
For a second, everything is still. Shotgun Zombie sizes us up, accepting the challenge we’ve laid down. The rest of the dead are still, waiting for the fight to rise as they did. Behind me, Meg Henderson continues to dance naked and chant in Old English.
The immortal fly comes at me from behind. I tilt my head, away from its annoying buzz. It misses me by a mile, flies its paper clipped body headfirst into my bug zapper. I’d left it on all weekend, and it is engulfed in an explosion of sparks and fried bug bits. The little zombie goes with a pretty impressive pop, the light of its demise striking brighter than lightning.
Shotgun Zombie and I look each other in the eye. Well, eye to eye socket.
I hit Shotgun Zombie square in the chest, but the blast barely rocks it on its feet. It takes its gun off its shoulder, starts to load.
The remaining zombies pour in on us.
I swing the shotgun strap over my shoulder, Rick and Zach holster their pistols. All three of us crank the chainsaws Zach had brought, and we start in.
I hack through the veil of a lady who was buried in her wedding gown, and try not to focus on the dark brown stains soaking through the dress. She flails at me, her bouquet shredding when it hits the teeth of the saw.
Rick catches a particularly beefy construction worker in the gut. What looks like eight gallons of beef stew come pouring out like Niagara Falls.
A little leaguer comes at me, swinging a baseball bat wildly. He catches me by the hand on the handle of the saw. It doesn’t break, but it hurts like a bitch, and I drop it. The saw disappears under an avalanche of shuffling zombie feet.
I curl defensively, and he nails me on the broadside of my arm. I reach into my belt, pull out the machete, sink the blade through his temple. His eye pops like a moldy grape, but he readies another swing anyway. I wrench the blade loose, catch the bat in mid-swing. I kick the runt away, and he disappears in the crowd.
Shit. They’re spilling onto us too quickly. We gain less and less ground by the second.
Above the zombie mass, I see what looks like a cross between a man and a spider scrambling towards us. It has four arms, four legs, all of them nailed and stapled and welded in place. I almost wonder if that was what Shotgun Zombie was working on, but I don’t have time to finish the thought.
Steve is fighting them off the truck, but he can only chop so many fingers and hands before one of them gets a lucky grip and yanks him into the crowd. Sparks fly as his saw hits the sides of the truck, and it occurs to me that he is probably experiencing the most metal moment of his life.
Rick ducks down, shoulders his way through three of the fuckers, grabs Steve’s arm and pulls him free. We’re clear for the moment, but only the moment.
I undo the belt I have strapped around my chest, spin Mel’s mannequin out in front of us. The fuse of an M-80 sticks out of the back of its head, and I light it with Steve’s Zippo. Then I hurl it.
“If you wanna eat something, then eat this, ya stinky bastards!”
They fall for it, hard. Their voracious hands pull the peacock-feathered flapper girl to them, and they bite and chew without stopping to consider the taste of vinyl.
We double back, the zombies momentarily too distracted to notice us. We hit the ground at the sound of the blast, literally thrown off our feet by the concussion.
Fuck me. I didn’t know gasoline and cow shit could be that potent.
We look over our shoulders, see an empty space full of pulpy body parts. Dazed zombies lope about, trying to get to their balance after the blast.
We struggle to our feet, and I don’t see Steve. I scream for him: “Steve!”
I hear him cough, see him stand near the Lowes truck. “Shit,” he mutters.
A shadow falls over him, and he limps as he turns around to see Shotgun Zombie taking aim.
The blast from the pump action is far louder than it is from mine. A wet red stain is sprayed onto the pavement, and Steve falls. His opened stomach spurts sickeningly at the impact.
As Steve’s body goes slowly limp, Shotgun Zombie jumps from the top of the truck and lands directly onto Steve’s gunshot wound. A torrent of blood spurts from Steve’s mouth, and a gurgle is forced out of his lifeless throat.
Shotgun Zombie leaves a bloody trail of footprints as he approaches, cycling a new round into the chamber. I drop the chainsaw and whirl the shotgun in front of me, taking aim at Shotgun Zombie’s face.
The creature slowly takes aim. I hear Zach and Rick take off on either side of me.
We stand there like that, both of us knowing it will take a lot less to bring me down than it will for him.
My breath is shaky, and I slow it down, draw it out as long as I can. I try to settle every twitch in my arms, every tingle in my nerves.
Shotgun Zombie’s finger tightens around the trigger.
I dip the barrel of the shotgun, tracing the sight from an empty eye socket to the leather-gloved hand gripping the stock.
I let myself fall, just as he pulls the trigger. The shot goes overhead, and I fire.
Shotgun Zombie’s hand explodes, and the shotgun is thrown wildly into the air from the force.
I listen to the clatter of the gun as it bounces on the pavement. A shot goes wild from the gun at the impact.
I felt hordes of butterflies in my gut. Shotgun Zombie seems a lot less scary now that he’s Shotgun-less.
With his good hand, he reaches behind himself, and draws a sawed-off double barrel. Fuck.
He fires both barrels, hitting my gun out of my hands. With a flick of his wrist he opens the hilt, ponders how to reload with only one hand. His skull tilts to one side as he thinks.
Before he can take aim, though, a flashing glint of steel blinds me. I wince as Zach knocks the gun aside with his revving chainsaw. Shotgun Zombie turns to stare him down, then backhands Zach across the jaw.
From above the truck, the Spider-Zombie, missing two legs and an arm, appears. He reaches down, grabs Zach by the neck, hauls him into the air. Zach’s face goes purple as he gulps for air.
Rick cranks up his chainsaw, carves into Spider-Zombie’s shoulder. The monster drops Zach, elbows Rick with enough force to dent a car door. Then it looks to me.
I finger the handle of the machete tucked into my belt. Rick and Zach struggle to get up. Zombies who weren’t caught in the blast begin to shuffle their way to us.
I listen to Shotgun Zombie’s heavy boots as it stomps closer. This thing is pure muscle and leather. No way I can chop through it quick enough to take it down, much less help kill Spider-Zombie.
I take a swing, but Shotgun Zombie stops me casually with a forearm wrapped in chains. It punches me across the face, and I feel as though I’ve been clocked with a pillowcase full of cartoon anvils. I can’t even see straight anymore.
There is a squealing of tires, and an impact followed by a horrible crunch. I see the Shotgun Zombie’s black military boots thrown from the ground, watch its bulky body bounce along the pavement. I hear footsteps, feel hands on me.
I hear Zach shouting. “Ryan, man, get up!”
Shotgun Zombie is back on his feet in an instant, making his way to us. I try to regain my footing, but I have trouble. Fucker nailed me pretty goddamn good.
Rick is completely tangled within the grasp of Spider-Zombie, but he cuts through a strategic set of fingers ad breaks free. He runs to help Zach haul me into the van, but the spidery horror is up and after him. He turns just as he nears Shotgun Zombie, sends a spin kick into its chest. The creature doesn’t move, and the force of the kick sends Rick against the van’s bumper.
Zach drops me in the van and steps up, does his best to send a ninja kick to Shotgun Zombie’s side. Despite his newfound chutzpah, his effort is clumsy and embarrassingly underpowered. Shotgun Zombie wraps an arm around his ankle, grabs him by the collar, and spins, sending Zach flailing through the air. He lands before Spider-Zombie, and the creature immediately wraps its hands around his throat.
Rick moves to cut him down, but before he can take two steps the thing’s three hands twist horribly, and there is a God-awful crunch from Zach’s neck as his spastic body suddenly goes limp.
Spider-Zombie looks hungrily at the limp sack of meat hanging in its hands, licks its lipless mouth. Shotgun Zombie raises a finger, moves it side-to-side. Spider-Zombie considers for a second, then tosses Zach to the side.
It comes for us. Rick runs past Shotgun Zombie, slashing the ting’s arm when it reaches for him. The zombie pulls away, and Rick leaps over me and into the van.
I hear him shout “Shit! Where’re the fuckin’ KEYS?!” and I vaguely think: Of course…
Shotgun Zombie makes his way for the open van door, Spider-Zombie right beside him. Arms suddenly wrap around Shotgun Zombie’s waist, and something starts to pull him back. The monster tries to wrestle off his attacker, and while he squirms I see who it is who’s come to our rescue.
Only it isn’t Steve. The guy who used to be our friend was gone. Welll…maybe not gone, not yet, but definitely buried deep behind that hundred yard stare. I have the feeling that Steve may not be home right now, but he definitely has the remote.
I get up, try to shut the doors, but Spider-Zombie grabs them and tries to wrench them open. It folds its too-long arms in, gnashes its teeth at me. I kick with more strength than I thought I had, knock out most of its incisors. I grab my machete, hack off one hand, hack into the fingers of another. I’m able to loosen its hold long enough to shut and lock the doors, and immediately start hacking at the squirming hand it left behind.
Oh, fuck. An armless zombie apparently made its way inside, and I open the doors long enough to kick it back out. It tumbles clumsily into Spider-Zombie, and the two try to untangle themselves as I lock the doors again.
In horror movies, vehicles always take about five minutes to start in crisis situations, but the van starts instantly. Suck it, clichés.
Fuck, spoke to soon. The goddamn gearshift sticks, and Rick can’t get it out of park. I look in the rearview mirror, see Zach rise behind Steve and chokehold him. Steve fights, but his grip gives, and Spider-Zombie helps to haul him off. He’s pried off Shotgun Zombie, who pulls the machete from Zach’s belt and begins to hack Steve apart.
Finally, the fucking shifts goes, and the engine roars as Rick throws it in drive. We’re out of here.
Well, as soon as Rick takes care of a bit of business.
He fights it into reverse, and the van smashes into the zombie triad. I hear Spider-Zombie being shredded under the wheels.
“That was for my friend, you mother fuckers!” Rick yells, then throws it in drive. Now we’re out of here.
I look back, see Shotgun Zombie, mangled from Rick mowing him down, stand and watch us go.
“What now?” Rick says.
“Mel,” I reply. “I need to get to Mel.”
We barrel down the interstate, mowing down zombies like we’re trying for the high score. Rick has to swerve to avoid abandoned cars. Christ, this shit hasn’t even been going on for a week. You’d think people could resist the urge to leave their shit abandoned for longer than that.
We take the exit near the station where Mel works, see it besieged on all sides as we approach. An armored SWAT van is fighting to break through, police shooting whatever grabs hold of the truck. Sparks between the attacker’s legs tell me the tires have been destroyed, probably as soon as it left the garage.
I reach my leg over and gun the engine.
“What’re you doin’, man?” Rick asks.
I wipe out a whole section of the things, crank the wheel to clear out a few more. I blare the horn.
Familiar blue eyes look out the back hatch, and the door opens. “RYAN?!”
It’s her. She’s alive. Thank fucking God, she’s alive.
But…still surrounded by zombies. Not enough room for them to squeeze between us, but that zombie-free Green Zone won’t last for long. I kick open my door. “Get in the van!” I scream.
A sharp, squeeling sound from behind. In the rearview mirror I see a zombie bury an axe into the side of the van.
The two cops in back get to the driver, who leaves her post to join us. The SWAT guys blast back zombies while Mel climbs in. She kisses me, too quick for any passion, too dry to pretend it’s anything other than a potential kiss goodbye.
It’s the sweetest kiss she’s ever given me.
She climbs in back, opens the sliding door for the SWAT guys and the driver. One makes it in, the other loses his footing. He tumbles, falls awkwardly, gets stuck between the two vans. Zombie hands grab him, pull him free, and into the crowd. I see an old lady with crooked dentures bite into his neck, severing his carotid and washing her face in his blood. Her dentures get stuck, are pulled out slightly when she tried to bite again. Others pour in to help finish her meal. I look away, and am thankful I do not hear his screaming over their moaning.
The other SWAT guy swings his gun, keeping an eye out as the driver makes her way in. Unfortunately, the zombie on the roof goes unnoticed, and he grabs her by the neck and hauls her into the air. She screams, flails, and the SWAT guy grabs for her. She is out of reach, though, and in my mirror I see her flung to the waiting hordes around the van. The remaining officer thumps the ceiling. “LET’S GO!” he shouts, still in SWAT command mode. Rick is busy trying to keep the passenger door closed, so I hop into the driver’s seat and floor it.
Before we move, though, something rams us. Something fucking heavy.
I look back, see a mud spattered tow truck behind us. Somehow it had been pulled from the mud. With one ruined hand tied to the wheel, his ruined body belted to the seat, Shotgun Zombie deftly steers it back into us, ramming us again. Mel and the SWAT guy hit the floor from the impact.
Rick screams. “Aw, fuck! Fucker won’t stay down!”
Shotgun Zombie floors it, hit us again. The back doors fly open.
Shots, controlled machine gun bursts from the assault rifle of the SWAT officer. The tow truck’s windshield shatters, and a chunk of Shotgun Zombie’s head disappears.
He rams us again, out of the patch of zombies. I floor it, peeling out of the parking lot and running for everyone’s lives.
Shotgun Zombie gives chase. Over the radio, I hear chanting. I switch it off, needing to concentrate.
He hits us again. The SWAT officer sits up, takes aim, fires. Another chunk of Shotgun Zombie’s skull vanishes.
The creature jerks the wheel, sticks a good arm out the window, takes aim with Mama Bear’s stolen .44, and fires a single, definitive shot.
The SWAT officer falls back, without any exclamation at all. Just fucking falls, his faceplate shattered, the glass tinted with blood.
Something is wrong with the rear axle. I hear something grinding, and I can’t get the van to full speed. Even flooring it, we’re only making fifty. The grinding gets louder with every second. It starts to feel like I’m driving through slush.
The tow truck eases alongside us. Shotgun Zombie takes aim.
“Fuck you, mother fucker!” Mel screams, and tosses a flash-bang grenade stolen from the SWAT officer directly into Shotgun Zombie’s lap. The creature looks down just as it goes off. At such close range, it rips its skin to shreds.
The tow truck veers, hits a car in spectacular fashion, falls to its side. It slides along the road, firing sparks into the air before crashing into an abandoned gas truck. There is a plume of fire as leaking fuel catches and engulfs the tow truck. In seconds its own gas tank ignites, and there is a sizable explosion.
I crane the wheel and hit the brakes, so quickly I’m nearly thrown from my seat. I look over through the passenger window, breath in relief. My lungs burn at the breath, and my heart seems to flutter. Funny; I realize I’ve been holding my breath the entire time since the chase began.
Then, I see the impossible. The cab door of the engulfed tow truck is flung open, and a crawling figure tumbles out of the fire. Pulling itself along by its elbows, Shotgun Zombie, now more candle than zombie, crawls along the street, still coming for us.
I start flooring the van, when the SWAT guy sits back up, turns, and lunges for Mel. Rick hears her screams and intercepts him, and the two wrestle. They hit Rick’s door, and it pops open. They fall into the street.
I hit the brakes, pull the parking brake to keep the van from rolling away, jump out to help. The cop has a good grip, and Rick can’t shake him. Other zombies converge, drawn by the screams. Mel grabs her gun, jumps out, opens fire.
Several fall, but they’re coming closer, closer, fucking closer. The gunshots cut down the individuals, do nothing against the greater horde. They’re all closing in. Soon even fucking Shotgun Zombie will reach us, even though he’s slowing down. They’re thirty yards away, twenty-five, twenty…
The cop starts to strangle Rick. Rick makes choked sounds, like he’s trying to curse. His grip is loosening on the zombie’s armor. His fight starts to fade, so he plants both feet into the zombie as I dig my fingers into its shoulder. We throw it off, and it hits the wheel, tumbles, struggles to get up.
The others are fifteen yards away, and they’re not slowing down.
Mel leans against me, puts a free hand to my face. “Baby…”
I look over, catch her eyes. She’s crying. She’s beautiful, with perfect strawberry blonde hair and eyes bluer than I’ve ever seen any other eyes before.
Oh Jesus. I grab her, hold her. It’s all I can do now. “It’s okay. It’ll be alright…”
Ten yards away.
“I love you so much!” She’s practically sobbing as she says it.
“I love you too! I love you!” And I do, I do I do I do I love her more than anything and all I can do ALL I CAN DO is hold her hold her hold her…
I kiss her, and she kisses me. The hands begin to grab, the fingers hooking in our hair. The cop lunges for Rick again.
They’re all over us. We’re buried alive.
But we’re okay.
We’re still okay.
We open our eyes, squeezed shut from our eventual doom, and look around.
Everything is still, except for the distant fire. Smelly dead bodies are piling up against us, but they don’t move.
I hear something shuffle, turn to see Rick pulling himself out from under the cop. It’s not moving, not trying to hold onto Rick at all.
It’s dead. A dead fucking body.
That’s all it is.
Mel and I shove at the corpses burying us, and they slide off without protest. They thump to the ground, they roll over each other and loll in undignified poses. But they don’t move on their own.
Rick reaches over, flips on the radio.
We hear Meg Henderson’s voice.
“…ritual has been completed. If anyone can hear us, please contact the station. If we have been successful, contact the station. Please…”
I laugh, I sigh, I laugh again, louder than before. I don’t think I’ll stop laughing. Mel smiles vaguely in disbelief, staring at every dead thing on the ground like it could leap for her at any minute. Rick sits in the road and begins to weep, in joy and sorrow, mourning and celebration.
Shotgun Zombie just sits in the road, and burns.
And I laugh, I laugh, I laugh. After about five minutes I stop to catch my wind, text my parents.
“I’m okay, everything will be okay. Everything’s great. I love you guys with all my heart.” I forward the text to my sister. I need to tell her she’s short one stoner boy toy, but that can wait for a while, I guess.
Mel kisses me, along the cheek, making her way to my lips. She runs her fingers through my hair. Our heartbeats pound against each other as I pull her close to me.
We’re okay. We’re going to be okay. Rick’s alive. I’m alive. And Mel is alive.
And Mel and I have each other, still, after all this. We two are still here, and with each other.
The repetition speaks to how unbelievable everything is. I can’t comprehend it, can’t process it. We made it.
“Fuckin’ miracle, man…” Rick manages through the hitching sobs. And he’s right.
It is, very simply, a miracle.
We kiss, and I think we’re just going to keep kissing for the rest of the day.
The clouds begin to break, letting little shafts of light stream through the drizzle.
All things considered, not a bad Monday.
But man. What a shit weekend.