Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stockpile, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1, go do that now. Otherwise this won't make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

***

The thing that used to be the school janitor lurched toward Billy, hands twisted into claws, ruined mouth opening and shutting, a wet gurgle coming from deep inside the gore-smeared chest. Billy was more scared than he had ever been, but he was still an athlete (even if he had quit the baseball team to piss off his father), and knew how to swing a bat. As the zombie lunged, Billy swung hard, smacking the shambling undead right in the chest. Bones cracked, blood flew in spatters, and the zombie staggered back. But moments later, it twisted back towards him, ignoring the ribs jutting out from its ruined torso.

"Dammit!" yelled Billy. Despite having watched hours of late-night horror movies when his parents thought he was asleep, he had still forgotten to aim for the head. So he wound up and prepared for the second pitch, and as the undead horror reached out again, Billy swung for its skull.

Unfortunately, the zombie was a quick learner. It raised an arm just in time to take the blow, and while Billy forced it back again, this time with a shattered arm, it was still far from dead.

Billy laughed at a sudden absurd notion - his attacker was far from dead, but not in the direction Billy would have liked. This shambling horror was not just dead, it was ruined, mutilated and maimed. But it still kept coming, so rather than try his luck with one more swing, Billy ran. He dodged past the grasping monster and sprinted for the exit. He reached the door and flung it open, and then paused for a second.

The school kept a fire extinguisher at every exit. Billy wasn't sure how he would use it, but he didn't think Principal Gomez would mind if he borrowed it. Assuming Gomez wasn't already dragging his sorry carcass all over the town trying to eat all those brains it had spent its whole living career filling with education.

***

The doors to the general store were wide open. Apparently, Tom had not been thinking far enough ahead to lock up before he murdered his wife. Sheriff Anderson ran inside and pulled the doors shut behind him, jumped over the counter and crouched down. Only once he was out of view did he begin to reload - and now he realized that he had dropped all his bullets in the grass out front. He cursed the panic that had made his hands shake, but only allowed himself a brief moment to be disgusted with himself.

Anderson began to wrack his brain. He needed a weapon. He remembered the words of that drifter, Jake Cartwright, who had told him to find weapons and medical supplies and meet up in Grayson's barn before the sun went down again. Since the first rays of daybreak were just starting to light up the store, Anderson figured he might have a little time.

The zombies out front had another idea. Half a dozen shambling undead had seen him retreat into the store, and they now pounded on the plate glass windows that advertised fresh produce and sales on baked goods. Anderson reached for his revolver instinctively before he remembered that it was empty, and then he started looking around, fighting back a surge of panic.

From his vantage point on the floor, Anderson noticed the first good news he had seen since he went on duty last night. Hidden under a newspaper, with just the butt sticking out, was Tom's trusty .357. Anderson never did understand why Tom thought the little town would ever see enough crime to justify a hand cannon like this one, but right then, the sheriff couldn't have been happier about the old grocer's paranoia. He grabbed up the pistol, and behind the gun, he saw the box of bullets, which went into his pants pocket. Grinning with new-found confidence, Anderson stood up to assess his situation.

And then all the windows seemed to shatter at the same time, and the zombies came pouring in.

***

Jake grabbed the torch and flare gun from Becky and shoved the gas can into her hands.

"Throw that on the ground outside! And RUN!!!"

But Becky was rooted to the ground, screaming in horror as the two shuffling zombies closed in. One of them reached out, and faster than Jake remembered the damned things could move, the abomination sank filthy teeth into Becky's arm. The other zombie grabbed her by the hair and moved in, jaws snapping in anticipation.

Jake didn't take the time to think about what he was doing. He rushed the attacking zombies, grabbed the one who was about to rip out Becky's throat, and pulled it away. The zombie stumbled, slipped, and fell over the counter to land with a crash, out of sight for the moment. Jake grabbed the other zombie by the face, pushed it free of Becky's arm and onto the floor, and fired the signal flare point-blank at its chest.

The pain of having her arm torn open focused Becky's terror, and when Jake freed her, she acted on pure instinct. Still screaming, she fled through the front door and down the street, hurling the gas can into the wreckage in front of the store.

The flare had missed, and instead of burning the zombie like a Roman candle, it was now embedded in the vinyl-covered seat in the booth closest to the door. Cursing his horrid luck, Jake followed Becky's lead and ran. The zombie on the floor made a grab at him, tearing a gash out of his leg, but Jake still managed to stumble out the door away from the undead.

***

Billy was a champion sprinter, but when he emerged from the school into the dawn, he had no idea where to run. Everywhere he looked, the undead residents of his small town wandered the streets, intent only on devouring living flesh. He decided to make a break for the general store - after all, if the sheriff was in there, he might have a chance of getting out. He only got a few steps, however, when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"Billy Anderson!" yelled the powerful and authoritative voice. "Over here!"

Billy looked in astonishment at the second floor window, where Principal Gomez leaned out and called to him. Under normal circumstances, Billy would rather avoid a visit to the principal, but right now he was just glad to see another living person. He ran over as Gomez lowered himself out the window and dropped, his fall cushioned by the shrubs that grew in beds around the school.

Billy helped him up. "Mr. Gomez, are you OK? You're not, like, dead, are you?"

Gomez brushed leaves from his suit coat and looked around at the converging zombies. "Not yet, son, but we had better hurry if we want to keep it that way."

Billy nodded vigorously, and looked for a clear path. But just as he did, the undead janitor threw itself from the school's roof and landed on top of him. Billy's breath rushed out of him as he slammed into the ground. The janitor slashed at him with fingernails like claws, digging deep, bloody trenches into his back.

***

Anderson fired as fast as he could. He was a remarkable shot, and hit with every one of the six bullets, square in the chests of all the advancing undead. And yet none of them so much as missed a step, and now Anderson was empty again. And worse, the zombies were swarming over the counter. Already two of them were within striking distance. The sheriff managed to knock the legs out from under one of them, but the other swung a meaty fist into the side of his head. The world spun, and Anderson staggered.

He knew he didn't have time to reload, and the zombies were between him and the back door. He kicked at the one attacking now, then leapt for the shelves behind him. He climbed desperately, knocking prescription bottles and candy to the floor. Above the shelves, a high window allowed access to the alley behind the store - if he could get there in time. Already the zombies were closing in again, and one grabbed the back of his leg.

Anderson kicked out reflexively and caught the zombie in the forehead. It let go of his leg, and with a final push, the sheriff squirmed out the narrow window and dropped to the ground outside the store. He paused to consider his options, and that's when it hit him - the hangar.

The best thing he could do would be to get help. The tiny hangar just outside town held, alongside the biplane used to dust the corn fields, a short-wave radio. It would be a bit of a run - almost a mile - but if he could reach the hangar, he could signal someone - anyone - for help. He knew he couldn't fight off the zombie horde alone. If the throbbing pain in his skull wasn't evidence that he was out of his league, the blood dripping into his eyes would have persuaded him. Before the zombies inside the store could break through the back door, Sheriff Anderson was running.

***

Jake saw the panicked nurse running across the town square. He had seen her bitten, and from the way she was weaving as she ran, knew that she didn't have much time left before she joined the ranks of the undead. He shrugged as he lit the blowtorch. He couldn't do anything for her now.

He took a couple more steps away before he threw the torch. With any luck, it would land in the gasoline-soaked grass and start a blaze that would immolate the two zombies he had just escaped as they shuffled out of the diner.

Apparently, luck was not on his side tonight. The torch landed just shy of the puddle of gas, ground into the dirt, and shut off. Jake swore and ran toward the closest building that didn't appear to have fallen to the zombies - the hangar. He remembered seeing the building on the way into town, and it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to hold out at the diner. He cursed the small town again, and wondered why everything had to be so far apart. It would take him half an hour to reach the hangar, and with the sun approaching its summit, he knew he had less than eight hours before darkness fell and brought the complete destruction of the entire town... and him with it.

***

As the son of a small-town sheriff, Billy knew a thing or two about fighting. He ignored the searing pain in his back and the sharp stabbing pain in his leg and rolled hard, throwing the clumsy zombie off before it could sink its teeth into his neck. Gomez yanked him to his feet, and together they ran. They were halfway across the square when they saw Billy's father. Sheriff Anderson saw Billy and the principal at the same time.

Relief at seeing his son alive washed over the sheriff. "Bill! Thank God!" He started to turn toward Billy, but the zombies wandering the square took a decided interest in him, and he knew he could never break through.

"Dad!" shouted Billy. "What do I do?"

"Get to Grayson's barn! Be there before dark! I'll meet you there!"

Billy didn't know how he would manage to cross town and get past Grayson's corn fields to find the barn, but as Sheriff Anderson was already running hell-bent for leather, Billy didn't have time to ask.

Billy turned to see Gomez trying to fend off Gunther, the undead janitor. With a grim look, Billy pulled Principal Gomez away.

"Back off,' he said, swinging the bat with purpose. "I can handle this."

***

Becky was feeling worse with every step. Even though she had managed to escape the immediate clutches of the zombies who were following her, she could feel the corruption creeping up her arm. She was moving slower, and her fever was a flame burning her alive from the inside out. She had left town hours ago, running without direction, hoping only to find some place to hide. When she saw Grayson's corn fields, she made for them without hesitation. She didn't even bother to look back at the mass of undead who had followed her out of town. She couldn't even run faster than they did now.

She plunged into the fields of corn that grew taller than her head and forced her way through, stumbling and weaving as she grew steadily sicker. Finally she stumbled and fell, too weak to rise. Through the haze of unconsciousness that began to settle in, Becky could hear the moans and grunts of the zombies as they pushed their way through the fields of corn, intent on feasting on her before she died.

***

Jake slammed the door of the hangar open with his shoulder and slipped inside. The noonday sun barely reached the inside of the hangar through the dirty skylights and few windows, but Jake could still see his way around. He began to explore the hangar, looking again for anything that he could use as a weapon.

He couldn't believe his luck when he opened the storage cabinet. There on the bottom shelf, fully fueled and read to use, was a gas-powered chainsaw. His grin was downright evil as he picked it up.

***

After a desperate run across the square - made more difficult thanks to his bleeding head wound - Sheriff Anderson made it to the hangar. He had outpaced the zombies behind him easily enough, but had been forced to make a couple detours to avoid the ones in front of him. He could only hope that his headstrong, rebellious son could make it to the Grayson place. Or for that matter, that he could make it himself. He was a little light-headed, and the head wound hadn't completely clotted. But even if everyone in the town died, he had to get the message out on the short wave. Someone had to be told.

He pushed open the door and looked into the hangar, just in time to meet the drifter again.

"Get in, quick. We gotta find weapons and medical supplies. Time's a wastin', sheriff."

Anderson wasn't sure why he believed the shifty-looking drifter, but he knew he did. He slipped inside and reloaded the revolver, even though he wasn't sure what good it would do. While Jake opened boxes and went through drawers - all while holding the chainsaw in one hand - the sheriff went straight to the radio room. He had made hundreds of calls on that shortwave, so he knew right where it was. After the carnage he had already witnessed since the early morning, he wasn't even fazed to see the trail of gore that led out the door of the tiny radio room.

He didn't even bother to put on the headset, just held one side to his head as he tried to dial in anyone. The radio was a mess - there was no way to adjust it without touching blood - and something had broken loose in back. He got back static on every band. He kept trying, though, and finally got a quiet crackle instead.

"This is Sheriff Anderson! We need help! Something has gone wrong with the town! All the people-"

A burst of static noise cut him off, and then the set popped and sparked and went completely dead. Smoke rose out of the radio set. Anderson cursed and knelt down to look under the table, hoping he could find the replacement parts he would need to fix whatever had just broken. Instead he saw something better - a first aid kit propped up against a table leg. He reached for it just as Jake barelled into the radio room.

"We gotta get movin', Sheriff. They know we're here, and they're between us and the barn. We're gonna have to fight our way out."

Anderson stood, holding the medical kit in one hand and his gun in the other.

"I'm not done. I have to get a message out. National Guard, maybe, or state troopers-"

Jake cut him off with a wave of the chainsaw. "No time! They can't help us anyway! They're right outside the door!"

As if to punctuate his point, the door slammed open and a window shattered. Jake was too late - the zombies were in the hangar.

(To be concluded on Friday!)

1 comment:

DFlynSqrl said...

Great stuff Matt. Looking forward to the ending.

I'm going to have to get this game now.