Marc woke up with a start. It took him several seconds to get his bearings, but he soon realized he was still in the car.
“Hey, ain’t that that retard boy, Will Sutcliffe?”
A man was shuffling by the side of the road, a hundred yards down.
“You’re an asshole, Steve….” Marc glared at his brother.
“Hey, no need for names, I just say it like it is… That Sutcliffe boy IS a retard…”
“He has Down’s Syndrome Steve…”
“I just tell it like it is.”
“Being a jerk doesn’t make you honest, it makes you a jerk. Just, shut up, man. How close are we?”
Steve and Marc were on the way to the old Baptist church in the next town. Father Dillon, an old family friend, had died the day before and they were on the way to his funeral. Steve slowed the car as they passed the walker. He was large, young man, almost a head taller than the average person, and more than a few pounds overweight, wearing coveralls and a t-shirt. It was Will. He was limping.
Marc told Steve to stop. “Why?”
“He looks hurt.”
“Godammit, Marc. Special People always walk funny”
Marc gave him a withering look and stepped out of the car. He started walking towards Will, who picked up his pace. Steve got out and stood in the open driver’s side door. “Hey Will, you alright, boy? Ain’t been trying to chase squirrels up the tree again, did ya?” Steve chuckled to himself.
As Marc got closer, he noticed that Will had blood on his face. He also had a tear in his pants, exposing a raw kneecap, and his arm was hanging limp. He looked as if he had been hit by a car. Marc sped up a little. “Will, buddy, you okay?”
Will was only a few steps away now. “Oh, Christ son, what happened?” Marc reached out to give Will a hand.
Will’s mouth opened. He started wailing, a loud, incoherent cry. But it didn’t sound like he was in pain. It sounded desperate. He lunged at Marc with is good arm, and fell on him. He started biting at Marc.
“Holy Jesus! Steve!”
Marc pushed back with all of his strength, just barely avoiding being bitten by Will. He was staring him right in the face. Will’s had scrapes all over it. His eyes were glassy, but worst of all, his gaze was predatory. He moaned, grabbed and bit at Marc.
Steve ran full tilt toward his brother and Will. “Godammit you tard, leave him be!” Steve kicked the young man with all of his strength. Steve wasn’t as big as Will, but he was still a good-sized man. There was a popping noise as Will slumped off of Marc, who scrambled to his feet. Judging by the sound, Steve had just broken a rib or two. Will did not react as if in pain. He got to his feet and started towards the two brothers, now growling. “Marc, back to the godamn car. Will’s rabid or somethin’!”
They ran, and Will followed, but couldn’t keep up with two healthy men. The pair got in the car and slammed the doors. Steve hit the door lock and threw the car into gear. They sped off.
“What the hell happened to him!?” Steve yelled. Marc was shocked. “I don’t know. He must be delusional, or sick. He never acted like that before.”
“Fucker should be chained. Godamn retard”
“Shut up, Steve! Will isn’t like that something is very, very wrong. We need to get to a phone and get him some help.”
“What phone? There isn’t shit ’til we get to the church.”
“Then we’ll use that one! Christ, shut up and let me think.”
They rode in silence for several minutes. Steve mumbled to himself, occasionally slapping the steering wheel. Marc chewed his thumbnail, a little shell-shocked by what had just happened. “Steve?”
“What do you think happened? Really?”
“I don’t know little brother. Something’s not right.”
After a little while, they rounded a bend in the woods. There was an old building, whitewashed with a shingle roof and dark green doors. They were at the church.
They had apparently arrived later than everyone else, and were forced to park the length of a football field away. “Popular old fart, wasn’t he?” Steve commented as they pulled in.
“Aw, man. What the hell are we going to do?” Steve stopped halfway getting out of the car.
Marc looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“We can’t just bust in to an old priest’s funeral and demand to use the phone…”
Marc huffed. “A man may be dying out there, they can get over it.”
They started toward the front entrance to the church. The door was slightly ajar. Halfway there, the door opened a little and a priest stepped out. Steve waved his hand and yelled out, “Hey, Father O’Flannagan! We need some help!”
The man turned towards them. Marc followed up. “We saw Will Sutcliffe down the road. He was all banged up, like he was in an accident. I think he must have hit his head because he was acting like an animal.”
They slowed down as they got closer. The priest didn’t really react. He just stared at them as they approached his jaw slack, eyes wide. Marc stepped a little ahead of Steve. “Um, Father O…..Flan…a….”
It wasn’t O’Flannagan. It was Father Dillon.
“What the fu…” Steve trailed off. Both stood in shock. Steve had seen Dillon the day before. He had most certainly been dead. There was now a weird moaning coming from the side of the church, away from the brothers. They started to back up. Dillon started toward them, slowly, his expression never changing. From around the side of the church, came a herd of mourners.
They all moved slowly, sharing the dead priest’s expression. All of them quickened their step as they saw the brothers. Both turned white with dread. “Marc….”
Marc grabbed Steve’s arm. “Run!”
They sprinted to the car. The shambling mourners began moaning louder and shuffled as quickly as they could through the gravel lot toward Steve and Marc. Steve was shaking. He almost dropped the keys. “Godammit Steve, use the keyless lock!”
Steve hit the button, the car unlocked, and they both jumped in. Still shaking, Steve started the car and put it in gear. A mourner he couldn’t place, but recognized, walked up to the car and began pounding on the window, snarling. She had a gash in her neck.
Marc thought, in the back of his mind, that it bore an odd resemblance to an apple someone had taken a bite out of. Blood was smeared over her shirt. Steve hit the gas, and sped out of the parking lot. The car skidded in the gravel. The woman was tossed aside, but many more mourners were grabbing onto the back bumper or trying to reach for the car. Both men were yelling incoherently until the tires grabbed the ground and the car lurched forward.
“Where the hell do we go now!?” Steve shouted.
Marc stared in the rear-view mirror at the quickly dwindling crowd. “I…I don’t know…”
“What the fuck do you think is wrong with them?”
Marc thought quietly for a few minutes. “Marc?” Steve was getting impatient.
“Just a second…. Did you see that woman’s neck?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“It looked as if it had had a chunk bitten out of it.”
“Are you shittin’ me?” Steve looked at Marc as if he was retarded as well.
“No, I am not shitting you. And correct me if I am wrong, but that was frigging Father Dillon out front of the church. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Steve was stumped.
Marc sat up in his seat. “You know what I think?”
“No, what do you think?”
“I think they are dead.”
Steve looked over at Marc in disbelief. He slowed the car so he wouldn’t go off the road. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Marc glared at him. “No, I am not fucking kidding. So far we have seen a dead priest, a crowd of mourners attacked us, and a ‘retard’ as you put it tried to take a fucking bite out of me this morning. It sounds as plausible as anything to me right now.”
Steve hit the steering wheel again. “Oh Jesus man. That is ridiculous. That can’t fucking be.”
“It sure as hell looks like it.”
“No, it sure as hell doesn’t godammit! Dead people don’t get up and try to eat you!. This isn’t one of those godamn movies. This is real life, and in real life, dead people don’t get up and try to eat you!”
Marc shrugged. “Then what do you think, genius?”
“I don’t know, damn it, I don’t know. Maybe they are all crazy or something.”
“Thirty-plus people and a dead priest? All went nuts…. How?”
“How the fuck should I know? Maybe something in the water. Maybe a disease. For Christ’s sake, maybe we are crazy and nothing happened back there.”
Marc smirked. “Do YOU want to go back and see if we are hallucinating?”
Steve shook his head.
“Yeah, thought so. Me either. Where the hell are we going?”
Steve slowed the car down. They were in the middle of cotton fields now, the trees and people far behind them. “I have no clue.”
“Should we head home? Maybe, call the cops from there?”
Steve shook his head. “I don’t want to go back past there. We are almost in the next town. We can find a payphone and call the Sheriff’s department.”
Marc tapped his foot. “Well, I don’t have any better ideas. I wish I had bought that damn cell phone.” Steve nodded silently and started down the road again. The roads were clear; not another driver passed them. “This is what we get for living in east-cotton-pickin’ bumfucked, you know that?” Steve was shaking his head. “Damn cell phone wouldn’t have even worked out here anyway..”
The two drove for roughly twenty minutes before hitting the next town. Marc kept his eyes peeled for a payphone. Steve looked around for people. The streets were empty. Cars were parked here and there, but there was not a person to be found. “What in God’s name is happening today? Did the whole state pack up and leave?”
Marc got a cold feeling in his stomach. “Steve?…”
“What if what happened back at the church happened here, too?”
Steve blinked. “Hey, there is a pay phone.” He pulled over. Marc got out and rummaged through his pockets for change. Steve popped the trunk.
Mark dropped some quarters into the phone and dialed 911. The recorded operator’s voice came on, explaining that there were no available operators, but to stay on the line and they would assist as soon as possible.
“Damn, man, 911 is busy…”
Steve walked up to Marc with a tire-iron and a baseball bat. “You got a busy signal?”
“No man, there is a message saying that they don’t have any available operators.”
“What the fuck?”
Marc hung up the phone. “What, you aren’t going to wait?” Steve asked.
“Do you think it would make a difference?” Marc asked. Steve shook his head, and then handed the bat to Marc.
Marc looked at his quizzically. “What is this for?”
Steve walked back to the driver’s side of the car. “The next time someone comes up to us and doesn’t introduce themselves, we are going to smash their fucking head in.”
“Do you still think they’re crazy?”
“I don’t give a shit. If they are, then they WILL be dead if they get too close.”
“Where are we going to go?”
“I don’t know. Let’s get some gas, then we can drive around and figure out what we should do. I feel better if we’re moving.”
The two found a gas station. The pumps were working, but it was abandoned. Marc stood guard, while Steve filled up. “I’ll use my credit card, in case we ARE crazy.” Marc relaxed a little. At least they could make some light of the situation.
They continued through the town, not once seeing a sign of life.
They hit the open country on the other side of town. “Hey, aren’t we heading toward Mike’s, that old country store?”
Marc looked at Steve. “Yeah……”
Marc stuck out his lip. “No, but I will be.”
“Good let’s check it out.” Marc grimaced. “The least we can do is check it out, okay?” Steve looked hopeful. “Okay…”
Mike’s was ten minutes outside of town, nestled in between some corn fields. It was a grocery store fashioned out of an old barn that eventually grew past the original old post-and-beam building. As they approached the red-painted store, Marc noticed someone standing on the roof, which then slid down it and ran in the front door.
“Steve, somebody’s there.”
“Yeah, he just slid off the roof and ran in.”
“Good. Maybe they will know what is going on.”
The parking lot of the old store had a few cars in it. Most of the entrances had lines of grocery carts in front of them. They parked near the front, and approached the door with their weapons in hand. The French door on the front did not open when they walked up to it. “Isn’t this an automatic door?” Steve asked.
Marc looked in the window. “Yeah, someone must’ve turned it off.” Marc gave a sharp knock on the glass. “Hello! Anybody home?”
No answer. “We know someone is in there, we saw you when we were driving up. Don’t worry, we are okay.” Steve shouted. They waited. Nothing.
Steve shrugged, and then pushed on the door. It opened.
Both men gripped their weapons. Steve pushed the door further, and then Marc stepped in. Steve followed, and let the door close behind him.
The store smelled like fresh fruit and bread, mixed with flowers from the nearby floral department. The floors were stone, turning into wood towards produce. Just past the entrance, they could see almost the whole store. Marc started walking towards the registers “Hello…”
There was a sharp clack as a shotgun was pumped and a man in a flannel and jeans popped up from behind a fruit stand. “Hands up! Both of you!”
Marc and Steve froze, and then slowly lifted their hands. Marc glanced out of the corner of his eye at the man with the shotgun. “It’s okay, pal. We were just looking for some food to take with us, we’ll go.”
“Like hell we will Marc…”
Marc turned slowly. The man with the shotgun was Tim Belford, a friend of theirs. “Ah shit, Tim, I damn near pissed myself.”
“How do you think I felt, Steve?” Tim said, sounding relieved.
“Good, two more people. More help keeping this place safe.”
Marc looked to Steve and then Tim. “Tim, do you have the slightest idea what the hell is going on?”
Tim shrugged as he moved to the front door and locked it. “Some idea. Not too much. Mostly just hearsay and shit on the radio. Give me a hand.” Tim had a palette of what looked like bundles of paper bags on a jack and was moving it in front of the door. Once they had it in place, he let the palette settle into place on the floor.
“Those bundles are about 75 pounds a piece, and there are 16 on that palette. Nothing is coming in through that door.”
They moved back into the main body of the store. “Everyone can come out now, we’re all set”.
Once the rest came out, there were six people in all, including Tim and the brothers. The others were a grungy older man, maybe in his 50s, a scrawny boy barley over sixteen with long hair, and a rather plump middle-aged woman. “Marc, Steve, this is Burt, Kevin, and Lucy. They’re holed up here with me. They come from over in the town. Burt was their bus driver when all the shit started.”
“What shit?” Marc asked.
“Boy, you two really do live out in the middle of nowhere, don’t ya? It was on the news, still would be if the damn TV worked. Burt took out a telephone pole, killed the cable.”
Tim shot the older man a glare.
“Looks like there is something spreading about, making people sick. They are attacking people. Biting ’em, acting like they want to eat them.”
“So, this is happening in other places?” Marc looked around at everyone.
Kevin picked up an apple and wiped it on his shirt. “No way to tell. Can’t get any phone calls out, can’t get TV, and can only get local stations with the shitty radio in here.”
Kevin motioned to the weapons Marc and Steve carried. “Why you got those?”
Marc looked at Steve, then back at Kevin. “We were on our way to a funeral, when we got attacked.”
Steve looked over at Tim. “The first one was Will Sutcliffe. Found him limpin’ down the side of the road.”
“Will Sutcliffe? Isn’t he that big Down’s fella?”
“That’s him. Attacked Marc. I kicked him in the ribs, must’ve broken a couple, but that big bastard jumped up and kept coming.”
Marc nodded. “Then we went to the old church to get help, we were going there for Father Dillon’s funeral.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. He was a sweet old man.” Tim nodded.
“Yeah, well, when we got there, everyone there had whatever is causing all of this craziness.” Steve followed up.
Marc piped in. “That’s not even the best part.”
“What is?” Asked Lucy.
“Father Dillon was out walking with the rest of them.”
Burt coughed out a laugh. “Bull-fucking-shit.”
Marc glared at him. Steve interrupted. “I would have said the same thing, but I saw the old bastard, plain as day, walking with the rest of ’em.”
Kevin dropped his apple. “Are you saying that they are all dead?!”
Steve shrugged and Marc nodded.
Burt smacked at some fruit nearby. “I don’t believe this crap. You dumb fuckers watch too much television. There is no godamn way that there are dead people walkin’ around trying to eat us. Bunch of fuckin morons.”
Steve’s face turned red and he was about to say something. Tim put his hand up. “Burt, you are more than welcome to stay outside and chat with them if you would like. Otherwise, shut up unless you have something useful to share.”
“Thank you, Tim.” Marc said, never taking his eyes off of Burt.
The group (excluding Burt), discussed what they would need to do.
“Well, we got plenty of food, here, I say we just wait it out. National Guard or somebody has to come through eventually.” Steve stated. Tim and Lucy nodded.
Marc shook his head. “What if this thing is bigger than just around here? What if it spread?”
Lucy shook her head. “We don’t know that.”
Marc shrugged. “True, but if it has, then we may be set for a month or two, but then what? Fruit will rot, food will run out, and then are screwed.”
Tim looked him in the face. “So what do you suggest we do?”
“Not sure. I think staying here short term is a good idea, but we have to think of something for a few weeks from now. I think a good start would be getting all of the working vehicles close to the building.”
Tim perked up. “I’ll do you one better. The loading dock out back in fenced in. We can move them in there.”
“Good idea. What about weapons? Do we have any more guns?”
“Nope. Just this one.” Tim patted the shotgun. Burt looked at the group, then put his hands in his pockets, suddenly self-conscious. No one seemed to notice.
Lucy piped in. “Maybe there is one in one of the cars out there.”
“Good point,” Marc nodded, “Maybe we should go out and move the cars to a safe spot and then discuss this further.” Everyone agreed. They didn’t waste any time getting to work.
They moved slowly, as a group, out the front door. Burt and Lucy lagged behind to close the doors after everyone else exited.
There were five cars, total. Steve’s was moved first. One of the other ones had its keys in it, but had been left idle, so it was out of gas. Two others didn’t have keys. No one knew how to hotwire them. The last two were pulled into the back. While they were starting the last one, Steve noticed something at the edge of one of the fields.
“Oh crap.” He pointed at what he saw. Out of the corn fields, facing the store came one, then another; Then another; Then two more; Then three; all of them people; all of them shambling. They were just close enough for the three to hear a soft moaning.
Many more continued to pour from the field.
“Godammit, how did they know to come here?” Tim was near panicked.
They decided to move the car and contemplate fate later. Once the last car was within the fencing, they snaked a chain through several times, and locked it. The fence was ten foot high cyclone. They hoped it would hold.
Burt was staring out the front windows, watching the approaching horde. “Shit. I was a week away from leaving that job. Was gonna move to Reno. Had some money from hurtin’ my back. Was gonna be booze and hookers ’til God decided to take me.”
Lucy gave him a disgusted look and walked away. “Very classy…” She said sourly.
The others were walking in from the back doors, just catching the exchange.
“Oh yeah, and what do you know of class, you fat bitch?” Lucy stopped and gave him a challenging look. “What, you think you are any thinner, you old fart? I don’t care how much money you had, no hooker would touch you.”
“Shut up! Godamn women don’t know your place. Only use for a big bitch like you is fat women have big tits!”
Tim walked up to Burt and pushed him against the wall. “I would thank you not to talk to the lady like that, Old man.”
“You think I’m afraid of you boy?!” Burt bellowed. He shoved Tim back. Tim was trembling and started to move his hands to the grip on the shotgun.
Marc stepped in. “Whoa, people, easy. Somebody’s gonna get hurt this way. Tim, ease down.”
“You listen to your friend there, son. Learn your place.”
Marc snapped at Burt. “Shut up, asshole. I don’t want him wasting any shells on you. If you keep that up, I’ll have him kill you with the bat to save on bullets.”
Burt shut up. He had assumed Marc was quiet and meek. He was wrong.
Marc took Lucy by her arm and walked her away. “Do me a favor, ma’am, stay away from him. Things might get uglier than they need to be.”
“I am not going to ignore his insults…” Lucy started.
Marc cut her off. “Me either. But we need some peace for right now. Once we are all set, then the rest of us will discuss if he even gets to stay in here. As far as I’m concerned, we should leave him out for whatever those things are. But that isn’t for us to decide right now. Let’s make sure we are all safe first, okay?”
Lucy sighed. “Okay. But next time he says something like that, I am going to pop him.”
Marc smiled. “Here.” He handed Lucy a broomstick. “Use this.”
Lucy smiled and gave him an approving look.
It was late afternoon. The crowd outside was slowly growing. The shamblers from the field were now walking on the asphalt of the parking lot, approaching the building. One was walking straight toward the front door. Out of nowhere, a car smashed into it. The car screeched to a halt, the passenger side door flew open, and a man emerged running toward the front door.
He pounded on it, panicking. “Open the door! Oh Christ, open it! Please!” Marc and Tim moved towards the entrance. Burt shouted at them. “Don’t you touch that door! We aren’t letting anyone else in here. It’s bad enough we have chunky here to eat all our food!” Tim, Marc, Steve and Kevin shouted in unison. “Shut up, Burt!” Marc pumped the palette jack, Steve grabbed the door, and Tim pointed the shotgun. He nodded, Marc pulled the palette, and Steve snapped the door open. The man fell forward. Several of the shamblers started toward the door. Tim pointed the gun at them. “Stay the fuck back!” Steve dragged the man in, and once he had cleared the entranceway, mark pushed the palette back into place, slamming the door on one shambler’s face. After a few seconds, the door was secure again.
The man was still panicked, thrashing around. Steve grabbed him by the front of his jacket and yelled at him. “Calm down man! Calm! Down!” He gave the man a violent shake. The man stopped. He was shaking, his lip quivered. Marc knelt beside him. “Hey, buddy, what is your name?”
The man stared at him blankly. “Your name?” Marc asked again.
“Good. I’m Marc. This is Steve, and Tim. Over there are Kevin and Lucy. The other guy is nobody.”
Alex nodded. They helped him to his feet. “You okay?”
He laughed a little. “No.”
Steve and Marc helped him onto one of the checkout lanes. Alex winced the whole time. “Jesus, what happened?” Steve was looking at Alex in horror. He had bites all over one arm and parts of his back. They got Alex some juice and aspirin. Lucy did her best to bandage up his arm. Alex’s shaking did not stop, but at least it slowed down. He was more coherent after a few minutes. He swallowed hard and began.
“I was just driving through here. I’m from up north. I saw this guy walking down the road, big dude. He was walking funny, so I stopped to ask directions and see if he was okay, and the big fucker attacked me.” Marc and Steve looked at each other.
“So I drove further down the road to this church. There was crowd out front, so I thought maybe there was a wedding or something. So I got out to ask if someone had a phone to call for help. I figured the guy must be sick or something. They fucking swarmed over me. Bit the shit out of me, pulled my hair. I got back in my car and drove off. They are fucking everywhere!”
Alex was getting worked up again. “I passed this place once, but kept going. I didn’t think anyone was here.” Alex shuddered. “There was a crashed bus, ran into a telephone pole down the road. I stopped to see if anyone was still inside. There was a little girl inside, crying. There was a man in there. Oh God! He was chewing on her foot! She was just a little girl. He was eating her! I had a gun in my glove box. I got it and shot the fucker. Six Times! He kept coming. One of them, I swear, hit him right in the heart. He should have dropped. But he kept coming. He stopped when I shot him in the head. The girl had stopped crying. I went up to her. She was cold. She wasn’t breathing, didn’t have a pulse…”
Everyone was silent, shocked. Kevin stared at Burt. Burt was looking at the ground, wide eyed.
Alex had started sobbing. After a minute he composed himself. “She opened her eyes. They weren’t normal. She started snarling at me. She got up, and was coming after me. I backed away…. She got up. She couldn’t walk well, but she was still coming. She made this awful sound, like an animal. I pointed the gun at her. I wanted to shoot, but I was out of bullets. I ran back to my car and drove back. I didn’t realize which way I was going until I saw this place. Then I noticed the cars had moved so I figured someone must be here.”
Everyone was still .Kevin broke the silence. “You mother-fucker!” He shouted and threw a coconut at Burt, hitting him in the shoulder. “Back off you little punk!”
“You bastard fucker! You said she was already dead! You said she died in the crash!” Kevin charged the older man, who swatted him with a closed fist. “Listen up you little bastard! The girl was down. If she wasn’t dead, she would have been. Plus, I wasn’t dragging her ass here! And you two are too weak or too fat!”
The entire building stared at Burt. If they disliked him before, they hated him now.
Tim was shaking with anger. “You let a little girl DIE because you were too fucking lazy to help her?”
“Go fuck yourself, trailer trash. I ain’t risking nothing for no one!”
Marc lifted his bat. “Burt, I believe you just got voted off.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Steve pointed his iron at Burt. “He means, you aren’t sleeping indoors tonight, you rotten fuck.”
Burt stared everyone down. “Oh, yeah?”
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a pistol. “And who is going to make me? You?”
Tim pointed the shotgun at Burt. “I will, asshole.”
“Shit, boy. Point that thing away or I kill this little queer.” He pointed the pistol at Kevin. “Don’t!” Tim shouted.
“Put that fucking gun down, Boy!”
Tim glanced at the others. He didn’t want to put the gun down, but he didn’t want Burt shooting Kevin either. “If you shoot that kid, I will gut you with this, you piece of shit.”
“Well then, it looks like we have ourselves a Mexican standoff here. I can wait.”
Kevin was red-faced. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “You son of a bitch..”
“Mind your manners, son. I will cap you in a second if I feel it.” Burt worked his way around Kevin, towards the back of the store, keeping his gun on him the whole time. Tim followed his every move. When he got to the doors leading to the back, Burt spoke. “I am leaving through the back. I am taking one of the cars, and I’ll be on my way. Any of you assholes try to follow me, and I will shoot you where you stand.”
“You aren’t taking any of the cars, Burt.” Lucy said. Tim nodded. “What did you say woman? You better learn your place, too, Orca.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Tim yelled.
Burt smiled. He kicked the double doors open behind him, jumped back, and shot all at once. Tim fired too. Burt howled as pellets tore into his shoulder and grazed his scalp. Steve fell to his knees, a look of shock on his face.
Tim ran after Burt, firing at him whenever he thought he had a clear shot.
The others ran to Steve. Burt’s bullet had struck him just bellow the sternum. Marc was almost crying. His brother rolled onto his back. Lucy took off her sweater and held it onto Steve’s wound. Steve cried out in pain once she applied pressure. “Steve? Steve? You’re gonna be all right, buddy, you hear?” Kevin ran after Tim and Burt. Alex sat and watched helplessly. A minute before he thought he was saved. Now the world was ending all over again.
Burt limped to one of the cars, he was in luck, the keys were in it. Tim kicked the back door open. He saw Burt and fired two shots at him. One cracked the windshield, the other hit Burt squarely, just above the left hip. Burt screamed in pain. He pointed his gun towards Tim and started shooting until he was out of bullets. Tim ducked and caught a bullet in the thigh. Kevin was running out after him at the last second. He wasn’t so lucky. Two of Burt’s rounds hit him in the chest. He dropped, dead the second he hit the ground.
Burt started the car, threw it into gear, and sped toward the gate. He was getting dizzy and couldn’t feel his left arm or leg. “That fucker killed me.” He smashed through the fencing, knocking over a couple of shamblers. He drove to the front of the building and stopped. He was fading fast. He noticed little details with new clarity for a second. The person Alex had hit was trying to crawl with it’s hands, it’s back was broken. Many more clustered around the windows, pounding in futility. Burt had an evil grin. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. He pushed down on the gas pedal with all of his strength. The car lurched forward, speeding toward the front of Mike’s. He crushed two shamblers as he smashed through the front of the store. Slammed into the registers, throwing Alex over Steve, Lucy and Marc, head first into the wall. Alex came down hard, his neck broken. His suffering was over. Marc got up from Steve and looked into the car. Burt was dead. He was leaning back in his seat, his head at a weird angle.
Marc looked back at Steve, who was choking violently. “Oh shit.” He said as he dropped to his brother’s side. Lucy held the sweater over his wound. Steve thrashed a bit and tried to say something, then stopped. Marc was shaking. His eyes glassed over as he stared at his brother. Lucy reached up and gently held his chin up. “Marc, we have to go.” She nodded past him. Shamblers were walking in the front of the building. They became excited as they noticed Marc and Lucy. The two of them got up and ran. Marc looked back one last time at his brother.
They went through the double doors in the back.
Tim got up and looked at the mess Burt had made. One car was gone, the fencing destroyed. He looked back. “Oh no…”
He hadn’t noticed Kevin. Kevin lay on his side in a pool of blood. There were two holes in his chest, and two larger ones in his back, where the bullets exited. He put his hand over the kid’s face so he wouldn’t have to see the look on it, then got up for the door back in.
It only opened from the inside. “Fuck!”
He looked around. This was the only way in. He couldn’t go around the front. He didn’t know what Burt had done, but he knew he couldn’t run with a gunshot in his leg. Tim thought for a second. He could shoot the hinges off the door.
But that would leave the back wide open, and all of them would be in trouble.
He looked around, desperate for something. Near the dock was a dumpster for recycling cardboard. It was less than half full, and over six feet tall. He could hide in there, with the lid closed, at least for the night.
He limped over to it. Jumping in was going to hurt. Kevin moved. Tim stopped halfway to lowering himself in to the dumpster. Kevin sat up slowly, making weird coughing noises.
Tim was horrified. Kevin was dead. But he was moving. Tim decided to cut his losses and crawled into the dumpster, muffling his cry when his weight landed on his injured leg. He swooned and almost threw up. Tim grabbed the lid, and slowly closed it. The day’s light was failing, but he could still see fairly well. He took off his flannel and tore off one sleeve, then tied up his leg with it. He crawled to the darkest corner of the dumpster, laid the shotgun across his legs, and closed his eyes. Outside, Kevin beat against the loading door and wailed.
Marc and Lucy ran through the back of the store, trying to find someplace to hide. They briefly considered hiding in one of the coolers they passed, both of which were easily thirty feet square, but decided that they wouldn’t last very long at 35 degrees, especially with Lucy in just a t-shirt now. They continued into a storage area. There were more palettes of paper bags, another door leading to the main body of the store, plastic containers, forks, and many other things one would find behind the scenes in a grocery store. They worked their way towards the back of the storage room. They found stairs.
They moved cautiously to the second floor, marc took lead and held his bat ready. There were noises, moaning and scraping, coming from the first floor. As best as they could tell, the first floor was filling up.
The second floor had some storage, mostly baskets and fake flowers. There was an office, with a door. They briefly considered it, but Marc pointed out that the door was a hollow core, any man could easily put his fist through it, so if the things found out they were in there, it wouldn’t take much for them to break it down.
They checked the storage more deeply, and found what they needed. The old barn had an attic, with a retractable staircase.
“Oh thank God.” Lucy sighed.
Marc pulled the string, and the stairs folded down. “Stay here a second.” He said and went up to double check the attic. Aside from dusty piles of paper, and never-discarded old storage containers, it was empty. Marc went down, and then helped Lucy up, following her. They lifted the stairs and locked them in place from inside. They were safe, for now.
The attic had windows, but they were dirty and dusted over. What they could see was a fire escape that went down to the first level roof.
“With luck, if they don’t find anything else in here, they will move on by morning. We can use the escape to get to one of the cars and get the hell out of here.”
Lucy nodded. They stacked some old containers over the entrance, if for no other reason than to feel safer, and then found a corner to try and settle down. Marc gave Lucy his jacket. They could hear shamblers bumping around downstairs.
“I hope Kevin and Tim are alright.” Lucy said. Marc only nodded. He hoped so, too, but wasn’t very confident. They had heard gunshots shortly before Burt had crashed into the store. He figured if the other two were okay, they would have seen them by now.
After a few hours, Lucy fell asleep. Marc did not. He stared out the dirty windows, wondering what he had done, wrong or right, to still be breathing.
Tim drifted into a troubled sleep. Pain and blood-loss made him weak, and he drifted off less than a half-hour after entering the dumpster.
When morning came, all was quiet. Tim woke with a start, suddenly frightened. He remembered what had happened the day before, and felt silly for allowing himself to drift off. At least he wouldn’t have had to witness his death, he thought. He gripped his gun, afraid, still, to move or make noise. He couldn’t hear anything outside, but he had visions of walking dead people waiting, patiently, outside the dumpster, ready to pounce at the first sign that he was still alive. He hoped the others were okay and would find him.
Marc let Lucy sleep well past sunrise. He didn’t have a watch, but figured it was about 8 A.M. when he roused her. “I can still hear some movement downstairs, but looking outside, it looks like any that weren’t inside moved on.”
Lucy nodded. “Are you ready to go outside?” He asked. She stared at the door, wide-eyed, then reluctantly nodded again. Marc pushed the door open.
Lucy and Marc ran down the steps onto the first floor. He kept glancing down at the back of the building where the cars were to see if anything was lurking. There wasn’t. They stopped just above the dumpster. “We can lower down onto that, and then get into one of the cars.” Marc suggested. He leaned over the roof and looked at the dock to see if anything was there; nothing but a large blood stain. He closed his eyes for a second. At least Kevin and Tim didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
He helped Lucy as best he could down onto the lid of the dumpster. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite tall enough to reach it easily, and Marc had a hard time holding her because she was heavy. Her hands slipped and she dropped onto the lid with a loud thump
Tim started at the bang on the lid. “Son of a bitch!” he said quietly. He lifted the shotgun to his shoulder. “Come on, fucker, give me something to shoot.” He waited for the lid to open. There was some movement on the lid. His finger tightened on the trigger.
Then he heard a voice. “You okay? Godamnit, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I should have eaten more fruit, I think.” came a sarcastic response.
Tim lowered the gun. A wave of hope swept over him. “Lucy?”
Marc was getting ready to lower himself onto the dumpster lid when Lucy jumped, startled. They heard a voice. “Tim?” Lucy said quizzically.
“Yeah! Sweet Jesus, yeah! I’m in the dumpster. Marc hurried down, and then he and Lucy flung the dumpster lid open. Tim was pale, holding his shotgun, and wearing his flannel, minus one sleeve. “Jesus, Tim, you look like shit.” Marc said. Tim smiled. “I’m happy to see you too. Help me out of here.” Lucy took the shotgun. Marc grabbed Tim’s hands and lifted him out of the dumpster. Tim fought back a scream as his leg lifted. They laid him down on the dock to let him get composed.
Marc helped Tim down the stairs to the car. They crawled into an old dodge. It wasn’t very fuel-efficient, but it was built like a tank. Lucy got into the driver’s seat. “I’ll drive; I think I’m the only one who got any sleep last night…” Neither man argued.
“We need to get you to a hospital, Tim.” Marc said as Lucy started the car. Tim nodded. They weren’t even sure if a hospital would be safe, but it was the best idea any could think of. “Buckle up!” Lucy shouted. They did, and they all locked their doors as well. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Marc closed his eyes. Lucy pulled the car out onto the road, and several shamblers wandered out from the front of the store to follow the noise. Marc crossed his arms, feeling exhaustion take him. His eyes were closed, so he didn’t see his brother shuffling after the Dodge.
Marc woke up with a start. It took him several seconds to get his bearings, but he soon realized he was still in the car.
“Hey, ain’t that that retard boy, Will Sutcliffe?”
A man was shuffling by the side of the road, a hundred yards down.
Tim was staring out the window at the man. “Isn’t that Will Sutcliffe? You and Steve saw him yesterday.”
Marc looked closely. “Yep, that’s him. We aren’t stopping to help him, this time.”
Lucy nodded. “We are almost to the hospital. Tim, we’ll have you patched up in no time.”
Marc nodded, still staring at the dead man walking down the road. “After that, we’ll find a place to stay.” He said. With any luck, they would find someplace they would be safe.
Within minutes, they neared hospital. It was a massive, modern building, all steel, brick and glass. They could see people on the roof of one of the wings. As they crested the hill, they could see a crowd of thousands gathered in the parking lot, milling, shuffling moaning. “Oh shit….” Lucy breathed. The people on the roof were waving. They could barley make out what they were motioning. Marc spotted it first, they were waving them away.
The shamblers near the outside of the crown turned. They began walking toward the car.
Lucy threw it into reverse, and began a three point turn. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.” Lucy was near panic.
The car stalled. The shamblers neared, their moaning grew louder. The car chugged once; then twice. It wouldn’t start. The three stared in horror as the mob approached. The first one reached the car, and pounded the window with its fist. Lucy tried the key again, but the car still wouldn’t start.