Authors: P.A. Douglas,Dane Hatchell
P.A. DOUGLAS & DANE HATCHELL
Copyright 2016 By P.A. Douglas & Dane Hatchell
Author Note: This edition of
is the extended preferred version. Although places and names in this story may depict real people and places, this book and the contents therein are fiction.
Acknowledgements: I just wanted to thank everyone at Severed Press for the opportunity to give this book the due justice it truly deserves, and to Dane Hatchell for tackling it with me.
Systematically taking each step as if it might be her last if she let her guard down, Sergeant Ashley Fox moved forward through the large, abandoned Sears building. Aisle after aisle housed the latest of civilization’s treasures. Ominous shadows grew and stretched out to reach her in the fading light attached to her M-4 rifle.
The moans and endless taunts of the undead lingering outside buzzed slightly above the eerie silence. Despite the seemingly countless numbers surrounding the building, they were the least of her concern. And though she had been trained to face the harshest conditions in a war situation, there was always the element of the unknown that worried her the most. The
presenting itself in this moment broke the paradigm of what humanity knew about death. And since death had violated its eons-old rules, she didn’t know if she was capable of succeeding in her mission.
Behind her, Corporal Russell Chadwick limped along, doing his best to keep up. Only minutes after breaching the building, fate gave him the short draw of straws. Two ghouls had leaped out from around a corner, surprising both him and Ashley.
Not following protocol, she had stepped into the attackers’ line of sight before clearing the area. Chadwick instinctively put himself between her and the nearest putrid pus-bag and knocked it to the ground.
Before she was able to get a clear headshot, the other zombie fell on top of Chadwick—biting off a solid chunk on the backside of the soldier’s neck. He quickly turned with pistol in hand, shooting the zombie in the head as it chewed his flesh, lips flapping. He snuffed the other one out with a single shot before Ashley even had a chance to react.
“You’re bleeding! Damn it. I shouldn’t have been so careless. How bad is it?” she asked, a dull pain in her chest tightened around her heart.
He had dismissed her with a wave of his hand, and pointed for her to lead the way.
Chadwick now followed with one hand tightly covering the wound. This only added to the misery he suffered from a sprained ankle the day before, keeping him from taking the lead.
He couldn’t have lost that much blood, but he was beginning to lose some color. Ashley didn’t know what she should do as she played the predicament over in her head that led them to the store in the first place.
A shape barely recognizable against the darkness moved from an aisle a few rows ahead. She instantly froze and strained like hell to make out the figure. Sure, she could have squeezed off a few rounds and asked questions later. But she had already made that mistake two days before. An old woman had reached out in desperation from behind the safety of a dumpster. Ashley rewarded the surprise with a bullet between the old woman’s eyes. Brains and blood splattered against the brick wall as a final memorial to someone not even undead. She had to be sure of her target or risk killing another innocent.
A moaning hiss uttered from the figure, echoing through the rest of the store. The zombie shuffled forward. Its neck bent at a painfully odd position. Dribble poured from its gaping mouth as it reared its head back, wide milky-white eyes glared down on her. Its clothes were torn to bits. Red coagulated blood and mutilated flesh covered the zombie’s midsection.
In one hand, the zombie held a piece of its own entrails. The gore strung from his hand to the floor then back up and into the gaping hole that had once been the creature’s stomach. A string of blood spread across the tile floor traced the zombie’s steps.
The overwhelming odor of rotting flesh and its grotesque appearance acted like invisible ropes holding Ashley down. She grabbed the front neck of her T-shirt and stretched it up over her nose. The makeshift filter did little other than to mix the horrendous stench with her hot, bad breath.
The morbid love-cry of the hungry zombie was followed by rustling and clatter from an area to her right.
It was time to dance, and if she wanted to take the lead, she had to push out the fear and move. She brought the open sites of her rifle on the monster a short distance away. A squeeze of the trigger put a single round between its eyes.
Blood and gray slime sprayed out from the back of the creature’s head as it fell limp to the floor. It lay there, one hand clutching the remains of its mostly devoured intestines. A cavern in the undead victim’s forehead leaked blackish-red gunk.
There was no time to dwell on the latest kill. There were more of the undead heading her way, and for some ungodly reason, they had the need to announce their arrival with horrible moans that laced the air with fear.
“Chadwick, we gotta move faster. I don’t know how many we’re up against. You good?” After a heartbeat longer than what she thought it should take Chadwick to respond, she looked back and found him face first on the cold tile, his hand no longer applying pressure to his neck wound.
“Shit,” she grumbled and backed up and dropped to a knee. With her gaze at full alert in front, she reached down and searched his neck for a pulse. Nothing.
She stood and looked around, trying to decide her next move, when she felt him brush against her leg. “Chadwick?” Ashley lowered her rifle and shined the light in his face. He certainly looked dead. Maybe some involuntary muscle had twitched? She had heard of things like that happening.
Before turning her attention away, Chadwick’s eyes sprang open. Milky-white eyes within blank orbs gazed back. His hand came up and grabbed the barrel of her rifle.
Ashley gasped and jumped back, pulling the rifle free of her reanimated companion’s hold.
The former corporal staggered to his feet, bringing up the ghastly song of the undead from his throat.
A hand touched Ashley’s back. She frantically turned around as a zombie grabbed for her.
The creature’s blood-stained teeth shone in the rifle’s light.
It was too close for her to get off a shot. She brought the rifle up with both hands and put it crossways between them. A quick push aided by surging adrenaline had it staggering backward. Wanting this to end quickly, she grabbed onto the rifle’s barrel, crouched and spun around, bringing the stock behind the knees of the approaching zombie, sending it to the ground. She put the barrel next to its head and pulled the trigger. Skull and brain splattered across the floor, the shot echoing throughout the store.
Chadwick lurched forward with a shaky hand reaching out for her. His face gaunt and his jaw hanging low enough for her to see his bottom teeth. The lifeless eyes threatened to steal her very soul.
More clatter and footsteps grew closer as she slowly backed away from what had once been her teammate and friend.
Ashley brought the M-4 to the ready and trained the sight on his forehead. A lump rose in her throat, she tried unsuccessfully to swallow it back down. Tears welled in her eyes blurring her vision. This was Chadwick… Russell. She couldn’t find the nerve to kill someone she had been so close to. Not even as her very life was threatened.
He moved in, pushing against the gun’s barrel, arms close enough that they touched her. She shoved him back with the rifle, dropping the weapon to her side in one hand. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. A trained soldier and she couldn’t bring herself to kill one of her own. The whole world had gone to shit and she was tired. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. She began to weep uncontrollably, shaking in her boots. She winced as two hands went for her throat.
Chadwick opened his mouth to fill it with her flesh.
A gun blast rang out from over Ashley’s shoulder that dropped Chadwick to the ground for good. Startled, she turned to face the shooter, weapon drawn. Her flashlight revealed a thin little man holding up a small handgun.
“We need to go,” the man said. “This way!” He motioned with his pistol for her to follow.
She didn’t obey. Her plans to leave this Earth suddenly snatched from her wanting grasp. Her weapon still drawn on the little man, she said, “You shot Chadwick!”
“Listen, lady, whoever that was, wasn’t your friend. I did that guy a favor. I did you a favor. Now let’s go!” He turned and bounded forward. “There are a lot more of those things in here. So if you want to live, I suggest you move!”
The survival instinct took over, and she chased after the man. There was no time to mourn for her lost friend.
The two made their way around the winding aisles, the man constantly slowing for her to keep pace. As they traveled, another zombie peered out from the corner of an aisle filled with large flat screen televisions.
Ashley stopped and took aim.
“No time, let’s keep going!” warned the stranger. He put his hand on her elbow and led her across the store.
“Where are we going? Are you alone?”
The man didn’t reply, obviously too focused on reaching safety to play a game of twenty questions.
They eventually came to a large door across from a section of refrigerators. The man stopped at the door and knocked twice in rapid succession. “Open up, it’s me!”
Metal scraping concrete sounded on the other side, and then the door swung open. Ashley followed behind her rescuer and watched the man who had moved the refrigerator peer around it. Now that they were clear of the doorway, he shoved the refrigerator back in place.
Sergeant Ashley Fox found herself staring at four strangers. Two huddled around one another like mice in a corner. Flipping the safety lever on her rifle, she scanned it around the room to get a better look using the light attached to the barrel.
The man who had moved the refrigerator looked to be in his forties. Her rescuer was younger, maybe early twenties. A little girl who couldn’t have been out of middle school and a somewhat older girl sat on the floor in the corner of the office space, with scared expressions looming over their faces.
The man who had led her through the store stepped forward with an outstretched hand. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to introduce myself earlier. I’m Victor. I work here. Well, I used to work here, that is… until all this happened.”
He stepped back after shaking hands and pointed to each of the survivors in his group. “That’s Phillip… and Jenny. And this is Kieta, my girlfriend.”
The older girl stood and stepped forward to introduce herself properly. As she came into the light, Ashley instantly saw she was
pregnant. Her belly poked out from under her shirt and was nicely tucked away under her stretchy cut jeans.
“Hi.” The young woman reached out her hand. “Please tell me you are here to rescue us. We’ve been trapped in this hell-hole for the last three days with nothing to eat.”
“I, uh, I’ll do my best,” Ashley said as she reached out to take Kieta’s outstretched hand. “I’m Sergeant Ashley Fox.” After a quick arm pump, she let go. “Is anyone here injured?” She heard their negative replies. “That’s good. I can radio for a chopper. If we’re lucky, we can get one here in a couple of hours.”
Ashley reached for the radio attached to her belt. It was no longer there.
Things are generally either really simple or really complicated, and this was… well, just simply complicated. If thinking to himself wasn’t hard enough, the background noise from Cynthia Smith stressing over the current circumstances, the consistent banging of those undead things against the latch overhead, and static from the piece of junk they called a radio made it harder. Eric Micson sat wondering what had happened to his friend, Tyler Wellington, in the middle of this God-awful chaos—which was akin to living in a bad horror movie.
He and Tyler had been best friends going on four years now, and if Tyler would be anywhere in this mess, surely this would have been the place. Eric couldn’t complain though, with what was going on outside and all around them. At least he was safe. But Tyler’s fate wasn’t the only concern he had. What about his parents? Eric had only been down in this prison for maybe two days now and yet it felt like weeks.
Eric knew that he wasn’t the only one feeling this way because tensions were starting to stir between the other two ever since the radio station stopped broadcasting, and that was only forty-five minutes ago.
It’s crazy how fast things can just fall apart,
“What, in the name of Christ, do you think is going on up there? We can’t stay down here forever. It’s starting to smell like piss. I just can’t take it anymore. Is it just me or is it getting hotter in—?”
“Cynthia, would you please shut the hell up for just one second? You’re stressing me out. Seems like you haven’t shut that trap of yours since the broadcast stopped. It’ll come back on. Just give it some time, for Christ sake,” Kent Kingsly said, and rubbed his forehead with the top of his forearm.
“Well, Kent, what’s worse? Listening to my
or sitting in silence with all the racket going on above us? It’s driving me crazy,” Cynthia said.
“Would you two just knock it off? I’m the youngest one here, and you two are the ones acting like children,” Eric said. “If it wasn’t for me, you two would still be stuck out there—probably dead,
. Based on what food and water we have in the pantry, we should be fine for days. And besides, you heard what the radio said before it cut off. The best thing we can do right now is just wait this thing out.”
“Sure, that might be easy for you to say, but no one even knows we’re down here. What are we supposed to do when we run out of food and water, huh? Go up there and face those rotting things? They’re dead.” Cynthia gritted her teeth.
Despite the fact that Cynthia was extremely pessimistic as well as stressed out of her ever-loving mind, she was right. Things were not looking good, not at all. At first, there must have been only three undead hovering over the latch to the shelter; a shelter that Tyler’s dad had built in their backyard, less than two years prior. And now days later, there had to be at least thirty or more of those bastards trying to get in.
Ever since Tyler’s mom passed away, Mr. Wellington kind of
with the paranoia thing. But you couldn’t blame him. With all the talk of society collapsing from global warming, or sun flares destroying the electrical grid, or flu pandemics, or whatever; what else was he supposed to do now that he was alone?
In his spare time, he dug this huge hole in the back yard and turned it into this bunker. He did it all by hand, using just a regular garden shovel. The hole had to be at least twelve to fifteen feet deep. He called it a
and swore up and down the Russians were planning an attack with some biohazard warfare or something, but Tyler and Eric both knew better than that. It was more like a
let’s do anything but think of my loss
kind of thing. Mrs. Wellington’s death was hard on Mr. Wellington, but even harder on Tyler. Not only did his friend miss his mother, he had to deal with his delusional dad spending countless hours on things that might be hazardous for his emotional health. Three years had passed since the car crash. But the real question for Eric still remained the same: Where in the world could Tyler and his dad be? Where else would they have gone?
Realistically, there was no way of knowing how many of those things crowded around in the yard over them. Kent had simply guessed a number and started rounding it up over time to equally balance the level of noise that seemed to grow louder each couple of hours. It sounded at times like hundreds of feet stomping about, not to mention the scratching that took place at the door, and the ever-growing moaning. Moaning that seemed almost constant.
Kent was probably right, but they sure as hell hoped to God that he was wrong. How did the undead even know we were down here to begin with? The only logical answer was the generator. It had to be the generator that was attracting the attention.
The medium-sized gas generator set next to the pantry of food and supplies. Two ten-gallon gas barrels sat beside it, filled to the brim. An extension cord ran from the generator into the wall, powering the few wall outlets that existed along one side, as well as wall switches to the lights in the main room and in the bathroom. A makeshift ventilation system ran from the generator’s exhaust. A small fan motor kicked on powered by the generator pulling carbon monoxide up a piping system into the wall.
Pretty crafty for an old man like Mr. Wellington
. Tyler’s dad wasn’t known for his handyman skills. Eric guessed the old man must have done a lot of research on the internet to get plans on how to build the shelter.
The exhaust released above ground somewhere in the back yard. The vent’s pipe stuck out of the ground about a foot, and it lightly vibrated when the generator was running. There was no doubt the generator noise traveled through the ventilation system and echoed out into the street.
Come to think of it, those things out there could probably even hear us talking too when the generator is off
, Eric thought. They turned the generator off while they slept. The things up there seemed to thin out and quite down after about an hour with it shut down.
Mr. Wellington definitely didn’t have much money and it showed in the structural foundation of the shelter. At least it was cozy. The shelter was only built for two, seeing as to how it only had two twin size beds set to the side in one very tight corner. The shelter was basically just one big room. A small table between the beds had an alarm clock on it. The clock wasn’t worth a damn because it didn’t work when the generator was off. They had put a new battery in it, but that didn’t help. So, they didn’t bother to set the time. The clock continually blinked
. The flashing clock added to the dreariness of the situation; reminding them that the world no longer operated according to a schedule. They could have turned it off, but for some reason, didn’t.
Some of the structure must have leaked. The walls on one side of the room were covered in rust from the roof to the floor. A large trail of water descended from the ceiling line to the floor, causing that corner of the room to have a faint odor of mold and mildew. If it wasn’t for the toilet being backed up, the place wouldn’t have smelled of piss. The first day into their hideaway, the toilet started overflowing and urine ended up all over the floor. The toilet pump stopped working. Kent got a good laugh out of it. Something about seeing Cynthia get all worked up seemed kind of funny to him. At least he still had a good sense of humor in the middle of all this. It was surprising, to say the least, that he still had one, but Eric was thankful for it.
There was a sink by one of the beds, but it didn’t work. It was on the same side as the rust-stained wall. Probably where the rust had come from. There were some dry goods and canned food in the room, but not a lot. Eric didn’t know what Mr. Wellington was thinking. Maybe he planned to buy some more and never got around to it. There was no way to warm any of the food, and of course, just like a bad movie, they had been unsuccessful at finding a can opener—another small detail that seemed to slip past Mr. Wellington.
The overhead latch leading to the outside was at the end of the room opposite the beds. A small ladder leaned against the wall to get to the door handle. The ladder looked as if it was supposed to be mounted to the wall, but Mr. Wellington had failed to do that too.
The shelter door had a small glass window about the size of a dollar bill, but it wasn’t worth the trouble of trying to look out of. All you could do was look straight up and right into the rot-festering mouths and hands of the dead. By this point, so many of them had gathered over it that you couldn’t tell when it was day or night. The scratching and banging of their efforts to get in had Eric feeling like he was in a pot of water slowly heating up. He couldn’t take much more.
“This is the last one. I can’t believe I’m already down to the last smoke,” Kent said.
Eric perched on the bed looked over at Kent, who was lying against the wall beside the ladder. Eric had only just met the man but liked his attitude right away. Kent came across cool and like he had his shit together. Like he didn’t have a care in the world, which didn’t make any bit of sense. Because the world as they had known it was turned upside down overnight—delivered over to rotting cannibals, and Kent was just… cool with it. Something Eric admired. Kent was lighting a cigarette no doubt. When did he ever not have one lit?
Cynthia obviously had worn herself out in the last hour from all that pacing and stressing. She sat across from him on the other bed, surprisingly silent. For an older woman, Eric couldn’t place it, but he found something rather familiar about her, but decided it best to keep that to himself. It just didn’t seem like the right time or place; not after just meeting her two days ago right before leading her and Kent to the underground safe haven.
He stared at Cynthia for a moment, taking to memory her supple form as she lay still on the bed. Her fiery red hair halfway down her back definitely shined true to her similar personality.
Surely she’s a professional of some type. Maybe even a school principal
Despite the bit of dirt on her face and the ragged
attacked by flesh eating zombies
look that she had going on, he imagined her cleaned up and in a feminine business suit, standing tall and thin. She had the legs for it if anything.
Eric briefly smiled to himself before looking back at Kent, who seemed to be enjoying that cigarette just a little too much. 12:00 flashed from behind the bed, and Kent sat with a red shadow of himself blinking against the floor from the clock.
“I’m surprised you have any cigarettes left. You’ve been chain smoking those things since the three of us arrived,” Eric said.
“Man, what I wouldn’t give for a tall glass of scotch right about now,” Kent said. “It would help me catch some sleep. I just don’t understand how she does it.” Kent pointed to Cynthia lying on the bed. “The constant racket from up top is just too much, and she manages to get some shut eye. To tell you truthfully, I probably wouldn’t be able to fall asleep even if I had an entire bottle of scotch. And yet, she is out like a light. But seriously… just a single glass, oh that would be sweet. Just enough maybe to knock the edge—”
“You know, I’ve pretty much decided that you talk as much as you do simply because you’re in love with your own voice,” Eric said. “Instead of thinking about what we don’t have that we really need, like a can opener, we should decide what to do with what we have. Cynthia is right, man. We need to figure something out before we’re totally out of food. We can’t stay down here forever.”
“Speaking of food, it’s obvious why those things want to get in here. To fucking eat us!” Kent grumbled and puffed on his cigarette. Blowing the smoke up toward the overhead door in little
shapes, he flicked his cigarette ashes on the floor. “We’re stuck in here like sardines in a can, just waiting to get plucked out and chewed up.”
Kent cocked his head to the side and gazed out at Eric through narrow eyes. After pulling a drag off the smoke, he said, “Less than a few minutes before I ran into you on the street the other night, I watched three of those things take down an old man. He moved slow—slower than those things, even. They cornered him. Had him trapped. What was I supposed to do? Get attacked with him? They tore out his guts with their bare hands and ate that crap like it was spaghetti. That old man died before any of them even took the first bite, man. It was insane.”
“Would you two please shut up? I’m trying to sleep over here.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Kent said and shook his head. “Man, she gets bossy when she hasn’t had her beauty sleep.” He chuckled and blew smoke from his nose.
“That’s right, and I’m trying to get it now. So turn off the generator, will ya? Let’s lie down for a bit. It isn’t like we have anything better to do, and I’m tired. Can’t sleep with that generator running all night. It shakes the bed too much. How you two aren’t tired is beyond me. We’ve been up forever, it seems.” Cynthia lay with her back turned to the rest of the room. “What sleep I’ve had so far is mostly from my body shutting down on its own.”
Cynthia laid there, thinking of life and how unexpected it could be. Less than a month prior, she lay in that same position in her apartment, an empty bottle of sleeping pills and over fourteen shots of Crown in her stomach. Her attempt at suicide only led to an embarrassing trip to the hospital, thanks to her roommate coming home from a trip one day early. What she found ironic in her current situation was how the tables had turned. There was surely nothing left to live for now. Everyone she knew had to be dying or dead and eating people, but now she somehow felt the need to survive. She found her second wind of purposeful hope. It made no sense.