A Round Robin story written by the featured authors of the Winter on Zombie blog tour 2017.
Chase tripped over a plastic container of board games in the middle of the floor. Pink and blue money fell out of Monopoly. Tiny plastic cars fell out of another game.
They had been here two weeks longer than they had planned. The rental house smelled and it had gotten worse since the power had gone out. The smell of the beach a few blocks away had been great when they first arrived before Chase and Holly broke up. Now the outside smelled like rotten corpses with all the zombies walking around. The inside smelled like ass and dirty socks.
Chase kicked the container again, mixing tokens and dice from a half dozen different games in the bottom of the plastic tub. “We need to clean this place up. Who still plays board games anyway?”
“Lots of people now, I bet.” River played some version of solitaire on the arm of the couch where he sat. The blue backed deck was chewed at the corners and creased across the faces of the royalty. “The ones still alive anyway.”
Chase looked over and saw the tables covered in empty dirty plates, cookware, and open containers. The counters sat filled with empty wrappers and packaging above the overflowing trashcan at the edge of the kitchen. Maybe only slightly worse than the dorm. He wondered how much of the student body still lived. Then, he wondered about his family and got a sour taste in the back of his throat.
He thought about mentioning they were running low on food and water, but he was afraid of how everyone might react. There had been more than a few shouting matches even with zombies walking close by the house.
“What’s the point of cleaning up now. We’ll finish up just in time to die here.” River’s girlfriend Allison sat at the other end of the couch from him. She had resorted to reading one of the paperback romances from one of the other containers.
Chase looked back and forth between the two of them. They tended to stay close together, but far apart at the same time the last few days. I don’t want to die here, had been the last thing Holly said the night before she snuck out and left. There had been a short note on a scrap of paper left in Chase’s shoe. It was brief and to the point. She didn’t want to be there anymore. She didn’t want to be responsible for Chase, if he went with her as she tried to get back to her family. She didn’t want him to follow her either. He still had the paper folded in his jeans pocket and hadn’t let anyone else read it.
She would have to cross most of Florida and two more states. Chase had nightmares during the rare moments he actually did fall asleep. In them, she was eaten alive on the side of the road as he watched.
This beachfront town was as far down the Gulf Coast as they could get without being at the Keys. They had talked about trying for the Keys, thinking the islands might be safer. They had talked about going home. Holly had been the only one brave enough to act. Or maybe she hated Chase that much after having a zombie apocalypse start the day after they broke up. She had been packed to leave then.
Before they came, they had been worried a hurricane might ruin their plans. The hurricane hit Mexico and they were off. If it had hit Florida, they would have been home when the dead rose and Chase might still be together with Holly as they fought off the zombies.
The slingshot twanged again. Hunter and Sonya laughed as they watched a tennis ball fly from the window and bounce over five roofs deeper in the neighborhood.
Sonya stuck up her middle finger. “Told you I could bounce it five times.”
Hunter kissed her on the mouth and said, “I knew you could. I just wanted to see it.”
Chase looked at the shelves. More containers held toys, games, books, tools, supplies, beach gear, and more.
He said, “We need to be quiet. We don’t want to attract more of them.”
Hunter looked from Chase to Sonya. The couple rolled their eyes. Chase wanted to punch them both in the sides of their heads.
Sonya said, “I bet you can’t hit that one with the hair like Trump by the mailbox.”
“Oh, that’s easy.” Hunter picked up a green and purple Nerf football and drew it back in the mounted slingshot until his hands shook. “I bet I can knock his brain out actually.”
The zombie leaned on the mailbox. Its hair was a little wild, but the creature looked more blue than orange. Something green leaked from its mouth over its chin. The zombie wore swimming trunks and a matching long-sleeved windbreaker. It had on one blue flipflop and one bare foot missing three toes.
Hunter let fly, but the football hit the wall above the window. It shot back inches from Chase’s head. River’s cards scattered. The cover ripped off Allison’s novel as the ball knocked it from her hands. The ball bounced off a mirror and hit the keys of a piano with a loud, dissonant note.
As the ball wobbled on the piano bench, the zombie by the mailbox turned toward the sound. He walked away from the mailbox, but not directly toward the house.
Hunter and Sonya held each other as they broke down in snorts and laughter. River laughed as he gathered his cards off the floor. Allison brushed the torn cover aside and returned to reading.
“You idiots are going to get us all killed.” Chase kicked the game box again, sending the little dog and racecar tokens flying.
“Lighten up. You’re making this harder on everyone,” Hunter said.
“It’s the zombie apocalypse,” Chase said. “How much harder can it be? I guess we’ll find out, if you draw the zombies to the house. Won’t we?”
His voice was already louder than he wanted it to be, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
“It’s not our fault Holly left.”
Chase turned on Hunter and they stared at each other.
Sonya stepped between. “Okay. That was too far, Hunter. Everyone needs to calm down. We’re just trying to burn off some energy, Chase. That’s all.”
“You should try.” Hunter crossed his arms.
“I should get out of this house,” Chase said.
“Do it then,” Hunter said. “I dare you.”
“You want me to leave?”
“Who said anything about leaving?” Hunter shook his head. “I just dared you to go outside. You should run around the house three times and come back in. The adrenalin will make you feel alive again. You can pick up some of the balls we shot out there, so we can keep playing Zombie Ball.”
“You’re right.” Hunter walked over and unlocked the front door. “You need a real challenge. I dare you to run across and grab up that ugly lawn gnome from the old lady living across from here. Well, maybe not ‘living’ exactly anymore, but from the yard where she used to live. You know what I mean.”
“Why would I ever do that?”
“For fun. To get out of the house. For the hell of it. Pick a reason, Chase. All I know is that you don’t have a hair on your balls, if you don’t.”
Allison spoke without looking up from her novel. “Holly told me he shaves his balls.”
After a brief pause, everyone laughed.
Hunter said, “How am I just hearing about this now?”
“You’re so weird, dude.” River shuffled his cards.
Chase stuck up both middle fingers. “You two are starting in on me now too?”
Allison shrugged. “Holly said she liked it. I might get River to do it.”
“Like hell,” River said.
“Come one, Bald Sack,” Sonya said. “Go grab the gnome. I bet we could launch it with the slingshot.”
Chase shrugged. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Are you serious?” River paused in mid shuffle.
Hunter opened the door. “Don’t talk him out of it. This should be fun.”
Chase took three breaths. Hunter opened his mouth to speak. Chase sprung through the open door mostly so he wouldn’t have to hear Hunter again.
Chase ran through the overgrown grass and hit the street. His feet slid on the accumulated sand and he had to wheel his arms to keep from falling. He looked around. The dead wandered in all directions. Most did not seem to notice him yet. They were turned away or too distant to distinguish him from the other bodies. Even the one with Trump hair still had its head down as it wandered one lawn over.
He thought maybe they could smell people. The only thing he could smell was the rot coming off of the zombies. The breeze felt good though. His pounding heart woke him up too.
He kept running across the street and dodged plastic, pink flamingos. He navigated around a spiny plant and lifted the gnome by its curled red hat. It was heavier than it looked as its boots rose muddy from the black soil and mulch. The thing had to be solid concrete.
A window shattered above Chase and rained glass down into his hair and shirt collar. The old lady growled and waved her pink fingernails inches from his face. She came closer than the football had. Glass tore at her flabby arms and exposed black, clogged veins. Glass tore her cheek, exposing more teeth and she leaned out to bite him.
Chase turned and ran, but then yelled as the spiny plant drew blood from his forearm. A couple zombies rounded the corner of the house and reached for him. Chase swung the gnome and collapsed the front zombie’s face. It stumbled back into the one behind. They both went down, but crawled back to their feet.
Chase bolted across the street. He slid on the sand again, but did not stop this time.
The zombie in the windbreaker and one flip flop stood between him and the front door. Up close, the hair looked nothing like Trump. Chase swung and broke open the figure’s skull on the side. As the creature went down on the lawn in a heap, Chase found himself picturing Hunter and Sonya, but couldn’t understand why. As the zombie stayed down with its brain leaking out, he thought about Holly and felt sick.
He ran for the front door, but then the knob wouldn’t turn. “Let me in, idiots. This isn’t funny.”
Hunter’s voice came muffled from the inside. “Who is it?”
Sonya followed. “We don’t want any. Thank you.”
They both laughed. Chase considered smashing the door down with the gnome. Then, he thought about the open window where they had mounted the slingshot. The wall was high on that side though.
It was Allison who opened the door still holding her novel. Chase pushed through and locked the door behind him. Allison returned to the couch to read.
River shuffled his cards. “Did you have fun?”
Chase checked the front window. The body on the lawn remained still. The zombie with no face walked in circles. The other went the wrong way and the old lady remained impaled on the broken glass of her window. Others wandered the streets and yards like before.
Chase held up the gnome in one hand and stuck up his middle finger from the other. “I had a great time. Thanks for asking, morons.”
Hunter and Sonya clapped for him and Chase set the heavy gnome down on its muddy feet next to him.
“Let’s launch it,” Hunter said.
Chase held up his hands. “Not so fast. I’m not the only one that’s going to play Zombie Super Dare. One of you four is going next.”
“You’re going to dare one of us now, Bald Sack?” Sonya said.
“I’m not shaving my balls if that’s what you got in mind, Chase,” River said as he set his cards aside.
“No, this will be an outside the house dare. We need get the adrenaline flowing,” Chase said.
“So, who goes next and what do you have in mind?” Hunter said.
Chase looked between the four of them. “Okay, I got a good one.”
Chase walked over to the game pieces sitting on the floor and grabbed the only one still in a package, holding it up, displaying it like a trophy.
“What the hell are we supposed to do with Jenga, Smooth Sack?” Hunter asked, walking up to Chase.
“You. You’re going next.” Chase said, challenging Hunter to accept.
There was a moment of uncertainty, before Hunter stepped closer to Chase, and asked, “What do you have in mind?”
“Come on guys, are you really going to go out there again?” Sonya stepped between them. “Is the dare really worth risking your necks? Quite literally, in fact.”
Chase and Hunter stared one another down, until they both respond with, “Yes.”
Sonya rolled her eyes and plopped down on the vacant spot in the middle of the couch, looking at the cover that was ripped from Allison’s book moments earlier. River had forgotten his cards and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
“So, what’s the dare?” River asked, intrigued.
The corner of Chase’s mouth cocked to the side. “You’re going to take this out to the street, set it up, and pull three pieces from it… without knocking it over. If you do, you’ll have to set it back up and start again. You can’t come back inside until it’s done.”
The room fell silent, until Sonya chimed in again. “That’s insane! Are you seriously thinking about doing this?” She asked Hunter.
Mischief twinkled in his eyes. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ready for some excitement.” Hunter clapped his hands together and began to rub them back and forth, displaying his enthusiasm.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” River stood.
“Sure do.” Hunter replied, bouncing on his feet. “And when I get back, guess who gets to pick the next dare.” He slugged River in the arm.
River moved toward the front door and peeked through the boarded-up window. “Where does he have to set it up? We can probably get a good view from here.”
Resembling old peeping toms, all three were soon searching the street, trying to find a drop location. Chattering amongst themselves, they agreed on a spot, and reiterated the rules. Hunter had to set Jenga up, remove three pieces without knocking it over. If he succeeded, he could return. If Jenga fell at any time, regardless of the cause, he must restack and start over.
“Can you handle it?” Chase asked, cocking an eyebrow, provoking him.
Hunter took the game out of Chase’s hands. “I got this.”
Allison mumbled, Idiots, under her breath. Not bothering to look away from her book.
“Launching things out a window is fun and much safer than this. Why don’t we use the pieces of Jenga for a target game?” Sonya’s looked more concerned with each passing second. “Hunter, this isn’t a good idea. You could get hurt.”
“Baby, it’s a dare. You can’t just turn down a dare.” Hunter countered.
“Um, yes, you can. Watch.” Sonya turned to Chase. “I’m sorry we made fun of your hairless sack. He’s not doing the dare.”
Snickers sounded around the room at the sarcastic apology.
“I’m not forcing him to do anything. I dared him. He can say, no, but then who would have the peachfuzz on their balls?” Chase turned to face Hunter with his last words.
“Whatever, Bareballs.” Hunter stepped around both Sonya and Chase and headed for the door.
River had his hand on the knob, getting ready to open and close the door. “One, two… three!” River opened the door and shoved Hunter out, slamming it behind him, and locking it.
“Don’t lock it.” Sonya said, as they all moved to the window.
“It’s part of the rules. He can’t come in until the three pieces are in his hand.” Chase reminded her.
“This is the stupidest thing ever. Who does this?” Sonya protested, but her eyes were glued to the window with interest, just as much as the rest of them.
They watched as Hunter speed walked toward the road, his head swiveling in every direction, looking for the dead. He made it to the drop location before any of the zombies noticed him. He was lucky, because they were much slower than they were in the beginning. He set the game down and began to open the box. The cardboard and plastic of the game echoed in the stillness around him, drawing the attention of two zombies loitering in the old lady’s yard.
In his haste, the pieces scattered on the pavement. “Dammit.” Hunter grumbled under his breath, knowing he’d have to restack each one dropped. “Come on. Get it together.” He tried to talk himself up, to calm down his shaking hands. Each piece he managed to set down, two fell off.
Glancing up, the zombies grew closer. Hunter knew they’d reach him before he had a chance to stack all the blocks and he couldn’t take the chance they’d knock them over. Leaving his game in the middle of the road, Hunter grabbed a lawn decoration and turned toward the advancing zombies. He dispatched them easily, with quick stabs to the head, dropping them to the street. By killing these two, he’d now drawn the attention of several others in the neighborhood, who were all now turning and walking in his direction.
“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” Hunter ran back to the door and pulled the handle. “Let me in. There’re too many of them.”
“Who is it?” Chase mimicked Hunters words.
“Seriously. Let me in.” Hunter’s heart pounded so hard, he was surprised it wasn’t knocking on the door too.
“A dare is a dare.” Chase said. “Finish.”
Hunter heard Sonya in the background arguing with Chase to open the door. River agreed with Chase, not allowing Hunter to enter.
Hunter knew he must finish if he wanted a shot of returning. The zombies were beginning to draw more attention by the minute.
He moved back to the game, stacking the remaining pieces quicker than he thought possible. There were no stipulations on where he must pull the pieces from, bottom or top, so he snagged the three easiest blocks and stood. It was only then, he heard the moaning directly behind him.
Jumping forward, his shirt was caught between the snapping of teeth, tugging him backward. He landed hard on the cement, knocking the wind from his body momentarily, forcing him to suck in a harsh breath. The zombie was on him in seconds, somehow much faster than moments before, trying its best to rip the meat from his body.
By some miracle, he’d able wedged his hand up under its neck, digging his fingers into the soft, brittle skin. Flesh and tendon tore away as easy as paper, until fingers touched bone. Twisting, the spine snapped much easier than he expected, dropping the creature to the ground beside him.
Covered in bile, Hunter leaned down and picked up the three blocks he dropped when the zombie attacked and hurried back to the front door. The zombies were only a few steps away, when he pounded on the door.
“I’ve got them,” Hunter yelled.
The doorknob turned and River was there to pull him inside, slamming the door behind him, effectively locking out the dead.
“You did it.” Chase said in awe.
Hunter tossed the pieces on the ground and wiped his forearm across his nose. “Who wants to go next?”
Sonya threw herself at Hunter and kissed him, not caring he was covered in zombie sludge.
Hunter kissed her back with a grin. Once they’d had their momentary fill of each other, little breathless, he asked again, “Who wants to go next?”
Looking out the window, River shook his head and said, “You’ve attracted too many. No one can go out there right now without getting ambushed.”
Hunter laughed and addressed Allison. “Are you sure he has hair on his balls?”
“Yes, I have hair on my balls,” River snapped, turning from the window to confront Hunter.
Chase snickered. “Wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be, huh?”
“No,” Hunter said, “but it was a rush. I’ll look for some inspiration while someone finds their backbone.” He disengaged himself from Sonya and bent to rummage through the game pile in the middle of the room.
“It’s not safe,” River said again, pacing back toward the window and looking outside. “More of them keep coming.”
“It’s so nice of you to be concerned,” Chase said. “No one gave a shit about my safety…or Hunter’s.”
“Gawd, you guys are like little girls,” Allison said, standing and putting the novel she was reading on the arm of the couch. “I’ll go just to shut you all up.”
“Really?” Hunter said, looking up at her with a grin.
“That’s not gonna happen,” River said, stomping over to Allison. “I said it was too dangerous.”
“Whatever,” she said. “You apparently don’t have the balls to do anything, so I will!”
Sonya looked back and forth between the two of them and then down at the games Hunter was searching through. She noticed he was now holding the board for Chutes and Ladders.
“I’m not letting you go out there!” River screamed.
“Shhh!” Chase hissed as the zombies outside started banging on the door Hunter had led them to. He reduced the volume of his voice to a whisper. “You’re making it worse.”
Hunter sneezed. “I’m going to go get cleaned up and then it’s Allison’s turn.” He handed the Chutes and Ladders board to Sonya as he headed toward the bathroom.
She grinned, looking at it.
River and Allison stood fighting in whispers and with aggressive hand gestures while Chase kept an eye on things outside. There were close to twenty zombies gathered on the front lawn. They were tripping over each other in their haste to get to the door where four of them were already pounding on the barrier. He could see more zombies staggering down the street and from between houses, heading their way. Things had taken a quick turn for the worst with Hunter’s dare. His adrenaline was still pumping though, causing him to shift his weight back and forth from foot to foot while his mind kept flashing to the possibility of Holly being in a situation like this…where the zombies were closing in.
“Ready?” Hunter asked as he came back into the room looking marginally cleaner.
They’d filled the bathtub with water when things got weird and refilled in every day, while the water was still flowing. They didn’t drink it, since it could have somehow gotten contaminated somewhere down the line, but they used it to bathe. They would also used it to flush the toilet, once the water stopped flowing.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Allison said, stepping around River.
“No, she’s not!” River growled and grabbed her by the upper arm.
“Let go!” she snarled and shook him off. “If you wouldn’t have been more of a pussy than Smooth Sack, then I wouldn’t have to go next to shut you guys up. So shut up and sit down while I take care of business.”
Sonya and Hunter snickered at the exchange.
Chase kept his eye on the goings-on out front.
“She won’t be able to get out the door,” he said. “We might have to wait.”
“Nah, she doesn’t,” Hunter said, walking over and taking the Chutes and Ladders game board from Sonya. “She’s going out the window.”
Everyone turned to look as Hunter held up the game.
“We’re going to lower Allison out the window with some tied together sheets,” Hunter continued. “Then she’s going to run over to that corner grocery and grab us a snack. Then, she has to get the ladder from the garage two houses over to get back in.”
“That’s insane!” River screamed. “That’s too much. How’s she supposed to do all that?”
“There’s a grocery store close-by?” Chase asked, frowning and walking over to the window Hunter and Sonya had been launching things from.
“Yeah,” Sonya said, pointing out the window to a corner store about three blocks away, “right there.”
“We won’t be able to see her the entire time,” Chase said. He was happy to know there was food nearby, and he liked the idea of one of them going to check it out to see if it would be worth a serious supply run. But, at the same time, he could see why River didn’t like the idea of Allison going that far and doing that much on her own. But…dares weren’t supposed to be easy.
Hunter looked at Allison and handed her the board.
“I Zombie Super Dare you.”
“Come on,” River said. “Someone back me up on this… It’s too dangerous right now. Can’t she wait maybe an hour or something?”
“No,” Hunter said.
“Do you think you can do it?” Chase asked Allison, motioning for her to come to the window and see where she needed to go.
“Pfft, yeah,” she said, looking out the window. “Where’s this ladder supposed to be?”
Hunter joined Sonya, Chase, and Allison at the window. River remained standing in the middle of the room, fuming.
“See that house with the red metal star above the door?” he asked, pointing.
“Yeah, I see it,” she said.
“See that ladder leaning up against the side of the garage, on its side, on the ground?”
Allison squinted, looking at the pieces of wood barely visible in the long grass. “Are you sure that’s a ladder?”
“I’m pretty sure,” Hunter said. “I tell you what, if it’s not a ladder, we’ll pull you up with the sheet rope we’re letting you down with. Deal?”
Allison nodded. She was putting on a brave front, but she agreed it was too dangerous to go back out at the moment. But, she was pissed at River for trying to control her. She knew he was just trying to keep her safe, but damn it, she was a grown woman who could do what she wanted. And since he hadn’t stepped up, she might as well. That’s how their relationship always seemed to go, and sometimes, like right now, it really pissed her off. Sometimes she felt like the man in the relationship.
Hunter headed out of the living room and down a short hall on the left. He passed by the bathroom and headed into the bedrooms one-by-one, collecting sheets. He returned with an armload.
“Sonya, babe, how many do you think we’ll need to reach the ground?”
She looked out the window, squinted her eyes, and bit her bottom lip while she tried to gauge the distance down.
“Well, I think it might be one story plus, so that’s what? One story is what? Eight feet? Or ten? But the yard slopes off a little and I can see some of the foundation.” She pulled her head back in and turned to Hunter. “Let’s go with twelve or more just to be safe, just in case we have to pull her back in.”
Chase and River started helping Hunter.
“This is bullshit,” River muttered. “You wouldn’t make your girlfriend do this.”
“If you weren’t such a puss, you’d be going out instead of her,” Hunter retorted.
River glared at Chase.
When River turned his attention back to tying a good, tight knot between two sheets, Chase winked at Hunter, who was grinning.
By the time they were done, Sonya and Allison were chatting about snacks and what she might find at the grocery store. Allison was in a much better mood, thinking about food and grinning. She still wouldn’t make eye contact with River.
There were a couple of zombies outside, loitering below the window as Sonya and Hunter let the sheet rope down to make sure it was long enough; it was three feet short of touching the grass with plenty for them to pull and bring Allison back up if necessary.
“I’ll bang on the door a couple times to see if I can draw all the zombies to the front yard,” Chase said.
Allison nodded, stretching to warm up her joints, tendons, and muscles. She’d run track when she was in high school, so running the distances Hunter was talking about wasn’t that big of a deal to her. The only concern she had was being able to get something from the grocery store without drawing too many zombies.
“You don’t have to do it,” River said, trying one last time to get Allison to reconsider.
“Damn, we went over this crap with Hunter,” she snapped. “A dare’s a dare and I’m going. Maybe by the time I get back you’ll find your balls in all the hair that hides them.”
“Ready?” Hunter asked.
Allison nodded, walked over to the window, and waited for Sonya, Hunter, and River to get a hold of the rope. She climbed up and out the window.
As her head disappeared from view, Chase banged on the door really hard for a couple seconds and then ran over to join everyone else at the window.
The noise worked. It was drawing two zombies below toward the front of the house.
Allison looked up as she neared the ground. Once she let go of the rope and her sneakers hit the ground, she glanced up quickly to see four sets of eyes looking down on her before she took off like a shot.
She didn’t care about what was around her because she was sure she could outrun whatever dangers there might be. The smell of festering, rotting flesh gagged her and slowed her down a few times. Then the sea breeze would swirl its way through and she’d be right on track. She used her anger at River to help fuel her when she started to get tired and winded about halfway to the grocery. The time spent doing little to no activity and having little food had weakened her more than she’d expected.
“Holy shit!” she screamed as a zombie moved in front of her from around a car.
The once woman wore a G-string bikini that was now soaked in pus and other fluids. Part of her left breast had been gnawed off, exposing her silicone implant. Her manicured nails were cracked, chipped, and broken down to her cuticles.
Those clawed and dangerous hands shot out with unnatural speed to tangle in Allison free-flowing chestnut locks, halting her forward momentum.
Allison felt instantly whiplashed. Her muscles tensed, stretched, and pulled against the sudden restriction. Her right leg cramped and she went down, just as the bleach-blonde breast bimbo zombie closed the gap between her mouth and Allison’s face.
“Not today, slut!” Allison yelled as she shoved the emaciated body of the woman away from herself.
The zombie stumbled backward and fell, its arm detaching from its body to dangle from Allison’s hair.
Allison grabbed the arm, yanked hard to dislodge the hand gripping her hair, and proceeded to beat the zombie with its own appendage. The bone was just strong enough for one final stab to the bimbo’s head to put her down for good.
More zombies were moving in, drawn by the noise and action.
“Shit,” Allison muttered, trying to catch her breath and rubbing the cramp out of her leg. She put her hand on the hood of the car and thought for a moment, looking around. She determined that if she wove in and out from between the cars she could keep the zombies at a safe distance while she walked the cramp out of her leg. By then, she hoped to be to the grocery.
The zombies that tracked her seemed to all be elderly men in shorts and polo shirts. She couldn’t help but snicker, thinking of how their golf game must have been interrupted by zombies.
Finally, she reached the glass door of the grocery store, with the trailing zombies a decent ways behind, trying to figure out how to follow her in the maze of cars. Her leg felt better and her spirits were high…until she tried to open the door.
A bell rang on the inside of the door. She looked up to see a little brass bell swaying moments before a body slammed against the glass that separated them by a mere couple of inches.
“Oh, no,” Allison breathed, instantly wanting to cry and throw up.
The zombie smashing its mouth violently against the glass repeatedly, smearing the glass with blood, slobber, and puss was Holly. Or … used to be Holly.
“This can’t be happening,” she whispered as she looked around frantically and tried to figure out what to do.
The golf geezers were slowly moving in on her location. She needed to get in, get the goods, and get out. But…one of her best friends in the entire world, someone who felt like a sister to her, was on the other side of the glass.
She wanted to kick Hunter in the balls and punch River in the face. It was both their faults she was out in the open and in this mess.
Allison closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and told herself, “Do what you have to do to get back and stay alive. You can’t help Holly – she’s gone.”
With another deep breath, she opened her eyes, steeled her will, shoved the door open with all of her might, and looked around for a quick weapon.
Zombie Holly had stumbled backward when Allison shoved inside, and she had fallen against a shelf stocked with chips and pies. But she bounced back and was after her prey in just seconds.
Allison darted behind the counter and breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted a shotgun laying discarded on the floor beside a dried up puddle of blood. She picked it up, prayed that it was loaded, pressed the muzzle into the zombie’s chin as it attacked, and pulled the trigger.
Zombie Holly’s head exploded as a spray of shot decimated the soft tissue of her rotting head. The ceiling above and the window behind were painted in a sliding kaleidoscope of reds, pinks, browns, and blacks.
Allison opened her mouth wide a couple times to try and adjust her hearing. She hadn’t expected the blast to be that loud, but then again, she knew little about firearms. Point and pull the trigger was the extent of her knowledge. What else she did know was that the loud noise would bring more zombies and she needed to get moving.
She glanced down to see plastic bags under the counter right in front of her. She grabbed one, hopped over Zombie Holly’s prone body, and threw as many random snacks as she could in the bag while still holding the shotgun. She had no plans of putting it down. The weapon was going with her for the return trip. She was emotionally frazzled and her ears were buzzing and unreliable…she needed every edge she could obtain.
It seemed like forever, but was less than a minute since she’d entered, that she exited the grocery and headed toward the house where the ladder was supposed to be. She wanted to run straight back to the house and have them pull her up, but she figured if she didn’t at least attempt to get the ladder, since she was playing Hunter’s perverse version of Chutes and Ladders, then they wouldn’t let her come in no matter how many snacks she’d snagged.
The golf geezers were heading straight toward her, so she jogged across the street and wove through as many obstacles as possible. Once she knew she was safe for a moment, she glanced back to see them and a bunch of other zombies heading to the grocery. She knew they were going to investigate the loud noise…and she was fine with that. Their curiosity cleared the street for her and she made it to the house with the ladder with no further incident. And it was a ladder, it just wasn’t a whole one. Half of the rungs were missing.
Allison dropped the gun and the bag of snacks into the grass and wrestled the ladder to a standing position where she knew Hunter, Chase, Sonya, and River would be able to see it. She wanted them to know she couldn’t use the ladder and they would have to pull her up.
She let the ladder fall back into the grass and mud, picked up her weapon and bag of snacks, and headed for the house at a dead run before anyone or anything else could get in her way.
When she reached the house she was pleased to see the sheet rope was lowered and ready for her. No sooner did she get the bag of snacks on her arm, secure the gun in the leg of her pants, and grab ahold of the fabric than she was being pulled upward.
She breathed a sigh of relief and just flopped down on the floor once she was inside. She completely ignored everyone around her. All she could think about was whether or not she should tell anyone about Holly… It took all she had not to cry.
“You did it!” Chase yelled.
“You rock! I knew you could pull it off,” Hunter chimed in.
“You go, girl,” Sonya said.
“Are you okay?” River asked, kneeling down beside her and reaching out to comfort her.
“I’m fine,” Allison snapped, finally sitting up. She shoved River’s hands away and threw the bag of snacks at Hunter. “Here’s your damn snacks.”
She stood and fished the gun out of her pants.
River stood beside her and watched her every movement. He could tell something was wrong…something more than her just being mad at him. He felt something had happened out there that upset her, he just didn’t know what it was. He knew better than to ask her about it. She apparently wasn’t ready to talk. He would wait…he would be patient until later when they were alone.
“Was that the boom we heard?” Chase asked, looking at the gun. “Did you blast a zombie?”
Allison nodded and handed the gun to Chase. “Yeah.”
“Wow!” he said. “I’m impressed. You did awesome!”
“Boy, did she ever,” Hunter said. “Look at all this food she brought back!” He’d dumped the bag of snacks on the floor in front of him. The pile contained chips, pretzels, cookies, and candy.
“Was there more food?” Chase asked, getting excited. “Was the place looted at all? Or was there a good supply of stuff still there?”
“There was still a lot of stuff,” Allison said.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sonya asked. “You don’t seem excited at all. Didn’t you get any kind of adrenaline rush? How many zombies did you kill? A couple? That had to be badass!”
“If you think it would be so badass, why don’t you do it?” Allison asked, getting angry and trying to deal with having to put down Zombie Holly.
“Okay,” Sonya said, grinning and spreading her arms wide. “Dare me!”
“And then they all died, because they were a bunch of idiots,” River said, looking at the growing crowd of zombies outside the house.
The others ignored him, waiting to hear Allison’s pick for dare. She looked ahead at the bookshelf and the stack of extra board games, but her focus was three blocks away, in the grocery store.
The image of Holly’s head bursting open like a melon with a cherry-bomb dropped inside played over and over again in Allison’s mind. Her best friend’s head was lying in pieces in the grocery store, then it would play back, rewinding, reconstructing, back into Zombie Holly, and from there, into healthy, normal, human Holly. Crying, begging to be left alive. And then Allison would shoot her all over again.
“It’s the end of the world, there are no rules anymore.” That’s what she had told Holly when her friend had confided in her, told her she was thinking of leaving Chase. Allison had shrugged. She had actually shrugged when Holly needed her most. She’d said, “So leave him. We could all be dead tomorrow.”
And then Holly really had left, not just Chase, but all of them. We could all be dead tomorrow. Holly was dead now; twice dead, after following Allison’s flippant advice.
“Hellllooooo—Earth to Allison!” Hunter now said, waving a hand in front of her face in an effort to break her out of her trance.
“Yeah, let’s go!” Sonya added. “I’m ready to go kill some of these braindead ghouls. Give me the shotgun, give me a dare, and unleash this zombie-slaying badass!”
Holly’s head exploded again.
“Shut up!” Allison screamed. “You don’t know what it’s like. Her head…it was there, then it just…wasn’t.”
“Whose head?” Chase asked.
Sonya inspected the shotgun. Pumped a new shell into the breach. “They’re already dead, what’s the big deal?”
“You’re not actually beating yourself up over a zombie?” Hunter piled on, laughing.
“Shut up, just give her a second, man,” River said.
In all honesty, River didn’t understand why she was so shaken up any more than the rest of them. But, you know, brownie points, he told himself.
“What did you see at the grocery store?” Chase prodded.
Allison felt at a loss for words. She closed her eyes, but that just brought back Holly. Instead she looked at the board games again, but that didn’t help either. With their titles, it was like they were mocking her. Guess Who?, Sorry!, and CLUE stared back at her. Her eyes locked onto CLUE.
Hunter waved Chase away, shushing him. “Look, she’s thinking of the dare. But make it challenging, at least. Anyone can kill a zombie.”
Allison rushed forward, grabbed the CLUE game and shoved it against Sonya’s chest. Sonya cried out when the corner of the game dug into her breastbone with a pained, “Watch it!”
“Right! Anyone can kill a zombie,” Allison growled, low, dark. “If you’re so tough, go kill a living person. See how you feel then.”
She stormed off to the master bedroom, slamming the door behind her. The door hit loud, too loud, and everyone jumped. The dead outside moaned in response, smashing their rotting, fetid hands against the front door.
“What’s eating her?” Hunter said, to no reply.
The moment held long in the stale air, each person waiting for the other to press the issue.
“I told you guys this was a stupid idea, but you didn’t want to listen,” River said finally.
“Oh, get off it,” Chase shot back. “You enjoyed seeing Hunter and me squirm. Not so fun now, is it?”
Sonya walked over to the slingshot. “Whatever, let’s get back to throwing balls.”
“No. Dare’s a dare, right?” Hunter said with a grin.
River started towards the bedroom, then turned back. “That’s right. Dare’s a dare. ‘We already went over this crap with Hunter’ remember? No backing out.”
“Allison didn’t really mean it, you know that,” Chase said.
“Nut up or shut up,” Hunter laughed, still trying to make it a joke.
River checked on the bedroom door, surprised when he found it unlocked. Slowly, cautiously, he let himself in. The three friends still in the living room looked to one another, trying to gauge the mood.
“What about that guy on the boat?” Sonya said, sudden. Too serious. Then she raised an eyebrow. “The one who would only let girls onboard?”
“You…want to kill him?” Chase asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
“No, of course not. But it got me thinking. We can’t stay in this dump forever. We’ve talked about going to the Keys, so let’s do it! I take the shotgun, get on the boat, then I tell him that I’m going to kill him. We take the boat and get out of here.”
“Okay, screw that,” Hunter said. “If you get on this rando rapist’s boat, we’ll never see you again.”
Chase shrugged, enjoying Hunter’s dismay. “You know what’s more badass than taking out a zombie? A goddamned zombie-slaying pirate, that’s what.”
“No, man. No way. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is a stupid idea—and I’m the king of stupid ideas, remember? Chase, back me up. I’ll stop calling you Smooth Sack, I swear.”
Chase considered a moment, then looked to Sonya. “Holly said she was gonna go along the coast…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Sonya looked down at the CLUE board game, then grinned. “It was the zombie-slaying pirate, on the boat, with the shotgun.”
“Okay, so after you steal the boat—“
“Hey, remember when you stole a lawn gnome? Or when I played Jenga? How about something like that, huh?”
“After you steal the boat,” Chase continued, speaking only to Sonya. “Give three loud blares of the horn. That will be our signal to head out to you, and should draw the dead away from the house for us.”
Hunter started to protest again, but Sonya silenced him with a long, passionate kiss. “I’m not Allison, you’re not River. You believe in me, don’t you, babe?”
“I knew you could do it, I just wanted to see,” Hunter said, echoing his earlier sentiment. But that was a slingshot and the words sounded hollow even as he said them.
“Okay, hurry and get everything packed up. I won’t be long. I’ll take the window exit.”
Hunter walked over to the front door, slid the security chain into place, and let the door open a crack. “Attention all dead people! Over here! House full of living, come n’ get it!”
That did the trick. The zombies slapped their mitts against the door with renewed frenzy, really piling on. Sonya left out the window, letting the distraction buy her some space. Once she was gone, Hunter pushed to close the door—but couldn’t. There were far too many zombies now and their weight not only wedged the door in place, but the wooden connection to the security chain started to crack and groan as they pressed their way in.
“Oh, God! I can’t close the door!” Hunter shouted.
“Couch! Shove it against there!” Chase said, thinking quickly.
Sonya was now running towards the shore, shotgun at the ready, passing the undead with relative ease. They were all headed for the rental house, after all.
A lifeguard zombie, red shorts, whistle, and abs still in place, staggered towards her from the shore. His lower lip was torn away, likely from giving mouth-to-mouth with the infected before he knew what was really going on. His uncoordinated footing in the sand made him easy to run around.
Too easy. And there’s the boat! Sonya thought. Still cruising the market for fresh meat, the perv.
She checked the shotgun one more time, then called out to the guy. Thing is, she really did plan on fulfilling the dare. That is to say: she wasn’t going to threaten the creep at all. She was going to board the boat and give no quarter, just like a real pirate.
He’d offered to take Holly, Allison, and herself the first day after the zombie apocalypse struck in earnest, but not the guys. Classic end-of-the-world creep move. He’d be no real loss when she shot him, threw his body overboard, and took the boat for herself.
“It’s the end of the world, there are no rules anymore. We could all be dead tomorrow.” That’s what Holly had said when Sonya caught her sneaking out of the house. She hadn’t been able to look Chase in the eye the next morning when he announced Holly was gone, and she wasn’t really sure what her friend had meant, not at the time, but she was pretty sure she knew now.
Sure enough, there was Mr. Creep, waving at her from his boat. “His” being a vague description. It was a Coast Guard boat, likely looted. That would make this easier, if only a little bit. She steeled herself for what she had to do.
He brought the boat to a wooden dock, and she ran out to greet him. She’d hoped he would step off to help her onboard so that she wouldn’t get his brains all over her new pirate ship, but no such luck. She didn’t even have a clean shot on him. She’d have to board the boat first.
Looking back, she realized she had a tail of zombies following her. She had easily outrun them, but still, what they lacked in speed, they made up for in persistence.
Mr. Creep pulled the boat away from the dock even as she boarded. She’d have to be careful; choose when to shoot him wisely. Otherwise he might crash the boat into the dock and ruin everything.
“I’m Skylar,” he said. He was younger than she might have imagined, mid-thirties, and actually kind of attractive. He wore thin glasses that made him look smart, yet handsome. Not really very creepy-looking at all, she admitted.
But a dare’s a dare, Sonya reminded herself. She curled her finger around the shotgun trigger. Almost time.
“You can call me the dread-pirate Sonya.”
Skylar looked at her quizzically, like he didn’t get the joke. Sonya started to raise the shotgun, ready to show him what she meant, but was cut short by high-pitched laughter and a girlish voice saying, “A pirate? Cool!”
A young girl, just a kid, maybe twelve years old, came from the lower interior of the boat.
“This is my niece, Ashley,” Skylar continued the introductions.
“We’re hiding from zombies!” Ashley piped up, painfully innocent.
Sonya’s heart sank, finger fell off the trigger. The guy wasn’t a creep at all—he was worried about the real creeps! He was only trying to protect this girl from end-of-the-world predators.
“So … do you like board games?” Sonya asked as Skylar pulled away from the shore.
Skylar watched Sonya pace along the boat’s railing. Part of him hoped she didn’t have anybody waiting on her, because he kind of liked her. Still, he had Ashley to think about. He didn’t know this girl or what kind of people she might be in league with.
“What did you mean about board games?” Skylar inquired.
“My friends and I have been throwing down some dares to each other to pass the time. In fact, me coming here for the boat was a dare,” Sonya replied.
“Okay, you’re on the boat…now what?”
Sonya looked over at Ashley and smiled. She hoped this didn’t go sideways on them. “I need you to blow your horn three times as a signal I’m on the boat.”
Sonya winked at him. “Well silly, then my friends join us and we let the games continue.”
Skylar suddenly didn’t feel safe. These ‘friends’ of Sonya’s might be deranged lunatics and they might hurt Ashley. They’d barely survived the trek to the docks where he commandeered the boat in the first place. He wanted to live and these assholes sounded like they wanted to dance with death, or un-death, as a game.
“How do I know you’ll not kill us and take the boat?” Skylar asked.
Sonya flashed him a sly smile and winked. “Maybe that’s the dare I have for you.”
A chill rushed over Skylar in the warm Florida sun. He watched Sonya closely as she sat down on the rail and looked out toward the beach. He really began to question himself, but in the shit the world was in, would he be able to protect Ashley better with greater numbers? More people would be able to help than he could himself.
“How many blasts?”
“Three, Honey.” Sonya smiled and jumped to her feet.
The three horn blasts echoed through the beach. Skylar’s blood ran cold when he realized what he’d done. Along the beach and from the shops lining the boardwalk, zombies began to shamble from the shadows and buildings in a large mass. He looked at Sonya and he saw the horror etched on her face.
“Ashley, head below,” Skylar muttered.
“But …” Ashley pleaded.
Ashley burst into tears and sulked below deck. He hated yelling at her, but the undead were flooding out and spreading out across the sand. He heard her sobbing over the increasingly louder moaning from the beach.
“Slow the boat up, damn it!” Sonya called out.
Skylar pulled back on the throttle and the boat slowed to a crawl. Sonya leaned over the rail and screamed. She fell backward on the deck and tried to back away from the side of the boat. She let out another cry and he watched a hand reach out below the rail. Blackened flesh hung loosely from the fingers. Long jagged nails clawed at the wooden deck and small crabs climbed across the tattered blue jacket sleeve as the zombie pulled itself up the side of the boat.
“Holy shit-balls,” Skylar whispered.
Jumping into gear, Skylar raced across the deck. “You like playing fucking games?”
Sonya scrambled to her knees and began to get up when the zombie’s head appeared over the side of the boat. Black teeth grinned at her and a small fish fell from its mouth. An empty cavity where a nose used to be housed a window straight to the grey brain behind the hollow eye sockets.
“Yes, I like games!” Sonya replied.
“I play soccer!”
When Skylar was a few steps away, he drew his right foot back and teed off on the zombie’s face. His canvas skate shoes connected under its jaw and the head snapped backwards. It made a squishing sound and his foot sank into the loose skin and slack muscles under its chin. He drew his foot from the ruined face. The stench wafting from the black goo on his shoe and, pooling on the deck, made him want to gag. The zombie toppled from the side of the boat and hit the ocean with a splash.
“My game good enough for you?” Skylar spat.
Sonya stood up and Skylar could read in her eyes how shaken she was. “And you didn’t even need one of us to dare you.”
Ashley’s head peered out from the top of the stairs leading to the rooms below deck. Her eyes were puffy and red from where she’d been crying and Skylar felt his ire grow. Sonya’s signal to her friends called the dead out of their hiding places out into the open. He surveyed the beach and how many of the zombies fell over each other trying to get at the seagulls picking at the dead bodies that had been washing in on the tide. They’d pick a strip of meat and take flight to feast on their liberated meal.
“Will your friends make it?” Skylar asked. “I’ll wait, but I’m not giving them long.”
“Thanks.” Sonya sighed.
“Don’t thank me yet … this is my game for them,” Skylar said and sat down behind the controls.
Sonya hoped they heard the horns and were on their way. She hoped they’d be able to make it through the waves of the dead washing through the streets looking for a meal. She hoped she hadn’t made the biggest mistake in her life by not killing Skylar.
“Jesus,” River gasped, running his fingers through his hair. He paced the room, his mind still reeling from what Allison had just told him. “Are you positive?”
“I think I know my own best friend.” Allison shot back, locking her wet, bloodshot eyes with his. “It was her,” she continued, her voice barely above a whisper. “Holly’s dead. She was my best friend … and I shot her.”
“What are we going to tell Chase?” He exhaled, taking a seat beside her on the mattress.
“We’re not going to tell him anything!” She snapped.
“We have to!” he replied. “She’s his gir–”
“Ex-girlfriend,” Allison interrupted. “They broke up, remember?”
Her breath caught as fresh tears rolled down her already soaked cheeks. Holly filled her memories, the smiling face of a carefree girl she had called friend for so very long danced through her mind. Sharp stabs of guilt pierced her heart as she relived those very last moments she had seen Holly alive. Allison had pushed her away when Holly needed her friend the most.
“It was my fault.” Allison sobbed. “She left because I blew her off. She died because I was too preoccupied with my own shit to talk to her when she needed me.”
“No,” River said, laying his hand on her shoulder. “It’s not your fault. She just–”
“Yes, it is!” She spat, slapping River’s hand away. “I didn’t have time for Holly because I was preoccupied with how to deal with you!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he replied, rubbing the soreness from his hand.
“What have you done since all this started? You haven’t lifted a finger to do anything since we got stuck in this hell hole! You sit around and bitch about everything, but you never step up!”
“That’s bullshit!” River defended himself. “I helped barricade the house!”
“That was weeks ago!” She forced out through clenched teeth. “You’ve been no help since then. You didn’t even have the guts to take your own dare!”
“Oh, you’re going to bitch me out because I didn’t want to play their stupid fucking game? There was no purpose to it! I’m not going to die for that shit!”
“But it’s okay for Hunter?!” She growled. “You opened the door for him! You were all for it when it wasn’t your ass on the line.”
“If he wanted to kill himself, I wasn’t going to stop him! I sure as hell didn’t want you out there!”
“But you didn’t step up either, did you?!” Allison spat. “It was your dare, but you didn’t have the balls to take it! You didn’t even offer to come with me!”
“It was a stupid dare!”
“It was a supply run!” she screamed, much louder than she had intended. “Chase, Hunter … they played a stupid game! But I went for food! You were complaining all day yesterday about how low our food supplies were. But when the chance came to restock our food, where were you? Lowering me down to the ground on a bedsheet rope, that’s where you were.”
River stared at her, dumbfounded. He wasn’t sure if he should defend himself or if he even could. They’d fought for several minutes before she finally let him know in no uncertain terms that she would be taking his dare. He’d relented, dropping his objections as everyone came up with their lists or preferred snacks.
The idea of volunteering to go with her had never crossed his mind. He’d lowered his girlfriend to the ground while he sat back in safety as she faced the unknown alone. He lowered his head, trying to bury his shame. He opened his mouth to speak, but Allison cut him off.
“You know what I told Holly the night before she left?” she asked somberly, her vacant stare cast to the floor. “I told her that we could all be dead tomorrow. Those were my last words to her when I blew her off. But what I said is the truth. We could all be dead tomorrow.”
“You’re useless,” she cut him off, whipping her head around to face him. “You’ve been useless before this ever started. I needed a fucking zombie apocalypse to see it. You’re useless to this house. You’re useless to your friends. And you’re useless to me. I don’t have time for useless people, so I don’t have time for you.”
He stared into Allison’s face as her words sunk in. Her eyes that only moments ago were reddened with tears had dried up, her soft face hardening with the determination of a woman who would not argue her point.
A cold emptiness filled River’s chest as his body numbed. His mind could not come to terms with the severe emotional assault. The stale air, ripe with the sickly odor of decay, felt heavier than he could ever remember it before.
Several uncomfortable minutes passed as the two of them stared at each other in silence. A horn sounded in the distance. It wasn’t much different than the moans of the dead outside. River could not bring himself to tear his eyes from Allison’s. He knew it was over between them, but he still couldn’t bear to turn away from her.
“Thanks for the help, assholes!” Hunter banged on the door, breaking the stillness in the room.
“Yeah, it’s not like there were zombies trying to break through the door or anything!” Chase called out. “Pack your bags. We’re leaving this shit box. Sonya made it.”
“Made it where?” Allison replied in a normal tone, as if the bombshell she had just laid River out with was so insignificant to her that it barely registered on her give-a-shit meter.
“To the boat!” Hunter replied gleefully. “My babe is a rock star!”
“What boat?” Allison asked, standing and wiping any remaining tears from her cheeks.
“The one with the perv captain,” Chase answered.
“She actually went to kill him?” Allison gasped as she opened the door, a slight breeze caressing River’s hot skin.
“Nah,” Hunter answered. “She was going to point the shotgun at him and make him swim off. My girl’s a fuckin’ pirate!”
“We just heard the horns from the boat, so we know she’s there,” Chase continued. “We just have to meet up with her and cruise up the coast. Maybe we’ll find Holly and make a break for the Keys!”
Allison shot River a quick glare before rejoining the conversation. The three walked away, chatting excitedly about their upcoming adventures at sea as they began filling bags with food and water.
“Fuck the board games,” he heard Chase chuckle. “Our games are much better!”
“Hell yeah!” Hunter agreed to the laughter of the three. “Hey, pussy! You comin’ with or does your girlfriend have to do all the work for you again?”
River’s anger boiled as he rose from the bed to the chorus of laughter carrying in from the living room. His anger instantly abated, crushing emptiness filling him once again as Allison’s chuckles joined in with the other two.
I’m useless, he thought as he picked up his duffle bag before stepping out into the hall to join the rest of his group. He walked past the laughing trio, stuffing his bag with the meager amount of supplies they had left. Wordlessly, he collected the playing cards he had ignored since that morning.
“What’s up with you?” Hunter called over to him. “Did you get attached to the house? Are you gonna cry when we leave it?”
“Nah,” Chase added. “He’s pissed that his girlfriend has a bigger set of balls than he has. Don’t worry, River. I’m sure Allison will hold your purse until we get to the boat!”
“Fuck you guys.” River shot back to the raucous laughter of the two men. Allison did not laugh this time. She simply stared at him, and for a moment he thought he saw a trace of pity in her eyes.
“Okay,” Chase started, his tone becoming only slightly more serious. “Same deal as before. Open the front door a crack and make a bunch of noise. We all slide down the rope and run the way Sonya did.”
“We’ll have to tie the rope off then,” Allison added.
“Think you can handle that, River?” Hunter said without a hint of sarcasm.
“I’ll manage,” River said simply. He walked over to the window, poking his head outside. “Clear over here,” he called over his shoulder. He tied the bedsheet rope down to the metal foot of a shelf and tossed the other end out the window. “Ready over here!”
“Game on!” Chase called from the front door. “Get your asses out of here!”
Hunter rushed by River and down the rope, laughing as he slid his way to the ground. Allison came up beside River, stopping as their arms touched. She took a deep breath and gave his forearm a squeeze with her free hand.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“I should have gone with you,” River mumbled, a lump forming in his throat.
“Yeah, you should have,” she said before tossing her bag down to Hunter and making her way down the rope.
River took the rope in his hand, preparing to make his descent when Chase suddenly barreled toward him from the other side of the house.
“We gotta go!” he shouted, a mischievous smile plastered to his face. The front door suddenly crashed inward, the crack of splitting wood and tumbling furniture filled the rental that had been their refuge for the entire apocalypse.
“What did you do?!” River shouted over the din.
“I let ‘em in!” Chase chuckled before grabbing the rope from River’s hand and practically diving out the window.
“Damnit!” River tossed his own bag down. He felt a cold hand rake at his back as he slipped out the window behind Chase, shimmying down the side of the building as quickly as possible.
The combined weight of River and Chase proved to be too much for the makeshift rope. With a loud tear, the bed sheet gave way. The shelf of games crashed over inside. Salty ocean air rushed past River’s ears as he suddenly found himself free falling to the ground below. River shrieked as he landed flat on his back. He gasped for air, unable to draw breath through the pain rocketing across his spine and through his chest.
Through vision-blurring tears, he caught sight of a badly decayed woman stretching her emaciated body out from the window above him. Her dead gaze locked on him, lips curling back in a sinister snarl. Her jagged yellow teeth cut channels into her decayed blue lips, sending rivulets of black ooze down to River’s chest.
Hands suddenly wrapped around River’s arms, pulling him away moments before the creature tumbled to the ground, landing with a wet thud on the tall grass where he had fallen only seconds ago.
Chase launched at the thing, stomping his foot down on her head until the skull caved in with the muted snap of bone. Chase continued to stomp on it until its pulped brain leaked from fissures in its skull. It twitched and went silent, lying face down in a growing pool of pus and gore.
Hunter and Allison finally released their grip on River, laying him on his back as he fought to draw air.
“That was fucked up.” Chase panted. “Nice knot dick wad.”
“It wasn’t the knot,” Allison said, her eyes scanning the undead now crowding around the open window. “It ripped and gave out because you came out too fast and there was too much weight on it. We have to go!”
River worked his chest muscles, desperate for air that was only coming in small gulps. His lungs burned and he was sure the bruise on his back would be epic.
“Can’t … run,” he gasped.
“Great,” Chase said slipping one of Rivers arms over his shoulder. “Well, you might be a pansy, but you’re still one of us.”
“Sonya went that way,” Hunter nodded toward the road he had watched his girlfriend take earlier. Slipping River’s other arm over his shoulder, the two hefted him to his feet and began their trek to the beach.
It was nearly a full block before River could draw breath. They quickened their pace once he could breathe again. With every step the smell of fresh ocean air grew stronger, beckoning them forward with the sound of waves rolling over the soft sands of the beach.
Despite the danger behind them, and the promise of escape so close, River could not tear his thoughts away from Allison. She ran ahead of him, her hair catching the sunlight as it bounced with every stride.
Chase and Hunter bantered back and forth, laughing as Hunter described Sonya standing on the deck of the boat in full swashbuckler garb and waving her shotgun in the air like Blackbeard’s sabre.
“I bet she’s already hoisted the skull and crossbones!” Allison laughed.
River’s shame returned as her earlier words suddenly cut through him again. He hadn’t realized how selfish he’d been and how little he really added to help their situation. He was so absorbed with his own shit that he never stopped to think about how much the woman he loved needed him. And now she was gone. She jogged no more than ten feet in front of him, but she had never felt so distant.
“Shit!” Hunter gasped as the beach came into view.
The red and white Coast Guard patrol boat bobbed in the warm ocean water a hundred feet from shore, the bow raising and lowering as waves passed beneath the ship. Sonya stood on the deck, waving her arms in the air in huge swipes.
At least a hundred zombies stood at the shore, waves rushing past their legs and knocking over a few that had ventured too deep into the water. Their outstretched arms reached hungrily for the tantalizing fresh meat teasing them from the deck of the boat.
“Fuck!” Chase spat, running his hands across the top of his head.
“Shh!” Allison shushed him. But it was too late. Chase’s outburst had drawn the attention of a dozen monsters meandering across the hot sand. They turned, lips curled back as they hissed excitedly. Hands shot up, reaching for the warm flesh that had suddenly appeared in front of them.
“Go back!” Hunter shouted, drawing the attention of more of the things.
“We can’t!” River snapped. “Chase let the zombies in the house!”
“Over here!” Chase called as he turned and ran toward a small wooden shack at the edge of the sand. He bolted inside, grabbing at the plywood that doubled as a makeshift door for the small shanty.
The three ran through the entrance as Chase pulled the door shut behind them. Allison fell to the floor weeping as the crescendo of dead hands and voices grew steadily around them. Hunter stood in a corner, his eyes widened in terror as he whispered to himself.
“What now?!” Chase said, his voice trembling.
“This shack won’t hold them,” River exhaled.
“No shit!” Hunter snapped. “We’re going to die! There’s too many of them!”
“I don’t want to die,” Allison chanted, rocking herself back and forth on the floor as she wept. She hugged herself tight, her body trembling with fear.
“We’re fucked!” Chase all but screamed.
“Stop yelling!” Hunter shouted. “They’ll hear us!”
“They already know we’re here, dumbass,” Chase spat. “You’re shouting too!”
“Stop it!” Allison cried as she pressed her hands to her ears.
“We’re going to die!” Hunter repeated, tears forming in his own eyes.
“I have a dare,” River said calmly.
“What?!” Hunter and Chase said in unison.
“A dare,” River said again.
“No one’s doing any more fucking dares!” Chase shouted.
River took a breath, calming his frayed nerves. He looked down to Allison, who stared back at him with confusion written across her face.
“I love you, Allison,” he said. “I really should have gone with you.”
Allison’s eyes grew wild with fear as a wave of realization crashed over her. She lunged at him, arms wide open as she tried to grab his legs. River simply stepped out of her reach.
“It’s called Follow the Leader,” River said as he turned on Chase. With a powerful shove, he sent his friend tumbling away from the door. He threw the door open and shouted, “I’m it!”
He bolted, running away from his friends and parallel to the edge of the beach. Dropping his shoulder, he knocked over a fresh-turned zombie that bore a striking resemblance to the Skipper from Gilligan’s island. The portly zombie in the captain’s hat hit the ground hard as River pushed on through the throng.
“Over here!” he shouted his throat raw. “Fresh meat! Follow me! Come and get it! Come on. Keep up! I’m delicious!”
His legs burned as they pumped against the sand, the tide of undead flesh pressing closer to him with every passing second. Every step he took drew more of them near, and pulled them away from his friends … and Allison.
“Keep going.” He panted, lungs burning from exertion. “Stay up! Just a little while longer! Just stay on your fee–”
The dead man that stepped in front of him was the largest living or dead person he had ever encountered. Muscles bulged underneath torn clothes and mottled, blistered skin. It was as if River had run head first into a brick wall. He bounced away, falling backwards into the arms of an old woman.
Searing pain tore through his shoulder as a chunk of his flesh disappeared into the woman’s maw. The giant’s fingers threaded through River’s hair as his head was violently yanked backwards.
River caught sight of the beach and smiled. He’d drawn a majority of the things away. He saw the shack, his friends emerging through the open doorway. Chase held Allison around her waist. She was screaming something, but he couldn’t hear her over the frantic moans of the undead. The body builder’s cold, broken teeth suddenly pressed against his throat.
“Useless my ass!” he said, just as the warmth of his own arterial blood coated his cheek.
Sonya stood at the bow of the boat, her hand above her eyes to shield the blinding Florida sun. The sight sickened her, watching River make a run for the water, only to be taken down by a horde of the undead—each of the bastards having a go at a meal of relative innocence. Skin ripped from muscle, muscle tore from bone. Rainbows of blood painted the perfect sky in a macabre celebration of death.
“River!” Sonya screamed to nearly shattering her vocal cords. She knew her voice would do nothing to save the young man. The effect of her cause would only serve to send the undead toward the boat, looking for fresher flesh.
A few of the more adroit zombies managed to wade into the water, until their heads slipped below the surface. It wasn’t hard to fit that particular two and two together. The boat had already been attacked once, there was nothing stopping the rest of the undead gang from bringing their special flavor of hate onto the deck of the craft.
“Sit down,” Skylar called out from captain’s chair.
The boat roared to life.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Skylar spun the wheel. “Getting the hell out of here before we’re nothing but a buffet for those monsters. I’m not taking any goddamn chances.”
Desperate to salvage what remained of her life, Sonya glanced around the bow to find something, anything that could prevent Skylar from leaving her friends to a dead man’s game of beach blanket bingo. Out of her periphery, Sonya spotted a weight the size of a croquet ball. Without warning, she scooped it up and chucked it at Skylar.
“Stop!” Sonya screamed at the top of her lungs.
Before Skylar had a chance to gun the boat’s engine, one of the zombies pulled itself onto the deck. On stumbling, bumbling legs, the beast lurched forward, wrapping its arms around Skylar’s neck, and sunk cracked and rotted teeth deep into his skin. The bite ground down until the thing came away with a chunk of meat. Skylar’s jugular had been ruined—blood spurted into the air in desperate arcs. With each “lub” and “dub” of Skylar’s heart, another jet of scarlet life pumped from his system.
It was then that Ashley lost what remained of her sanity and pounced on the zombie, a deadly filleting knife in hand. She plunged the blade deep into the right eye of the creature, sending it to its second—and final—death. Ashley pulled Skylar’s limp body from the floor of the boat, cradling him like a baby, and wailed her sorrow to the unforgiving apocalypse.
Sonya returned her attention to the beach. Chase, Hunter, and Allison were caught in the middle of a battle royale with the undead. Punches and kicks were launched … to no avail. In that instant, she remembered the gun. Her gaze darted about the boat. “Where is it?” Sonya shouted. “Ashley!”
Ashley’s face was buried in Skylar’s chest, her sobs preventing Sonya’s scream from registering.
Sonya grabbed Ashley’s arm and pulled her back, only to see that Skylar had turned, took advantage of her weakened mental state, and bit into and through her cheek. The glint of pearly white teeth shone through the desecrated flesh. Sonya spun on her heels, only to get her feet tangled in a loop of heavy rope, and dropped. It was only by some gift of luck her head didn’t glance off the captain’s chair to send her into the big nap goodbye. Sonya scrambled to her feet, just in time for Ashley to gain purchase on her bare ankle. Panic flooded her system. With a swift and rock-solid kick, Sonya managed to dislodge Ashley’s lower jaw, sending her head bouncing off the floor of the boat. Wow, they turned fast.
Sonya turned back to the beach. The fight had ended—in its place was a pile of the undead, making a meal of her friends. Like Skylar and Ashley, Chase, Hunter, and Allison had given up the ghost. It was only a matter of time before they’d come for her.
The only option was to jettison the undead passengers, figure out how to drive a boat, and get lost at sea—free of zombies and the apocalypse that brought them.
There was only one problem … Skylar and Ashley.
A chorus of moans rose from every side of the boat.
Sonya’s dilemma found further issue.
Within seconds the sides of the boat were covered in undead hands—flesh torn and rotten, fingernails missing and bone jutting from stumps of meat. In seconds, the boat would be lost to the dead.
“There’s nothing left.” Sonya wept with the looming decision. She knew her only hope for salvation would be found in the water. She was a good swimmer; there was no doubt she could best the zombies in a race to the shore.
With the decision made, she stood, took in the beach to find a spot bereft of the monstrous ruiners, and steeled what little will she had. With a quick breath, Sonya dove into the cool ocean. The water felt remarkably refreshing, giving her some semblance of hope that the plan was spot on. When she came up for air, she took a moment to dog paddle and get her bearings. The spot she’d chosen was still clear. Hope floated and rose in her heart.
“I can do this,” Sony muttered with a mouthful of salty water. As she was about to take off, a smear of crimson rose from the depths. Without thinking she dunked her head under the surface, opened her eyes, and saw no signs of the undead. She was alone in the water.
She surfaced. “Where’s the blood…”
Before she could finish the sentence, she felt the sting on her leg. She reached down to let her fingertips dance over the flesh … only to feel a wound … in the shape of a bit. In the scramble to save herself, she hadn’t realized Ashley had managed to inflict her deadly damage.
“No,” Sonya wept aloud. She knew. They had turned so fast. It was only a matter of moments before she’d start feeling the burn in her veins and the virus would take hold.
“Not me … not this way.”
She had plans—plans for a future and a life well spent. All of that was shot to hell, thanks to some stupid games thought to bide the time until the apocalypse blew over. Instead, that life—and all of its wonder—had been taken from her.
“Not this way,” she repeated.
Without giving too much thought to action, Sonya stopped paddling her hands and legs to let the water swallow her. The cool ocean was, oddly enough, comforting. She had no idea how far it was to the bottom; that wouldn’t even matter. As she floated downward, her lungs fought for precious oxygen.
This is it, Ashley thought. Against the will of her body, Sonya sucked in until her lungs were filled with salty water. Her body fought the action, but the fight was pointless. All was lost.
Or so Sonya had hoped.
Before life made its grand exit, the virus took hold and she turned.
The last thought to cross her misfiring mind …
Play too much.
Check out This Dying World by James D Dean.
Check out Pathogens by James Schannep.