Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fourteenth Entry: Going Home

July 26th

There was a great deal of foot-dragging when it came to our returning to Mallville. We decided to bring back as many supplies as we could fit into the back of the van, along with Jimmy's chair. We took half of what was left of the most nutritious stuff there was, which is to say nuts, trail mixes, jerky, pretty much anything high in protein and energy. We left the rest for Ash, since he helped us and all.

We also loaded up on soda, energy drinks, and water. With all of the stuff loaded in it the van actually riding a bit low. I was a little worried what would happen when the four of us got in as well. I didn’t need to worry about that though, especially not with everything else I was worrying about.

We procrastinated leaving so long that it wasn’t until around two in the afternoon that we actually locked the door to the Snacky Mart. Gerry saw me watch him pocket the keys after locking the door for the last time, “You never know,” he said with a shrug.

I’m not sure if she was just curious, suicidal, or procrastinating, but Maria did not drive us straight back to Mallville, she detoured in the direction of the police station, as if Ash’s words of warning were some sort of challenge to her. No one tried to stop her though, even though I think we all knew where she was heading.

Nothing much happened on our little detour, when we were a good half a mile away from the police, we could see a roadblock up ahead. Someone, the police themselves I assume, had parked cars across the street, and up onto the sidewalks. There’s no way anyone not driving a bulldozer could get through, even someone walking would have to climb over the cars.

There was an orange sign with the words “ROAD CLOSED” printed on it in the center of the street on our side of the roadblock. This was apparently not enough of a challenge to Maria, because she turned at the next intersection, and headed away from the police station.

This modified route back to Mallville took us by the hospital, which was a freaking nightmare. Now I know where all the remaining zeds in Covenant must be hanging out. There must have seriously been around a couple of hundred of them roaming around that area.

I think just for fun more than anything, Maria ran over a zed in a filthy Garth Brooks t-shirt, “I hate country music,” she explained.

Once a couple of block away from the hospital, the undead thinned out dramatically; one or two here or there. The rest of the drive back to Mallville was unremarkable. As we drove, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were more people like Ash hiding out in these buildings, or if perhaps Ash himself was in one of them.

We saw the occasional sign that the living had been around; a dead zed, litter, shell casings lying in the street. I had no way of telling how old any of it was (other than the dead zombies, some of which looked reasonable fresh, others looked like they had been dried in the sun for awhile).

One thing that stuck in my mind was a used bookstore that someone had painted the messaged “EMMA MALLVILLE” on the front window in dark red paint. Other than that, the rest of the trip back was unremarkable.

This is not to say that there was no tension. We were all very tense, and very quiet. Not knowing if you’re going to be executed upon arrival at your destination doesn’t do much for your desire for conversation, you know?

When we were about three blocks from Mallville, Maria pulled the van off into and alleyway running behind a series of stores and apartment buildings that make up much of the area directly surrounding the mall.

Maria turned in her seat to look at each of us as she held the walkie talkie up, “If anyone wants to call this off, now's the time to speak up.”

No one spoke in reply, we all just sat there looking at Maria.

“Okay then,” Maria powered up the walkie talkie; it beeped as she switched away from the normal channel to a different one.
“Is anyone out there?” Maria asked.

Static poured out of the handset.

“Is anyone receiving me?” Maria called into the radio again.

“Identify yourself.” replied a voice that was barely recognizable as that of Alex Sigler through the static.

“It's Maria. What is the situation?”

“Not great, but under control. Who all is with you?”

Maria gave Alex the extremely short list of those of us who had survived the last few days.

“Well that's better than I expected. You'd be surprised to know that somehow Kaur knew that you guys were attacked. He says he heard it over the radio, but that has to be bullshit; the radios don't have a range that great.”

“Unless it was being re-broadcast by someone with a stronger signal,” commented Jimmy.

“Hey Jim; it's good to hear your voice again, man,” replied Alex.

“Is it safe for us to come in?” asked Maria.

“ It will be. Give me about an hour so I can make sure that I can make sure that too many people know you are all alive and well for him to pull any shit. You are all okay, right? No bites?”

“Jimmy's leg is too messed up for him to walk easily, but it's old. No one has any bites; nothing but bumps and bruises.”

“Glad to hear it. Find somewhere safe, and I'll call you back in an hour.”

Maria drove us farther down the alley to a Super Lube garage, and after a couple of minutes Gerry had the doors open. The building was empty, as we knew it would be, it had already been the subject of a scavenging run for supplies for the garage. The storeroom was stripped of everything useful, but it still made for a good place to hide the van from anyone passing by.

The air in the Super Lube was stale and warm from being vacant for months, but it beat sitting in the van for an hour. Sharon produced a couple of decks of cards from her backpack, and we passed the remainder of the hour playing Spite and Malice on an old, stained, scuffed up table that had probably had a thousand lunches eaten off of it before the world ended.

At precisely one hour after we had talked to Alex, Maria turned the radio back on. Only static poured out of its speaker, same as before. We continued playing cards, but we were all playing badly, missing obvious moves to block each other, and I'm pretty sure at one point we skipped Sharon's turn. We were all too nervous about what might come through the radio to really be into the game.

Fifteen minutes passed with no word from Alex, and I for one was starting to worry that something might have happened to him to keep him from telling people we were alive and well. I was about to give voice to my fears when Alex's voice came though.

“Maria, guys, you there?”

Maria snatched the radio off the table, “Where the hell have you been?”

“I've been securing you safe entry back into the mall, be a little more fucking ungrateful, why don't you?”

“And have you?” asked Maria.

“Well of course. I just made sure that Kaur was not the first person I told. As I speak, the news of your survival is spreading along the grapevine with special emphasis on the fact that none of you are infected.”

“So Kaur's not going to try and stop us?”

“He was pissed that I didn't go to him first, but his hands are pretty well tied. He's going to quarantine you all for at least twenty-four hours until he is satisfied that no one is infected, but don't worry about that; I've got some of my own people who will be involved in the observation period. You're lucky you came back now. Another day or two and your apartments would likely have issued to his new recruits.”

We all exchanged questioning glances at that, but since Maria had the radio, it was she that voiced the question we all shared, “Recruits?”

“Yeah, Hashmir is trying to build his own little army to keep Mallville safe from external threats. I'll fill you all in on it, stated Alex,”Come on home guys, it's good to have you back.”

And so it was that we returned to Mallville, not to any fanfare, or to happy faces glad to see their lost fellows return, but to a group of angry security officer, all armed with what looked to me like M-16's who surrounded the van as soon as the gate was down.

Maria drove the van slowly through the garage so as to not hit the armed escorts in front of us, and give them a reason to put their rifles to use. When we got to the elevators that lead up to the administrative area, Maria put the van in park. The officers turned so that they were all facing the van. They kept their rifles pointed towards the ground, but it would only take a fraction of a second to bring them up into position.\

The doors to one of the elevators opened, and Hashmir Kaur, Alexandre Rontreal, and Alex Sigler all stepped out. The bright lights set into the ceiling were reflecting off the over polished surfaces of Kaur and Rontreal's badges, and Sigler's pale bald head.

“Step out of the vehicle slowly, and keep your hands where I can see them,” barked Rontreal.

“For fuck's sake, Kaur,” spat Sigler, “”Is this really necessary? They're our own people, not an invading army.”

“The security of Mallville is my responsibility, mind your own business.” stated Kaur as we exited the van.

“They are my people, and are therefore my responsibility too,” Sigler replied, “I'll be glad to take charge of them.”

“I think not,” Kaur said flatly, and then to Maria,” What do you think you're doing?”

Maria had moved around to the back of the van, and was in the process of opening the door,” I'm getting Jimmy's wheelchair out, his leg is hurt, and he cannot walk easily.”

“Was his leg bit?” asked Rontreal.

“No, I broke it in a car crash after some bastard sent a biker gang after us,” shot Jimmy, leaning awkwardly against the passenger side of the van,

Rontreal's hand hovered over his pistol, “I'd watch myself if I were you. Bad things can happen to people who spread rumors. Sara found out about that.

“What are you talking about? What did you do to her?” Jimmy's fire went out of his eyes, and was replaced by fear and panic.

“Nothing, it's just that sometimes karma has a way of coming back on people who spread lies. Sometimes that can be fatal,” explained Hashmir.

Jimmy looked from Sigler, to me, to Gerry, and back to Kaur and Rontreal. Gerry and I bot looked away when he looked at us. I looked at Sharon, and got a questioning look in return.

“Just what are you admitting to?” asked Sigler angrily.

“I have nothing to admit to, although by the look on his face, I'm guessing that you may not have been quite as open with Mr. Chen as friends should be,” said Kaur to Sigler. He then turned to face Jimmy, “I'm sorry that it has to be me that tells you that Miss Seder passed away due to complications to her injuries from that unfortunate attack.”

“You told me she made it back! Her, Wally, and Mitch! Why didn't you tell me?” pleaded Jimmy as he tried to hold the tears back.

I couldn't meet his eyes, “I'm sorry, man. I didn't know how to say it. I was going to tell you, but then everything else happened.”

“And since you got your girl back, what did it matter?” he spat angrily.

I could feel myself blush. I could feel everyone's eyes upon me. I decided to focus my attention on a very interesting patch of parking garage floor.

I guess that Rontreal and Kaur felt they had sown the seeds of distrust into us enough at that point, and allowed Maria to get Jimmy's chair out of the back of the van. When she rolled it around to Jimmy, she did not look him in the face either.

Jimmy half lunged for the wheelchair, yanking it out of Maria's hands, and almost pulling himself and the chair over onto the ground. He would not allow any of us to help push him into the elevator, and none of the security guards offered.

We were taken up to the administration area on the sixth floor, and to the security office that serves as Mallville's police department. We were each locked in separate holding cells; Sharon was to my left, Gerry on my right. I couldn't see them, but we could still talk, not that Sharon was talking to me.

I know that, if I am going to be honest, the only reason I've done any of the things I've done in the last few weeks was to get Sharon back, but I don't know that that should really cheapen what I've done. Does it matter why I did it more than that I did it? Sharon thinks so.

It was a long night in there. Gerry tried to cheer me up by telling jokes, but I told him to shut up, why not alienate one more friend, right?

This morning Marcus Dyson, one of the doctors from the medical clinic, came through, and gave us each a once over under the supervision of a member of the security force that I did not recognize as well as Tara Lafferty, Alex Sigler’s assistant.

Tara’s an interesting person; where Alex tends to be all fire and fury when someone or something pisses him off, Tara is cold as ice. I’m not saying that she’s mean or uncaring, just that the angrier she gets, the less emotion she actually shows. I’ve only met her a couple of times before, and she was perfectly pleasant (as well as really cute, with her curly brown hair and cute little nose) then, but today she had her chill on, I think the temperature in the holding area dropped a good five degrees when she came in with Doctor Dyson and the security officer.

The three of them worked their way down the row cell by cell. At each cell the security officer would open the door, and both Doctor Dyson and Tara would enter. Tara asked each of us (I assume she did anyway, I know she asked Gerry, Sharon, and myself) if we were being treated okay, and then Dyson gave us each a once over.

Even though Doctor Dyson’s examination of each of us was fully clothed and quick, he gave us each a clean bill of health as far as being infected goes, but said that each of us should report to the medical center for a proper examination. He also said that Jimmy should report immediately so that his leg could be examined, but he guessed that there would not be much they could do since the break occurred so long ago.

I heard Tara ask Sharon what she was going to do about the fact that her apartment had been reassigned. She replied by stating that she was going to be staying with me, so maybe she’s not so pissed off after all. I suspect there may be a long talk in my future, but at least I’m home and Sharon’s alive.

Of course with Sharon around, it may be hard for me to keep this, and I have grown quite attached to putting my thoughts down in here, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

Until then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thirteenth Entry: Wheels

July 24th

We’ve spent a couple of days now in the convenience store of a gas station (it’s called Snacky Mart, in case you were interested). It’s not a bad temporary shelter, it’s secure (Gerry was able to pick the lock so we did not have to break a window) and no one has raided it for supplies, so there is a fair amount of soda, water, and energy drinks here. The food leaves to be desired though. In order to not use up the emergency food we saved from the hotel we have been living on chips, cookies, and candy bars, with only nuts and jerky for protein.

The fire from the hotel must have gone out, as it was no longer visible after the first night. This is a good thing, as I was a little worried that it could spread to take out a sizable chunk of the city with no one around to fight it.

We spent the first day here trying to decide what to do. Sharon was adamant about going back to Mallville (I haven’t told her that she no longer has an apartment, and what remains of her possessions are in a suitcase in my living room, which may not matter, because I may not have an apartment anymore either), but the others were a little more cautious.

Jimmy and Maria were both very concerned about what may happen if we try to go back. Gerry and I were pretty undecided about it. We both definitely want to go home, but we both were also willing to acknowledge Jimmy and Maria’s concerns.

In the end we decided that we will go back, but we’re not going to just go marching down the street where someone loyal to Kaur can pick us off from the roof, and say that we were zeds. Maria still has her walkie talkie on her (Gerry lost his as Bianco’s, and mine was destroyed in the car fire), so when we get within a few blocks on Mallville, she’s going to try and use it to contact Alex.

That decision led to a new dilemma though. How do we get there? Jimmy’s injury makes travel on foot horribly slow. It took us a hour just to get from the Majestic to here, and even though he tried not to show it, I could tell Jimmy was practically dying from the pain by the time we stopped. I have a suspicion that when he finally does see a doctor, it’s going to be too late for his leg to ever fully recover.

If we’re going to walk, we need to find something to move Jimmy in. He protested this idea when it was brought up, but I know that was just an issue of pride. I understand not wanting to have to be pushed around like a baby in a stroller.

The other option is to find a car. It makes me miss the day where gas stations had garages, because there were no cars left at the gas station. Maria, Gerry, and I went searching for a car, and there are actually none in the immediate area (which was pretty much a two square block radius around the gas station). No cars, none, not a single freaking one; unbelievable.

I know where we are now, and yes, we did go the opposite direction of Mallville, and a bit farther than I had originally thought. If I’m right (and I have not checked on a map or anything), we’re about 6 miles from Mallville. That would be about an hours brisk walk under normal conditions, but it feels like a lifetime since conditions were last normal.

We did not return from that initial exploration empty-handed though. We came across a store called “Live Long, Live Well”; it’s one of those places that sells things for seniors like electric scooters, walkers, canes, diapers, and, luckily, wheelchairs. We are now the proud owners of a Karman S-305 Ergonomic Ultralight Wheelchair. This thing sells for $600 according to the sign in the store, but we got the five finger discount, and because we were such great customers, (we offed the fat naked zed that was wandering the street in front of the store) they threw in a backpack that attaches to the back of the chair.

Our mostly fruitless exploration ate up pretty much all of the daylight, and we locked ourselves inside the Snacky Mart just as the last bit of sunlight faded. As good a lockpicker as Gerry is, it is nice to have found a set of keys in the closet-like manager’s office for letting ourselves in and out of the store. Gerry’s fast, but keys are easier.

Jimmy’s reaction to the wheelchair was mixed. While he was clearly glad to have a way to move around without crutches, he did not seem happy with having to use it. Gerry says it’s just Jimmy’s pride kicking his ass, having to come to terms with the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a chair and all, and I’m inclined to agree. I know if tomorrow I couldn’t walk anymore it would drive me nuts. Despite being lazy and useless, I hate feeling helpless.

Sharon had not spent the day just sitting around. She had done some in depth exploring in the storage areas of the gas station, and come up with a small propane gas ring. That combined with one of the tanks from the propane cage out front produced us a hot meal, not a great meal, but a hot meal.

Not wanting to dip into our supplies from the hotel, Sharon only used ingredients from the convenience store, and so we were treated to a very peppery beef jerky stew. While it is not the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth, it was certainly not the best. I don’t know if this is because Sharon is a lousy cook (this is the first time I’ve ever had her cooking), or just because beef jerky stew is an acquired taste.

Today was a bit more exciting, not that that is necessarily a good thing. We got an early start, Gerry, Maria, and I, and decided to expand our search radius. We went two blocks out this time, because even though we now have the wheelchair we would still like to not have to walk back to the mall. Yes I know that in the time we have spent looking for a car, we could have just walked back.

The first hour of walking was uneventful. We didn’t even see any zeds, although I kept getting the feeling we were being watched, and seeing movement out of the corner of my eyes. However, seeing as zeds are not particularly stealthy, I decided that this was my imagination. I was wrong.

About halfway through the second hour, we finally struck the jackpot. The National River Church of the Everlasting had a good dozen cars in its parking lot, including a large van with their logo, a sun rising over what was either meant to be water or bacon, on it. Thinking that there may be keys to some of these vehicles, or even survivors inside, we took a closer look.

sunrise over bacon

The church was nothing special as churches go. It was a freestanding structure in the middle of a block, a moat of parking lot surrounding the beige building and its lawn. The sun shown brightly off the stained glass windows that lurked near the tops of the walls, and the grass was even a bit greener than what I have gotten used to seeing. It really was like a beacon sent from God. The sign out front read:

GOD’S WRATH IS UPON US
REPENT AND RECEIVE HIS BLESSING
ALL ARE WELCOME


Feeling we could do with a little blessing, we went to the large brown front doors of the church.

We tried the doors, but found them locked. Gerry set to them with his lockpicks.

“This is a pretty good lock,” Gerry commented as his felt with the picks for the tumblers inside the lock, “You wouldn’t think you’d need such a good lock on a church.”

The lock opened with a click, and as Gerry started to pull the double doors open towards us, I heard footfalls on the street behind us. Someone was running towards us, ”Don’t open that!” a man’s voice yelled.

As if intentionally synchronized, Maria, Gerry, and I turned to face this newcomer, Maria and I raising our rifles, Gerry still holding onto the door. The man was thin, and looked to be middle aged with streaks of gray in his slicked black hair. He was wearing a denim shirt and blue jeans, a leather strap running across his chest to a rifle holster on his back. In his right hand he clutched a lever action rifle, and stapped to his right thigh was, of all things, a chainsaw with some weird metal collar around the handgrip.

We only had a second to look at this newcomer before the smell from inside the church assaulted us. I would say the odor is what I imagine Hell smells like, but there was no sulfur, just rot, decay, and death.

The three of us turned back, and found that there were no survivors in the church, only about 20 of the undead. We stared at the zeds, shocked, and they stared right back. They were scattered around the interior of the church, some in the pews, some by the altar, some in the central aisle.

For a moment no one moved, and then as if someone had fired a starter’s pistol the zombies surged towards us. Many of the ones in the pews tried to walk through the rows of benches, and stumbled over them, but the ones in the aisle and by the altar had a clear shot down the center of the church.

Gerry closed the door as fast as the pneumatics would allow, and backed away, trying to bring up his rifle as we all backpedaled away from the door and onto the lawn, all of us except for the newcomer that is.

I heard the whir of an electric motor, and saw a blur of blue as the stranger passed me. Since I turned my back on him, he had re-holstered his rifle, and pulled his chainsaw from its place on his thigh. The strange metal collar covered his hand up past the wrist leaving no flesh exposed on his right arm.

As the first zombie hit the doors, they pushed outward, and he came though. He was wearing a black shirt with a white priest’s collar. Other than being undead, he looked uninjured. I saw nothing on his that made it clear how he died in the first place. God only knows what actually happened in the church, and He is welcome to keep that knowledge to himself.

The stranger brought the chainsaw up to meet Father Ghoul’s head, and the blade bit into the zed’s face. As much as I would like to say it did, the chainsaw did not slice the zombie’s skull in two, it did however rip a huge chunk out of the zed’s face, and knock it off balance, and send it stumbling back into three more zombies who had now reached the door.

The man in blew swung the chainsaw again, this time are the zombie’s neck. The motor’s sound got deeper as it cut through the spine of the undead preacher, and after a couple of seconds, the head fell to the ground with a wet thud, followed a moment later by the body.

The three zombies that had been behind the preacher, two men and a woman dressed in what had likely been their Sunday best, lunged, mouths open, at the chainsaw wielding nutcase. He turned the blade to meet them, and all three got a nice mouthful of chainsaw blade. The combined force of the three ghouls drove the man backwards towards us.

I couldn’t see him do it though that metal wrist guard of course, but I know he pulled the trigger on the saw, because the chain again spun to life. The stranger pushed against the zombies as the chain tore its way through teeth, cheeks, and tongues, and drove it back deeper into their mouths. The zed’s hands clutched at the stranger, but after a couple of seconds, their heads above the jawline popped off in a spray of rotted gore.

The stranger pulled free of the semi-headless zombies’ grasps easily as they jaws dropped to hang limply against their throats before they dropped to the ground to never rise again. The bodies of the zeds blocked the door from swinging back shut.

The stranger turned to us and yelled,” Feel free to jump in here and put those guns to use at anytime!”

That woke us up, and we ran forward to line up alongside this strange man. I was able to get a closer look at him, and realized that my original estimation of his age was way off. He looked like he might be younger than me, eighteen or nineteen maybe. Whatever he had been through in the last few months must have made what I’ve been through seem like a fucking cakewalk, because I know I cannot look that bad… although I’ve not looked in a mirror in the last few days.

Like the priest, none of the zeds I got a clear look at had any visible indication as to how they died the first time. I cannot get over that. It haunts me in a way that little that has happened since the end has. I cannot remember any zeds that I have seen that did not have some sign of death to them; usually a bite mark somewhere. Poisoned maybe?

Five more zeds had managed to jam themselves in the door to the church. The door was a three abreast kind of door at the very max, so unless someone had the manners to step back, the zeds would not have gotten through too fast. They never had the chance.

I fired, taking out a blue-haired old lady; her head popping like an overripe melon. Maria and Gerry also shot, taking down a man in a black golf shirt and khaki pants, and a woman in a white blouse and black slacks. As the three zeds dropped to the ground, the fourth one who had been stuck in the door, a black guy with a shaved head, and a charcoal colored suit, broke free.

The zed tried to come forward, but tripped over the body of the priest, and sprawled face first onto the ground. The zed tried to get back up, but the stranger shoved him back to the ground with a booted foot to the back. Holding the tip of the chainsaw against the back of the zeds head, the stranger spoke again, ”Hail to the king, baby!” The chainsaw again whirred to life, and dug into the zed's skull, spraying bits of bone and rotted brains into the air until the zombie stopped moving.

Another pair of zombies, these two really fast and short darted out the door; the nimbly leapt over the growing pile of corpses in front of the door, and went straight for Gerry, who froze; they were kids, a boy and a girl with blond hair, maybe twins.

I think this may have been the first time seeing undead children for any of us, even Maria seemed unsure how to react. The kids hit Gerry in the midsection, and knocked him off balance. He went down with a surprised, 'Help!”

The stranger was on it. He hit the girl in the face with the flat of the chainsaw blade, knocking her off Gerry and towards Maria, where she landed on her back. He then kicked the boy in the head with a boot as Gerry tried to push it off of himself with his rifle.

The little girl was on her feet in a flash, and facing Maria, who reacted, I think, more out of revulsion than her usual ruthlessness when it comes to zeds. She swung the butt of her rifle into the side of the girl's skull. There was a sickening crunch as the rifle caved in the child's fragile skull, knocking her down for the last time.

The boy was a little slower to recover from the boot to the head, giving the stranger time to pull his rifle from the sling on his back with his left hand. I assumed from the way he wielded the chainsaw that he was right-handed, so this left handed pull should have been awkward, but it wasn't. He balanced the barrel of the rifle on the blade of the chainsaw, and fired into the rising boy's face, spraying the boy's rotting brains all over the sidewalk.

I'm not sure how he pulled it off, but somehow he worked the rifle's lever, and chambered another round, and then turned to point the barrel of the rifle at the biggest zombie I've ever seen that was lumbering towards the door of the church. This thing must have weighed four or five hundred pounds, he made me look like freaking Jared from Subway by comparison.

The stranger extended his left arm out, turning his body in profile towards the zed, “Come get some!” he called, and fired.

This left-handed shot was off, and it hit the obese zed in its left shoulder instead of its head. Due, I guess, to the sheer bulk of the thing, the zed did not even stagger from the shot. Far from being injured, being shot seemed to actually piss the thing off, because it charged.

The undead fat man barreled forward, somehow managing to stagger its way over the corpses blocking the door way. Rage and pain filled its cloudy eyes as it went right for our new friend, who was trying to work the lever on his rifle again.

Rather than try and shoot at this rampaging bull of a zed, I instead threw myself at the stranger, doing my best to not kill myself on his chainsaw. The stranger and I staggered right out of the way of the zombie like a matador dodging a bull, but without the flair. I felt the wind of the zombie passing right behind me, his weight carrying him forward now whether he wanted to stop or not.

The fat zombie staggered to a stop on the lawn, and turned to face us, which is to say that he turned to face four people aiming rifles at his head (which was stupid when you think about the fact that we turned our back on the remaining zombies in the church). The zed snarled, and I was again struck by the emotion that seemed to show on this thing’s face. The emotion was hatred, but it still makes me wonder if there is anything left of the original people in these creatures. What if somewhere in each of these things the rational consciousness of these people is still trapped?

“Say goodnight,” quipped the stranger.

The zombie took a step towards us, and we opened fire. His head disintegrated in a spray of rotten blood and brains as our shots tore into its face and neck. I’m not sure how many times it was shot, but I know I contributed four rounds to it myself. When we stopped moments later, there was a ragged bloody mess between its shoulders. The thing continued towards us, but now it was just inertia carrying it forward, and after a couple of steps the zed fell hard enough that I swear the ground shook.

We turned back to the church, and no more zeds were coming out. We could hear the ones still inside though as they knocked around between the rows of benches, unable to think clearly enough to come to the center aisle and pursue us.

“Lets finish off the rest,” said Maria.

“Clear the doorway first. Make sure those monsters are really dead, and not just playing possum,” said the chainsaw wielding stranger.

This was clearly a good idea, and not one that any of us would have thought of. Not only could one of the zeds be waiting for us to get in biting distance, but if we had to make a retreat, having the doorway clear would be to our advantage.

We dragged the dead zombies out of the way as fast as possible, and with the exception of the head of the priest, they were all indeed dead. The priest’s head was dispatched with the butt of Gerry’s rifle.

We formed into a sort of V formation, and entered the church, the stranger and Maria in the front, and the somewhat less fit Gerry and myself in the rear. As we moved up to the front of the church we dispatched the remaining zombies as they tried to extricate themselves from the rows of seating. Within a couple of minutes the church was clear of the living dead, and we got a chance to really look around.

There was nothing spectacular or unusual about the church. The central aisle was flanked on both sides by rows of benches, and led to a raised section of the floor on which sat the altar. To either side of the altar the church closed in, almost making the alter look like a stage behind a proscenium arch. There were doors to either side which turned out to be a storage room, and a small office.

We did not bother dragging the zeds outside to join the others on the grass since we were not planning on staying for any length of time. What we did do was close the doors; it’s not like someone intending to harm us wouldn’t notice the bunch of zombies rotting in front of the building, but at least it would make the chances of any random roamers coming to join us in the church that much lower.

Set into the wall behind the altar was a stained glass window depicting Jesus with a halo of light surrounding his head. His arms were outstretched in a welcoming gesture, like he was willing to give you a hug if you needed one. The sunlight outside illuminated the window beautifully behind the seemingly undisturbed altar. If one were to take a picture cropping out everything around the altar, it would look perfectly normal.

On the altar an ornate bible sat open and untouched. While we were there, I went up to look at it. It was open to Isaiah, and a passage had been highlighted :
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.
You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.
Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.
Is that what they were doing in here? Waiting for His wrath to pass? I guess it found them anyway. I hope they are free now, I pray that, if they were trapped in those shells, they are free now.

The rest of the church was a mess. Aside from the mess we made blowing holes in the former parishioners, there was an overturned cart to the left of the alter, a large coffee urn lay in the middle of a long dry brown stain in the floor’s industrial red carpet, and Styrofoam cups, many crushed under foot, were scattered all around it.

In the corners next to the door to the office stood a large yellow work light, the kind with a tripod base and two big halogen lights on it. In the corner next to the storage closet the twin to that work light lay on its side on the floor. The cage around the lights had protected one in the fall, but the other was bent in, and there was a small amount of broken glass on the floor under it.

From the bases of the two spotlights snaked thick black cords, the one by the storage closet had been run along the wall behind the altar; it was connected to a bright orange extension cord at the halfway point. Following the cords led us into the small church office.

The office was plain. A desk with a computer and a black telephone on it was situated so that the user’s back would be to the small window set high up in the wall. In front of the desk sat two visitor’s chairs, and up against the wall behind them was an ugly brown couch that looked like the priest had liberated it from some college kid’s first apartment.

In the corner of the office was a small refrigerator with a microwave on top of it. On top of the microwave sat a white coffee maker. Next to the fridge was a bookshelf, the kind you get at Ikea, and it was crammed with books. On the floor in front of the bookshelf was where the two cords from the work lights ended plugged into a gas powered generator that had long since run out of fuel.

Going through the priest’s desk, Gerry found a keychain with a couple of car keys on it. There was a plain plastic key chain on the ring that someone had written “bus” on in black sharpie. Jackpot.

“So you guys are from Mallville, right?” asked the stranger, his chainsaw once again in its holster on his thigh.

“Yes, how did you know?” asked Gerry.

“I’ve been seeing your little caravans going back an forth. You’re also clearly not with those fucking bikers, which puts you guys one up in my book, so long as you leave some supplies out here for me. You can call me Ash, by the way.”

“Ash?” I asked, ”Like in the movie?”

“Yup.” He grinned, and insanity shown brightly in his eyes.

Well all introduced ourselves to him, and explained our current situation and plan.

”Why don’t you come back with us?” I asked.

“Yeah, Kaur’d love that!” commented Maria.

“No way, that place is a deathtrap. I’m quite happy where I am.”

“Where are you?” asked Gerry.

“Someplace safe. I’ve got everything I need; supplies, weapons, and an escape route if needed. As long as I do not need to abandon it, I could live there for another year just with what I have now.”

“Someplace with power?” asked Maria.

“No, the power has been permanently shut off, no one’s around to pay the bill anymore, and I lost my job a few months ago.”

“How are you keeping that saw charged up?” Maria’s intent with her first question became apparent.

“You know those little roll up solar panels they sell for charging mp3 players and stuff? They can charge bigger things too, it just takes awhile. I’ve got a whole mess of battery packs sitting on the roof charging in the beautiful summer sun. I’m not sure yet what to do about the winter.”

“Ash isn’t really your name is it?” I asked.

The crazy in his eyes flickered briefly,”I am now. Any other person I might have been died with the rest of the world, and no one wants to hear about that.”

“Why do you say that Mallville is a deathtrap?” asked Gerry.

“So many people locked in one place? Not only are you a target for groups like the Hell’s Postmen, but it’s only a matter of time before you’re overrun with deadites from the inside?” I caught Ash’s movie reference there, but Maria looked at him quizzically even though she said nothing.

“But we have an organized resistance against the zeds there. We have supplies, electricity, running water; it’s got to be better than whatever you have now.” Gerry tried to convince him.

“We can get you in. We could use someone with your ability,” said Maria.

“I’m a loner, baby. I can’t be responsible for anyone but me; not anymore, not ever again. I do a great job looking after me, and keeping my little part of the city clear of deadites, and clean. I’m sure you noticed the lack of rotting deadite corpses, eh?”

We all kind of had to admit that we hadn’t. This resulted in Ash making us help him drag the zed corpses around back of the church where they would not be visible from the street, not that there were likely to be a lot of traffic in the foreseeable future.

When that job was done, we tested out the van, and found that it started right up. We invited Ash to come back to the mini mart with us, even if he would not come to Mallville with us.

“Well, you are on the edge of my territory here, so I wouldn’t be leaving it totally undefended,” said Ash thoughtfully, “and I should introduce myself to the other two in your group, so why not?”

Gerry had found a set of keys for the church’s front door in the office during his search, and we re-locked the doors when we left the church. I said a silent prayer for the people who had died in the church as we headed for the van in the parking lot. Something about a church full of the undead just seemed really fucked up to me; blasphemy in a blasphemous world, I guess.

We got back to the Snacky Mart in a couple of minutes. The van ran beautifully for having been sitting unused for four months or so. Ash suggested we park behind the building so the van would not be seen by anyone passing, presumably the Hell’s Postmen.

Sharon had tried to be creative with snack food again, and we were “treated” to jerky casserole with a Frito crust. I have to say, it was better than the jerky stew, but can you imagine how much sodium must have been in it?

Ash stayed with us until after it got dark, and I got a chance to talk to hi while the others did their own things. Maria started cleaning the rifles with a gun cleaning kit that had ended up in one of the backpacks, Gerry and Jimmy started playing cards, and Sharon went up to the roof to do a shift as lookout.

“Are you sure you won’t come back with us?” I asked him.

“Out of my territory, man. You should seriously consider convincing your friends not to go back. It’s only a matter of time before that place goes down hard.”

I decided to change the subject, Mallville has its problems, but I don’t see any risk of true disaster yet.

“So do you have any tips that I could use? I’ve only started going on the scavenging runs a couple of weeks ago.”

“I can tell. It looks like all of you are a little unexperienced,” Ash said with a laugh. I looked around to see if Maria had heard that, but she hadn’t, she was sitting at the cashier’s counter cleaning a rifle.

“So what tips do you have.”

“Kids. You guys haven’t dealt with kids before, have you?”

“I haven’t. I don’t know about the others. I’m the noob here.”

“Those two, Maria and Gerry, right?” I nodded in answer, “They haven’t. they panicked just like you did. I haven’t seen a lot of child deadites either, but enough to be wary of them.”

“They seemed fast,” I commented.

“They are fast little monkeys compared to the adults, but they go down easier. Kids’ skulls are more fragile than adults; takes a lot less to brain’em.”

“What about that fat one?”

“Now that was a new one to me too,” Ash laughed, “ I think staying the hell out of its way is probably the best thing there.”

“You seem a lot more upbeat about all this than most people.”

“Another reason to stay out of Mallville; probably full of a bunch of oh-woe-is-me whiners, right? Besides, it's a laugh-or-cry world out there. Lord knows I've got plenty to cry about; Laughter is what has kept me alive these last few months while everyone I know has died. There is humor in all things, you just need to find it.”

Ash turned to look me in the eyes, all the humor had left them, in their place was sorrow and pain. When he spoke, it was in a low voice so only I could hear it, ”When it all started, I was just some normal guy, working a normal job at T-Mart. Three of those foul things came in on that first afternoon, but we stayed open. We tried to keep everything going as normal as possible for those first four days; directive from home office; I imagine its the only time a company memo ever included the phrase 'removing the head or destroying the brain'. It's very surreal to go to work everyday knowing you may have to decapitate a former customer.”

“On the third day we lost contact with the home office, and we could not reach our DM on the fourth. With Mister Seras, the manager, having been on vacation in Hawaii when this all started, Tom, the Assistant manager decided to close up the store.”

“Some of my co-workers... my friends, decided they were going to try and wait it out there until the government showed up to save us. I couldn't do that, I had to go home to my mom, and my sisters. My mom worked at the hospital as a nurse, and of course the hospital was damned epicenter of it all, wasn't it? She had been bit on the first day, just on the hand, they cleaned and bandaged it because no one knew that it was infectious at that point. She must have been one of the first ones to turn....”

“She called in sick on the sixth day because she was feeling sick. My sisters and I took care of her, but we thought it was the flu or something. Eight days after it all started I woke up, opened my bedroom door, and found that the last part of my old life was gone.”

“The house was a mess, it was kind of like someone had ransacked it. I went to my mom's room, and found her bed empty. I went to my sisters' room, and found...” he stopped for moment here, taking a few deep breaths, ”and found that mom had got their first. They never closed their door at night; the only reason I'm alive now is that I did.”

“I found mom in the kitchen, just standing there. Blood all over her face and nightgown, she must have died during the night. I killed her with a frying pan.”

“I found my sisters trying to walk through the front door. Mom had tried to eat them. Becky's throat had been torn out. Mel looked like her neck was broken, and her pajamas were torn around her arms, like she had been trying to defend herself. They charged me when they saw me. I couldn't believe how fast they moved. They knocked me off my feet, and part of me wanted to let them take me; make me like them. I ended up throwing them off though. I killed Becky with a table lamp, Mel with the fireplace poker. Do you understand now why I cannot be responsible for anyone else? Why I choose to be alone?“

“Yes,” it was all I could say.

Ash's eyes flickered again, and the crazy came back, covering almost all of the pain. He laughed softly, ”You know, you're the first person I've told that to? You're practically the first person I've talked to in months, first person who was actually there anyway. It feels good.”

He turned towards the others, and spoke more loudly, “Well, it's getting kind of late, so I should probably get going. Thank you for the meal, it was certainly the most unique meal I've had in months.”

Gerry walked towards us, “It's dark, don't you want to stay here tonight?”

Ash made a disbelieving sort of sputtering noise, “No, I've got a bed waiting for me, and I want to get a fresh battery in ol' Excalibur here,” he said, patting his chainsaw.

“Thank you for your help today. You're out here more than we are. Is there anything else you could warn us about?” asked Maria.

“Well, you guys obviously know about the Hell's Postmen gang, other than that, the best advice I can give you is to get the hell out of Mallville. That set up cannot last. Other than that, stay away from the police station and hospital. The hospital is absolutely crawling with deadites.”

“Why the police?” asked Sharon.

“Last time I was that way, which was probably like a month ago, the cops were still in there, and they shoot at anything that moves, they even took a shot at me. I don't know if they're still there, but those bastards are crazy.”

Gerry locked the Snacky Mart's front door after Ash was outside. When he was at the edge of the street he turned back and gave us a cheery wave, and then disappeared into the night.

I have kind of kept to myself since then, sitting alone in the stockroom. Ash gave me a lot to think about. How much is he right about?

I feel exhausted, Time to try and sleep.

Tomorrow we go home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fifty Pages And Counting

Entry number twelve now brings Mallville across the fifty page mark. I know this is not a major accomplishment, but I'm proud of it. My goal is to get Mallville somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 pages, and given how much some of my ideas for this have grown (the last two or three parts were originally all one much shorter part in my mind) from what I originally envisioned them as, I see this as doable, even if it takes a year or two more at the pace I have been going at.

I cannot do this alone though, I need your help. I know there are at least a couple of people out there who will read this, and I need feedback from you. There are three reasons I need feed back:

1.This is only the first draft of Mallville, and I know it is very rough (hence the picture in the newest entry). I need your feedback to help me make it better. Have I screwed up my continuity? I've been trying hard not to; I have pages of notes and a timeline written out showing me who, what, and when, but I know I am bound to screw it up eventually, if I've not already. If you spot an error, let me know so I can fix it. Do you see an issue with something I've written? Constructive criticism is welcome (Protip: “You Suck!” is not constructive).

2.I have been known to grow bored with, and stop working on, stories. Keep my ass motivated by letting me know you are out there. I am not asking you for money here, just a few minutes of your time to let me know that I am not firing all of this off into a void (no pun intended).

3.I have an ego, and it needs feeding. Stroke my ego so that it may grow to Scott Sigler-like proportions.

If you want to do something more for me aside from just letting me know you are there, then let other people know I am here. Tell your friends. Print out entries and leave them in odd places for people to find. Burn it to a CD, and leave it in your school's computer lab. Use your imagination, the sky's the limit, just don't do anything illegal, and don't sell it.

If you have been reading for awhile, I thank you. If this is your first time here, I hope you enjoy your stay. I hope to be doing this, as well as some side stories if I ever get far enough ahead of my posting schedule, for some time to come.

Thank you,

vm rockwell no bg

Twelfth Entry: On Fire, Under Fire

July 22nd

Well, it was smoke that I smelled. I pocketed this journal, and took my candle with me back into the room with Sharon and Jimmy. The smoke was not coming from there, but as I came in, Sharon must have smelled it too.

“What’s burning?” Sharon asked me.

“I don’t know, but we better find out,” I replied, thinking that whatever it was, it was unlikely that a firetruck was going to show up to put it out.

Sharon got up, looked out the window to see if she could see the source of the smoke, and grabbed a couple of small LED flashlights from the table. She tossed me one of the lights, and we headed out, leaving Jimmy by himself in the room.

I let Sharon lead he way since she was bound to be much more familiar with the hotel than I was. She led me to a staircase, and then down to the first floor. “Wouldn’t we get a better view from a higher floor?” I asked.

“We would need to go room to room all the way around the building to see everything outside. From down here we can see all the way around the building easier,” Sharon explained to me.

I had never been in the Hotel Majestic before, and the lobby was quite a sight even in the dark. The stairs let out next to the elevators, and the narrow beams of our lights illuminated the large open lobby of the hotel which was starting to fill with smoke. A few large brown dead potted ferns, and a shiny black piano were the only furniture left in the lobby, the couches, chairs, and tables were all piled in front of the glass double doors that led to the front door and out of the hotel as well as in front of the front windows. Orange light was flickering through the gaps in the furniture barricade.

“Shit!” cursed Sharon, as she ran forward.

I followed Sharon, arriving at the barricade a step behind her. We both looked out in horror, all we could see was flames. The front doors had been broken, and flames filled the little airlock area. The glass on the doors between us and the airlock were actually on fire themselves, doused with some sort of fuel.

Sharon moved to one of the front windows, again having to peek through the makeshift barricade,” The whole front of the building looks like it’s on fire. We need to go now,” she told me.

No shit.

Even in the shadows cast by our lights I could see the terror in her eyes, and why not? This had been her sanctuary for weeks, and now is had burst into flames, and surely not spontaneously.

She led me past the abandoned front desk, and the elevators, and down a wide hallway. On each side of the hallway were banquet rooms, four in total, it looked like but she paid no attention to them. She led me to the back door, which had also been barricaded, but with furniture from the banquet halls. Dining tables and chairs were piled almost to the ceiling. This really must have been hard work for her, since I’m sure Jimmy couldn’t help with the lifting.

Looking through the gaps in the pile of furniture, I could barely make out the Oldsmobile sitting there under the moonlight. The coast looked clear, no zeds, no people, no flames. I suppose had we not been panicking at the thought of being burnt alive, Sharon and I might have realized we were being led this way.

“Please tell me you have the keys to that car,” Sharon half-pleaded.

I quickly patted my pants pockets until I felt the key ring in there, “Yeah, I have them.”

“Then let’s get Jimmy and get out of here.”

We ran back up the stairs, Sharon in the lead, and back to the room. Sharon opened the door to the candle-lit room with the key card again (battery powered lock maybe?), and burst into the room.

“It’s time to leave, Jimmy!” she half yelled, rushing into the room, and throwing open the closet door. She pulled out two large dark blue backpacks, the kind you use for hiking, and tossed one to me,” Load up what you can.”

Sharon and I quickly set about filling the packs up with ammunition, food, bottles of water (and I’m pretty sure I saw her stuff some mangas in hers), and anything else that seemed useful, fit, could be grabbed in about two minutes, and wasn’t too heavy to carry.

I grabbed my Mossberg and slung it over my shoulder where it sat awkwardly against the backpack. I saw Sharon sling a rifle over her shoulder, and double check that her hand-cannon was still on her hip, seeing this made me double check for the presence off my Beretta.

Jimmy had gotten to his feet, and was propped upon his crutches with the shotgun that had been on the bed with his hanging off of his shoulder. He looked at the same time pissed and pitiful, like he wanted to be a lot more helpful than he was being.

We rushed out the door into the dark hallway, and back to the stairs. As the beams from our lights cut through the darkness, we could now see some smoke seeping into stairwell. The fire was spreading.

Jimmy was having real difficulties hobbling down the stairs, and after about half a flight Sharon and I rushed back up to him. We each grabbed one of his arms and half carried/ half dragged him down the stairs. I thought briefly about how lucky we all were that our situations were not reversed; Jimmy is not a big guy, but between our packs and our panic we still struggled getting him down those stairs. If it were the two of them having to drag my fat ass down the stairs, we would have all burned to death.

Covered in sweat and panting, we emerged from the stairwell into the lobby, which was now filled with flickering orange light. The fire had gotten through/under the front doors, and the furniture barricade was starting to catch. We turned away from the front door and rushed to the pool access door.

Sharon and I did not wait for Jimmy, we ran to the barricade of dining furniture, and began pulling pieces of it down, and tossing them to the side. What must have taken Sharon hours to put up took the two of us maybe two minutes to take down.

Pulling a ring of keys from her pocket, Sharon quickly began trying them in the lock on the doors. There were probably 10 keys on the ring, and I think she finally found the right one on the 8th attempt. She flung the doors open, and we all rushed (or hobbled in Jimmy’s case) into the cool night air. I had not realized how warm it had been inside until that point, but some of that may have been from the growing fire.

As we started to move across the pool area, and towards there car there was the sound of glass breaking and a whooshing noise. An orange glow erupted from the Oldsmobile as flames sprouted up from the front of the car as well as the ground under it, and on the roof of the car. Someone had just thrown a pair of Molotov cocktails onto it.


Suddenly noise filled the night as a half dozen motorcycles and a large truck's engine rumbled to life. Light blazed through the night as all of their headlights (except for the truck, which had been backed in) came on. The truck and two of the bikes were to our right, blocking the alleyway where it opened out onto the street. The other four bikes were to our left continuing the line of the fence across the alley, blocking off any escape through the back of the hotel. How the hell had we not heard them drive up? It's not like there's a lot of traffic noise anymore for them to have blended into,

We were trapped; the only way out the back was through the gate and into the alley full of bikers. Going back through the front was not an option due to the large fire no doubt started by the bikers to chase us out the back and into a trap.

“Well good evenin',” called out a voice with a slight Southern accent over the rumble of engines,” Lovely night for a bonfire, ain't it?”

As my eyes adjusted, I could make out eight figures in the alleyway, four on each side. The voice had come from one of the two by the big flatbed truck. I noticed on the back of the truck was a large cage, but a this point I couldn't make out too much of it.

The biker who had spoken stepped forward, towards the burning car,”It seems like you've got yourself a little choice to make here. We could just gun you down right now, but that seems rather unsporting, what with us being able to fill you fulla holes before you could even get your weapons up, and you having no cover and all. Your friends at least had a chance to fight back an' all,” he said, sounding almost wistful, “Or, you could just put down your weapons, and come quietly.”

“Why are you doing this?” yelled Sharon, “Why would you attack us? We should all be working together, not attacking each other.”

“Well aren’t we just a little na├»ve?” replied the biker.

“What did we ever do to you?” Sharon tried again to appeal to his non-existent humanity.

“You stole from us. This is our city now, and you people in the mall need to understand that if you overstep your bounds, you’re gonna pay for it.”

“What a load of crap! You’re working for Kaur, aren’t you?” called out Jimmy, wobbling a little on his crutches.

“Well I just have no idea at all who you’re talkin’ about,” replied the biker mockingly. All of the bikers broke out in derisive laughter,” Okay, enough Q and A; make your choice. Drop your weapons and come with us, or we shoot ya now.”

With such great choices, what could we do? I slipped the backpack off of my shoulders, and lowered it slowly to the ground, following it with my rifle.
As I removed by handgun from its holster, Sharon hissed at me, barely audible over the rumble of the engines,”What are you doing?”

“I did not come out here just to see you get shot in front of me. Maria, Gerry, Redd, and all of the others did not lose their lives just so you could lose yours,” I replied.

“They’re going to kill us anyway,” replied Jimmy.

“Then we need to think of something, but getting shot right here and now isn’t it..”

“This isn’t a movie; no one is going to show up at the last minute to save us. The guns are the only leverage we have.”

“There are more of them, and they have better gun. We do not have any leverage.”

“You just got us killed,” spat Jimmy, and slid the rifle off of his shoulder, it clattered to the ground.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” stated Sharon, her eyes glistening with forming tears as she shed her pack and weapons.

Of course I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan other that to stay alive as long as possible, and pray for a miracle.

“Smart choice!” called out the biker,” Now come out of there with your hands to the sky, pool party’s over.”

We moved towards the gate leading to the alley. One of the bikers to our left moved away fro his bike, and opened the pool gate for us, all the while pointing a very ugly looking automatic rifle at us.

“Go to the truck!” yelled the biker who was apparently the mouthpiece for the others.

As we walked closer to the truck, I got a better look at the cage. It was huge, covering the entire back of the truck. It was really two cages, a smaller one, and a bigger one. The smaller one reminded me of the airlock at the front of the hotel, its intent was clearly to separate one prisoner from the rest of them, although three people could fit in it at once.

The larger cage took up the bulk of the truck's flatbed, and it was big to hold at least a dozen people, more if you really packed them in. It looked something like this:


12th entry cage


Yeah, I know, my drawing skills suck, but it’s dark out here, and I don’t exactly have a drawing desk handy. In any case, it still probably gives you a better idea than my description did.

At this point I did not realize what this cage was meant for, but I suppose the long poles with the loops on the end (the looked like an extra large version of the poles animal control officers use the keep dangerous animals at a distance) that were mounted on the side should have been a hint.

At the back of the truck was a staircase that was hinged to the bottom of the cage in front of the door. As we approached, a biker with a red bandana on his head lowered the stairs, and then stepped off to the driver's side of the truck, and slid the barred door open. It slid open towards him like the door to a prison cell door, sticking out from the side of the truck.

Sharon went up the steps first, helping Jimmy come up behind her. I went last so in case Jimmy fell I would be able to catch him. When we were all inside the smaller of the two cages, the bandana'd biker slid the door shut, which sounded, to me at least, an awful lot like someone closing my coffin.

To say that the cage smelled is an understatement; it reeked. It smelled like death, or undeath as may be appropriate. It was at this point that I realized that this was used for capturing zombies. The poles with the wire loops on the end were for wrangling the zeds without getting in biting distance of them since the undead do not take the threat of being shot terribly serious.

“What are you going to do with us?” yelled Sharon, she was trying so hard not to cry.

“We're gonna take you home to meet mom!” replied the leader. This was met with laughter from the other bikers who were now all gathering together near the back of the truck since we were no longer even a token threat to them.

The lead biker started again, “We’re probably gonna use the chink and the lardass for zombie chow, but you, little miss, you were gonna let live... for awhile anyway. Or we might see how you do in unarmed combat with one of the zeds-,” the biker never got to finish his thought, as his face exploded at that point.

I never heard the shot that did it, and neither, I imagine, did he. Seeing a living person get their head taken off is very different that seeing a zed get their head splattered. The colors are so much more vivid on a living human, not the dark greens, grays, and blacks of a zed. Even in the limited light, I could see the bright red of his blood, the gray of his brains (who knew he actually had any?), and even the pinkish white of blood-covered bone spray through the air in slow motion.

Time stopped as the faceless biker seemed to stand there forever, as if pondering what witty thing to say to us next. I swear that even the engines of the truck and the motorcycles stopped during what must have only been a second, maybe two.

When his body finally took a stagger-step forward, and finally fell to his knees, and then to the ground, it was like someone flipped a switch, and time started again. The bikers started to bring up their weapons. There were a couple of cracks from rifles, and a blond biker with a pair of sunglasses on his head grabbed his throat as blood erupted from his neck, and a black biker with cornrows spun off his feet clutching his right shoulder.

I heard one of the biker's yell 'Who the fuck is shooting at us?” as he and a couple of the remaining bikers started firing wildly into the night.

Wanting the not feel helpless and exposed in the back of a truck, I took decisive (ly stupid) action. The red bandana's biker had frozen with his hand on the bar that would lock the cage door in place, not having actually locked us in yet. I grabbed the cage door, and shoved it open as hard as I could. As I hoped, the door caught him in the side of the head, and knocked him off his feet.

Had the remaining bikers not been busy shooting into the darkness and getting shot themselves, I'm sure this stupid action would have earned me a quick and painful death at the barrels of their guns, but they were too busy to worry about the three off us. I leapt down the stairs, and Sharon practically shoved Jimmy down the steps onto me before bounding down them herself.

Being just as panicked as the last couple surviving bikers, we ran for front of the truck this being the direction that gunfire was not coming from.

“They're getting away!” yelled the biker who I had hit with the cage door. Apparently the knock to the head broke him out of his frozen terror, as he had gotten to his knees, and raised a very vicious looking little automatic weapon towards us.

The biker fired at us, and I felt pieces of pavement hit the backs of my legs as we ran/dragged Jimmy towards what we hoped was safety. His gun fell silent, and I chanced a look behind me to see him laying on the ground, and the tire of the truck next to him rapidly deflating..

As quickly as it had started, the gunfire ceased, and now only the sound of engines filled the night again. The whole thing must have only taken ten or fifteen seconds, but it sure seemed a lot longer than that.

Sharon, Jimmy, and I hid in front of the truck, making ourselves quite visible in the headlights, but hopefully keeping the bulk of the truck between us as the shooters. At this moment all we knew for sure was that they were not friends of the bikers, but that did not mean they were our allies.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Sharon kept repeating under her breath.

“What do we do now?” I asked to no one in particular.

“We hope whoever did that is friendly and that they show themselves before all that noise attracts a shitload of zombies to us.” replied Jimmy. So we just stayed in front of the truck, peeking around the side towards the war zone behind us.

Another eternity later, and two figures appeared in the headlights of the motorcycles blocking the alley. One was thin, and one a little thicker; the flames from the burning car making them nothing more than silhouettes. They split up, and started walking from body to body, and shooting them again with handguns when they were satisfied with their work. They started towards where we were hiding.

“It's safe, you can come out now!” called a deep cartoony voice.

“Gerry?” asked Jimmy.

“The one and only,” replied the voice.

Jimmy hobbled towards the figures, using the truck to hold him up, as his crutches were laying up in the cage. The figures came closer to us, and when they became fully visible in the headlights of the motorcycles, we could see it was Gerry and Maria.

“You guys are alive!” I exclaimed, as Sharon and I moved forward to catch up to Jimmy.

“Good thing too, since you three were marching willingly to your deaths.” replied Maria, but she smiled a very tired smile.

“Is there anyone else?” asked Sharon.

Gerry shook his had slowly,” No, they killed everyone else. Maria and I ended up retreating to the manager’s office when Josh got shot. There were a lot of them. We gave good as we got, but we were outnumbered.”

“We failed, and everyone paid for it,” contributed Maria, devoid of her confidence for the first time in my presence.

“You saved us,” said Sharon, putting a hand on Maria’s shoulder.

“We couldn’t have the mission be a complete failure, replied Maria with that weak smile again.

We looted the biker’s corpses as quickly as possible, made sure they were all sufficiently dead so that they would not get up again, turned off the motors to the bikes and truck (we could probably go back for the remaining fuel later if the hotel fire didn’t claim them), grabbed the supplies we had dropped by the pool, and then got out of there. Among us, only Maria and Jimmy knew how to ride a motorcycle (and Jimmy was really not in any condition to), and the flat rear tire on the truck made using it impossible as a means of escape, so we walked as fast as we could. Somewhere out there was bound to be at least a few ghouls homing in on where all the noise had been coming from.

Maria wanted us to get far enough away from the Majestic so that if the fire spread, we would hopefully not get caught in it. She also wanted to make sure we were far enough away in case any other members of Hell’s Postmen decided to come looking for their missing buddies.

It was slow going, but after about an hour (an undead free hour, thank God) Maria said we were far enough, and we took shelter in a gas station. After a meal of warm soda, chips, and candy bars, we decided to camp out for the rest of the night.

Maria wanted to take first shift as guard, but we all insisted she rest. I’m on lookout duty now. I don’t know if the others are all asleep in the little store or not, but I’m up on the roof keeping a watch out for anything on two legs, or two wheels, but about the only thing I can see right now is the light from the burning Hotel Majestic in the distance. I wonder how far that will spread.

In the morning, we will figure out what to do. I’m not sure if we will even be going home. I miss my bed, but I will gladly give up everything I owned just to know that Sharon is safe.