Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Twenty Ninth Entry: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

December 20th

I almost lost Tara today. It was only sheer luck that she still alive. That son of a bitch was going to kill her, he was going to...

I'm getting ahead of myself; she's still alive and okay, so let me take things in order.

Kaur made a announcement about our attack on the Hell's Postmen yesterday. He held it on the fountain stage in the center of the shopping area again. This time there was less of militant feel to it. Alex, Tara, Rontreal, Mike and a few others who had led groups during the attack were on the stage with Hashmir as he spoke.

“Citizens of Mallville,” Hashmir began, “I come to you today with good news. One of the great external threats to our survival has been dealt with. The gang known as the Hell's Postmen have been eliminated thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the men and women of my security force, Alex Sigler's scavenging force, and Michael Clowes' roof patrol force.”

Sharon and I had taken a position as close to the one that we had watched Hashmir's last speech from, only this time we were not afraid of having to make a hasty retreat. Tara and Alex both looked up at us from time to time. I was a little surprised to find Tara smiling as I was sure that she would be in professional mode for this, and her professional smiles are generally not pleasant ones.

“As you all know, “continued Hashmir, “The Hell's Postmen were responsible for the attacks on a number of our scavenging crews as well as an attack on the clean up crew, the attack on Halloween day that breached the walls of our very community, and the attempt on my life with the attack targeted at my office. They cost us the lives of many brave citizens, but no more. Not one more person will fall at the hands of these destoryer”

“We cannot rest now that we have eliminated this threat, however, for we must remain ever vigilant against other attacks. I refer not just to the undead that daily come to storm our sanctuary, or even to other outside humans who would try to take our home from us, but to internal forces who would rot us out from the inside like an infected tooth.”

I could swear that Kaur looked towards Alex and Tara as he spoke again, “There are people amongst us, people watching me speak right here and right now who would destabilize the strong community we have all worked so hard to create. If we let these people have their way, then the work and sacrifice we have made so far has all been for nothing.”

Alex and Tara's expression's changed. Even Mike was looking at Hashmir questioningly now, “It is only with absolute loyalty and determination that we can continue to survive, and so I remind you that it is your duty, and in your best interests, to report any malcontents to security so that any threat they may pose can be addressed.”

And with that the air of cooperation and teamwork ceased to exist. The rest of the thirty minute speech was not about the operation to eliminate the bikers at all, but about being loyal to Mallville, Hashmir's Mallville. You could feel the mood of the crowd shifting as people were once again choosing sides. In the space of a few minutes he managed to undo the progress and goodwill that had been created by his actually working with Alex.

It was after that was over that Tara almost died, and you may be amazed to know that Hashmir Kaur had absolutely nothing to do with it. It also answered a question I've been writing about for weeks.

After the speech, Tara and I went back to her apartment (I was in no mood to listen to Alex rage more about Kaur, Sharon's his girlfriend; that is her job). This didn't mean that I would not have to still listen to Tara do a bit of raging (which as her boyfriend is my job), but hers tends to be a little more, what's the word? Oh, yes, sane, as well as a little less profane than her boss'.

Tara talked about packing a bag and keeping it by the door in case we have to leave quickly. I pointed out to her that if we are in the apartment when the security force comes for us, we wouldn't be able to escape, and that if we are somewhere that we could realistically escape from (not that escaping looks very promising anyway), we would not be near the apartment to come get the bag. She gave me a frosty look for that, but it was quickly replaced by an extremely weary one which made her look much older than she is.

I don't like seeing Tara like that. She so rarely ever drops what must be almost all of her defenses that it almost seems like she's ready to give up when she does. Still, I must look pretty hopeless most of the time, so who knows what she thinks of that.

We decided to lay down for a bit, and both quickly fell asleep. I dreamed about the attack on the Postmen, and while I couldn't call it a good dream, at least it did not involve me killing Tara, Sharon, or anyone else I care about. At this point any dream that does not end in me waking up gasping for breath is good enough for me.

I wasn't asleep for more than an hour or two, as it was still light out when I woke up. What did surprise me when I woke up was that I was alone; Tara was gone. I sat up and called out to her; I got no reply.

I got off of the bed, quietly went around it to her side, and opened her nightstand drawer. Her Glock was sitting on top of the jumble of pens, sudoku books, hand creams, and other miscellanea that filled the drawer. I took the gun, and closed everything else back in the drawer.

I know that it's stupid, but the first thing I did was check the closet. For a second I really believed that a zombie would jump out at me when I opened the door, but the only things I found in there were Tara's clothes. I almost shot them anyway, just out of expectation.

“Tara!” I called out again, and still got no reply. She wasn't in the bathroom, or the game room. She wasn't in the living room or the kitchen, but the front door was sitting open. I stuck my head out the door where that smell once again assailed me, and looked up and down the hallway, but I saw nothing.

I crossed the hallway and knocked on Hans' door. After a few seconds, I heard it unlock, and his wrinkled face appeared in the gap between the door and the frame as he opened it, “Oh,” he commented in his German accent, “It's you! How can I help you, young man?”

“Have you seen Tara, my girlfriend?”

“ I know who Miss Lafferty is, I have not gone senile yet,” he said, clearly meaning to be funny, “But no, I have not seen her. I heard some noise out here in the hallway about ten minutes ago, but when I looked, there was no one out here.”

I guess it was at this point that Hans noticed the handgun clutched in my right hand, “Has something happened?” he asked?

I followed his eyes down to the gun, and realized that I must look insane, “Umm, I don't know, “ I said, “It's probably nothing to be worried about.”

“Then why the gun?”

“Better safe than sorry?” I answered his question with a question, “I need to go look for her, thanks Mr. Gruber.”

“I've told you, call me Hans, and let me know if she's okay; she's such a nice girl.”

After leaving Hans behind, I started knocking on other doors. I didn't get answers at some, but I didn't hear any noise inside of those apartments either. The doors I did get answers at hadn't seen her.

The last door I knocked on was two doors down from Tara's. I had met the guy who lived there a couple of times, his name was Merrit Sokolenko. Tara had told me that he had a wife named Heidi, but I had never met her (or rather, I had once without knowing it was her).

Merrit opened the door only wide enough to stick his pale haggard looking face through, but not wide enough that I could see past him, “Yeah?” he asked.

“Have you see Tara Lafferty? She lives a couple of doors down.”

“Yeah, I've seen her, but not today.”

“Oh,” I replied, “Because she left without telling me, and she left the door open, and what with all of the disappearances around here lately....”

“I can see why you'd be worried, but I ain't seen her,” He pulled his head back, and looked at something in the apartment behind him. When he stuck his face back into the gap he said, “If you'll excuse me, I'm a little busy.”

“Right,” I said, rather dejectedly, “I'm sure you-”

A loud crash came from behind him in the apartment. He jerked his head back again, and looked.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Uhm, just the wife, she can be a bit clumsy,” sounding about as convincing as a child standing over a broken cookie jar and claiming he knows nothing about it.

“Is she okay?”

Yeah, she's fine, just knocked over a table-”

Another crash, and what sounded like a muffled voice. Merritt tried to slam the door shut, but I stuck my right foot in it. Unfortunately I had forgotten that I was only wearing socks, so it hurt like hell, but it kept the door open.

“What are you doin'?” Merrit asked.

“Let me see what's going on in there, “I demanded.

“Fuck off, man! Go find your girl,” The pain as he tried to shut the door with my foot still in it shot through me, but I just shoved back. I think the pain from my foot may have actually made me stronger, it was either that or the fear. The door practically flew open, and sent Merrit staggering backwards into his living room.

It was then that I realized that the smell of rot was stronger in his apartment than outside. The smell was coming from there. The apartment was a completely different layout from Tara's or mine. It looked to be another one bedroom layout with the kitchen along the inner wall to my left, and two other doors on the wall. The door nearer to me must have been the bathroom because the one closest to the outer wall was the bedroom door.

I moved into the apartment, and saw what had caused the noise. A tower shelf full of knickknacks between the bedroom and bathroom doors had been knocked over, and its contents were scattered across the floor. This was the third thing I actually noticed though.

The first thing that caught my attention was the blond haired woman in the filthy once pink nightgown. The front of the nightgown was smeared with dried blood, and her skin was a pale sickly gray. She had a filthy bandage on her right arm, and a thick rope tied around her waist, and leading back into the bedroom. The zombified woman was straining against the rope to get at the second thing I noticed.

Tara was wriggling on the carpet which had once been beige, but in many places was now stained and streaked with dried blood. Her legs had been duct taped together, her hands were taped behind her back, and a piece of blood spattered tape covered her mouth. Blood covered her face from a cut on her scalp, and she was trying to wriggle away from the struggling zed, and looking like a fish out of water.

Tara saw me enter the room, and looked me in the eyes as she struggled. Her eyes were a mix of terror, and rage; there was no panic in those eyes, no loss of control. Her eyes spoke of fear and murder to me across the rancid smelling apartment.

It turns out that Merritt had come to Tara's door asking her to help him, that his wife was hurt (which wasn't really a lie, I guess). Tara of course went to help, and as soon as she was in the apartment he hit her over the head with something, knocking her to the floor. Before she could get up, he hit her again, and the next thing she was aware of was him placing a piece of tape over her mouth so that she could not scream.

When I knocked on the door, Merritt was just about to throw the woman I love to his undead wife. Not being the type to let a chance get by her, Tara struggled enough from her place on the floor to first knock the tower shelf against the wall, knocking things off of it, and causing the first crash I had heard. She then managed to knock it over completely; that's where I cam in.

“What the fuck is this?” I asked stupidly.

Merrit had regained his feet, and put his hand forcefully on my shoulder as he spoke, “She's my wife.” Was all he said; all he had time to say.

I turned faster than I would have thought possible for me, intending to punch him in his weary face, but I forgot that I was still holding the handgun. His arm was pulled back to punch me, and tears were running from his eyes. In the second before the side of the handgun connected with his head I was able to read his eyes.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, and it's certainly not an idea I came up with, but I have always believed the eyes are truly the window to the soul. His eyes spoke of fear, sorrow, and love. I suppose that he was doing what he was doing out of some misdirected love for his wife, and I'm sure he's not the only one to have done it since the world ended, but I could also see that deep down he knew that the ghoul in his bedroom was not his Heidi, not anymore.

I slammed the side of the Glock into his face, and he went staggering backwards into the half open front door. The door swung shut from his collision with it, and he slid down the inside of it to the floor in a daze. In that moment, I realized that I had been blaming Hashmir for some shit he really hadn't done.

All the disappearances around the 'Ville? Well they obviously weren't all Kaur's secret police. Some of them, certainly Mrs. Dwonch and her baby, became food for Merritt's wife. I recognized her; we had seen her on Halloween She had been the woman with the paper pumpkins. She must have been bit by the zeds following us before she could get somewhere safer.

Of course Merrit knew that if he took her to the med center, she would be killed and destroyed, so he didn't. Merritt Sokolenko stayed with his wife, and over the days or weeks (however long it takes) he watched her get sicker and sicker, and finally die and turn into one of the undead. I cannot even imagine what that must have been like for him.

I rushed across the room to Tara, and dragged her farther away from the thrashing Heidi Sokolenko. The zed was pulling hard enough on her rope to cut off air to a living person, but Merritt had tied her to a wall stud (I saw the hole in the drywall after it was all over), probably right before she died, and it was holding.

I tore the tape from Tara's mouth, “Ow!” she hissed, and then in a breathless voice, “He was going to feed me to her! He killed Mrs. Dwonch! He's been feeding people to her for weeks!”

Merritt slowly got to his feet again, “You don't understand man, she's my wife.”

“And this is my girlfriend!” I spat. I pointed the Glock at Heidi, as she struggled at the end of her rope.

I pulled the trigger on the Glock twice, and at this close a range I almost didn't even have to look to hit the ghoul in the head. The back of her head burst open, and she tried to collapse forward, but being at the edge of the tether, she kind of fell sideways in the doorway. Heidi's feet slid out from under her, and she fell to the carpet, still at last.

“Heidi!” Merritt screamed, “No!”

Merrit turned red, all signs of the weariness that had been on his face vanished, and bloodthirsty rage replaced it.

“Motherfucker!” he bellowed, and charged.

Without even thinking, I aimed the gun at him, and fired before he had even gone three steps, less than halfway across the room. I shot him four times before I even knew what I was doing. Two bullets tore into his chest, one into his throat, and the last through his left eye. His momentum carried him forward, and he landed on the spindly wooden coffee table in front of an IKEA looking couch with blue flowers on it. The table collapsed under his impact, and he lay still.

I walked over to Merritt's corpse, and shot him in the back of the skull, just to make sure he stayed dead. As his blood flowed out, staining bits of carpet that had not been stained yet, I realized that I had just murdered a man. I stood there over his body as the idea of what I had done solidified in my head.

It wasn't until a voice spoke from the door that I moved from my spot over Merritt's corpse, still pointing the gun at him, “Hello?” called an older German-accented voice from the hallway, it was Hans, “Is everything in here? I heard gunsh...” his voice trailed off as he saw the room.

I can imagine how it must have looked to Hans; there I was standing over a dead man, another dead body visible in the doorway to the bedroom, and Tara bound up on the floor. Not only all of this, but in an apartment that smelled of death, and had dried (and fresh now) bloodstains all over the carpet. It must have looked like something out of a horror film, and I guess it kind of was.

“Are,” Hans started cautiously, “Are you okay?

“I don't think so,” I replied, my voice sounding dull to my own ears.

“Get security, Mr. Gruber, “ called Tara from the floor in her all business no emotion voice.

“I think I had better, yes.” agreed Hans, not admonishing Tara for being formal this time. Hans disappeared from the door.

“Are you going to help me, or just leave me here all day?” Tara asked, a tad impatiently.

I looked over at her, into her cold blue eyes, but did nothing.

“Come on!” she urged.

“I just killed him.” I motioned towards Merritt's body with the gun.

“I'm glad you did, he was trying to kill me!” she replied, struggling against the tape binding her hands behind her back, “Now can you please help me?”

I looked at her for a few more seconds before tucking the Glock into the waistband of my jeans, and going over to Tara. I helped her get to her feet, and guided her to one of the chairs at the small dining table by the window. I then crossed the living room to go the kitchen, looking down at first Heidi's body, and then Merrit's as I passed them.

The sink was piled with dirty dishes, and there was more dried blood on the floor. I started pulling open drawers, and on the third try I found a drawer with a jumble of steak knives in it. I grabbed one of them.

I went back to Tara, and cut the tape that was holding her wrists together. Once her hands were free, she snatched the knife from my hand. She steadied herself against me to keep from falling forward out of the chair, and leaned down to cut the tape off of her ankles.

I must have still looked dazed, I certainly felt numb, “What?” she asked.

“I killed a man.”

“You helped kill a hundred or so people the other day, so what?”

I tried to speak, but no words came. I wanted to say that I did not know those people, but I didn't really know the Sokolenkos either. I wanted to say that they were bad people, but what do you call someone who murders people and feeds them to the undead? Even if the undead in question was their wife, that's still pretty fucked up. I wanted to say I had never killed someone so close up; seen someone killed so close, sure, but never pulled the trigger myself. All of these thoughts seemed stupid and weak, and they seem even more so as I write this.

Tara gripped my shoulders, “You saved my life, hon,” she looked into my eyes, and in the miniature glaciers that are here eyes I saw a mixture of fear, rage, and disgust, but also gratitude and love.” If you hadn't knocked on the door when you did, or even if you had knocked a minute later, I would be dead by now.”

“I know, and if something happened to you-”

“But nothing did,” she cut me off, “because of you. You are my hero.”

Tara smiled at me, it was a cold smile, but it was still a smile. She leaned forward and kissed me; our foreheads touched, and she pulled back suddenly, and grabbed the sides of her head with her hands, and groaned. I could feel wetness on my forehead from the blood leaking down hers.

I gently urged Tara back down into the chair she had been in; The couch would probably have been more comfortable, but then she would be right by Merritt's body. As she rubbed her wrists (which were already starting to darken into bracelets of purple bruise) I went over to the bedroom.

I nudged Heidi's head with my sock covered foot, but she did not react so I looked into the room. It was dimly lit, with just a little light filtering through the curtains, but it was enough to see.

The bedroom was a nightmare, and smelled worse than anything I have ever smelled. Aside from the general disorder of the room, missing bedding, overturned nightstands, that sort of thing, the room was unevenly painted with what looked to be black in this light, but was almost certainly dried blood.

The floor was littered with the contents of the room's drawers and closet, but also with bones, some still with rotting flesh on them. I don't want know exactly how many people he killed, let alone how he managed to get them all here without being noticed. I'm sure someone will answer the first question, but we'll never know the second now.

On the left side of the bed a large ragged hole had been cut into the drywall, and the rope around Heidi's waist led to a thick stud in the wall. Not wearing any shoes, and really not wanting to step on the filth and piece of bones littering the carpet, I did not take a closer look.

I don't know how long I stood there staring into the Sokolenko bedroom, but it was the arrival of security that got me to move. Four riot armored officers burst into the apartment, sweeping the room with their MP5s. One of the officer rushed across the room to cover Tara, while another rushed to me, and threw me up against the wall. He took Tara's Glock from me before letting me go.

A lot of what happened next is kind of a blur to me. I know that Rontreal showed up at some point, and interviewed us both. He asked us if we still thought the idea of threats within the walls of Mallville were some sort of joke. I told him that I never questioned that there were threats, only who those threats actually were. Asshole.

We were then hustled off to the med center for thorough examinations. The cleaned Tara up, and closed the quite large gash on her forehead with a stapler that reminded me a plush tagger.

Alex and Sharon showed up while we were at the med center, and we had to tell them what happened. They were both glad that we were okay, and Sharon gave us both hugs (although maybe a little more gingerly to Tara, who still had blood from her head wound on her t-shirt.

After being satisfied that neither of has had been bitten, they told us to come back in three days for another check-up. I think this is really more for Tara than for me, since I didn't actually have any wounds (my foot wasn't even broken or anything); they want to make sure she's not infected. I'm not sure how they can really check though, since no one knows what it is to begin with. I guess if she starts getting pale or something maybe.

It was late when we got home, after eight and we went to bed after showering (Tara was upset that she could not wash her hair because of the staples). Even though we hadn't eaten since lunch, I wasn't hungry, and Tara didn't say anything about being hungry.

As we lie in bed, listening to the rain outside, Tara started to cry.

“What's wrong?” I asked.

“I almost died today,” she said softly.

“I know.”

“Even when those fuckers were shooting rockets at us, even when we were surrounded by those zeds downstairs, I wasn't as scared as I was today,”

“It's okay now,” I tried to calm her.

“It's not,” she replied, “I was helpless; I let him make me helpless.”

“He hit you from behind.”

“He tricked me, goddammit!” She wailed, “He made me weak! You had to come and save me, because I couldn't take care of myself!”

I struggled for something to say; I know there was nothing I could have said that would make things all better, but I wanted to at least try and lessen her pain.

“You saved yourself,” I finally came up with.

“No I didn't.”

“Yes, if you hadn't knocked over that shelf, I wouldn't have known you were there. I would have just kept looking, and Merritt would have kept on killing people. Who knows how many lives you saved today.”

“But I was weak.”

“You sure didn't seem weak to me,” I replied.

“I felt weak.”

Neither of us spoke for a long time after that, but she slowly stopped crying. I thought she had gone to sleep, but she spoke again,” Thank you,” her voice was sleepy, “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Shortly after that, she started snoring softly. I lay there holding her for awhile until she rolled over, but I couldn't sleep. I got up, and went out to the living room, where I am now, to write all of this down, and think in my usual self-indulgent way.

What is on my mind tonight, other than just the events of the day, is me. Who am I? I re-read my first entries in this journal just a few months ago, and I don't think I am that person anymore. That person could never have just shot a man in the face like I did today.

What happened to me? I am not the person who cos-played as Mr. Kimura. I am not the cashier at Insert Coin. I am not the person who fell in love with Sharon so many years ago. I'm not sure I'm even still the person who fell in love with Tara. I am something more, but not necessarily something better. A fighter? Maybe. A killer? Certainly. Someone other people depend on? Hopefully I'll never be in a position where people need to depend on me.

I may not have been shot or eaten, but the me I was is dead all the same. I haven't changed my name and started wielding a chainsaw like Ash, but I'm someone else all the same. I am sad about this, but the old me could never survive in this world, and that's why he is gone. He died, just the same as Bud; I guess that means that in my own way I'm just as much a zombie as the shamblers.

I cannot think like that. I cannot be weak. I must be like Tara. I must be strong when it counts. If I fail my friends, then I will have nothing. They are all that I truly have.


Viktim said...

Damn. Good stuff. Very good. You're really digging into a lot of different emotions & eliciting the same from the reader.

Void Munashii said...

The next one was a big one for me, and it was pretty hard to write. If I were to do a promo for it (and come the podcast version, I probably will) it would go something like:

(deep announcer voice)"You've come to know that residents of Mallville, people like Alex Sigler, Tara Lafferty, Hasmir Kaur, Sharon Sparks, and Gerry McElroy. Next time, one of them will die!

Just kidding... more than one will."

It's hard to get the right effect in just text alone though.

Anonymous said...

Dude, Void, such a tease! Anyone but Gerry! ikid ikid, lol.

That smell had been bothering me for quite some time.