Creep World (WIP)
Throughout history, there have been many great wars. Starting at the beginning, there was the war between Heaven and Hell, progressing through history to the War of Middle Earth, finally rounding out with the Iraq Invasion. A brief history, if you will. But one thing all of the wars have ever had in common was this: There was always a fair chance for either side to win. Always.
There wasn’t here. The human race didn’t stand a chance. The things came through the gateway, so many in number and wanting nothing. They fought for mischief and mayhem, they had no other goals. To kill and burn, destroy and feast. This was all they lived for, their group mentality inhibited any fear of death they might have. That’s what made them so powerful; the fact that they were fighting for nothing and were willing to die for it.
Within a week of the gateway being open, over a million of them had poured out into the Arizona desert, gathering. There was no apparent leader; they shared a general mindset. Branch out and burn what you could. Kill who you could, and don’t stop until you stopped hearing the screams, they thought.
The second week, the west coast was all but gone. San Francisco, Los Angeles, burned. Razed. Buildings stood black and charred against a vile sunset, tendrils of smoke rising up to meet the orange sun.
The Midwest was gone in a matter of days.
They swept through the east like a plague a little after month past the initial invasion. Most of the people in New York fled to Canada, like it would be some kind of barrier between humans and these creeps. Few stayed behind, hoarding guns and barricading doors. They fought, claiming God was on their side. They were sure they would survive. The human race was divine, a mandate from the heavens.
That didn’t help. The Creeps rode in, kicking in sanctuaries, no reservations about burning sacred buildings. Churches, schools, liquor stores. They were all the same in the eyes of the Creeps. They held nothing sacred.
They rode out of New York just as quickly as they had ridden in, leaving some buildings as an ode to their “mercy” but leaving no occupants alive. The Statue of Liberty was defaced, missing an arm. The Creeps had only one fear, a natural fear that most have at a certain age: They feared water. They knew almost nothing about it. They had grown without it. They had survived without it. Our world was covered with it.
They had clambered onto the ferry, not knowing that it would take them across the water, and marveling at the architecture of the statue. The captain was trying to hide on the boat, taking what he could from the few vendor carts that were still scattered through Battery Park. The Creeps found him and were about to cut his toes off when he offered to take them to Liberty Island. The Creeps didn’t understand much, but came to the realization that would be a good chance to get out to the island, for they knew not how to operate such an advanced piece of machinery. The grizzled captain started the boat, and took them, and when it was close enough to jump onto the island, they cut off his toes, then his feet, then threw him into the ocean. He had screamed, and they had laughed, conquering the thing they feared, giddy with excitement at the idea of defacing the statue.
There was no negotiating with these things. They stood shorter than most people; around 3 feet tall, with slanted eyes. The pupils were black and inky, sometimes spreading outside of the designated circle of the pupil, welling out like a blot in a glass of water. Long pointed ears, yellow teeth, and a quasi-leather body piece that had scabbards for many weapons. Knives, swords, tridents and throwing knives were the norm. Oh, and matches. Matches and a blue flammable gel that would remind people something of napalm, but friendlier looking.
People in the city that weren’t fortifying or fighting were hiding, and the ones that hid instead of fight were the ones that tended to live. These people hid back of coffee shops, restaurants, whatever they could find. Non-descript buildings housing non-descript people, scared for their lives. So long as they were quiet as the things passed, the people weren’t found.
A print shop was a good place to hide as well. Eric Ned was hiding out in a print shop, in the break room. He had been living off of coffee and vending machine food for the past three weeks; lord only knows how he hadn’t been killed yet. It was a generational thing, growing up with so much crap to eat and then actually eating it for sustenance didn’t hurt.
Eric had been in Manhattan for the initial invasion by the Creeps. He had tried to get his Mother to follow him, but she had made up her mind to flee to Canada.
“It’s not a location thing! This isn’t real estate, mom! They’re not here for some kind of retribution on the US, they’re going EVERYWHERE!” Eric had screamed at his mother as she was packing her bags. She was old enough to make her own decisions, and so was he.
She had left him in the apartment the following night, stealing away when he was asleep. She knew he wouldn’t let her leave, but her convictions were too strong. Something she had learned from her husband, his father, to do what you truly believe is right. She had prayed that night, although she wasn’t religious. She prayed that when death found Eric, it found him quickly, that there would be no suffering for her son.
He had gone to college, although a college degree wouldn’t work very well now. You couldn’t education yourself out of torture with things that had such a limited understanding of our language. Maybe if Eric had gotten his degree in linguistics, but when choosing a major, he thought about how much “linguistics” sounded like “linguini” and had decided against majoring in something that sounded so much like a pasta. In retrospect, that hadn’t been the smartest of choices, but Eric had always gone with his gut. He majored in marketing, receiving his degree a month before the creatures came.
He awoke one night, unable to find his mother anywhere. Eric knew she had left, the search nothing more than a façade. He had taken a few supplies with him, and went to find shelter. He had stumbled upon the Big Apple Print Shop within an hour, a building where the main entrance was down a flight of stairs, almost subterranean. It looked and felt safe, so he hid.
After the streets had cleared and the screams had died, he walked into the street. The newspapers had all been collected, save for a few that were now blowing around in the wind. There was a dead body on the ground, missing the left foot and left hand, taken as some kind of sick trophy. The body on the ground used to be a police officer, and in the severed appendage a few feet away rested a handgun. Eric had no reservations about taking the handgun, but touching the hand sent shivers up his spine.
Once he decided it was safe to make noise, he began to run print-outs off of the computer in the back. The interior lights had begun to flicker shortly after he had began; the power probably wouldn’t hold much longer, so Eric worked fast, printing out as many fliers as he could. Five hundred before the lights dimmed, a thousand when the power blinked out completely. He hoped a thousand would be enough, but considering his luck...
The door to the roof had been locked, but Eric had the skeleton key; a Glock 17. The door swung open, and he surveyed the area. A few steam vents jutted out of the roof, shooting vapor into the chilly October air. He noted that there was an emergency fire escape bolted to the side.
He took a large stack of fliers and threw them into the air. Some fell right onto the steam vents, wet, other picked up and scattered to the wind. Eric watched them fly around in the air like snowflakes. He thought they looked serene, peaceful, and was thinking about writing a poem about the flakes of salvation falling when he heard a cackle behind him.
“Never a time for poeticism, is there,” he thought to himself as he turned. “Oh well. Would have made a shitty poem anyway.”
There were two Creeps standing by the door with the busted lock, guarding it. One was advancing on him quickly; Eric pulled the gun up and fired, hitting the creature square in the head. The momentum blew out the back of its head, it fell to its knees, then onto its face, before skidding to a halt directly in front of him.
The Creeps by the door still cackled as Eric felt the tiny knife run across his leg.
“Oh, you son of a bitch!” One had flanked him, and it was now laughing, its eyes growing wide, holding onto his leg as he flailed, trying to get it off. It was scaling his body slowly, before it was finally in front of his face. It gave him a very sloppy tongue kiss before Eric composed himself and shot the creature through the ass. The bullet traveled through the torso, hitting its heart before the bullet stopped in a rib. The creature groaned. It fell.
The two by the door cackled. Eric turned around again, expecting another flank, but was even more surprised to find nothing. He turned back around, and the creatures were almost on him.
“Clever little bastards,” he thought.
He fired one shot into the chest of the Creep on the left, but the other one jumped, knife poised before he could take aim. It sliced down his gun arm, forcing him to drop the firearm. The Creep hit the ground and grabbed for the Glock, but Eric kicked at it. He missed the gun but hit the creature square in the jaw, forcing it backwards, and he picked a knife from the dead Creep that was resting at his feet. The thing stood up and charged at him, but he rolled to the left, hitting his back against a steam vent.
He grabbed the bag from around a dead Creeps side, and dipped the knife in the blue gel.
“Let’s do this,” he mused, climbing to his feet.
He slammed the blade of the knife against the vent and the blade burst into flames. The Creeps eyes widened, and it laughed maniacally. It was in the air before Eric knew what it was doing, but acting on instinct alone he swing the knife up, cutting the creature along the chest from its belly to its chin. It fell to the deck and began to scream. There was a brief moment of compassion for the flailing creature, before Eric remembered that this thing was in fact, a monster that was trying to kill him. He scooped it up into his arms and threw it from the roof.
Bleeding out of his arm and leg, Eric grabbed the second stack of fliers and scattered them. Satisfied, he retreated into the safety of the print shop for the night. He took the stairs down into the main floor two at a time.
In the bathroom sat a First Aid Kit from Johnson and Johnson, the red cross on the cover of the tin inviting as he opened it and removed the bandages and peroxide. It stung like a fury when he cleaned the wound, but felt less vulnerable as he wrapped the white gauze around the damaged areas.
“Well… I hope people get those fliers,” he thought to himself before passing out in the tiny, dark lavatory.
“Calling for survivors: Band together. Big Apple Print Shop, 78 Broadway. Bring Guns and supplies. And I’ve got candy.”
It was dark outside when Eric finally regained consciousness. He could hardly see around the building, running into the bathroom door on the way out. There was something rustling near the front door and immediately put him on high alert. There were no flash lights or sources of illumination except for the sun, and it was hiding behind the skyline, under the radar… Just as Eric was.
He stood with gun drawn pointed at the source of the noise for three hours until the morning light began to creep through the window. The window above the door was open, letting a chilly wind enter. Too small for any Creep to come through, but the right size for a breeze to sweep through a rustle the paper.
But around the paper sat five or six large caterpillars of varying colors and sizes, the largest one the size of a CD case and just as square. Eric had never seen anything like them before. Moving rhythmically, they were beautiful and majestic in their own respect, if not frightening. They were crawling around, tiny feelers brushing against everything on the ground.
“For all I know, they could be spies…”
The foot came down on them, and they didn’t see anything else.
Sticky, stretchy insect intestines left a trail as Eric went to the back room to wait. He scraped his shoe against the door frame before taking a seat.
Three days passed. Eric had started to get supplies and food that would stay. He was preparing to leave and find someplace else, someplace alive… He had given up hope when someone slammed into the door to the print-store. Eric slowly made is way through the front room, now thoroughly stench-filled by the dead insects, drawing the Venetian blind. On the other side of the door stood a man about Eric’s size, but wiry and wearing coke-bottle glasses. His hair was a mess, falling over his eyes. He was wearing pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt that had been flipped inside out for posterities sake.
A fairly attractive female stood by his side, with her thumbs pushed through her belt loop, blowing a bubble. Her hair was just as dark as the boys, but it behaved, blowing lightly in the wind behind her. There was an audible popping noise as the bubble snapped, bringing Eric back to reality.
The lock turned and they walked in.
“We got these flie-Holy shit, what is that smell?!” The wiry young man covered his nose. “That’s just rank!”
“The caterpillars,” Eric said, motioning. “They’re in the process of rotting. The stench isn’t so bad in the back room. Follow me, if you will.” He walked behind the counter and opened the door to the break room.
They followed and took a seat around the square table as Eric fixed a cup of cold, three day old coffee in a dirty mug. He took some of the blue gel and set a small fire on the counter, leaving the mug in the flames before taking a seat.
“So, did you bring guns?”
No one moved. The young man pushed up his glasses.
The attractive female spoke first.
“We don’t have any guns.”
Eric heard the thumping against the front door at the same time the others did, but he was the first to move. He rose to his feet as the door shattered.
“Well, good. I’m against gun-violence” he said over his shoulder, drawing his pistol and running to the front.
A man six and a half feet tall stood outside, his fist dripping blood onto the ground outside of the shot. He smiled, stepped through the doorway, and began to gag.
His hair came down to his shoulders, obscuring glasses. His jeans were dirty, covered with a black goo and cut up in several places. There was a scar running along the visible portion of his face, from his ear to his lip.
“Oh, what is that SMELL!?”
“It’s a human, don’t worry,” Eric shouted over his shoulder.
“Come with me,” Eric said to the giant.
Once they were all situated, Eric drinking his stale coffee, the big man applying bandages from the First Aid kit, they finally began to get down to the niceties of introductions.
“I’m Gina,” the girl began, “And this is my brother B-“
“Ignatious,” he cried out, cutting her off.
“You’re name isn’t Ignatious. It’s Bert.”
“But Ignatious is such a cool name,” he began, “Totally out of a fantasy book, too. I smell something burning. Is something burning?”
“What? No. Nothing is burning. How about I call you Biggy. Or Iggy?” Eric questioned.
“Iggy. I like that. Still retaining the mysticism but modernizing the name. I really like it. This is my sister Angelina.”
“No, I’m not taking a retarded name like ‘Iggy’. Just call me Gina. It’s my Christian name.”
“Gina and Iggy, I got it. And what about you, big guy? You got a handle?”
“Eh? Oh, my name is Tom. Pleasure to meet you,” he said, extending his poorly bandaged hand towards Eric. The gauze was falling off.
“Here, let me wrap that for you,” Eric offered. He began to bandage the torn up hand and ask questions at the same time.
“So… If you all didn’t bring weapons of any kind, then what can I do with you, really? I’ve been here all by my onesies doing fairly well with just a pistol and myself. I expected more people would bring more weapons. All you’re bringing is attention to me and my hideout.”
“Well, I could be a level seven mage! I could throw fireballs and cast spells.” Iggy cried out, jumping to his feet.
“Yeah, none of this ‘Final Fantasy’ bullshit. That’s just not going to cut it. You’re not going to save my ass with an imaginary fireball if I’m fighting one of these things, now are you? No, you’re not. The thought is nice, but that’s not really going to help when I’m pinned to the ground fighting for my life.”
Iggy slumped back down into his chair, defeated.
“I can see where I could use someone like you, Tom. You’re fairly strong.”
“Please, now that we’re friends, call me Gopher.”
“Alright. I could see where I could use someone like you, Gopher. You’re fairly strong. Breaking down doors and the such, you’d be a great asset to my grand scheme of hiding and surviving. You got anything worth keeping,” he said, motioning to Gina. “Because if you all can’t help, then I’m liable to just take Gopher and leave tomorrow. I’m sorry, but I need to survive.”
She stood up from her chair, her long brown curls contouring her face. She slowly walked over to Eric and began to whisper in his ear. His face grew three shades of red as she drew her face away from his.
“Alright. That sounds… I mean, that’s… Alright. She stays. She’s your sister, Iggy?”
“Alright. You can stay, too. I’ve got a cot set up in the supply closet, if you all would like to do the same? There’s not much in the way of blankets, but there’s plenty of paper and a stapler if you want to fashion some kind of quilt.” The group began to walk towards the back, but Eric held out his arm, stopping Iggy.
“Iggy, let me ask you a question.”
Gina and Gopher made their way to the supply room and Iggy stood there.
“Iggy, does your sister keep good on promises?”
“Oh, she’s a true Christian.”
“Excellent,” Eric said, putting his arm around Iggy’s shoulders as they made their way back, “Very excellent. She seems like a good person. I gotta tell you, if it wasn’t for her, you’d probably be back outside by now.”
Iggy frowned. “Would you have really thrown us back out?”
“Nah. I would have left in the middle of the night. It’s a running trend with my family.”
Iggy smelled the fire first, and woke everyone.
“Is something burning?” he cried out, throwing his blanket made of paper off hastily.
Plumes of smoke made their way under the door and into their makeshift boudoirs.
“Everybody, up to the roof NOW,” Eric commanded, “There’s a fire escape.”
They ran up three flights and Eric kicked the door to the roof open. The edges of the roof were ablaze, one Creep standing in the middle, between the air jets and the edge, a hideous looking scar traversing his chest.
Eric didn’t hesitate. The thing ran at him, but Eric drew and fired, knocking one of its legs back at an impossible angle. He heard the bone shatter as the creature fell to the ground, screaming. He scooped it up in his arms, slowly walking over to the edge of the roof. The fire escape was a torrent of flames, their sole means of evacuation now deadly. He tossed the Creeps unconscious body into the flames, watching it catch fire before turning to address the group.
“Thank you all for joining me, but this looks to be the end of the road. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you all, but… This is just a bad way. If you all want to try the front as a mean of escape, go ahead.”
Gina turned towards the door, swinging it open. The stairs collapsed sending smoke and debris up through the open portal.
“No, that’s not happening now,” she said, close to tears. “The stairs just collapsed.”
“Well, we’re going to die. I always thought it would happen sooner or later,” Iggy said. “I always figured later. I’d go out in some blaze of glory. Not like this.”
The fire began to spread from the edges of the roof to the ground they were standing on, burning inwards slowly.
“If you want to, now would be the time to make peace with your dear lord,” Eric said, lamenting the situation. He didn’t want it to end like this.
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Gopher walked towards Eric.
“Alright, what are you doing? Okay, you can let me down. Put me down, Gopher. I mean it. You really are strong, but put me-“ Eric was cut off as Gopher took him to the edge of the roof, heaving him across the street, onto the fire escape of the adjacent building. He landed with a definitive thud, rolled and cracked his back on the stairs. His head hung down over the down-stairs of the escape, his body firmly pressed against the hand railing.
“Ow. Ow, shit. Ow, shit, shit, shit.” He could see Gopher approaching the edge, readying to throw Iggy.
“WAIT, GOPHER, LET ME MOVE FIR-“ Iggy’s body slammed into Eric, cushioning the blow for the young man.
“You’re not going to throw me,” Gina began, “I’ll scream. If you so much as touch me, I’ll claw you. I mean it.”
“Well, alright. Mom said that I’m not supposed to touch girls if they say no, so good luck,” Gopher cried back over his shoulder as he ran, stepped up onto the burning ledge and flung himself onto the fire escape. His foot caught on the railing and he flipped over onto his face, next to Iggy.
“Gopher, where’s Gina?” Eric said, standing up.
He saw her slim figure running at the ledge. He saw her foot go up, and her jump. He watched as she slammed into the railing of the fire escape and fell to the ground below, wheezing after the impact.
“I’m okay, everyone! Just lower the ladder and I can climb up! But hurry, I can hear something coming!”
Eric quickly scrambled down the escape, but by the time he had reached the street level ladder, the Creeps were on her. Marching up through the alley, she tried to run, but they were faster. She screamed as they began to carry her away, poking and stabbing her as she cried out.
Eric stepped onto the ladder and it dropped. He held on for dear life with one arm, his pistol drawn as the ladder hit bottom and bounced violently. Dropping from the ladder, he chased after the column of Creeps.
Iggy saw him round the corner, and seconds later, Iggy saw him come running back, as fast as his legs would carry him. A group of four was chasing Eric, who had climbed up onto the ladder. Gopher dropped down and began to pull the ladder up, Eric firing at the creatures. One attached itself to the ladder, climbing up to Eric. He swung his foot down, connecting with the Creep and knocking it towards the ground. As its body fell, Eric fired a shot into it. He fired twice more at the other two, scoring one more hit, killing the last creature. Eric and Gopher climbed back up to Iggy.
The three remained silent until her screams had died, either from distance or worse.
“I’m sorry, this is my fault,” Gopher began, “She didn’t want me to throw her and if I did she woulda made it… I’m so sorry, Iggy. I should have thrown her.”
Iggy stood motionless before swinging a fist at Eric, which connected with his jaw.
“Safety? Group together? I can’t... My sister’s dead now, and you... I can’t…” Iggy broke down into tears.
“Iggy, we don’t have a whole lot of time for this.” He cracked his jaw. “If they saw us on this escape, there’s a good chance they’ll follow us. Do you really want Gina’s death to be in vain?
“She was gorgeous, Iggy. She was very hot and we probably would have gotten married, when all was said and one… So don’t think this is any less of a blow for me, alright? You’re kind of my brother in that respect, and I can’t just let you freeze up like this. We have to keep moving. I won’t let you stop.”
Iggy nodded, not quite understanding what exactly Eric was talking about, but in agreement that movement would be conducive to their survival.
“You all can’t hide here,” a tiny voice cried out from the shadows. “This is my hiding place, and you call can go to hell if you think you’re going to take it from me.” The voice emerged from the shadows, crunching over the gravel on the roof with its set of wheels.
“They haven’t come for me yet, and don’t you bring them here. They don’t even know I’m up here,” the young man in the wheelchair called.
“What? We’re not bringing anything up here. I really don’t think they even saw us come up here,” Eric answered.
“It still stands that you have to leave because they will come, do you not understand that? They’ll find me. And then they’ll stab my legs, and I can’t feel… Do you think they’ll take pity on me? NO! It will just mean more pain for me,” The young man cried.
Eric nodded and the group slowly made their way to the back of the roof, where the door into the building stood tall. Eric reached out and tried pulling the door, but it didn’t budge. He tried pushing it, but it didn’t budge.
“Oh, that door is locked,” the voice from behind them called, “It shut behind me and I can’t get it open. Silly stuff, huh? It’s not like I could even get back to my flat anyway, the power being out. I can’t ride the elevator back down.”
“You’re telling us to leave and the door doesn’t even work?” Eric said, exasperated with this new young man.
“So… You’ve been up here since the power went out yesterday?” Iggy turned to face him.
“And they didn’t find you?”
“So much for Darwinism…”
“Wait a second,” Eric called, “You’ve been up here since yesterday? You must’ve heard me fighting those things…”
“Yes, actually. I watched. Quite exhilarating. You’re quite the crack shot.”
“And you didn’t do anything about it at ALL?”
“What was I supposed to do? Heroically throw myself from this building and then let you use one of my legs as a cudgel?”
“Alright then, shut up. There was nothing I could do.”
“Alright, Wheels, you know what? You’re stuck up on this roof. The building next door is on fire, and we’ve got a guy here that’s possibly strong enough to open that door. I don’t like you, so I don’t think I’m going to leave it open for you. I think this is where we part ways, thankfully,” Eric began to make his way back to the door, Gopher and Iggy in tow when the voice called out from behind them.
“I know things. I know that I’m not long for this world,” they kept walking, “I know that I am but a weak, frail young man who needs help,” they kept walking, “And I know where some people might be!” They stopped a foot from the door.
Eric walked back, leaving Iggy and Gopher. He hunched down and looked Wheels in the eyes.
“Alright, you have ten seconds. You say anything good enough, we’ll take you with us. Talk.”
“I have a battery operated radio under this blanket, and every so often a signal comes through. It’s not much, it just sounds like Morse code, but I was never in the scouts so I can’t figure it out. It’s coming from a local station as well.”
“What’re the call letters, Wheels?”
“WXRP 1118. I used to listen to Bill Bingsbourough on there. He’s the ultimate in politics.”
“That’s less than four miles away from here,” he turned to face the group who was waiting patiently by the door. “We’re going to head there. Seems like there might be more in the way of people that are alive. Thanks for the information, Wheels. It was a pleasure.”
“Wait! I thought you were going to take me with you!?”
“We are. I was just messing around,” Eric said as he positioned himself behind the back of the wheelchair and began to push it towards the door that Gopher was furiously trying to open. After a short while, the door popped, came off of its hinges and clattered to the ground, scattering gravel and dust. The noise resounded through the streets like a defunct church bell.
“How do you plan on getting me down these stairs? They’re awful…”
“Two options: Option one. We throw you over the railing. Option two: you stop asking so many questions and let Gopher carry you.”
“The second one sounds a great deal more pleasant.”
And so it was, the strong man carrying the weakest down the old stairs as Eric and Iggy took turns leading the chair down, carefully making sure it didn’t break. In a short span, they were on the ground level, facing the door to the street. It was opaque, wooden, blocking any view of outside threats.
“I think we should stick to back-alleys if we’re going to do this without any attention drawn to ourselves,” Eric began.
“No. We stick to the main road. They like to set small spaces on fire, remember? I don’t want to be in a small space in my chair when something like that happens. Let’s go the main road,” Wheels answered, pushing his glasses up his nose, slick with sweat.
“Alright… We’ll go the main road. Anyone have a problem with this?”
Iggy and Gopher both raised their hands.
“My vote counts for more. I’m disabled. I count for three votes…”
“Bullshit,” Iggy said. “You vote counts just the same as anyone else’s. I hate it when people tell me my vote is worthless.”
“Iggy, Goph… Lemme have a word with you over here. Wheels, stay put,” Eric said leaning down and clicking on the brakes.
They walked down the hall and stood beside the stairs. Gopher reached up and grabbed part of the railing as Iggy slid down the wall to a sitting position.
“I’ve got a gun. I’m here to protect you, and that’s what I plan to do. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Iggy began to say something, before Eric cut him off.
“What’s the worst that could happen not involving a fire escape? I bet you a hundred bucks that by the time we get to the station, we won’t have one encounter at all.”
Gopher and Iggy nodded as a Creep charged out from underneath the staircase. Eric fired one shot, the smell of gunpowder thick in the air. It fell back into the shadows, unmoving.
“ And that doesn’t count.”
The walk commenced and for several hours there was not one sighting of a Creep. The streets were empty, toys on stoops but no child to play with them. Had they all been killed as well? The creatures knew no mercy…
“Wheels, what’s your story?” Iggy broke the silence.
“Well, we all have a story. My name’s not really Iggy for one, so I guess that’s part of my story. How did you survive? You know, that kind of story… We all have one. What’s yours?”
“My name is Ignatious, not ‘Wheels’. I’ve lived in that apartment for most of my adult life, and I always had friendly neighbors that were willing to help me when I needed it and back the hell off when I didn’t. I had myself locked in my pantry when they raided the building… One even had the balls to come into my apartment. I had one of those child-safety doorknob things on the door to the pantry… I think the last tenants had a kid. Anyways, it couldn’t quite figure out how to open the door. It gave up after a while, but I stayed in there until I ate through all of my perishable food. The only reason I left the haven of the pantry was to find a can opener. Maybe pilfer one from the neighbors, but my building was empty. I wasn’t sure about the rest of the city, so I grabbed my radio and took the elevator to the roof, where the door locked behind me and the power went out. I’ve been up there ever since listening to the taps of that radio station, until you all came along. If it wasn’t for you all, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“So, does that mean you’re thanking us?” Gopher asked.
“Not a chance in hell. I would have rather starved than go on this suicide mission.”
With that, Eric sighed and stopped pushing the wheelchair. He began to walk ahead of it, disregarding its existence and the pleas from the man seated.
“Just kidding,” Wheels cried out, “I was only just kidding.”
Eric whirled around, facing him. “Point still stands, I’m not pushing you anymore. Any other of these kind fellows would like to, that’s up to them. You can damn well wheel yourself the other four blocks to the station, and I’d be much more obliged to help you if you would stop talking down to us.”
Iggy and Gopher walked past the chair, and Wheels began to move himself.
“I don’t know why I came, this is fundamentally a bad idea.“
They reached the building in a few minutes time. It stood taller than the surrounding fixtures. The sun was bouncing off of the front of the building, the only visible door being the awkwardly placed revolving contraption.
“Wheels, getting in here is going to be a toughie for you. Look at that revolving door! How on Earth are you going to tackle that?” Gopher beamed.
Wheels went to the side of the revolving door, obscured by a shadow, and opened an outward swinging door. He braced a wheel against it to stop it from closing.
“That way, you moron.”
“That’s enough, Wheels,” Eric said, drawing his gun and making his way through the revolving door.
The only source of light in the lobby was the sun pouring in through the windows. It was still as death; nothing moving, not a sound. The elevator looked broken, the doors dented outwards, blood seeping under the cracks. The floor was obviously fake marble, but a good replica. Eric began to make his way to the reference desk, checking a map of the floors searching for…
“We are here. The radio station is… Thirty floors up. Alright, I can do that. Can you all manage thirty floors?”
Gopher nodded, Iggy nodded, Wheels gave him the finger.
“Does anyone want to carry Wheels?”
No one moved.
“I made it all this way and no one is going to carry me?”
“Gopher, can you carry Wheels?”
“Down ten flights isn’t a problem, but up thirty? Let’s just stick him in the closet over there.” Gopher said, motioning to the corner, the door hidden in darkness.
The closet door opened, letting light in. There wasn’t much inside; the floor was covered in sawdust that janitors use to clean up vomit, and the shelves stood bare, save for a few precious items. Two flashlights and a two way radio.
“Wheels, I’m going to give you a flashlight, and if at anytime you need to contact us, you can use this two way radio here.”
Wheels began to protest when Eric cut him off.
“Now, you survived in a pantry before, you can survive in here. We’ll be back to get you with more people in tow, hopefully.”
“Alright, just don’t forget about me.”
“We won’t. We’re not all stupid here,” Gopher consoled him, reaching for a flashlight.
Wheels let out a sigh as the door swung closed, the latch clicking loudly in the small space. His flashlight turned on and he began to re-examine his surroundings.
Iggy, Gopher and Eric began to make their way to the stairwell next to the elevators when Iggy collapsed to the ground, crying.
“Oh, my head. It feels like something is stabbing me in the head… Oh God, what is this?” He began to writhe as Eric knelt down beside him.
“Iggy. Iggy, are you alright?”
Iggy’s body ceased motion.
Eric shook him lightly.
“Iggy, are you alright?”
He began to stir.
“What happened? Are we all here? I just… I don’t know. I think I blacked out.”
“You weren’t making any sense… You said something about being stabbed? It was weird. You weren’t making any sense at all, Iggy.”
“I don’t remember saying that that. I remember putting Wheels in the closet, the door shutting… But that’s it,” he said, rising to his feet, “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just get to the stairs.”
The stairwell was deserted except for the body of a Creep and the body of a security guard.
“Alright, Iggy, take his gun. Let’s get moving. We have a lot of stairs to climb,” Eric said, starting up the first flight.
Iggy reluctantly pried the firearm from the dead man and ran to catch up.
The rays of light coming in through the occasional window were clouded with dust and mire, bathing the stairwell in an eerie glow. Eric briefly wished they hadn’t opted for frosted glass when constructing this building.
The clatter of footfalls echoed off of the cement walls and concrete stairs as the trio climbed. The railing used to be blue, but the paint was so chipped it looked very much like an awkward camouflage that would only be helpful in brackish waters. Every last stair before a door had a yellow stripe crossing the indented metal plating, signifying that this might be the place to stop, or a place to rest… But they were only on floor 15.
Iggy wasn’t quite acclimated to the weight of the gun. He had tried to tuck it into the waistband of his pajama bottoms when it discharged and shot straight through the leg of his sleepwear. By some small miracle, his leg had gone undamaged, but he had since contracted a severe case of the shakes. He also decided that carrying the gun in his hand would be the best and most safe course of action.
Although Gopher was beginning to sweat, he showed no signs of slowing. He was leading the group, taking the stairs two at a time and stopping at each landing, having to wait for Eric and Iggy to catch up. On floor 13, he had pried a piece of the railing away from the wall and was now carrying it like some kind of misshapen club, the bolt that had secured the railing to the wall now a vicious spike.
Eric trailed everyone, not used to this kind of physical conditioning. He would make up the stairs, he had promised himself that, but it was going to be quite the struggle. His breath came out in short gasps, his legs burned and his face was red. The radio sat in his pocket, crackling occasionally but playing no home to a true transmission.
The group had reached floor 25 when Wheels sent a wave over the radio.
“Hey, guys. How’s it going? You alright?”
There was a long pause.
Eric pulled the radio out of his pocket, pressing the red “Talk” button, but couldn’t speak. All that came out was a breath, then another, and another before he finally gave up trying to speak and let go of the button, leaning back against the wall.
“Holy crap, guys? Are you alright? Hello? Over?”
Iggy grabbed the radio from Eric, who nodded, sweat rolling off of his face with the motion.
“We’re fine, Wheels. Listen, I’m going to commence radio silence for a little while because we’re about to hit floor 30 and we don’t know who or what is up there. So just chill out for another fifteen or so minutes, and then we’ll call you, alright? Over.”
Gopher grabbed the walkie-talkie from Iggy.
“Anything in the closet? Over.”
“Just me and a mouse who is enjoying the sawdust. I’m going to be pine fresh by the time you all get back, but that’s about it. Over and out.”
Iggy grabbed the radio back and shut it off, casually tossing it to Eric. The film of sweat over his palms almost cost him a decent grip on the radio. It slid out of his hand, but he tightened his grip and got a good hold on the antenna. He smoothly slid it into his pocket.
“Meant… To… Do… That… Honest…”
“Sure,” Iggy said, heading up the next flight.
They continued on several more minutes before reaching floor 30. Eric stood against the door, looking through the thin vertical window. The lights were on in the hallway, but only burning at half efficiency, casting odd shadows over the walls. The hum of a generator could be heard down the hall, but it too was faint, dying.
The carpet was a fine lime green color, although the lighting wouldn’t let you see it. Scattered along the hallway were various objects; the top of the water-cooler, papers, pencils, desk drawers. A child’s toy ball sat motionless in front of an office door. Hell had broken loose this hallway. There were doors spaced every ten or so feet from each other, the stairwell door swinging open as the trio entered the dimly lit hall.
“Well… Whoever is in here, there’s a reason they haven’t been transmitting much,” Iggy noted. “I mean, look at this. They’re running off of a back-up generator that’s not even going at full capacity. I doubt they’d have enough power to send any kind of a signal that wasn’t a brief tap.”
Eric was still out of breath, and he nodded. The gun, slick with sweat, began to slip from his hand, but he gripped it tightly.
“Alright… Guys… First thing we do once we’re out of here… Get me an oxygen tank… in case we… EVER have to do stairs again. Let’s find the studio.”
Iggy took point with Gopher bringing up the rear, the gasping Eric in between them. They made their way down the hall, looking in at the offices, but seeing nothing. The blinds were all drawn and the doors all locked. They kept their objective in mind, not wanting to scare any survivors off by shooting the lock off of a door.
Iggy turned the corner, stopped, and received a sweaty face print on his back as Eric walked into him. Iggy shuddered before motioning to the end of the corridor where there was a faint light blinking beside the last door, shooting red bursts of light over the hallway.
“ON AIR,” it read in faint letters.
The door wasn’t locked; it was heavily barricaded. The soundproof window to the studio had spider-web cracks over it, something trying to get in at some point but finding no purchase. Gopher slammed his shoulder into the door, the door opening but a little, giving way. He continued this, making a loud banging noise with each attempt, the door opening further inch by inch with each thrust.
When it was wide enough for Iggy to get in, he slid between the frame the door. He began to un-stack the boxes from behind the door immediately; soon enough Gopher and Eric were inside.
There was the control center, radio show update papers scattered everywhere. It was an island in the middle of the room, microphones hanging down from the ceiling, designating stations for employees every few feet. The mixing board was a mess of blood and the black viscous fluid the Creeps had running through their veins. In the corner, the afternoon DJ was slumped over in a pool of his own blood, wrists dangling to either side, slit. In the other corner sat the corpse of a Creep.
The DJ had glass in his hands from trying to bust the window out. No one had been trying to get into the studio. He had been trying to get out. How did the creatures get in without going through the door?
Eric noted the screws and the vent screen on the floor.
On the control center, on top of the papers sat various promotional items that were sent in. In the boxes behind Gopher, more promotional items, losing their original intention and becoming a makeshift barricade. Items sent by companies free of charge for advertising. The boxes behind the group contained packets of mini-muffins, pamphlets providing the bulk of the weigh, and the box on the center contained L-7 Professional Tennis Balls, unopened. Iggy picked a can of them up, curiously.
“Hello?” Eric called, tentatively.
No one answered. In the upper corner near the command center, there was a window. The glass on the floor indicated that the window had been broken inwards and not outwards. The blinds made a bridge from the window to the control center, laying across part of the mixing board. Eric walked over and looked at the board, and at the window.
A breeze came across and rustled the blinds, tapping the “Transmit” button once and again until the breeze died down. The very thing that was giving the young man in the closet hope as he listened as destroying the hope of those thirty floors above.
“Iggy, look at this,” Eric called over.
“The blinds are hitting the transmit button? That’s… Wow. There’s no one here, is there?”
Eric didn’t say anything.
“This is just like that book,” Iggy started.
“Uh… I read it in tenth grade… ‘On The Beach’. It’s about Nuclear War, and how everyone in the world is dead except for some people in Australia, and they send out a submarine party to find a radio broadcast off of some European coast or something. But in that, it was the blinds, too. What are the odds of that? Almost identical to the book!” Iggy said, setting down the now open can of tennis balls.
“Well… What happened at the end of the book? Anything good?” Eric asked.
“Lemme think… Oh, yeah. Everyone killed themselves because radiation sickness and painful death was inevitable. Sucks the be them, right?”
“Yes… Sucks to be them,” Eric said softy.
Gopher heard a crinkling noise coming from under the board.
“Wait, guys, there might be someone in here.”
He ducked down and looked, to find a Creep sitting by himself, trying to open a package of the muffins but growing frustrated. It pulled out its knife and began to slice the shiny plastic open when it noticed three sets of eyes staring at it. It hissed and ran out from under the console.
It took a wide swing with its knife at Gopher, whose immediate reaction was to throw his club at the creature. Unfortunately, in his haste, he did not take aim and only grazed the side of the things head. It didn’t seem affected and continued its charge.
“Over here,” Eric called, attracting the creature away from the defenseless oaf.
It skidded across the floor, turning around in a frenzy, knife raised. Eric fired his gun.
“Oh, shit,” he cried as the creature jumped on him. He tried to pull it off, move it away, but he couldn’t; it was holding on too tight. He fell over onto the stack of boxes, delicious muffins breaking his fall. The Creature raised its blade and in a downward motion brought the knife to Eric’s face. Eric tried to keep the blade away from his eye, but the knife hovered a mere inch above, gaining ground.
Eric closed his eye in as if his eyelid would possibly stop the blade from penetrating when the Creep let up unexpectedly. It began to shriek, falling to the floor, its back ablaze.
Iggy stood, coating another tennis-ball in the blue gel he had acquired from the dead Creep in the corner. He had part of his shirt wrapped around his hand and he hit the ball against the counter, setting it on fire before hurling it at the screaming monster on the ground. The fireball flew directly at the thing and hit the creature in the head, setting its skull on fire.
Iggy took off the wrap, dropping the flaming cloth to the ground. He stomped the fire out, before shaking out his hand.
“That burned so much. But that was SO COOL!”
Eric was in the corner, propped up on his elbows against the boxes, wide eyed. All he could do was nod while trying to regain his composure.
Gopher smiled, the smile led to a laugh and the laugh to a guffaw.
“What? What’s so funny?” Iggy called out across the room.
Gopher picked up the can of tennis-balls and motioned at the label.
“L-7, yes, so what?”
“You yelled at Iggy and said he was never going to save your ass with a level 7 fireball, didn’t you?”
At this, Iggy began to laugh. Eric blushed, but cracked a smile before laughing. In a room full of despair, the three men laughed.
Time passed as the men laughed. When the uproar finally died down, Eric heard the shrieking coming from the vent. No longer satisfied with the radio station, the group began to move to the door.
“Alright… Let’s get out of here. What a shit idea this turned out to be,” Eric lamented.
They closed the door behind them and made their wall down the empty hallway as the “ON AIR” signal faded to black.
In the closet below, Wheels sat patiently with his radio on, humming “Oh Susanna,” and waiting for his new friends to get back.
INTERLUDE 1: WHEELS
Ignatious Volter was born roughly twenty years ago and was an only child, records indicate. He wasn’t confined to a wheel chair his entire life; an accident when he was a small child stole away the use of his legs. His mother was driving and had installed the child-safety seat in the passenger area, negating its effectiveness. Within the span of ten seconds, his mother had been taken from him, as were his legs.
He had resided in an assisted living community for a while, his father unable to look after or take care of him due to the urgency of his job. Ignatious’ father was a marketing director for the radio station WXRP in New York, and with time, Ignatious’ father Ken forgot that he even had a son.
Ignatious was an unruly child, dissatisfied with life and what it had taken from him. He was bussed around from home to home, his father putting him up for adoption after two years. His life never changed dramatically, until one late December in 1995. The snow outside of the house was thick, the top layer ice. The wheelchair ramp had been cleared off the night prior so that he could go out and play in the yard with the other boys.
During the night, the ramp had become coated in ice. Ignatious was unable to maintain control of the vehicle as it went down the ramp; eventually, he crashed into the railing, being thrown over and into the snow. His chair stayed on the ramp, falling over.
He had cried out for help for hours. There was no one. Not even the other children were outside. Snow began to fall.
“I’m beginning to lose the feeling in my legs!”
No one was there to laugh.
Ignatious rolled over and began to claw his way to the ramp. He managed to pull himself to his chair using the hand railings. He grabbed onto one of the wheels, flipping the chair over. He sat down in it, but couldn’t make it up back the icy incline into the house; he kept rolling backwards.
He abandoned the chair and began to crawl up the ramp, finally reaching the front door. He rang the doorbell, but no one answered. Smoke began to pour out of the windows.
Ignatious was the only survivor. He was put into government care until he became of age. They helped him acquire and apartment in Manhattan, near the radio-station where his father worked. He had hoped one day to surprise him, coming into the building with a catcher’s glove. Clichéd, yes, but he was sure it would work.
It took nerve to go to the station. The rickety elevator was tough enough to brave. The tenants in the building always kept an eye out for him, lest he hurt himself or let himself be hurt.
Few had tried to talk him out of going to the station that day, but he wouldn’t have it. If Ignatious was one thing, it was determined. Once he had his mind set on something, you couldn’t deter him even for an instant. One of the qualities of being in a chair was his steely will.
He didn’t enter through the revolving doors; he entered through the side door that swung. The receptionist had been having an exceptionally bad day; Ken was sleeping with her, but refused to leave his wife. When Ignatious came through the doors, her smile brightened and she was reminded that there are other people in life that are worse off than she.
She loved helping the disabled as well; it gave her a feeling of superiority that rang in her voice.
“Hello, sir, how can I help you today?”
“I’m here to see Kenneth Volter.”
She blushed and nodded, flipping through the Rolodex of numbers on her desk. It was a façade, trying to find the number. She had it memorized; the one office the building she knew by heart.
She called up. “Hello, is Kenneth there? There is a young man here to see him.” She paused. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No. Tell him his son is here.”
She nodded. “Yes, he says his son is here.” She looked at Ignatious. “Yes, you’re son is here. All right, James, go on up. Floor 30”
He was unfazed by being called James. Could have been a mistake. She could have been reading some kind of label on his clothing or wheelchair. He rolled into the elevator, pressing the button for 30. The muzak over the loudspeaker was something familiar, sounded something like “Mr. Blue Sky” but with a heavy synthesizer and no lyrics.
The doors dinged open and he rolled down the hall, looking at the names on the doors, the carpet green save for the shadows that were constantly being cast over it. By the water cooler he spied his fathers name on the door, and knocked.
“That you, son? Come on in.”
Ignatious opened the door and rolled through. His father was slightly balding, blonde, sitting behind the desk. He wasn’t trying to hide the baldness; he was accepting the futility of the situation with an air of Bruce Willis.
“Who the hell are you?”
Ignatious was taken aback.
“I’m your son. Ignatious Volter.”
Ken didn’t move.
“You put me up for adoption a while ago.”
Ken still sat, unmoving.
“You’re my father. Martha was your wife. She was killed in a car accident.”
“Yes, yes. I know who you are.”
“Then why did you ask me who I was?”
The door opened behind him and a young child ran through, same blonde hair as his father. A woman stepped through the door.
“You might want to put in a word to have that receptionist removed. She was giving me quite a bit of sass,” the woman said, leaning over the desk, kissing her husband. “Who is this?”
“Oh, this is Ignatious. He’s Martha’s son.”
“I’m your son.”
“I’m sorry, not anymore. I’d forgotten about you a long time ago. Mary, could you take James into the hallway? I have to clear up some things in here.”
They left, standing by the water cooler. James played with the wax cups, crumpling them and tossing them aside.
“I’m your SON, Ken! You can’t just forget about me!”
“I didn’t want you. Didn’t you ever wonder how I could let you go so easily? I begged Martha to have you… Taken care of before you were born. But she wouldn’t have it. I’m sorry she died the way she did; I truly loved her… But I didn’t love the choices she made. You were one of them… I wasn’t ready for a child.”
Ignatious began to roll his chair backwards, towards the door.
“So that’s it? I have no father?”
“And I… I have no son. Except for James.”
“I expected you to get remarried, but I didn’t expect…” Ignatious’ voice caught in his throat. He turned the chair, opened the door and rolled down the hallway, tears falling down his face, onto his defunct legs.
People back at the apartment had tried to cheer him up, but he was inconsolable.
“I can’t believe I moved here… I moved here trying to get closer to him, thought we could start…” He couldn’t talk about it without bringing tears to his eyes.
Since that day, he surrounded himself with people in the building, creating relationships that were almost entirely false. He didn’t care for them; he just cared to be around them. He didn’t want to be abandoned, but had no problem abandoning.
The first day of the invasion, he was making soup.
The first time he heard of the things attacking was via his father’s radio station. It was advising people the flea the city, to try and escape. People in the building urged Ignatious to leave, his best bet was to head to Canada.
He sealed himself in the pantry while people, his protectors, tried to secure the building. They all perished. He felt almost nothing for them. Of course they would leave. Everyone did.
When the sounds died out, he took the elevator to the roof just in time to see the New York City skyline blink out, the power dieing save for a few offices that were running on generators. One by one, he watched them blink out. He turned the radio on his lap to his father’s station, but there was nothing but static.
The gunshots rang true from the adjacent building. He sat and watched the young man kill several creatures. Ignatious was filled with adrenaline. It was exciting watching someone able to fight back.
There was a click on the radio.
The door was locked. He moved his chair to a dark corner and began to listen intently for any signal coming out.
There was another click.
Someone was at the station.
They made their way back down the stairs, resting every five flights silently. Gopher was weaponless, the make shift club resting in the floor of the studio next to the charred body of the monster that had scared them all. Iggy had a satchel of the blue gel slung over one of his shoulders and a bag of tennis balls slung over the other. Eric was fervently trying to fix the gun, to no avail.
“Iggy, if you’re going to be doing the fireball thing for a while, could I have your gun? I don’t know how to fix mine.”
“No problem, Eric,” he said, handing over his firearm.
Gopher watched them exchange weapons on the landing of floor 20 with eager eyes.
“Eric, could I have your broken gun?”
“Sure, Gopher. Don’t know why you’d want it, though.”
“Because I think I’d just look cool holding it.”
Eric extended his arm and handed Gopher his broken pistol. It didn’t quite look cool; more comical seeing someone so large holding a small, defunct gun.
“Alright, Gopher. First time we find a big gun you get to hold it first, because that just looks kind of ridiculous,” Iggy chimed, starting down the next flight, towards the landing. The last two sets they took without pause, eager to get out of the building.
They burst into the lobby, Gopher in the front swinging the gun wildly like some kind of crazy SWAT team member, checking either side before making an absurd hand gesture that Iggy and Eric took to mean “All clear”. They left the building, walking in a row down the middle of the road, looking at all of the closed down shops. A toy store had its front window shattered; the display teddy bears all missing heads.
“Why would they go and do something like that? That’s just… Unnecessary.” Gopher frowned. The site of the bears sent shivers up his spine and made him wonder what exactly they did with the children, or why they could possibly have fun destroying what people had worked so hard to achieve.
“They live for chaos. They do, and that’s all they live for. They’re trying to make anyone who comes around scared to be around, hopes to scare them into outing themselves. I think they’re having a hard time hunting down the last of the humans. They’re trying to trick us into giving something away,” Eric concluded, trying to answer Gopher’s question. He looked to Iggy to back up his claim.
Iggy’s face was blanched. He slowly raised a hand to his cheek, and opened his mouth.
“I thought I saw Gina. I did. I thought I just saw her in the toy store.”
Eric and Gopher peered through the window, but it was too dark to see anything at all. The clouds lifted and the light extended into the store but a few feet more. They still saw nothing, save for a train set that Gopher had been eyeing in the weeks previous to the invasion.
“What? I can’t even see anything in there, ‘cept for that train,” Gopher called.
“She was near the window, and then she walked back. I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t see her. Maybe I’m just going crazy,” his eyes began to well.
“Oh, cut it out Iggy. You’re not going crazy. And don’t cry. Please?”
Iggy nodded. “Not sure if I can help that second part, Eric.”
“I just don’t do well with people crying,” Eric said, “Never know what to do. Never have.”
“It was probably the light playing tricks on your eyes, Iggy. You’ve gone through something traumatic… I wouldn’t put it past you to… I don’t know the words I’m looking for.”
“See things?” Iggy asked.
“Yeah, that’s about it. I really don’t think you saw anything.”
“You’re right… I don’t know what that was about. I really haven’t been myself lately. Everything is so different now…”
Eric bit his lip and nodded.
Gopher was still looking through the broken window, puzzled. Surely they had bags inside of the toy store. Maybe if he asked nicely they’d make a little detour and let him get his hands on the train set.
Something ran across the display. Gopher turned his head to ask Eric if they could go in, but the thing was already on the back of his head before he could get a word out.
He was fervently shaking, trying to get this new thing off of his head, grabbing at it but not grabbing anything at all except for his hair. It was making its way around the front of his head by way of climbing across his bangs when he got his hand on it. He threw it into the air and Eric fired a shot, hitting the thing in the stomach, propelling it further into the air before firing another shot. It finally hit the ground with a tiny thud. Gopher was the first person to walk over to it.
“The hell is that thing, Gopher?” Eric called, relaxing his arm, lowering the gun to his side.
“It’s like one of those Creeps… But smaller. Much smaller.”
“Like a kid? Can they even have kids?”
“I dunno,” Iggy said. “I haven’t seen any females. Have you?”
“Maybe we have. Maybe they all just look the same,” Eric said walking over to Gopher.
“It has all of the same features, just tiny. Did you see how fast that was?”
“I saw,” Iggy nodded. “That thing was too fast. Like it had ‘haste’ cast or some shit like that.”
They trio stood around the corpse, Gopher poking it with his broken pistol, Eric trying to think of just what in the hell this new thing was.
“Well… I figure we’re the first people to ever see something like this and live to talk about it. Real water cooler discussion. Good news is, we all survived, and that means we get to name it, I guess.”
“An Imp!” Iggy cried excitedly. “Just like in Final Fantasy!”
“Okay, going to shoot that idea down because I really don’t like Final Fantasy.”
“Well… I mean, it’s also a Norse thing, isn’t it? From mythology?”
“Could be, but you referenced Final Fantasy first. So, that’s a no go. A no go fo’ sho’,” Eric said, grinning.
“What about a Tiny Devil? Or a Mini Devil?” Gopher suggested.
“Hm… How about a Mini-Creep?” Eric said.
“Oh, that just reeks of originality,” Iggy commented sarcastically. It was absurd they wouldn’t accept the name he had picked simply because it was from a video game franchise. Especially considering it also did have deep roots in Norse Mythos.
“I like it, though. It’s a mix of what I said and what you said. We both named it, Eric. I like that.” Gopher said, smiling. “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate.”
“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter.”
“We left him behind at the station,” Iggy said.
“No, no, the third part is ‘Hey!’ and then they go into the candy business. Haven’t you ever seen those commercials?” Gopher asked.
“I really think we’re forgetting something…”
“Yeah right. I did the check list of important items before we left. We got our weapons, we have your tennis balls and blue gel, Gopher has his defunct toy, we have our radi-,” the realization then dawned on Eric.
“Shit. We forgot Wheels. Oh my God…” Eric pulled the radio from his pocket.
“Wheels, come in Wheels. We’re coming down now,” he said through is teeth.
There was a long pause.
Static filled the line.
“Come in, Wheels. Come on buddy. Talk to us.”
The three took off down the road towards the radio station, pumping their legs. Each breath burned and their legs ached, Eric burst through the rotating door as Iggy and Gopher ran through the swinging door. Their feet clattered over the faux marble floor past the reference desk towards the closet. The door was slightly ajar, and Gopher violently swung it open.
Inside was the chair, rolling backwards slowly. On the chair was the radio, lying on its side. The mouse inside of the closet was cut neatly into two pieces, the sawdust on the floor absorbing the blood and creating a paste.
They stood silently watching the chair for several minutes. It finally rolled all the way back and hit the wall, stopping the movement.
“Shit,” Eric started, “I can’t believe we left him in a closet. I can’t believe we did that. That’s just… How did we do that? That’s irresponsible! He was a person. He was a person in a wheelchair. Half a person, but a whole heart… Even if all he ever did was complain, that didn’t make him any less of a person. Sure, he verbally attacked us… But who doesn’t? I just… I’m going to miss him. I think I’m going to miss him. I’m almost positive I will have some feelings of remorse over his disappearance… Almost. Amen.”
“Should we… Bury his chair or something? That would seem like the thing to do. I mean, it was a huge part of his life, wasn’t it? I wish I wasn’t so ignorant when it came to burial rituals. We could… I dunno, lower the chair into a tank of water? That’d be symbolic of so many things…” Iggy said.
“Didn’t that happen in Final Fantasy VII?” Eric asked.
“I thought you didn’t play those games…”
“I watched my brother beat it.”
Gopher didn’t say anything. A tear rolling down his cheek cut through the dirt that had created a light film over his face.
Iggy walked back into the closet and pulled the chair out, getting behind it. He walked it out of the closet and back into the lobby, tracking sawdust and blood paste behind him. He walked it past the elevator tower and reference desk towards the door. Eric and Gopher followed, creating a funeral processional, their heads bowed.
Gopher was the person who actually spotted Wheels, who was huddled behind the desk. He wasn’t moving at all, but it didn’t look like he had been cut or hurt.
Iggy was the first person to go to him, Gopher frozen in his tracks. He rolled him over off of his face and began to lightly shake him.
Eric stood in front of the desk, watching, as Wheels opened his eyes.
The chair continued to roll towards the front door.
“Oh, you’re alive!” Iggy yelled.
“Of course I’m alive,” Wheels chided in a mocking tone. “I don’t die easy. Takes more than a bunch of Creeps to tear ol’ Wheels away.”
“Well, what happened?” Eric called nonchalantly from behind the counter. His voice quivered, but he was trying not to care.
“I heard em’ out in the lobby, and I heard em’ go up the stairwell. I tried to tell you guys, but your radio was off. Who knows, they might not have even gone to your floor. One of them tried to open the door, but I held it shut with a broom. They knew something was in there, but they left anyway to join the others. Guess the treasure at the end of the rainbow isn’t much when you can just party and destroy stuff… I knew I couldn’t stay there in case they came back, so I decided to go and hide somewhere else… Somewhere they weren’t interested in. On my way out the door, my wheel hit the door and I fell out of the chair. I could hear them cackling and coming back down the stairwell, so I left it and crawled behind the counter. I don’t remember much else after that. I blacked out. Maybe they thought I was dead, because they left me alone. No bathtub full of ice, either… I’m still alive, and whole for the most part.”
“Alright, good. It’s good that you hid. That’s some smart thinking. There we-”
“We didn’t forget about you,” Gopher blurted.
“What? Forget about me?”
“Yeah, we didn’t forget about you. Honest. I swear to you we did not leave the building and go to a toy store. Swear.” Gopher said, haltingly.
Eric made a mental note that if anyone had to lie on behalf of the group to anyone, not to make it Gopher.
“You FORGOT about me? What?! How could you forget about me?”
Neither Eric nor Iggy nor Gopher made a move. They all stood, heads bowed down.
“You three are just a bunch of sons of bitches, you know that? You forgot about me? What’s that about! I… I don’t think I’ve ever been more pissed off in my life. You drag me off of my roof, take me to this God forsaken hell hole, stick me in a closet and then FORGET about me?”
“Well… We also… There’s that… No, that’s pretty much it,” Eric nodded.
“Maybe I should just go it alone from here. Someone give me a gun. I’m going to go on by myself now.”
No one moved.
“How the hell are you going to make it on your own? That’s just a foolish decision,” Eric watched the chair out of the corner of his eye.
The fax machine on the counter sprung to life, printing out a sheet of paper before dying again. It fell squarely on Wheels’ legs, whereupon he quickly grabbed it, read it, crumpled it and in a very childish move, stuffed it in his mouth and began to chew.
Eric, Iggy and Gopher stood aghast of this retribution.
“Alright, gimmie a gun I’m getting out of here,” Wheels swallowed.
“Wait, what did that fax say?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I want to leave. Someone bring me my chair and give me a gun so I can go.”
Eric looked to Iggy and Gopher.
“Alright, guys. Let’s leave him. We almost did anyway,” he said, winking.
The group began to walk to the door as Wheels crawled after them.
“Wait, come on guys. I was just kidding. Come on, come on! Don’t leave me, please… I’ll tell you about the fax?”
Gopher opened the door and Wheels’ chair rolled into the street.
“And I want to stay with you all. I can’t make it on my own… I need you all. I really do.”
Eric turned around.
“Alright, listen up Wheels. You’re traveling with us now. I’m not going to leave you, ever. You made a choice to travel with us, and that means that you’re with me till the end, be it mine or yours. Now, you can leave whenever you wish, but so help me, if you decide to leave you won’t be getting any help from us. You cut loose and you can’t expect us to be all buddy buddy and chum after that. So make threats all you want. Just know that sooner of later, you’re going to get called on it.”
Wheels nodded. “It was from the sister station in New Jersey. Another AM. The fax actually says they have survivors. I think we should go there.”
In the street, three Creeps ran towards the radio station. They looked inside and saw Eric and Gopher looking back out. They turned and looked at the wheel chair. There was a mental click as they decided not to attack, but instead jump upon it and ride the chair down the street, past the building and into the horizon.
“I also think we need to get my chair back,” he said, motioning to the door where the Creeps rode away. “Someone with legs that work chase them down. Please?”
Eric began to laugh.
“I think that’s the very definition of irony, isn’t it? Did anyone expect the Creeps to take that chair instead of head in here? I do believe that’s the definition of irony.” He paused in thought. “ I’ve got a better idea than getting your chair back. Iggy, could you cut some off of the straps on that tennis bag?”
In a few minutes, a makeshift harness was built. Gopher slipped his arms through the loops, Eric and Iggy lifted Wheels into the harness. His legs went under either side of Gophers arms and he held on across his chest.
“Well, what’s the fastest way to Jersey from here?” Iggy asked.
“The Holland Tunnel,” Eric answered, heading for the door.
“That doesn’t sound fun.”
Eric turned around and opened the door.
“Oh, believe me. It will be. A real carnival ride.”
“Really?” Gopher called, racing to catch up.
“No. It’s not going to be fun at all, “ Eric said, letting the door shut behind them. They formed a line and began walking down the road, following the signs that pointed proudly to the Holland Tunnel.
The high noon sun beat down on the travelers as they slowly made their way down the West Side Highway towards the Holland Tunnel. The creatures were nowhere to be seen, miniature or full sized they remained hidden, cackling at papers that flew in the air or cutting throats. So violent, but laughing at the small things. They’ll either chase you down and cut your throat or make chain-men out of folded paper. It’s a tossup. In either case, the road was deserted. New York had turned into a ghost town in the span of hours.
They reached the mouth of the tunnel when Wheels finally broke the silence.
“It’s dark in there. I don’t see any lights. Do we have a light? I left mine at the station.”
They didn’t. And it was very dark, swallowing the light from the sun but giving no hints as to what lay inside. Simply calling it dark would be an understatement, like calling the H-bomb fun in the sand box.
“Alright, let’s go back up a block or so. There was a Lowe’s back there. They should have some lights there. Tool stores have lights, right?” Eric asked. No one answered. “Has anyone here ever been to a tool store before?”
And so the group began to move back, towards the hardware store. They reached the glass doors by 1 and had shot their way inside in a matter of seconds. The concrete floor was spartan and uninviting, but it was cool inside the building. Not brisk as it was outside, retaining some semblance of heat. It smelled of sawdust, wood, death, and it was completely silent as they entered. Their individual footfalls could be heard in the back, but there was no one to listen. The ceiling fan display was still, hanging like ghosts in the warehouse.
Iggy walked over to the customer service phone and picked it up.
“Hi, nice customer service lady, we need to know where the flashlights are,” he said into the receiver, smiling.
There was a long pause as Iggy stood there, listening intently.
“Oh, are they? We’ll be… right there…”
“Iggy, put the phone down. We want to make it to the other side of the tunnel by nightfall.”
But Iggy stood there, listening. He nodded and hung up the phone.
“You know people can’t hear you when you nod on the phone,” Eric said, cracking wise.
“Follow me,” he said, ducking into the bathroom appliances aisle. He briskly walked up to a shower display. Five bathtubs in a row all with showerheads and shower curtains. He stepped inside, drawing the cloth.
“Get inside a bathtub and hide, now. Do it.”
“But,” Eric began, “We ha-“
“Get inside now, don’t question this. Just go. NOW!”
Eric jumped into a shower and Gopher followed suit. Eric peeked out of the curtain and saw three hundred Mini-Creeps marched past, laughing. They were completely hidden as fifty regular sized Creeps followed. In such a large group, their laughter was hideous, sounding of a demonic slew of babies who all found something infinitely amusing. Gopher wondered just what they thought was so funny all the time, because if it was a really great joke… Well, they should let everyone in on it.
Eric heard a door in the back slam shut and threw his curtain open. Gopher stepped out of his shower, but Iggy’s shower remained still.
“Iggy, come on,” Eric whispered, sliding the veil open. Iggy was collapsed at the bottom of the basin, eyes closed and unmoving. Eric leaned down and began to shake him, but this did nothing. Gopher leaned down and smacked Iggy. He stirred and looked up.
“What the hell am I doing in a shower?”
“Iggy… There’s something not quite right with you, is there?”
“What are you talking about, Eric?”
“You picked up that phone and then got us to hide as our doom went marching past, none the wiser that something they were looking to kill was less than an six inches away. Was someone alive back there? They give you a heads up? Why do you keep blacking out?”
“Okay, too many questions and no space for me to answer. I remember picking up the phone, and I remember someone talking to me telling me that the store still had Creeps in it, but I blacked out. I don’t remember anything after that.”
“There was someone on the other end of the line??
“Well… Do you know where the line connected?”
“My guess is the reference desk, considering the phone was clearly labeled as ‘phone for reference’.”
Eric held his hand out, and Iggy grabbed it, slowly rising to his feet.
“Let’s go get referenced,” Iggy said.
“We’re going to need to work on the ‘cool’ things that you’re allowed to say,” Eric said over his shoulder, taking point.
They made their way to the back of the store, keeping their eyes peeled for flashlights or the reference desk. The signs hanging from the ceiling gave no hints as to where the flashlights may be, but directed them to the reference desk in case they had any questions. They found the desk beside the paint section. The desk was artificially colored with blood and Behr acrylic.
“Hello?” Iggy tentatively called out.
Gopher walked behind the counter, bumping Wheels against the side of the island.
“Watch it,” he hissed. “Your lucky I couldn’t feel that.”
The phone was off the hook, Gopher noted. He followed the line from the phone box to the receiver, still clutched in the hand of a corpse on the floor. The flesh was tainted green and a sick smile curved around its neck. The blood on the concrete floor had pooled and faded, staining the ground.
“Iggy, did you talk to her?” Gopher motioned. “That dead chick?”
“No. I… She’s dead. How could I have talked to her?”
“Well, she’s the only one with the phone, now isn’t she.” Eric called from behind.
“Oh, look over there,” Iggy motioned to a display, turning the subject in a direction that wasn’t “Iggy sure is bizarre.” “Flashlights. Let’s grab some and get out of here. It’s giving me the heebie-jeebies. Dead person or no… This place just has some serious bad vibes. Can you all not feel them?”
Iggy began to walk to the display, eyes burning in the back of his neck. Eric stood motionless with Gopher, watching him as he grabbed four flashlights. He tested each one systematically before turning around.
“Look, I don’t know. I don’t know whom I talked to. Whoever it was had the capability of speech and wasn’t a corpse, alright? Unless you know corpses capable of speaking? If you do, speak up now, because that’s a lot weirder than me blacking out all the time.”
“Iggy, you know how you said you were going crazy? I’m beginning to take stock in that. Few marbles short of a martini…” Eric said, grabbing a flashlight.
“Eric, that made no sense… And really, I’m not going crazy. There’s a logical answer for all of this, I know there is,” he said, laughing. “Maybe the person I was talking to got dragged off? That’s entirely possible, isn’t it? Now come on. Let’s get to the tunnel.”
Wheels didn’t have the heart to tell him that he heard no screams. No one was dragged away… If someone was, they would have been sure to hear it. No one goes silently, especially with these things.
As they left, the door behind the reference desk opened and the beady eyes of a Creep watched their exit, salivating.
They hit the tunnel at 2, the sun in a more favorable position, shining slightly into the tunnel.
“I don’t want to go in there,” Wheels started.
“Well, you don’t have much of a choice considering you’re riding on his back,” Eric said, clapping Gopher on the shoulder.
“Riding on my back,” Gopher repeated vacantly.
“Yeah, man up Wheels! It’s just a tunnel. Nothing’s going to happen in here.”
“Yeah, right. Didn’t you all ever see ’28 Days Later?’ Tell me nothing’s going to happen in the tunnel. You’re crazy.”
Eric took point, raising his gun and resting it on his flashlight arm. The walls were still teal, slick with moisture. There were a few cars jammed up in the entrance. He inhaled sharply and stepped up and over a Buick and into the darkness.
His beam of light cut across the infinity, revealing almost nothing. The ceiling was high; there were a few scattered cars with the windows busted, and the regulation workers door every twenty feet. Three other beams turned on behind him and he quickened his pace. Although he was sure nothing was going to happen… Iggy was right. Something wasn’t settling at all with the tunnel.
They all could hear the water outside of the tunnel around them. The downward slope made them feel as if they were descending into the depths of some great pit. Wheels broke out into a cold sweat, unnerving Gopher as the wetness seeped into his back.
“Wheels, do me a favor… If you’re going to keep cold sweating like that, could you make sure to piss your pants at one point? It’s getting to be a bit much.”
“Sorry,” Wheels muttered, swinging his flashlight erratically, trying to scan everything at once.
“I’m afraid of the dark, I’m afraid of the dark, oh… I’m so afraid of the dark,” he said, his voice quivering.
“Gopher, try and keep him quiet.”
“Keep me quiet? I’m afraid!”
“You’re unnerving the hell out of me! Keep quiet or I’ll shoot you… I guess.”
Wheels shut up.
There was a cross draft through the tunnel ruffling their clothes. It wasn’t carrying sound for there was no sound to carry on the Jersey side. They all heard the silence and it was deafening. All the breeze did was send chills through the party. Eric broke out into a small jog, dodging cars and the occasional debris. He could see the other end of the tunnel, the light at the end of the dark. It seemed so far away, but he could feel the hopes of all of the group rise… When the Creeps came.
They were laughing and screeching, crying out and dragging their swords of the tile walls creating a hideous noise reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. They were behind them, moving quickly and closing the gap.
“RUN!” Eric cried out.
Iggy screamed, his legs pumping, past Eric. He chucked a fireball behind him, casting distorted shadows over the walls. The ball rolled down the tunnel, the Creeps shadows becoming more defined, dancing towards the source.
Gopher was carrying weight for two, trying to land his footing carefully… But he mis-stepped. He fell to the ground, the creatures almost on them. Eric fired blindly into the tunnel, hitting nothing, but scaring the group the few necessary feet it would take for Gopher to regain composure. Gopher rose to his feet and began to run.
He could feel the hands on his back.
“RUN FASTER, GOPHER! OH GOD! RUN FASTER!” Wheels cried. “OH PLEASE RUN FASTER!”
He tried to run faster, but he could feel the things grabbing hold of Wheels.
The tennis ball fire died out, the shadows uniting with the darkness.
Wheels slipped out of the harness and into the arms of the Creeps.
“COME BACK! PLEASE!”
Gopher ran ahead, free of the weight.
“YOU SAID YOU WOULD NEVER LEAVE! PLEASE! NO! I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE YET! PLEASE!”
At the mouth of the tunnel, Eric and Iggy stood, watching Gophers flashlight bounce towards them, watching Wheels’ bounce away. Wheels’ light bounced towards the flat area at the bottom of the slope. They watched the light spin as it hit the ground in circles, and they watched the things drag him into a service door. His hand clenched the metal door, but they were too many. The door slammed audibly and his cries ceased.
Wheels had been right. People did scream when they were being taken.
“We have to keep moving. We have to keep moving or they’ll be on us.”
No one moved. They all stared back into the tunnel, the tiny patter of feet rushing to meet their ears.
“We have to go NOW!”
They ran. They ran out of the tunnel and into the daylight, they ran onto the bridge and they kept running until they were on the New Jersey highway. The things were relentless, still behind them. Ten or fifteen, the group mind set restored, ready to kill anything.
The Creeps were closing the gap, when Eric stopped running and turned around. He pulled his gun up and fired into the group, scoring three hits. Twelve remained. Gopher turned and tried to fire his Glock, but to no avail. Still broken Iggy prepared a Fireball, which bounced into the group taking out two. They fell to the ground, screaming. The other Creeps parted, running around their down brethren.
There were still ten. Eric’s clip ran dry and he frantically unloaded the gun.
The three stood in a row, across two lanes of highway, the mass of destruction moving towards them.
“Gopher, hit the clip release on your gun. I have three shots left in there. You all want to… I don’t want to give them any satisfaction.”
“Where is it, Eric?”
Eric motioned on his own gun, and Gopher hit the release, dropping the clip to the ground. Iggy tossed another fireball, this one flying wide. A Creep swung at it with its sword, knocking the ball back at Iggy, setting his shirt on fire.
He screamed, pulling it off and batting at the flames on his chest. The group closed the distance.
A familiar noise cut through the air.
“What is that noise,” Eric asked. “It sounds so familiar…”
It grew louder and louder, until Eric recognized it. A sound commonly heard but never thought about. In the silence that was the Earth now, the noise was almost alien. The purring of an engine.
The car plowed into the group of Creeps, slamming the breaks and sending the car into a huge skid, spinning. It took almost all of them out. The man in the car leaned out, shooting the three remaining that were trying to crawl away. Smoke rose from Iggy’s chest and Eric stood with his mouth open. Gopher didn’t move.
“STRIKE! Ha-ha! Sorry,” the man grinned, “Bowling humor. You guys need a ride anywhere?” The man in the car called.
“Uh… Yeah, we’re heading to a radio station.”
“LRPS, right? I’m from there. We got peoples there, too. Hop in. They’d be happy to see some other people like them.”
“Like them?” Eric said, walking towards the car.
The three made their way to the car, opening the back door and sitting down in the leather-clad interior. Eric rode shotgun.
The driver sat in green t-shirt that proudly displayed an advertisement of “HOT BAGELS!” His hair was long, down past his shoulders and pulled back into a ponytail. It looked like he was trying to grow a beard, but wasn’t having much success at all on that front. The hair had grown in uneven patches, creating the semblance of a beard from far away, but up close shattering the illusion.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you all. My name’s David Fichter, but my friends call me Fichter,” he said, hitting the gas, peeling out and driving down a side street into the heart of Jersey City.
They rode in silence for the first few minutes, Fichter continually shifting gears and dodging dead or stalled out cars. He had the radio on, but nothing was coming through but static. If there was any life in Jersey, it wasn’t making itself present as of yet.
Eric flipped down the sun-visor and three CD’s spilled out onto his lap. “The Best of Queen” fell face up. Eric scanned the dash for a CD player but could find none. He stacked the CD’s again and put them back, snapping the visor back in place.
The sun broke through the buildings they drove past, playing tricks on the eyes of the passengers. Iggy had his eyes shut, thinking of Gina. Gopher was similarly positioned, thinking of the train set. Eric was beginning to shift in his seat, uncomfortable in the silence. Thankfully, Iggy broke it.
“So… What’s your story?” Iggy asked from the back seat, the first to speak since the car ride began.
“What?” Fichter called, not turning around.
“I mean, we all ha-“
“Iggy, drop it. None of this story shit now. Let’s just go meet up with everyone else.” Eric said. Everyone has a story, Iggy, we know that. Sometimes they just don’t like to tell them. Eric suddenly regretted silencing the young man, but didn’t act on his instinct to apologize.
Fichter began to laugh. It was more of a giggle, really. Eric once again began to worry.
“You’re talking like there’s some kind of army there. There isn’t. Sorry to break the news like that, but since I left, there were three people there excluding myself. A little bit like yourself, sans guns or tennis bags.”
“That raises a question. What were you doing out? I mean, that was fairly lucky for us, all things considered. You saved our lives back there. I’m not revoking any thanks or anything like that, I just… What exactly were you doing away from everyone?”
“We gotta eat sometime, don’t we? I was on a food run. I’m the only one that does food runs. Sure, we have vending machine food, but who can really live on cupcakes and potato chips for weeks? ‘Sides, I’m the only one that knows how to drive stick in our group.” He paused. “Any of you fellows know how to drive stick?”
Iggy frowned, “No, sir, I just got my license a few months ago.”
Gopher didn’t move. Fichter took this to mean he didn’t know, but Fichter also didn’t know what quite to make of this tall man yet, and what exactly he was doing with the others.
“What about you?”
“Nope. I can drive an automatic, though, if you have one of those at the station,” Eric said.
“Yeah, like I’d be willing to go on the food runs all the time if there was someone else just as capable. Actually, I would. It’s a rush, to be honest with you. Well, it was a rush when I could defend myself adequately. Can’t do that anymore. I’m a shit shot and I’m almost out of bullets,” he said, tapping the police issue berretta that lay across his lap. “Besides, there are almost no cars that work anymore. I found this one in the garage of the station next to another car that was on fire. Now, that’s luck right there.”
“Same, about the bullets. I think I have three shots left in here. Is there a police department around here?”
“It’s where I got this. I had to break into a desk just to find a gun, so I don’t think we’re going to have any luck finding weapons. Or ammo. The station was picked clean.”
They rode in silence again, until Eric spoke.
“That bothers me. The station got picked clean and yet I haven’t seen anyone else out there like us. Where did they all go?”
“They probably got killed. These things, singularly aren’t that bad. I’ve killed a couple of em’ myself, but like I said, I’m a shit shot, so I don’t do it too often. It’s when they get into groups… They just rampage. It’s insane. You can take one down, but it just seems to renew their vigor. Deadly. I don’t like it one bit. ‘Sides, most people that outright fought the invasion were killed. Don’t see why it would be any different if people tried to do it after… Well, here we are,” Fichter said, pulling into the loop of the station.
The four walked to the front door and past the reception desk, into the back break room. There were three flashlights on the break table that created a makeshift lamp that haphazardly lit the small room. Sitting at the table was a woman.
She was older than all of them, but not by much. From the looks of it, she was twenty-five or twenty six, with blonde hair down to her shoulders. It was beautiful and matted, tangled, yet statuesque at the same time. She smiled when Fichter walked in, and the room lit for Eric despite the poor arrangement of the lights.
She stood up and flipped her hair behind her shoulder. Eric’s heart skipped a beat.
“Well, looks like we have some newcomers to the fort! My name’s Angela. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said, extending her hand towards Eric.
He shook her hand limply, unable to speak. Iggy took her hand next and brought it up to his lips, quickly kissing it.
“My name is Ignatious, but these lads call me ‘Iggy’ for short,” he beamed.
“My name is Tom. But you can call me Gopher, and this is Eric.”
Eric still stood rooted to the spot.
“Is he all right?”
“Sometimes he locks up,” Iggy smiled. “All you have to do is control-alt-delete to reboot, right?”
“What?” Angela asked.
“Uh… Nothing. It… Uh… It was a computer joke. I didn’t think…”
“It wasn’t funny, so…”
“Alright,” she said, offering a polite smile and heading back to her seat.
Angela pulled a package of mini-muffins from the busted out window of the vending machine, opened it and passed them around. Iggy hungrily ate his, while Gopher just picked at it. Gopher really couldn’t enjoy mini-muffins again after the station.
Eric had finally taken a seat, and was staring across the table.
“What’s the damage?” Fichter questioned.
“Steven went to the storage closet outside to get batteries a minute ago, he should be back any second now.”
“What about Fred?”
There was a pause.
There was another pause.
“Did he say why?”
“He said he was tired of waiting for people to get here. Said they were never going to come. He took his shotgun and left, and I haven’t heard from him since. He could be back. You know how emotional he gets sometimes. He should have just calmed down.” Angela frowned.
“I know he didn’t care for me much,” Fichter said. “I just keep trying to make the best of a bad situation. I don’t know if I said anything to upset him, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.”
Angela nodded, changing her frown from a smile. “But if he’s got his head up his ass, Fichter, that’s his own problem.”
Minutes later, the break room door swung open. A tall man in a dirty blazer stepped through, tossing his brimmed hat casually on the table with one hand while tossing battery packages on the counter with the other. There was dirt on his face, but his rosy cheeks still burned brightly through. He smiled and his eyes twinkled as he saw Eric, Iggy and Gopher.
Angela jumped from her seat and ran over to him, pressing her lips against his.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she said.
“So am I,” he said, smiling, looking into her eyes. “That closet gave me the woojies.”
“Steven, this is Iggy, Gopher and Eric,” she motioned to the three seated around the table. “Guys, this is my husband, Steven.”
Eric frowned as Iggy and Gopher stood to shake his hand. He took their hands and pulled them in for a tight bear hug.
“It’s just so goddamned good to see other people alive. This is great. I couldn’t be happier.”
Eric finally stood and coldly offered his hand from across the table, blocking the hug.
“It’s good to see some other people that are alive, as well,” Iggy said. “Seen too much death lately,” he said, introspectively.
“So, do you all have any kind of plan? Or are you just going to wait here to die? Why did I come here…”
All eyes turned to Eric. No one spoke.
“You don’t have a plan? Good. I was better off in the Holland Tunnel,” he said, sitting down.
“Well, no, that’s not true. We have a plan,” Steven said. “We’re waiting for more people and then we’re going to head out to a deserted island. There are dozens of em’ just scattered around. We could head out there and wait it out. It’s a good plan, but we would have liked to have more people for it.”
Eric scowled, “Your plan is straight out of ‘Dawn of the Dead’. You really think that’s going to work? Do you even have a boat?”
Steven shook his head, “No. But other people did. I don’t think they would object much if we were to borrow one. It’s all a matter of finding one that runs off of a sail instead of an engine. It’s so hard to find anything that runs off of gas that still works now.”
Eric opened his mouth to retort when there was a bang at the front door. He had a flashback to the Copy Shop briefly, looking over at Gopher.
Steven made his way out of the break room and looked out down the hall. He saw the figure of a girl pressing herself against the locked glass doors and hollered back into the break room, “We got another live one out there!”
Eric, Gopher, Fichter and Angela all fled from the room towards the front door.
Iggy didn’t move from his seat.
“Don’t. Don’t open the door,” he whispered, before regaining composure and running down the hall to the others.
“It’s like Christmas,” Steven said, reaching for the door.
“Don’t open the door! Don’t do it! STOP!” He cried out as the door swung open. Iggy turned his flashlight on and ran the beam across the face of the stranger.
Gina’s eyes didn’t dilate and the light burned her retinas. She was wearing a twisted grin of pain across her face, her clothes bloody and torn. Gina turned to Eric, who was now smiling.
“Iggy! It’s your sister! Gina! It’s good to see you! I thought you were done for…”
“No… It’s not. It’s not her. Something is wrong.”
But Eric didn’t listen. He was too busy giving her a hug. He pulled away from her just as she tried to bite him, and he shoved her against the door.
“What are you doing, Gina? Don’t like getting bitten. There’s a lot you don’t know about me, though…”
Angela and Steven backed away. Fichter pulled Eric back.
Drool began to run from her mouth in thick rivulets, pooling on the floor. She cocked her head to one side and began to walk towards Eric.
“Gina, stay back. I don’t like drool much, either. Iggy, say something to your sister. What’s wring with her?”
Iggy didn’t move. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he slumped against the reference desk.
She moved closer and stretched her arms out, trying to catch Eric between them. He held his gun up.
“Don’t. Don’t come any closer. Tell us what’s wrong. I don’t want to shoot, but I will.”
She hissed and stepped forward. Eric looked over his shoulder, “Sorry Iggy, I got to.”
He fired a shot into her leg. She took another step forward, blood shooting out in a thick arterial spray as she put her weight down on it.
“What the fu-“ Eric managed to get out before she got a hold of him. He threw her arms to either side and tried to push her back, but she was strong. Too strong. He kneed her in the stomach, but to no avail. She stretched her head down and snapped her teeth at him.
Gopher picked up a chair and swung it against her back, the force of the blow knocking both the Gina thing and Eric to the ground. The gun flew out of Eric’s hand. The chair across her back didn’t faze her; she was inching closer to his neck.
“GOPHER, DO SOMETHING!” Eric cried out.
Steven charged forward and delivered a kick to her head, which sent her reeling backwards and off of Eric. She sat in the corner with her hand around her face trying to reorient herself. Blood ran out of the corner of her mouth, sliding onto her leg.
“Someone kill her!”
The shot rang through the radio station, resounding through the walls of the building. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. Her head jerked backwards and the window cracked from the force.
“Thank you, Gopher,” Eric said, turning around.
Iggy held the gun in his hand from behind the reception desk, his face a mask of pain. He dropped the gun to the counter and slid into the receptionist chair. Tears fell down his face as he began to weep bitterly.
“Thank you, Iggy,” Eric said, correcting himself. “I’m sorry you had to do that. I don’t know what was going on. I’m sorry you had to kill… I’m sorry.”
Iggy sobbed and looked up, his glasses wet with tears. “It wasn’t her. It looked like her, but it wasn’t her. She was… That was… I don’t know what that was, but it wasn’t…”
“It acted like a zombie,” Gopher said.
“Yeah, well, zombies aren’t real, now are they,” Eric said angrily. “Don’t bring mythical things into this.”
“Gee, neither are creatures three feet tall that like to stab things, are they?” Iggy growled. “Open your mind a little.”
“Unless you count little people with knives,” Eric nodded, trying to break the ice. No one laughed. Eric stood, offering a half grin, raising his shoulders. “No one?”
“What a time for jokes,” Angela called out from behind them. She put her arm around Iggy and walked him into the break room. Steven was still staring at the Gina thing that rested against the cracked glass. Gopher silently moved back into the break room.
Fichter was the first to speak to Eric.
“Well… I thought it was kind of funny. Need to work on your timing, though,” he said, patting Eric on the back. “Not exactly appropriate.”
Eric turned to Fichter.
“I’m not taking any stock in zombies. That’s just… That’s bullshit. Who knows? Maybe they broke her. I saw them carry her away. Maybe they just drove her crazy. There might be fun in that… For them, I mean. I don’t understand how… Why she would try to bite me? She didn’t even say anything? Sorry… I’m just trying to figure out what the hell just happened, exactly.”
Steven walked back to the break room.
“Well, this is what I learned: Things don’t make much sense anymore. Let’s head back to the break room. And apologize to Iggy.”
Eric stood in the doorway, thinking. He thought back to the caterpillars, his building on fire. He walked back to the break room, and looked at Iggy.
“Iggy, I’m sorry.”
Iggy nodded, and Eric walked in.
“That goes for the rest of you as well. I’m sorry, but this is also a problem. I know this isn’t the best time to bring this up at all, what with the emotions running high… But we have to leave here. We have to leave here now.”
All eyes turned to Eric.
“Eric, I think you should just calm down,” Angela said.
“No. I’ve actually done some thinking about this. Look at it this way: We know that wasn’t your sister out there, Iggy. But it found us. It found you. If something like that can find us, then the others must not be far behind it. What if it was sent to find us? To find people? The Creeps could just follow it in here, and here we are, under-armed and emotionally unstable. It’d be the smartest thing they’ve ever done, but someone once told me that ‘things don’t make much sense anymore.’ So I’m going to say it again. We have to leave here now.”
The group silently stood and followed Eric past the reception desk. He held the door open, blocking the view of the corpse and they filed out in a line into the parking lot. They stood by Fichter’s car when Iggy began to moan, collapsing to the ground again in pain, clutching his head.
“Too late,” he said, looking up at the group from the pavement.
“What are you talking about, Iggy? Too late?”
“Behind you,” he motioned weakly.
Eric spun around, pulling his gun up. His arm was beginning to ache from this repeated action. He watched the tree lined entrance to the parking lot, but nothing came in.
“Iggy, are you sure you saw something?” Eric hunched down to ask him.
There was a distinct roar behind them.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
Eric saw the shadow before he saw the actual creature. It had a thick, blocky body with two mechanical claws that protruded from the angular torso. It wasn’t walking, but floating into the parking lot at an alarming speed, sashaying back and forth as if trying to maintain some kind of balance. Its neck was at least a foot long, but the true length was hard to tell due to the position of the head. The head was jutted forward, making the neck arch up and back down again, almost putty like. It wore the face of a human, with sad eyes and gray face. There was no hair, it was bald, and ears were nothing but shallow dimples on either side of the things skull. It was a monster.
“What the hell is that thing,” Steven asked, backing up towards the station doors.
The things eyes focused on Steven, being the first one to speak since the ghastly entrance. He seemed to freeze, their eyes locked. Blood began to drip from his nose and tears began to fall from his eyes.
“I didn’t mean to cheat on you, Angela,” Steven said.
No, Steven didn’t say it… He mouthed it. The voice was coming from the creature. Purely Steven’s voice, but it was echoing through the long throat of that creature.
“But your sister was a better cook. I’m sorry, but I have to go,” the creature said, its mouth hardly moving as it was speaking the words. Steven began to walk towards the floating creature.
“I knew about that, Steven… Why are you talking like that?!” She cried out, running to her husband. He swung his arm and backhanded her. She fell across the car and looked up.
“Something’s wrong, you guys.”
“Well no shit,” Eric said, aiming his last shot. He squeezed the trigger; the bullet flew across the parking lot, past the monsters head.
Gopher and Iggy looked at Eric, puzzled.
“I just missed?”
Fichter backed up, trying to get into his car to retrieve a gun, when the creature met eyes with him and he blacked out, his body hitting the ground with a thud.
Steven was already at the creature, which was resting one claw on his shoulder. It set its eyes on Angela, who froze.
“I’m married, but I want more.”
Gopher ran at the thing, which swung its head at him. He was clothes-lined by its neck and he fell to the pavement, unconscious
“When Eric walked through those doors, I almost wanted Steven to stay out looking for batteries forever.”
Eric looked at Steven, who was still in a trance. Was he hearing any of this? He showed no signs of cognitive recognition.
Blood began to drip from her nose as she walked towards the thing slowly. They weren’t fighting the pull at all, being drawn like a dead fish on a line.
“I have to go,” she mouthed, and the creature said absent-mindedly. A small hand rested across her shoulder, and she closed her eyes.
The thing swung its head towards Iggy, locking eyes. Iggy rose to his feet and began to walk towards the creature.
“I’m sorry I let you die, sis,” it said.
Iggy stopped. He shook his head, free momentarily, but soon began walking again.
“I wasn’t strong enough,” it continued.
Iggy froze in his tracks. No, he didn’t feel responsible… Rage coursed through his veins. The tables had now turned. No longer was the creature looking into Iggy’s eyes, but Iggy was staring the creature down, his steely glare terrifying to Eric.
“I didn’t let her die,” he called out, his voice coming from his body.
The creature shook its head, and stared back at Iggy, who took one forceful step forward.
“I DID NOT LET HER DIE!” He spit, screaming loudly, making his voice echoed back from the building through the silent parking lot.
The creature began to shake its head again, trying to stare back at Iggy. Iggy maintained his stance, one foot forward, one foot back, a look of pure hatred in his eyes towards the creature.
“If you didn’t let her die, then who did,” the creature hissed in its own voice, snakes and bursting pipes instead of a true voice, the words hard to understand completely.
“ERIC!” Iggy screamed.
“Hey, wha-“ Eric said from behind Iggy.
The creature’s head began to bow. The neck moved in irregular patterns, creating waves in the creatures gray flesh. Blood began to dole out of its eyes, its body beginning to sink to the pavement. Its head fell to the ground before its body, the neck fully stretched out. The body hit the surface and fell over, the claws raking across the back of Angela and Steven as they stood swaying in the wind.
It turned and looked back at Eric remorsefully, before letting out one final hiss and succumbing to death.
Angela and Steven collapsed to the ground simultaneously, against each other.
“What the hell was that all about?” Eric cried out. “Am I the only one that was thoroughly upset by this?”
He turned and surveyed the area. Gopher was still out on the ground, Fichter almost beneath his car. Iggy too had blacked out.
“Well, shit, guess I was.” He slapped Iggy lightly, who came around.
“I remember most of that.”
“Oh, do you?”
“Do you remember the part where you’re blaming me for your sister’s death?”
Iggy nodded again.
“We’re going to need to talk about that at some point. Clear some shit up between us, alright?” He extended his hand to Iggy, who took it. Eric helped him to his feet.
“So, Mr. ‘I Just Killed That Thing By Looking At It”, you wanna help me get everyone back in the station? Anything else coming this way?”
“Not that I can tell.”
“That’s something we’re going to have to talk about soon, too. Just what exactly you can tell. And what exactly just happened.”
It was a matter of an hour before everyone was back in the break room. All of them had exceptionally painful headaches, save for Eric, who was relaxing with a cupcake.
“Iggy’s got some things to say,” he said, taking a bite, getting cream on his upper lip. “So, without further ado, Iggy.”
“Alright. First of all, that thing wasn’t the conventional Creep.”
A murmur rose through the room.
“Yes, well, it seemed a great deal smarter. It got into your minds. Started to control you, although it didn’t look like you knew what you were saying… So I doubt you’d remember that.”
“I do,” Eric said from the back.
“I don’t think anyone would remember that that was actually affected by the creature, smartass.”
He chuckled from the back.
“But you never spoke. The voice was coming out of the thing. It was like it was melding with your mind or something, controlling you that way. Got you all to say things. Secrets and the like. But the strangest thing was the voice coming out of the thing.”
Steven looked up.
“Like what? What did it say?”
“That you were unfaithful to your wife at one point.”
He let out a sigh of relief.
“She already knew about that.”
“Wait, is there anything else I should know about?”
Steven shook his head.
She turned to face Iggy.
“Did I say anything?”
There was a long pause as Iggy thought about the question.
“No. You didn’t. Eric killed it before you had a chance to speak.”
Fichter piped up from the table.
“I thought he was out of bullets?”
“I miss-counted. All it takes is one shot. They don’t call me ‘Bulls Eye’ for nothin’,” he said, finishing the cupcake.
“They don’t call you ‘Bulls-Eye’ at all,” Gopher said.
“Here’s the game plan, kids. We’re going to camp it here for the night. Our sources tell us that it should be safe, relatively speaking, to stay here for the night.”
Angela shuffled in her chair. “What source?”
Eric didn’t answer. “Iggy, Gopher, we’re going to alternate front door shifts. Iggy and I will be first, then Iggy and Gopher, then Gopher and I. Rotate every four hours. Tomorrow, we get the hell out of Jersey.” Eric paused. “If only because it smells funny.”
Iggy had taken a seat as Eric dragged the body out of the lobby and into the conference room. He made sure they were alone and that he was mentally prepared for the conversation before pulling up a chair and sitting across from Iggy.
“Alright, you blame me for her death?”
“The though hadn’t ever really crossed my mind until… I guess I never really thought I did until just a minute ago.”
“What’s the deal with that? She wouldn’t let Gopher throw her. There was nothing we could do about it. I was already on the other side. You saw me. I tried, too. I tried to get her back. There were just too many of them.”
“We were hiding out in our building. We saw your fliers fluttering around the street. I liked the ides of meeting up with another survivor at first, but then I just had a feeling that it would be a bad idea. She wanted to meet up with someone else a lot more than I did. She said it sounded safe, I said it didn’t. I said my vote should count for something, she said it didn’t. ‘Too young.’ You took us under your care at your building, and then she died… I guess I kind of feel that it’s your fault somewhat… Pretty much just for existing.” Iggy paused. “Although I don’t think I would have survived this long without you. I don’t know. I’m confused.”
“So… that’s it?”
“More or less.”
Neither of them spoke. Angela began coughing from the back room, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position in the room, but finding none. She wasn’t used to sleeping on cold tiles in a room full of strangers, but she also was no stranger to poverty.
“Is there a reason we lied about who killed the thing, Iggy? I would be proud to take the accomplishment if I had just killed that thing by looking at it.”
“What do you reckon that reason is?”
“Because I don’t exactly know how I killed it.”
“I got some theories on that myself, but I’m going to keep them with me for a little while longer. I’m going to keep an eye on you, Iggy. I think you got something going on in your mind that you don’t know about yet. I’m curious as to what exactly that is.”
“So am I, Eric. I’ve got a few ideas myself, but I don’t want to sound completely crazy. But I think we’re thinking on the same wavelength.” Iggy coughed. “In fact, I know we are.”
There was another pause, the cloud shadows moving across the parking lot, streaming in through the glass double doors, blanketing the two in quasi-darkness.
“So, she likes me,” Eric finally said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah, but you can’t know that around her. She might not even know that yet. That thing out in the parking lot-“
“Cool name. Yes, it made you say things it knew you didn’t want to. But I don’t think they even knew what they were saying. It dredged up things from your subconscious… Things you might not even realize.”
“I wouldn’t call them feelings, either. We just met. It’s more of a lusty type deal, I would assume. After all, I’m pretty irresistible.”
“Whatever it is, it wouldn’t surprise me if she didn’t know about the lovey-lusty feelings at all. I didn’t really blame you for Gina’s death until I really thought about it, tonight. Maybe that’s something it does. Speeds up your thought process? Advancing thoughts like that? It seems like I would have come to that conclusion at some point in the future regardless… Maybe it just speeds up how you think and what you think about.”
“Iggy, I’m clueless. I have just about as much information as you do.”
“Actually,” he said, smirking, “I have a little more.”
“When the thing was dying, it was like it let go of its thoughts. I found out some things.”
“It did use the zombie to track us. It had some kind of mental hold on it, telling the Melder where exactly it was going. The Melder could half see through the eyes, too. Real spooky shit. That’s how it found us so quickly.”
“Is that all?”
“Nope. Found out some more about the zombie, too. Gina wasn’t the only one and standard zombie rules apply, apparently.”
“The Melder was worried that the infection would spread through other Creeps. They already have five or six under quarantine that were bitten or scratched, that turned. You get bitten, you get scratched, you wait, you turn into one of them. Any zombie movie’ll tell you that. Standard zombie rules. Simple.”
“Huh.” Eric grunted.
They sat in silence for the rest of the shift, watching the moons light dance through the breaks in the clouds. When four hours finally drew to a close, Gopher walked from the break room, groggy, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. He nodded to Eric who was beginning to fall asleep.
“Iggy, I’m not going to tell them the specifics of what we talked about tonight. But I am going to mention the ‘standard rules’. I’ll call them hypothetical, that I read them out of some book. I can’t let them know what you know yet, because I’m not quite sure what that is… But they have to have some information, you know? In case we run into another. Can’t have them risking what they got when the danger ramps up like that. But everything else is between us right now.”
“See you in four, Eric,” he said, drawing in a large gulp of air.
Eric half saluted and turned, patting Gopher on the back and heading to the break room and lying down on the floor next to Steven.
All he could think about was how much his wife dug him. It was a good feeling. He fell asleep without a blanket, warmed by the feeling of that thought.
The first tendrils of daylight entered into the station lobby through the glass doors and over the eyes of Eric, who was fast asleep. In the middle of his second shift, he had passed out mid-sentence, talking to Gopher.
”Which is where I learned to shoot like that, you se-“ his words slurring and his head falling, chin against chest.
Gopher had summarily nodded, before going to the back offices to find a blanket. Finding a quilt instead, he returned to the lobby and covered Eric, sitting back and keeping his own eyes open on the doors.
Nothing happened. There was no thumping against the glass doors; the metal handles were still attached as morning approached. The Mind-Melder’s body sat in the parking lot, unmoving. The wind ruffled the trees, knocking leaves down, but that was the most excitement that night. In a word, it was quite boring.
As the light crept over Eric’s eyes, they opened with a flash.
“I wasn’t sleeping. I was checking… My mind… For… Shit, I was asleep, wasn’t I?”
“Alright, Goph, decision time. We currently have no plan for what we’re going to do… Where are we going to go?”
“I dunno. We’ve got a car. We could try and find a boat like Steven said. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Eric paused. He didn’t quite know what to say. Steven, in Eric’s eyes, wasn’t much of a planner. He wanted to go to some island. Maybe that would work. Eric didn’t know. But Steven just seemed so happy about everything, so damned optimistic.
“I guess. Couldn’t hurt, could it?”
Gopher smiled. “I’m going to go to the back and get everyone up. I’ll be right back.”
The large man ambled to the room of rest. Steven was holding Angela on the floor, and Iggy was stretched out over the counter. Fichter was slumped in the corner with one arm over his head, crooked against the cabinet, his other arm behind him.
“Hey everyone!” Gopher boomed. “Time go get up!”
Iggy rolled off of the counter, onto the ground.
“Ouch.” He said, seconds after impact.
“Come on, grab some stuff,” Gopher said, walking over to Fichter. “We’re gonna get out of here. Grab all the cupcakes you want, because we don’t want to come back. Wake up, dude.” Fichter stirred, and opened his eyes.
“Could you get me a cup of coffee, sugar?” He said, sleepily.
“Haven’t had a fresh cup myself in about three weeks,” Gopher said, helping Fichter to his feet.
The group slowly made their way down the dim hallway to the front door, where Eric was standing, his form silhouetted against the world outside. His forearm was against the door and he nervously was resting his head against it.
“Alright,” he said to the glass. Everyone stopped. “We’re going to go find a boat, and try to find an island. As much as I think that’s a bad idea, it’s the only idea we have right now. So that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to pile into the car. Gopher, Iggy and I will take to the back. Angela, you sit on Steven’s lap, and Fichter... Well, you’re going to be driving. We’re going to find a marina, and then we’re going to get the hell out of dodge.” He turned around. “Any questions?”
There was a long pause.
“Could we get bananas anywhere?” Steven asked.
There was another long pause as everyone contemplated the question. When it became clear that it was, in fact, an innocent question with no double meanings, Eric spoke.
“Not sure,” Eric finally said. “I think they’re all rotten, aren’t they?”
Steven frowned. “Alright, bad idea.”
Eric opened the door, stepping out into what was left of our world and talking back to the group about the danger of being bitten or scratched by one of those “things.” He took the steps two at a time, hitting the sidewalk, turned around and motioned for the others to follow. They all stepped outside, sleep zombies, and walked to Fichter’s car. Eric opened the door for Angela and Steven, before climbing into the middle of the back. Gopher clambered in on his left side, Iggy on his right. There wasn’t much room to move around at all, and Eric tried unsuccessfully to situate himself in the back.
It reminded him of bus-rides through New York as a child. It was going to be bumpy, he thought to himself, reaching for a safety belt. There was no belt for the middle, he deduced as Gopher and Iggy strapped themselves in.
“So, Dad, the paramedics never have to remove people from safety belts in car accidents?”
“Nope, Eric. Because most people live if they wear seat belts.”
“So if they die, they leave them in there?”
It was one of the few times he had ever seen his father laugh. It turned from a laugh into a guffaw; his face beat red with a tear brimming in his left eye. It rolled down his face and past his moustache. Eric was embarrassed. He had been genuinely curious about the fate of those who died in seat belts, but now, retrospectively, the answer had been obvious.
Fichter started the car, and Eric started to laugh. He finally got it.
Angela turned around and looked at Eric. “Something funny? Tell me. I could use the laugh,” she smiled. Oh was her smile beautiful.
“Well… It wouldn’t take much to make me laugh, all things considered.”
“Alright, well… I asked my dad if anyone who died while wearing a seatbelt was left in the car they died in. Because he said… Uh… Paramedics never had to take people out of cars in body bags that had their seatbelts on.”
The car moved backwards.
“Well, that was it. My dad laughed at that when I was a kid, but I didn’t understand why it was funny until now.”
“Oh,” she said, turning back around.
Steven turned his head, trying to look back at Eric, but unable to fully turn because of his wife.
“What made you think of that? Thinking about car accidents is morbid when we’re in a car.”
“Oh, I just got a tad bit nervous because I don’t really have a seatbelt.”
“That’s even more morbid,” Steven said, facing forward again.
“That’s not morbid, is it, Iggy?”
“Yes. Yes it is very much so morbid, and now I’m uncomfortable sitting next to you, Mr. Morbid.” Iggy said, smiling.
From the front seat, they heard a laugh. It was Angela. Her laugh was even more beautiful than her smile. It cut through the silence of the car and made Eric smile.
“Alright, that’s enough, Iggy.”
“What are you going to do? Wear MY seatbelt? Cause I don’t want to die, Eric. Don’t you go taking my seat belt. I know you want it, but you can’t have it! I mean, look out there! This is rush hour traffic! I’ll be surprised if we even make it to the corner without getting hit by some other vehicle.”
Angela’s laugh grew louder. Steven began to chuckle, and Fichter pulled out of the parking lot, carefully shifting gears.
“Okay, Iggy. I get it. I was bein-“
“Oh no, look out! There’s a speeding car heading right towards us! Whatever shall we do? Well, I know what you’re going do to, Eric. You’re going to get killed, cause you’re not wearing a seat belt.”
Gopher started laughing, and Angela began gasping for breath.
“Iggy, I get it. I was worried over noth-“
“This is the hay-day for drivers, Eric. I’m not sure you understand just how much danger you’re really in! Crazy drivers everywhere! Remember how many we saw on the way to the station? At least seven… MILLION!”
Iggy started laughing. Eric began to chuckle and Fichter tried to concentrate on the road. His eyes were beginning to water; trying to stifle the laughter he had growing inside of him. It blurred his vision, and soon enough, he had driven off of the road, clipping the side of an auto insurance building. Eric had flown forward a slowly, hitting his shoulder against the back of Steven’s seat. Fichter had been going at less than ten miles per hour when he clipped the building. He shifted down and stopped the car, to laugh.
Everyone in the car was laughing, even Eric who was nursing his bruised shoulder blade.
“Oh, well I’m glad I had a seatbelt on,” Iggy said through laughter.
“Me too!” Gopher said, clapping Eric on his shoulder. Eric winced.
When it finally died down, Fichter stepped out of his car to look at the damage. There wasn’t much. The paint on the front right hand side had been scraped; there was a tiny dent, but nothing to really worry about. Nothing that would shut his car down.
He stepped back inside of the car, slid the key into the ignition, and turned. The car didn’t start. He tried again. Nothing. He looked around at his gauges, and tried again.
“What’s wrong, Fichter?” Angela asked.
“It would appear that we’re out of gas.”
“So… We walking?” Eric said from the back.
“Hardly. You three are. I’m going to shift into neutral. There’s a station up the road for gas. A gas station. I think I might be able to get some fuel there,” he said, turning around. “You boys ready to push the car?”
It wasn’t right down the road. It wasn’t one block or two blocks. It was fifteen blocks. They pushed the entire way, although Gopher was more than capable of doing it himself. They were sweaty and dirty again by the time they got to the gas station, slightly chilled in the morning air. Gopher ended up pushing the car to the pump when Iggy fell to his knees, exhausted.
“Fifteen blocks I can handle, Eric. But up-hill? That’s just… It seems so unnecessary. Why didn’t we just get a gas tank to bring back?”
Eric helped Iggy up. “Hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it, Iggs?”
Iggy half laughed, half coughed. Angela and Steven got out of the car and helped him to the bench outside of the convenience store. Fichter began to work on the pump, figuring out how to get fuel without electricity. Eric surveyed the scene.
The store was empty in that there were no visible people inside. That’s not to say that there were invisible people; if there were people, they were doing a damn good job of hiding. There were chips and cases of soda. Big cases of water stacked by the front door, creating a lazy barricade the extended halfway to the ceiling. Low enough to see inside of the store. There was blood on the floor, but no visible body. There were also spent shotgun shells on the ground, which interested Eric.
“Guys, I think there’s a gun inside. I’m going to go take it. Anyone need anything?”
Before anyone could make a request, Eric had taken a flashlight and opened the double doors.
It was rank inside. The air was green with the stench of fetid and rotten flesh. Whoever had the gun was long gone. They wouldn’t mind Eric taking it at all. He made his way around the aisles, keeping his hand over his mouth to keep the air from getting in. It was a futile attempt, but the placebo effect was the only thing stopping him from dry heaving. He grabbed a pre-packaged item, stuffing it into his pocket, walking around to the counter.
The thing behind the counter still clutched the gun in his hand, but he wasn’t dead quite yet. He was breathing, with a paper towel pressed firmly against a wound in his neck. His eyes were closed peacefully, his breathing regular.
Outside, Iggy was bashing the payphone box with the receiver, trying to get it to drop coins. Gopher was inside the car, trying to rest his eyes being the only person to keep a full shift, doubly so for Eric. Angela and Steven were standing at opposite ends of the lot, looking down the hill and up the hill. And Fichter was still trying to figure out how to operate the damn pump.
Fichter was a problem solver. He had done some extra study when he was in High School, for higher-level thinkers. He was sure he could get the pump to work: Physics was somewhat of his specialty from college as well but he was growing impatient nonetheless.
And inside, Eric was crouched over his man. He removed his hand from his mouth, gagging. The smell was emanating from the wound in the man’s neck. Eric pulled the paper towel away and heaved. The flesh around the wound was rotting, ready to drop off. It would have already if the man had been lying at an angle where gravity would have been affecting the skin in a downward fashion.
He noticed behind the man a corpse that was missing the top of its head.
Eric lightly slapped the man with the neck wound. His beside manner left something to be desired, although so far no one had complained about the almost constant slapping of the unconscious. “Hey, hey.”
The man stirred.
“You’ve been bitten.”
His eyes opened. “No shit.”
Eric sat on his haunches trying to conceive the best way to tell the man that he was going to turn. He didn’t quite know how to phrase it. “You’re going to be a zombie soon, dude,” seemed to lack any real heart and “Don’t worry, you’re going to die,” was just downright mean.
Luckily for Eric, he didn’t have to decide. While he was facing this moral dilemma, the man stood. Unluckily for Eric, the man was now but a shadow of his former self. The gun clattered to the ground as the thing lurched forwards. Eric used its weight against it and threw it over the counter.
In the parking lot, Iggy’s head began to hurt.
From behind the building, a Mind-Melder floated around the corner, slaloming through invisible gates.
Eric dove to the ground, grabbing the shotgun. He stood as the man-thing began to try and climb back over the counter. Eric unloaded a shell into the things face and it flew backwards into the rack of potato chips, dead. Well… Deader.
He searched under the counter for shells and found a box of fifty. The box said there were fifty inside, but it looked like there were only twenty or so left. Eric stuck the box into his pocket on top of the pre-packaged food and made his way to the front door. He swung it open.
“Don’t worry about that shot that was fired inside guys. Don’t rush to me all at once, it’s cool. I just killed a zombeh!”
He first noticed Iggy passed out, face down on the ground. Then he noticed the Melder standing at the end of the parking lot, its back to Eric. In its short stubby claws stood Angela and Fichter. Steven was being pulled towards it.
Eric walked up behind the Melder quietly, but still couldn’t get a bead on its head. He pulled the shotgun up to his shoulder and fired one round into the things back. It jerked forward, and began to turn around slowly, throwing Angela and Fichter to the ground. Eric cocked the shotgun, the crisp sound cutting through the still air, and fired one more shell as the creature turned around to face him. Its head and sad eyes disappeared in a fine spray, its body spinning as the thing collapsed to the ground in between Fichter and Angela.
Eric slapped a few of them, but they didn’t move. They finally began to snap out of it as Eric was walking back out of the store with warm bottles of water.
He tossed one to Steven, who was the first to break out of the mental lock. One flew at Fichter, bouncing off of his chest. One flew at Angela, bouncing off of her forehead.
“Sorry. I was aiming for your… Well, no, I was aiming for your head.”
Iggy was already to his feet, when Eric tossed the bottle to him.
“They’re not going to remember me throwing water bottles at them, are they?”
“Yes, we most certainly are,” Angela called from behind him, holding back a laugh.
Fichter walked back to his car, shaky, but finishing the fueling.
Eric turned to him. “How did you manage to fuel the car without electricity?”
Fichter smiled. “Well, first I took the hose. I cut a small slit in the rubber, and,” he looked at Eric, who was trying to feign interest. “You know, it’s long, complicated, you wouldn’t understand either way.”
Eric shook his head. “You’re probably right.”
“Oh, I know I am.”
Eric, Angela and Steven began work their way back to the car, when Eric pulled Steven aside.
“They didn’t have bananas, but they did have this,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He pulled out the shotgun shells first, handing them to Steven.
“Not quite the same, Eric. These might give me explosive gas.”
“Oh, shut up. Those are for me,” he indicated the shotgun that he was holding by raising it above his head once. “This is for you,” he said, reaching into the cargo pocket and crinkling the shrink-wrap. He pulled out the banana-nut muffin and handed it over. Steven smiled and began to walk back to the car.
Eric slid some shells into the shotgun, and set the gun down on the floor of the car. The shells went back into this pocket, as Fichter started the car and began to pull away.
“I didn’t say anything this time, did I?” Angela asked.
“Oh, I heard it all. You’re madly in love with me and we’re going to get married on a hilltop,” Eric said from the back.
“Did I really say that?”
Eric smiled. “Oh, I have no idea if you said anything at all. There’s a good chance you said something about liking to eat kittens. Whatever it was, I didn’t hear it. I was in the store the entire time.”
Angela began to laugh. “Yeah, that’s me. Mrs. Kitten Eater.”
Soon the car was filled with laughter, cutting through the air and heading towards the coastline slightly above the speed limit.
INTERLUDE 2: IGGY
Bert Elman was born on Sesame Street. He did appreciate the irony but didn’t appreciate the horrible jokes that followed him for most of his life. One thing he wanted more than anything else was to have a new name, a proud name that people wouldn’t make fun of. When he turned 18, he planned on going down the courthouse, paying a nominal fee and changing his name to something that wasn’t Bert from Sesame Street.
His sister, Gina, had thought the notion of him changing his name was all together silly. Of course, she was Gina from Sesame street, a name that had an air about it of a prostitute, not a puppet.
Their father had gotten a job in Manhattan, supervising the construction of several buildings and parks near Wall Street. The Elman family relocated to New York in the following months, Bert losing interest in his name change now that he was away from Sesame Street.
He had moved to Manhattan when he was ten. His parents were happily married, having two children: Bert and Gina Elman, Gina being the senior of the two by four years. It was a large age gap between the children that made Bert often question whether or not his parents really intended to have him.
Gina wasn’t the best of siblings; she constantly would make fun of Bert, shooting down his ideas, but he didn’t mind. He looked up to her; in his eyes, Gina was the cat’s pajamas. Gina knew this and used his admiration to her advantage whenever she could.
Somewhere around his fourteenth birthday, Bert realized this as well. But he didn’t mind. It became a mutual idea that she would no longer use him, rather “get his help” wittingly or un.
Bert’s high school had several motivational speakers come and go, as well as Drug Awareness Resistance Education officers who would come and talk about the dangers of starting illegal substances.
Bert usually didn’t pay attention to the motivational speakers; he was happy enough as it was. But the DARE officer caught his attention when he came to speak to Bert’s class.
Officer Ned was dashing in his uniform, a moustache covering his upper lip. He seemed to be constantly blushing, friendly rather than frightening. He wasn’t portly, but built, his eyes almost shut from smiling all the time.
Gina had been dabbling in drugs ever since high school. Bert knew this, Gina knew this, but Gina didn’t know Bert knew this. As far as Gina was concerned, the only people that knew were the people she bought from and tripped with.
Officer Ned began his rhetoric at the front of the class, talking about how he joined the police department, how he had lived in Manhattan for most of his life and how he had at one point considered becoming an undercover agent, but the birth of his son changed his mind. “Too dangerous to have a family and be snitching on powerful families, you see.”
The class sighed. Everyone was bored, save for the wiry young diabetic looking kid in the back. Bert pushed his glasses up, rapt with attention, his pale skin glowing in the sunbeam that was pouring through the window.
“Which brings me to drugs and why you shouldn’t do them,” Officer Ned began. “The first thing to worry about is addiction. Getting addicted to any substance can off set your life, legal or not. I used to be addicted to caffeine, and when I didn’t have any for a long period of time, I would get a headache and my hand would start to shake. I shot a hostage one time because of than.”
There was an audible gasp from the mass of students.
“Just kidding, glad to see you’re all still alive.”
The students once again nestled in the chairs, trying to get comfortable. But as all students know, it’s impossible to truly relax in the hard plastic chairs.
Bert’s shrill laugh came from the back, alarming his classmates. Bert didn’t know why that was so funny; it just seemed like a good ploy to get the class to pay attention.
“Sorry, continue,” he said, regaining composure.
“Thank you, young man. There are several ways to get addicted to substances; physical and mental addiction being the primary two. The mental addiction is more of a craving than anything else; you can crave a chocolate bar and that would be considered part of a mental addiction. You can also crave marijuana mentally. Everyone in here know what marijuana is?”
Several students raised their hands.
“Anyone in here seen a picture of marijuana?”
The same students kept their hands up.
“Anyone in here know what it smells like?”
The hands went down.
“Anyone ever have some in brownies?”
Two hands went up.
Officer Ned laughed. “Alright, so we have some people in here more knowledgeable about the substance. It’s not my job in here today to bust your balls, so I’m going to forget your hands were up, but you know what it’s like.”
The hands went down and the students didn’t move.
“Physical addiction is pretty gross. Heroin, for example, has a huge physical addiction. You start to shake, much like caffeine, drool, and become unintelligible. This stuff can destroy your life if you’re not careful, and it will. Which is why,” he wrote on the board, “It’s good to stay away from the hard stuff.”
The bell rang, cutting the rhetoric short. The class grabbed their bags, fashionably swung one strap over one shoulder and began to file out of the class room quickly in Friday formation. Bert was the last one to leave, looking at Officer Ned on his way out the door.
“Glad you thought it was funny, son,” he said, smiling and waving.
Bert couldn’t get a ride home; no one really cared to be seen with him. It didn’t alarm him any, he knew he looked strange and gangly, especially for a teenager, so he didn’t mind riding the bus. That’s where he began to worry about Gina and what she might be doing to herself with the drugs.
When he got home, she had the familiar glare in her eyes, seated in front of the television with a bag of chips and a container of dip, a can of orange soda on the side table sans coaster.
Bert began to get genuinely worried about her.
“Any big plans tonight?”
“Going over to Erin’s. Spending the night. Can I borrow some money?”
Bert reached for his wallet. He knew in the back of his mind what she was going to spend it on. He gave her forty dollars anyway.
Gina spent the night in her room after her parents picked her up from the police station. Someone had tipped them off anonymously. When they walked through the door, she was in tears. They were angry but understanding.
As a first time offender, she was let off with a slap on the wrist and five hours of community service to be filled. She wasn’t allowed to leave the house, either; “grounded” is the term for it.
Bert was happy about it. He really felt he had helped her. As she was grounded, there was more forced interaction between the two. Mom and Dad noted how well they were getting along together, finally seeing eye to eye on things. Gina also stopped using him.
She would go on to die at the hand of her brother, never knowing he was the one who turned her in. Years passed and the bond between Bert and Gina grew.
The initial day of the invasion, Bert was at school. Gina was at home. Mom and Dad were at work, Mom a teller at Bank of America.
New reports swept in of the western coastal cities being attacked. The US army was mobilized and we sent word to other countries that we needed help. None came.
Bert and Gina hid in the basement of their building behind stacks of boxes, leaving a note for their parents should they return home. Bert doubted they would; he had a gut feeling… And his gut feelings were usually spot on.
They heard the things ransack the lobby and upper floors. Most of the people in the building had fled, but there were still screams. Maniacal laughter mixed with shrill glass shattering waves of terror. They waited for two days in the basement, making as little noise as possible, hearing the tiny patters of their feet finally leave the building.
At the next light, they went back to their apartment. It was torn apart, but there was no sign of Mom or Dad. Bert looked out the window towards the construction site where his dad worked. A plume of smoke rose from the framed skeleton of the building.
They stayed in their apartment for a few days, eating and mainly remaining quiet, hoping their parents would come walking through the door. The door remained closed.
Bert saw the flier from the window, three stories up. He actually saw a large grouping of them blowing down the street. He nudged Gina and pointed down. They carefully and quietly made their way to the ground level, stepping outside briefly, grabbing a flier.
“Big Apple Print Shop…”
“There’s a survivor there, Gina. He’s got candy, too,” Bert said, smiling. His voice had cracked, the first time he had used it in several days.
“There’s a survivor there, Gina. He’s got candy, too,” Bert said again, deepening his voice. A gut feeling again, telling him not to go.
“We’re not going. Alright, Gina? I got a feeling about this…”
“Yes we are. What made you change your mind like that?”
“I just have a bad feeling about it is all. We shouldn’t go. You know how my feelings are. They’re usually right… I’m voting against this.”
“Well, I’m older. Your vote doesn’t really count now does it, little brother. Besides, I really want to meet someone else that’s… Alive,” she said, ruffling his hair.
“Alright… Fine,” he said reluctantly. “But if we go, I’m changing my name.” Ah, the stealthy addition of a stipulation!
“I dunno. Something cooler than Bert. Lemme check the phone book.”
He opened the book to the middle, closed his eyes and dropped his finger on the page.
“That last name is retarded, Bert.”
“Fine. Just Ignatious.”
She sighed and shook her head, smiling.
“It does sound cool. Had a nice ring to it,” he said, as they began walking down the street.
“Alright, Bert, keep it quiet. We don’t know if there are any of those things anywhere.”
He smiled and whispered, “Ignatious.”
They continued down the deserted roads, through the noonday sun, following the signs that would lead them to the Jersey Shore. Past signs advertising the fun escapism of Atlantic City; now was no time for fun escapism. They only followed the roads that had signs with the words “docking” or “marina”.
Several hours passed in the car with Iggy continuing to make seat-belt jokes. Gopher was trying desperately to sleep, but couldn’t through Iggy’s almost continuous laughter. Angela and Steven were growing frustrated. Eric was resting his head in his hands, a bolt of pain shooting through his skull. All the while, Iggy kept on.
“Cause you NEED a seat-belt! Get it? It’s the law! Ha!”
Angela groaned, Steven sighed and Iggy started laughing again.
“Come on, guys, that one was classic! Classic! There is no law anymore! Get it?”
Eric turned and looked Iggy in the eye. “Yes, we get it Iggy. Some things just aren’t funny. Hey, Fichter? You want to uh… stop at a farm so Iggy can beat a dead horse for real?”
Iggy’s face turned bright red. He shut up and quietly slid back into his seat, turning to face the window.
They rode in silence, Iggy embarrassed. Eric’s conscience began to gnaw on him as they approached their exit.
“Iggy, I didn’t mean it. It was kind of funny.”
“No, it wasn’t at all,” Gopher chimed from the other side of Eric. Eric shot him a look, and Gopher one again nestled and tried to fall asleep.
“Iggy, it was kind of funny. Right guys?”
No one answered, save for Fichter. He grunted, although that might have been a sneeze. Iggy turned to face Eric.
“Don’t try and make me feel better. I know it was stupid. Don’t worry about it.”
“Good man. You’re a better man than I am, Ig-“
“Don’t worry about it, cause if we get into a car accident I’m going to live.” He began laughing again. There was a simultaneous groan that rode throughout the car, not quite reaching Iggy’s ears through his own laughter.
The sign loomed in the distance, hard to see behind the sun. The glare made it look like a black rectangle. Fichter pulled down the sun-visor and squinted.
“CLARK’S LANDING; EXIT 218B.”
Below that, “POINT PLEASANT, EXIT 218A.”
“Look, Iggy. Point Pleasant. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?” Eric said in a futile attempt to raise the downtrodden spirits in the metal cage.
“Sounds fun. Won’t be,” he said, turning away from Eric and back to the window.
Fichter pulled the car onto the exit and rode into the once thriving beach-front community. Deserted hotels played guard to the beach as they drove through, trying to find any indicator of Clark’s Landing. Most of the signs in town had been taken down, scribbled over. Amateur graffiti artists had run rampant after hearing news that the military and police forces were summarily being decimated. Instead of helping others, they helped themselves by painting over any helpful indicators that would lead Eric and the others to Clark’s Landing.
Fichter pulled the car over.
“I think we need a map if we’re going to find Clark’s Landing,” he said, not directly to anyone.
“Well,” Eric started from the back, “Why don’t we just drive on the beach in one direction for an hour, and if we don’t run into it there, we can always double back. It’s not like we have any shortage of time, do we?”
“No, but I can’t take this car onto the beach. That’s running an enormous risk in and of itself. What if the car got stuck? We’d be waylaid here in this deserted tourist local. Not exactly the most safe or secret place to be stranded, either. Hotels, motels, beach houses. Inconspicuous, this place ain’t.”
Steven nodded. Angela turned to face the others.
“Fichter’s right,” she said, as he did a silent fist pump. “We need a map. There’s got to be some kind of tourist information center somewhere. Hell, maybe a hotel lobby would have a map or at least a phone book with an address.”
“I take it this means Iggy, Gopher and I are going to be doing some legwork while you all sit in the car and keep it running in case something happens?”
“Well… Yes,” she said.
Eric let out a heavy sigh. “Alright. Guys, let’s go. There’s a hotel right there,” he said, indicating to the dark monolith beside them. “Let’s get a map and get out. Won’t be more than a few minutes in there.” Eric leaned over to Iggy and whispered in his ear, “We going to run into any trouble in there?”
He nodded. “But nothing we can’t handle,” he opened the door and stepped out, leaning town and touching his toes.
“Fichter, pop the trunk.”
Iggy reached in and pulled out his bag of supplies. Eric took the shotgun from the floor and Gopher picked up a tire iron out of the trunk. Iggy handed a flashlight to Eric and Gopher, tossing a role of tape to Eric.
“Tape the light to the gun. Make things a little easier. Flash-light mod, anyone?”
Eric chuckled as he used the duct tape to make the flashlight a semi-permanent addition to his shotgun.
The doors to the hotel swung open quietly as Eric stepped through the door, light emanating from the barrel of his gun. The floor reflected the light poorly; what was once polished marble now sat covered in dust and blood. The wooden reception desk bathed in the eerie light from Eric’s gun as he approached.
Iggy scouted the ceiling for any sign that would point them in the direction of acquiring a map faster. Eric set his gun down on the counter and vaulted over.
“Showoff,” Iggy said, stepping through the employee entrance.
Eric grabbed his gun and began to look through the papers on the desk. There were some about safe-house locations that had been compromised, military installations that had been wiped out, guests in room 47 that were having sex too loudly and a band in the roof-top suite that had taken a penchant to throwing hotel property from the roof. Nothing useful. Eric stepped away from the counter, and Iggy approached shining his light. He closed his eyes and opened a drawer, pulling out a single sheet of paper.
“MEMO: To the information staff. Subject: New Map Shipment. We have to get these new maps distributed, and to the best of my knowledge, they’re still setting in a box in the back room. Could anyone care to explain why they haven’t been put in the tourist information stand yet? These maps need to be distributed today or else heads will roll.”
“Eric, I found something,” Iggy said, crumpling the memo and tossing it over the counter.
“Guys, there’s nothing here,” Gopher called from the kiosk. Eric turned his light to Gopher, who was standing the center. Eric saw a Creep climb up behind him.
“Gopher, behind you!”
Gopher swung around, bringing the tire iron across the creatures head. It fell the ground.
“Nice shot, Gopher,” Iggy said, coming out from behind the counter, catching a splinter in his finger. “Ow, Dammit.”
“I meant to do that, too,” Gopher beamed.
“Alright, according to this memo Iggy dug up, they should have some maps in the back room. Where the back room is, I have no idea. I think we should split up.”
Iggy and Gopher began to protest when Eric cut them off.
“Just kidding. Alright, let’s think about this logically. Down that hall,” he shined his light above the door on the placard, “are the elevators and stairs. Down that hall,” he turned his light behind him, “Is the gift shop. There’s a door at the end of the gift-shop hall, which I can only assume is the storage area? So, let’s get cracking.”
They made their way down the carpeted hallway, past the glass wall that separated them from the gift shop. Iggy stared through the glass, watching Creeps dance around, throwing books into the air.
“Just keep it quiet, guys. We got company on the other side of this wall.”
Eric nodded, reaching the door. The sign next to it claimed Eric was correct.
He tried the door, but no dice. Gopher stepped forward, and tried pulling the handle down harder. He only succeeded in breaking the handle off at the turn, leaving part of the knob.
Eric watched the things in the gift-shop climb to the top of a shelf, and three of them begin to push it down. He trained his shotgun on the door, and when the shelf hit the ground, he fired a shell into the handle.
The shelf hit the ground, and the Creeps jumped and began to laugh. One of them looked out the glass wall and saw the door to the back shutting. It thought nothing of it and began to rip the head off of a teddy bear, throwing the fluff into the air.
The room was dank and carried an air of wetness. There had been an AC leak in there a few days prior, and when the power shut down, the water fell out of the unit in torrents, soaking many of the card board boxes.
“Alright, guys. Start opening shit up. We’re bound to get a map sooner or later.”
It was later rather than sooner. There was much in the way of assorted crap in these boxes, mainly hotel amenities. One box had been filled with soft-core porn, ambiguously titled. More items for the gift shop, including a box of Scuba-Knives, which Gopher helped himself to. Iggy took one to get the splinter out of his finger when they had light. Eric continued to tear the room apart.
“Well, this sucks,” he said in defeat, sitting down. “Anything you can do, Iggy? You getting a feeling about where the maps are?”
Iggy closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts. He couldn’t with the splinter in his finger, but he could see something in the corner of his mind.
“Oh, yeah. You’re sitting on them.”
Eric stood and turned around quickly, pointing his light at the box. The top was clearly labeled “POINT PLEASANT MAPS”. Eric opened it with one of Gophers knives, and grabbed four maps.
The Creeps had grown disinterested with the gift shop. They had taken back to the hallway when one noticed the handle to the door of the room they couldn’t get in was missing. He hissed to his contemporaries and motioned at the door. They walked up, one of them pushing the door open.
“Iggy, get down!”
Iggy ducked as Eric fired at shot at the door, knocking it back shut.
“Gopher, start moving shit in front of the door. Iggy, let’s hold it shut.”
They pressed themselves against the door as Gopher began to slide boxes of books across the floor. Several books fell out as he slid it into position, and he hastily kicked them away as he slid another box. He lifted this one over and on top of the initial box, and went back to get another.
Iggy and Eric stopped holding the door and began to move boxes of lighter material with him. Iggy picked up one of the books, as the last box slid into place.
“Alright, we’re safe in here,” Eric said breathlessly. “Now, we just wait until they lose interest. Or we could go out and fight. You guys, it’s your call.”
“I got a better idea,” Iggy said. “Let’s go out of that fire door, right over there.”
“We need to vote on the motion,” Gopher said.
“Shut up, Gopher,” Eric said walking to the escape. He slowly pushed it open and daylight poured into the room. A Creep stood squarely in the doorframe and Eric promptly shot it in the face.
The group made their way back from the alley and to the car, which was idling. Fichter had his window rolled down and was leaning out, swinging his arm back and forth with his gun.
“Fichter, what are you doing?”
“Keeping… The area secured?”
The three climbed back into the car and handed the stack of maps to Fichter.
“One would have sufficed, you know.”
“So would a ‘thanks’,” Iggy said.
“We were going the wrong way,” he indicated to the map. “It’s a couple miles back thattaway.”
Fichter threw the car into reverse and took off down the alley, backwards. He ran over the corpse of the Creep before putting it into first gear and gunning it, taking off out of the alley like a bat out of hell. He took a sharp left and began to drag down the strip.
“Is there any reason you’re going so fast? It’s not like we have a shortage of time, Fichter,” Eric called from the back.
“I hate it when people say that, Eric. Besides, this is our salvation we’re heading to. The sooner we get there, the better.”
It was a matter of a few hundred seconds before the sign for Clark’s Landing came into view. The sign itself was sky blue and was almost camouflaged against the clear sky. Fichter slowed the car, and took a left into the landing. He parked professionally in a handicapped spot before turning the car off.
“Let’s go find a boat, guys.”
They all filed out of the car, Iggy opening his new book, “The Quilt and Other Assorted Tales,” to the jacket, reading about the author. Something caught his eye.
They made their way down the pier to the boat landings. It was barren. There were no boats.
“There are no boats here,” Steven said.
“Yeah, thanks, I hadn’t noticed,” Eric retorted as he walked down one of the docks. He gazed down into the water and noticed the staff of one boat sticking above the surface.
“Correction, Steve-o. There are plenty of boats. Only problem here is, all of em’ are sunk.”
Steve collapsed to the wooden dock, crying. For the first time in the days since their first meeting, Eric watched the incessantly cheerful man cry, making alien noises and beating himself up.
“Good plan, good plan,” he kept whispering to himself.
Iggy stood at the back of the group, reading through the jacket and biting at the splinter before he finally spoke up.
“I have an idea.”
Steve stood up, furious.
“Oh, good. He’s got an idea. Another idea. I’ve got a question! Why do his ideas seem to work out all the time and my one idea, the idea to save us all was shot to shit? WHY?” He pulled his sport coat off angrily and vaulted it into the ocean.
Iggy looked at Eric and then back at Steven.
“It’s strange, and even if I told you… you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try me. Right now, I need some security in the whatever idea you might have actually helping us.” Steven said.
“Alright… Well… I think I’m a psychic.”
Steven stood speechless. Fichter turned around.
“Like, you can see the future?”
Iggy bit at the splinter. “Somewhat. I didn’t know this idea was going to bust, though. It’s odd. I can’t see everything that’s going to happen. But when I was reading this book jacket, the author is from Virginia. I got a good vibe off of that. I think that’s where we’re supposed to be headed. Virginia.”
“Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” Steven said, beginning to calm down.
“Like I said, I can’t see everything. Something usually has to set it off. As much as this is like Final Fantasy, it’s not quite there yet. There has to be a trigger. Like seeing my sister again. I think that did something… Made me more vulnerable, mentally, to seeing things that aren’t quite there. But most of the future is blind to me until I find the trigger. And this book was the trigger. I read in the jacket about the author and something clicked.” He started smiling.
“Alright, guys, let’s get back to the car,” Eric said.
“Come on, foll-“
Iggy’s lower lip began to trimble as it overflowed with blood. His smile had changed very quickly into something else... A remorseful smile. A tear slid down his cheek as his tongue changed from red to silver, the blade exiting his mouth slowly. His legs gave out, and he slid to the deck. The remnants of his faded white t-shirt stained with blood, spilling onto the deck, being absorbed somewhat by his pajama pants. Behind him, a Creep stood, pulling his sword out of his head.
Without thinking, Eric ran at the thing and tackled it, pushing it to the dock. Grasping the shoulder blades, he pulled the thing up before slamming it to the deck. He blindly beat at the creature, breaking its neck with the first blow. He continued to beat its head until nothing was left but a body and a neck that gushed the blood of the Creeps. The body made a splash as Eric furiously threw it into the ocean. He ran over to Iggy’s unmoving body, and began to lightly slap his face.
“Come on, bud… Time to get moving.”
From the far dock, the distinct cackle was heard. Fichter gazed down the pier to the end, where a dozen of the creatures had emerged from a shed. They were quickly making their way down the dock towards them.
“Eric, we have to go now. We have to go NOW!” Fichter cried out, running. He pulled Angela, who was beginning to weep and Steven who was standing speechless. Fichter had to physically pull Eric away from the body, and they began to run. Eric turned around and ran to the dock, picking his gun up, double stepping back to the group. He looked down at Iggy’s body, picking up the book… All he could think was, “I’m sorry. You can blame me. I do.”
They piled into the car, Angela now in the back seat, and set off towards the interstate silently. They were all sorry. They all felt sorry. Eric felt responsible as he opened the book to the first page and began to read.
He buckled his safety belt and silently began to cry.
No one dared to speak as the car moved onto 95 south. Angela sat between Eric and Gopher, contemplating what exactly it was that she just saw. Eric was pretending to read the book, absently turning the page every minute or so. Steven watched the sun break through the trees and tried to think of something happy, something not the death of Iggy.
“It was my fault.” Eric said, finally breaking the silence in the car. “He was with… It was my fault. We shouldn’t… Don’t feel bad. You all didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“And neither did you, Eric,” Angela said, putting her arm around him. “There was nothing any of us could have done, and you know that.”
“No, it’s my fault he was in Jersey. If he had been back in Manhattan, he would have been fine. I know it. I think he knew it too.”
“That’s bullshit, Eric. Stop talking like that.”
“NO! He told me that he never wanted to come to my Copy Shop. He said that. And I can’t help but think that he knew something was wrong… I’ve killed their entire family line… That’s something tough to deal with, you know?” He said looking over at Angela with tears in his eyes.
“It’s alright, Eric. It’s all right. We’ll get through this. All of us will.”
He looked into her eyes and found comfort in her words, smiling for the first time since he left the dock.
Eric managed to fall asleep, his head on Angela’s shoulder. The sun was beginning to fall behind the horizon, Steven now reading the book that Eric had brought into the car. Fichter yawned, tiring out. They would have to stop somewhere for the night or risk him falling asleep at the wheel. While there were no other working cars on the road, falling asleep would still ram them into the guardrail… And Angela was the one not wearing a safety belt.
“Guys, we’re going to pull over somewhere, alright? We have to find a place to stay for the night. I’m going to take this exit, got some hotels. I’m sure they won’t mind if we stay one night, on the house,” he said grinning to the back, his smile cutting through the night.
The Holiday Inn express loomed in the distance, a monolith of safety; somewhat warming in the thought of it being a place to stay that wasn’t a car or outdoors. Eric awoke, grabbed his shotgun, and motioned for everyone in the car to come with him.
The lobby was empty. The standard blood trail graced the linoleum flooring, but there were no sounds coming from the back hallways. The lights were off, but everyone had a flashlight. The lobby wasn’t quite spooky either; perhaps they had been desensitized to the violence that had ensued after the invasion, or perhaps they had just grown more brazen with each passing day.
Fichter stepped behind the counter, grabbing a set of keys for the top floor. Eric stopped him, grabbing the keys for floor three instead.
“Closer to the exit, not too far to jump out of the things decide to pay us a midnight visit. Anyone have a digital watch with an alarm?”
“I got one,” Steven said, on finger extended and pointing to his watch.
“Alright, set it for 6. We’re going to get out of here early. Don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to. Fichter, will you be good to drive at six?”
He yawned and nodded, pulling his hat off.
“Alright, let’s get to our rooms.”
They transversed the hotel lobby to the stairs, drearily climbing up, stopping every time someone stumbled… Quite frequently in the unlit stairwell. The beams of light from their flashlights did almost nothing for illuminating the way up the stairs. At last, they reached floor 3, stepping into the hallway.
Eric expected to be ambushed, to have a Mind Melder come out of nowhere or to have a dozed Creeps charge, but there was nothing. The hallway was empty, silent, but not foreboding. He made his way down the hall, following the room numbers on the doors.
“Alright. Two people to a room. We have enough for that. Angela and Steven to a room, Gopher and Fichter to a room and Iggy and I-“ He stopped. “I’ll be staying with Gopher and Fichter,” he said, frowning. He dropped the extra key he had picked up onto the carpet and moved into the room.
It was a standard room. One would think that in these times of free hotel service and free everything else, they would have picked a larger room or some kind of executive suite. At least, that’s what Fichter was thinking.
“Why didn’t we get a kick ass room? It’s kind of cramped in here.”
“I’m sleeping on the sofa,” Eric said. “Besides, you have to take a series of elevators to the VIP floor. Their fire escape hooks up with the others… Would you really want to go through all the hassle to get up there?”
“Also, the Creeps tend to like things that are nicer. And if they’re going to raze the building, they’re going to start at the top floor and work their way down.”
“I think you just made that up,” Fichter said, smiling.
“Oh yeah? You got a counterpoint to that?”
Fichter didn’t move. He began to laugh, clapping Eric on the back. He crawled into the bed, rolling to face the window.
“Is that really how it works in the hotel? The VIP floors being separate like that?”
“Yes sir,” Eric said.
“Well, how do you know that?”
“I used to work in a hotel.”
“No. Goodnight, Fichter.”
“Goodnight, Eric. Gopher, goodnight.”
Gopher didn’t say anything, already fast asleep on the other side of the bed.
Eric kept seeing it happen, over and over. Watching the blood run from his lower lip to the dock, watching his legs go out from under him. In some of the dreams, he was the one being stabbed… At least in those dreams he felt happy in the thought that he wasn’t responsible for killing of Iggy’s family.
He didn’t want to sleep anymore. The room was quiet, small and smothering. Eric grabbed his gun and turned the light on, walking carefully to the door. He noted Gopher’s pants on the floor and shuddered, feeling very sorry for Fichter.
He swung the door open and almost fired at the person in the hallway.
“Angela, what are you doing out of your room?”
“I couldn’t sleep. Steven started snoring again… He used to do that frequently, but he had surgery. Deviated septum or something… Not quite too sure. But lately, him snoring has just been happening a lot.”
“Well, it’s dangerous out here. You should get back to your room.”
“I should say the same to you.” She said, pushing his shoulder.
“I’ve also got a gun… Makes things slightly more advantageous for me. What are you going to do, sass the monsters to death?”
“What do you think happened to my first husband?”
Eric laughed. It felt good, each breath feeling sweet in the dank hallway.
They stood in the darkness, Eric’s light precariously dangling near his feet, in silence. Angela wanted to say something, not quite sure how to phrase it. Eric could sense that she was about to speak and thusly kept quiet. He stared in the general direction of her eyes, imagining that he was looking into them. The silence continued for a few minutes until Eric finally realized that she was at a loss for words.
“Well, is there anything I can do for you?”
“What? What does that… No. I just wanted to say something.”
“Yeah, I know, Angela. You’ve been trying for about five minutes.”
“Oh, now who is going to kill who with the sass?”
Eric smiled in the darkness.
“Good to see you smiling again, Eric.”
“How could you tell?”
“My eyes adjust to the dark very quickly…”
“Oh. Oh really?”
“Mmm. I know you’ve been looking into my eyes, too.”
“It’s dark. I wasn’t really. I was just looking in your general direction. That’s all. I didn’t want to… There wasn’t….” He sighed. “Alright, guilty as charged.”
She began to laugh. “Can’t be guilty if there’s no law anymore, can you?”
“No, I don’t suppose you can…” He stepped forward, slowly, the light bridging the gap between the two. He pulled her in for a hug, embracing her.
“Thank you for saying what you did in the car, Angela.”
“It’s the truth,” she said, caught slightly off guard by the hug. “Nothing you could have done about it.”
They stood awkwardly for near a minute until Eric pulled away. “I think I need to get some sleep. I think you should too… Just… I’ll see you in the morning?”
She smiled, stepping up and kissing him quickly on the cheek. “In the morning,” she said, turning around and walking back to her room.
Eric stretched back out on the ratty sofa, content. That next dream he had was of Angela, not Iggy. He slept until the morning.
Steven knocked on the door hard enough to jar Eric from his slumber. Gopher and Fichter were still asleep in the bed, Gopher facing the wall. Fichter’s arm was sling over Gopher in a very loving spoons position. Eric laughed out loud.
Another knock on the door stirred Fichter. Eric fell over and pretended to sleep as Fichter realized what he was doing.
“Oh, crap…” Fichter looked around the room. “Thank God no one saw that.”
“Saw what?” Eric said, casting off the façade of slumber.
“Nothing. I dropped my… Pens… On the ground and they… Broke?”
“Your pens broke?”
“Really tragic. Come on, let’s go.”
Gopher slid out of bed, dropping his legs into his pants and pulling them up in one quick motion. Fichter shuddered and made his way to the door where Steven stood, beaming. The muffin Eric had gotten him cut into five sections, each in their own segment of torn wax paper.
“Continental breakfast worthy of the heroes we are,” he said, beaming.
The car started on the first try and slid out of the parking lot. Up in the VIP suite, a group of Creeps danced around, throwing the sating pillows into the air and stabbing them repeatedly. As the car moved further from the hotel, the Creeps began to make their way down the stairs, systematically, floor by floor destroying every room they came into.
Fichter reached down to turn the radio on, scanning the stations, hopeful that music would come pouring in. None did; nothing but static across the airwaves. He was hoping for maybe a click or some other recognition that there were more people out there other than the hunch of a half psychic, all dead teen. There was none. Good enough, for everyone was getting tired of bouncing around from radio station to radio station.
Fichter had begun to daydream about ice cream and movies. He didn’t notice the four people making their way slowly across the street. By the time he had fully regained composure, he had barely enough time to slam on the brakes. He stopped a mere inch in front of the first man, who did not falter. The man had been standing in front of the car with his hand outstretched, calling something. Fichter swung his door open and caught the tail end of it.
“SHALL NOT PAAAASSSSS!”
Angela was rubbing her sore shoulder as Eric stepped out of the car.
“What are the odds of finding four survivors in the middle of nowhere?” He asked back into the car. No one had an answer. He leaned down and grabbed his shotgun, winking at Angela. She rolled her eyes and he shut the door.
Fichter was already trying to talk to them, to no avail. He turned to Eric. “Alright, you try and reach em’. I can’t. I’m going back into the car.”
The men were dressed strangely, and after scrutiny, Eric realized that they were no men. Boys Iggy’s age, yes… Not quite men yet. Two of the four had donned capes, looking cheap in quality as if found in a discount costume shop. One of them was wearing armor, stage armor from the looks of it. The third was in a bright purple robe. He still had his hand outstretched to the car, preparing to yell again.
“YOU SHALL NOT PASSSS!”
Eric sighed. “Alright, Gandalf. That’s quite enough of that.”
The young man turned to him. “How did thoust knoweth my name?”
“It’s from the… You’re kidding, right?”
“A wizard is never late nor early; he arrives precisely when he means to.”
“That doesn’t answer the question.”
“No, Gandalf does not kid.”
“Alright… Gandalf, who else are you traveling with?”
The man in the purple robe motioned to the rest of the group. He pointed to the two wearing the gaudy capes. “These are the Strife twins; born under the blood red moon and unto this earth to cast spells. Igdo Strife casts spells of primary offense, and Agdo Strife only casts status afflicting spells.”
“Oh. That… makes sense,” Eric said, growing angry. He hated Final Fantasy… And this was just pissing him off.
“What about that guy? The one in the armor?”
The twins clicked their heels and moved their arms in a wide circle, before parting. The man in armor stepped through ceremoniously before collapsing to his knees.
“That is Varia the brave. He conquers all with his mighty sword, which has been anointed with a plus seventeen against groundling monsters. He is mighty! He is adventure incarnate! For he is our Lord Protec-“
“Gene, stop. I don’t want to anymore.”
Gandalf dropped his arms. “What was that? Did you just call me Gene?”
“Yes, Gene. Stop. I can’t wear this armor anymore. It’s suffocating me and it doesn’t even help against them. Just help me take if off.”
Gene the Gandalf began to wave his staff around in the air, chanting in a language the Eric could only assume was Elvish. The twins moved behind Varia the Brave and started to remove his armor. Gene the Gandalf said his final magic words, eyes closed, and the armor dropped to the ground.
“You cannot stand the might of Gandalf’s Magic!”
“Shut up, Gene. Taylor and Jamie helped me take it off. Could you stop being a moron for ten minutes?”
Gene the Gandalf turned back into Gene from Kentucky and frowned.
“My name isn’t really Varia. It’s Michael Gettings. These two over here are Jamie and Taylor, but they won’t give me their last name. And that MORON behind you is Gene Torvald.”
“Oh. It’s a pleasure. My name is Eric,” he said, extending his hand. “Are you sick or something? You don’t seem like you were going 100 there.”
“No, one of the things bit me. It was a little different from all the other one’s I’ve seen. It didn’t chase us or anything. I thought it was docile, and it reached out and bit my hand. I think it got me sick. It didn’t even look like the other ones.”
“Oh… Shit,” Eric said.
“We are just venturing to the next town to upgrade our weapons and armor! For when we find a potion shop, we shall purchase an antidote and cure our fried of whatever poison is plaguing him!” Gene turned Gandalf said sharply from behind them.
“No, I know what you have. There’s no cure for it… Not even in the next town over,” he glanced back at Gandalf the Gene.
“What are you talking about?” Michael said, gripping Eric. Eric couldn’t help but look into his eyes and see the white begin to overtake the pupils.
“Zombies. You got bitten by a zombie Creep.”
“Oh… What does that mean?”
“Do the words ‘standard zombie rules apply’ mean anything?”
Michael collapsed to the ground. “Yes.”
Eric stood over him, watching the twins and Gandalf, looking for any signs of reaction from the grouping. They all had fear in their eyes; clearly they knew what those words meant as well.
Eric looked down at the ground to Michael. “Sorry,” he said, pulling his shotgun up to his shoulder.
“Wait, don’t shoo-“
Angela, Fichter, Gopher and Steven all turned in the direction of the gunshot. They saw Eric standing with his weapon pointed at the ground, a frown on his face.
“Can’t he go for twenty minutes without shooting something!” Fichter cried as he stepped out of the car.
“Fichter, watch your step. Michael’s all over the road.”
Fichter gagged and Eric turned to the group.
“There is no cure. Get that in your brains: There is no cure. Don’t let anything bite you. Don’t let anything touch you. And for the love of God, get some guns. You’re not going to last much longer if you don’t start showing some common sense. Especially now, because,” he motioned to the ground, “Your muscle is currently out of the picture.”
“We have magic and Mana on our side,” Gene Gandalf called out.
“You have bullshit on your side. You can ride with us if you want to, but it’ll be cramped. We’re heading to Virginia. You all up for it?”
“We shall not set foot inside of that iron gas powered beast! The illusion would be shattered! No, hark, we shall continue on to the next township and buy and meet women and drink ale! Huzzah!”
“Huzzah! Huzzah!” The twins cried out.
Gandalf looked at the ground. “Don’t worry, Varia the Brave! We shall be back with a phoenix down! And you shall be with us again!”
“This isn’t some role playing game! You all need to cut that out!”
“Castum deltrio MUTE!” Gandalf screamed at Eric. He motioned for the twins to follow them. They obediently began to move, marching with Gandalf over the guardrail and into the woods.
“Well… Let’s go,” Eric said to Fichter.
“Did you have to shoot him, Eric?”
“He was bitten,” Eric responded, climbing into the car. “There is no cure for that. I would rather him be gone than have him come back to haunt anyone. No one should have to live like that.”
The car doors slammed and the engine turned. The car lurched forward and into the left lane, avoiding the body that lay strewn across the street. The armor glinted in the rising sun as the car disappeared beyond the bend.
Gandalf would later pass in a bar, drinking month old ‘ale’ with the twins. The Creeps would set fire to the building, and Gandalf’s “Ice 2” spell would fail him for the last time.
Stranger things have happened. They all watched Fichter work at the gas pump, no one quite understanding exactly what he was doing. He cut a slit in the hose, worked it around a bit, and then started into a series of actions that made little to no sense.
It worked, though. Within ten minutes, there was gas flowing out of the hose and into the tank of the car, out the handle. A liberal spritzing of gas into the air through the cracked hose, the majority going into the tank. It tool several minutes to fill, all the while Eric stood, aiming his shotgun every which way. Gopher was leaned against the car, bored.
“I wish I had a slide puzzle…”
Angela was standing, her back to the driver side door. Her faint blue sweater fluttered around her shoulders. Eric kept cautiously looking back at her, pretending that he was just checking the rear. Well, in a manner he was, just not in the protective protector manner.
“All fueled up. Everyone into the car.”
“Wait, Fichter. Let’s fill up a gas can in case we don’t hit another station in Virginia.”
He nodded, walking over to the window display, taking a bright red can down and bringing it back to the pump.
“Does anyone know where exactly we’re supposed to be heading in Virginia? I mean, Iggy was kind of vague,” Steven said listlessly looking into the store.
“What? No. We’ll know when we get there,” Eric said. “I hope,” he whispered under his breath, walking into the store. He emerged minutes later, having killed nothing with a box under his arm. He handed it over to Fichter.
“A CD player? Don’t we have to install those?”
“Nope. Hooks up through the tape deck.”
Fichter started to car, sliding the tape into the receptacle and putting in “Queens Greatest Hits Volume.” A loud clicking came on over the speakers, but that was all.
“What’s wrong with this, Eric?”
Eric said nothing, walking back into the store. Seconds later he emerged, having killed nothing, with a coffee tin full of pens in one hand. He took several of the ballpoint contraptions and shoved them into the tape deck, on top of the tape. The sweet sounds of Queen began to pour out of the speakers.
“Yeah, she’s a killer queen. Dynamite with a laser beam. Guaranteed to…”
“Blow your mind,” Steven finished. “Love Queen.”
Soon, the group was back on the road, a beeline to Virginia. The car hummed and purred, soothing sounds of the hip rock group sounding to the landscape, windows down. The signs began to read, “Richmond 200” soon enough, signifying they were somewhere in Washington DC.
“We could always stop and check on the President,” Gopher said. “Ask him some questions. Why we got no foreign aid, how we got wiped out so fast. I’m itching to know.”
“No,” Fichter said. “It seems like we stop in every state for some hackneyed reason. Let’s just keep going.” And so they did, not stopping for anything in DC. The roads became more congested as they reached Virginia, the son once again disappearing.
“Alright, let’s stop at a hotel. We’re going to stay the night, figure out we’re where we’re going to go in the morning. Plan okay with everyone?” Eric asked.
A general consensus was reached as Fichter pulled off of the interstate into the parking lot of the “Best Western”. A motel rather than a hotel, all of the rooms outward facing a community deck, leading to a set of stairs. They had decided sleeping on the top floor would be best; more scenic, able to spot anything if it was approaching. The grouping were per usual; Fichter, Gopher and Eric to a room, Steven and Angela to a more marital suite.
The dead of night a knock came to Eric’s door. He was, of course, awake, his flashlight shotgun prepared to shoot anything that posed a significant threat. He opened the door, to find Angela. He wasn’t quite surprised.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah, well, join the club. Want to come in? You’ll have to be quiet. Fichter is spooning Gopher again.”
“Oh. Well, maybe we could go somewhere a little more private?”
Eric stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind him. He reached into his back pocket and removed a key to a room on the first floor. “I keep thinking that Iggy and I are going to get a room.”
Angela frowned. She took him by the hand, and he followed slowly down the stairs to the deck. They walked down under the protection of the stone floor turned ceiling to the end of the hall, to the empty room. The key slid into the lock, the door swung open. Eric checked the room for anything dangerous, finding nothing. He sat down on the bed. Angela sat next to him.
“Is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?” He asked.
She slowly brought her lips to his, sending electric waves over his body. They pulled apart, smiling.
“Well, I could talk like this for hours,” he beamed. His shotgun dropped to the floor, the light pointing at the television, reflecting the two lost souls entwined for an instant before the light blinked out.
The sun peaked through the window, across the empty bed. The sheets were ruffled, the pillows in disarray, the comforter thrown to the floor in great haste. The door was open a crack, but not much.
Eric awoke to the sound of Gopher snoring. He smiled, thinking to himself. Had it been a pleasant dream? He stepped out onto the deck, turning to look in the direction of Angela’s room. She too was on the deck, her hair a mess for the first time since he had met her.
“Good morning,” he said, waving.
She smiled and nodded, retreating into her room.
Nope. Not a dream.
They stood in the lobby, watching the door. Eric finally walked in slowly, shotgun in hand. “Sorry, I misplaced it… Didn’t want to go on without it.”
“So, big guy, game plan?” Steven asked.
“Simple. I gave it a lot of thought last night…”
“My cousin worked in Fort Eustis for a while. They have weapons there. We could stock up,” Angela said, resting her head on Eric’s chest.
“We’re going to head to Fort Eustis. See if we can’t stock up on weapons. Maybe hold up there for a while.”
“Oh, good! Angela’s cousin worked there,” Steven said, smiling.
“He does? I forgot… Must have slipped my mind,” Angela said uncomfortably.
“Good plan, cowboy. Let’s head out!” Steven clapped Eric on the back, stepping out the front door and into the bitter October morning.
“Where exactly is Fort Eustis,” Fichter asked.
“In the Hamptons. There should some signs,” Eric responded, following Steven out the door.
It was a half days trip before they reached the Hamptons, spending several more hours driving around trying to locate the Military Transport Base. Eventually, Angela began to recognize some of the more important landmarks and soon they were on the proper trajectory to weapons.
“Some things you should know about Eustis… They train soldiers, but it’s a virtual city. They have everything; a shopping mall, movie theatres, libraries… Self-sustaining. But what we’re after is weapons,” Angela said. “They should be in the arms barracks. We just grab some heavy automatic weapons, bum around the firing range, figure out how to work them… Simple. I figure we could stay there for a few days if the need calls for it, too.”
Eric froze. “Yeah… We could do that. That’s a plan.” A plan not by me, he thought to himself.
Fichter’s red station wagon burst through the gates, breaking the chain and the lock that had so futilely tried to keep the monsters out. He drove up the main driveway, across some fields, into the heart of the base; the barracks.
Eric took point, shotgun ready at his shoulder as they began to inspect the living quarters. All of the beds were made up neatly in proper military form, boots shining at the foot of each bed. No one. They stepped out of the back of Barracks A-1 into an opening. On the other side, more barracks. A lot more, extending in either direction for a good four hundred yards.
“We’re not going to go into all of them. We just need to find the weapons, find the mall and secure a location. So… Let’s head this-a-way,” he said, swinging his gun to the right. They made their way up the maze of barracks to a series of buildings just outside of another chain-link fence.
“Arms,” the plaque outside two of the buildings read. Eric tried to turn the light on his gun on, but it was dead. They entered the first building in darkness. Angela turned a light on in the back of the group, running it over the weapons racks. They were bare, save for bolts and slider pieces that littered the ground. They continued to the back, checking each shelf, to no avail.
“One building left,” Eric said, as they stepped out.
They entered the second munitions storage facility and were shocked to find it almost identical to the first. In the back sat one assault rifle missing the barrel without a clip.
“Well… We could swing that at em’ if it came down to it,” he said, turning around. Fichter laughed. No one else did.
“I thought it was funny…”
“Wait! Look at the ground. Look at all these pieces. Almost exactly the same as the other room. What are the odds of running into these pieces laid out like this? It’s not chaotic at all. Orderly…” Steven said.
“Coincidental,” Eric argued.
They stepped out, Gopher carrying his new club.
“Well… Let’s get to the mall,” Angela said.
“Can’t see the forest through the trees, can you, Angela? There’s more inside this fence. Look, it used to be electric, too. What are the odds, I wonder? And what could be back here?” Eric questioned. He shot the padlock off of the fence, throwing Gopher’s new toy at the gate, forcing it open.
Smaller buildings, most likely for the higher ups. They didn’t expect to find weapons, and they didn’t; all the buildings were summarily tidy and deserted.
“Well… A whole lot of good this did us,” Steven said angrily. “Where’s that kid when you need him? Had to go and get himself killed like that…”
No one saw Eric move, but they all heard the blow land against Steven’s jaw. He reeled backwards, losing his footing, stumbling behind one of the buildings. They heard him fall, and then fall again, and then fall again. Eric stood unmoving, shocked at his own actions.
Angela shot him a look of deep betrayal as she rushed behind the building to find her husband. He was lying at the bottom of a set of concrete stairs, a light still on in the overhang. He was rising to his feet as Angela approached him.
“I deserved it. I had no right to say that,” he said, wiping the dirt from his pants.
“Steven, look at this. You guys! Come look at this!”
The stairs led down into a dimly lit hallway, at the end a heavy steel door. Scald marks graced the door; deep cut marks, but once again, a method to the disarray. Angela tried the door; it didn’t open. Eric tried knocking.
There was a loud click as the lock disengaged, the door swinging open. It creaked loudly, cutting through the dusk. Inside the door was another hallway, lined with shelves. At the end was a round room filled with canned food, a generator sitting in the middle. At the north end of the round room stood another steel door.
They knocked on this one. As soon as they did, the door out swung shut quickly, the lock engaging once again.
“That lock… I’ve got a feeling… It’s electric,” Eric said. “Boogie-woogie-woogie.”
The door in the round room swung open, revealing another room. A chalkboard stood in the back, a functioning computer printing readouts. On the left wall, a series of automatic weapons placed on a makeshift peg-board. In the back, a cage sat, holding a Creep captive. It hissed as the group entered. The door shut behind them.
From behind the chalkboard, a man walked. He was pale, in a tattered white lab coat, ID tag scratched and illegible. His glasses were broken, one lens cracked, the other missing, the frames bent and sitting sideways across his face.
“Ah, you figured the code out, did you? I had to disassemble so many rifles to get enough slide bolts to cover the parts of the floor. It’s a good thing, too. Only the smartest should be down here,” he started, walking over to the computer. A few keystrokes and the monitor changed briefly to an adult film before shutting down.
“I’m sorry,” Eric started. “What?”
“The code, the secret knock, you figured it out. Kudos.”
“It wasn’t much of a secret knock, though… It was ‘knock knock’…”
“WHO’S THERE?! Ha, I crack myself up,” the main in the coat said, taking a seat.
Gopher and Angela shifted uncomfortably. The man in the coat turned around to his desk, pushing a big red button. Nothing happened. He wheeled back around.
“What can I do you all for, though, getting down to it?”
“Well, your name would be nice,” Eric said.
“Oh, of course. I’m Danny Fife, it’s a pleasure to meet you all.” He extended his hand, but no one took it. His fingernails were long and yellow, bite marks covering them.
“I’m Eric. This is Steven, Fichter, Gopher,” he paused, smiling, “And this is Angela.”
“Oh, lord, it’s been forever since I’ve seen a woman. Can I take her for a spin? Just kidding!”
“Right. We came to Eustis to find weapons… You seem to have quite a few. Could we possibly have a few? We’re looking to hide out in the base for a while.”
“You can use them, but you can’t take them from this bunker, no no. You can stay with me as long as you’d like, though. I’ve got food, a computer, and my very own Creep! He’s quite the interesting fellow, too.”
“Okay…” Eric turned to the group, ushering them into the other room. “It’s up to you all. We can stay here or we can bolt; I have no particulars either way.”
“We could use the rest. It seems safe,” Fichter said.
“Not to mention secure,” Steven added.
“And not prone to attack,” Angela said, rounding out the list.
“And no one is going to attack it,” Gopher finished.
“Alright… Seems like we’re staying?”
One by one, they nodded.
“Just… Not in the same room as him,” Angela added.
Eric walked back into the room where Danny was sitting, rebooting the computer.
“I have to reboot it every so often. Such power readings, can’t be helped. Don’t want this thing to overheat, do I… No. That’d be bad. Worse.”
“We’re going to stay with you for a little while, Danny. A few days at the least, until we can get on our feet again, figure out where to go next.”
“Good, good. Haven’t had guests in forever,” he wheeled around to face Eric. “Make yourself at home. Everything in the pantry is up for grabs… Except the peaches. Those are mine. Can’t have those, no no.”
Eric nodded and stepped out of the room, pulling the door as the walked.
“WAIT! DON’T SHUT THE DOOR!”
Eric stepped back inside.
“Because I want to make sure you don’t eat my peaches,” he said, smiling. His teeth were gangly, dangling in his mouth, his gum line receding. There was an audible beep on the computer prompting Danny to spin around.
“Oh my, oh my… Would you look at this?”
Eric leaned over the computer, reading the screen. He couldn’t put together what exactly it meant.
“Do you know what his means?” Danny asked.
Eric shook his head.
“Look at this. Power spike readings from another base in Arizona. That’s… I know what that is. I’ve seen a spike like that before. I know exactly what that is.”
“What is it?”
“What is it Chief of Science Danny Fife?”
Eric sighed. “What is it, Chief of Science Danny Fife?”
He smiled his toothy grin. “A gateway.”
“A gateway… How they’re getting here.”
“What? The gateway?”
“Mhm, yes… I should have some more information tomorrow,” he said, turning back to the computer. “This is a good day. I didn’t think I would find it so fast… Oh, a good day. Such a good day. Tell everyone they can have a can of peaches, because if my calculations are correct… Then I might soon be able to go get my own… Very soon… Even at night, going out again.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We might be able to stop them, you see. Stop them from coming in… Stop them.” Danny Fife stood up excitedly, smiling, and promptly passing out.
Eric was enjoying a delicious can of peaches, sitting on the floor in a circle with Angela, Fichter and Gopher when Danny walked out of the back room, Steven behind him.
“You were right, Eric. Slapping them does wake them up… When money gets valuable again, I’ll pay up.”
“What! Are you eating my PEACHES?!”
Eric nodded, drinking the sweet nectar water out of the can. “Yeah, you said we could. You said something about it being a good day, then you went crazy and passed out.”
Danny took a step back. “Good day? Why did I say it was a good day? You all are eating my peaches!”
“Something about a gate… That’s all you said.”
“Avast!” He ran back into the other room, slamming the door behind him.
Angela turned to Eric, smiling. “You said he went crazy then passed out? Since when has he been sane? We’ve been in here for a while… No signs of sanity.”
Steven nodded in agreement. “It’s true. After he came too, he asked me to slap him again. I believe his exact words were, ‘See what happens if you hit me again, sucka-bitch. Please hit me?’ more or less.”
Eric spit out peach juice as he laughed, all over Gopher. Gopher retaliated by spitting peach juice on Eric, who in a quick turn slapped Gopher.
“See what happens if you hit me again, sucka-bitch,” Gopher said, smiling. He popped another peach into his mouth.
The heavy door in the back swung open once again. Out walked Danny with a trail of paper extending from his hand to the printer he had rigged under the table. It was still working, churning out pages as quickly as it could. The paper was perforated, the chain long, the man holding it of questionable sanity.
“The Gate! I’ve found The Gate!”
Eric sighed. “Déjà vu. Right, but what does it do?”
Danny squatted down in front of Eric. The printer made a funny beep signifying that it had finished the strenuous task of printing out insane energy readings. Danny opened his mouth to say something, but instead took Eric’s can of peaches. He swilled the rest of the water in his mouth, swallowing.
“It lets them into our world. Isn’t that amazing? Our gate technology is so far behind… But theirs… They got into our world. I’d like to shake their leaders hand… Or claw. Whatever their leader would have.”
“They have a leader?”
“No, of course not. They just run around doing things out of their own free will. Follow me, girl and boy who’s peach I just ate. Into the back room.”
Angela and Eric followed. Danny slammed the door behind him.
“Look at this thing in the cage. Notice anything about it?”
The Creep was slumped in the corner, passed out. When the door slammed, it jumped to its feet and fell over, propping itself up on one elbow.
“Is it dying?” Eric asked.
“Exactly. They have to cause destruction like they do. If their heart doesn’t get enough adrenaline, pfft, they die just like that. I don’t think they would have been able to sustain themselves for very long unless there was something there to keep giving them things to do. Odd, isn’t it? I don’t think they have the mind mass to keep creating things to satiate their own needs. Something is leading them.” For once since they met him, Danny was making sense.
“Alright,” Eric said, “What does this have to do with a gate?”
“Oh, right. Excuse me for getting so sidetracked. It’s simple, as I said earlier. It’s how they’re getting to Earth. They’re coming from their home world through this Gate, into our word, tentatively titled… Earth. But the massive power surges… They’re sending more through every day. I mean, look at this spike.”
The spike on the paper was impressive. Even more impressive as Danny let the paper drop to the floor, revealing how tall the spike was exactly.
“So what does this mean? They’re using the Gate more? I thought the damage was already done.”
“Not quite,” Danny said. “They’re moving something big in, piece by piece. I don’t know what it is, I don’t care to. Probably has something to do with making this place more hospitable for the creatures. Maybe they’re bringing the palace in for the leader… It’s really a tossup. But it’d have to be big to cause all of these power surges like this. The gate would have to be very big indeed…”
“Do you know what the Gate-“
“The St. Louis Arch. That’s big enough, man-made, simple enough. Easy to use as an entry Gate. That’s how they’re getting in, through the St. Louis Arch.”
Angela began to speak. “So, the Gate is in St. Louis?”
“No. It’s in the Arizona desert… That’s where these power spikes are coming from. They had to make their entry into this world a little more discreet than to just come ramparting in through a busy city like that.”
Eric was confused. “How did the St. Louis Arch get to the middle of the Arizona Desert?”
“I don’t have to answer that,” Danny said, smiling. “Science. Now, let me get to the thick of it, why don’t I? If someone were to, say, take these satchel charges I have and plant them at the base of the Arch on either support, it would blow the Gate. Most likely close it too. Stop them in their tracks. They’d be a snake without a head, as it were.”
Angela turned and walked out of the room. Eric stood for a second, watching Danny. In his eyes, Eric saw the truth. He wasn’t trying to pony them off. Eric stepped out of the room and Danny collapsed into his chair. The Creep in the cage began to snicker.
“Oh, shut up. All I have to do is be boring and it’d kill you.”
The Creep stood up and danced up in down in the cage, prompting Danny to stand up, prepare to throw the stack of papers at it, and pass out again.
Meanwhile, Eric was trying to explain the situation to Steven, Gopher and Fichter.
“No, it’s in the middle of the desert. Before anyone asks, I don’t know. His answer was ‘science’, but he’s crazy, so it’s really anyone’s guess. He also said if we took it out, it would stop the things from coming in. Wouldn’t do much, considering most of the damage is already done… But it’d level the playing field a little bit. Make things a bit easier on us, not having to worry about more things coming in.”
Steven interjected. “But I wasn’t worried about more things coming in. I was worried about staying alive, and now that we have this bunker… We can do that now. It’d be easy to just stay down here till I die. And then I wouldn’t have to worry about anything else anymore.”
Gopher stood up. “Since when has this been about being easy? We could just sit down here and rot, and not worry about anyone else that may be out there, but that’d just be… That’d be giving up. And I’m not about that. I want to go, and I want to help the world be a better place.”
Fichter spoke up. “Steven is making a lot of sense. I mean, it’s always been about surviving, and with that computer we might be able to find more people, right?”
“Fichter, it sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself to stay,” Angela said. “I’m with Gopher and Eric. I want to take that thing out. Change things around here… Maybe put them on edge.”
“Well… If you’re going all the way out to Arizona, you’re going to need a driver, I suppose,” Fichter said, flipping his hat back on his head.
“So it’s settled. Eric, Gopher, Fichter and I will head west. Steven will stay underground and count the seconds until he dies,” Angela said bitterly.
No one moved. Steven’s face grew red, turning away from the group. He walked to a shadow. “Alright. But if I go, I’m getting shotgun. And if I go, Angela isn’t.”
“Bullshit,” she said.
“Hear me out. You’re my wife. I don’t want anything to happen to you… This sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? I don’t want to put you in harms way more than I already have,” he shot a look at Eric, “and I don’t like the thought of you dying very much. So I want you to stay here. Plus, it’d prove less of a distraction for me,” he added, winking.
“I agree with him on this,” Eric began. “Four people is more than enough, and now that we have the extra strength, bringing you along would just be unnecessary and dangerous… To all of us.”
It was her turn to blush. “Alright. I’ll stay here. I don’t want you all to have to worry about me being able to hold my own out there with the big boys.”
“I never said that,” Eric said.
“Neither did I,” Steven backed him up. “It would just be… I love you. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Eric held his tongue.
“Alright… I understand… I’ll stay,” she said, finally giving in to the reason of the situation.
“I’m going to tell Danny to give us the charges and some guns, and we’re going to head out. Everyone good with that?”
Gopher nodded. Fichter jingled his keys and Steven gave him the thumbs up. Eric stepped into the back room, briefly, before requesting Gopher to join him.
“These guns are heavy. You take some out to Fichter and Steven. I’m going to wake Danny up and find out where the charges are.”
Gopher grabbed some guns off of the pegboard, accustomed to the weight. He slid clips into his pockets, heading out the door.
“Holy mackeral! That’s a big gun!” Eric heard someone exclaim from the other room. He leaned down over Danny and began to slap him.
“See that happens if you try and hit me again, sucka-bitch,” he said tiredly.
“Shut up. I need directions and explosives.”
Danny nodded and slid the black board over, revealing another door. It swung open and he pulled a chain, turning the light in the room on. The back wall was covered with satchel charges and remotes, the wall to the left with grenades, and the wall on the right stocked with syringes bearing the biohazard symbol on them.
“Danny, what are these needles?”
“Oh, a virus. Does nasty things. Don’t want to touch it. Turns you into something you’re not.”
“How do you mean?”
“Makes you get all bitey. Attack other people. Infect other people. That kind of thing.”
“Turns you into a… Zombie?”
“Don’t like that word, but yes.”
“You know they have some of this stuff and they used it, correct?”
Danny nodded. “But this bunker is the last remaining storehouse of the antidote.”
Eric’s face turned white. “Antidote?”
“We don’t make viruses without making cures. That’s just stupid.”
“But… But, making a virus like that is just stupid, too.”
“No it’s not. We send in one infected to a hostile military installing, it spreads. We quarantine, cure and jail. Not stupid at all. It would lower fatalities exponentially, if we had ever gotten to put it to practical use. There were the naysayers, of course. ‘What if one of the infected got out?’ And all that jazz. I don’t suppose that matters now, does it.”
Eric felt sick to his stomach.
“Why does that matter so much to you, boy?”
“Oh… No matter… Just get me the explosives.”
The pressure weighed down on Eric’s mind like an anvil. He had killed an innocent person on the road, someone that could have possibly been cured.
“There is no cure!” He remembered those words spilling out of his mouth. He remembered shooting him in the head. Gina’s face crossed his mind, briefly. He tensed, as her teeth got closer to him. Iggy firing the gun. Thank God he wasn’t alive to hear this.
Eric was, however. A thunderbolt of pain ran across his head. Danny tossed the satchels at Eric, who was unprepared. The bounced off of his chest and onto the ground harmlessly.
“Isn’t it a bit suicidal to be throwing the explosives around like that?”
Danny laughed. “No. They’re harmless without the remote. I mean, unless you shot them. But I didn’t think you were going to shoot them. Your gun is in the other room. Would you have shot them?”
“I don’t think so…”
“Alright, good. Now get the hell out of my office. Let me run off where exactly the Gate is.”
The printer sputtered to life again, throwing out a page with only one fragment of a sentence gracing it. “Cactus National Park.”
“That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. You’ll have to find the actual Gate on your own, and the park. But it’s outside of Pheonix. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.”
“How do you find anything on the road, Eric?”
“Well, we’ve usually just followed the signs.”
Eric nodded. “I’ll see you after we blow that thing up… Or, you know, I could get killed. I’ll be around.” He stepped out the door and into the pantry area. Fichter was the only one left in the room. Fichter was playing with the sub-machine gun, releasing the clip and sliding it back in, pulling back the slide and loading a round.
“What are you doing with that?”
“Practicing loading the gun. Your boy Gopher got enough ammo to start another World War.”
“You realize that every time you cock the gun, it ejects a shell?”
Fichter nodded. “I was going to practice loading clips, next.”
“Where is everyone, Fichter?”
“Well, Angela took off. She grabbed your shotgun, said something about not stopping her, and ran out. Gopher and Steven followed her. I decided someone needed to tell you and not follow. They’re not going to get far, either. I’ve got the keys to my car, and they don’t know how to drive it in any case.”
“Well, shit. Let’s get out of here and try and find everyone else.”
Fichter nodded and followed Eric out of the bunker.
Night had fallen, but the bunker had shown no indications of the passage of time. The base looked different in the moonlight, more ethereal and less utilitarian. Eric saw the plume of fire spit out of the gun in the distance first before he heard the shot. He ran in that direction, yelling not to shoot them.
It was Gopher, firing an assault rifle at one of the things. The gun had kicked him in the shoulder, improperly rested and bruised his arm very badly. The Creep, however, was dead on the ground. Steven was next to Gopher trying to figure out how to fire his sub-machine gun.
“Where is she?”
Steven looked up from the gun. “Don’t know. I say we get out of here, though. She knows it’s safe in the bunker. She knows the secret knock. She’ll be fine. But we should get a move on. Did you get the location of the Gate?”
“Yeah. Cactus National Park. Sounds like a fun family vacation. Alright… Let’s head to the car.”
The group, armed with heavy guns, made their way past the barracks to the red station wagon. It sat idly in the darkness, a shadow in and of itself. The interior light turned on as Fichter climbed in. Steven sat shotgun, Gopher and Eric in the back seat. In the silence, Eric could only think about Varia the Brave spread out over the interstate. He shook his head. There was no way for him to have known… It wasn’t his fault. He desperately wanted to hear someone else say those words.
Fichter pulled out of the base and onto the main road, listening to a mixed CD of classics from the eighties.
“Guys, I smell something.” Eric said. “It’s familiar… It smells like…”
He felt the gun poke him through the back of the seat. Eric froze. “Smells like nothing. Let’s go.”
Eric casually glanced over his shoulder into the uncovered back section. Angela was pressed against the seat, trying to remain flat. Fichter took a turn hard, forcing Angela to drop her gun. Eric coughed to cover the noise.
He smiled to himself. She always smelled good.
“Alright,” Fichter said, the cars headlights cutting across the darkness of the night, “Has anyone ever been to Arizona before?”
No one said a word.
“So… No one knows how to get there?”
“Well, you’re the driver, Fichter. Shouldn’t you know how to get west? I mean… It’s around two thousand miles to the west. Just jump on an interstate or something.” Eric said.
“Not quite so simple. Has to be the right route, otherwise our trip will take a lot longer.”
“I’ve said it before, Fichter… It’s not like we have a real shortage of time right now. This entire trip is after the fact. They already came, they already saw, they already screwed shit up…”
Steven nodded in agreement. “Just take one of the odd numbered interstates west and if we overshoot it, no harm, no foul. Simple as that.”
Angela leaned up, whispering something into Eric’s ear.
“Fichter, take the next exit you see for I-55 West. That should take us right to Arizona, dear.”
“Did you just call me ‘dear’?”
“No… You’re just going crazy.”
Fichter grunted, turned up the music, and reluctantly pulled onto I-55 West.
There were various things wrong with the trip up to this point; no one in the car had ever had firearms training for anything heavier than a shotgun. Gopher had already hurt himself firing the rifle at the base; Steven didn’t even know how to fire his gun. Everything Eric learned about heavy machine guns he learned from video games or the movies. He knew that it was a bad idea to walk into the lair of a bad guy without first checking to see if the safety was on, he knew the magazine slid in a certain way, but guns like this he had no training for. Not even maintenance.
Fichter was an avid player of computer games, specifically the “real computer simulation games” that had been coming out over the past few years. The slogan on the games had been along the lines of “We’re into realism; clean your gun or it’ll blow up”. Games like “SWAT Force 7” where the AI in the game as so expertly programmed that they would listen for your footfalls and shoot you through a door. Being that he had become very good at this game over a year, he was the most qualified to handle a bigger gun in the car… Which isn’t saying much.
Their second mistake was not using the computer in Danny’s research room to print out more specific directions. This mistake wasn’t as terrible as the other, considering the Arch was visible from some distance away, and placing it in the middle of a national park only narrowed the search to a place somewhat more specific than it had been. Danny had been banking on someone going with them having been to the park before, which is why he didn’t offer greater assistance in finding the park… It was a nice, unforgettable place.
Danny was simply sitting back in his bunker, having heard the argument between Steven, Eric and Angela, waiting for her to come back. He had struck up a conversation with the caged Creep, in the meantime, while the Creep sat slumped over in the corner of his cage, dying quite literally of boredom.
The radio station in New York had since been burned to the ground, and the Jersey station was being razed as they drove west, trying to make good time, but having to go quite slowly due to the ample amounts of cars covering the highway. If it hadn’t been to Canada, people had been fleeing to the west, trying to hide in a location that the Creeps had already scoured… The exodus’ mistake had simply been using a major highway, running into the creature’s head on.
It was rather slow going, all things considered. Eric was in the back seat, quite happy that Angela was relaxing in the back of the car. He felt privileged to know something that the rest of the group had no idea about. It was quite the honor… Although he had been sure that if Gopher had been in his seat, she would have poked him with the gun and gotten thrown out of the car.
Steven, in the front seat, was trying to come up with a half decent way to say that the music that was currently playing was pissing him the hell off. He had never been a huge fan of music from the eighties, much less pop hits and Top-40’s froufrou. Blondie, Roxette, Genesis… He hated all of it equally, and yet here it was, pouring out of the speakers and giving him a splitting headache. He much preferred Queen to this, and was even willing to risk the third, unmarked CD over what was currently playing.
As always, Gopher was trying to find a comfortable position to sleep. There wasn’t much plaguing his mind; he was happy to be going with them, happier to have a weapon and happiest to see that girl gone. Whenever she was around, it seemed to throw Eric off something fierce; a huge distraction, making him unable to focus for extended periods of time… And that was what they needed now. Focus. He smiled and curled his down, falling into a light sleep.
All the while, Fichter was trying to find a way to tell the group that if the standstill cars increased in any way on the way to Arizona, that they would have to go a different way. His station wagon wasn’t meant for the kind of maneuvering he was currently putting it through, and in the event that the clusters of cars did get heavier and longer, it would be almost impossible to avoid a collision.
Fichter also knew that Angela was in the back. The sound of her gun dropping had cued him in, although Eric had tried earnestly to cover the sound with a cough. No one else seemed to notice that cough sounded completely different than a gun dropping to a metal ground. Fichter didn’t mind; the more, the merrier. He was just worried how Steven or Gopher would react once they found out. He planned on getting everyone past the point of no return before having to spring her existence on them.
Several hours passed with the cars growing slightly more clustered and harder to avoid. Up ahead, there was an exit for restaurants, gas stations and a hotel.
“Guys, we’re going to be pulling into this rest area. I’m not doing so hot in all this traffic, and I think the exit might just be a way around all of those stalled out cars. I also should put some more gas in the car… Feel free to wander inside, pick up some food. Just be careful, alright?”
The car banked down the exit and into the rest area, flush with light from the sun rising behind them. The gas pumps stood like giants in the dim illumination, the conglomerated restaurant building looking like a desolate rectangle. The car pulled up to the giants and Fichter exited, gun slung over his shoulder. He grabbed the gas hose by the rubber and quickly cut a slit in the tubing with his pocketknife.
Eric had stepped out of the car, his gun in hand, stretching his legs. They had been on the road for an incredible amount of time. He was honestly surprised that they hadn’t had to stop earlier for gas; at the rate they had been driver, Fichter’s car must have been running off of fumes.
“Fichter, why didn’t we stop earlier? How can your car go so long without needing to fuel it?”
Fichter turned. “After the invasion, I pretty much took this car apart. Only reason it still runs is because I put it back together… I figured I’d be driving people around, so when I was reassembling it, I added a secondary tank. Holds almost the same amount as the first tank… Although, it really helps on the long drives like this.”
“Oh. That’s… I didn’t know you could do something like that.”
“Well, when there’s no more overdue charges at the library, you can learn quite a few things in your spare time.”
Gopher stepped out of the car, shoving Steven against the window in an attempt to wake him. It worked.
“Dammit, Gopher… Just leave me alone.”
Gopher took his light from the floor of the car and began to work to the Burger King-Pizza Hut-KFC building.
“Buddy system, Gopher. I’m coming in with you,” Eric called from behind him, racing to catch up. The sun was higher in the sky now, sending it’s precious rays into the building through the doors and windows. When the front opened, Eric stepped inside surprised at how well the place was lit considering the light was natural.
There was no blood on the tiled floor, no blood on the counter, no food in the fridges and no bodies to be counted. They made their way around, collecting whatever they could find that they thought would be useful, ranging from sugar packets, napkins, plastic forks and other things that wouldn’t spoil. They stuffed them into a “To-Go” bag they had gotten from behind the KFC counter.
The convenience store section caught their eye, filled with canned food and other assorted goodies that had a shelf life of infinity. Gopher grabbed another bag and lined the bottom with Twinkies and Hostess Cupcakes before reaching around and grabbing canned food.
Eric once again made a mental note for Gopher; never make him bag boy for anything.
Gopher quickly realized his mistake and overturned the bag, spilling the sticky mess of yellow sponge cake and white cream to the ground, covering the cans of peas and green beans. He sighed, walked back to the counter, grabbed another bag and began again, placing the cans in the bottom before moving to the items that would be destroyed by weight.
Eric, at this point, had lost interest in judging Gopher and was making his way back into the cooking area of each of the restaurants respectively. He grabbed the paddle from the pizza oven and playfully swung it around in the half darkness, pretending he was fighting of an array of Creeps to keep Angela safe. He chuckled to himself before putting the paddle back in the oven, hitting a solid object.
Eric called Gopher over, his light still attached to the shotgun, which sat in the car with the woman he was quickly falling in love with.
“Gopher, could you do me a solid and shine your light into this oven?”
Gopher didn’t nod, didn’t say anything, but answered with his actions. He swung the light up into the oven, revealing the object that Eric had hit with the paddle to be a hand.
“Oh, damn, Eric… Why are you trying to cook something like that,” Gopher shoved Eric in a manner meant to be playful but ended up knocking him over. He slid across the floor slowly, his head hitting against the freezer sending an echo through the deserted building.
They didn’t expect to hear a sound back coming from inside the locked doors, but there was a distinctive knocking sound coming from within. Eric quickly rose to his feet, trying to open the freezer door but having no luck. The door was large, thick, made entirely of a shiny metal. Aluminum, it looked like, but no one in the room was qualified to make that call.
Gopher walked over, pressing one hand down on the freezer door handle, the other on the wall, and began to pull. Eric brought the gun up to his shoulder, aiming just to the left of Gopher’s head.
“Gopher, when that door gets open, you’re going to need to shine your light in there and get out of my way. I have no idea how accurate this gun is, and the-“
The door swung open, surprising Gopher who fell backwards against the counter. He gasped, a sharp pain shooting through his lower back. He arched his back in pain, drawing in sharp breaths with his eyes closed.
“Gopher, Gopher, Gopher, I could use some light give me some light, Gopher for the love of-“
The man fell against Eric, who in the confusion dropped his gun. The man looked up at Eric, very much alive but bleeding from the shoulder.
“Didn’t think I’d see anyone else alive again,” the man said.
Eric didn’t know what to say.
“How did you survive in there?”
The man smiled. “Tasty Kakes, irradiated fruit… Made do with what I had in the store over there. Glad I could see some other people one last time.
“One last time?”
The man nodded, pointing to his shoulder. A distinctive bite mark glowed in the light, Eric immediately recognizing it as a human bite. He thought back to the car, back to the syringes he had packed in with the explosives. He regretted not bringing any now.
“It’s alright, just come with us. We can help you, sir,” Eric said, trying to lead the man the few feet it would take out the door and to the cure which was sitting so inconveniently a first down away.
“No… I know what’s going to happen. I’ve seen it happen before. I just wanted to see some people.”
“Sir, please come with us. I know I can help.”
“No,” the man said, pushing Eric back. “There’s nothing you can do for me anymore…” For a wounded man, he was nimble, down on the floor scrambling after Eric’s gun. He pulled the barrel under his chin, using his thumb to pull the trigger. Blood and gray matter flew back into the freezer, the door beginning to swing closed again, moving the body with it.
Along with the shot sounded a single word from Eric. He had screamed “NO!” exactly as the man had pulled the trigger, sending him into oblivion. The man’s shoulders stood in between the door and the doorframe, the freezer now propped open with a sick doorstop. Eric slid down to the ground next to Gopher, who was still fervently trying to recover from damaging his back.
“It’s alright, Eric… If he hadn’t done it, you would have just done it later,” he managed to say, trying to comfort Eric. The words were no blanket, as Eric knew the truth about the infection.
“Gopher, lets just get out of here… Grab your food. I want to leave.”
Gopher turned around, resetting his center of gravity, grabbing onto the counter and helping himself to his feet. The bag of food sat on the ground, the pool of blood slowly reaching out to touch the brown paper. Gopher quickly grabbed it up, before extending a hand. Eric did not take it, but stood up by himself. Not an act of coldness, he had not seen the hand extended… His full attention on the corpse that was half in, half out of the freezer.
The sun was completely up as they walked back to the car, Fichter leaning against the back blocking the view into the parcel area, concealing the existence of the attractive female that was stowing away. Gopher tossed Fichter the bag of food. He walked to the back gate of the car, swinging it open and sliding the bag of food along the flooring. Angela grabbed it, bringing the bag closer to her. She quietly began to rifle through its contents.
Fichter opened the driver side door, one foot in the car when he was violently pulled from it. A pair of pale white hands latched onto his shoulders as he cried out. Eric turned, Gopher turned and they watched as the zombie-man sunk his teeth into Fichter’s neck. Blood ran down into his green shirt as he elbowed the zombie in the sternum, sending it backwards. Gopher and Fichter fired at the same time, on this occasion, Gopher having properly shouldered his gun. Fichter let loose a spray and fell to the ground, using the heated barrel of his gun to help cauterize the wound.
The zombie fell to the ground, now missing a good part of its shoulder, hand and skull.
Gopher helped Fichter to his feet as Eric stood, watching the encounter, weapon dangling by his side. Fichter pulled his gun up to his chin, smiling.
His finger was on the trigger. Eric snapped out of it.
“Don’t… Do that just yet… We still need a driver… And we don’t know how long it’s going to take you to turn in either way… ‘Sides, I don’t want to lose a friend like that.”
Fichter smiled again, and nodded, opening the car door. He sat down again, turning the key in the ignition and wincing as he slid his seat belt on as it brushed over the burned and bitten flesh.
Gopher took his seat behind Fichter, Steven still asleep. Eric stood outside the car, thinking to himself about the consequences of telling them that it was a curable disease… They would think less of him for killing those zombies. He would think less of himself allowing them to think less of him.
The best course of action came to mind as he opened the car door and sat down. No one would have to know if he was very careful the next night. He smiled to himself as the car pulled out of the rest area, back onto the highway.
Fichter had been right. The rest area had taken them around most of the traffic, but dead cars still spotted the road like a higher being had a broken pen, letting the ink drip onto the path. Fichter expertly dodged the cars, which began to dissipate a mile up the road.
In the back of the car, Angela silently ate a Twinkie, the first food she had had in over a day. Steven snorted, waking up to the pleasant sound of no music in the car. It was deathly silent as Fichter drove, Gopher sat, gun trained on him in case he turned, and Eric regretfully thinking about what he would have to do the next night.
“What… Did I miss something?” Steven asked, yawning.
Before the day was done, Steven caught up on the entire goings on inside of the rest station, up to and including the biting of Fichter, who was still on his “A” game. Quiet desperation filled the back area of the car as Angela struggled to stay hidden and silent with a cramp growing in her leg; as Eric stewed about how to handle the situation of an infected friend.
His opportunity to deal with the problem came later that night, after they had decided to call it a day and sleep on the side of the road, lighting a fire. Eric volunteered to be watchman, although he knew exactly what he was going to do, and it wasn’t necessarily watch.
Everyone lay passed out around the fire as Eric stole away back to the car, opening the hatch with the utmost care so as not to wake the others. He grabbed a satchel charge, carefully unclasping the clasp and flipping the tan covering off, revealing plastic explosives and a carefully placed set of syringes.
“What are you doing?”
Damn. Eric had forgotten Angela was staying with the car.
“Making sure we have explosives.”
“You know we have explosives, Eric. What are you doing?”
Eric sighed. “Taking care of business. Working overtime.”
“Wait-“ her voice was cut off as he swung the gate shut loudly, slinging the charge over his shoulder. Gopher stirred, reaching for his gun, but did not awaken. Steven was fast asleep and Fichter had broken into a fever at some point in the night. Had he been awake, he would have killed himself despite the protest of everyone in the car.
It was Fichter’s belief that Eric could learn stick shift and driving the rest of the way to Arizona would be no problem. If not Eric, then Steven, although Eric seemed like the natural choice to replace Fichter as driver. But no matter, he was asleep now, dreaming human dreams and none the wiser as Eric crept up to him.
Eric removed one of the syringes from the satchel and grabbed Fichter’s arm quietly, in the darkness, trying to find the vein. Fichter opened his eyes as Eric plunged the needle into the arm of the half asleep young man.
“HEY! WHAT IS THAT!”
“You had a bee on you, and I just,” he tossed the syringe into the fire behind himself, “Swatted it away. It must have bitten you already, or stung you or something. Guess I failed as the watchman, huh? Let a bee into the encampment?”
Fichter rolled over, unsatisfied with the answer. Bees took it upon themselves during Fichter’s youth to sting him several times, especially after he rolled his lawnmower over a nest that was carefully hidden in a pile of leaves. What he felt did not feel at all like a bee stinger shooting into his skin. It felt like a liquid had been forced into one of his veins, but it didn’t matter. “Maybe he’s trying to kill me in my sleep,” Fichter thought to himself, closing his eyes again. “Save me the trouble.” Those were his last thoughts before sleep overtook him once again.
The light in the wagon turned on as Angela climbed over the seat and opened the back door, stepping out into the night. She carefully made her way to Eric, silently sitting on a rock, gun over his lap, watching the flames dance in the night.
“Eric, what was that?”
“What was what?”
“What was in the bag of explosives?”
“Explosives, now get back in the car before you wake everyone up.”
“What did you do to Fichter? Did you kill him?”
“No. Go back to the car, please.”
“Tell me what the hell is going on!”
Gopher rolled over into the fire, eyes shooting open as the flame began to eat at his shirt. He screamed in anguish, rolling back over on the dirt several times, extinguishing the flame. Eric and Angela watched silently as the giant put the flames out.
“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Hey, Eric. Angela. Did you see that? I was on fire!”
Eric couldn’t speak; he nodded, barely able to muster the strength to do that. Fear hadn’t taken him for Gopher’s safety, but it was only a matter of time before he realized that there was one more person with them then they had taken off with. What doesn’t belong here?
“Three, two, one,” Eric thought, closing his eyes and waiting.
“HEY! ANGELA! What are you doing here?” Gopher boomed, waking Steven up.
“Bingo,” Eric smiled grimly, rising to his feet.
“Angela? What are you doing out here? I thought we left you back at the base?”
“You did, but I didn’t want to stay. First…”
“Stop,” Steven interrupted. “Why are you here? What are you doing? Are you trying to get yourself killed? What are you doing? Why do you even want to be out here?”
“Steven, stop,” Angela answered. “First, I wanted to come along. I didn’t have any say in the matter. You all acted like I can’t protect myself. Well I can. I don’t need you, Steven, to baby me and fawn over me and worry over me all the time. I’m not your property, so you can back off.”
Steven began to speak, but caught the words in his mouth as Angela made a quick hand motion for silence.
“I didn’t want to sit back in some base and wonder if the person I loved was coming back. I couldn’t take the stress that comes along with the job of waiting, and I think you could appreciate that, Steven, of all people. You all didn’t even know how to get to Arizona before I told Eric-“
“To take I-55.”
“Eric knew? Since when? Eric, how long have you known?”
“I’m just as surprised as you are, Steven.”
“Bullshit. How long have you known.”
“Since we set out. I saw her in the back and didn’t say anything. Didn’t want to cause any trouble, Steven.”
“Didn’t want to cause trouble? Oh, all right, good. Keep on then, don’t clue us in on anything, Eric. Please, continue to keep secrets from the group, because God knows that we need to be hiding information from each other this late in the game.”
Fichter sat up. “Would you all please shut up, I’m trying to- ANGELA?!”
“Yes, Fichter, my wife is here. Isn’t that a happy coincidence? I thought she was safe back at the base, and here she comes, hiding from-“
“Safe at the base? Are you a moron? You were going to leave me with Fife, and if you hadn’t noticed, he wasn’t exactly the sanest person I had ever met. He might be fine, but do you want to take that risk with me, your wife?”
Gopher leaned over to Fichter, whispering in his ear, “Oh, looks like they’re having a spat. Maybe we should give them a little room.” Fichter chuckled.
“I just didn’t want you to get hurt, Angela. For the love of God, Fichter has been bitten, Eric has been attacked-“
“Since when has that been new?”
“Eric has been attacked, Gopher has been attacked, and I’m the lucky one here. I didn’t think we would make it back, and I didn’t want to put you through that. Now, we have to take you back before you get hurt.”
Fichter rose to his feet, growing dizzy as he stood. “We can’t do that. We’re already a few days out here. Taking her back would just be too much right now, considering I probably won’t be around for the return trip,” he pointed at his scar, which had stopped oozing.
“We have to vote, then,” Steven said, all of a sudden becoming democratic. It was a fruitful attempt to rectify the situation that he had considered extremely bad that had just gone to worse. “We’ll vote, majority rules, and then we send her back or she stays. Alright, who wants her to go back?”
Gopher and Steven raised their hands.
Eric laughed. “Gopher, why do you want her to go back?”
“Oh, I don’t really. I just knew you guys were going to win the vote and I didn’t want Steven to feel all alone on the matter.”
Steven released a frustrated grunt and sat down on the ground, grabbing a stick and poking the fire. “Alright, but if something happens to you, you can’t hold me, Eric, Fichter or Gopher responsible. Whatever happens, you’re bringing it down on yourself.”
Angela sighed. “Nothing is going to happen to me, Steven. I can take care of myself.”
“Oh, please. You don’t even have a gun.”
“Yes, I do. It’s in the car. Eric’s shotgun, remember?”
Steven flung the stick in the distance, briefly illuminating the sky before the stick hit the ground, burning faintly on the horizon. “I’m going to sleep. Wake me up when we’re ready to leave, alright?” The disgruntled man stretched out, feet towards the fire, head towards the burning twig.
“I think he’s right. We all need to get some rest. Tomorrow is a big day. Anyone know where exactly where we are?”
“On the way to Arizona, Eric,” Gopher coughed. “Thought you knew that.”
Eric’s shoulders heaved as he let out a heavy sigh. “Everyone, just get some rest. Tomorrow will be better, especially for you, Angela, considering you can actually take a seat at some point instead of riding around in the back like the kid in the family no one wants to talk about.”
She laughed quietly, lying down on the ground across the fire from Steven, the burning flames creating a barrier between their problems, and for the first night since the trip began, she slept soundly.
The strange light woke her up, coming from the distance. Eric was already alert, gun raised, the faint circle of luminosity creeping towards them slowly. A strange machine sound accompanied the light as it traversed the distance, bouncing slightly and creating a low rumbling sound.
“What is that,” Angela leaned over to Eric. “Do you know what it is?”
“Well… I think I have an idea. I don’t think it’s dangerous, either. Just hold tight for a second,” he clicked his light on, moving beside the burning embers of the now dead fire to Gopher.
“Gopher, wake up. What does that look like?”
Gopher strained his eyes, watching the bobble move in the expanse. The rumble was growing louder as the ball stopped moving. The noise died down and the light shut off. Gopher grew excited.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“What do you think it is, Gopher?”
“C’mon, Eric… You should know.”
“I should, but I don’t. What is it, Gopher?”
Gopher grabbed his light, turning it over the group, rousing them from their slumber.
“What are you doing, Gopher?” Fichter asked quietly. He was feeling better, but didn’t want to count his chickens.
“Everyone, grab their gun and follow me. I’ve got something to show you,” he grinned, holding the light under his chin, changing his face from the moon shaped oaf to a twisted grin. “I think you’ll be happy, too.”
Eric took point, walking past the burned out twig and making his way to where they last saw the light. Angela walked in the middle, the gun heavy in her hands, with Steven bringing up the rear, alert yet tired.
Eric’s light beam bounced over the pebbles that lined the ground as he carefully stepped over pieces of twisted metal and discarded branches. A shape begin to grow in his eyes as he looked ahead, trying to mentally figure out what the light belonged to. He broke out into a cold sweat, thinking about Danny’s words, if this could be the thing they were bringing in.
The large, bulky item was completely dark, but the outline was visible against the backdrop of nature. It was long, like a Lincoln Log, with a rounded end. Several pieces composed this object, lengthy and attached at intervals by a small coupling.
Stopping in his tracks, Eric’s heart skipped a beat.
“Gopher, is that…”
“Yes it is, yes it is…”
“What, Eric? What is it? Fichter? Angela? What is it?”
“Shut up, Steven, it’s…”
“I know what it is,” Fichter said.
The light came back on, bathing the ground in solid light. Systematically, lights emerged in all the pieces, creating a chain of windows and doorways.
“Oh, crap,” Steven said, “It’s a-“
“Yessir,” Gopher said. “A train.”
It stood on the tracks unmoving, the lights blinking on and off as Eric approached the door in the main car. A solitary Creep stood inside the conductor’s chamber, fiddling with levers and pressing buttons. He shrieked once before the small explosion of a bullet threw him to the wall.
“Well, this is quaint,” Eric said, motioning for the rest of the group to follow. Gopher stayed outside, looking over the car model, coming across the faded decal on the side.
“Hey, guys, take a look at this!”
Eric stepped down and out of the train, making his way over to Gopher. His light slid across the indentation on the side of the train revealing the words, “Arizona Express.”
“So, this is an express train to Arizona?” Eric asked. Such a Gopher question.
“Well, this is rather convenient, I’ll say,” Fichter stepped out of the car, joining with Eric. Steven followed Fichter as Angela examined the conductor’s office, pouring over the room looking for a map.
She carelessly lifted the “Destination Guide” book and tossed it across the room, half the pages torn from the binding. It hit the acceleration lever solidly and the train began to move.
“Why is the logo moving,” Gopher asked.
“It’s not… The train is moving! ANGELA!” Steven cried out, running to catch up with the conductor door. The train continued to gain speed as Angela fervently grabbed the acceleration lever and pulled towards herself, snapping the bar in half.
“Good. A quality train,” she thought dismally to herself as it picked up speed, moving along the almost hidden track into the distance.
Eric bolted back to the car, pulling Fichter along with him.
“This is your fault, Eric! She’s going to… And it’s your fault! What are you doing? Running away from your problems, Eric? ANSWER ME!”
“Steven, shut up,” Eric said, sliding into the shotgun seat. “We have a train to catch.”
The old station wagon cut across the desert floor at speeds unimaginable to all occupants of the vehicle, trying to keep track of the train that was rapidly gaining more ground into the distance. The occupants of the vehicle didn’t worry; the train was following a track and even if it completely disappeared beyond the horizon they would be able to locate the train with relative ease by following the metal lacing on the ground.
Steven sweat profusely from the back seat, stuttering out insults and half curses towards Eric about his wife and why he didn’t mention her. Conspiracy theories began to fill his addled mind, thinking of that night at the hotel where Angela went out for some air, what could have happened? Did she love him? Did she still love Steven?
Eric was calmly reloading his gun, sliding bullets into the magazine efficiently and quietly as Fichter’s hawk eyes scanned the horizon, following the trail of dust kicked into the air by the train. He didn’t say anything, but it had been several minutes since he had last clearly seen the train racing along the track; since then it had disappeared.
Over the next hill, in the cabin of the train, Angela crouched, clutching her shotgun against her shoulder, nervous. The first time she had ever been nervous on this trip, the first time she had been completely alone. She closed her eyes and hoped that they would just go ahead and blow the gate up, leave her alone. She could fend for herself and they had a job to do.
Angela quietly rose to her feet, looking around the cabin, kicking the broken lever and sending it spinning across the floor of the train, hitting the far wall with a dull thunking sound. A paper fell from the wall onto the floor as the lever hit, the words across it small.
“Emergency Braking Procedure: In the even of train malfunction, use intercom and alert staff in caboose of train. Emergency brake is located in the back of the train, past the kitchen.”
Calling all of her resolve, Angela quickly opened the door to the first car. She hadn’t counted, and this wasn’t a passenger train, so she really had no idea how to gauge the distance to the final car where the emergency brake was located.
The car she stepped into was bare, save for three benches and what looked to be the conductor’s living quarters. The door was slightly ajar, blood on the floor, the body of the conductor slouched over the single bed that adorned the room. He was stripped of all clothes save for his shoes, the papers in his room in complete disarray.
She moved on quickly, knowing that stepping into the room would invite in more trouble than she could possibly want… All deviations from the set path never ended happily, she thought to herself. Her trip to Europe was fine, but the feeling of excellene deserted her when she returned home to fine her husband had been cheating on hre.
“Well, I thought that’s what you were going to be doing in Europe, Angela!”
Angela had had nothing to say to that. She had wanted a divorce at the time, but when Steven wanted something, he could be persuasive. He made her think of all the good times they had together, and after forgiving him, she had begun to feel guilt for the situation, just as he had planned. Living with Steven was like living with the ultimate guilt trip, except the sex was worse with Steven.
Angela opened the door at the end of the car to be greeted with the loud whooshing sound of the landscape passing her on either side. In front of her, a rickety ladder and a car bed full of coal.
She swallowed, feeling all of the pressures of the day escape in a single click that was lost to the wind as the door closed behind her. She turned around and tried to open it, to no avail. It was locked.
“I can always shoot the door open,” she thought to herself as the began to climb the ladder. “I can always run away from my problems,” she smiled sadly to herself as she began to traverse the bed of coal, the loose pieces tumbling off of the sides and making her incredibly uneasy.
“Why is this train moving so fast?” Angela thought to herself briefly as she ducked down, shearing the wind resistance.
Steven had finally managed to verbally berate Eric to the point that Eric was getting upset, offended, and most importantly, pissed off.
“Couldn’t have jumped on the train, Eric? Too busy playing the hero, chasing after the train, Eric? Couldn’t have gone after her?”
“She’s your wife, Steven! What about you? You were ready to let the train go!”
Steven moved back in his seat. “I see how it is.”
An empty sentence spoken by an emptier man.
“Steven, you should just calm down. There was nothing any of use could have done to stop the train. Throwing blame around isn’t going to catch us up any quicker.”
Steven leaned forward, a blue vein popping out of his neck. “Yeah, well it’ll sure make me feel better!”
Eric swung around, as best he could in a car with those dimensions, and brought his fist within an inch of Steven’s face. If Eric had felt any responsibility up to this point, he was vindicated as Steven showed the mark of a true coward.
Steven gasped and said “Ow,” even though the fist never connected. Eric slid back down in his seat as Steven looked from side to side, not at all surprised to see Gopher sleeping.
Fichter leaned over to Eric quietly as Steven was reassessing the situation. “Bad news, Eric. We lost the train.”
Eric smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Just keep following the tracks. We’ll find her. I know we will… I’ve got a feeling.”
Angela was dangling off of the side of one of the coal cars in the middle of the train when Eric expressed his hunch to the group. Angela, of course, could not hear him, but it probably wouldn’t have helped, all things considered. She tossed her gun back onto the coal and slowly shimmied to the other side, her fingers red and sore from gripping the top of the metal car. She reached the ladder on the far end.
A Creep opened the door and quickly pulled her leg, trying to pull her into the car behind it. She swung out with her left foot, missing the creature and landing her leg on its shoulder. She pulled her foot forward, bringing the creature onto the car coupling. It lost its footing and fell under the train, shrieking.
The gun was covered in coal dust as Angela lifted it and moved back to where the Creep had tried to pull her in. She hadn’t gotten a chance to look at it, but it had been wearing the conductor’s clothes, traipsing around the train, recognizing the importance and formality of such fine wear.
Angela, for the first time since she set foot on the train, looked at the coupling between the cars. They were locked tight. She reached down and tried to pull the pin to uncouple the old cars, but it wouldn’t budge. They were rusted together, in a death grip, refusing to separate.
“Till death do us part,” she grimaced, walking into the next car. It appeared to be the dining car, tables set up and people hunched over them. Workers with dirty clothes eating off of table without tablecloths, plates scattered along the floor and forks sticking out of the common man. It was a grisly sight, but to one who had seen so much death, it made no further impression on her. All she could do was look under the tables and try to see where the next threat was coming from.
There was nothing under the tables. “Almost there,” she thought to herself, walking carefully between the tables and stepping quietly over the bodies, making her way to the back door, hoping that it would be the last door.
Steven had finally taken the hint and sat in the back, silent, stewing in his own self pity. His aggression was mislaid. He did not know it, but he was angry at himself instead of Eric. He was angry that he let his wife slip away like that, he was angry that she would have the audacity to sleep with someone else, he was angry that he did not control her the way he had originally thought. It was upsetting to him that he did not have the absolute possession that he so wanted, that he did not have a hold over her like he thought.
He was also upset at himself because for the first time since he laid eyes on her, he was in love with her again. It takes so little to envoke such old feelings, but the separation anxiety did the trick. He thought of her smiling and that, in turn, made him smile. If he saw her again, he would let her know he was sorry, he would let her know that everything was going to be all right. He would be the hero that she was looking for.
These feelings were pushed back again by the anger at Eric, for Eric let her slip away, for Eric, in all likelihood, slept with her, and because Eric was the one person in the world that let Steven’s hold over Angela dissolve into a cloud of springtime-like emotion.
Fichter turned the music on the CD player down, trying to hear the train. There was the steady chugging in the distance, and the faint sound of echoing gunshots.
The caboose had been absolutely full of them. It had taken a fair amount of strategy to kill them all without being hit by flaming knives or short swords. She had swung the door open and been greeted by the smiling faces of eight tiny creatures that were all pulling on separate levers that lined the wall. She had shut the door as the first volley of knives hit and swung it open firing one shot. Around the corner she ducked as a second volley of knives flew in her direction. She doubled back to the dining cars, the creatures hot on her heels. She threw the body of a short man off of the table and flipped it, hiding behind.
One creature vaulted over the table and was met quickly by her shotgun pointing up. Two more tried to flank her, but she fed them both barrels. The remaining four tried to move the table from the wall, but Angela stood and fired, taking down two. She cocked the gun and fired one more shot, hitting the creature on the left and sending it spinning across the floor. The gun clicked empty as the last creature dove at her, knife drawn.
She swung the gun like a bat, catching the Creep in the gut and sending out of the window, onto the moving ground below.
Fichter knew they were catching up when he saw the body of the Creep on the ground. The train was stopped in the distance, the lights off.
Angela had pulled all of the levers, cutting the power to the train and stopping it at the same time. It was too dark to see her way out, so she sat and waited.
Eric clambered out of the car, racing the middle of the train. “Alright, everyone, we’re going to split up and search this thing. I’m going to take the front end, Fichter, I want you to check all the coal beds, Gopher, Steven, check the back area. If she’s alive, we’ll find her.”
Fichter climbed onto the top of one of the coal cars, noting the footprints on the ground.
Eric walked into the conductor’s cabin and made his way through to the sleeping quarters for the man that used to run the train. He saw his body slumped over the bed and stepped into the room. The same memo that Angela had read on stopping the train lay on the desk.
His heart raced. If she was alive, that’s where she would be.
“Gopher, I want you to take the dining car. I’ll take the caboose. There’s three cars between us, we’ll meet up in the middle.”
Gopher hadn’t recognized the signs of the struggle that had less than an hour ago occurred in the room. He had seen the bodies of the Creeps on the ground, but did not put together that they were killed by the same gun that he last saw Angela holding.
The door to the caboose swung open, the light from Steven’s flashlight pouring over Angela’s eyes.
Steven bit his tongue. “No, honey. It’s me.”
“Oh, Steven!” Angela rose to her feet, running to her husband. Never in her life had she been happier to see the man. She wrapped her arms around him and he smiled. She was close again. He was happy.
“Everything is going to be alright, Angela. Everything is going to be just fine. I know it will be.”
The gunshot and the smell of cooking meet flooded the cars. Panic alarms sounded in the recesses of Eric as he raced along the train, following the sound of the gunshot. He didn’t need to reach the car; he already knew.
Angela was slumped over the controls in the caboose, her beautiful frame ablaze. Steven stood crying, his gun limp at his side.
“I found her… I found her and there were things. I thought she was all right. She said ‘Steven!’ They came out of nowhere, they came from behind the train and they stabbed her. They stabbed her and they did that,” he motioned at her burning body, “But I shot them.”
The bodies of two Creeps hung out of the back of the train. Gopher burst through the door, stopping. “What’s cooking?”
Steven broke down again.
Eric stood, dropping his gun to the ground. They all stepped out of the car, greeted by Fichter. They didn’t have to say a word.
A gust of wind knocked through the caboose, feeding the flames and knocking broken pieces of her life off of her, her ashes scattering around the car.
“I’ve got something to show you all,” Fichter said. Steven slumped against the train’s side and put his head in his hands. Eric nodded and followed him.
There was a sign, dead ahead.
“Cactus National Park Train Stop.” The letters were faded. Eric motioned wordlessly behind him to Steven. Gopher helped him to his feet and they made their way back to the car. The engine sprung to life as the car, once again filled with grief, made its way to the park. The passengers in the car stayed silent, discontent and heading to their fate.
The desert park had been a huge draw when it was operational. The hiking trails, the horse riding, and the ever-abundant cactus plants from whence the name of the park sprung littering the bed of the desert. Children laughing, running, playing, galloping.
The echo of all that was good carried on the wind that the wagon drove through, bouncing roughly against the less than friendly terrain. The passengers inside unhappy at the recent turn of events, but watching out across the distance for the large gate.
“The St. Louis Arch?” The first words from any rider to quell the deafening silence came from Fichter.
“Yeah. Or something like that,” Eric responded, alerting himself to the horizon.
They passed a sign as Fichter turned onto solid road.
“Scenic Route Drive.” The visitor’s center lay just ahead. They stopped, deciding it would be best to rest before moving on.
A sweep of the old building turned up nothing. A few beds in the back near the emergency medical station. Old gurneys. Gopher was nervous as to whether or not they would be able to support his large frame. He quickly picked the mattress off of the gurney and put it on the floor of the small room, closing his eyes and falling asleep in a matter of seconds.
Steven rolled his gurney out the door and down the hall, leaving Eric and Fichter alone in the nurse’s office. Eric briefly chased after him before Fichter grabbed his shoulder.
“Let him go. The man just lost his wife. I doubt he wants to be with anyone but her right now.”
“If he gets killed, I’m not shedding a tear over it.”
“You would too, Eric.”
“Not in front of you all.”
Fichter laughed, clapping Eric on the back solidly, before coughing.
“Fichter, there’s some stuff I got to clear up with you. About the infection. The whole zombie thing.”
Eric sat on the edge of the gurney and began to tell him about the military tests and the purpose behind turning people into monsters like that. He finally finished with the cure that he had pumped into Fichter’s veins mere hours ago. Fichter sat down on the other end of the gurney, which promptly collapsed.
Gopher stirred. “Glad I didn’t take one.”
Eric gave him the finger from the floor, turning to look at Fichter.
“Yeah, after the ‘bee’ stung me at the camp fire I started feeling better. I know what a syringe feels like; I know what a bee feels like… I put two and two together. My only question is, why did you wait so long to tell me?”
Eric sighed. “Because of the sheer amount of innocent people I’ve killed. You can’t do something like that and then go back and pretend everything is normal again. I killed Iggy’s sister… I killed that Gettings kid, all under the pretense that they would never be what they wanted to be, ever again. Could have been an astronaut if I hadn’t-“
“Bull. You’re just surviving. You have as much blame as the government does for creating it. They didn’t release it. You’ve only got one thing to blame: Them. They came in, they screwed everything up. If it weren’t for them, you’d be sitting pretty back at your apartment or something. I’d be back with my wife. Iggy… Well, he’d probably be around annoying his sister.”
“You think once we take care of this gate, things can go back to the way they were? We could have people running around again. There’d have to be cleanup, God knows… This gate’ll only stop them from coming through, not send em’ back. But I think… Once they stop coming in, it’ll only be a matter of time before more people like us come out to fight.”
“We can only hope.”
“Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got and that’s all you need,” Eric said, climbing to his feet and heading for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Find Steven. I need to have a chat with him.”
“Can’t have him getting his ass killed, can I?”
Fichter laughed as the door swung shut.
Steven had found a private administrator's office across the hallway, setting up the gurney against the far wall, staring at the repeating pattern on the wall. Half in, half out of sleep when he heard the door open.
“Go away. I’m not in the mood right now.”
The door closed.
The next thing Steven felt was a sharp pain in his back. He rolled flat on his back, snapping the tip of the dagger off inside his flesh. The creature, gurney height, smiled and jumped, clapping its cracked hands.
And on the desk, Steven’s gun sat.
The hallways were dark and the flashlight didn’t help tremendously. They branched off every ten feet, leading to different exhibits for visitors to look at. Eric didn’t have a clue where Steven was until he cried out.
The creature was on top of him, bringing the fresh dagger down quickly against his arms. Steven held it off, cutting himself in the process, the deadly tool sinking into his arm once, twice. His arm fell, cut and bloody, useless for defense. The creature raised the dagger one final time.
There was a loud bang as the door swung open and Eric fired across the room, hitting the creature in the gut. It squealed and laughed, falling off of Steven, onto the floor, gasping for breath. Pitiful.
“Hey, Steven. Wonder if you’d like to join us in the Nurses station?”
“That’d be… Good,” he called out, losing consciousness.
Eric wheeled him back to the Nurses station on now, the only functional gurney that they knew of. Fichter held the light as Eric tried his best to bandage Steven’s arm, bit the low quality of the supplies made it nigh impossible to get the gauze to stick properly. After a fair amount of trial and error, the bandage lightly stuck. Eric rolled Steven on top of his arm, applying constant pressure to the wound.
“Well, looks like you got to him in the nick of time, Eric.”
“Seems to be a trait, doesn’t it. Every time we could sit down and grieve about someone, they go ahead and pull through. Only get taken when we’re in a rush.”
“Damn shame, isn’t it?” Fichter laughed.
“No. No it’s not,” Steven said drowsily from his bed.
There was a pause before Steven, Fichter and Eric began to laugh.
“Could you morons keep the laugh track switched to, ‘off’ until morning? Some of us have to sleep on account of blowing shit up tomorrow,” Gopher rolled over.
The sun rose and they piled back into the car, their mood lighter than the morose tone of yesterday. The wagon continued down the Scenic Route Drive for an hour, avoiding potholes and what looked the be the skeletons of horses.
“They probably rode the things to death,” Eric motioned to one of the bodies.
“What do you mean?” Gopher asked from the back.
“You spur a horse too much, you’ll cut into it pretty deep. Could kill it that way. They either rode the horses to death or just came in with swords blazing and killed the majority of them.”
“Which raises the question,” Steven began, “If they’re so fierce in number, how come we’ve only run into small groups? They’re ferocious, yet they’re having trouble killing our small group. I don’t get it.”
“They’re not trying to kill us. If they were, we’d be dead. ‘Sides, they probably have most of their forces concentrated on… Well, not where we are. They’re trying to set something up; it’s a fair bet that they’ll set it up somewhere else. Simple. We’re probably going to run into a fair number when we reach-“
“The Arch,” Fichter called out, pointing through the windshield at the distance.
It wasn’t quite the St. Louis Arch, but a sick defacing of what it used to be. Once pristine white, now red and purple in color, a poor mans graffiti covering the towering structure.
“Holy hell, that’s far away. Do we have any binoculars?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Damn. How far away is it, do you think?” Eric turned back to the front, eyeing the distance.
“More than ten miles, most likely.”
“Alright. When we get close, about two miles away, I want to find a place to leave the car. If they’re bringing things in through the arch, there’s going to be a large number of them. Don’t want em’ to disable the car. So we’ll leave the car behind and hit em’ on foot.”
Fichter nodded, shifting the car into high gear and speeding into the distance.
The cliff they stopped on overlooked the camping ground of the Saguaro Cactus, where the arch supports stood. The wagon was parked directly in front of another car with a towing hitch and a speedboat directly behind it. Fichter had laughed. Why did you need a boat like that in the middle of the desert?
“That’s not the real Arch, is it?” Gopher asked.
“It doesn’t look like it. Not… Well… It does. It’s a big arch. It’d bet money to say it’s the same and that these little Creeps just painted it over with something.”
“How did they get it out to the desert,” Gopher once again, rapid firing with the questions.
“I don’t think they needed to. You heard Fife back at the bunker. He said, ‘science,’ but I think we can all read into that a little more. There’s no way these things would come through unless they knew something was on the other side. The US was probably working on faster than light transport or something equally as strange. And the Arch got involved through no fault of its own.”
Fichter and Steven crawled up to the others, who were staring down the sheer cliff at the encampment below.
Three buildings, long, like the big Tetris pieces in a row. About a football field of desert ground, and then the Creeps. Numbering in the upper hundreds, the creatures were dancing around the base of the structure, throwing balloons filled with colored substance against the Arch.
Eric sighed. “There’s a ton of em’.”
The group remained motionless, waiting for Eric to get his bearings.
“Okay. Steven, Gopher and I are going to go down behind those buildings and draw some of em’ out. Only try to draw out as many as you can take with your gun or hand to hand. Biting off more than you can chew now is going to be fatal. If we manage to thin the numbers enough… Gopher, you’ll have the explosives-“
“- and you’re going to plant a charge on the inside of both legs of the arch. Since we only have the two charges, one on each. It should be enough to make the arch collapse on itself, destroy whatever machinery they have working up in there. Knock it out for good. Steven and I will cover you while you do this, if we’re both… You know, still around.”
“So, you think we’re going to be able to do this?” Steven asked tentatively.
Eric laughed. “Honestly? No. Best case scenario, we’ll still be walking away from this minus one.”
Fichter turned to Eric and raised his hand. “Alright, I think I understand. You three go down the cliff, across a mile of desert terrain to those houses that will provide almost no safety. You’re going to draw these things out in small groups and eliminate them until you can get Gopher, the most technically un-savvy person in the group, to plant explosives on the Arch, assuming everyone is still alive. You blow the arch, and walk back to the car. I have no problem with the plan, it just raises one question: Where the hell am I going to be?”
Eric laughed. “Watching the car, of course.”
Fichter grimaced. “Of course.”
“I’m not technically un-savvy. I worked with a construction and demo crew back when I lived in Manhattan. I know some things about planting charges. I’m not as inept as you all seemed to have painted me.”
“Sorry, then. Seems like a solid plan, Eric.”
“Don’t lie to me, Fichter. My dad always used to say that people went gambling because gambling is more fun than just throwing your money out the window of a speeding car. I guess what I’m trying to say is, trying to take this gate out is a lot more fun than just turning my gun under my chin and pulling the trigger. I’d rather go out trying.”
There was an air of dignified silence as the group began to say their final prayers.
“Alright. When are we heading out, Eric?” Gopher asked.
“No time like the present. Make sure we have everything we need from the car. Spare clips, the charges, bandages. Whatever we’ll need.”
And so they did, grabbing spare weapons and the C4. Eric stepped onto the footpath down the side of the cliff, knocking the pebbles from their place.
The car door slammed as Fichter edged it closer to the drop off, watching the three head down the side of the mountain. He reached into the sun visor, pulling out the unmarked CD, sliding it into the player and praying to the sound of his wife singing.
It was going to be a long day.
Fichter watched anxiously as the group made their way across the long, lone stretch of desert to the camping cabins. The three hit the middle cabin and slumped to the ground. Fichter closed his eyes, not being a praying man, but deciding to take up arms in prayer to support those three.
The St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the west… Featuring five elevators departing all hours to the observation deck. Admire the splendid view and head to the underground tram station to have authentic old west food and shop at a real trading post! Visit the museum of the west and watch an informational video of the construction of the arch. By a ticket to a steamer along the mighty Mississippi, leaving the dock when you’re ready to leave. Fine dining, excellent photo opportunities, and an authentic old west feel.
At least, that’s how it had been before it had been violently uprooted and moved into the desert in a hurry.
Eric slid to the ground quietly as Gopher looked out behind the cabin to the Arch.
“Guys, look at that.”
Steven and Eric peeked out the other side, head on top of one another and stared intently, trying to figure out what exactly Gopher was trying to get them to see.
“What, Gopher. Is it a train? I don’t get it-“
“Don’t be a smartass, Steven. Look at the Arch legs,” Gopher interrupted.
The legs weren’t buried in the ground like they had been at St. Louis. The Arch was on a half sway, looking to fall over with a gust of wind. Beneath the highest point, down six hundred feet, the army of Creeps stood, dancing.
“Why isn’t it rooted? Anyone have an answer?”
Steven and Eric both slumped against the cabin.
“Alright, next question. How are we going to draw them out?”
Gopher’s head still stuck around the corner. Eric chucked a small rock at his back.
“Fire your gun around the corner. See if they take the bait.”
The gunfire was a small burst of light from where Fichter was sitting. He saw Gopher leaning out around the corner with his machine gun at the ready, firing a quick burst at the encampment. Dirt kicked up at the halfway mark, drawing the interest of a small pocket of the creatures that looked terminally bored. They jumped and danced across the small stretch to the cabin.
Fichter watched Eric jump out beside Gopher and fire four bursts, dropping the majority of the creatures. The four remaining shrieked and began to run back to the camp.
“Gopher, shoot them! Jesus!”
Gopher fired a burst knocking three of them down. The solitary Creep turned around and hissed, running back towards the cabin at a frightful speed. Gopher fired a single bullet, knocking the Creep to the ground.
The lone driver bit his lip as the Melder began to make its way across the desert towards the cabin. He turned the music down in the car, leaning on the horn. He could see Eric turn back and look up. Fichter honked again. Eric looked around the corner and ducked back after seeing the Melder and squadron of Creeps.
“Alright. I’m going to run out on the side of the far Cabin and try and draw the Melder away. Steven, Gopher, I want you to get the tiny things behind here. I’ll be back as soon as I take care of that son of a bitch.”
Eric began to run to the other cabin.
“Don’t let it look you in the eyes!” Steven called out after him.
“Yeah… No shit,” Eric muttered under his breath, rounding the corner of the cabin. He peeked out, watching the Melder float towards the center cabin. Eric fired at the body of the creature, watching it rock back and forth, thrown slightly off balance. Its long, snakelike head now changed directions, staring towards him. He ducked back behind the cabin as the Melder began to briskly float in his direction.
Gopher leaned out from one side of the center cabin, Steven the other. They both fired into the squad of Creeps simultaneously, knocking them to the ground, watching them writhe. Gopher let out a tiny giggle as he hit one of the flame pouches and watched as the creature burst into a blue blaze, setting the near by fiends on fire as well.
Eric ducked into the cabin, throwing a box spring against the door and ducking behind it. He heard the creature glide past, and looked up through the window. The thing was inspecting the cabin, looking for any signs of Eric. Quickly, he turned and drew his gun to his shoulder, sighting the head and burst firing. The Melder’s head flew backwards and off of its jelly-neck, the body collapsing to the ground.
The ten remaining Creeps were closing the distance between themselves and the center cabin. Gopher was fumbling with a new clip while Steven was desperately trying to pick them off one by one.
“They’re a lot easier to kill when they’re in a group.”
“Oh, come on, Steven! Haven’t you ever played a video game before…”
“Funny. This is my third clip and you’re having trouble reloading your second. You have no room to talk now, do you?”
The Creeps reached the cabin and began to bat their swords against the wooden planking. Eric ran out across the open area, firing his gun from his hip, hitting three of them. He ran through the side view area and stopped to watch Gopher fumble with his clip.
“Here, take mine,” Eric said, handing the gun over to Gopher. “Gimmie yours.”
Eric reloaded the gun easily, and ran back out, shooting four more. The other three had worked their way down the other side of the cabin to where Steven was firing shot after shot, desperately trying to hit one. Eric leaned out beside him and fired six times, taking the remaining three out.
“Steven, I’m just going to recommend this little piece of advice to you. Aim a little bit.”
“Aim a little bit,” Steven repeated, an acrid air in his voice.
“How many do we have on the other side? Anybody? A big number?”
“You were just out there! Didn’t you look?”
“I was too busy trying to save your sorry ass, Steven.”
Gopher leaned out and began to count.
To Fichter, it looked like there were a little over a hundred left. A group of them had broken off and wandered into the desert, and others had walked through the Arch, disappearing from sight. If they were going to do it, now was the time. Now was the time to –
“Charge. Just stay behind me. Gopher, that’s double important for you. Isn’t no one else knows how to work those explosives, so you getting to the legs is imperative.”
The sun began to set as the trio began to run across the empty space littered with small corpses, guns blazing. The final approach had begun.
Fichter slammed the door to his car, approaching the edge of the cliff, watching them run, and closing the distance between the cabins and the Arch. His pulse quickened as he saw one of the groups re-emerge from behind the leg of the Arch, numbering in the fifties. Eric dropped to the ground and fired from the prone position, sweeping left and right with the firing gun. The others behind him followed suit, trying to take out as many of the charging creatures as they could.
Fichter couldn’t take much more. He backed up to his car door and reached for the handle, cutting his palm on the blade that was stuck in the door. The distinct cackle behind him.
Without looking, he ran to the next car, ducking inside and shutting the door, watching from the inside with horror as the group of creatures began to pick at the doors and lick the glass. Fichter reached out, stretched, and pressed the lock down on all four doors.
He looked at his station wagon, solitary, his gun resting peacefully in the passenger seat.
“Yeah, now is the time to charge,” Steven called out over the gunfire.
“I’m sorry, Steven, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy killing shit!”
The creatures fell, but each one the dropped was replaced by two more from behind the Arch.
Gopher rose to his feet quickly, sprinting across the groups of Creeps as they cut at his legs, most of them missing. Eric tried his hardest to cover Gopher, but his running was so inconsistent it was hard to fire at the creatures without running the risk of hitting Gopher’s legs.
Eric jumped up, pulling Steven and dropping an empty all at the same time. He slid another into the chamber and coughed, firing at the group again as they began to advance on Eric and Steven.
“When they get close enough, just start hitting them with your gun. Or shoot em’ in the flame pouch. Hilarious and effective…”
“Can’t hit the broadside of the barn, Eric…”
“Just shut up and take as many down as you can…”
“I’m working on it…”
Gopher reached the edge of the first leg, drawing the C4 out of the pack and sticking it to the leg, priming the charge. He gasped as one of the creatures cut into his leg quickly, disappearing into the fray. Gopher turned, back to the first leg and stared at the wave of creatures. He fired his gun through them until it clicked empty, and tossed the gun into the crowd. His legs pumped and he began to run through the path he had just cleared.
The knives ran across the windows, nails on the chalkboard sounding inside the car. Fichter ducked down and looked in the ignition, the keys still in place. He tried it once… Nothing. Damn.
The Creeps began to hit the back window fiercely with their blades. Playtime was certainly over. It was time to grab the prize that sat inside the hard, outer shell.
Gopher reached the other leg, the bottom of his pants a mess with blood and various cuts that barely touched the jean. He drew the explosive out of the sleeve and placed it against the wall, putting the primer in. He looked back over at the other leg.
The explosive was gone.
“Sunnofabitch,” he gasped. He saw the creature run away with the plastique in its hands. Gopher drew the detonator out pressed the first glowing button, sending the tiny creature into a thousand pieces, decimating the group around it.
Gopher grabbed the explosive off of the second leg and put it back in the case. He ran around behind the Arch, looking for an access door… He found one. He opened the door and was met by a veritable wall of the creatures. They were coming from inside the Arch.
“ERIC! COULD I GET A HAND OVER HERE?”
Eric looked up from the bodies mounting around him and saw Gopher behind one of the legs.
Eric raced over to Gopher, weapon blazing.
“Clear some room for me…”
Eric fired into the wall of creatures, knocking them down, one after another.
“Where’d the other charge go?”
“One of the things ran off with it,” Gopher called back over his shoulder. “A charge at the top should take it out, don’t worry!”
Eric sighed and ran back, firing his gun again at the creatures, behind the fort Steven had set up composed entirely of dead Creeps.
“Gopher’s going inside. He’s going to blow it from the top…”
The back windshield shattered inwards as the creatures began pouring in. Fichter closed his eyes, counted to ten and opened the driver’s door, sliding out of the car, locking it behind himself. The creatures tried to catch him by going out the back doors, but the child safety locks were on. Carefully, he reached through the back, slipping a pack of the blue gel off of one of the confused monsters. He emptied the gel into the car, smiling and giving the car a little push.
The gearshift was stuck in “Neutral.”
The car began to slide towards the edge of the cliff slowly, before stopping. The smile disappeared from Fichter’s face. The creatures were wedged in the back, trying to get out, but the boat was preventing the car from moving. Fichter reached into the wagon, grabbing the shotgun and firing at the hook up in the back. The boat leaned forward and pushed the car, which slowly toppled over the cliff.
“Please, buckle up… It’s the law.” He chuckled to himself as the car hit the ground below. He watched the fire spread from the back.
“That’s probably the coolest thing I’ll ever say and no one was around to hear it…”
The inside of the Arch was packed with the squealing creatures. Gopher tried the stairwell, to no avail. It was even more crowded than the entrance had been. He made his way through the Arch quickly and quietly to the elevators. He pried one door open and climbed inside the egg-shaped car, busting the roof off of it and grabbing onto one of the cables.
The shaft was empty. He began to climb, hand over hand towards the observation deck.
Eric heard the explosion of the car behind him and turned. The creatures watched the car explode and squealed, running off in the direction of the explosion. Few remained behind, and Eric quickly took care of those with his gun.
“Well… Looks like we’ll all make it after all.”
Steven chuckled. “Minus one.”
“No, I think Gopher is going to make it out alright.”
“Not Gopher. Minus one Eric.”
Eric laughed. “I’m not going to die. What are you-“
Steven turned his gun against Eric.
Gopher’s arms burned, but the elevator cable was leveling out. He swung his legs up against the cable and shimmied the rest of the way, dropping down to the second set of doors. He pulled them open and slid inside the small stairwell that led to the observation area. A greeting party of Creeps, Melders and Mini-Creeps were waiting on the observation deck.
Fichter chuckled to himself once again, as he forced the boat over the edge of the cliff onto a group of Creeps that were dancing around the fire. He slid back into his own car, turning up the CD player and enjoying the setting sun.
“What’s this about, Steven?”
“Do you think I’m honestly that stupid?”
“Depends on how you’re asking-“
“What about her?”
“You know,” he said, pressing the gun into his chest.
“Oh, you know what you did with her. And I know what I did with her.”
“Steven, it was one time and you were- What did you do with her?”
“She got stabbed, but it wasn’t anything fatal… The fire, however… That’s probably what killed her.”
Eric closed his eyes and tried to work it out. He opened them again, staring Steven in the eye.
“You know, you kill me now, I’ll still have the satisfaction of being the best she’s ever had… Her words, not mine.”
Eric took the momentary lapse in Steven’s judgment and shoved his gun away, bringing his own up and backing away, keeping Steven in the sites.
The knives slid into his stomach, his back, and his legs, before he dropped to the ground. The slanted ground of the observation deck worked against him, and he began to slide backwards towards the stairs he had just climbed. The control panel for the Gate lay just out of reach… Getting smaller as he slid away.
Gopher smiled bitterly as he removed the explosive from the sleeve quickly, placing the blasting cap and throwing it into the group of the monsters. He pulled the detonator out from the Semtex sleeve, laughed, and pressed the shiny red button.
The explosion rocked the night sky, tearing the top of the Arch into a ball of flames that shot into the abyss. The two legs began to tilt inwards, against themselves as they fell, the smoking debris raining from center of the explosion.
“STEVEN! GET OUT OF THERE!”
“ERIC… GO TO HELL!” Steven fired one burst from his gun as a burning support fell on his fortress of dead creatures, knocking his boots off.
Eric ran back to the cabins quickly, using the shadow from the flame to watch for debris. The monsters behind him cheered at the explosion, too stupid or too entranced to run away from the raining death.
He slid around the corner and stopped, only being shaken by a large piece of the arch that fell into the camping cabin he was hiding behind. The fire raged as the hiss of squeaking metal scraping together grew louder, the two legs falling against each other and falling over, sending a wave of dust, debris, and blood into the air, coating the three cabins with a sick paint.
Eric sighed, pulling the gun up by his side. His chest was bleeding, his eyebrow was gashed, but his legs were fine. He ran as fast as they would carry him to the wagon, up the cliff pass, firing shots off behind him at the creatures that wanted to press their luck and follow.
The car light turned on as Fichter instinctively pressed the eject button on the CD player.
“How did it go?”
Eric smirked. “It could have gone a little bit better.”
“How many did we lose?”
Fichter sighed. “But we won?”
“Alright. Where now?”
“There’s a crazy scientist that I’m sure would be more than happy to hear the news. Maybe he’ll let us have some peaches.”
Fichter began to chuckle, turning into a full laugh as the car pulled away from the cliff. They left the burning, collapsed arches behind them on their way back east, a trail of bodies long enough to match their trip.
But there was only one word to describe the two occupants of the car.
Last edited by Desmond Tiny; 01-12-2006 at 03:17 PM..