iBooks is having a big sale on romance bundle books. The Captive Series books 1-5 and The Vampire Awakenings Series that I wrote under Brenda K. Davies are both in it! Check it out if you have a chance and find some great new reads for a great price from some amazing authors! http://tw.apple.com/romancebundles
- Erica Stevens
- My name is not really Erica Stevens, it is a pen name that I chose in memory of two amazing friends lost too soon.I was born in New York and moved to Mass as a child. I spent my time growing up between NY and Mass so I have some interesting times when sports games roll around. I was fortunate enough to marry my best friend over two years ago and I don't know what I'd do without him. I have a large, crazy, fun loving family that just loves to laugh. My parents are the strongest people I know. I have an older brother and sister, and a younger sister, who have blessed me with many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. I am nowhere near as old as the great nieces and nephews make me sound. I love to read and have wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I also write more adult romance novels under the pen name of Brenda K. Davies.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
A fan nominated The Captive Series to be made into movies on The IF List! I'd never heard of this before but it is pretty amazing to have been nominated and looks like a lot of fun! You can follow the link and have fun dreamcasting and to show your support for The Captive Series! http://iflist.com/capturedthecaptiveseries
Monday, November 17, 2014
A sick feeling twisted through Al’s stomach as he stared down at the wreckage of the body that the others had just savagely killed. His gaze lifted to search the trees but he didn’t see anything moving amongst the thick foliage. He grabbed hold of Mary Ellen’s arm when she went to take a step forward on the stand. “Wait,” he whispered.
“They’re heading for the camp.” Her eyes were wild as they met his, her arm rigid in his grasp. “The children.”
Al continued to study the woods, he saw nothing moving amongst the trees and underbrush but he couldn’t shake the feeling that there were eyes upon them. Those sick people were too smart. He knew that he could be letting the group of them approach the camp, knew he could be putting the others at risk, but he still didn’t move. All of his years of hunting had taught him one thing, even if you couldn’t see the deer, that didn’t mean they couldn’t see you and it didn’t mean they weren’t there.
A chill ran up his spine, he lifted his head to study the trees around and above them. He had to make a decision, if he was wrong then the children were in danger, but if he was right then they would be stepping into a trap. “Al…” Mary Ellen said in a pleading tone of voice.
“If we get onto that ladder and they’re still out there, we’ll be vulnerable,” he told her.
“Everyone at the camp is vulnerable,” she whispered frantically.
He gave a brief nod, she was right. Even if those things were hiding amongst the trees, they couldn’t stay on this stand. Not if there was a chance the sick were heading toward the camp and the children. “Ok but we have to get off of that ladder as quickly as we can.”
“Yes, yes,” she said and went to turn away.
He pulled her back toward him. “Even if they’re not waiting for us out there, we can’t go directly to the camp behind them. We’re going to have to circle around to the other side.”
“What? Why?” she demanded.
“If Claire, Nancy and the children open fire on those things there are going to be a lot of stray bullets,” Al explained. “There’s a good chance we could be hit by one of them if we come up behind those things.”
Mary Ellen chewed nervously on her bottom lip but she nodded her head in agreement. He could feel her anxiety and the desire to get to her daughter coming off of her in waves. All he could do was hope that she didn’t do anything foolish enough to get herself hurt, or killed. “You have to keep your head,” he told her.
There was still no color in her face and her hands were shaking but her eyes didn’t hesitate to meet his. “I will,” she vowed.
Taking a deep breath, he nodded and turned away from her. Donald stopped him when he went to grab hold of the ladder though. “I’ll be able to get off the ladder faster and give you guys some cover.”
Al stepped back as Donald grabbed hold of the ladder and swung himself onto it. He didn’t take a single breath as he watched Donald rapidly descend. Donald was three quarters of the way down when he leapt off the ladder and landed agilely upon the ground. He remained crouched for a minute, watching the woods intently before rising to his feet. Al grabbed hold of the ladder and climbed down as rapidly as his old legs would allow him but they certainly weren’t going to allow him to jump off the ladder like Donald had.
Mary Ellen was already on her way down when he landed on the ground. “Do you see anything?” he asked Donald.
Donald shook his head as he held his gun before him but Al could feel the tension radiating from him. “Once we go into those trees we’ll have no way of knowing if they’re coming at us.”
“I know,” Al said quietly as Mary Ellen climbed off the ladder beside him. “Make sure you keep searching above us too. The last thing I want is one of them landing on my back.”
Donald shuddered and nodded his agreement; Mary Ellen stepped closer to the two of them as they approached the decimated remains of the dead one that the other sick had torn apart. Al tried not to look but his gaze was repeatedly drawn back to the torn ligaments, bones, and other body parts that he could no longer identify and didn’t want to.
He kept his gun before him as they cautiously approached the woods in a triangle formation with Donald at the front. Though he knew it wasn’t true, every step sounded louder to him than the screeching birds that had taken flight earlier.
His head tilted back but he didn’t see any of them taking flight from the trees and then, fifty feet to the right of them a few of more birds soared into the sky. The sick ones were on the move but they weren’t scaring the birds from the trees like they had before. Had the sick split apart and were now moving in smaller groups? He wondered as he continued to search for any sign of the monsters in the woods with them. Had all the birds already been frightened from their roosts?
His old ticker wasn’t going to be able to take this, he realized as they continued through the woods toward the camp. The sick ones are smart, he thought again and they all moved with such stealth. He suspected that even though they were following behind the group of sick people, tracking their movements, that they weren’t the hunters. They never had been.
He studied the treetops but he didn’t think they would be above them, not anymore. They were luring them back toward the camp. Luring them toward the others so that they could take them all down at once.
“I think we’re in trouble here,” Donald whispered.
“I think we are too,” Al agreed.
A loud crack caused all of them to jump and spin toward Mary Ellen. She stared back at them in horror before glancing down at the branch beneath her foot. “Sorry,” she mouthed.
Al took a deep breath to settle the rapid beat of his heart. “This way,” he urged and moved toward the right so that they could begin their circle around the camp.
He kept his ears alert for any noise but he found the utter stillness of the woods even more unnerving than the sight of the rabid sick ones turning on their own had been. Donald held up a hand and stopped before them. He pulled his knife free from his holster and pressed it against the handle of his gun.
Al fell into step beside him; he was careful where he put his feet as they reached an area that was about a quarter mile off the back right hand corner of the cabin. The continuous quiet enshrouding the forest worried him even more than the fact that he didn’t know where the sick humans had gone.
He grabbed hold of Donald’s arm, holding him back when he caught the soft sound of something cracking. Donald turned toward him, his brow furrowed in confusion as Al held his finger against his lips. Al strained his ears but he didn’t hear anything else, he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something out there, watching them though. He pointed in the direction he’d heard the noise coming from but as he turned to look that way something inside of him instinctively caused his head to snap back.
He took a step away from the tree above him as someone launched at him from the leafy branches. Throwing himself backward Al was able to avoid the man coming at him but he was unable to keep himself on his feet and landed heavily upon the ground. Shifting his hold on his gun, he grabbed for his knife as the man launched himself at him.
Donald swung out, catching the man across the cheek with a sharp right that sent him spiraling to the side before the man could get to him. Al rolled as quickly away as he could and pushed himself back to his feet. Another sick person emerged from the shadows and descended upon them with the deadly silence of an owl swooping in on a field mouse.
He held his gun and knife up before him, the last thing he wanted to do was fire off a shot and bring more of those things down upon them, but he might not have a choice as the two sick ones circled them. Where are the other sick? He wondered as he kept his eyes focused on the one that had first leapt out of the tree at him.
“What are they waiting for?” Mary Ellen demanded.
“Backup, maybe,” Donald muttered.
“I don’t think they were with the other group,” Al said quietly as he studied the two now hunting them. He tried to recall what the main group had looked like but he was fairly certain that these two hadn’t been amongst them.
Al adjusted his grip on his knife as Mary Ellen’s back pressed against his. The one that had leapt from the tree didn’t seem to have taken the landing too well as he was now limping off of his right leg. The other one was mostly focused on Mary Ellen but he knew that if one attacked the other would be right behind it.
The one with a limp lunged for him at the same time that the other went for Mary Ellen. Al swung out with his knife, catching the man across his chest and slicing him open. Blood spilled forth but it did little to deter his attacker as he kept coming straight for him. Al managed to adjust the knife and point it upwards as he fell back onto the forest floor beneath his crazed attacker.
The man fell on top of him; his weight drove his body forcefully onto Al and the blade of his knife and knocked his gun free of his hand. Arms and legs kicked above him, flailing as the man tried to get at him. Warm blood trickled from the vicious wound in the man’s lower sternum; it ran down over Al’s hand and dripped down to plaster his clothes to his skin. Revulsion slid through Al but he twisted the knife deeper to try and put an end to the man’s suffering as small mewls of pain escaped him.
Even with the stab wound, the man was still determined to try and get at him. He knew these humans were able to die but Al wondered if they processed the implications of that death and its permanency like they had before the madness ate their brains. He thought it far more likely that with the rotting of these people’s brain, and their turn to cannibalism, that these humans no longer processed the end of their life in the same way. That perhaps pain didn’t even register the same way to these people anymore.
Al turned his head to the side in an attempt to avoid the hands and fingers trying to tear into his flesh. A grunt escaped him as a fist connected with the right side of his face and knocked his head to the side. He turned his head further away from the man as his fingers clawed at his skin. Blood spilled down his cheeks as fingernails raked at the flesh of his cheeks.
The man above him released a small mewl as he twisted the knife harshly to the side and tried to drive it further upward. He could feel flesh rending as the knife shifted, feel it as the blade scraped across rib bone and more blood poured forth to coat his hands and clothes. Revulsion slid through his stomach, he was certain he was going to vomit as the nearly lipless mouth above him skimmed back to reveal the gaps in the man’s rotting teeth. A black tongue slithered out, it didn’t actually slither but images of snakes and the pits of Hell were all that filled his mind as that tongue flickered at him.
Donald appeared behind him; he lifted a large tree branch and swung it forcefully down. The arc of the branch caught the twisted man above him under the chin and flung him backwards off of Al. He inhaled a deep breath as the loss of the bodyweight allowed him to finally drag in a ragged breath. The man that had attacked him had been being quiet, probably so he wouldn’t have to share his meal with the others in the woods, but now he began to make a low squealing noise that sounded even worse to Al than nails scratching down a chalkboard.
Al rolled to his side as Donald stalked across the clearing and deftly slid his knife across the man’s throat, finally silencing him. Al looked away from the thrashing body as he turned toward where he had last seen Mary Ellen. She was leaning against a tree with her hands on her knees, heaving in gulps of air.
“Are you ok?” she demanded of him.
“I’m fine,” he assured her. She rose and gestured toward the blood covering him. Al barely glanced at it but he could feel it sticking against his skin. “It’s his. What of you?”
She shook her head and glanced down at herself, her shirt was torn at the neckline and scratches marred her collarbone but she appeared otherwise unharmed. “All good.”
She took hold of his extended hand and stood up straight. He didn’t bother to brush the dirt off of him but he did take the time to pull his ruined shirt off and drop it on the ground. There was still blood on his chest but it wasn’t as much. Brushing the blood away from the scratches on his face, he poked at the tender flesh. The gouges weren’t deep but blood continued to trickle from them.
He retrieved his gun from the forest floor before walking over to the body slumped against the tree. The last thing he wanted was to take his knife back but it would be extremely foolish of him to leave behind a weapon that he would need again. Over the years he had considered himself many things, foolish had never been one of them.
Resigning himself to what must be done he bent down, grabbed hold of the handle, and wrenched it from where it was buried deep in the man’s rotten flesh. He wiped the bloody blade off quickly on the pine needles beneath him and kept it in hand as they hurried through the forest again.
“Why haven’t we heard screams?” Mary Ellen inquired. “Or shouts from the camp?”
Al didn’t have any answers for her as his gaze ran continuously over the forest surrounding them. His glasses had been scratched in the fight but he could still see well enough to be able to spot it if another one came at them. His gaze searched the tops of the trees as he was propelled more rapidly forward by the driving urge to get to the camp.
If those two had already been in the woods, then there could be even more than the original group they’d seen. The continuing silence of the forest was beginning to worry him more than the fact that he didn’t know where the other group of sick was and that the birds had stopped taking flight. He broke into a slow jog behind Donald as they made it to a place that was off the right hand corner of the cabin but the building was still hidden from view.
Caution caused him to slow again as they walked briskly past one of the hunting stands he had pointed out on the first day they’d arrived here. Though he’d known where they were, Donald still cautioned them about the newly dug traps that he’d completed with the others this morning. Had that really been just this morning? Al thought in disbelief. It seemed as if it had been a lifetime ago now. Both traps remained completely covered by the debris and untouched, no one had come through this way before them.
Glancing at the sky and the setting sun he wondered if maybe Carl and the others were back at the camp already. It was getting late in the day, if everything had gone well they should be returning around now. He kept the hope that they would have more help to protect the camp with close to his chest as they continued through the forest. They had just reached the fishing line and alarms strung along the perimeter when the first line began to vibrate like a plucked guitar string. He thought he heard the distant rattle of a can but the trigger point of the alarm was nowhere near where they were.
He grabbed Mary Ellen back when she went to run forward. “Careful,” he instructed.
“They just set off the alarms; the others know they’re coming,” Mary Ellen hissed at him.
“And if we set off the alarms in this area than the sick ones will know there’s someone else over here, and so will the members of our camp. Except the people at camp won’t know we’re friendly.” Mary Ellen bit on her bottom lip, her face reddened as she seemed to fight against a scream of frustration. “We’ll get there but we need to get there as undetected as possible.”
She nodded and the three of them carefully made their way past the two lines. As soon as they were free of the lines, they broke into a brisk jog toward the camp. They’d only made it fifteen feet when the first shout pierced the air. It was followed almost instantly by a gunshot that reverberated through the mountains.
Al prayed that they weren’t too late as he ran toward the lake and front of the cabin. They’d had to be careful on their approach to the cabin but had he been too cautious? If someone died he knew it would be because of his hesitation, but there was always a price to pay in war, he just didn’t think he could live with that price being one of the children.
Monday, November 10, 2014
“Are you ok?” Carl demanded of John.
He glanced over at his friend but didn’t dare take his eyes off the road for more than a second as they raced down crowded streets that he didn’t recognize. They blew past an exit ramp he thought they should have taken to get back toward the racetrack and camp, but the ramp was blocked by an overturned box truck and some cars. Riley was already past the exit ramp anyway and he didn’t know how to get her attention without possibly attracting some more unwanted guests. In the car before them, Xander was turned around in his seat, trying to work on Josh as Riley darted expertly in and out of the abandoned vehicles congesting the road.
“Are you ok?” he demanded again.
John’s eyes were almost bugging out of his head as he turned his hand over to stare at the chunk that had been torn from the fleshy part of it. Carl didn’t think it would ever be fleshy again as the skin and muscle had been torn off nearly to the bone from his pinky knuckle to his wrist.
“It bit me.” John said as he continued to stare at his hand. “That bastard bit me!”
“Yes I know, I saw. Are you ok?”
“What the hell? I mean what the hell!” John shouted as he stared at the blood oozing out of the gaping wound.
“We have to get that cleaned up, now.”
John was pale as he lifted his head to look at him. There were shadows under his sunken and frightened eyes. He seemed to suddenly understand what that bite mark could entail as his mouth dropped and his good hand went to his head. “It bit me,” he muttered.
He rubbed at his forehead as he stared at the blood trickling down his arm. Carl didn’t know if it was shock over the bite or over what might happen to him, but John just sat there and stared at the bloody wound as Riley made a sharp right at a set of lights.
Carl had thought she’d been traveling too fast to make it around the turn but the car didn’t even skid. She was forced to ease back on her speed in order to navigate the car over the bricks in the center of the road that was more of a hump dividing the two-lane road from another two-lane road. Carl followed her over the hump in order to avoid a cluster of abandoned cars.
Brick and wooden storefronts, restaurants, and a large town hall came into view. Along with the buildings came the realization that they needed to get off of this road. There were too many vehicles blocking the way, light poles had toppled up ahead and a brick store had crumbled into the road. But more than that, as they drove by a pink diner, numerous heads popped up over the top of the brick wall. Multiple eyes peered out at them from the drawn and battered faces behind the broken diner windows.
“Hold on,” Carl said and slammed on the gas.
The tires of the truck squealed, John was thrust back against his seat as the truck lurched forward, but he had to get ahead of Riley and off of this road. He had a feeling if they didn’t leave this area of town soon they would become trapped between the vehicles and the people now walking down the steps of the diner and coming out from behind the other buildings along the road.
Down the street, he saw more heads appearing above the vehicles congested through the roadway. A few of the sick people fell as they made their way forward and sprawled on the pavement. Carl found himself riveted on the sight as two of their kind turned on the fallen ones. Squeals that had nothing to do with the truck tires filled the air as he finally overtook Riley.
He slammed his hand against his window when Xander glanced at him. He pointed at a road coming up on their left. A set of lights had fallen across the road but the poles had fallen along the sidewalks instead of across the roadway that ran in between a bank and a middle school. On the inside of him, Riley made the turn onto the road first. Carl yanked the wheel sharply, sending John into the dashboard with enough force that the air exploded from his lungs. Riley dropped further back to allow him to take the lead.
More heads appeared in the windows of the school and some of the heads of the sick people lying on the lawn of the school lifted. Though their heads lifted, little else of them did and their heads fell limply onto the ground again. At first he’d thought that was simply where the sick had decided to curl up and sleep, but looking at them he began to realize that something more was going on with them.
“I’ll be,” he whispered as they passed some houses and other buildings. In his mirror he could see some of the sick trying to follow them but they were falling further back as they sped down the road. “I think they’re dying.”
John’s face was flushed as he pushed himself off the dashboard and slumped into his seat. “What?” he asked.
Carl glanced over at him as he slowed the truck to a more reasonable speed on the windy back road. Beads of sweat trickled down his pallid cheeks, the purse of his mouth told Carl he was doing everything he could not to throw up. They needed to get out of this truck and do something about that wound before John passed out.
“They’re dying,” Carl said again. “Or at least they appear to be. We have to find somewhere to stop.”
John shook his head and braced his hand on the dash. “We have to get as far from them, and that store, as we possibly can.”
“We’ve put a fair amount of distance between us. We have to stop. At the very least we have to get that cleaned up and the bleeding stopped. For you and Josh.” John glanced at the car in his side mirror and gave a brief nod. “Plus I’d prefer it if you didn’t vomit in the truck.”
“Me too,” John muttered as he bowed his head.
Carl glanced in his mirror again, he didn’t see any of the sick back there but he still went a couple of miles before pulling the truck into an empty lot on the right hand side of the road. They climbed a small hill and drove past the remains of some concrete blocks buried beneath the overgrown grass. There were charred marks on the blocks that stood testimony to whatever it was that had once stood on the open lot. He drove to the edge of the woods line, turned the truck around and parked it five feet away from the trees.
Even if someone came up the driveway, there were plenty of ways for them to escape the lot without having to return to the pavement of the drive. To the left of them was nothing but woods and power lines. To the right there was a swimming pool and a grouping of at least thirty bungalows. There was one large building in the center of the bungalows, apparently the main meetinghouse or something. The property was surrounded by a chain link fence. Carl had no idea what the property was, if it was a camp or something, but he kept a wary eye on it as he shifted the truck into park and turned it off.
There was enough open space between them and the bungalows that they would be able to see anyone approaching them from there, but they wouldn’t see someone hiding inside the buildings, possibly with guns. He braced himself for the possibility of getting shot before opening his door and climbing out. The breeze tugged at his hat as he scanned the buildings but the only thing he saw amongst them was a scrap of garbage blowing across the pool area before getting caught up in the fence.
He turned as the backdoors opened on the truck and Riley jumped into the back. Turning away from the bungalows, he walked to the end of the truck. “How’s Josh?” he inquired of Xander when he appeared from the other side.
“He’ll be ok if we can get the bleeding stopped. That thing took a chunk out of him.”
Carl nodded and turned to look back at the buildings. There were so many places for eyes to be staring out at them from, but if any of the sick people were over there, they would already be coming forward, that much he knew. Riley jumped out of the truck with an armload of bandages, peroxide, rubbing alcohol, some hand towels, and a bottle of aspirin.
“Can you find me some needle and thread?” she asked briskly of Xander before turning to John. She winced as she studied his hand before handing out a couple of bottles and some bandages to Carl. “You take care of him and I’ll get Josh.”
Carl nodded as he took the supplies from her. John looked at him like he was carrying an armful of scorpions as he approached him with a bottle of peroxide. “Let me see your hand,” Carl commanded.
“All of the medicine’s at the camp,” John said. “You’re just wasting supplies on me. We’ll never make it back in time to be able to take anything to help us.”
Carl couldn’t bring himself to look at John as he uttered those words. They’d lost so many already but he didn’t know how he would take losing John. The kid grated on his nerves more than anyone he’d ever known before, but he was his best friend. Ignoring John’s words, he unscrewed the cap on the peroxide and shoved in the protective cover.
“Carl come on,” John said quietly. “You guys will need these things, to waste them on us…”
“You don’t know that it’s a waste,” Xander interrupted briskly as looked over the sideboards at them from the back of the truck. “I was bit and I’m fine.”
John turned to look at him. “But you were able to get some medicine into you. Those pills are at the camp, we’re not making it back there before nightfall and we’re not going to travel at night. Not for any one. Risking all our lives is complete stupidity.”
“That medicine could have just been a coincidence. My leg could have been infected.”
“And this won’t get infected?” John demanded and thrust his hand at Xander.
“Not if you let me clean it.” Carl grabbed hold of his hand and jerked it toward him. Before John could protest he dumped half the bottle over the bloody mess of his hand. “They’re not zombies John, they die, they stay dead, and they are dying.”
John’s eyes burned into his when he lifted his head to look at him. “Aren’t we all?”
“Not today,” Carl said fiercely. “Not today.”
He wiped the blood away with a hand towel to examine the jagged edges of the wound. The imprint of the teeth was clearly visible on John’s flesh. As he turned John’s hand before him he realized that there wasn’t enough flesh left for him to sew the wound closed.
Grabbing the bottle of rubbing alcohol he twisted the top off of it. “Wait, hey now, the peroxide should be good enough,” John protested.
“Do you want this to get infected?” Carl demanded.
“I think I might prefer it to that.” John waved a finger at the bottle in Carl’s hand.
“You’re such a wimp.”
“Hey, hey wait! OW!” John protested when he dumped the alcohol over his hand. “Son of a bitch!”
John jerked his hand away from him. Grabbing his wrist he began to jump up and down, cursing as he shook his hand in the air. Carl was trying hard not to laugh as John’s face became the color of a tomato. “You’re acting like a baby.”
John cursed vehemently at him; he kept hold of his wrist as he bent over and tucked his elbow between his legs. “You enjoyed that.”
“A little,” Carl admitted.
John shot him a look before bending back over his hand. “That hurt worse than that freak’s bite did.”
“Let me finish with it.”
“No more alcohol.”
“No more,” Carl promised as he screwed the top back on and placed it on the ground.
Xander jumped out of the truck and headed toward him with a small sewing kit. “Found it,” he said.
“That’s not going to be any help here, we won’t be able to stitch it,” Carl told him.
“I’ll bring it to Riley.”
Xander turned and walked around the back of the truck to wherever Riley was with Josh. He didn’t like the idea that he couldn’t see them, or the car from here, but he didn’t want to be in a position where he couldn’t see the bungalows either. He dabbed at John’s wound with the towel. The bleeding finally seemed to be easing as he grabbed the peroxide again.
“Ready?” he asked.
John took a deep breath before nodding. Carl kept hold of John’s hand as he poured the liquid over the wound. The bubbles fizzled up and slipped over the side of John’s hand in pinkish trails that dripped onto the ground. “Just leave it for a little bit.” Carl’s knees cracked loudly when he bent to dig through the bandages and ointment that Riley had handed him.
“You sound like a rice krispie,” John muttered.
“Apparently someone else thought you were the treat,” Carl retorted.
Rising to his feet again, John gave him the finger before allowing Carl to wipe the peroxide away. He liberally dabbed the antibiotic ointment on the wound and around it. Blood still rose up but it was far slower than it had been.
“Do you really believe this is going to keep me from getting sick?” John asked.
Carl stared at the white bandages as he wrapped them around the wound and tried to think of an answer. He knew what he wanted to have happen but he also wanted his old life back and that wasn’t going to happen either. He kept reminding himself that they weren’t dealing with zombies here but every horror flick he’d ever seen with zombies in it was flashing through his mind. When watching those movies, he would always yell at the stupid people that took one of the infected along with them in the hopes that somehow, miraculously, this person would be the one to make it through. He’d always felt some kind of ridiculous sense of vindication when the bitten person inevitably turned and ate the idiots that had insisted that it wouldn’t happen to them.
He lifted his head and met John’s troubled brown eyes head on. “I do.”
If John turned on him and ate him he would deserve it, but he couldn’t bring himself to admit there was a chance that he was going to die, and he couldn’t say it to John. He couldn’t take all hope away from John, or tie him up, and he definitely couldn’t leave him on the side of the road. But if he showed any sign of becoming what those people were, what Lee had become, he also wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in his head.
They may not be dealing with zombies but it could be some kind of encephalitis, some form of rabies that was transmitted by a bite. Or it could be something else entirely, he reminded himself as he taped the bandage down. They had no way of knowing, not yet anyway, but between John and Josh he had a feeling they were about to find out.
Carl handed John a couple of aspirin and a bottle of water. “Hopefully those will help keep the swelling down,” he said.
He stepped away from John, gathered up the supplies and put them in the front seat of the truck. He closed the door and walked around the hood. Riley was kneeling before Josh as she worked on taping a bandage to the wound in his shoulder. Xander stood behind her with his gun in one hand and a bottle of peroxide in the other.
“How’s it going?” Carl asked as he turned his back on them in order to keep an eye on the road, bungalows, and power lines.
“Ok,” Riley muttered as the sound of tape ripping reached him. John walked to the front of the truck and sat on the bumper. His shoulders slumped forward as his head bowed. “I can’t sew the wound shut.”
“Neither could I,” Carl informed her.
“The bleeding is pretty much stopped though. How’s John?”
John turned and lifted his left hand in the air. The white bandage had some pink staining on it but it looked to be holding up relatively well. “Looking good.”
“That’s a first,” Riley quipped but her voice sounded strained.
“I heard that,” John called back to her.
“You were supposed to,” she retorted. Carl glanced over his shoulder at her as she rose to her feet and wiped her knees off. Their eyes locked when she looked up at him and he saw the same worry reflected in her gaze that was growing within him. “There was a pharmacy, at that intersection when we turned off the road from Walmart. There might be some medicine still in there.”
“No.” John rose to his feet and walked over to stand beside Carl in order to face Riley. “We’re not going back that way. Did you see how many of those things were back there?”
“Not all of us would go,” Riley said. “But two of us could take the car back, park off of one of the side roads and try to walk into the town. Two people would be a lot less noticeable. I’d be willing to go.”
“No,” John said again.
“There could be medicine there,” Riley insisted.
John slapped his good hand on the hood of the truck. “There is no way to know what is left in that pharmacy; it could be a suicide mission and a useless one at that.”
“But if there is some of the supplies that helped Xander…”
“If is a pretty big word to risk lives on, and not just yours. These supplies have to get back to the camp. If you don’t come back, and whoever stays here with us ends up having to kill us because we become rabid freakoids, or if we end up killing them then what? Even if they do survive, they won’t make it back to the camp on their own, and the people at that camp need someone to come back. The children need someone to come back. We’ll be fine, right Josh?”
The teen was deathly pale when he lifted his head to take them in. His eyes darted rapidly between all of them before landing on Riley. Don’t say it kid, Carl pleaded silently as Riley looked helplessly back at him. John was right, they all knew John was right but if Josh asked her to go, Carl knew that she would. Xander would either go with her, or he would tie her down and make her stay. It would turn into a fight but Carl would help him do it.
Josh continued to stare at Riley for a minute before nodding. “John’s right, we’ll be fine,” he finally said.
“Thank God,” John muttered and turned away.
Carl silently agreed as Xander heaved a breath of relief and dumped the supplies into the backseat of the car. Carl’s attention was drawn to the smoke rising high over the treetops; the store must have been fully engulfed by now. He wondered if it would draw those things in or if it would push them further away.
“How are you both feeling?” Xander asked.
“I feel fine,” John answered. “A little lighter without part of my hand, a little nauseous from being someone’s idea of a chicken wing, but I do feel fine.”
“Josh?” Xander asked.
“I’d have to agree with John, on all accounts.”
“The infection hit me pretty hard but we weren’t able to clean the wound right away. You might avoid that completely considering we got you cleaned up pretty quick.”
Carl appreciated the fact that Xander had referred to the infection as the only cause for him getting sick. He turned away from the front of the truck and walked to the passenger side door. “I’m going to try and figure out where we are,” he said as he retrieved the map from the dashboard of the truck.
He glanced over at Josh as the boy rose to his feet and wobbled unsteadily. The bandage that Riley had taped to his shoulder could be seen clearly beneath the jagged rip that had been torn into his bloodstained t-shirt. Josh walked unsteadily to the front of the truck and sat on the bumper beside John. Carl placed the map on the hood of the truck and unfolded it to take a look but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the two of them sitting on the bumper.
He really didn’t want to have to kill either one of them.
“Do you think we should stay here for the night?” Riley asked quietly from beside him. “Maybe we could make it back to the camp.”
Carl glanced at the darkening sky. “Let’s see where we are first.”
“Ok, I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
“Do you have your gun?”
She shook her head and glanced at where Xander stood by John and Josh. “Keep him with you. I know that if they do get sick it’s slow moving and will take time, but just keep him with you.” Carl opened his mouth to argue with her but she swiftly cut him off. “There are some things I’d prefer to do on my own.”
He lit a cigarette and nodded his agreement. “Don’t go far.”
“I never do.”
He watched her as she retrieved a roll of toilet paper from the back of the truck and disappeared into the woods. He turned back to the map and ran his fingers over the roads on it. It wasn’t difficult to figure out where they were but it was going to be a convoluted trip back to the camp. He glanced at the sky again, then at John and Josh before returning his attention to the map. Xander appeared at his side and glanced around him.
“Where’s Riley?” he inquired.
“Went to the bathroom.”
He didn’t look at all pleased with that answer but he didn’t comment on it as he studied the map. Carl glanced at the bungalow colony and then behind him to the power lines, but everything remained relatively clear. “There’s a chance we could make it to the camp tonight. If the roads aren’t too blocked we may be able to do it, or at the very least get closer to it. I’m going to have to navigate, can you drive this truck and I’ll ride with Riley?”
“I can,” Xander said. “Let’s get ready to go.”
Carl turned away from the map and stepped around to the front of the truck. “We’re going to try and get back to the camp.”
“Is that possible?” John inquired.
“We’re going to find out,” Carl answered. “At the very least we’ll be able to make it to the racetrack tonight. Let’s go.”
The two of them climbed off the bumper and walked with slumped shoulders in between the vehicles. They had to make it back, Carl thought as he pulled the map from the hood of the truck and turned around. He was about to open the passenger side door when two men stepped from the woods. At first Carl thought that they were some of the sick ones, but then he saw the raised rifles gleaming in their hands.
Monday, November 3, 2014
From behind her the sound of metal crashing against the linoleum floor with a rattling ting echoed through the store. It was accompanied by the sound of plastic rubber balls bouncing across the floor. The familiar, hollow sound of those balls caused an odd shift in her reality as she was flooded with memories of being at school and running around the playground. The memories were so vivid that for a brief moment she was uncertain what was actually real, this store around her, or the vibrant laughter of her childhood friends.
She shook her head in an attempt to clear it of the disconcerting images flooding her mind as another crash reverberated through the store, causing her fight or flight instinct to kick into hyper drive. She glanced behind her to see the rack that had contained dozens of children’s balls in the toy section now on its side and the balls bouncing across the ground. They were such a strange array of bright colors that seemed oddly out of place in this nightmare store. The sight of a pink and yellow ball fading away into the lengthening shadows filling the store made it seem as if the ball had been sucked into a completely different universe. Even though she couldn’t see it anymore, she could hear it as it continued its bouncing path across the floor before hitting something with a small thud.
The ball may have disappeared into the shadows but there was something else emerging from the ones to her right. Reacting on instinct, she lunged forward and shoved John in the back. A loud grunt escaped him but even as he was falling forward, she was throwing herself back. The figure that had been rushing at them crashed into the back wall. Containers of electrical wires and other assorted things fell on top of it as it sprawled upon the floor just feet in front of her.
The unsettling realization that the only sound it had made was its impact into the back wall hit her as it began to rise to its feet again. She could feel Xander’s hands in her back, trying to pull her away, but even as he was grabbing hold of her she was swinging the gun up.
Lips skimmed back to reveal the black gums and missing teeth of the corrupted human, a hiss escaped it as a mottled pink tongue flicked out from between the missing front teeth. She felt no remorse as she held its empty brown eyes and pulled the trigger. The creature’s head snapped back as the bullet slammed into its forehead and it fell to the ground.
Their feet continued to kick on the floor for a few seconds before they finally went blessedly still. “We have to go,” Xander hissed in her ear as something clattered to the floor in one of the aisles just behind them.
Riley nodded and climbed to her feet beside him. Her ears were still ringing from the gunshot but she heard something else crash in an aisle ahead of them as Xander nudged her forward. Her hands used to shake after firing a gun, they remained perfectly still before her as she searched the shadows for the impending next attack.
There was no way to know how many of the sick were in the store but she had a feeling that the sick were only trying to delay them until the ones that had been coming in through the automotive center could join in the fun. Even with the guns they would be quickly overrun by a large number of those sick things.
“Hurry,” she whispered as another loud crash sounded from behind them. Josh jumped and swung his gun up, Carl reached out to try and stop him from shooting but it was too late, he’d already pulled trigger. Carl swore and threw his hand over the ear that Josh had fired near. The bullet slammed into the shelves across the way but nothing emerged from the darkness.
“They’re playing with us until the others get here, we have to go,” Riley said frantically.
“Can you walk on your own?” Carl demanded of Josh. Blood had soaked through Xander’s shirt and was seeping down the front of Josh’s, he was still abnormally pale but he nodded in response. “Don’t fire that again unless it’s at one of those things. We’re going to need those bullets,” Carl told him before releasing him and stepping forward. “Let’s go.”
Riley didn’t have to be told twice as she scrambled over top of the body of the one she had just killed. Bent over, she stayed low as she searched the tops of the shelves and the beams of the ceiling for more of those things. Something ahead of them fell to the floor with a rattling ting that caused Carl to stop abruptly and throw out his arm to halt Josh behind him. They all stopped behind him as they waited for something else to emerge. Riley strained to figure out what had caused it as a spinning sound continued to echo through the store. It was hard to make out anything over the loud breathing of those around her. Those things were closing in on them, she was positive of it.
“They’re playing with us,” Riley whispered.
Carl hesitated for a few seconds but then his jaw clenched and a muscle began to twitch in his cheek. It seemed that he had come to the same conclusion she had. These things had enough reason to know how to unnerve and frighten them, how to keep them afraid of moving forward when that was what they had to do right now.
It was taking everything she had not to scream and start firing at anything that moved; at any little sound as something else crashed to the floor about twenty feet away from them. Instead, she took a steadying breath, tightened her hold on the gun and followed the others along the back wall. John stumbled in front of her and nearly went down, Riley reached out to try and help him but he managed to catch himself before he fell.
They reached a partition that blocked their way to the door that they had entered through. Riley stared at the picture frames full of fake smiling families, and camera accessories that hung from the hooks on the wall before them. There was a self-developing digital photo booth at the end of the aisle. To her right was a photo desk with a scattering of photo paper still spread out across the top next to the cash register.
Frustration filled her as she stared at the wall before them and then at the end of the aisle. The door was so unbelievably close, they were almost out of here but she knew that if they went to the end of the aisle they would be pounced upon. Those things were there, she was certain of it. They were waiting for them, playing with them.
She glanced at the photo desk again, she could climb onto the glass counter and try to peer over the wall but all that would do was confirm that those things were there and it would probably cause the sick ones to spring into action before they were ready for them. She turned back to the way they had come but the aisles remained empty and there was nothing sitting on top of the shelves, watching them. That’s because they’d already laid their trap, she thought with a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach.
“We can push it over,” John whispered.
“What?” Xander hissed.
John stepped closer to them. “Let’s not pretend those things haven’t set a trap. We’re not making it around this aisle and out that door without being attacked. Those things are smart but they’re not going to expect us to push this thing over on them, or at least I hope not.”
Riley stepped back to examine the large partition that blocked their way. “This thing’s probably bolted to the floor,” she whispered.
“I have no doubt it is but I’d rather take my chances of not being able to get it over than walking to the end of it. It’s thinner than the shelves are, we should be able to get it over.”
“It could work,” Carl muttered as he rubbed at the stubble lining his chin and jaw. “It will also get them to move out of the way. The door opened to the outside, we won’t be blocking it.”
Xander started to respond but silence descended over the store once more. Were those things trying to listen to them she thought as she continued to study the shadows around them. She held her breath as she waited for those things to emerge but the store remained eerily silent as the seconds stretched endlessly on.
Something clattered to the floor, it was close but she got the impression that it had been an accident this time. These things were done playing; they were waiting for their food to make a mistake now. Her skin crawled, her heart was in her throat as her eyes continued to search the shadows but nothing moved and no more sound followed.
“Push it over,” she breathed.
It was the only way they were going to get out of here, she was almost positive of that. Beside her Josh began to nod enthusiastically as he stepped back. His heel scraped against the partition, it was a sound that probably didn’t reach beyond their tight cluster but it sounded louder than the gunshots had in ears.
“Together,” Carl said. “Now.”
Riley spun, threw her hands out, and placed them against the partition. She knocked some of the hooks aside, picture frames clattered to the floor around her as the others did the same thing. Glass shattered, wood splintered and bounced against her sneakers but she didn’t care about any of it. Those things already knew where they were, keeping quiet now wasn’t going to do them any good. Adrenaline surged through her body as she planted her feet and shoved against the partition as hard as she could.
A wrenching noise began to fill the air as they continued to push. For a second the wall didn’t move but as the wrenching grew louder, the partition began to inch its way backwards. A cry escaped her as her feet started to slip on the floor but she continued to shove at the wall.
John pulled away from the wall and scrambled a few feet back. With a shout he raced at the partition, leapt off the ground and slammed his shoulder into it. The partition shuddered and then began to go over at a much faster rate. Riley lost her traction on the floor, her feet slid out from under her and her knees crashed down.
Even as pain lanced through her battered knees, she was scrambling back to her feet. Someone on the other side of the partition cried out as it finally tipped over and crashed backward. The partition didn’t make it all the way to the floor though; she didn’t have to see what was beneath it to know that some of those things had gotten trapped under its weight.
Xander turned and held his hand out to her, she grabbed hold of it and he helped to pull her onto the toppled wall. Something beneath them crunched and a low howl erupted. There was no sympathy within her for whatever it was though; all of her sympathy for these creatures had been left on the side of the road with Bobby’s body. These demented sick people were too far gone for them to be saved and in a fight to the death, she was going to do everything in her power to make sure they all survived. Even if it meant literally stepping onto some of the sick ones to do it.
She kept hold of Xander’s hand as Carl flung open the broken door they had entered through. Light spilled in to illuminate the store and the half a dozen or so creatures coming at them. Toppling the wall had initially thrown them off but they were recovering quickly. Carl spun away from the door and started firing his gun. She didn’t know if he was aiming at anything or simply trying to deter the monsters she could feel closing in on them.
A thud and squeal indicated that he had hit someone but she could almost feel them breathing down her neck as Josh fell through the doorway with John close on his heels. Xander tugged on her hand, pulling her before him. She didn’t have time to protest before he was shoving her out the door.
The debris and bodies pinned beneath it had created a three-foot drop to the outside that she hadn’t been expecting. She fell forward, smacking her already wounded knees and right elbow off of the pavement as she toppled sideways out the door. Putting her hand beneath her, she pushed herself to the side, rolling out of the way in time to avoid Xander and Carl as they jumped out of the doorway behind her.
Riley caught a glimpse of three of those things almost in the doorway before Xander spun and slammed the door shut. Carl pressed his back against the door with him, both of their shoulders heaved from the force of the rapid breaths they were taking. Riley pushed herself back to her feet, she wasn’t as quick to recover this time but she limped rapidly toward the dumpster.
“No,” Carl grunted as those things banged loudly against the door behind him. They managed to push the door open almost an inch before Xander and Carl were able to shove it shut again. “Not this time. John, Riley, get against the door.”
Riley was confused by the command but she changed direction and added her weight to the door along with John. “Just hold on for a few minutes more,” Carl told them and scurried out from underneath them.
Xander slid up the door beside her as he rose to his feet. Angry grunts and animalistic sounds came from the other side of the door as the sick humans continued to beat and shove against it. She could almost feel the anger and frustration emanating from them as their nails raked down the door in a screeching sound that made her teeth clench and her ears hurt.
The door pushed open again, fingers curled around the edge of the door just inches from her face. Her eyes crossed as the filthy, bloody tips crept closer to her nose. The nails appeared to have been ripped from their beds as blood dripped from them. “Carl!” she screamed as the weight of the bodies inside began to push the door further open.
Her back strained; her legs and bruised knees screamed in protest as more pressure was placed against them. She had no idea how much longer she would be able to keep this up before her body gave way beneath the weight. A strong whiff of gas filled her nose as Carl appeared by her side again.
Raising his gun, he fired into the hand just centimeters away from her nose. Blood burst from the back of the palm and sprayed her in the face. She blinked it away from her eyes as a howl erupted from inside and the hand quickly slipped away. Carl turned his gun, aimed inside, and fired a rapid series of shots into the building. The door crashed shut with a thud but she wasn’t fooled into thinking that those things weren’t going to come back.
“Get the dumpster now,” Carl commanded gruffly.
Riley had no idea what he intended to do but she hurried over to the dumpster and got behind it. Josh still looked as if he was about to drop as he jogged over to help her, but he put his good shoulder against the dumpster and helped her push it toward the door. Another thud sounded against the door from inside the store and loud shouts began to emanate from inside. Carl had managed to get those things to move away for a little bit but they were already back. She had no doubt that at least some of them were already trying to get out of the store through one of the other doors in an attempt to circle around and come at them.
“We have to go,” she panted as they succeeded in pushing the dumpster over near the door.
“We will,” Carl assured her. She spotted the source of the gas smell as he brought forth a bottle with a rag hanging out of it. He must have filled it from the gas cans in the back of the truck. “Give me your gun.”
She handed him her gun and took hold of his. He stepped away from the door, inched it open, and fired another round of shots into the building. He dropped the empty gun on the ground, lit the end of the rag and tossed the bottle into the building. “Dumpster!” he barked.
Riley threw her shoulder into the dumpster to push it the last few feet toward the door. John and Xander jumped forward to slam it into the door with her and Josh. Carl snatched her empty gun off the ground and pushed John toward the truck. “What did you do?” John demanded as they ran toward the vehicles.
Riley threw her shoulder into the dumpster to push it the last few feet toward the door. John and Xander jumped forward to slam it into the door with her and Josh. Carl snatched her empty gun off the ground and pushed John toward the truck. “What did you do?” John demanded as they ran toward the vehicles.
“No one is walking into that trap again,” Carl huffed as he ran.
Riley prayed that was true as she wiped the blood away from her face with the back of her forearm. She glanced over her shoulder, but there was no sign of a fire yet in the building. She slid behind the steering wheel of the car and turned it over as Xander hopped into the passenger side and Josh slumped into the back. A tendril of smoke curled out from the backdoor as she shifted the car into drive and slammed on the gas.
The tires squealed on the pavement but she didn’t ease up on the gas as the car fishtailed before finally gripping hold of the pavement. She kept her foot on the floor as they sped toward the corner of the building. One of the sick ones burst out at them and threw themselves at the car. Riley swerved the car at them and clipped them with the left front fender. It was childish of her, but she couldn’t stop herself from slamming her middle finger against the window as the person bounced away from the car.
She didn’t look away from the rearview mirror as the body fell beneath the tires of the truck. Turning her attention back to the parking lot she sped across the empty spaces and down the back hill toward the fast food restaurant. She wasn’t entirely sure where she was going but she didn’t dare ease up on the gas as smoke began to rise into the air behind them.
Smoke that would most likely attract even more of those things.