Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TRAIL OF TERROR (A Jacob Slade Story)

Genre: Horror


TRAIL OF TERROR
By Daniel Skye
For weeks, Jacob Slade had followed the trail of terror that ran through the town of Dorchester. It was mid-March when the killings began. Bodies were discovered in the woods surrounding Dorchester Park.
There were no footprints, no blood or saliva other than the victims, no murder weapon found at any of the scenes. Only hair.
Hair that the unequipped Dorchester crime lab could only determine was that of an animal. The species remained ambiguous.
Baffled by the murders, Sheriff Booth issued a nine o’clock curfew for all residents of Dorchester and urged people to stay out of the woods.
In early April, they got their first break in the case. Byron Phillips decided not to heed the warnings and stay clear of the woods. He had taken his nine year old son on a hunting expedition. He figured with the curfew in effect, and everyone banned from entering the woods, this was the ideal time for hunting. The perfect opportunity to bag himself a ten pointer.
He didn’t have to worry about any crossfire or accidently getting struck in the back by a hunter’s arrow. But he still wore his puffy orange jacket to make sure he stood out from the wildlife. And even though Dean Phillips protested that the jacket was too dorky to risk being seen in, Byron made his son wear an identical coat for his safety.
It was getting close to curfew when the killer struck. Dean watched in shock as his father was torn to shreds. He had a rifle, but Dean was an inexperienced shooter. What if he accidently missed and hit his dad instead?
So when the initial shock subsided and Dean was able to snap back to reality, he bolted like a coward into the approaching darkness.
No one blamed Dean for his hesitation. He was just nine years old and he had witnessed something no boy should ever be forced to witness. But the cops did want to speak with him once he calmed down. They needed a description, anything that could lead them closer to catching the sadistic creep that did this.
“Please, Dean,” Sheriff Booth had begged. “We need to know what you saw. Who did this to your father?”
“It was…it was Big Foot,” Dean stammered.
* * *
          Jacob Slade is a supernatural investigator, and proud of it. His work doesn’t pay nearly as much as it should, and it doesn’t bring him much respect from the community, but it’s what Slade chose to devote his life to, and there was no backing out for him.
          Slade rents a small office that’s housed above a deli. And that’s exactly where he was on Thursday, April 4th, 2013, when Karl Booth stopped by to pay him a visit. But Booth hadn’t come alone this time.
          He dragged along Deputy Brackett, the only one besides Karl who gave Slade any credit or believed in the supernatural abilities he possessed.
          Jacob Slade is telepathic. He can tell you what you had for dinner last week or what time you go to bed in the evening. In addition to mindreading, Slade possesses minor telekinetic abilities. He can levitate certain objects depending on the weight and size. It doesn’t work on humans, but he can still hurl these objects across the room at you if he concentrates hard enough.
          Deputy Brackett had donned a peculiar hat for their meeting. It was made entirely out of tinfoil.
          “I suppose you know why we’re here,” Booth said. “So I’ll skip the pleasantries and just ask if you’ll help us or not.”
          “You know I will,” Slade said.
          “Excellent,” Booth said. “We really need you on this case.”
          “Are we not going to acknowledge the hat?” Slade asked.
          “The tinfoil is to stop you from reading my thoughts,” Brackett explained as if this rationale was common sense.
          “I can still read your thoughts,” Slade informed him.
          “Prove it.”
          “Right now, you’re thinking about lunch. But last night, you had eight beers and one of those microwavable TV dinners. Then you touched yourself while looking at Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Thanks for the image, by the way. Oh, and you didn’t shower before you came into work today.”
          Brackett threw his tinfoil hat to the ground in frustration as Booth laughed it up. Then it was right down to business.
          “We’ve got a witness,” Booth shared with Slade. “Dean Phillips. Nine years old. He claims that Big Foot tore his father to bloody pieces.”
          “Now I see why you want me on the case,” Slade said.
          “All we’ve found at the crime scenes so far is hair. The boys say we’re looking at an animal. They’re just not sure on the species.”
          “We could be dealing with a Lycan,” Slade suggested.
          “Lycan? Wendigo? Where do you come up with these phrases?”
          “A Lycan is a werewolf in layman’s terms. But slightly different. Werewolves are afflicted by curse. They can only transform against their will at every full moon. Lycans on the other hand possess the ability to transform into their werewolf state at any given time they choose.”
          “I’m out,” Brackett said, raising his hands to the air in mock surrender. “I’m not tangling with any Lycans or werewolves.”
          “You won’t have to,” Slade told him. “I can handle this.”
          “Should we call Drake Furlong?” Booth asked.
          “No can do,” Slade said. “He’s off searching for any information he can find about the Black Lodge and Project Blackbird. Speaking of which, did you find out anything new about who was my legal guardian after my parents died?”
          “Not yet,” Booth said uncertainly. “But I’ll keep digging.”
          “See that you do,” Slade said. “Consider it my fee. In the meantime, I’ll look into this whole Big Foot allegation and report back to you if I find anything.”
* * *
          The night vision goggles he had acquired from Drake Furlong paid dividends that evening when Jacob Slade ventured out into the woods beyond Dorchester Park.
          It was ten o’clock, an hour past curfew. But Slade had been granted permission by Sheriff Booth to scour the grounds for as long as he needed. If the killer was human, Slade would’ve been able to get a mental reading on him.
          But his telepathic senses seemed to be blocked by whatever twisted fate awaited him.
          Slade believed in the legends of Big Foot. He’d seen video evidence, photographs, gigantic footprints left throughout the United States. If the beast that slaughtered all these innocent people had been Big Foot as Dean Phillips alleged, it would’ve left distinguishable prints behind.
          He couldn’t see too clearly past the green glare of the night vision goggles, but the rustling branches overhead told him he was not alone. It dropped to the ground with a heavy thud and soon the deranged primate came into focus.
          It wasn’t a monkey, as monkeys have tails and Slade didn’t see one. He determined by the size it had to be an ape. He estimated the weight somewhere between four-fifty and five hundred pounds, twice the size of an ordinary ape.
          The animal appeared to be enraged just at the sight of him. It pounded its chest and screeched as Slade reached for his gun. Guns weren’t his style, but if his past few experiences had taught him anything, it was that carrying a gun was mandatory in his line of work.
          The ape came charging and tried to take a chunk right out of his skull. He fired several deafening shots that echoed through the trees. He couldn’t tell if he had injured the ape or not, but he certainly succeeded in scaring it off into the night.
          He gave chase to the beast, but by the time he regained his senses, it was out of sight. He checked the ground for blood, and found none. He had missed every shot he took.
          He did a thorough search of the grounds again, but the ape was nowhere to be found in the encompassing woods of Dorchester Park.
          Jacob retired to his home after midnight, with more questions than he started out with.
* * *
          “I met Big Foot last night,” Slade told Booth over coffee that Friday. He was really craving a swig of bourbon, but Jacob was trying to cut back on the booze. “We’re not dealing with a Lycan as I suspected. We’re dealing with an ape. But this is no ordinary ape. It looked twice as big as any gorilla I’ve ever seen before.”
          “So we’re dealing with some kind of Super Gorilla?” Booth asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
          “I’m not pulling your leg, Karl. This thing was huge. It went right for me. I did nothing to provoke it. The thing was filled with rage. It wanted my blood. It wanted it bad.”
          “So this is our killer? A runaway ape?”
          “It’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
          “I won’t ask you what is.”
          “The ape didn’t look right, either. It looked sickly and disoriented.”
          “Can apes get rabies?”
          “Yes, but they tend to die faster than humans or other animals with rabies. But I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with.”
          “Then what are we dealing with?”
          “Animal experimentation. Something or someone must be pulling this ape’s strings. And I’m going to find out who it is. There’s no zoo in Dorchester. Where’s the closest one?”
          “That would be in Greenville.”
          “Then that’s where we’re heading.”
* * *
          Greenville was host to many strange occurrences over the years. Bonnie Wheeler, the woman who had a one night stand with a mysterious stranger and nine months later gave birth to an infant with fangs and a taste for blood. Or Sam Shaw, the ghost that haunts the highways and hitches rides from unsuspecting drivers.
It was a town Slade had visited numerous times in the past. But this new case was a mystery even he hadn’t attempted to solve before. The local zoo was their only hope for answers.
          The Greenville Zoo was closed until further notice, but the zookeeper was there to unlock the gates for Slade and Booth.
    “Why are you closed?” Booth asked the zookeeper as he showed them around.
    “Too many break-ins,” the zookeeper explained. “The cost for extra security is bankrupting the owner. And people just aren’t as interested in the zoo as they used to be. The place may have to shut down permanently if this trend keeps up.”
          “Break-ins?” Booth raised an eyebrow.
          “Yes,” the zookeeper said. “Several animals have gone missing in the past three months. Thankfully none of them were on my watch. That’s not to say I’m happy the animals are missing. Just glad the boss isn’t pissed at me.”
          “Any apes go missing in the past few months?” Slade asked.
          “One gorilla was taken from its cage back in March.”
          “Do you remember the date?”
          “It was the third, I believe.”
          “The timeline matches up,” Slade said to Booth. “Thanks for the help,” Slade said to the zookeeper as they excused themselves. On the walk back to Booth’s patrol car, the name came to Slade. It had been on the tip of his tongue since he first laid eyes on the diseased primate.
          Hugo Brown. Dubbed the Mad Scientist of Sycamore, Hugo was an advocate for gene splicing and other forms of genetic experimentation. And his preferred test subjects were apes.
          “Where to?” Booth asked.
          “Sycamore, Long Island. We’re going to visit an old friend of mine.”
* * *
          Jacob was acquainted with Hugo Brown. He had once sought the mad scientists help in developing a possible cure for his strange afflictions. But Hugo failed to formulate a serum that rid Jacob of his powers.
          But this minor failure didn’t discourage Hugo’s later experiments. Doctor Brown had been busy. Very busy.
          For this occasion, Sheriff Booth had enlisted the services of Deputies Brackett and Cole. Brackett rode in the backseat with Cole, sans tinfoil hat.
          Flanked by Brackett and Cole who had their service revolvers drawn, Booth and Slade approached the front door and knocked vehemently. Of course, their thumps against the door garnered no response. So Slade was going to try and different approach as he raised one of his legs in the air, preparing the kick the door in with his combat boots.
          “Hold it!” Booth exclaimed. “We can’t kick the door in!”
          “Why not?” Slade shrugged his shoulders.
          “We don’t have a search warrant. We break into this house without a warrant, everything we find will be inadmissible as evidence. Hugo Brown will walk for whatever atrocities he’s committed.”
          The house was two-stories, not including the attic and basement. The basement windows had been blacked out by some type of residue that had been smeared over the glass. The windows were roughly fourteen inches wide, ten inches long. Even if he managed to shatter the glass without attracting any attention, he’d still never be able to squeeze through.
          And Karl Booth wouldn’t make it either. Not nearly as young or vibrant as had once been, Karl had given up on maintaining his physical appearance. His girth made Slade look like a ballerina by comparison.
          “You guys fall back,” Slade instructed them. “Take your patrol car and park down the street. There’s got to be a backdoor or side entrance. I’ll find a way in and take a look around myself. You guys might need a search warrant, but I don’t. Not if I’m alone and nobody knows. If I need backup, I’ll phone you.”
          Booth was hesitant, but he eventually turned back towards his patrol car and instructed his men to follow. They took off down the block and Slade crept around the side of the house.
          He found a backdoor, slightly ajar. “This is too easy,” Slade whispered to himself. He had his gun at his side, and removed it from the holster quietly and thumbed back the hammer. His index finger was wrapped taut around the trigger as he entered.
          The house had fallen into a state of disrepair since the last time Jacob had passed through. But it wasn’t the decaying walls or the filthy kitchen littered with debris that concerned him. It was what Hugo Brown was brewing downstairs.
          He tiptoed through the kitchen and moved to the hall. He had yet to see a sign of life as he approached the door to the cellar, which housed Hugo’s laboratory.
          Slade crept down the staircase and as he reached the bottom step, a bare light bulb popped on in Brown’s damp cellar-slash-laboratory.
          He was a paper-thin man and Slade’s eyes could clearly trace the outline of his ribcage beneath Brown’s clothing. With his shiny bald head, Van Dyke beard, and grey collarless suit, Hugo Brown’s image replicated the likeness of the James Bond villain, Blofeld. All he was missing was the white cat to stroke and pet. But to compensate for his lack of a feline companion, Brown had his barbaric primate in tow.
          “Extraordinary, isn’t it? Half man, half primate, but all rage. All it took was a combination of gene splicing and daily injections of my own brand of super steroids. The drug enhances rage, aggression, and increases the animal’s physical attributes.”
          “Why, Hugo? Why?”
          “The real question is how. And the answer is devolution. I’ve reversed the process, forcing man to regress back to his primal state. Soon I’ll have an army of savage primates fueled with rage. The world will kneel before me, and one by one, they will all turn. I’m going to plunge us back into the Prehistoric Ages, when man and beast were bound as one.”
          “I didn’t want to believe all those reporters and animal rights activists. But it’s true. You’re mad.”
          “I’m a mad genius is what I am. You can join me, you know? There’s still time. Work by my side, or suffer the same fate as my hairy chum here.”
          “Fuck that,” Slade said bluntly. “I vote for the third option.” Slade reached for the Taser he had acquired from Karl Booth on the ride to Sycamore and zapped the beast, bringing the ape down to one knee.
          It still had some fight left in it, so Slade increased the voltage. It wasn’t his intention to kill it. But he had to find a way of subduing it.
          “Stop!” Hugo cried. “You’re killing it!” He drew a needle from his pocket, dripping with the same concoction that Hugo had injected his latest experiment with. As he came charging, Slade fired one shot with his gun, hitting Brown in the shoulder.
          Once the beast was rendered unconscious, Slade stood victorious over a wounded Brown. “The antidote, Hugo,” he demanded. “How do you reverse the process so I can turn this person human again?”
          Hugo laughed, applying pressure to his shoulder to halt the blood spurts. “There is no antidote. My research didn’t carry me that far. Not yet. There’s currently no way to reverse the process. I’m afraid the best you can do is ship our friend back to the Greenville zoo.”
* * *
          Slade called it in and Booth returned with his men. Hugo Brown was taken out on a stretcher in handcuffs. “Even if he pleads insanity, he’ll never see the light of day,” Booth assured Slade and his men.
          “That was damn good work,” Deputy Brackett commended Slade.
          “Agreed,” Deputy Cole added. “It was a gutsy move. I don’t know if I could have pulled it off alone.”
          “How do we address the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room so to speak?” Booth asked.
          “Brown claims there’s no antidote. I looked through his files. I think he’s telling the truth. Seeing as how the process can never be reversed, I’d said euthanizing it would be the humane thing to do. It’s too aggressive, too bloodthirsty to coexist in any habitat. I’m afraid it's the only logical solution.”
          “I’ll see that it’s taken of care of,” Booth said.
          “Well, it looks like my work is done here,” Slade said. “Here’s your Taser,” he added, returning Booth’s property. “And Karl, next time you need my help…please call someone else.”
* * *
          “Jacob, there’s something I need to tell you,” Karl Booth told Slade over the phone. It was just a few days after Hugo Brown’s trial that Booth had called. Brown had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Jacob was satisfied with the outcome. Then Booth had to call and spoil his good mood.
“It concerns Project Blackbird and your adoption. Your legal guardian at the time you were volunteered for Project Blackbird…it was me. I was your legal guardian. I signed the papers. I can’t apologize enough. They promised me a better life for you. Heightened senses, enhanced strength, superior intelligence. They never told me they’d be turning you into a mutant.”
          “How…how could you, Karl?”
          “I thought it was honestly what was best for you. I see now that I was wrong.”
          “The Black Lodge, where is it? I know you’re hiding more, Karl. Tell me every last detail.”
          “It’s right here. It’s not on Long Island, but it’s in New York. Upstate, near Albany. It won’t be hard to find for men like you and Drake.”
          “Is the place guarded?”
          “Heavily guarded. I’d be surprised if you made it past the first gate.”
          “So we’re going to need help.”
          “Count me out,” Booth told him. “I’ve helped you as much as I can."
          “I’m not talking about you. I think Drake and I are going to have to acquire the services of more, ‘mutants’, as you called us. They’re hard to find, but they do exist in this world. We’ll have to assemble the perfect team."
          “I wish you the best of luck. You’re going to need it."
          “Don’t wish us luck. Wish the creators of Project Blackbird luck. We’re going to find the truth and expose it to the world.”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

IN THE FLESH: PART FIFTEEN

Genre: Horror (Zombies)



ROLL CALL
 
Carson Ryder: Former marine/Former police officer/Suffers from retrograde amnesia/ Searching for clues to his past
Damien Albright: Found and saved Carson/Has no family or friends outside of the group/Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world
Kenny Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
Eli Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a large inheritance when they died
Vern Sheldon: Former truck driver/Carries a badass flamethrower
Terry Watts: Proprietor of the Starlight Hotel
Valentina Jackson: A new ally that was saved by Carson Ryder
Tyler Reese: Saved Kenny Sudrow’s life/Carries a submachine gun/a native Bostonian
 


IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye

 
PART FIFTEEN
SUFFERING
 

1
 

          North Carolina.
          Day Fifty-Five.
The man, caked in dirt and adorned in tattered rags of clothing, shuffled through the streets without shoes. His feet, sore and lacerated from broken glass and other scattered debris, stung with every step he took across the cold pavement. It had been a week he’d survived on his own.
The week before, he’d been part of a group of ten. His wife and son were in that group. Their camp got raided one night, overrun by a herd of vicious Biters that ripped, clawed, gouged, and tore their way through anything that was breathing.
Down to his last round of ammunition, the man fought valiantly to protect his family. He took down ten Biters with remarkable accuracy. But after the gun had been emptied, the Biters still continued to advance.
The man was the only one to survive their onslaught. The only one who managed to get away.
Everything else had been left behind. Supplies, clothing, food, his shoes. All of it gone in an instant. In order to escape, nothing could be spared. He didn’t even have a spare minute to mourn the loss of his wife and child.
But now, with a full week spent on the road, he’d been given plenty of time to mourn. It also afforded him time to mull the options. The most logical option to this man appeared to be suicide. With his family gone, he had nothing left to live for. And with no weapons, it was only a matter of time before one of those things caught up with him.
The man stuck to the back roads, avoiding the highways and main roads of every town he passed through.
On his journey that day, the man stumbled across a creek. The water looked foul and murky, but he hadn’t had a drink of water in four days and the creek was his only source of hydration. He bent at the knees, cupped his hands, and brought some of the water to his mouth, slurping it down.
He retched at the vile taste, but cupped his hands again and drank some more. The crunching of fallen leaves and twigs made him lift his head from the creek, and he saw three men advancing from the other side.
The leader of this trio was a tall, stout individual with broad shoulders and tree-trunk sized legs. His hair was a fiery red and he spoke with a thick Irish brogue. “The name’s Malcolm McCredie,” the man introduced himself. “This here’s Dexter. And the man on my right is Hubert. What’s your name, soldier?”
“Freddie,” the man said. “Freddie Macintyre.”
“An Irish lad?”
“You betcha,” Freddie said.
“Glad we found you,” Malcolm said. “We can always use more men. Do you have a group? Any friends or family members that would be happy to join us?”
“My family’s gone,” Freddie told them. “My friends are gone. It’s just me.”
“Well, you’ll make a fine addition to our group. Our camp is about half a mile in that direction,” Malcolm said, pointing west. “We’ll take you back there. Get you some food and some clothes. You look like you could use it. And I think I have a pair of boots that should fit you just fine.”
“Wow,” Freddie said. “I can’t thank you enough. What can I do to repay you?”
“Oh, I’ll think of something eventually,” McCredie assured him.
* * *
          Tennessee.
          Day One Hundred and Eighty-Two.
          Malcolm McCredie had sent word back to his camp, and all his men had packed their guns and supplies and headed for the Starlight Hotel on foot.
          It had been three days since McCredie and his men had taken residency in the Starlight, and they certainly made themselves at home. Their presence was felt through every inch of the hotel.
          The men were keeping the group bound and separated, confined to different rooms that were guarded at all times. Eli Burton had resisted and was beaten unconscious for his efforts. And unconscious he stayed for the days to come. Every time he'd start to come around, the men would unleash their savagery upon him and beat him unconscious again.
          On the third day, Malcolm made the rounds to see how everyone was adjusting to their new accommodations. He started with Tyler Reese.
“I’ll give it to you, kid. You’ve got guts.” McCredie looked down at a bound, beaten, bloodied Tyler. “You didn’t even know that schmuck at the liquor store and you risked your ass to save him. Admirable. And you also were nice enough to donate that fantastic submachine gun of yours to me and my men. We can’t thank you enough.”
“Get bent,” Tyler said.
“How mature,” McCredie sighed. “I really want to give you a chance. You have potential. Join us.”
“After the beating your men handed me? After the way you violated that poor, helpless girl? Never. I’d rather burn.”
“Then burn you shall.”
* * *
“So what are you supposed to be?” McCredie inquired. “The muscle? Because you sure as hell ain’t the brains of this operation.”
          “I’m a manifestation of your worst fucking nightmare,” Damien uttered. “Cut me loose and you’ll find out just who you’re dealing with.”
          “A provocative challenge,” McCredie nodded. “Good to see you still have some fight left in you. But I’m afraid I must save my energy for Miss Jackson.”
          “Coward,” Damien spat.
          “Coward, am I? Alright, smart ass. I was going to wait to tell you, but instead I’ve got a little surprise for you. I’m going to give you a fighting chance…at dark. Rest for now and get ready for show time. You’ll need every ounce of strength.”
          “For what?”
          “My men are starved for entertainment, and you’re going to give them a show. One man, two zombies, no weapons. You survive, you get to walk. You die, then the show’s over folks.”
* * *
“I can’t thank you enough for leading us here,” McCredie told Kenny as he looked on, bound and helpless.
          “Not like I had much of a choice,” Kenny said. “There was a gun pointed at my fucking head.”
          “You still didn’t have to lead the way. You could’ve died an honorable death by keeping silent. Maybe your friends would’ve been spared. Maybe you would’ve been spared.”
          “My friends and I are still alive.”
          “For now,” McCredie said, emphasizing the last word.
          “Why not kill us now and get it over with? Why toy with us?”
          “This could’ve gone one of two ways. Unfortunately, when your men drew first blood, it angered my men. They desired revenge. And they needed shelter. I promised them both. And I’m giving it to them.”
          “Your man, Freddie, he started the whole thing. Him and the other guys. They drew on us first. It was us or them.”
          “You see, now you’re getting it. Us or them. That’s what it all boils down to in this savage new world.”
* * *
          “I found what you were hiding upstairs,” McCredie informed Terry Watts. “Don’t worry,” he said with a wink. “It’ll be our little secret. Your buddies never have to know.”
          “You’re sick,” Terry mumbled and struggled against his restraints.
          “You’re one to judge,” McCredie cackled. “So who are they, anyway? Some random people that came looking for help? They friends of yours? Family, perhaps?”
          “Fuck you,” Terry spat.
          “Very well,” McCredie sighed. “You don’t have to confess your sins to me. Share them with God when you meet him. It should be soon enough.”
          “I repeat, fuck you,” Terry said.
          “Whatever,” McCredie shrugged. “By the way, I also found this upstairs. Carvedilol. What is it?”
          “Where’d you find it?”
          “In your room. Don’t worry, I’ll put it back when I’m done.”
          “It’s heart medication. It belonged to a member of our group. He died a few days ago. I don’t know how it ended upstairs. I never took it from him. I swear.”
          “You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” McCredie said. “I don’t care if you did or you didn’t. If it’s heart medication, I have no use for it. And my men are only interested in what’s going to give them a buzz. And we have plenty of liquor for that.”
          McCredie exited the room, slamming the door and leaving Terry to ponder how the medication ended up in his room.
* * *
“So you’re a marine, huh?” McCredie asked a bound and bruised Carson Ryder. “I saw your USMC tattoo. I was in the marines, too. For a period of time when I immigrated to the good ol’ US of A. I was dishonorably discharged. They said I was too violent, too aggressive.”
“So I guess this fact makes us buddies then? You think I give a shit if you were in the marines or the army or the navy? You think I give a damn what you used to do or who you used to fuck back in high school? You’re not my friend; you’re not my pal or buddy. You’re the enemy.”
“How rude. I just dropped by to see if you wanted to come and enjoy the show. Damien is tonight’s main attraction. We stop taking bets in an hour, so get your money in while you can. My money is on the zombies.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think you’ll have to see for yourself. In fact, why let Damien have all the fun? I think we can turn this into a two-man show…”
 

2
 

          By dark, McCredie’s men had cut Ryder and Damien free and led them at gunpoint out one of the back exits.
          Outside, McCredie’s men had scrounged up two Biters. The Biters were tethered, and the ropes that bound them by their necks were staked into the ground, keeping them at bay like feral dogs on leashes.
          Hubert, Dexter, and the rest of McCredie’s men formed a wide circle around the Biters as Carson and Damien were forced into the center. “Sorry about this, fellas,” Freddie Macintyre told them as he pulled a hunting knife from its sheath. “But you picked the wrong group to fuck with.”
          “I could say the same for you,” Damien said.
          “You’re in no position to be making any threats,” Freddie pointed out. “You’re surrounded by sixteen men with guns, and all of them want to kill you. And believe me it’ll happen if the Biters don’t tear you to shreds first. Best of luck to you, fellas.”
          Freddie used his hunting knife to slash the ropes, setting the Biters free. He stepped out of the circle just as the decrepit Biters advanced on Damien and Carson.
          “Two on two,” Damien shrugged. “Seems fair to me.”
          “Yeah, but we don’t have any weapons,” Carson told him.
          “You don’t need weapons when you’ve got crazy,” Damien informed him. With those prophetic words, Damien lunged at the first Biter, spearing it to the ground like a defensive lineman tackling his opposition. His fists moved at a furious pace, and they didn’t stop swinging until he had pounded its face into putty.
          Carson was fighting off the second Biter, struggling to maintain his balance when Damien snuck up behind it and kicked it in one leg, causing the bone to snap like a twig. The Biter tumbled to the ground, and Damien used his knees to put all his weight on its shoulders. Pinning it to the ground, Damien used his thumbs to gouge his fingers into its eyes, forcing his thumbs through the sockets and into the brain.
          McCredie’s men sighed with disappointment. McCredie himself was not there to witness the spectacle as he had wandered back inside to attend to other pressing matters.
          Freddie Macintyre approached, his blade glistening in the moonlight. “Well done, fellas,” Freddie applauded them. “Now you’re ready for the final test.”
          As he moved in closer, Ryder rammed his boot into Freddie’s gut and Damien grabbed him by the throat, wrestling the knife away from him.
          “Step back!” Damien told the men. “Or I’ll cut his throat!”
          The men stepped back, but continued to hold onto their weapons. Some of them had flashlights in their hands, but Carson took care of that with the gun tucked in Freddie’s waistband. He targeted the bulbs of each flashlight, and in seconds, the moon was the only thing keeping the darkness at bay.
          Carson squeezed off three more shots in the darkness, killing Hubert, Dexter, and another of McCredie’s men. Some retreated; others returned fire, missing with every shot. Carson had dropped to the ground and crawled forward, coming across the loaded submachine gun that belonged to Tyler Reese. Dexter had dropped it in the snow when he went down.
          “I believe in miracles,” Carson said, picking up the gun and springing back to his feet, unleashing a hail of bullets. He didn’t stop firing until all movement ceased and the night was silent again.
          “So what are you gonna do with me?” Freddie asked as Damien still had the hunting knife pressed to his throat. “You could kill me, fella. Or you could let me go. I can be a real asset to your group. I’ve been working with McCredie for months, did everything he asked of me. I’m loyal, fellas.”
          “Loyalty only gets you so far in life,” Damien reminded him.
          “So what? You gonna slit my throat?”
          “Nah,” Damien said. “Too easy.” Instead, he snapped Freddie’s neck like a tree branch. Then he plunged the hunting knife deep into his forehead, ensuring he wouldn’t return as one of those things.
* * *
“I love the flamethrower,” McCredie mocked Vern Sheldon. “It’s a nice touch. Not something a jungle bunny like you deserves though.”
“Watch your mouth,” Vern snapped.
“You’re not in any position to be ordering me around,” McCredie pointed out. It was true as Vern was hung upside down by his ankles. A metal bucket had been situated on the floor and his head dangled over it precariously. “Ever seen how they slaughter a pig, drain it of its blood? They slit it from groin to sternum. You know, I’ve never been a fan of dark meat, but I bet you’ll taste just fine.”
“Drop the knife and the gun,” Carson ordered McCredie. He and Damien had him dead to rights. It was pointless to resist, so McCredie tossed his weapons aside. “Move over to that corner and press your palms against the wall.”
McCredie moved slowly, doing precisely as Carson commanded. Damien used the knife to cut Vern Sheldon free. Then he passed the knife along to Vern and asked him to go free and check on the others.
“Where are my men?” McCredie inquired.
“Dead,” Carson informed him. “Every last one of them is dead. Even Freddie. You can say so long to that fella.”
“I underestimated you both,” McCredie said, accepting his defeat. “Very well. Do as you wish.”
“You bet your ass we will,” Damien said.
“No way,” Carson said. “This one is all mine.”
“By the way, before I bid you farewell, I must insist you check the second floor. As I can only imagine you haven’t already.”
“One thing at a time,” Carson said.
Carson tossed his gun aside and delivered one crushing blow to McCredie’s jaw with his fist. McCredie crumpled to the floor and Carson stomped at his face and head with his boots. Once blood was drawn, he went to work on McCredie’s ribs.
He didn’t stop kicking and stomping away until every rib was broken and McCredie lie on the floor, gasping for air. And then Carson went in for the kill. He didn’t shoot him. He didn’t snap his neck like Damien did to Freddie.
          He ripped McCredie's throat out with his bare hands. “You fucked with the wrong group,” Carson whispered.
* * *
          Valentina Jackson rubbed her sore wrists as the group all gathered in the lobby. She was nursing several bruises and a black eye, and she had been violated numerous times. But she was going to recover.
          Valentina was as tough as they come. And her only regret was she didn’t get to kill Malcolm McCredie herself. But she was more than grateful for what Carson had done for her. The whole group was grateful for his and Damien’s heroic actions.
          Carson thought about McCredie’s parting words. He considered confronting Terry Watts that very moment, but he figured it was a subject that could be left for the morning. They still had much work ahead of them.
          On the plus side, they had acquired more than enough ammunition from McCredie’s departed soldiers. And they had also helped themselves to their supplies, seeing as how the men weren’t going to be needing them anymore.
          “What should we do with his body?” Kenny Sudrow asked. “Do we give it a proper burial?” He laughed just at the thought.
          “Fuck no,” Carson said. “Help me drag this piece of shit outside. We’ll leave him for the Biters. I’ll clean up the mess in here afterwards.”
          Kenny helped Carson drag McCredie’s body from Vern’s room to the nearest exit, where they tossed it atop the thawing snow like yesterday’s garbage.
          “Burn in hell you schmuck,” Kenny said. Then he apologized profusely to Carson as they walked back inside. “I’m so sorry we led them here. But we didn’t have a choice. They would’ve killed me and that kid. And he was only trying to help me. I really didn’t have any choice. I’m so sorry.”
          “Relax, Kenny,” he said. “I forgive you. You only did what you had to do. I can understand that. And hey, we’re still alive. The score is Starlight group one, McCredie zero.”
          “You said it,” Kenny agreed. “I’m just so relieved that ordeal is over. I wish I could’ve helped more.”
          “It’s all right,” Carson said. “We have other things to worry about. Tomorrow, we’re going to have to check upstairs. It’s time to find out what Terry is hiding from us."

To Be Continued With Part Sixteen: REVELATION