Thursday, February 5, 2015

IN THE FLESH: PART THIRTY FIVE

Genre: Horror (Zombies)

 


ROLL CALL
 

 
 
Carson Ryder: Ex-police officer/Ex-marine/Lost his wife Caroline, and daughter Charlotte/The unofficial leader of the group/Dying for a cigarette/Has mixed feelings about Nikki Fox
Corey Smith: Doomsday prepper/He was expecting and preparing for the zombie apocalypse for years/Lives in a fortified compound with a tremendous arsenal of weapons
Taryn Mills: Survivor found outside the Starlight Hotel/Lost her boyfriend and her family to the Biters/Former exotic dancer/Not afraid to use a gun
Nikki Fox: Former registered nurse/Lost contact with her family during the first initial weeks of the outbreak/Was married once but hid that fact from the group/She is secretly in love with Carson Ryder
Reggie White: Born and raised in Arkansas/Has never left the state before/He has a criminal record, but he’s not a violent man and tends to avoid confrontation if he can
Scotty Loomis: Originally from Utah/Friends with Reggie/A perpetual fountain of random facts and useless information
Luke Chen: Runner/Competed in the Olympics/Knows how to use a gun but he prefers a katana
 

 

IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye

 

 
PART THIRTY FIVE
FINITO

 
 
 
          Day Two.
          Carson Ryder and Damien Albright had moved on from the hospital and spent most of the night holed up in an abandoned Chinese restaurant.
          “You want me to go in the kitchen and cook us up some spare ribs?” Damien had asked.
          “Not hungry,” Ryder said.
          “Might as well eat while we can. Who knows how long this craziness is going to last? Who knows how long the food will last.”
          “Not hungry,” Ryder repeated, trying to tune out the screams that emanated from outside. Screams of average citizens being maimed and mutilated, torn to shreds by the Biters.
          “What about a fortune cookie?” Damien asked. “Who doesn’t love a good fortune cookie?”
          “I don’t need my fortune told by a cookie,” Ryder said. “I can look right out that window and see things aren’t getting any better.”
          The windows shattered and the bodies came piling in. The first Biter was missing its right eye and had a gaping wound in its neck. The second Biter had the flesh ripped from its back, spinal cord fully on display. The thirds face was maimed beyond recognition. Ryder couldn’t even distinguish if it was a man or a woman.
          Damien pulled his dual .38 pistols from their holsters and said, “You’re right about one thing. It’s not going to get better. It’s only going to get worse…”
* * *
          Day Three Hundred and Fifteen.
          An unarmed Carson Ryder marched through the surrounding woods, being led by Eli Carver at gunpoint. The war was virtually over. Mr. Jones had failed. Their savage, brainwashed followers who waged war on the compound had failed. Now all it came down to was Carson and Eli.
“Stop!” Eli shouted and Ryder froze in his tracks. “You said you were unarmed.”
“I am,” Ryder said. “I don’t have a gun or my machete.”
“The whole time I was with the group, you carried a knife in your boot for backup. Toss it.”
Ryder dropped to one knee, dug the knife out from his boot, and tossed it into the dry brush. Then they proceeded. Eli had the Colt .45 in one hand, and a shovel in the other. He didn’t trust Ryder with the shovel until they reached the site. He knew someone with Ryder’s instincts would inevitably try to use it as a weapon against him.
Twigs and fallen leaves crunched underfoot as they walked on, eventually reaching a fork in the trail. “Which way?” Eli asked.
“Left,” Ryder said, and they went left.
The site was a small field located a quarter mile from the compound. Ryder had carved an X into a dense oak tree to mark the spot. Eli tossed the shovel to the ground and said, “Start digging. And make it snappy. I don’t want to be out here all night. The sun’s about to set.”
Ryder picked up the shovel, started digging beside the tree. “It’s too bad your friend Corey had to blow my cover. I had a good thing going with your little group. It’s such a shame he had to spoil it.”
“You would’ve blown your cover eventually,” Ryder said. “One way or another. If Chase Crawford had you figured out, we would’ve caught on sooner or later.”
“I didn’t ask for your input. Just keep digging.”
Across the field, a stray Biter was ambling behind a row of Douglas fir trees. Ryder saw it out of the corner of his eye, but Eli didn’t seem to notice. He had his Colt .45 aimed steady at Ryder as he dug and he never took his eyes off him.
“I wish my sister, Ally, was here to see this,” Eli said. “To see your demise. She hated you as much as I did. But she was a pro at masking her contempt. Me, not so much. But I had you fooled for a while, didn’t I? And just to be perfectly clear, it won’t end with you. I’m going to burn that compound to the ground. I’m going to tear Reggie White and Scotty Loomis limb from bloody limb. But that’s nothing compared to what I plan to do to Nikki Fox.”
The Biter had wandered past the trees now and was staggering through the field, its snarls drowned out by Eli’s rant.
“Is that all?” Ryder asked, trying to keep him talking. He could still see the Biter–its flesh rotting from the bone–approaching out the corner of his eye.
“Oh, you want to hear what I have in store for her?” Eli asked, cackling. “Your dear, sweet Nikki? I have a whole evening of agonizing torture scheduled for her.”
Eli lifted the gun and fired, blowing the impending Biter’s head off from the neck without ever taking his eyes off of Ryder.
Ryder sighed and tossed the shovel aside once it scraped the top of the box. He pulled the box from the hole and presented it to Eli. It was a square metal tool box with an electronic lock. It required a four-digit code to unlock.
“What’s the code?” Eli barked, demanding to know.
“1-3-1-3,” Ryder said, taking a few light steps back. “You should know the date. It’s the day you and your accomplices unleashed this hell upon the world.”
“Clever,” Eli said, setting the Colt .45 aside and punching in the numbers. As the lid sprung open, Ryder sprinted from the site.
The blast from the IED tossed Ryder into the bushes, leaving him battered and bruised, but otherwise okay.
The same could not be said for Eli Carver, who was incinerated from the heat of the blast. The improvised explosive device was something Corey and Ryder rigged up on the fly. Ryder knew that if all else failed, he could lead Eli to the site and trick him into setting off the bomb.
The vials were still safe and sound, buried about five hundred five from where Eli was standing. Ryder had marked that spot with a C, not an X.
With Eli gone, he went back and retrieved the vials, digging them up with his bare hands, having lost all but the head of the shovel in the explosion. He hadn’t buried them deep. And with Eli out of the picture, there was no need to hide them. Not anymore.
Ryder returned to the compound in one piece and the group breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Eli?” Corey asked.
“He’s gone,” Ryder assured the group.
“Good riddance,” Nikki Fox said. Then added, “Thanks for saving my life.”
“Don’t mention it,” Ryder told her.
“So, what now?” Reggie White shrugged. “What comes next?”
“We get to work,” Corey said.
“That’s right,” Ryder said. “There’s a lot of rebuilding to do. And we’ll have to repair that gate pronto.”
“You heard the man,” Taryn Mills said. “Let’s get to work.”
* * *
          The gate was a little dinged up, but imperfections aside, it would hold so long as they kept it chained shut for the time being.
The next morning, Corey, Scotty, Reggie, and Luke dug a massive trench just past the hills and Ryder helped them drag out the bodies.
          It was on Jones’s headless corpse that he found the pack of Marlboros, and Ryder almost shed a tear of joy. “Thank you, Mr. Jones,” Ryder nodded, accepting the pack and lighting one cigarette with a matchbook from Jones’s pockets.
          He took a big drag, exhaled, then took another. He stood there for a moment, staring past the trees, savoring his victory smoke.
          It wasn’t long before Corey asked, “Can I bum one of those?” And Ryder couldn’t help but chuckle.
          “Sure,” he shrugged. “I guess I owe it to you.”
          “You owe me more than a cigarette,” Corey laughed. “But it’s a start.”
          Once the compound was virtually clear, Ryder and the men dug two separate graves beyond the trench. The final resting places of their comrades, Amy Greene and Dominic DeVito.
          The group lowered their bodies gently into the ground and everyone took turns pouring one shovel of dirt into each grave.
          Luke Chen was the first to speak. “What can I say about Dominic? He was a great guy. He wasn’t the smartest man.”
          “No kidding,” Corey chuckled, remembering the better times with Dominic.
          “But he always made us laugh and put a smile on our faces. And I’ll never forget him for it. And Amy–such a sweetheart. She’d do anything to help a friend in need. Both of them would have. And I know Dominic was afraid of guns but he seemed to take a shine to my katana. So, I want him to have it.” Luke undid the strap from his waist and detached the scabbard from his side, tossing the katana into the grave inside its scabbard.
          “Are you sure about this?” Corey asked.
          “I’m sure,” Luke nodded. “You’re right. It’s time for me to get more acquainted with guns. If yesterday taught me anything, it’s that our survival depends on it. I have no use for the katana anymore. It belongs with Dom.”
          “That’s a remarkable gesture,” Nikki Fox commended him.
          Corey Smith stepped forward next to say a few words. “I think Amy and I knew Dominic longer than anyone else. And I knew long before the rest of you came around. Yesterday, I lost two of my best friends. And I love them. And I’ll miss them. And I hope they both rest in peace. That’s all I have to say.”
          Corey stepped aside and let Nikki Fox say a few words about her friendship with Amy and then Scotty and Reggie both spoke briefly.
          Ryder went last. But he couldn’t find the words. He had buried so many friends, so many people he practically considered family. He’d given so many speeches over people’s graves that on this occasion, he was speechless. So he bid them both a fond farewell and said, “Rest easy.”
          The rest of the group headed back to the compound and Ryder stayed behind with his Remington and the shovel to finish filling the graves.
          That day, he wasn’t just mourning Amy Greene and Dominic DeVito. He was lamenting the deaths of Arnold Vesti, Trevor Virden, Devin Morris, Janice Whitfield, Chase Crawford, Vern Sheldon, Kenny Sudrow. All good men and women that had died tragic or senseless deaths.
          Never again, Ryder vowed. Never again.
* * *
          That day, Corey Smith pulled Taryn Mills aside to have a little chat with her. “I could’ve sworn when I was sent flying from that explosion, I heard you scream my name.”
          “Yeah, so?” Taryn asked. “Maybe I did. So what?”
          “It sounded so sincere. I didn’t know you cared so much.”
          “I don’t,” Taryn said, but the twinkle in her eyes said different.
          “You wouldn’t happen to be lying, would you?”
          “Ok, maybe I was a little concerned about you.”
          “A little?”
          “Don’t push it, mister.”
          “Will you be staying with us?”
          “Of course,” Taryn said. “Where else would I go? Besides, I have everything I need here. What will do you do about the Quonset hut?”
          “Rebuild if I can. Unfortunately I can’t replace the weapons we lost. But we still have guns and ammunition left over, so that’s a start. And there are plenty of other weapons out there. We’ll find them eventually.”
          “At least the manor didn’t really sustain any damage. Is the master bedroom still intact?”
          “It’s still there,” Corey said.
          “You want to give me the grand tour?” Tarn asked and winked.
* * *
          That night, Reggie White had a little surprise for the group. A sealed bottle of Wild Turkey he found in a bag abandoned by one of Jones and Eli’s followers. He uncapped the bottle and took the first swig.
          “Damn good stuff,” he told them and passed the bottle to Scotty.
          “Did you know Wild Turkey was also the name of a country song in 1982?” Scotty asked no one in particular. “Obviously the liquor came first, but the song was named after it. ZZ Top also has a song where they mention Wild Turkey.”
          “Scotty,” Reggie said.
          “Yeah?” Scotty asked.
          “Give it a rest,” Reggie told him and they both laughed.
          The group sat under the stars that night and drink more than half the bottle, traded stories about Amy and Dominic, shared stories from their past. They talked about family, friends, life, and the future, which rested firmly in their hands with the vials they had discovered.
          It wasn’t enough to cure the world. But it was a start. They had a chance to make a difference, to give people a second chance. And that was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
          Before bed, Nikki approached Carson and asked if she could have a word in private. Standing on the side of the first outhouse, Nikki said what she’d been waiting to say for months. She told him how she really felt.
          “I love you,” she said.
          “I–”
          “Don’t say anything,” Nikki cut him off. “Not yet. I’ve loved you since the day we met. Since the day you guys took me in saved my life. I know I’m not your wife. I know I’m not Caroline. But I couldn’t go another second without you knowing how I really felt about you. I love you, Carson Ryder. And I always will.”
          “Can I speak now?” Ryder asked.
          “Yes, go right ahead,” Nikki said.
          “I love you too,” he said, and their lips met and they embraced for the first time.



 
          Day Three Hundred and Sixty-Five.
          Saturday, September 13th, 2014.
          It had been a year since the initial outbreak. A year since the SCT-3 pathogen was unleashed upon the world and changed life for the worst.
          And yet, the group had managed to persevere. They couldn’t repair or rebuild the Quonset hut, but they had enough supplies to build a shed for storage. They didn’t have a lot to store at first until they raided an armory across state lines.
Reggie tagged along on their little expedition. It was the first time he’d ever left the state of Arkansas. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, but Reggie was happy to say he’d finally left home. And they returned with enough guns and ammunition to raid Fort Knox.
The vials also came in handy. They had gone out and snagged a group of Biters, the freshest ones they could find. Biters that showed little to no signs of advanced rot or deterioration.
The cure was administered via syringes found in Drake Sharpe’s kit of drugs he’d left behind. The effects were miraculous and almost instantaneous.
          Their skin regained its pigment. Their pupils returned to normal. Hair and skin cells multiplied. Warm blood flowed through their veins. Their wounds healed with no scarring.
          They were Biters no more. They were human again.
          There was a young man they had cured, a teenager that remind Ryder a little bit of Kenny Sudrow. He’d taken an interest in guns and Ryder was teaching him to shoot.
          All the recipients of the cure became invaluable members of the group. They helped fortify the compound, reinforce the fences, repair the gates. And they had begun construction on a fourth outhouse, as they were taking in more survivors every day.
          On that day, Corey Smith and Taryn Mills were married. Unofficially of course, but it was good enough for the both of them. Luke performed the ceremony. Nikki Fox and the rest of the girls they had taken in played the role of Taryn’s bridesmaids, and Corey had asked Ryder to be his best man.
          They exchanged rings that had belonged to his parents and Luke said, “You may kiss the bride.”
          They shared a passionate kiss and Taryn broke the news to everyone. “I’m pregnant!”
          The group celebrated. The men whistled and clapped and the women cheered and applauded, congratulating Taryn. “Way to go, Corey!” Scotty yelled out. “You the man!”
          “Don’t get any ideas from this,” Ryder whispered to Nikki. She smiled and took his hand and he smiled back.
          There’s more than one word for hope. Pray. Wish. Desire. Optimism.
          And for the first time in a long time, that’s exactly how the group was feeling. Optimistic.
          They had food. Shelter. Security. Everything they needed. And with a baby on the way, they had another reason to endure. This new life had given old life the hope it needed to survive.
          In the end, Corey and Taryn lived happily–minus the zombies–ever after. She named the baby Stephen, after her father. He had Corey’s eyes and Taryn’s warming smile. Carson and Nikki tied the knot eventually. And life rolled on.

 

 
THE END

Sunday, February 1, 2015

IN THE FLESH: PART THIRTY FOUR

Genre: Horror (Zombies)
 

 

ROLL CALL
 

 
 
Carson Ryder: Ex-police officer/Ex-marine/Lost his wife Caroline, and daughter Charlotte/The unofficial leader of the group/Dying for a cigarette/Has mixed feelings about Nikki Fox
Corey Smith: Doomsday prepper/He was expecting and preparing for the zombie apocalypse for years/Lives in a fortified compound with a tremendous arsenal of weapons
Taryn Mills: Survivor found outside the Starlight Hotel/Lost her boyfriend and her family to the Biters/Former exotic dancer/Not afraid to use a gun
Nikki Fox: Former registered nurse/Lost contact with her family during the first initial weeks of the outbreak/Was married once but hid that fact from the group/She is secretly in love with Carson Ryder
Reggie White: Born and raised in Arkansas/Has never left the state before/He has a criminal record, but he’s not a violent man and tends to avoid confrontation if he can
Scotty Loomis: Originally from Utah/Friends with Reggie/A perpetual fountain of random facts and useless information
Luke Chen: Runner/Competed in the Olympics/Knows how to use a gun but he prefers a katana
Dominic DeVito: Originally from New York/Not too bright/Afraid to use a gun for fear of shooting himself or someone else/Former used car salesman
Amy Greene: First survivor who was taken in by Corey/She is a recovering alcoholic who manages with the support of Nikki Fox/Trying to take back control of her life

 

 
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
 

 

PART THIRTY FOUR
WARZONE
 

 
 
          Eli Carver, Mr. Jones, and their flock had infiltrated the compound. And in the process, all hell broke loose.
          Corey Smith had climbed down from the roof of the manor and had taken his position next to Carson Ryder, his back pressed against one of the outhouses. Bodies were scattered all over the compound; some dead, others barely alive.
          The busted gate had left them open to the world and a horde of Biters the likes of which Corey had never seen paraded down the hill, invading the compound.
          Some of Mr. Jones and Eli Carver’s brainwashed followers finally came to their senses and retreated. Others stayed, refusing to retreat to surrender. Most of them were willing to fight it out to the bitter end. But so was Ryder and his group.
          “Cover me,” Corey said, dropping his sniper rifle. “I’m making a run for the Quonset hut.”
          Corey made his move and Ryder sprung out from behind the outhouse with his Remington, firing at anything that moved across the lawn. It didn’t matter if they were living or undead. He didn’t discriminate. Everyone was fair game.
          Dominic DeVito and Luke Chen had taken cover behind one of the other three outhouses. DeVito was a disaster when it came to handling a gun, and he had missed more than he had hit. But at least he hadn’t shot one of his own teammates yet. That was considered a plus.
          Luke was faring better, and had used the pump-action shotgun Corey lent him to take out several thugs who were trying to creep around the side of the outhouse.
          DeVito peeked his head around the outhouse, where two Biters loomed over the side. He fired three shots with the handgun. Two bullets struck the first Biter in the chest and shoulder. The third bullet hit the second Biter right between the eyes.
          “Yes!” DeVito shouted. “I did it! I capped that sucker!”
          BLAM. There was a tremendous ringing in Luke Chen’s ears. He looked at the ground, where DeVito’s body now lie. Then he looked up and saw the culprit. Not a man, but a woman in a white tank top who bared the same tattoo as Eli.
          Luke pumped his shotgun, but hesitated. The woman raised her gun to fire again and Luke had no choice but to shoot. Her body skidded across the lawn and Luke dropped to his knees, checked DeVito’s pulse.
          It was too late for him. Luke glanced towards the adjacent outhouse where Scotty Loomis and Reggie White were positioned with their rifles. But there was trouble heading their way. Biters. A whole army of them.
          Amidst the chaos, one of their adversaries had gotten a hold of the bazooka and had it perched over his shoulder, ready to launch.
          “Take cover!” Ryder shouted as the rocket propelled from the bazooka, soaring through the air and reducing the Quonset hut to debris.
          “COREY!” Taryn screamed. Ryder had covered him, but then he had come under fire again and had to take cover. He lost track of him and never saw him exit the hut. Now all that remained of the hut was a flaming wreckage, and Corey Smith was nowhere to be found.
          The girls had stuck together, taking cover behind the manor. Nikki Fox wasn’t a professional when it came to firearms, but she was an ace when it came to adapting to her surroundings.
          She held her ground and used the Mossberg that Ryder had given her to blast anyone or anything that crossed her path. But their foes were armed with Mossberg’s and firearms of their own. And their seemed to be no quit in most of them.
          Taryn didn’t need any help at all. If she could, she would’ve been firing the Mossberg and the .27 Beretta at the same time.
          Amy Greene was no gun fanatic. In fact, guns terrified her. But the semi-automatic pistol that she was armed with had not left her side. Though she seemed to be firing more at the zombies than their main adversaries.
          Killing a person wasn’t Amy’s custom. She didn’t have it in her like the rest. And that proved to be her downfall when a young woman with dark curly hair snuck up behind the manor.
          Amy was the first to see her. But she hesitated. And it cost Amy her life. The girl shot Amy twice; once in the stomach, once in the chest. And then Taryn proceeded to blow the young woman away with a single shot from the Mossberg.
          “No!” Nikki cried, falling to her knees. “No, no, no, no, no! Don’t die on us, Amy…please stay with us.” She tried to apply pressure to the wounds to slow the bleeding. But one of the bullets had pierced her lung and she was bleeding internally.
          Nikki cradled Amy in her arms and held her until she was gone. By the time she had wiped her tears and dried her eyes, Taryn was gone. Not dead. She just bailed on them.
          A group of men were closing in on Ryder when he dug through his pockets and came up with one of the grenades Corey had passed along. He yanked the pin, flung it through the air, and sent the men–the ones that survived–scattering from the explosion.
          The second grenade seemed to finish the job.
          Scotty and Reggie tried to hold their own against the Biters. But it was no use. There were too many of them and they were closing in at all sides. That’s when Chen rushed over, discarding his shotgun and pulling the katana from its scabbard.
          “GO!” he told them. And White and Loomis made a break for it before the Biters formed a complete circle around Chen. They took cover behind the adjacent outhouse where Ryder was stationed.
          “The fuck is he doing?” White asked.
          “No clue,” Loomis said. “I think he’s got more balls than brains."
          Carson Ryder could see nothing beyond the walls of rotted flesh that had formed around Chen. Surrounded inside this circle of bloated corpses with their swollen, distended bellies, their blackened teeth, and their charcoal grey complexions, Chen had a moment of lucidity.
          “Damn,” Chen muttered. “I fucked up on this one.”
          Most of Eli and Jones’s followers had fallen back as the growing number of Biters threatened to consume them all. Ryder, Loomis, and White could not intervene without putting themselves in jeopardy. All they could do was watch from a distance as the mob of Biters started closing in on Chen.
          He heaved and gagged and fought his stomach’s urge to recycle his breakfast. He knew the damned things smelled, but up close was a whole different story. The rotting stench hit him like a punch to the throat.
          Some looking as though they’d been dead for years. Loose, saggy skin and disintegrating bones that scraped and grinded together with every move their made. Some had patches of flesh ripped from their faces or torsos, exposing the muscle and sinew beneath.
          “Can you see him?” Ryder asked.
          “I can’t see anything besides the Biters,” White said. “It doesn’t look good.”
          A jet of blood spurted into the air, erupting like a geyser. Then another fountain of blood sprayed up into the air. And another and another. Ryder could see the source of this carnage as the katana whirled through the air like a propeller, decapitating the head of every snarling Biter that loomed over Chen.
          When it was over, Chen was drenched in blood and standing over the corpses of three dozen or more truncated Biters. But this opening only led to more gunfire from their opposition. Luke, moving faster than the wind, took cover behind the outhouse with Ryder and the rest of the guys.
          “What were you thinking?” Ryder asked.
          “I wasn’t,” Chen said. “But Reggie and Scotty were in trouble and I had to help them.”
          “Noble,” Scotty nodded. “Stupid, but noble.”
          “Thanks for saving our asses,” Reggie said.
          “Don’t thank me yet,” Chen said. “Wait until all this is over.”
          The savage, brainwashed followers advanced again, fanning out across the compound. But they were cut off in their tracks from a barrage of bullets. The men turned and saw Corey beside the manor, clutching an M60 machine gun with a 200-round bandolier attached. He didn’t stop firing until the gun had been emptied and the trigger made that click sound.
          He tossed the M60 aside, joined the men behind the outhouse. By then, Nikki Fox had taken cover with them as well. But there wasn’t much gunfire to take cover from.
          Corey had eliminated the remaining followers that refused to retreat. The only threat that stood now were the Biters. And there were still sixty or more spread out across the compound.
          “Where the fuck were you?” Ryder asked.
          “Yeah,” Reggie said. “We thought you were dead.”
          “I thought I was dead too. I ran to the Quonset hut to get the M60. Next thing I know, the thing got blown to pieces. I barely made it out in time. Got thrown pretty far from the blast. I must’ve lost consciousness for a little while.”
          “Where’s Taryn?” Loomis asked.
          “She was with me one minute, and the next minute she was gone,” Nikki said.
          “Hey, you brain dead cocksuckers!” Taryn’s voice carried across the compound.
          “Speak of the devil,” Corey said.
          “Hey, over you here you bloated, maggoty fucks! Come and get me!”
          Taryn was taunting the Biters, luring them all in her direction where she stood across from the manor. But she wasn’t alone. She had backup in the form of Vern Sheldon’s flamethrower. The one weapon Corey had left out of his inventory.
          With the flamethrower strapped to her back, she sparked the pilot light and squeezed the trigger. The torch released waves of flames that jetted out in short, controlled bursts.
          The fire spread fast, devouring the Biters and sending others scrambling in every direction. This was the opening they needed. Armed with whatever guns they had their hands wrapped around, the gang opened fire, aiming for the heads. Between the guns and the flamethrower, they finally had the situation pretty well under control.
          Now there was only the matter of Mr. Jones, who lie writhing in a pile of the dead. His leg was clipped by a stray bullet in the fray, and he couldn’t pull himself back up to his feet.
          “What should we do with him?” Corey posed the question to the group as they were all reunited again.
          “I say we cut him up into little pieces and feed him to the Biters,” Taryn said.
          Jones winced just at the thought. He started crawling on his belly, trying desperately to escape. But with his injury, he was crawling at the pace of a snail.
          “I say we torture him, then we feed him to the Biters,” Reggie suggested.
          “I say we saw his head off and stick on the top of the fence like a pike.”
          “I love it,” Ryder said.
          Corey wandered off for a few seconds, and returned with an axe in hand. “I couldn’t find a saw,” he shrugged. “But this will do the trick.”
          “Hold it!” a voice commanded. And they turned their collective heads to see Eli standing near the wrought iron fence, Colt .45 pressed to Nikki Fox’s skull. “This isn’t over! Not until I get what I want!”
          “What the fuck do you want?” Ryder asked.
          “You,” Eli said. “Dead.”
          “Even if you kill me, even if you kill Nikki, you’re still outnumbered. You’ll never leave this compound alive. Neither will Jones.”
          “I don’t give a fuck about Jones,” Eli said frankly. “You could kill him for all I care. But my work isn’t finished until you’re dead, Ryder. If I have to sacrifice myself in the process, so be it.”
          “Your work won’t be finished until the world is completely destroyed,” Ryder pointed out. “That was your real goal. That’s what all this was about. The planning, the orchestrating, timing the release of the virus, finding the perfect scapegoat. This is your legacy. This is what you set out to do.”
          “And I’ve accomplished my goals. The world is in ruins.”
          “Have you?” Ryder asked sincerely. “You took a little visit to that underground base in Texas. You and your buddies. But you didn’t destroy every vial. We found a few of them intact. Brought them back. Tested one out. It works, Eli. The cure works. What do you think of that? All your hard work is about to be erased.”
          “Prove it,” Eli demanded. “Show me the vials.”
          “They’re not here,” Ryder told him. “I buried them somewhere, not too far from here. I can show you, but only if you let Nikki go. Trade her for me. Look, I’m unarmed and I’ll do anything you say. Just let her go.”
          “Ok, deal,” Eli said. “Get your ass over here and let’s get this show on the road.”
 

To Be Continued With Part Thirty Five (The Last Chapter): FINITO