Wednesday, May 11, 2016

FLESH AND BONE: PART ONE

Genre: Horror (Zombies)




FLESH AND BONE
By Daniel Skye




PART ONE: Z DAY




1




            For those of you that are just joining us…

            …reports are filtering in from all around the globe…

            …an unprecedented event…

            …a grisly scene of violence and carnage…

            …and authorities have yet to confirm just how many casualties on the East Coast, but on the West Coast…

            …I’m being informed that we’re going off the air, as our feed will be replaced by a message from the emergency broadcasting system…

            …and as the death toll rises to 53 in Florida…

            …reports coming in from Texas, as more than a hundred casualties of the virus are now confirmed. And in California…

            …the government has yet to issue a statement, but our sources have told us…

            …sources have informed us that the CDC has yet to determine if the virus is airborne, but what we can confirm at this time is that the virus appears to be blood-borne, mainly transmitted through bites or scratches…

            …This is not a drill. I repeat, this is not a drill. If you’re watching this broadcast, you must isolate yourself. Try to remain indoors. And try to avoid any neighbors, friends, even relatives who may be carrying the…

            …numerous reports of what can only be described as a “mass resurrection” of some kind…

            …the dead have risen…

            …the dead are coming back to life…

            Alice muted the television and tossed the remote on the table by the sofa, where Beverly was sitting, her face buried in her hands, sobbing.

“I’ll be damned,” Alice muttered. “It’s on every channel.” She felt a sharp, sickening pang in her stomach. Be strong, she thought. Don’t let the fear consume you.

            “They’re gone,” Beverly wept quietly. “Gone.”

            Beverly had received the grim news from her brother out in Pennsylvania. Her parents hadn’t made it through the night. They panicked and tried to flee the state, but they were exposed to the infected. It didn’t take long for them to turn. And when they did, Beverly’s brother did what was necessary.

            It was tearing Beverly up inside that she could not be by her brother’s side to comfort him in these desperate hours. She made Randy promise that he’d stay put. And she promised Randy she’d do the same. But somehow, someway, she was making it Pennsylvania. She had already lost her parents. She wasn’t losing her brother, too.

            Alice rested one hand on Beverly’s shoulder in a faint attempt to console her. But Alice was always awkward in these situations.

It’s not that she didn’t care. She cared deeply for her friend. But Alice was not one to wear her emotions on her sleeve. And she knew words like “sorry” or “my condolences” would offer no solace at a time like this.

Alice had taken all the necessary precautions. All doors and windows were locked. Her car was hidden in the garage and Beverly’s car was parked three houses down. The shades were drawn and the glow of the TV was their only source of light. She had matches, candles, and flashlights handy in case the power went. And she kept her cell phone plugged in so the battery would remain charged.

            Alice’s parents had not spoken to her in three years. They didn’t approve of her tattoos, her piercings, her infatuation with the macabre, her bad taste in men (and women), her hedonistic lifestyle. And the list went on and on. Alice would’ve had an easier time listing the things her parents actually approved about her life.

            But family was family, especially in a time of crisis. Her parents lived way out in the sticks, where the phone reception was terrible. Every time she tried calling their phones, it went straight to voicemail. She had left several panicked messages, urging them, pleading with them to call her back, at least to let her know they were okay.

Alice was not one to panic. This was a girl who had Freddy Krueger’s glove tattooed on one shoulder and Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask tattooed on the other. Horror movies were an integral part of her fascination with the macabre. But now, she had found herself living in one. And if watching hundreds of gory horror films had taught Alice anything, it was that these types of situations were rarely ever resolved.

            And soon, the whole world would learn that death is not the end. Death is merely a transitional state. Death is only the beginning.


* * *


            Thursday, September 12, 2013.

            One day before the shit was permanently introduced to the fan.

Ira Schillinger’s silver pickup rolled into the crushed stone parking lot just as Murphy had switched on the green neon sign. It said MURPHY’S in letters three feet high, and the apostrophe was intentionally in the shape of a martini glass.

Ira walked in and made himself at home at the end of the bar. Murphy sauntered over and said, “What’ll it be tonight, Ira?”

Ira had been living in Bellmore, a small part of Long Island, New York, for only a few short months, and he was already on a first name basis with the bartender. That should tell you a little about Ira Schillinger right off the bat.

“Scotch, no rocks.”

            His eyes were blue, but threaded with red veins. The remnants of his last hangover. For four straight nights, Ira had come to Murphy’s and downed scotch, whiskey, or beers with shots of tequila or J├Ągermeister on the side.

            Ira was an alcoholic. A fact he gave up trying to hide. A fact that had alienated him from his family and friends. A fact that had cost him his job as a construction worker when he showed up half in the bag and his supervisor canned him on the spot.

            Murphy poured Ira his drink and watched him down it in one lightning-fast gulp.

            “Give me another,” Ira said, practically demanding it.

            “You ought to go easy on the sauce, fella,” Murphy said, reluctantly refilling his glass. “Can I tell you a story?”

            “It’s your bar,” Ira shrugged. “Do as you please.” Before Murphy had a chance to begin, Ira had finished his second glass.

            “There was this kid, Sam Shaw. Nice young man. Lived one town over in Merrick. Used to come in here on weekends after he turned twenty-one. Sometimes he was with his friends from school. And sometimes he was in here with a real pretty number. A girl named Nora.

I won’t mention her last name because her father was in politics. Which is part of the reason Sam and Nora eventually split up. The father wanted Nora nowhere near an underachiever like Shaw. The kid had barely finished high school, he never went to high school, and he was stuck in a dead end job.

            Sam was devastated. One night, I watched him nearly drink himself into a coma. I finally had to cut him off. He assured me he’d take a cab home. But when he was leaving, I saw him digging his car keys out of his pocket. I rushed after him, but by the time I got outside, he was peeling out of the parking lot.

            Sam died that night. Crashed his car off a bridge. They never found a note. Never determined if it was a tragic accident or a tragic suicide. But I personally think he planned it all along. That Nora was the final nail in his coffin.”

            “Wow,” was all Ira could say at first. Then he sullenly added, “Poor kid. Had his whole life ahead of him.”

Murphy nodded gravely, however he was pleased with the impression his story had made.

“How did the girl take it?”

“I never saw Nora again. I heard through the grapevine that she was devastated, of course. So was Sam’s family. But that goes without saying.”

Working in construction helped keep Ira in solid shape. But he wasn’t exactly in his prime, like Sam Shaw was when his life was cut short. Still, Ira had plenty of good years left ahead of him, if he managed to turn things around before it was too late.

            “Want another refill?” Murphy asked.

            Ira stared down at his empty glass, pondering.

            “I think I’ll pass for now,” Ira said.

            “What is it, if you don’t mind me asking? Is it a broad that’s getting to you? Trust me, it ain’t worth getting bent out of shape over. Or drinking yourself to death.”

            “My only problem is the alcohol itself,” Ira said. “It’s cost me everything in this world. And yet I can’t part from it.”

            “There are plenty of support groups for that. I could recommend a few, seeing as how I’ve been down this path myself.”

            “No,” Ira said defiantly. “The only way out is to quit cold turkey. I’ve tried support groups. I’ve tried AA. The only person who can help me is me.”

            “No offense, pal. But it doesn’t seem like he wants to help.”

            “He can be very uncooperative,” Ira said in regards to himself.

            “Well, I wish you the best of luck. And whenever you feel the temptation to drink, just think of Sam Shaw. It’s helped me over the years.”

            “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that,” Ira said and pushed the empty glass away.

            “Heading out?” Murphy inquired.

            “I probably should. I have to start looking for a new job tomorrow.”

            “Well, good luck with that, too. And hey, things could always be worse, you know?”

            “How so?”

“You could be walking down the street and a piano or an anvil could fall on your head like Wile E. Coyote. Or the dead could come back to life and feast on the brains of the living.”

            Ira chuckled at the thought and waved goodbye.

            “Sure I can’t persuade you to stick around for karaoke? This place is about to fill up in about an hour. You don’t have to drink to have a good time.”

            “I’ll take a rein check,” Ira said as he headed out the door.


* * *


            DAY ONE.

            Friday, September 13, 2013.

Jackson Creed was bored out of his skull.

He craved action, excitement. Any distraction would have appeased him, so long as it alleviated the banality of his reality.

A grease fire. A surprise visit from the health inspector. An unruly customer complaining about an undercooked or overcooked steak. He wished for anything that would snap him out of this funk.

Working as a short-order cook paid the bills, but it didn’t provide Jax the jolt of adrenaline he needed. Jax was a thrill seeker. He had served his time in the military, and when they shipped him home, Jax was lost. He had no guidance, no sense of purpose. He still hadn’t found his true calling. But he knew he wasn’t put on this Earth to slave over a hot grill all day in his chef whites.

Jax, who was busy daydreaming about a better life as he flipped burgers on the grill, snapped out of it when he heard an unmistakable sound.

The screams were distant and brief, but there was no disputing it. Jax had heard them loud and clear. A cacophony of sirens followed, emanating in the distance. And suddenly, Jax wasn’t the least bit bored.


* * *
  

           Dylan Reed had been summoned to his editor’s office. It was twenty steps from Reed’s cubicle to Laymon’s office, but for Reed, it felt like the slow-paced death march that a condemned prisoner takes moment before his execution.

Dylan had been with the Daily Buzz, a Manhattan publication, for eight months. And Francis Laymon had made those eight months a living hell. Laymon demanded perfection from his staff in all aspects, and would often use himself as a primary example.

Reed would scoff just at the thought. Laymon’s ego was as swollen as his jowls. But if he was the definition of perfection, no one would aspire to be perfect.

            On the record, Reed loved working for the Daily Buzz and was thrilled to be part of the team.

            Off the record, Reed would rather have chewed glass in a freak show than take orders from a gruff prick like Laymon. But fortunately for Reed, he was an ace at masking his contempt.

Reed was a cop for ten years. Worked his way up to vice, then homicide. Now he was at the bottom of the barrel, trying to scrape his way out.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Reed asked, poking his head into Laymon’s office. He linger in the hall for a few seconds, waiting for an invitation that never came. So Reed invited himself in.

“You’ve heard the news about Long Island?” Laymon sat with his head down, pink jowls ballooning over his white shirt collar, not even looking up from the papers on his desk.

“Yes, it’s terrible. Twenty-four dead, seventy-three ill. They’re saying it’s some kind of super-virus. It’s all over the news.”

            “I see you actually pay attention sometimes,” Laymon said, as condescending as ever. “I need you out there covering the story.”

“I thought that was Johnson’s assignment,” Reed said, trying to wiggle his way out of it.

            “Yeah, well, Johnson came down with a bad case of dysentery. He won’t be going anywhere for the next few days unless he glues his ass cheeks shut.”

            “With all due respect, sir, I’m currently swamped with other assignments. And I don’t know if it’s wise to send any staff members out there in the middle of what could turn out to be an epidemic.”

            “Are you questioning my judgment, Reed?” Laymon snapped.

            “No, sir,” Reed said, using every ounce of self-restraint to ensure he didn’t pop his editor in the mouth.

            “So quit your bitching. Do I look concerned about your health? I have problems of my own, you know. I got one kid in college, another kid who needs braces, and a brother-in-law who is suffering from boanthropy.”

“What-in-thropy?”

            “Boanthropy. He’s convinced he’s a goddamn cow. Just walks around on all fours, mooing and eating grass.”

            “At least he hasn’t tried milking himself,” Reed slipped and said aloud.

            “He has,” Laymon assured him. “It’s not a pleasant sight. Now why are you still standing around in my office? Shouldn’t you be on a train or a bus to Long Island? Chop-chop. I’m not paying you to dick around. I could pay my brother-in-law for that. You want that? You want to be replaced by a guy who thinks he’s a fucking cow?”

            “No, sir,” Reed said through gritted teeth. “I’ll get right on it.”
           
           
* * * 


            Reggie was oblivious to the outside world as he sat behind the counter of Comic Zone, reading the latest issue of Crossed: Bad Lands, when TJ strolled in late again. TJ was the owned the store, but Reggie found himself manning the register half the time.

            “Thanks for opening the store,” TJ said, massaging his throbbing temples. His bloodshot eyes were a dead giveaway. TJ had spent the night at Murphy’s, drinking and striking out left and right with his cheesy pickup lines.

            “No problem,” Reggie said, finishing the last page of his comic. “I got out of work early this morning.”

            “At the meat factory?”

            “It’s a spa.”

            “You say tomato, I say potato.”

            “That’s actually not how that expression goes…”

            “So where were you last night? You missed a wicked good time. It was karaoke night. I sang Rocket Man.”

            “Please don’t tell me you did the William Shatner rendition.”

            “I did, actually. The weirdest thing happened though. Halfway through the song, the place just emptied out.”

            “I see nothing strange about that. Did Floyd show up?”

            “Nah, he bailed on me. What do you care? I thought you couldn’t stand Floyd.”

            “Ah, he grows on you.”

            “Yeah, like a tumor.”

            Reggie chortled. “Floyd’s not that bad. He’s just unreliable because he spends every waking minute stoned out of his mind. He kind of reminds of Spicoli from Fast Times. Except I think Spicoli had more brain cells than Floyd.”

            “You’re probably right about that. So what’s the deal with this Crossed comic? I never read it. I only keep it in stock because one of my customers is obsessed with it.”

            “It’s like zombies, but different. Very graphic.”

            “Ha. Do you think George Romero would’ve guessed that zombies would be all the rage in 2013?”

            “I suppose not,” Reggie said. “But who knew films like Saw and Hostel would make as much money as they did? That’s the gamble with the horror genre. You take a risk and hope it pays off.”

            “I blame that Walking Dead show for all this, and all those posers who watch it. I’m proud to say I was into zombies before zombies were cool.”

            “Zombies honestly scare the crap out of me,” Reggie confessed.

            “Really? You of all people?”

            “Yeah. Zombies have no memory. And that’s the scariest part of all. Not even knowing who you are or who you were, and not being in control of your actions.”

            “I never thought about it like that.”

            The door opened and Floyd wandered in, his eyes more bloodshot than TJ’s.

            “What’s the good word, dudes?”

            “Not much. Got wasted last night at Murphy’s and sang karaoke.”

            “You didn’t sing Rocket Man again, did you?” Floyd said, dragging out every word. His clothes reeked of pot, but that was nothing new.

            “That’s not important,” TJ said.

            “Did you go to Murphy’s last night?” Floyd asked Reggie.

            “No, I had to work early this morning.”

            “At the meat factory?” Floyd snickered.

            “It’s a spa. And yes, I work in the men’s portion of the spa because if I worked in the women’s portion, there’d be a lawsuit. Yes, the job blows and I hate it. Yes, I hate seeing geriatric men wandering around naked, trying to find the sauna or the steam room. It makes me grateful my parents had me circumcised.”

“So if you hate the job, why don’t you quit?” TJ suggested. “You could come work here.”

“I practically do work here!” Reggie exclaimed. “Who do you think opened the store at twelve o’clock when I got off of work? I came by and saw you weren’t here yet, figured you were hung over and still passed out. You’re lucky I have a spare key.”

The shopkeepers’ bell chimed, altering them of their first customer of the day. TJ had been running Comic Zone for two years. And in those two years, he’d seen people wearing every costume imaginable. He’d seen people in Twilight and Harry Potter and Dr. Who getup. He had people walk in dressed as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash. Even had a guy come in dressed from head to toe as Chewbacca.

So when the young woman stumbled in with the corners of her mouth smeared red, blood dripping down her chin, and a huge gash in her forearm, TJ wasn’t terrified. He was actually impressed with the convincing makeup job. She even had the mannerisms of a zombie as she shambled awkwardly towards the register.

“Whoa,” Floyd uttered. “This is blowing my mind.”

“Sweet makeup job,” TJ remarked.

As she inched closer, dragging her feet with each step, Reggie got a look at the gash on her forearm, and nearly retched at the visible sight of muscle and bone.

            The young woman lunged at Floyd, who almost crippled himself as he dove over the counter headfirst. He scrambled to his feet, cowering behind TJ and Reggie.

            “Stay back!” Floyd warned them. “She could be all hopped up on bath salts!”

            “I don’t think it’s bath salts,” Reggie whispered, examining her oxygen deprived skin. “Guys, I think she’s…I think she’s dead.” He shivered and rolled down the sleeves of his shirt to hide his bumpy skin that had broken out in gooseflesh.

            The woman, whose eyes had gone gray as marble, tried to claw her way over the countertop. It never even occurred to her to walk around it. She was operating on primal instinct.

            “Impossible,” TJ whispered back to Reggie. “I bet this is all a big show. She’s just trying to scare us.”

            Reggie stepped forward, and held out one finger. Her teeth snapped in his direction and he pulled his hand away before she could sink her choppers in.

            “Doesn’t look like she’s faking to me,” Reggie said. Floyd had taken his phone out, and was trying to get through to 911, but all operators were busy.

            They knew this story all too well. They had seen it before in movies, in television shows, in comic books. But now they were confronted with the grim reality of what was once a mere fantasy.

            “Enough is enough,” TJ said.

            Reggie laughed the day that TJ stashed a baseball bat under the counter. He told him he would never need it. “What are you afraid of?” Reggie had said. “Rowdy cosplayers? It’s not like anybody’s going to rob this place.” But that day, Reggie was willing to eat his words as TJ snatched the bat from under the register.

            “I can’t get through to the police,” Floyd said.

            “I’ll handle this,” TJ said.

            “Don’t do it,” Reggie advised him. “We have to be sure first.”

            “If this is all an act or a prank, some kind of sick joke, now’s the time to give it up,” TJ said. “Final warning.”

            The woman refused to back down as she hissed and snarled in their direction, fingernails digging into the countertop. Reggie and Floyd put their backs against the wall to give him room. TJ swung for the fences, and the bat connected with an earsplitting crack. Blood trickled, then teemed down her forehead. It reached her mouth, and her tongue ran circles around her lips to collect it.

The bat trembled in TJ’s hands. She did seem the least bit fazed by the blow. He raised the bat and brought it down repeatedly. Blood and skull fragments splattered and rained down over the countertop with each maddening swing.

TJ was seeing red when Reggie finally shook him out of it and told him, “She’s dead, dude. Give it a rest.” TJ gasped, then retched at the sight of what he had done.

            TJ–holding back last night’s liquor that was trying to force its way up–dropped the bat and wiped the blood from his Green Lantern T-shirt.

            “You sure she’s dead?” Floyd asked.

            “Her brains are all over the fucking counter!” TJ exclaimed. “I’m pretty sure she’s dead.”

            “How are we going to explain this to the police?” Reggie asked.

            “I don’t think we have to worry about it,” Floyd said, holding up his phone as the status updates came rolling in on Facebook. Today’s topic of discussion: Zombies.


* * *
           
  
Dylan Reed arrived in Bellmore at three o’clock, and was greeted on the train platform by a local source for the Daily Buzz. Laymon had informed his source that Reed was in transit, and to catch him up to speed when he arrived.

            The man introduced himself as Miguel Perez. Then he got straight down to business.

            “The virus is a mystery. They can’t determine the origin. They don’t even know how to treat it. This morning, seventy-three patients were admitted to six different hospitals, all suffering from severe flu-like symptoms. Twenty-four bodies arrived to two of those hospitals, dead on arrival. And since this morning, more than forty of the seventy-three admitted patients have passed on.”

“From a virus?” Reed said, astonished. “In less than twenty-four hours?”

“This is no virus. The twenty-four bodies they had in the morgue, up and vanished.”

“Vanished? Where the hell did they go?”

“They didn’t trot down to Atlantic City for a wild weekend, I can tell you that. And nobody moved them either.”

“What are you saying? That they all got up and simply walked away?”

“As crazy as it sounds, yes. There have been multiple reports, multiple sightings. They’re out there somewhere, walking around in broad daylight, spreading the infection.”

“Impossible,” Reed said, shaking his head defiantly.

“Buddy, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen. Not yet. But stick around and you will. We’re a lot safer up here on the platform than we are down there. And I failed to mention the bad news.”

“That wasn’t the bad news?”

“Afraid not. It’s not just happening on Long Island. And it’s not just happening in the city.”

            “It’s happening all over America?”

            “Buddy, it’s happening all over the world,” Perez said gravely.

            From the train platform, they saw a pillar of black smoke rising from the center of town. Sirens wailed in the distance. And the screams of terror could be heard from ten blocks away.

            This was the fall of man. The collapse of society. They were witnessing premature extinction.

            They were witnessing the dawn of the apocalypse.




2




            It started with bodies vanishing from hospitals, morgues, funeral parlors. Though they didn’t stay missing for long.

The virus spread at an exponential rate. In twenty-four hours, the dead nearly outnumbered the living.

The green neon sign had lured Dylan Reed to Murphy’s bar. Him and a whole host of others looking for shelter.

            Ira Schillinger was there, though he had resisted the temptation to imbibe throughout the first night.

            Jackson Creed was present. With his sleeves rolled up, Dylan immediately spotted the USMC tattoo on his left shoulder. Jax was not one to brag about his service to his country, but he was still proud to wear that tattoo on his skin.

            So were Reggie, TJ, and Floyd. Murphy knew the boys well. He knew Reggie and TJ were over twenty-one, but Floyd was still one year shy of the legal age. But given the circumstances, Murphy made an exception and had given the boys a round on the house.

            It was just past midnight when Dylan Reed wandered in, sans Miguel Perez.

            The man’s scream kept playing over and over in Reed’s head. He watched the Perez get torn limb from bloody limb in the streets, and he was powerless to stop it.

            Reed had tried every number in his phone book. Nobody was returning his calls. Not Laymon with his delusions of grandeur, or Johnson with his bad case of dysentery. None of his co-workers were picking up the phone. Most of his calls went straight to voicemail. Reed set his phone aside and studied his surroundings. Reed was an observant man, a trait from his NYPD days that he couldn't shake. He perused the patrons and the establishment, looking for potential threats or security breaches.

            “We should name them,” Floyd suggested to his friends and all other patrons within earshot. “Some shows call me them Walkers or Z’s. We need to give them a name.”

            “How about zombies?” Reggie proposed.

            “Nah. They never call them zombies in the movies or the shows. They always avoid it.”

            “Biters,” Murphy said, pouring himself a stiff drink to take the edge off.

            “I like it,” Floyd grinned.

            Murphy had bolted the front and back doors shut. But that still didn’t stop the occasional zombie from attempting to intrude. Some would press their faces to the glass, trying to get a better look inside.

            They all had the same blue, oxygen-deprived skin; the same gray, pupil-less eyes, like dirty marbles crammed into the sockets.

           “Could you turn up the volume?” one of the patrons requested, and Murphy obliged. On the television, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard was addressing the viewers, and urging those to stay indoors.

            “How do you stop them?” a reporter asked off-screen.

           “Massive trauma to the brain,” the lieutenant colonel informed the public. “The easiest way to take them down is to shoot them in the head.”

            “Have the CDC determined a cause for the outbreak?” a second reporter chimed in.

        “The CDC are working overtime to determine a cause, and develop a cure. We ask for your patience and understanding at this time.”

           “These people who are infected, are they alive or dead?”

            “We…we honestly don’t know,” the lieutenant colonel said, stymied.


* * *


            DAY TWO.

Nobody slept a wink. How could they? It’s not every day the world comes to a bitter end. Most television stations had switched to a recurring message from the emergency broadcasting system. But channel 6 was still covering the story. And there was plenty to be covered.

The National Guard had stepped in, setting up safe zones all across America. Ever active member of the military was on duty. No one was off the clock until the situation was resolved.

Jax held out hope that his brothers in the military would have things back to normal in no time. But the others did not appear nearly as optimistic as he was.

Many of them had tried to reach their family members or friends by phone, and few were successful.

Murphy brewed a fresh pot of coffee to keep himself awake and alert. And of course he offered a cup to anyone who wanted it.

Reed was stunned at how benevolent and generous someone like Murphy could be. He thought it was a way of life that be vanished from the Earth forever. But people like Murphy would never change. He was the kind of man that would literally give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.

            Floyd giggled and everyone turned their attention to the television, where the news had cut to a live feed in Times Square.

            “You’ve got to be shitting me,” Jax muttered.

            In Times Square, a small crowd had formed, protesting the National Guards use of deadly force. They marched, waving picket signs with preposterous, half-baked slogans such as ZOMBIES ARE PEOPLE TOO and GIVE ZOMBIES A CHANCE.

            “It figures that in a zombie-infested world, there’d be zombie rights activists,” Dylan said, shaking his head.

            “I bet this doesn’t last long,” Ira boldly predicted. And the protest shortly came to a bloody end when the Biters arrived on the scene, ripping and tearing at the flesh of every activist who was petitioning for them to be spared.

            “I’m pretty sure this is the definition of irony,” Floyd quipped.

            The footage was so gruesome, channel 6 had to cut the feed.

            Reed, fearing the worst, got up from his barstool and approached Jax.

            “Dylan Reed,” he introduced himself. “Reporter for the Daily Buzz.”

            “Jackson Creed. But you can call me Jax. Everyone does.”

            “I saw your USMC tattoo before. You’re in the marines?”

            “I was.”

            “Before I worked for the Daily Buzz, I was a cop. I did the job for ten years. I know how to use a gun. And I know what it takes to survive.”

            “I can respect that," Jax nodded. "But where are you going with all this What's your point"?”

            “My point is we need to formulate a strategy, a backup plan in case this mess is unresolved. In case the National Guard can’t contain the outbreak.”

            “He’s right,” Ira said, overhearing their conversation. “There’s a real good chance we’ll be left to fend for ourselves.”

            “You can count me in,” Murphy said from behind the bar. “We can take my van. It’s parked out back. I can fit up to eight people in there.”

            “Now we’re talking,” Dylan said.

            “Count us in, too,” Reggie spoke for himself and his friends. “If you’ll have us.”

            “If we’re taking my van, you guys are in,” Murphy assured them. “I knew your dad well, Reggie. We were good friends back in high school.”

            “If we do go, we’ll need food, water, supplies,” Jax pointed out. “Especially medical supplies.”

            “We can get all of that at my job,” Floyd said. “And I just happen to have the keys.”

            “We’ll also need weapons,” Jax said.

            “That I can’t help you with,” Floyd said.

            “We’ve got company!” one of the patrons shouted.

            “Zombie?” Murphy asked.

            “Zombies,” the patron said. “Plural. All heading this way.”

            “Fuck me,” Murphy said, dusting off the shotgun he kept stashed under the bar. “I guess it’s on.”

            They gathered below the green neon sign of Murphy's, pressing their blank faces against the pane glass windows. Some were wearing hospital gowns. Others were dressed in casual attire. But there was nothing casual about their physical appearance. Most of them were already displaying minimal signs of rot and decay.

            They clawed and pounded and pushed against the glass until cracks started to form and spread.

            “Get back,” Murphy warned the others. “The windows aren’t going to hold forever.”

            “If anyone else has a gun on them, now’s a good time to mention it,” TJ said.

            The glass exploded, shards flying in every direction. And a small army of the undead came spilling in, ready to devour everyone in their path.

            The first one to approach the bar got a shotgun blast to the head, courtesy of Murphy. Jax grabbed a corkscrew off the bar to defend himself, and rammed it through the ear of the first zombie that tried to bite him. Ira and Dylan were fending them off with pool cues. It wasn’t the most effective weapon, but it slowed them down and kept them at bay.

            The influx of the undead created a whirlpool of insanity. Most of the patrons were shouting, running, pushing, shoving, and knocking each other down, as they bolted for the back door. Though many did not make it out alone.

            Reggie had joined Murphy behind the bar and grabbed a knife Murphy used for slicing lemons and limes. There was a young man who had turned. He looked no older than Reggie did. And Reggie didn’t want to kill him or anybody for that matter. But when he tried to claw his way over the bar, Reggie didn’t hesitate to drive that knife through his eye.

            Murphy was reloading his shotgun when the pain exploded through his body. One of them had crawled under the bar and snuck up behind him, ripping the skin from the back of his neck. Murphy dropped the gun to the floor and fell to his knees.

            “Murphy!” Reggie cried out. He scrambled for the shotgun and shells. But Reggie didn’t even know how to load the damn thing. And the zombie that had attacked Murphy was closing in.

            “Kid, over here,” Jax said. Reggie slid the shotgun across the bar and tossed the shells. Jax popped two shells in, pumped the mechanism, and popped its head like a balloon with a single shot.

            Reggie sighed as his life stopped flashing before his eyes. “Thanks,” he said, his voice cracking.

            “Don’t mention it.”

           “Reggie,” Murphy croaked, holding up the keys with one blood stained hand. “I won’t make it. We know what happens to people like me when they get bit. Take the van. Go, before it’s too late.”


* * *


            A sea of abandoned vehicles had clogged most of the main roads, forcing Jax to take detour after detour. Murphy had given Reggie the keys, but the kid was too shaken up to drive.

            Jax and Ira were riding in the front, and Dylan, Reggie, TJ, and Floyd had squeezed into the back of the blue Econoline van.

            They were on Orange Street, three blocks south of Sunrise Highway, when Jax saw two shadows stumble into the street.

            “Help!” a voice cried, shrill and frantic.

            “Stop,” Ira said. “They’re not infected. They’re talking.”

            “They could still be infected,” TJ pointed out. “They just haven’t turned yet. All it takes is one bite, one scratch, and you’re one of them.”

            “We can’t just leave them out here without being sure,” Jax said.

            Jax cut the wheel and pulled off to the side of the road. He rolled the window down as Alice approached his door with Beverly at her side. Both had overnight bags slung over their shoulders.

            “Please help us,” Beverly pleaded. “My friend and I were trying to escape from New York, but her car got a flat tire, and we don’t even have a spare.”

            “Where are you heading?”

            “Pennsylvania,” Beverly said. “I have to find my brother.”

            “Where in Pennsylvania?”

            “Ravensville.”

            “I know a place out there,” Jax said. “An armory. Should have everything we’ll need. Now hop in. It’s not safe to be out in the streets.”

            Dylan opened the back doors and gave the girls a hand getting in.

            “Wait, none of us agreed to go to Pennsylvania,” TJ said. “Don’t we even get to vote?”

            “If we want heavy artillery, that’s where we’re going to find it,” Jax said. “And I don’t think I need to point out that it’s essential to our survival. That being said, Pennsylvania is the ideal destination. At least for the time being.”

            “It could take us a while,” Dylan said.

            “You have anything else going on at the moment?” Jax asked. “I’m not going to force anyone to come. If you want to go your separate way, we’ll find you a vehicle and some supplies. But one way or another, this van is going to Pennsylvania.”

            “We should all stick together,” Ira said, trying to be the voice of reason. “No sense in splitting up. If we’re going to make it through this, we have to watch each other’s backs.”

            “Then Pennsylvania it is,” Dylan said. Ira was right. They didn’t stand a chance on their own. But together, there was hope.

            As they rode on, Dylan glared out the back windows and could not avoid the sights of carnage and destruction at every turn.

           So this is it, Dylan lamented. This is the new world.



TO BE CONTINUED WITH PART TWO: WHAT COMES NEXT?