The car swerved hard and just narrowly avoided the burning vehicle in the middle of the road. The raven haired driver was barely able to spin the steering wheel back and keep the vehicle moving in a relatively straight line. The day had started bad, and had steadily gotten worse. Though driving like a man possessed, he stole a glance in to the rearview mirror and wasn’t sure if he wanted to scream at it or shoot it again.
It had latched on to the bumper of his car shortly after he had pulled out of the employee parking lot with his tires screaming. He could still smell the burnt rubber, mixed with the odor of blood, and decomposition. He was confident the former came from his tires. The odors emanated from the… thing still holding on to the bumper.
The old woman stepped out from between a blue van and white pickup truck and he screamed. Human instinct told him to slam on the breaks, but then he saw her face: Her cheek was completely ripped open, a large jagged wound that ran down and ended in the side of her neck. Her entire dress was soaked in blood. Seconds later, came the dull crunch of bones breaking beneath the tires of his car.
The drivers’ eyes were as dark as his hair and those same eyes shot a glance towards the fuel gauge. The metaphorical glass was half empty, like the gas tank - a clear reflection of how the afternoon had turned out. Sweat beaded and trailed its way down the side of his face as he focused on getting to his apartment. The only reason he was going back there was because of the cache of firearms and other survival gear. A glance at his wing mirror revealed that whatever was holding on back there was still holding on. Despite its uncomfortable presence, and the fact he had run one of them over a few minutes ago, he found it hard to believe that he was living the nightmare, “Zombies are fictional. Zombies are not real!”
Tell that to the thing he’d run over, and the other one hanging on to the bumper of his car. They looked human, but that was the only thing that was human about the creatures. Almost four days in to the “crisis” or “epidemic” or whatever the various governments of the world were calling it, and he had survived witnessing the carnage firsthand by the skin of his teeth.
Cameron Hunter had opted to head out for a quick breath of fresh air, disguised as a cigarette break. Business had slowed dramatically since the dead started to walk three or four days ago. They were also caught on what the military personnel manning the barricades a few blocks away called, “the civilized edge of the red zone.”
It had sounded like fire crackers, but too many hours at the shooting range had made clear to Cameron exactly what he was hearing: Gunfire. Lots and lots of gunfire he had seen them too: National Guard and military alike, dressed in jungle camouflage streaming up the street, most of them running on foot, a few on Humvees, but most of them were running for their lives. Some turned and fired wildly and none of them stopped to explain just what the hell was going on. The answer had shambled in to view moments later.
The only word to describe it is “horde.” They had swarmed up the street: Men, women, and children. They looked human enough, until you stopped and paid attention: The injuries, the torn clothing and flesh, and in many cases, the teeth marks that decorated arms, necks, shoulders, heads and even faces. Most had continued their pursuit up the street, chasing the fleeing remnants of the military.
Enough of them howver, had noticed the half dozen people in the hotel lobby. They turned their attention to the plate glass windows that fronted the hotel. It started with a few blows that seemed to just tap the glass. Within moments, the few became dozens, and then hundreds within a minute. The glass bent inwards, slowly, like something out of the matrix, before shattering.
A storm of broken glass rained down, the falling glass cut through flesh of the invading horde, but they seemed immune to it, to pain, to injury. More than one of the walking dead staggered beneath the falling glass, and several resembled walking porcupines. The shouts of surprise and shock quickly turned to those of pain and suffering. He had been standing by the elevator and was lucky. The doors had opened and he’d fallen inside. Perhaps he was lucky that the doors closed before the cannibalistic feasting began. He had made a snap decision: Assistant executive housekeeper or not, the office was not a good place to be, and he was clocking out early today.
Cameron had gotten in to his car, and gotten the hell out of dodge – at least until he’d exited the parking garage, and clipped the creature that seemed to have become permanently attached to his rear bumper.
It was like driving through hell as he watched the individual scenes, as if they were all mere vignettes of the large apocalypse. One of the creatures seemed to lunge, like it had springs in its legs, tackling an unfortunate pedestrian to the ground. Fifteen meters down the road, it was another such scene: A man wielding a shotgun took aim at a woman and blew the contents of her chest out her back. Despite missing most of the left side of her chest, she got back up and tackled her gun wielding assailant to the ground.
The Hawaiian shirt was sweat soaked along the spine and under the arms taking on a dark blue hue. America was supposed to be his “fresh start,” away from the wreck of personal life and near shambolic career that he had left behind in Europe. This new start in Portland Oregon however, was turning out to be a little too fresh for his tastes.
The streets were suddenly clear and he slowed to pull his cell phone from his pocket, and dialed the number on his speed dial. To his aggravation, he received the same fast busy response – a marginal improvement over the automated “all our operators and lines are currently busy” message.
He had slowed down for another reason: He was almost home. Parking was always a bitch, but today, he didn’t seem to mind. Considering everything he had seen the past few days, he had no qualms about pulling on to the pavement and inching forward. The streets were deserted, and that somehow made him feel better. The shining sun lent an air of reassuring normality to the situation. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. The thing attached to the bumper gave a long spine tingling moan. The car screeched to halt and he backed up as fast as possible. The Chevrolet trailblazer high sided on the driver’s side for a moment as the weight of the vehicle crunched the… thing to a pulp.
Absentmindedly, he ran a hand through his close cropped hair and pulled as close as he could to the front door of the low rise apartment building he had called home for the past few months. While one of the safer cities in the US, it still was not as safe as Switzerland, or Hong Kong where he had grown up. One of the first things he had done was jump through all of the legal hoops and acquired a firearm. Originally, he had wanted the ultimate in handguns: The Disraeli Arms Desert Eagle chambered for .50 Action Express munitions. At least, that was the dream until he had been introduced to the massive recoil of the weapon. Reality and practicality had won out in the end, and he had adopted a smaller, more manageable Glock 18C chambered for the ubiquitous 9mm ammunition.
He drew the weapon from beneath the driver’s seat and out of habit, checked the safety ad for the first time outside a shooting range, and flicked it to “off.” All he had was a feeling that he was going to be putting his ability to shoot to the test very soon.
He reached in to the glove box, and pulled a trio of spare clips which he jammed in to his pocket. Almost as an afterthought, he pulled the license and registration in to an opposing pocket, “Just in case,” he muttered.
He parked as close as he could he could, leaving a narrow gap to cross which he did. He stopped in midstride as he heard the wailing of several sirens in the distance, voices blaring through loudhailers, and sporadic gunfire. With hindsight, he would realize exactly what it was he was hearing, but his immediate concerns were for his own survival.
His own footsteps rang like the clomping of a giant as he opened the door to the lobby, and entered a scene from hell: Blood trailed along the floor with accompanying handprints smearing the walls. The overhead lights threw pools around the mailboxes and the intact, a good sign he supposed. His mouth dried as something pounded hard upon the doors of the elevator, from inside. That gave him pause, especially since you only had to push a button to open the doors. He scanned the narrow corridor like space and dragged the wooden bench across the tiled floor.
A calming breath later, he slapped the button and scrambled back over his barricade. The doors chimed and slid apart smoothly, even as he adopted a standard firing stance that would have made his instructor proud: His right hand supported by the left, barrel straight and level, allowing him to aim down the crude but very effective iron sights.
The occupants of this particular corner of hell emerged, the man dressed in business attire and sported a jagged wound that ran from one shoulder through clothing and flesh, terminating where the heart should be with his throat destroyed. Its female counterpart was in jeans and a formerly pristine, skin tight pale blue halter top soaked with blood from a massive stomach wound that dripped half congealed blood and a torn out neck. Ungodly demonic sounds emerged from their damaged vocal cords as they charged. Their forward momentum was broken as they ploughed hips first in to the bench.
Many are terrified of the noise made by any firearm or had never trained with a weapon. For those unaccustomed to holding, let alone firing any firearm there is a common problem that affects the accuracy of most untrained shooters. Called simply “the flinch,” it is a reflexive flinch that happens in the split second before the trigger is pulled or when the trigger is pulled. The flinch causes any shot, even aimed shots to go wide, and shots at close range to miss the center of the targets mass. Fortunately, he had spent more than enough time on his shooting to correct this defect as he fired, three shots in to the semi-living creature only a half dozen paces in front of him.
Without the earmuffs common at the shooting range, the gunfire was near deafening and his ears were ringing. He had targeted the man simply because he was fractionally closer. His first two bullets took it high in the chest, and would have been kill shots on a human. The thing only staggered back several paces, bounced off its cohort and lunged forward again.
His eyes widened in surprise and he jerked back as it nearly crashed in to him with its flailing limbs. He was close enough to see the whites of its eyes, smell the foetid rancid breath of the creature. With a sudden snarl of his own, he pushed the barrel in to the creature’s half open mouth, breaking teeth as he pulled the trigger.
The bullet carved a path through the creatures head and exploded out the top of its skull. The force of the shot blew it backwards and it crumpled to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut. He turned his attention to the female. It had either not noticed or simply did not care about the fate of its associate.
From a distance of six feet, hearing the ringing of a dozen church bells, it took Cameron a moment to line up the shot, and take it. A single bullet entered the center of the woman’s forehead and she slumped to the floor, as dead as her erstwhile companion.
The inside of the elevator was coated in a mix of blood and grey matter, and he surveyed the carnage. “They look human, but they are not human,” he muttered, “Humans, don’t eat humans.” These people might have lived in the building, but he had not made friends with his neighbors mostly because of the working hours required by hospitality. That made the act of shooting, of killing the possessed reincarnations of his neighbors easier. It is after all, infinitely harder to kill someone you know than a stranger – especially one determined to devour your flesh.
He pulled his thoughts back to the present moment, and looked over his shoulder, half expecting a swarm of the flesh hungry things to be waiting in the street. His choices were less than ideal: Either he took the stairs and ran the risk of running in to more of the creatures, or he took the elevator and ran the risk of running in to more of the creatures on the fourth floor of his building.
He pushed the blood splattered bench aside with his foot and took a deep breath and stepped in to the elevator, slapping the button for the fourth floor repeatedly. Despite holding the fabric of his shirt over his nose, he could still smell the coppery tang of blood, and more, the taste of decay that settled in the back of his throat.
After what seemed like an eternity, the doors chimed and opened. Nervous, he leapt in to the hallway scanned left and then right and exhaled with a sigh of relief. Quiet and peaceful with no blood upon the whitewashed walls or corpses upon the carpeted floor as he ran to apartment number forty-one at the end of the hall. The keys slid from sweat soaked fingers and it took him a moment longer than it should have to retrieve the keys, let alone force the right key in to the lock. Finally he slammed the door and locked the door engaging both deadbolt locks. Casting a critical eye over the door, he jammed a chair beneath the door knob and took a breath, only then realizing that he’d been holding his breath since he stepped in to the elevator.
He needed a drink, and the only thing apart from water was American beer that was pretty close to water but it was ice cold. That was the important part: Ice cold. It would help him calm down and think. Popping off the cap with his teeth, he took a long pull as he made his way through the living room, pausing only long enough to grab the remote control off the arm of the sofa.