ShadownBurn Chapter #2: The Outbreak
While Brandon was gone I didn’t have much to do. His house was really just a one room cabin. He had a chair, a cot with the chest at the end, a sink by one wall, and the large fireplace. I didn’t see a fridge until washing my bowl, it turned out that he had one of those tiny refrigerators placed in one of the bottom cabinets. Kept the place neat, I guess when you have such a small home you need to stay organized. From the windows all I could see was forest. Trees, trees, more trees…oh, wait, there’s a rock.
There were no pictures on his walls. No decoration except for a dream catcher hanging over the cot. A shotgun was propped in the corner closest to the foot of the sleeping area and a compound bow hung on a hook nearby. The chest he had gotten the t-shirt from was obviously handmade. Like all of the other wood surfaces in the room, it was polished until gleaming. It smelled like cedar.
I saw that the fire was dying down. I didn’t want to let it go out while Brandon was gone, so I put a couple of split logs on. He had one of those cast iron pokers in a fire tending set. It reminded me of my grandmother’s place; she had a set like his. They come with a poker, a small shovel, a broom thing, and tongs. Brandon’s was missing the broom. That struck me as odd considering how organized everything he owned seemed. I stirred the coals with the poker and watched the low flames lick at the logs.
Over the crackle of the growing fire I heard something outside. Brandon must have driven like a demon to make it back so fast. Really, demons always drive over the speed limit. It’s like they have a fetish for speed or something. Doesn’t matter if they are in a beater or a Ferrari, they’ll push a car to the limit. The next time you’re on a freeway and some asshat whips past, changing lanes just to get further ahead – you’ve seen a demon. (Possibly an asshole human, but most likely a demon. Those are the guys that the cops seem to just never see.)
I turned to go to the door when I saw something pass by the window. Even with just a glimpse I could tell that it wasn’t Brandon outside. He was tall; I’m guessing 6’4” to 6’6”. Had been hard to tell when I was on the cot. Whoever walked by was shorter and had blonde hair. Wondering if the vampires had found my hiding place I slipped to the window. My body pressed against the wall, I peeked out.
The person outside was standing at the corner of the cabin. They weren’t looking around or anything, just standing. A few leaves were stuck in their hair. I couldn’t tell from my vantage point if it was a woman or man. While I watched the unfamiliar shape the wind picked up and made the leaves flutter from the person’s head. They began to whip their head side to side. I could hear a sound, like wet snuffling. It was like they smelled something and the breeze refreshed the scent. Both wolves and vampires could follow a scent trail. I hoped like hell whoever stood out there was a friend of Brandon’s.
When person turned to face the cabin, I spoke out loud. “Bullshit.” There was no way in hell that my brain could understand what I was looking at. What was out there had been male, I could tell that. The part I was having a problem with was the lack of skin around his mouth. Lips, cheeks, and most of the chin – gone. Half of the nose, too. That was why I heard wetness in the snuffles. Tattered flaps of skin hung over where the nostrils should have been. His eyes were bulging in the sockets. Something had ripped open his body from chest to groin…his shirt was torn away in front.
I refused to believe it. Sure, I was a werewolf. Brandon was a werewolf. Vampires had attacked me. Demons outran State Troopers every day. Witches either healed or killed with magic. Ghosts roamed the Earth in an effort to correct past wrongs and pass on. Fairies and elves walked among humans.
But there was no such thing as a motherfucking zombie.
Sometimes you just have to talk to yourself. An audible voice that speaks to the crazy in your head. Right about now I was positive that whatever Brandon put in the tea was causing me to hallucinate. I’m never good at articulating my feelings, but I was phenomenal at calling bullshit when I saw it. Usually the bullshit in question wasn’t stumbling, shambling, or whatever the hell it was that zombies did.
The…thing’s…head whipped towards the cabin after I spoke. (I probably never stopped speaking after I said “bullshit” the first time. If I remember correctly I repeated it over and over). Remember when I fell out of the cot? Doing stupid things that can result in bodily harm seems to be my modus operandi. It sort of half-stumbled towards the window I was peering out. I watched the thing shuffle in my direction, dragging his feet. He came to my window and walked into the wall.
I guess zombies have forgotten how walls work. He could still smell with what was left of his nose and I heard his snuffles through the glass. His face pressed against the glass. I tried to move the curtain back to its position without alerting him. That was yet another mistake in my growing list. My small movement caught his attention, whipping him into frenzy. He kept trying to walk through the wall and started to slam his face against the window pane.
Now everything that you have ever read or viewed concerning animated dead says that to kill them (again) you must destroy the brain. This works 99% of the time. The other 1% is due to some weird spirit possession. I was praying that all of the material pointing to brain destruction was correct.
I still had the poker in my hand. That turned out to be a good thing because a few slams of that thing’s head caused the window pane to shatter. I shuddered as he pushed his jaw in, without the skin of lips or cheeks I could clearly hear its teeth snapping together. The thing didn’t have a plan at all; it was trying to walk through the wall. It was enough to make me wonder if destroying the brain would do any good. I mean, if it didn’t realize how walls worked, how much brain could there be left anyway?
I pulled back the curtain and looked into the thing’s eyes. When he saw me… well, it flipped out. Teeth snapping, weird bloody snuffles, and the sound of his body thumping against the wall. With the wall between us, I found the antics of the dead thing entertaining. I’m weird, don’t judge. Everyone has their own sense of humor.
Before it figured out how to bludgeon through the wall and window, I speared the poker through one of its eyes. No death throes. It went limp and hung from Brandon’s windowsill like some morbid Halloween decoration. A disgusting smell wafted in through the broken glass. Like all animals, the thing had voided its bowels when it died.
I am here to tell you, there is nothing more awful than the smell of zombie shit.
If Brandon didn’t like the smell of vampire, he was going to be really unhappy with the new fragrance in the cabin. Nasty. Just nasty. I can’t even begin to tell you how disgusting the funk coming from Mr. Dead Britches was. The smell of death is horrible, but somehow it is worse when a walking corpse has rotting human remains fall out of its’ ass.
Yeah…Brandon was going to be ticked.
It wasn’t too long after I’d added air conditioning to Dead Boy’s head that Brandon came up through the woods with my SUV. An Avalanche is pretty cool, it’s like a cross between a closed SUV and a truck. The off-roading capabilities aren’t as great as some vehicles, though not too shabby. The road to Brandon’s cabin was more like a suggestion. Just wide enough for a truck or car to navigate provided you were a great driver.
His Royal Hotness pulled the truck all the way up to the tiny porch. (Come on, he’s hot. I’m hurt, not dead or blind.) I went out onto the porch and watched as he slammed the truck door, then went to inspect his new cabin décor. “Layne! Are you…HOLY, what is that stench?”
The look on his face was awesome. I’m such a turd. It was truly funny, though. “Brandon, I’m pretty sure I just killed a zombie.” I pointed to the thing in the window. “Sorry about the window, but he broke it, not me.”
“A zombie.” Again with the awesome expression. “You killed a zombie.” It was a statement, not a question. Brandon picked up a stick and poked the corpse.
“I’m relatively sure I killed it. Well, re-killed it.” I watched him prod the thing. “Brandon, what are you doing?”
“Poking it with a stick.”
“Oh.” The situation was absurd. Here we stood, examining a thing that should not be. Me in a t-shirt that was a step away from decent and him…poking a dead thing with a stick. “It hasn’t moved for the past fifteen minutes or so. I stabbed it in the eye with your poker.”
He nodded and gave the thing a final poke. “ I guess that would do it.” His eyes were dark blue when he turned his attention to me. “Did it bite you?”
I shook my head. “No. It tried like crazy, but couldn’t figure out that walls make a difficult doorway.”
“I wonder if the stories are true. If people turn into the walking dead by bites.” Brandon glanced around the surrounding forest. What had seemed like a protective cocoon an hour ago was now a potential threat. “I wonder if there are more out here. The town gas station was empty and there was no traffic. Perhaps something is going on we don’t know about.”
I arched a brow and looked back at Mr. Dead Britches. “Ya think?”
In the bag I had mostly t-shirts and jeans. A girl can never have too many jeans, especially in my line of work. You know, traveling the countryside, fighting rogue vampires and stabbing the odd zombie with a poker. Speaking of which, Dead Boy was still in the window. I wasn’t about to drop trou until it was out of the window.
His voice floated in through the broken glass. “Yes?”
“Do you think it would be possible to remove that thing from the window? I feel weird with it staring at me.”
“Sure.” I think I heard him chuckle. His face popped up in the unbroken window pane, and then the zombie shook a little as he pulled it free. A soft thud later the body was gone. “All done.”
He didn’t say anything, though I swore he chuckled again.
I didn’t really spend much time looking through all of the clothes I had wadded into the big bag. My favorites were on top. Good old Levi’s and my favorite black tank stolen from the ex-boyfriend. It was really one of those underwear shirts that my ex called a ‘wife beater’. Comfy. Brandon had put my boots near the end of the cot. Another minute of rummaging and I had found socks. Soon I was fully dressed, go me!
I wandered back out to the little porch to see what Brandon was up to. The zombie was gone and Brandon had disappeared with it. I guessed he didn’t want it stinking up the yard. I didn’t hear anything other than birds twittering. Since he was busy, I went back inside for my bag. Brandon was a nice guy, but I doubted he wanted me to hang around much longer.
The door creaked open behind me. “Layne?” Brandon’s voice was low and strained.
“Yeah?” I looked up from the bag I was valiantly trying to repack. His face was pale and the set of his jaw made me forget the bag. “What’s…”
He didn’t wait for me to finish. “Open the panel on the wall by the fireplace behind you. Take the rifle, bow, and the bag of arrows. It looks like a golf club bag. Walk quickly and quietly to your truck. We are leaving.”
What the hell?
“Brandon, what the hell? What is your pro-“
He interrupted me again. “Layne, they’re in the woods. We have to go. Now.”
“Who’s in the woods? What are you talking about?”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything as sinister as what he said next.
“The town. They’re in the woods. The townspeople are in the woods.” Brandon swallowed and his jaw worked. “They’re all in the woods and they’re dead.”
“The whole town? What the hell?”
“That’s what I said. The whole town. “ Brandon didn’t look like the type to exaggerate. Still, how could they all be in the forest? Technically anyone could go into the woods, I was aware. Just the idea of a whole town doing some sort of undead town picnic was weird. Not an hour ago I was calling bullshit on the whole zombie thing. Now I entertained the thought of a zombie funfest not far from our door. Life is funny.
“Layne, we have to go right now. Please stop looking at me like that.” He still had this grim set to his mouth. Poor guy obviously didn’t see the humor in everything.
“Go where? You live in the woods. Don’t you have some sort of bunker under here or something?”
It was his turn to look surprised. “What are you talking about?”
I opened the panel and took out the weapons. He got together the shotgun and other bow I’d seen earlier. “Well, you have a cache of hidden weapons by your fireplace. You live in a one room cabin out in the middle of nowhere, and you know about healing plants. I assumed you were some sort of survival nut. I’ve read about people like you on the Internet.”
Brandon made a sound that would have made me think he was choking if we were eating. “I’m very glad to know you are observant, Layne. That will help quite a bit in the next few hours.”
I hadn’t known Brandon for very long at all, but I had the distinct impression he was making fun of me.
“Layne, I don’t have a bunker. I do have a place we can go if we leave now. If we do not leave no I am not sure we can fight an entire horde of the undead alone.” It looked like it pained him to say ‘horde of the undead’. Wasn’t every day that you could say something right out of a horror flick. I don’t think he enjoyed it at all.
Seriously, if there is going to be a zombie apocalypse, why not enjoy it?
“Alright. You did save my life, I’ll trust you know if your whole town is shambling through the woods.”
I followed him outside and slid into the passenger side of my truck. He looked a little confused as he got in the driver’s seat. “You don’t want to drive?”
“No. You patched me up pretty good, but I don’t know the area, I’m still sore, and I think you’ll do a better job of navigating your driveway.”
Brandon nodded. He started the truck and turned it in a tight ‘U’. We started down the narrow driveway/road. The ride was anything but smooth. He handled the Avalanche well and we didn’t have a problem with the various wet spots. Watching the landscape was interesting. I hadn’t had a chance to look at the scenery during my stumble through the woods.
“I thought you said all of the townspeople were hanging out in the woods, Brandon. I haven’t seen a single shamble so far.”
He didn’t take his eyes from the road. “They are. Don’t you smell them?”
I inhaled deeply. “ Smells like Buffalo did the last time I drove through.” Brandon was right. I could smell something similar to sewer funk on the air.
This time he laughed out loud. “You’re right. It does smell like the city. Part of the reason why I love it here.”
I turned in my seat to look at him. “If this town is nothing but dead people, where are we going?”
Brandon shifted in the seat. His smile faded. “To a friend’s place.”
“Another survivalist? One with a bunker?”
The truck thumped over a half-buried rotten log. “Sort of.”
He was hiding something. I knew from the survivalist blogs and forums I had come across that survival types could be secretive about their bunkers. Now wasn’t the time for silliness. “What do you mean, ‘sort of’? Are we going to a house or a bunker or a cave up in the forest?”
Brandon looked more uncomfortable than I had ever seen him in the whole half a day we’d gotten to know each other. I could barely make out what he said in reply so I poked him. “What?”
I stared. I gaped. My brain felt as if it were going to slide right out of my ear.
“Brandon, did you just tell me we’re going to a Hive? I’m sorry, but did I miss it when you lit up a crack pipe back at your cabin?”
All I could think was that we must be well and truly screwed to be going to a vampire Hive for safety.