Our third place winner -- who has the distinction of being our Rotting Carcass Captain -- is Michael Carr. The judges like the way Michael was able to create a rich, detailed environment with many distinct characters. The story -- a familiar one to zombie fans -- teams with fast-paced action and excellent dialog.)
By Michael Carr
“Close the door!”
“I said ‘close the fucking door!’”
With a snap the barred door jammed in place, I shoved the wooden brace against the handle for added security. Carter slid to the ground, his back against the wall. The sound of his harsh breathing filled the silent hallway.
Charlie stood above him, his eyes closed, his hands against his
head, the small gun in his holster shaking. Both their jackets were covered in mud and a mixture of dried vomit and blood. Mary and David appeared from the dining room.
“What’s going on?” David asked.
“Go back to the dining room, David, take Mary with you.”
“Just get back into the dining room!” I shouted, struggling to keep my
patience, “and make sure your kids are safe.”
“Safe? What happened? I thought the hills were deserted-”
Carter stumbled up, tearing away his jacket. He hurled it to the floor. The inside layer was streaked with fresh blood. Mary turned away, burying her face in David’s chest.
“We were wrong! We were utterly, totally, completely fuck all wrong!”
I grabbed Carter. His pale arms were slick with sweat.
“Calm down, Carter, just tell me what happened.”
“We were-we were, God, it happened so fast, Alex-” Carter whispered, shaking his head.
“What happened? Tell me!”
A choked gasp came from behind me. Charlie stood, his shoulders thrashing. He stared at me through bright blue eyes, terrified and pure. Blood trickled from his eyes and nose. His hands flew up to his head, pressing against his temples as if he were trying to crush them like a grape. He smacked his hands against his head as blood came up from his ears. He sank to his knees and uttered a childlike coo, before landing face down into the hard floorboard.
“He was contaminated!?” I screamed, shoving Carter away from me.
“I didn’t know! He was fine, we were running like hell!”
I turned Charlie over, his body shaking violently, his arms and legs
“Carter get over here! Help me hold him!” I screamed, “Mary, get Sam and Tim and take them upstairs! David, wake Tom, Emilio too! Go!”
Mary broke from David’s arms and rushed into the kitchen, snatching up the pale eight year old in her arms. Tim, the elder son at fourteen, followed close behind. David slid in Charlie’s blood as he rushed upstairs with Mary to the bedroom.
“Find the infected area. We have to stop it before it gets to the heart!”
Carter and I tore away Charlie’s jacket, pulling up his shirt. I turned his thrashing arms while Carter scanned the legs. Charlie’s screams had ceased. He stared into the distance, muttering to himself. I found it. Orange blood, infected blood, spreading slowly through the veins of the right arm. They pulsated slowly as they burst, sending the blood swirling in orange puddles beneath the skin.
“Here, Jesus it’s in his arm, just started. Tom!”
Tom took the stairs two at a time, jumping to the bottom, still dressed in his pajamas.
“Okay, where’s the infection?” Tom asked, taking his glasses from his back pocket and placing them across his eyes. He brushed his gray hair from his eyes. His hands no longer shaking from age.
“Right arm. It’s spreading.”
“Alright,” Tom whispered, “Emilio’s getting the tools. We’re gonna have to amputate it.”
“Cut it off? Are you sure?”
“Damn sure, he’s dead if we don’t. Carter, go to the bathroom, get all the towels in the hamper.”
Emilio reached the stairs. His long black hair brushed back as he hits the floor, opening Tom’s medical box.
“Give me the saw.”
Tom steadied Charlie’s head. He shined the light against his eye.
“They aren’t dilated yet, we’re still okay. Charlie, buddy if you can hear
me, we have to take the arm.”
“Yellow matter custard...” Charlie whispered.
“Hold him still, Alex.”
I tightened my grip on Charlie’s shoulders. Carter arrived with a bundle of towels clutched to his chest.
“Place them around the arm.”
Carter lifted Charlie’s arm and stuffed the towels under it. Tom looked
around at us above his glasses. His eyes shone darkly, his lips tightened.
“Brace yourselves,” he whispered.
The shining saw slid smoothly across Charlie’s arm, tearing the skin and veins, digging into the tendons. Orange blood burst from the veins, speeding upward only to be trapped by the gleaming saw as it began to cut the bone. Charlie’s eyes flew wide as if he’d just realized what was happening. His screams pierced my ears as I held him down.
“Keep your mouths shut, don‘t let the blood in!” Tom shouted.
With a wet snap Charlie’s arm came apart. Emilio whipped his belt off and tied it around Charlie’s stump.
“We need to stop the bleeding! Cauterize it somehow!”
Carter jumped up and turned away, running into the kitchen. When he returned he held the clothing iron in his hands. He dropped to the floor and plugged it in.
“Hold him steady,” Tom whispered as Carter passed him the hot iron.
Tom placed the iron against Charlie’s stump. Steam spilled out as his flesh burned and browned under the iron. Charlie slumped back, unconscious. It was over.
“He’ll be okay,” Tom whispered, turning to Emilio.
“Burn the towels. Anything the blood’s touched. Burn it.”
Charlie lay on the living room couch, shaking slightly. Tim and Emilio sat in separate chairs. Emilio watched over Charlie. Tim watched over his portable TV. The rest of us sat at the kitchen table. Carter sat sipping black coffee, he set the cup down and looked up.
“We were down by the river, John, Charlie and I. We’d just finished the
fishing when the attack came. I don’t know how many there were, I think five. They just...came out of nowhere, knocked John down. They fucking tore him apart. Literally ripped his arms off. Just pulled and scatched and bit until there was nothing but a puddle. Charlie got one through the head. I remember now, one came up, a little girl, like Sam’s age. Her eyes, the eyes I’ll never forget. They were scratched out, one of them was torn out, she just ran at me. And I shot her. I killed a kid...”
Tom grasped Carter’s shoulder, squeezing it tightly.
“And I ran. I ran and I ran like Satan himself was behind me. There was blood flying everywhere. On me, on the trees, on the leaves. Charlie, I think he got bit somewhere in the corn fields. I really can’t remember. How did they find us? We’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s like these ‘things’ have GPS.”
“We’ve locked all the doors?”
“Of course,” Mary whispered.
“Now what do we know about these things, they can’t speak, right?”
“No. No they can.”
The table had fallen silent.
“What?” I asked.
“They can speak,” Tom whispered, “in the first stages, before the virus
takes them over completely.”
“If they speak then maybe they can think. I mean they’ve tracked us this far, how do we know they won’t find a way in?”
David stood slowly, accidentally sweeping his cup off the table.
“What’s wrong?” Tom asked.
“Sam. Where’s my son?”
Sam had been told never to answer the door. The monsters outside would kill him. He might not have seen Charlie’s arm but he’d heard the screams. But he also knew that there were survivors. When they’d started it had just been his family along with the doctor and his assistant. Soon Alex, Charlie, Carter, and John had come. Even Harry had been a survivor, before he turned.
Now Sam was alone, in the washing room, facing the back door and listening to the scratching that came from the other side.
“Let me in little boy. I won’t hurt you. I’m like you. I’m a survivor!”
The voice echoed from behind the locked door. Soft thumps issued from the other side. Sam stepped back. A face appeared in the window. An unharmed, perfect face. A young man’s face, it gave a sly smile.
“You see? I’m just like you...”
Sam took a step forward, placing his hand on the doorknob.
With a click the door unlocked. It swung open. The man slowly shambled into view. He smiled again, his blond hair fluttering in the wind. A dripping noise could be heard. Sam glanced down to see the orange blood dripping from the man’s hands.
Sam opened his mouth to scream.
“Sam!” came his father’s voice.
David stood in the doorway, the pistol raised. The blond angel smiled
again, and turned. Sam was lifted off his feet, swept up in the man’s arm. The door slammed with a snap, and Sam was gone.
“No!” Mary screamed, pushing past Tom and ripping the door open.
“Mary don’t!” David shouted, reaching for his wife.
The door flew open and the infected spilled into the cabin. At least five of them, over taking Mary. She screamed as she was dragged out of the hallway and out into the lawn. Her screams were silenced as a young child tore out her throat.
“Mary!” David shrieked pulling the trigger. The head of an infected
disappeared with a spray of orange blood. The hallway was empty, but the infected would grow tired of Mary, they would be back.
“Into the living room!” I screamed, tearing David away from the doorway.
“No! No! Let go of me! My son, Sam! Sam!”
“He’s gone, David.”
Tom and Carter rushed out as I dragged David back.
“What about Tim!?” I screamed.
David froze. “What?”
“Your son. Tim needs you. I’m not a father, Carter’s an asshole and Tom is pushing seventy, we need you!”
David stopped struggling. We entered the living room.
“Up, get up, we’re going upstairs.”
“What happened?” Emilio asked, holding a tire iron, “I heard gunfire.”
“Sam and Mary,” I whispered in his ear, trying not to let Tim hear.
“They’re coming back!” Carter screamed.
David and Carter stood tall, holding their weapons. Emilio tossed me the baseball bat above the mantle, gripping the tire iron in his hands.
The children came first. The infected children. The fucking bastards were smart, they sent the children first to throw us off. It worked. Carter was the first to fire.
A teenager’s Van Halen shirt evaporated as he was lifted off his feet and across the room from the shotgun blast. A boy’s head split, sending a wet spray of blood as I bashed it across the face. Even David pulled the trigger. Emilio faltered. He died first.
I watched as the two teens latched onto Emilio, bringing him down, slamming his face into the wood floor over and over. His nose splintered and he screamed only once. Then his skull cracked, a loud, whip-like snap, and he was still. I brought the bat down over the teen's neck, snapping it.
“Out! Let’s get out, we have to get to the boat!” I rushed forward and
slammed the door, chaining it. It wouldn’t hold. Out across the lawn the blond man stood watching me. He slid his tongue across his teeth, his eyes were full of hunger. Not real hunger, the infected didn’t eat, it wasn’t about food. The brutality was their cure, the murder, the only thing that could satisfy him.
I shut the curtains.
Tom stood over Emilio, holding his fallen friend’s hand. He lifted the tire iron and held it tight, hauling Charlie to his feet with his other hand.
“What the hell have I missed?” Charlie whispered.
“Tom, take Charlie to the front door, we’re exiting there. Carter, get as
much food and as many shells as you can carry. We’re leaving.”
Tim sat against his father in the couch, David held him close. They spoke softly, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I think I knew. David let go of his son’s hands and approached me.
“I need to talk with you, Alex.”
We reached the bathroom, David entered and stared into the mirror. He spoke softly, as if we were in the presence of God himself.
“I want you to promise to take care of Tim.”
“David, what are you talking about?”
“I’m infected, Alex.”
I took a step back.
David lifted his shirt, veins of orange blood clouded his chest.
“Won’t be long now.”
“When?” I asked.
“When they killed Mary. They told you the virus was fast, but God. I can feel it.”
“We’ll get you some help David, it doesn’t have to be like this.”
“I’m going to close this door Alex, and you’re going to leave, and when you are gone, with my son, I’m going to blow my brains out.”
The door closed. The last glimpse of David I ever saw, was his face and the small, ironic smile it held. And he was gone. I turned from the door and stepped downstairs. Everyone was there. I glanced at Tim. Tim nodded. I took his hand in mine, and we opened the door.
The gunshot echoed inside the house...
The five of us stumbled down the steep hill. Carter and Tom dragged Charlie along. The boat was only half a mile down, hidden in the river.
“I have an itch on my right arm,” Charlie moaned.
“You don’t have a right arm, Charlie,” Tom said.
“I know, that’s what’s messed up about it!”
“Quiet!” I whispered.
We came to a halt. I turned. A flock of birds took off in the distance, from the forest, they emerged. Dozens of them, sprinting towards us.
We turned and ran. Charlie trudged on as he was half guided, half dragged toward the river.
“Forget this,” Carter said, dropping Charlie, who hit the ground, and
sprinted off into the wilderness.
“Carter!? Carter you bastard!” I screamed.
Carter was almost at the river bank when the blond man dropped him. Carter moaned and glanced up at the blond man. The blond man smiled, petting Carter’s cheek. Then he brought the axe down into Carter’s chest. Carter gulped and coughed. A spray of blood shot forth as the blond man yanked out the axe. Carter coughed once more as blood filled his lungs. Then he drowned.
We reached the boat. Tim jumped in and pulled the motor. Charlie shambled in next.
“Get in!” Tom screamed, his glasses bobbing on his ears.
The boat rocked as I stepped in. I turned to Tom.
“Come on, Tom!”
“I’m com-” Tom said, and was cut short. The blond man leaped across the dock and drove the axe into his back. Tom gave a little gasp and sank to his knees, his fingers touching mine, then he dropped.
I fell back and into the river water. I struggled to pull myself up as the
blond man stepped into the boat, axe raised. Charlie aimed a kick in the best spot available. The blond man was lifted back and onto the docks. With a shriek I tackled him, holding him down and burying my fist in his face. His teeth shattered. He no longer smiled. He elbowed me and slashed to the side with the axe, I dropped back onto the wood. The blond man’s remaining teeth formed a malicious grin. He raised the axe.
A crack issued and the blond man’s brains sprayed the deck. He fell
forward, the grin forever plastered on his face. Tim stood behind him,
holding Charlie's pistol in his hands. Tim dropped the gun and fell back. I stepped over the body and entered the small motor boat. I pulled the motor, and the boat was off.
Charlie sleeps huddled against the wood, snoring loudly. Tim sits against me, watching the remaining infected that follow us as they stumble through the woods, moaning. They’re dying, which serves the question, who is left? I hold the revolver in one hand, keeping it close to my side.
“What did my dad say?” Tim asks.
“Before he died.”
I glance at the boy next to me.
“He said he wanted us to keep going,” I whisper.
Tim looks away, watching the moonlight on the rocking waterway. He sighs and leans his head back, falling into the deepest of slumbers.
“I can deal with that,” he whispers.
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