After a lot of thought and work, here is the first part of the full short story began in story prompts over the last couple of weeks. This is the first part. This story was called for by quite a few bloggers and readers who expressed their expectations about Carolyn and her life among the creatures. I haven’t decided if it will be 2 or 3 parts. I will let the story decide that. I hope you enjoy this little piece. Please feel free to offer suggestions and/or constructive criticism. I would love to submit this for publication some day.
By Scott L Vannatter
Carolyn Bresder cautiously picked the lock on the restaurant’s front door. Now, usually, they were unlocked, even open, but the owner must have gotten a chance before all hell broke loose. From the lack of noise, she guessed his chance had not been quite long enough.
She had learned a bit about picking locks from an online locksmith course taken about a year ago. She had not dreamed how very important that stupid class would be to her livelihood, her life, now. In the last two months she guessed she had picked close to a dozen locks. It was much quieter than breaking a window; that quiet could mean the difference between life and death; she chose life.
Stepping into the darkness, she did not use her flashlight; she listened carefully instructing the near-pitch to tell her if something was alive. Her body stepped inside, but she remained a little poised to turn tail if anything was here with her. After an eternity lasting all of three minutes, Carolyn brought the LED penlight up and shone it toward the back. She needed to secure this place quickly; there was not much time left before night hit fully and they came out to … play.
She closed the door and secured it with the deadbolt which had not been thrown originally. Her feet were light and her steps nearly noiseless, a practice she had darn near perfected in recent weeks. That incident at the trailer park was not going to happen again. She moved across the front of the eatery and tested the door to the back for noise. Satisfied, she opened it fully.
Three minutes of thorough searching told her mind that the place was empty and the doors were secure. She breathed. She went back to the front area and sat in a windowed booth so she could watch outside. She knew it would not be long; it never was. Her knife had already been drawn; now, she unholstered the berretta, leaving it on top of the table, safety off.
Pulling a slice of bread from her jacket pocket she nibbled it slowly, making it last. The back of the restaurant had been nearly picked clean, but she had found a cinnamon bun, wrapped in plastic, and a surprise: a small glass jar of olives. She had expected bulk sizes on everything, but, perhaps, the owner had bought these for himself. It did not matter, they would taste good tomorrow. She slipped the whiskey flask, now a water container, out of her side pocket and drank sparingly. If she had eaten like this last year she could have had a shot at modeling.
Her muse was broken by a distant sound of something metal hitting the ground. She had learned to not react with movement, just a perking of the ears and a very slow turn of the head. That trailer park had almost killed her, but, what was it they said, it had made her stronger.
That’s where her mind went while she scanned for the movement: the trailer park where her mother had been staying. When Hell Day, that is what she called it, happened, her first instinct had been to find her mother. She had arrived just before dark and had not known what to expect. The news had been unclear. They had simply said to get inside and stay there, doors locked. She had driven to her mother’s place, a small one-bedroom unit in the poorer section of town.
When she had arrived she had left the car and gone to the trailer door. Her knocks had gone unanswered, but she knew she had heard someone inside. She had taken the spare key out of her purse and unlocked the door. She had taken her pepper spray out, just in case. You never knew any more what was going on behind closed doors, even those you knew. She had pushed it open quietly; thanks to her mother’s phobia for noise the hinges were oiled. The place was dark; the power failure had reached out here too.
Stepping inside, she had noticed the smell first. It had been like old leather and spoiled meat. It had been messy, too. That had been the clincher; her mother had never been messy. That thought had been on her mind and it had saved her life. She had heard the noise of the intruder coming for her and had reacted quickly, something she had done since very young when her drunken father had looked for her.
The person had smelled badly. Carolyn had sprayed the pepper spray directly in her attacker’s eyes, but the person had not stopped, merely slowed a bit. That slowing had been enough for Carolyn to use her self-defense training, her husband had been no better than her father, and to raise her foot up and push the person backwards toward the rear of the trailer.
The attacker had gotten up and come back at her much quicker than she would have thought possible then, and Carolyn had grabbed a carving knife on the table and stabbed the person in the chest. The stab had missed; the attacker had bumped her elbow; instead of the chest, the knife had struck higher, piercing the right eye and burying to the hilt. The person had fallen to the ground unmoving.
Carolyn had taken several long breaths and then had knelt slowly to inspect her attacker. Tears had flowed freely when she had recognized the necklace and the blouse on the fallen person. Her mother’s face had been hideously contorted, with patches of skin missing and bone showing through. The skin had looked old and rotten; it had felt like leather when Carolyn had made herself touch it. She had felt her butt hit the floor of the trailer as the full recognition of what she had done struck home.
Her mind shot back to the moment, movement drawing her full attention outside. She watched as the darkness allowed one of its own to be seen. This was a woman, probably in her twenties, but her appearance did not lend readily to that description anymore. Carolyn was going by the outfit and vitality of the brain dead creature staggering down the center of the street. Its path would carry it away from the diner, so Carolyn continued her scan for more imminent threats.
Her killing of her mother had meant she had been directly responsible for the deaths of two parents, though pushing her father down the stairs when she was fourteen had been a bit more of a choice; it had been no less self-defense than the trailer. He had come at her with a belt, beer in his other hand, going to “teach the little bitch a lesson.” When the police had arrived, the facts were very clear from the beat marks on her mother and Carolyn lying in a heap near the top of the stairs with a very dead, (and should she say “deserving”?) father broken at the bottom of the steps, his head twisted very unnaturally.
After that financial life had been tough, but life had been more fun. Carolyn and her mother became friends again and things had gone much more smoothly overall. Now, her Mom was dead and Carolyn was truly on her own. She had found out what had happened. Power had returned briefly to her section of town about a week ago. The radio on the counter of the home she had been staying in for a couple of days had scared the shit out of her when it blasted on. Carolyn had turned it to a news station and learned that it seemed chicken eggs were the culprit. Some preliminary tests had shown the chemicals used to bulk up the chickens in the hatcheries had combined with a strain of flu and then mutated into the virus which had caused Hell Day. The virus had a ten-day incubation period, so, by the time the problem had started to show itself, more than seventy percent of the population had eaten the contaminated eggs. Worse, those same eggs had been exported to other countries along with enough infected chickens that the disease had reached more than eighty percent of the world’s population before they had an inkling of how to avoid infection. By the time word had been sent to the various countries around the globe, the vast majority was infected and, by biting others, had given the virus to all but a few percent of the Earth’s people.
Carolyn had been vegan, and so had not eaten anything that had been contaminated. Her life had been so full of violence and sheer terror that she had become tough and smart and always aware of what was happening around her; she had the survival instinct to keep going through this crap.
The street was clear of zombies and she had a moment to breathe naturally. She did not like calling them zombies. They were not really classic zombies as talked about in the movies and stories. The infected were not dead. They did breathe shallowly and had blood and organs. They were slower and much less intelligent, able to walk and smell and hear, but unable to talk or even open doors. There did not appear to be any type of communication among them nor did they seem to really notice each other. What they did notice was anything alive that was not contaminated. Dogs and cats had been eaten as the brain dead creatures had begun to work up the food chain.
Infection was relatively quick. Once bitten, the virus took control of the body in about two hours, causing paralysis and severe temperature and internal bleeding. About three hours later, the paralysis would leave and the person was now a creature, intent only on eating live flesh to try and rebuild its body. Carolyn had not seen any die without being killed, but it had not been a long time. Her hope was that, eventually, the virus would burn itself out in the bodies and disappear into history.
Part Two Next Tuesday at 10pm!