Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Tax Not Included

Posted: July 22, 2011 by hellfirewriters in Fiction, Uncategorized

We’re working on getting a new piece of flash fiction up here every Friday, either by the Club or by people associated with the Club, and James Patrick Schmidt was kind enough to share with us. This is for Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction contest, and it has our full backing. Check it out.

-The Hellfire Club

——-

Tax Not Included

“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

“Hello, I think my house is being robbed,” the young man on the other end of the line whispered, so Joan turned up her headset.

“I’m sorry, sir, did you say your house is being robbed?”

“Yes.”

“That pushes you to the front of the line, one moment while I transfer you.”

Joan marked the call as urgent and sent it to the police system. Since there was a crime actively being committed, she stayed on the line to help the customer remain calm in case he was put on hold. Fortunately that wasn’t the case.

“Police Billing, this is Toni, how can I help you?”

“My house is being robbed,” the man whispered into the phone.

“May I have your account number, sir?”

“I don’t have one.”

“May I have your social, please?”

“My what?”

“Your Social Security Number, so we can run a credit check.”

“I don’t think you understand,” the man sounded frantic. “There is someone in my house right now.”

“And that’s why I’m trying to take care of this quickly, sir. But I’m afraid we can’t dispatch a unit until we know you can afford it.”

“He has a gun!”

“I’ll be sure to apply the five percent intelligence sharing discount for you, sir, but may I please have your social?”

“I don’t…I can’t…you won’t approve me.”

“I can check for you, anyway. Free of charge.”

As the man read his Social Security number aloud, Toni didn’t tell him that her computers had already lifted his number off the phone account he was using and run the complimentary police credit check. As soon as he confirmed the number, she knew he was right — she couldn’t dispatch officers to help him.

But she was trained to not let the customer know you had taken the information from the phone line, so she waited about 20 seconds as if the computer was processing the information. She was harvesting Farmville crops while she waited.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I won’t be able to dispatch an officer to your location at this time. If you contact the non-emergen-”

“What?” the man started crying.

“If you contact the non-emergency number first thing in the morning, a loan officer will be glad to discuss investigation options with you.”

“But..but…”

“Thank you and have a nice evening.”

Toni disconnected the line, glad her sign-off spiel hadn’t been interrupted more. Some people think yelling their heads off will improve their credit score and get an officer sent to deal with their problem. Some people didn’t realize how expensive it was to have an officer dispatched immediately — especially at night.

If the man had just taken the time to register with the department before hand and possibly bought an insurance policy from them, this whole ordeal could have been avoided. Some days it seemed like people didn’t actually believe that a for-profit police department would refuse service, but it had to.

“Are you ready for break?”

Toni looked up to see her friend Debbie standing in her cubicle door.

“I sure am,” Toni said, marking her status as “Away” on the computer and grabbing her purse. “I just had to turn away another person who acted surprised that I wouldn’t dispatch an officer that they couldn’t pay for — as if we were running a public service here.”

“Oh no. It’s been five years since the resolution passed and they still don’t get it,” Debbie said, leading the way toward the break room.

“It’s like they thought doing away with taxes wouldn’t stop the flow of government money,” Toni said.

“If you think we’ve got it bad, though, you should hear some of the stories I hear from my sister-in-law who works in the Welfare Office.”

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Out Patient Procedure

Posted: June 21, 2011 by Chris Camey in Chris, Fiction

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/chriscamey/Documents/Chris’%20Stuff/Days%20of%20the%20Dead-Outpatient%20Procedure.doc

OUTPATIENT PROCEDURE

            Toby Valentine stared through his binoculars at the front of a long abandoned hospital from the roof of a parking garage. He stood in the heart of what used to be Cambridge, Massachusetts. The once lively streets were silent save the eerie moan of the wind as it blew through the dead city.  Valentine evaluated the hospital with much scrutiny, weighing the knowns and unknowns in his mind.  The hospital, once a busy place of healing and treatment, now lay dormant and silent.  The structure was a husk of its former self, its once sterile white exterior blackened with dirt and grime and many of its windows broken.

Through the binoculars, the front of the building looked vacant to Val but after spending most of his time in the aftermath of the collapse of society, he had learned that appearances could be deceiving.

“What do you think Jim?” Val asked his partner, handing him the field glasses and taking off his jacket.

Jim Garmin looked through the binoculars as well, a frown crossing his face.

“I don’t like it,” he said, handing the glasses back to his associate, “Come on Val, don’t you think it is kind of stupid to go into a hospital in the aftermath of a viral outbreak?  I mean the place must be crawling with Infected; everybody would have rushed here at the first signs of the sickness.”

“We could be looking at over two hundred of ‘em inside, minimum. Besides the place could have been picked clean by other scav teams already.”

“Yeah,” said Val, “That’s a definite possibility, but it’s a big place…there’s bound to be leftovers.”

“Just think if we found some decent medical supplies in there?  We could haul them back to Hartford, sell them to whoever wants them, and live like kings.  I think that makes this run worth the risk.”

“What about Larry?” asked Jim, “Shouldn’t we ask his opinion?  I mean he’s a part of this crew too.”

“Fuck Larry,” snapped Val, “That chicken shit can rot.  If we do find anything in there, I am not sharing it with his ass.”

“Ok,” said Jim, “How about Devin?  He might have an objection to this.”

“What the fuck is your problem Jim?” asked Val sharply, “Who gives a shit about Devin’s input?  He’s too new for his opinion to matter anyway.  We’re gonna do this job because the potential payout is greater than the risks.  Now come on, we need to go and tell those other two idiots what the plan is.”

Jim sighed and followed Val as he walked away from the look out point and back to their truck parked at the base of the ramp.  He was a part of a small group of salvage men who combed the plague-ravaged landscape trying to find things of value, which could be sold to the last pockets of civilization in exchange for food, water, guns and ammo.

Their salvage team consisted of four men. There was Val, age 45 and the hardboiled leader. He was formerly a loan shark and an enforcer for an organized crime ring situated in Atlanta Georgia   He was a shrewd businessman who could turn a profit and was also, quite possibly, the meanest son of a bitch that Jim had met during his travels in the post apocalyptic world.

Jim, at age 32, once had dreams of going to med school and becoming a doctor, but he had fallen on a stint of bad luck and wound up in the family business and became a mechanic in Indianapolis, just like his old man.  That was his reality until the day when his world was shattered by the plague, just like everyone else’s.

He had traveled the roads of the country during the worst of the outbreak, an experience he would never look back upon with any sort of longing.  During his travels, he had seen a great many things, most of them horrible to say the least. Outside of Louisville KY, he had seen people torn apart by the Infected, he saw a man shot dead over a Dixie cup of dirty ditch water near Wheeling WV, and on the road into Columbus OH he had seen people being sold for scraps of food.  Those dark days would stay with him for the rest of his life, and it was when he had run into Val in Hartford, Connecticut, that he had thought that he had finally found something safe and secure.  He was right, for the most part. Val was looking to start this salvage outfit and needed a mechanic who knew the roads rather well, so Jim was a natural fit.

Val and Jim walked in silence, the crunch of their shoes on the dirty pavement echoing in the dusty garage.  They approached their salvage vehicle, an old Chevy Tahoe, which had been specially modified to accommodate the dangerous nature of their work.  It was not a pretty car, but it was just about the safest thing on the road nowadays.  Val had provided the car, but he counted on Jim to help make it a more effective scavenging vehicle. Modifying it was easy because when the world ended, many owners had abandoned their vehicles to traffic jams on the highways and congested streets.  The end result was an abundance of spare parts ripe for the taking in post-apocalyptia.

Val had claimed that the truck came from one of his old “clients” and that he would not need to use it again.  When Jim had heard this his mind reached three possible conclusions; this man to whom the truck belonged was either dead, Infected, or both.  Getting the sense that Val was not the kind of man you question, Jim kept his speculations to himself.

As they neared their truck, the other two members of their crew became visible. Larry Young sat behind the wheel of the car apparently napping as his the trucker hat he always wore was tipped over his eyes. Larry was a quiet and timid man, around 37 years old, who used to be a trucker for Mobile Oil. When society broke down, Larry had it worse than most as a gasoline tanker makes a good target for the raiders, thugs, and other outlaws that seemingly took control in the days after the first outbreak.  When he was cornered by one of those gangs, he traded the tanker for his life.  Luckily, he was within walking distance of Hartford and it was there he linked up with Val and Jim who were looking for a driver and member of their crew.

Devin Simms, the fourth and newest member of the team, was a former security guard for a fortune 500 company out in Philadelphia.  Devin, a short, stocky, and muscular man of twenty-five years, was leaning against the front of the truck, cleaning his fingernails with the blade of his buck knife.  Devin used to play college football for Notre Dame University, until he tore his ACL, effectively ending his athletic career.  Afterwards, he started working nights as campus security and found his niche.  He was visiting an old friend in Hartford when the outbreak hit, so when things settled down as much as they could, he decided to help run security for Val’s outfit, which was in need of some muscle.

“Ok boys,” said Val as he set his boot on the bumper of the car, “We’re in business.”

“What’s the job?” asked Devin, closing his knife with a well-practiced flick of the wrist.

“A well paying one,” said Val as he rounded the cab of the truck, “Let’s move. Me and Jim can fill you in after we get on our way.”

Val kicked the driver’s side door and Larry jumped with a start.  “Jesus Val,” moaned Larry as he wiped the gunk out of his eyes, “what gives?”

“What gives,” growled Val, his tone just as livid as his glare, “is you’re costing the four of us money just sitting here, so wake the hell up.  As for the rest of you, let’s get geared up.”

Together, the four proceeded to the back of the truck. Devin popped the trunk, the hatch hissed and swung upward.  In the back of the truck three weapons hung on a rack mounted on the right rear window.  There were two pump action shotguns and a Winchester .30-30. Along with the guns there were boxes of ammo and other miscellaneous supplies in milk crates that sat up against the seatbacks of the second row like spare parts for the truck, a first aid kit, bottles of purified water, and their food stores.

Val opened a small lockbox and pulled out his old .357 revolver and tucked the hand cannon into his waistband.  He took a box of bullets for the handgun and put it into his back pocket.  Larry and Devin both got their hands on the shotguns, securing a box of shells a piece.  That left Jim with his Winchester, for which he grabbed a thin box of rifle rounds.  Now armed, they each grabbed other miscellaneous supplies like flashlights and canteens full of water. Val reached into another milk crate and removed four empty, olive drab colored satchels from it and dispensed them to the team.

Devin slammed the trunk closed and the four of them all got into the Tahoe.  With a throaty roar, the heavy truck started up and pulled a u-turn, making its way down the ramp and back into the garage.  Everyone was silent, contemplating what the job may be about or how it would go. Val broke the silence.

“ Here are the details boys, so pay attention.  The job is a simple out patient procedure that will pay out big,” said Val from the back seat as they drove through the empty recesses of the garage, “we go into the hospital at the end of the block, look for supplies, bag whatever we can find, and book it for Hartford. They are running short of that stuff, so we can definitely make a profit.”

“I’m not too crazy about it, if you ask me,” said Larry from the driver’s seat.

“Who the hell asked your opinion?” snapped Val, “This is our job, you can either go along with it or I can just shoot you in the head and take your share for myself.”

Larry looked back at the road, his expression one of defeat from the constant verbal assaults from his irritable boss.  The four of them all sat in the resulting silence as Larry drove them up the block towards the abandoned hospital; each preparing themselves for what possibly lay ahead.  Jim rested his head against the window, staring out into the abandoned streets which were cluttered with wrecked cars and other assorted debris.  He glimpsed the rearview mirror and saw that Devin had started to thumb an old rosary, saying the Notre Dame pre-game prayer.  Val sat with one leg resting over the other, sitting in his lap was his beloved handgun and he cleaned the piece with a white cloth.  Jim cast a glance at Larry and saw that he was in the zone, his mind at peace despite the recent verbal abuse.  He thought it funny how little “rituals” grew in importance during these days.  He had done this kind of thing so many times that he did not need one.  He had learned to trust his instincts when doing something of this nature, and trust them he would.

The Tahoe rolled into the empty circle drive, which in normal times would have been used by ambulances to deliver patients in dire need to the intensive care unit.  Devin got up from his seat and opened the sunroof.  He emerged with his shotgun at the ready, the silver barrel pointed at the dark, foreboding, entrance.  After a few minutes of eerie silence, the only noise being the low rumble of the Tahoe’s engine, Jim tapped Devin’s leg giving the all clear.  Larry killed the V-8 and the crew exited the car.

“Ok, you all heard the plan and I am going to assume that you get the idea,” said Jim as he looked into the dark entrance, “Grab whatever is valuable and meet back here in thirty minutes.  If you see any Infected…”

“Don’t be a bitch and hesitate,” interrupted Val, casting a vicious glance at Larry as he loaded his pistol with hollow point rounds, “Let’s move.”

With their weapons loaded and supplies in order, the four of them entered the atrium of the hospital, the dark inside offering shade from the midday sun.  Inside, the hospital looked deserted. Trash, dirt, and in some places blood, covered the floor. The air stunk of death and decay; a few gurneys with occupied body bags were visible in the concourse. The floor was littered with trash, dead leaves that had blown in through the open doors, and other forms of debris.

As they crossed the lobby, Val stopped by the reception desk and got down on one knee.  He pulled the small flashlight from his belt and turned it on, looking at the floor.  He saw a boot print in the dirt and grime.  “This track is recent,” he said standing up, “everyone be careful, there may be other survivors in here.”

“Or Infected,” interjected Devin, looking around the lobby.

“No shit, genius,” retorted Val as he got back on his feet and they continued forward.

Once past the receptionist’s desk, they came to a T-intersection in the hall.              “Jim, you take the young blood and Larry and go right,” said Val, “I’m going left.”

“Got it,” said Jim, looking down the path he was to follow, “you sure you want to go it alone?”

Val looked back at them, Larry shriveling under his gaze.  “Yeah,” he snapped, “I’ll be better off on my own.  See you ladies in thirty.”

With that Jim, Larry, and Devin headed through the double doors as Val struck out on his own. As they went their separate ways, Jim heard Devin call out to Val, “Good luck brother! See you on the other side.”

This was met with silence, a normal reply from Val.  The three of them went through the opposite set of swinging doors and entered the depths of the hospital.

Once through the doors, Jim and the others had entered a dark and derelict world of debris and refuse.  Larry took point, treading lightly and scouting ahead, leaving Jim and Devin by the doors.

“Hey Jim, what’s Val’s deal with Larry?” asked Devin, “He’s done nothing but treat him like crap ever since I joined up with you guys.  They got a history?”

“Sort of,” said Jim, “It used to be just the three of us: Val, Larry, and me.  One day we stopped at an auto parts store to find some spare parts worth slinging and Val got attacked by an Infected.”

“No shit?” asked Devin.

“No shit man.  Larry was closer to Val than I was, but that was his first real encounter with the Infected,” continued Jim as Larry waved to them from the end of the hall, signaling an all clear, “he was so scared he froze.  Before I could do anything, Val had kicked the Infected woman off of him and beat her to death with a tire iron.  He then proceeded to beat the shit out of Larry, calling him a pussy for hesitating.”

“Wait,” asked Devin appalled, “he used the bloodied tire iron on Larry?  What if he got infected?”

“Val had the common courtesy to discard the tool before working him over,” replied Jim with a sigh, “and ever since, he’s hated him and that is why we brought you on, because Val thought we could use some fresh muscle.”

“Really?” asked Devin, surprised by the story and lowering his voice as Larry got within earshot, “Glad to hear my services are still in demand.”

They followed a red line painted on the floor, a plan of action suggested by Jim.  “Why should we follow this line?” asked Larry after five minutes of walking the line, “Aren’t the supplies going to be in a storeroom somewhere?”

“The paramedics use this line to guide their gurneys to the appropriate treatment ward,” said Jim, delving into his pre-med knowledge, as he stepped over a trashcan that had been flipped onto its side, “We’re going the right way.”

“What ever you say chief,” said Devin as they kept walking.

Each was looking for items of value, yet cautiously keeping an eye out for any Infected that may be lurking in the shadows. Devin had started walking ahead of the group when Jim felt a tap on the shoulder. “Hey Jim,” said Larry softly, “Do you think Val wants to kill me?”

Jim thought about it for a moment before answering.  “I wouldn’t count on it.  He needs all of us to keep this operation running, so I doubt that he’ll kill you.”

“I don’t’ know man,” said Larry, “After that thing at the auto shop, every time he looks at me, I get the feeling that he wants me dead.”

Jim had that feeling too, but it wouldn’t do anyone any good to acknowledge it.  “Look,” said Jim, placing a reassuring hand on his friend’s shoulder, “you fucked up, at least according to Val.  This is your chance to make amends, to prove to him that you are worth keepin’ around.  We’ll find some good stuff in here; I’ll talk to Devin and we’ll say it was you.  That should put you back in Val’s good graces and make this all better.”

Larry smiled uneasily, “We’ll see.  For now, let’s worry about…”

He was interrupted by a loud crash from one of the open rooms down the hall.  Larry, Devin, and Jim’s weapons were up and ready in a flash.  Jim motioned to Devin to stop and looked to Larry, whose eyes were wide with fear.  He held a finger to his lips. Jim crept up to the doorway where the noise came from.  He peeked inside the room and saw a man standing with his back to the door.

Jim could tell he was Infected by the way he constantly twitched and swayed and the more obvious signs such as the large chunks of missing flesh from his left arm, the bone showing through the gangrenous wound and dried blood.  Jim could hear the creature’s breathing from the door, shallow and fast, snorting like a wild animal.  Even when they were not chasing you, the Infected were still fucking creepy.

The Infected was not the most impressive find in the room, however.  The man was standing next to a cabinet with “Pharmacy Stock” emblazoned on the white steel.

This was indeed a heavy score.  Jim contemplated using his rifle, a quick and clean means of dispatch, to neutralize the infected individual. That course of action, however, would make a lot of noise and possibly make an already dangerous situation worse.  Jim needed a quiet way to do this.  He glanced around and sitting on the counter just inside the doorframe was a toolbox.  Jim handed Larry his rifle and snuck into the room.  He looked inside the open toolbox and found a crowbar. Not exactly an educated man’s weapon but it would do.

Jim picked it up, raised the crowbar over his head, and inched closer to the Infected man. The gap between them couldn’t have been more than ten feet, but to Jim it was like walking down another long corridor. As he took another step towards the Infected, he could smell the foul odor that was the trademark of Infected individuals.  It smelled like a potent mix of body odor, rotting flesh, and excrement.  Jim was almost within arms reach when he heard a crunch from under his foot.  Beneath the sole of his boot, a pane of glass had been smashed into a thousand pieces.

“Shit.”

The infected man spun about, his face indiscernible under a layer of dried up bloody sores and lesions.  He was missing a large portion of his right cheek, and on top of the usual scars brought about by the plague, his face showed signs of being mauled, chunks of skin hanging by sinews and his yellowed teeth showed through the open wound that was his face. As far as Jim could tell, this was no longer a man, but an abomination. A low and guttural growl bubbled out from its throat as it locked onto Jim.

Before the creature could charge at him, Jim brought the curved end of the crowbar down on the Infected’s skull like a blacksmith forging a blade.  The sound was equivalent to a meat tenderizer slamming into a side of beef, with the Infected’s skull splitting down the middle. The Infected slumped to the floor, neutralized.

Jim stepped back in disgust.  He had seen this kind of thing before, so the shock and awe factor wasn’t what made him recoil.  It was how casually he did it, striking the man in the head with a cold indifference.  He had not wanted to believe it, but he had changed in post apocalyptia.

“Come on, guys,” said Jim, after cleaning the crowbar off with a paper towel from the nearby dispenser and hanging it off of one of his belt loops, doing his best to keep composure, “We gotta get into that cabinet.”

Together, the three of them emptied the contents of the cabinet into their satchels.  It was pretty standard medicine, with some higher end prescription only stuff that could fetch a nice price at one of the clinics in Hartford or Rock Port.  “This is great,” said Larry excitedly, “You may be right.  If we bring back more shit like this, Val may not hate my guts as much as he does.  There has to be more, like a master store cabinet or something right?”

“Yeah,” said Jim warily, “But we need to be careful.  We don’t want to bring back too much, it would slow us down if we had to run.”

“Jim has a point,” said Devin, “My forty time is not nearly as impressive if I’m hauling a heavy satchel.”

“Come on guys,” said Larry, “We can handle ourselves.  Let’s go.”

They stepped back out into the hallway, Larry looking at a nearby plaque that hung on the wall.  “It says that there is a supply room on level three. Looks like that is where we are heading.”

Jim and Devin fell into step behind Larry, their weapons at the ready.  As they passed the doors to yet another ward, a few dead bodies lying to either side served as a macabre warning sign to a potential danger lurking in its depths, they heard what sounded like a metal bedpan hitting the floor. Larry, Jim, and Devin each turned to face the noise, staring down the sights of their weapons into the ward.  It looked empty, no signs of movement. Larry had started walking towards the stairs but Devin looked as if he wanted to step inside and investigate.  Jim placed a firm hand on his shoulder.  “Not a good idea,” he said softly

Devin looked back into the ward for a moment and nodded in agreement with Jim. They went after Larry who was already at the staircase entrance and followed him up.

On the third level, Jim began to get a bad feeling in his gut.  “Hey Larry,” he said,  “are you sure you want to hunt down that closet?  I mean it could be anywhere on this floor and we got plenty of stuff already.”

“Come on Jim,” said Larry, a glint of obsession in his eye, “since when did you turn into a pussy?”

Larry walked down the hall, a little hop in his step and Devin followed with a shrug.  Jim took another cautionary look around and followed.  He tailed Larry, but he was beginning to have doubts as to whether or not his partner knew where he was going.  He swaggered around the hospital with the air that he owned the place, something that bugged Jim.

“You ok man?” asked Devin, noting Jim’s look of unease.

“During my time out on the road,” replied Jim quietly, “I learned that the moment you disrespected a dangerous place was the moment it would kill you. Keep your guard up.”

After he finished saying this, there was the sound of a curtain rustling behind them.  Jim and Devin wheeled around.  Nothing.  The ward was deathly still.

“Here we are,” said Larry jovially, pointing to the words MEDICAL SUPPLY on the door, “Found it.  Lets crack this bitch open.”

He tried the knob, but the door would not give.  “Hey, let me see that crowbar real fast,” requested Larry motioning for the crowbar that hung from one of the belt loops on Jim’s waist.

Jim handed Larry the tool and he began to pry the lock off of the door.  Still nothing.  “Devin, you wanna help me with this?” asked Larry after two attempts.  Devin propped his gun up against the doorframe as he and Larry both worked the lock.

While his comrades were fiddling with the door, Jim heard another noise.  This time it was a rustling sound.  Jim strained his ears, doing his best to block out the grunts of Devin and Larry.  He thought that he heard the patter of bare feet on the dirty tile down the hall, just beyond a set of opaque glass windows.  Jim scanned the area carefully, nothing moving.

The ward remained still, however Jim thought he saw something moving on the other side of the glass at the end of the hall.  It was the faintest flicker in the sunlight, which illuminated the windows with a pearly white light.  He could not tell if it was a bird that had gotten into the ward from the outside or something worse.  There was a loud grunt and a clang of metal hitting the floor from behind him as Larry and Devin finally pried off the lock.

“Ha, got ya you son-of-a bitch!” exclaimed Larry, “C’mon boys, lets clean house.”

Larry and Devin had already entered the storeroom, Larry laughing greedily as he shoved more and more bottles of pills and medicine into his bag. Jim had turned to help them plunder the closet but before they could pilfer most of the supplies, there was a loud bang from down the hall.  Jim spun around and saw shadows standing against the glass, their hands madly pounding against the opaque pane.  Infected.

“Larry!” said Jim urgently.

“Oh Jesus!” exclaimed Devin as he emerged into the hallway, “They’re coming for us!”

There was a crash of breaking glass as the Infected pounded their way through the reinforced windows.  Jim grabbed Larry and pulled him out of the closet, the Infected baying in demonic fashion as they began to run towards them.

“We have to go!” shouted Jim, “Now!”

“Wait!” cried Larry, “My bag! It’s still in the closet!”

“Leave it!” shouted Jim, tugging at Larry’s arm.

Larry looked at the closet, and then back into the hallway. The Infected were running towards them, closing the gap rather quickly. Larry turned away from the closet, deciding that his life was worth more than a bag full of pills.  Jim fired his rifle; the loud crack ringing harshly in his ears.  The .30-06 round hit an Infected man wearing a janitor’s jumpsuit center mass, dropping him to the floor.  Larry and Devin both fired their shotguns in unison, following the rifle shot with a cloud of buckshot each.  Despite the impressive display of force, the Infected were not phased and continued to run towards them.

The three turned tail and ran.  They cut corners, hopped over abandoned gurneys, and did anything to slow their pursuers.  They found the staircase, Devin being the fastest out of the three of them, flew through the door and down the stairs, not looking back. Jim slowed down to look for a way to block the path.  A broken vending machine stood next to the door. “Larry!” shouted Jim as his comrade came through after him, the sounds of the Infected drawing nearer, “Help me with this!”

The two of them got on one side of the machine and with a mighty heave they toppled it. “Let’s move!” said Jim, panting with exertion and the two of them both ran down the stairs.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” swore Larry, “Val is gonna kill me.  He’s gonna kill me for sure.”

Jim, having had enough of this nonsense, took his satchel off and thrust it into Larry’s arms.  “Here you go you fuckin’ cry baby,” he said, “Now will you quit bitching and hurry up?  There are more pressing matters at hand than what Val fucking wants from you.”

The two kept running the noise of the Infected stymied at the door becoming fainter and fainter the closer they got to the ground floor.  They opened the door and followed the red line that had been their guide earlier.  They were close to the lobby when they heard more cries, a scream, and guttural calls coming from their floor.  More Infected and they were close.

“Come on Larry,” shouted Jim running forward and barreling through the double doors and back into the lobby.

When they entered the lobby, a grisly sight greeted them.  Val was hunkered over Devin’s body, feasting on his former partner’s corpse.  Jim could see a large bite had been torn from the older man’s forearm.  Val, or what used to be Val, looked up from its kill and bore its teeth, blood and bits of flesh dripping from its mouth. It let out a blood-curdling cry and charged; the once prized .357 falling out of its waistband and clattering to the floor.  Jim tried to get his rifle up in time, but Val was almost upon him, closing the distance with the unnatural speed of the Infected.  Then, a thunderclap erupted in the lobby and Val was thrown backwards, half of his head missing.  Jim looked next to him and saw the barrel of Larry’s shotgun smoking.

“You shouldn’t have hesitated boss,” Larry said coldly to the corpse.

Before Jim could say anything to express his gratitude, the double doors flew open and a tall, infected, orderly pounced on Larry.  He let out a cry as he fell forward, the Infected latched onto his back like a horrible leech.

“Larry!” shouted Jim, raising his rifle, ready to fire.

Too late, the Infected had taken a bite out of Larry’s neck, a fountain of dark blood erupting from his partner’s jugular and cascading over the face of the ravenous Infected.  Jim’s rifle fired once, the tall orderly’s head exploding with the force of the round at point blank range.  Larry held his hand to his neck, trying in vain to stem the flow of the blood.  There were more cries of the Infected rapidly approaching.  Larry took his free hand and tossed Jim’s satchel to him, followed by the keys to the Tahoe.

Jim looked at his friend and remembered his words, “Never hesitate.”  Jim nodded, taking the bag and keys.  He scooped up Val’s revolver on his way out and made for the truck. After exiting the building, he heard two explosions of gunfire, but not a third.  Jim climbed into the Tahoe and started her up, firing the hand cannon at a lone Infected that had gotten past Larry and through the doors.  The .357 rounds hit the Infected with the force of a prizefighter’s haymaker, sending it tumbling backwards.  Jim slammed the door as the dead Infected hit the pavement.  The V-8 engine roared to life and he slammed the shifter into drive.  The tires squealed as the black truck peeled out of the parking circle and sped back onto the main street, the truck plowing through some Infected that had poured out of a broken window.  Two of them disappeared under the chassis of the truck and the third flew into the side of a parked car.

As he checked the rear view mirror, the crowd of Infected disappearing as he turned onto a side street, making for the expressway back to Hartford, Jim had a sudden realization.  He was back where he started, alone and on the road.  He glimpsed the medical supplies on the side seat.  “Well,” he corrected himself, “I’m not exactly back where I started.”

In the Neighborhoods of Ann Arbor

Posted: June 16, 2011 by landlockedmusic in Fiction, Pierce

I didn’t know Etta particularly well before I met her. Even after I met her, I felt like I knew her even less. I knew she had an old-timey name. And that she liked old-timey music. I liked that about her.

Patrick brought her along tonight specifically for me. He knew I’d been feeling down for the last couple weeks and thought she would help. Friends always seem to think setting you up is the best way to cure the blues, but it never is. You can’t cure vulnerability with vulnerable scenarios.

The three of us were headed to a party somewhere off campus near U of M. Patrick insisted we bring beer to this party, but failed to have this urge until we had already made it to the neighborhood the party was being held. I could here the music a block over from the house. I imagined people gyrating to the beats, drunk, delirious and dizzy. But here I was, standing in the middle of the street, hoping Patrick would remember where the closest liquor store was.

Already a little high and more than a little drunk from pre-gaming, Patrick looked down nearly identical streets leading in adjacent directions. “I think it’s down Cherry,” he muttered to himself. Five or six feet behind him, I stood with my hands in my pockets trying to think of something to say to Etta.

“So, did you grow up in Ann Arbor?” I asked.

“No, I’m from Saugatuck. I came down here to Eastern.”

“Saugatuck, huh? Nice beach.”

“Yeah.”

Fuck. I hit a wall. What are you supposed to ask after a response like that? I just stared at her in some kind of stupor. She was incredibly pretty. Her hair was dyed jet black and held back by a gray headband. She wore skinny jeans, a sea foam green v-neck and a cropped, black leather jacket. If she was wearing Chucks instead of flats, she could have played in a all-girl Ramones cover band. Patrick broke the silence. He was pointing down the street he had been looking at five minutes.

“It’s most definitely not down this road,” He shouted to us at an abnormally high volume. “So it must be down Eighth.”

Neither Etta nor I said anything in response Patrick. We just followed behind him 10-or-so paces in silence. She knew she was being set up too. But she didn’t seem as pleased about the other half as I was. We both desperately needed alcohol in us to facilitate some kind of normal conversation.

“So, you’re at Eastern? What’s your major?” I asked.

“I dropped out.”

“Well, what was your major?”

“Education.”

“Did you like it?”

“I dropped out.”

“Good point,” I awkwardly chuckled. “I should have put that together.”

Patrick had picked the right street, because I could see the neon sign just over the hill. It beckoned me. Like some beer-laden tractor beam, it was roping me in to drink my troubles and awkwardness away. Patrick’s mood improved and his pace quickened.

“Why are you so determined to please me?” Etta asked from a dark corner of her mind.

The beer was close. But I had to climb this hurdle before I could indulge myself.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’ve been making awkward small talk since you guys picked me up.”

“Is that bad?”

She paused. Searching for some words to either let me down easy or cut me deeper, “Conversations are not meant to be molded by people who have no business conducting them.”

It was a deeper cut. Patrick entered the store first and I held the door for Etta. She walked in, looking at the ground.

“A feeble attempt at talking will always be more courageous than an accepted defeat,” I told her.

The beer helped. But it didn’t take any sour taste out of my mouth for the rest of the night.

Fun and Games

Posted: June 10, 2011 by joemu362 in Fiction, Joe

On a hard grey night in a cold grey city, the world watched as Ted Hawkins was sentenced to death. In a cramped apartment across town, Clint lit another cigarette and turned down the TV.

Before last week, there was no Ted Hawkins. There was just Babyface, the bogeyman who kept people from going out once the sun went down. Babyface, who’d leave his victims posed in playgrounds and dressed in children’s clothes. Jay Thornton, the city councilman, had been the first. A family on holiday found him lashed to the swing set, a big Glasgow smile on his face as his milky dead eyes stared out across the baseball fields. He’d even been wearing a propeller beanie, holding a small baby doll head in his lap.

It’d been Clint who was assigned to bring him down. Clinton Weiler, the police officer and hero, not Clint the has-been sinking into his couch right now. He wiped away a stain from his wifebeater and took another big bite of his pizza.

He still had the heads. They were on his mantelpiece, sitting behind the glass swan Lindsay used to like so much. She’d left in December,  the month Ernest Turner was found on a bench in KiddieLand covered in blood and cotton candy. She called him obsessed. Insane. Took Angela and Neil and hit the fucking road. Said he loved the maniac, who was now being berated by a tall attorney, more than he loved his own family. Clint didn’t remember what he’d said to that, but she was gone now, so it couldn’t have been all that great.

He remembered what his old instructor at the academy had said. Said that when it came to serial killers, you’d see a lot of the guy. You were gonna have to get in his head, gonna get to know him. Hell, you might even start to admire him a little. Clint hadn’t believed it until he’d come in to the precinct one night, past God knows how many police officers, and found the baby doll head sitting on his desk. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” said the note. Cheeky. Reckless. Ballsy. Clint must’ve laugh at his desk for a good hour. That’d been month four.

So they played the game for weeks. Like Holmes and Moriarty. Kasparov and Deep Blue. Babyface would leave a trail, nearly let himself get caught, and pull the rug out from under him at the last second. At the time, it’d been hell. Now, from the edge of the couch, it seemed like the good old days.

On the tube, the prosecutor howled to the jury about the monster in the orange jumpsuit. About how the pure personfi-fucking-cation of evil was sitting in the room with them. Hawkins looked more like a schoolteacher, his blond-white hair thin and wispy, just like the rest of him. The night Clint finally caught up with him, he’d thought for a brief moment that he’d found the wrong guy. But then again, normal people didn’t spend a Friday night in a mini-storage with a dead body splayed out on an operating table. Hawkins was sitting in a lawn chair drinking a Budweiser, reading the news, calm as you please.

“Hi Clint,” he’d said, friendly as could be. “I guess this means you win, huh?”

In what seemed like a blur, the boys had him cuffed and shoved in the back of the cruiser, leaving Clint alone in the mini-storage. Thanks, Detective, we’ve got it from here.

And just like that the game was over.

On the TV, the prosecutor got right up into Hawkins’ face, sneering, and in a flash of steel he jerked back. His face was bleeding. The courtroom boiled like maggots in a pot as Hawkins leapt through the crowd, knocking open the doors and vanishing into the street.

The next morning they’d wonder where he’d got the knife, who’d slipped him the handcuff keys. Who unloaded the guard’s gun. They’d wonder what would happen next. Clint shut off the tube and sat in the darkness, grinning. A text message bleeped on his phone. A smiley face.

Your move, Ted. Game on.

For Chuck Wendig‘s flash fiction contest, “Doll Heads”.