Derrick and I are friends.
We have been for over twenty-five years now. So of course, I felt a huge degree of sadness and regret for what was about to happen to him. I felt a dull twinge of guilt for what had happened to him. I saw the pain and confusion festering behind his bloodshot eyes, we all did, and although I had no ideal how he must feel right now, I knew it must be the most wretched feeling one could imagine. I felt deep sorrow for my friend and if there was a God and he was watching, I hope he knew that I loved Derrick as if he was my own brother but that didn’t matter now.
You see, Derrick was infected and eventually, we were going to kill him.
However, for now, we simply bound his hands at the wrists with duct tape. It was for our own protection. Even Tracee understood that.
Derrick also understood our dilemma and he had readily agreed, although truthfully, he had no choice. We could ill afford to let him roam freely amongst us, not now, not since he became infected. We had all witnessed the brutal consequences of carelessness when dealing with the infected ones. We had all seen the horror of being eaten alive; witnessed the horrid looks of astonishment and disbelief as limbs were ripped from live torsos while mouths screamed their useless wails; as jagged and broken teeth sunk into soft living flesh again and again, gnawing through cartilage and crunching through bone.
We had all heard the screams, the cries for help, the voices smothered with insanity derived from futility.
None of us wanted to end like that.
So we bound Derrick’s hands and sat him on Zackery’s hideously beige and pea green sofa in the spare room at the end of the hall. After careful consideration, we also bound his ankles and knees. I even apologized before covering his mouth with the same lifeless gray duct tape. Some of them had a nasty habit of spitting a foul smelling, thick stream of brownish-red liquid. I had no ideal if it was harmful or maybe even fatal, I just didn’t want any of that stuff getting on me.
That had been over twelve hours ago.
Now, as I sat directly across from Derrick who was well into the transformation, which in turn caused everyone to grow increasingly uncomfortable and irritated as the clock doggedly moved the slow hand, I absently caressed the butt of the .357 Magnum at my side and glanced over at Zackery.
Derrick’s eyes bulged from their sockets and jerked nervously from side to side. Tiny beads of sweat pooled on his forehead and ran down the side of his rapidly swelling head. A huge vein around his right temple steadily pumped an abnormally large amount of blood into his head, which seemed on the verge of popping, and his skin looked pasty and wax-like, partially due to the abnormal blood redistribution but we knew the bulk of it was due to the virus.
The tape covering his mouth was beginning to peal away and I could see he tongue flick out and over his stretched lips often. He continually scrapped his bound and sweaty hands on his dirty, mud-caked jeans and his raspy breaths were deep and arduous. They heaved his scrawny chest up in short choppy motions only to collapse like a labored piston in an old Ford Bronco. You could almost see his heart beating through his plaid lumberjack shirt; it was a heart that had just about had enough but still labored reluctantly onward.
He kept eying the .38 special on the coffee table, the one we had taken from the policeman right after Tracee had blown his swollen head to mush.
Zackery cautiously looked over at Tracee then shook his head.
I thought about grabbing the weapon, thought better of it and glanced over at Thomas. He was still staring at Tracee; you could see the hatred swiftly building behind his eyes. Zackery stood idly next to the boarded up window. I glanced over at Derrick again; he was rocking back and forth now, his puffy head getting closer to the coffee table with each forward rocking motion.
I reached over, snatched up the .38 special and stuffed it into the small of my back. Zackery quickly glanced my way but said nothing.
I watched Derrick sway back and forth in large rhythmic lurches for a few more seconds, then switched my attention to Charlotte.
She was still arguing with Tracee. Tracee now stood beside Zackery’s busted television set. It was the 42 incher we had chipped in and gotten him for his fortieth birthday. Earlier, in a fit of rage, Tracee had kicked in the tube after the News transmissions had abruptly ceased and the big screen suddenly became filled with snowy static. None of us could blame her though, for the sudden outburst; I guess at that particular moment the veracity of our desolation and despondency finally kicked in and we all asked ourselves the same question. Now what? Who the hell was going to rescue us, now? For that matter, was there even anyone left alive to rescue us?
Most people we encountered were either dead or dying. As far as we knew, so was the rest of the world.
It’s impossible to say with certainty what had actually happened but I guessed the present situation was for the most part a major military fuck-up.
We had all felt the explosions; a few of us saw the purplish-blue mushroom cloud Zack had described in detail later. He had been bold enough to steal a quick glance before clambering down the stairs leading to the bomb shelter his father had built in the late forties. None of us had been stupid enough to rush back outside to see what was going on. A mushroom cloud close enough to see could only mean bad news.
However, we had no ideal how bad it actually was until later, weeks later, when we first started hearing those isolated screams and wails.
Soon afterwards, we began hearing the ripping sounds.
They were the worst, like heavy, wet fabric slowly being pulled apart. It had taken us a while to gather enough courage to even risk venturing back into Zack’s house. We thought that radiation was a strong factor to consider. But as Tracee so delicately put it, ‘We’d be fuck’in dead by now if this area was radioactive. The shit would seep into the ground, creep into this little underground cracker box, wrap its skinny decaying fingers around our necks and squeeze for all its worth. We’d just fuck’in drop dead and stand in hell smoldering and asking what the fuck happened. So no, I don’t mind getting the fuck out of this rat hole!’
Nevertheless, I was more afraid of seeing the things that made those horrible ripping sounds than of the threat of radiation poisoning.
They always came at night.
And when they came, they were relentless, like devilish, epileptic bloodhounds on a mission from the hell.
You could hear the shuffling of deformed feet on the driveway pavement at night. Hear those cavernous liquid guttural sounds that filled the rancid night air and threatened to drive us all insane. Sometimes, if you stole a glance from between the cracks of the boarded-up windows, you could see sunken eyes and swollen fleshy lips. Often, they chewed through their own lips and a chunk of jagged flesh flapped limply against their chins.
Lately, some of them started appearing briefly in daylight. This of course meant big trouble for us. It was only during daylight hours we were able to gather supplies and repair the damage done during the night. The darkness was far too dangerous. Sometimes, they would lie concealed in shrubbery or under the massive wreckage which littered the city. If someone got close enough, they seemed to suddenly awaken and pounce on the careless passerby. I imagine only a few had been able to escape those steel talons and gaping mouths. They were definitely not quick but once they got hold of you, it was nearly impossible to get loose.
Derrick had been lucky, sort of.
Sure, he had escaped, but he was already beginning to change.
Of course, we had stumbled onto a few of them during daylight hours before, but it was different now. Previously, they were in a semi-comatose state and were easily disposed of. Such encounters had been minor annoyances at most. However, if they started lumbering about in daylight, things were about to get drastically worst.
This predicament was the main reason there was so much tension tonight.
Besides, we had to figure out what to do with Derrick.
To me a resolution to the Derrick problem was clear but Tracee didn’t see it like most of us did. She still believed that someone somewhere knew what had happened and more important, knew about a cure. And as long as that was a possibility, she wasn’t going to let Derrick die.
“…the fuck you gonna do when they knock the door down, huh?” Tracee was screaming at Charlotte.
“You wanna go toe to toe with those fuck’in things?” Charlotte screamed back and pointed to the barricaded door. The veins in her neck were bulging like thick fleshy cords. “I sure as hell don’t. You saw what happen to that poor bastard at the supermarket! He didn’t stand a chance! They fuck’in torn him apart! And ate him! THEY FUCK’IN ATE HIM! You wanna end up like that, in the belly of those sick fuck’in cannibalistic military fucked-up experiments? I sure as hell don’t!”
She stood up and stomp off in the direction of the dinning room.
“You can count me out!”
“Maybe we should just count you out of everything, princess.” Tracee said calmly.
I could tell she was getting pissed.
I’ve known Tracee almost as long as Derrick and I knew by her body language that Charlotte was unquestionably one cunt hair away from hillbilly heaven. Tracee stood with one hand on the busted television set, carefully balanced on her right shoulder her sawed-off shotgun rested. The stock was cradled like a tiny child in the palm of her hand and she simply observed Charlotte with a wide smile plastered across her narrow face. The venom in her eyes clearly belied her calm appearance. Her body seemed very relaxed but we all knew how extremely volatile Tracee was. Thomas had always thought her to be slightly insane.
He had put it as delicately as he could muster one October day after Tracee had beaten a man to mush after he’d slapped her ass in a nightclub. She was a highly explosive nutcase, he had said in my ear as the police handcuffed her and hauled her away.
Everyone knew how lethal she could become. And it was agreed; it was much safer to have her in here with us ranting and raving than even entertain the notion of her falling prey to those things and becoming our adversary.
It was not an option anyone of us cared to ponder.
“Your fuck’in nuts.” Charlotte mumbled.
She looked back once before peering through the slats we had nailed across the windows and out into the foreboding night. It seemed so peaceful.
When she glanced back over her shoulder, Tracee was still smiling at her.
“Yes,” Tracee hissed, “and craziness is keeping your prissy ass alive. Ain’t that right, princess?”
“Stop fuck’in calling me that!”
Charlotte whirled around and stomped towards Tracee. Tracee didn’t move, didn’t flinch; she only grinned wider. When Charlotte was only a few feet away, she stopped and pointed a shaky finger at Tracee.
“I’m sick of your fuck’in shit! I’ve been putting up with this bitch’s crap for…..aaahhh!”
With speed that almost seemed surreal, Tracee reached out and grabbed Charlotte by her extended wrist, snatched her forward and at the same time whirled around and slid behind her. The shotgun flew from Tracee’s shoulder in a wide semi-circle and landed crosswise against Charlotte’s neck while Tracee applied light pressure with both hands.
Tracee’s mouth was next to Charlotte’s ear.
“It would be so easy to crush your pretty little larynx,” Tracee hissed through clenched teeth, the smile slowly fading from her face; Charlotte’s perplexed look said she was still trying to figure out what had happened, “and I don’t think anyone here besides Thomas would miss your bitching much, PRINCESS!”
Charlotte’s face slowly faded to scarlet as Tracee applied more pressure. Her hands began to flail uselessly in the air. She attempted to claw at Tracee’s face, Tracee applied more pressure, the cold smile slowly spreading across her face again.
“Awwhhh come on now! We don’t need this kind of crap! I can think of a thousand things we could be doing right now instead of choking the shit out of each other. Why don’t you quit fooling around and let her loose?”
I was surprised to hear Thomas speak up but then again, he did have a thing for Charlotte.
“Yeah, let her go.” Donna said, her hand on the butt of her .45, “or get it over with. We’ve got more important things to do.”
“Fuck you, you little twi….aaahhh!”
“Let her go, Tracee.” Zackery simply said in an eerily calm and nonchalant tone, “We need to do something about him.” He jerked a thumb at Derrick. “He’s gonna turn soon and unless you want one of those things flopping around in here I suggest we put him out of his misery now.”
In the slow motion reserved for movie special effects, everyone’s head turned towards Derrick.
His eyes had rolled back in his skull, exposing burst capillaries dominating the whites of his eyes. I could see a thin trickle of blood coming from his temple. Soon, his head would swell, reaching enormous proportions. Blood would gush from his ears and the corners of his mouth in a steady stream. His head would droop as his cranium became heavier from the swelling; it would sag, lulling back and forth on his neck like a loose piece of dead flesh.
I could see that the joints in his hands had already begun to stiffen, locking his fingers in grotesquely obscene positions. Soon, rigor mortis like stiffness would settle throughout his entire body, he would lumber about in jerky twists and staggering movements.
That’s when the deep guttural wails and howls would begin. And if any of us got too close, he would happily gnaw our exposed flesh down to the bone.
I think the sounds are a result of the excruciating pain they must feel. Zackery said they sounded like the screams of people whose throats were filled with sticky liquid but none of the others dared to give it much thought. They argued that they were dangerous and that they had a taste for human flesh. If they bit you, you turned into one of them if you happened to get away from their ravenous gluttony. None of us wanted to end up like Derrick so it was pretty much agreed to kill them on sight.
Tracee had put it into perspective one day when she said, “If I see them I kill them, if I can’t kill them I get the hell away from them, if I can’t get the hell away from them, I kill me; I’m not going out like that.” she had said aiming a colt .45 at a little girl creeping from behind a garbage can. Derrick shot her in her swollen head. It burst, spewing blood and brain matter against the green dumpster. Donna had puked, Charlotte had wept and Zackery had just grunted and shoved the girl to one side. Tracee shot her five more times before mumbling a long string of profanity and rushing to Derrick.
But now Derrick poised a serious problem.
Derrick, you see, had failed to get away in time and the little girl had taken a huge chunk out of his ankle. Derrick was also Tracee’s younger brother so simply blasting him was not as easy as it sounded. Getting away from him wasn’t that easy either since Tracee insisted that we couldn’t just leave him there to be ripped to shreds. Besides, Derrick was one of us and back then we couldn’t bring ourselves to kill him. Instead, we brought him to Zackery’s house hoping for a miracle although none came. Direct contact proved to be very potent and the exposed wound failed to heal. Soon the first signs started appearing and we were forced to tie him up.
That was a couple of days ago.
Now, we sat him within eye contact still hoping, I guess, but it was quite obvious at this stage that our friend Derrick was history. What would emerge was one of those flopping, slithering, groaning facsimiles of a human being. I didn’t want that for Derrick. I didn’t think the others did either. Besides, it was just too dangerous. All of us were fully aware of what could happen if one of those things grabbed hold of you.
The most humane thing to do would be to put him out of his misery before the transformation was complete. One clean shot to the back of his neck severing his spinal column; quick, painless, he wouldn’t know what hit him.
But Tracee would and that could pose a problem. Tracee loves her brother dearly. Her love for him is the real reason he is still alive. Friendship only goes so deep; blood is thicker than water, that sort of thing.
“Let me go, godammit!”
Tracee placed a foot in the small of Charlotte’s back, quickly raised the shotgun and kicked her foot outward in one swift motion. Charlotte was sent sprawling face-first across the floor. She sat up quickly and whirled around, to her surprise, she was staring down the double barrels of Tracee’s shotgun.
“Don’t make me blow your frick’in head off, princess.”
Suddenly, the air seemed to solidify and for a brief moment I actually thought Tracee was going to shoot Charlotte. I pictured Charlotte flying backwards against the far wall, dropping to the ground in a crumpled, bloodied and twitching heap, a stream of her own blood pulsing and squirting from the gaping hole where her head once was.
But Charlotte bravely reached up and shoved the shotgun aside by the barrels bringing fluidity to the air again. She slowly stood up, dusted herself off and took a few cautious steps toward Derrick.
“Blow me, you bitch.” She said half-heartedly; she was staring at him with a look of revulsion.
“You think that tape will hold him?” Thomas asked no one in particular.
Derrick had begun thrashing about. He rocked back and forth, trying to free himself. His eyes would focus on one of us briefly then roll up into his skull again. Blood had already begun to run from a corner of his mouth and the stiffness of his joints was unmistakable. Each movement was a painful effort.
“We’re going to have to do something soon.” Zackery said and glanced over at Tracee. She was staring at her younger brother in disbelief, her shotgun hung limply, pointed at the floor.
It was Thomas this time.
“he’s only suffering; if there’s even anything left of him at all in that.” he jerked his chin at the monster slowly writhing on the sofa, “Put him out of his misery.”
After a while had passed and Tracee didn’t move, Zackery tapped her gently on the shoulder. When she glanced over at him her eyes were vacant and listless. He patted the butt of the gun in his shoulder holster.
She shook her head slowly.
“I’ll do it.” She simply said, “he’s my brother.” Then she glanced over at the doorway leading down to the bomb shelter.
There was a brief moment of silence, broken only by the groans and resounding guttural sounds seeping through the tape covering Derrick’s mouth. We all glanced at each other and suddenly, an uncontrollable feeling of foreboding gripped us. It was strange, but visible in our eyes; apparent as we stared at each other with questioning looks. Like a massive shroud of vileness it seemed to encase us entirely, slowly stretching its blackened fingers across our hearts. Clinching ever so gently.
I began feeling very small, weak and venerable, like a situation was brewing of which we had absolutely no control.
Silently, we began filing through the small steel door.
I crossed the threshold and glanced over my shoulder. Tracee had moved to within a few feet of Derrick. She stood motionless staring at her brother. I could see the love in her eyes and the great burden pressing down upon her shoulders.
I saw her slowly pick up the .38 special from the coffee table and point it at her brother’s head.
It was funny how it had swiftly distended to such enormous proportions and I knew it would eventually swell to even greater dimensions. His massive head was tilted upwards; his pupils had rolled back into his skull again and his head slowly swayed on his neck as he tried to loosen his hands. He reminded me of those bobble-head dogs people have on their dashboards. I noticed a thin stream of coagulating blood seeping from beneath the tape. As I watched them, Derrick gagged and stream of thick maroon blood shot from his nose. I heard a gurgling sound; his head flopped backward then weaved and straightened and he looked back at Tracee with unseeing eyes.
I felt a hysterical giggle rising in my throat and I bit down hard on my bottom lip.
Tracee’s head slowly turned in my direction and I saw tears streaming down her cheeks. Finally, I turned and pulled the door closed behind me.
It was the last time I saw Tracee alive.
We all stood there avoiding eye contact. None of us would have admitted it but we were waiting for the inevitable blast.
The door we had passed through led to a small foyer which branched off in three directions. Straight ahead were the downstairs living area; two bedrooms, a bathroom and a small guest room, the kitchen and another large den; on the left was a large staircase which led to two more bedrooms, two bathrooms and another guest room. There was also an attic up there. I had helped Zackery stash many boxes of junk up there during the years.
To our immediate right, behind a massive concrete door, a long staircase led to the bomb shelter. There were four small rooms down there, two to either side of a tiny hallway. Each room was separated by a huge storage room stuffed full with canned goods and supplies.
Back in the late fifties early sixties, the American people were certain that nuclear devastation was a very realistic possibility. The threat of Mother Russia loomed high overhead, the political suiciders in Cuba thought it would be a riot to point ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads at America and Vietnam was quickly rising from a little incident to a full scale war.
Black Americans and other minority groups were still focal points of senseless violence and random discrimination. It wasn’t uncommon or unfounded for families of that era to build secret bomb shelters, escape routes and/or protective caverns filled with provisions.
This particular shelter had been built by Zackery’s Grandfather. A decorated veteran of World War II, Zackery’s Grandfather had been fanatical about being prepared and safety. He had built the shelter single handedly, devoting almost all of his post war years to the project. After his death, Zackery’s father had completed the shelter, a sort of shrine to his father. His had stocked the shelter with canned foods, gasoline for the compressor and backup generators, flashlights, batteries, tarps, protective radiation suits; I called them bunny suits, first aid kits; just about anything imaginable that a person might need in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
Zackery had once found a small lever jutting from a dark corner of a wall in one storage area. When he pulled it, a door directly to the right of it popped open, revealing a hidden compartment. Upon closer inspecting he found it filled with weapons and ammo. Eventually, Zackery had built sophisticated revolving gun racks with glass doors and heavy locks. I had argued once that all a person had to do was break the glass to get at the weapons but that had simply drawn a dirty look from the big fellow. I never brought that up again, but now, for some strange reason, the scene played over in my mind as if it had only been yesterday.
We heard a loud bang followed by two more in quick succession. My thoughts fast-forwarded and landed in the present. There was a loud snap, like a huge branch being broken in half. Another sound; like a large sack of oranges slamming hard against the floor.
I looked over at Zackery. Charlotte was standing a few feet away from him and absently moved closer, seeking the shelter of his huge frame; Thomas was out of view, he’d disappeared into one of the bedrooms.
“What is it?” Charlotte’s voice was beginning to sound frayed, edgy.
Zackery raised an eyebrow and hunched his shoulders. Silently, he closed the few feet to the door. After a slight pause, he gently shoved it open.
Although his huge frame obstructed our view into the next room, I knew something was drastically wrong.
Zackery stood frozen; I could practically smell his fear. Beyond him a horrendous shadow slunk across the ceiling. It was large and ominous, a bulbous thing with many short, withered appendages frantically squirming in the air.
I imagined Zackery’s mouth frozen in a silent scream, his eyes wide with terror and his deep resounding voice stifled from piercing the air and miraculously turning soprano in the dim hallway.
He snatched his pistol from the holster and leveled it at the heinous shadowy thing in front of him.
I waited for gunshots. There were none.
Instead, a loud ripping sound pierced the air. It crashed into our skulls and chiseled what was left our fragile sanity into a thin sliver of wretchedness. It sounded like heavy wet cloth being pulled slowly apart.
I saw the blood seconds later.
First on Thomas as it splattered, leaving a trail of thick red freckles plastered to his face and front of his shirt. It spurted between Zackery’s legs in a pulsing stream of dark red, creating a thick, slow creeping pool of red liquid on the wooden floor; the doorway formed dam, dividing the pool between the two rooms.
Zackery tilted slowly forward, shuffled a few steps and I prayed to all the Gods that he would not turn around.
He did not.
However, I did hear the sound seconds later.
It was muffled and seemed to escape from an orifice not forged at birth; a liquefied noise which should not have escaped, a grotesque gurgling not meant to be heard by sane ears. As I reflect, I do believe it was this sound that finally drove Thomas mad.
Zackery crumbled to the floor, seemingly folding in upon himself, and landing in a grotesque heap across the doorway. His head thudded hard against the floor, bounced once and was still. Blood quickly pooled around his head, forming a maroon halo; intestine jutted from his sides, squished between him and the floor. His eyes, still locked wide with terror, stared blindly at nothing.
His mouth still screamed silently.
I vaguely remember Charlotte’s screams and soon after, Thomas’ heavy footsteps pounding upon the floor. They were distant sounds, metallic and tubular and I hardly paid them any attention. My eyes were trying to focus on something just past Zackery’s corpse, something ominous and grotesque, a large, lumpy shadow slinking in the room beyond.
“What the fuc…?”
Thomas was standing a few feet away from me now, between the doorway and Charlotte staring at Zackery’s mutilated body in horror. Charlotte was still screaming hysterically. She was pointing at something just beyond my field of vision, something in the next room.
Thomas moved quickly. He grabbed Charlotte by the arm, whirled her around and shoved her towards me. Her screaming abruptly ceased and I saw Thomas draw his pistol. As I reached for mine, Charlotte stumbled and slammed into me just as another misshapen shadow slithered across Zackery’s corpse and I saw the wall rushing toward me. My head connected with a loud thud and for a brief moment, the room tilted, faded to black then rematerialized.
I steadied myself with a quivering hand, never taking my eyes off the doorway, and once again reached for my pistol. My hand came up empty. I quickly glanced around and spotted the gun against the far wall baseboard. I ran and snatched it off the floor just as the lumpy shadow began to move across Zackery’s corpse, pausing this time, obscuring his lifeless body in noxious shadow, steadily emergent, menacing.
“Into the shelter,” I yelled, “com ‘mon!”
I quickly closed the few feet to the shelter entrance and stood holding the heavy door open.
Charlotte stood rooted in place, her mouth lock ajar in disbelief, arms hanging loosely by her sides. She had the look of someone not yet fully awake, someone still feeling reminisces of a bad dream, someone who doesn’t quite know if she’s still asleep or awake, dazed, despondent and unresponsive.
“We gotta go Char, no time for this shit now!”
I grabbed her and snatched her towards the bomb shelter door. She stumbled then looked at me with hazy eyes before slowly grabbing the handrail and proceeding down the stairs without a sound.
Thomas slowly began backing toward us; his pistol leveled into the next room, eyes watching the ever-growing shadow.
“Com ’mon man, get your ass in here! We gotta get the fuck outta here! Move it, now!”
Thomas backed up a few steps; his pistol still aimed at the doorway then whirled around and sprinted towards the shelter door.
He never saw it coming.
Later, much later, I would blame myself for my unresponsiveness. It all happened so quickly. Nevertheless, I still tell myself that I just as well could have put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.
A large object flew through the doorway.
It struck Thomas square in the back and sent him sprawling headlong. His head hit the floor with a loud thud and a sickly, fleshy screech filled the narrow hallway as he skid face first across the floor. He finally came to a stop a few feet away from me.
The object’s weight had him pinned to the floor.
I rushed to free him, reaching for his outstretched hand, and that’s when Tracee’s head flopped towards me. What I remember most were her eyes locked wide with terror.
For a brief moment, merciless slivers of light filtered through the doorway as the creature next door lurched forward and struck her face. I could see a gaping hole now, jagged and sunken and cracked, blood stained teeth were clearly visible. A large chunk of her tongue was missing, the remainder dangled between partially opened lips.
In the narrow hallway, I barely noticed my screams echoing, bouncing off the walls and surrounding me. I felt trapped within my own cocoon of insanity; felt as if my mind would snap, that I could no longer tolerate the magnitude of atrocities literally thrust before me.
But I was wrong; for seconds later It came into full view. And I could not help the hideous scream of absolute terror that escaped my lips.
The creature before me was no longer Derrick although facial features that once belonged to a dear friend were still vaguely recognizable. However, they were twisted and warped now, gnarled to the most absurd display of human aberration imaginable. Its head, now swollen to gargantuan proportions, transformed what were once attractively large brown eyes into small, diseased-white, lifeless craters. Its skin was pasty, possessing an almost chalk-like texture, riddled with ruptured capillaries and pools of stagnant, infected blood and stretched taut over its massive head.
Its mouth, at first seemingly small and sunken deep inside taunt but meaty mounds of hideously lumpy flesh, suddenly opened extremely wide, displaying a large bulbous tongue and rows of broken and jagged teeth. As I stood mesmerized, it abruptly snapped shut, chomping into what was left of its lower lip. I watched in amazement as a large piece of flesh slowly fell to the floor in seemingly slow motion, before disappearing into shadow.
Something inside me snapped then; something that had been dormant, perhaps hibernating, but now full awake and I became angry. My anger focused on the thing in the next room, the thing that had transformed a human being, my friend, into a flesh eating abomination and I leveled my .357 Magnum. But just as I squeezed off a shot something tugged at my pants leg startling me and the slug harmlessly slammed into the wall.
I looked down. Thomas had a firm grip on my pants leg and I immediately dropped to one knee and shoved Tracee off him. She rolled down Thomas’s body, finally flopping over on her stomach but still spread across his calves. Mercifully, her dead accusing eyes shielded from me.
At that moment, the creature oozed through the doorway, moving in jerky, spastic lurches; much like an epileptic rat squeezing through a small hole. Its skin, which just moments earlier seemed stretched to the bursting point, suddenly looked very elastic and rubbery. A stubborn piece of duct tape still attached to one fleshy cheek, flapped sporadically as its massive head squeezed through the doorway.
Thomas kicked frantically now, trying to kick Tracee’s limp body off him. I tugged his arm, all the while keeping my eye on the advancing creature.
I knew she was dead when I first saw her but that was still no excuse for being careless. I was simply in no mood for surprises, especially after what had happened earlier, so I decided to play it safe. There would not be anymore of those nasty little annoyances like at the neighbor’s house or close encounters like the one with that old hag behind the Supermarket dumpster.
Her limp and lifeless body dangled over the upstairs banister. I could just see her listless eyes staring at the steps as if watching an extremely interesting ant crawling effortlessly upward, stair after stair. Her head, disfigured and swollen to the point of bursting, swayed ever so slowly back and forth under the enormous weight.
Carefully, I crept up the stairs, slightly annoyed at the creaking of the steps, and shuffled sideways until her swollen head dangled just feet away from me.
Slowly I leveled the shotgun.
I pulled both triggers.
Her head disintegrated, leaving behind a grainy cloud of thick red spray; gray brain matter slammed against the adjacent wall and slowly slid to the floor. She fell off the banister and flopped backwards unto the floor. One arm thudded against the wall, finally falling still across her chest.
I prodded her exposed feet through the guardrails with the barrels of the shotgun then waited a few seconds more, the barrels aimed at her headless body.
Only when I was positive that she was dead did I proceed up the stairs.
Ahead there were two rows of doors on either side of the hallway.
I knew he had to be behind one of them; there was nowhere left for the coward to run. Even so, I still had to be careful. He had the advantage. I’m sure he had heard the shotgun blasts and now stood behind a door waiting, an axe held high over his swelling head. And as his axe came crashing down upon my skull, I’m pretty sure he’d be laughing; just like he laughed when he killed Charlotte.