The freaks were pounding on the glass door and windows, groaning and mouthing unknown words at Sarah as she stared blankly at them. She shook her head and ducked back down behind the chewing gum aisle, and forced herself to relative calmness as she remembered that she had four rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, a full load. I can make it out of here, she thought to herself as she crept towards the back of the store.
The pounding grew faster, gaining a sort of rhythm that made her stop short and listen. It was almost as if they were working in tandem, beating on the glass with a steady boom-boom-boom-BOOM. She watched with a sense of morbid curiosity as the tallest one stopped pounding and bent down to the ground. She couldn’t see what he was doing because of the angle of the aisles between her and the windows, but when he came back up with a piece of cinder block her curiosity changed to horror and she bolted for the heavy drink cooler door. Frantically yanking on the handle to no avail, she realized it was secured with a large padlock just as the glass to the left of the store’s entrance shattered, pieces tinkling on the ceramic tile below. She turned and leaped for the bathroom door directly across from the cooler. As she entered the small windowless room and began to shut the door, she looked again at the front of the store. In the tiny bit of twilight she could just make out the outline of the tall one standing up as he cleared the hole he had made in the glass. Screw this, she said to herself as she raised the Remington 770 rifle to her shoulder and flipped the safety off. At this distance, a scant fifteen feet, she didn’t even bother zeroing in with the scope as she fired a round into the creature’s head.
The second monster had already begun climbing through the hole behind the first, and wasn’t fazed by the spray of blood, brain matter and skull fragments that peppered him as his leader went down. He was fast too, faster than the three Sarah had killed days before. He had already cleared half the distance to her by the time her second shot took off the top of his head. The remaining two, an elderly man and a young woman who could have been Sarah’s age, seemed to be trying to climb through the hole together and were getting stuck. Sarah had no problem picking them off, and as they bled out from the holes left in their skulls by her trusty deer rifle she edged around them towards the door. Despite it being almost completely night time, there was more light outside the store than inside and she could see down to where Ware Street branched off the main highway; there was some sort of movement at the intersection but she couldn’t make it out. She didn’t waste any time as she shouldered the gun on one arm and her backpack full of supplies on the other, and unlatched the door. As she squeezed out and started making her way back down Main Street towards her apartment, she heard the telltale groaning and murmuring of them coming from her left. She looked down Hogansville Road again and saw what appeared to be several bodies moving towards her, slowly but steadily and definitely aware of her.
She picked up her pace, nearly sprinting towards the large building looming in the faintly starlit sky. As soon as she made it to the beginning of the stairs leading up to her hallway, she stopped and listened for any movement. All she could hear was the steady thrumming of her own heartbeat and her shallow breathing as she tried to be as quiet as possible. She cursed herself for the third time for going on this foolish venture, knowing full well that Nathan would arrive in the morning and they could have gathered rations then. Her boredom and restlessness were likely to be the death of her tonight.
As she crept up the stairs she realized she was not alone in the building. She could clearly hear footsteps and groaning coming from somewhere on her hall. As she reached the last step she stopped and peered around the corner towards her apartment. In the faint light from the battery-powered emergency lighting she could see a large shape with its back to her, softly moaning and staring off the far balcony into the darkness. She debated firing her last round into the back of its head, but she knew the sound would only draw the small crowd she had seen on the street a few minutes ago. For all she knew they were even now shambling towards the parking lot of her building, headed for the stairs she just climbed.
Slowly, quietly she eased around the corner and began a slow crouching walk towards the brutish man, the butt of her rifle raised in both hands and pointed towards the back of his head. She silently thanked the building manager for installing weatherproof carpet on the concrete hallway; without it her footfalls would be echoing loud enough to wake the dead. As she got within a foot of the creature standing next to her apartment door, he suddenly raised his head and sniffed the air the way she imagined a huge grizzly bear would upon smelling prey on the wind. With no time to think about it, she rammed the butt of the gun into the back of his head and stepped back quickly. He went down to one knee for a moment, then turned and snarled at her with a vicious, feral sound. She barely bit back a scream as she slammed the butt of the rifle into his cheek, shattering the bone and sending a spray of bright blood across the wall. He collapsed on his side on the floor, and she pounded the stock into his temple three times. There was a sickening crunch with the third blow that caused his massive head to cave in and one eye to pop out of the socket.
She tried to stop shaking as she turned and fumbled for the key attached to her backpack, frantically looking down the hallway towards the stairs she just came from. The open air design of the apartment building made it quite possible that her short battle was heard in the street below. She finally got the key into the lock and turned the knob, opened the door and slid inside, closing it back with a soft click. She locked the knob and deadbolt and fumbled for the battery powered lantern she kept by the door. As she flicked it on she half expected to see a room full of creatures ready to rend her flesh from the bones, but her tiny apartment appeared completely empty. She started to raise the rifle to her shoulder and begin clearing the home, but was disgusted when she saw the blood and hair matting the dark grey butt. She sighed and wiped it off as best she could on the arm of her threadbare old sofa and continued with her routine, going from room to room with the rifle pointed ahead, her left hand awkwardly steadying the barrel and holding the the lantern aloft at the same time.
Once she was sure there was no threat, she headed back towards the small living room and sat on the sofa, opposite the end soiled with the monster’s blood. It was then that something clicked in her head; the lighting wasn’t all that good in the hallway but she was sure the creature’s blood was a bright, hot red. She was no doctor but she knew that if they were truly zombies in the movie sense they should have dark, coagulated blood if any at all. At first she wondered why she had never noticed this before but then realized she had never been this close to one. From a distance it was easy to see a garden-variety rotting corpse in the way they shuffled and moaned as they walked, but up close they appeared to still be alive!
She was torn from her epiphany by the sound of beating on her door. She quickly switched off the lantern and as quietly as possible, crept towards her bedroom and the secret compartment in her closet. She didn’t think any of them were strong enough to break down her door, but she wasn’t taking any chances by hanging out right beside it. As she got settled onto the floor of the dark, cramped space and closed the false-front entrance, the pounding ceased and the moaning grew fainter. She morbidly wondered if they decided to make a meal out of the big fellow she killed. She shuddered at that; not the thought of them cannibalizing one of their own but at the fact that she killed a living human being. As she began drifting into unconsciousness she wondered if the government knew these things were alive.
To Be Continued
© 2011 Morgan Johnson