The Woman in the Wedding Dress
Jordan McDougall was a big game hunter. He had stalked the most dangerous beasts in the world from the Arctic Tundra to the Mongolian Steppes. He had bested bone-crushing bull elephants in Zimbabwe and man-eating lions in North-east Namibia. Those who knew him called him a natural: They also called him foolish and impulsive. He was the youngest to ever rank among the top hunters in the Global Game Guild. Maybe that's why traditional hunting was getting too predictable for him and why the Z-virus nightmare was like a dream-come-true!
Standing on a sleek 335is BMW convertible with one boot planted on the windshield and the other squarely fixed in the middle of the polished black hood, he seamlessly exploded the coronal suture of approaching Z-freaks. Tabloid's called them Zombies, but the pop-culture name stuck. There is not enough time to explain how the terrorist attack unleashed the mind blowing, epidermis morphing Z-virus, courtesy of International Pharmaceuticals and the U.S. State Department, turning random humans into Runners, Limpers, Crawlers and Pukers: all of which appeared to be stages of the Z-virus de-evolutionary curse; all of them were here and Jordan was having a blast sniping, slashing and stomping the green snot out of all of them!
His cockiness had made him careless, as it often did, and he was almost surrounded. The Limpers were easy to down from a distance, but the closer they wobbled towards him the more hyper they became, snapping their broken shards of teeth and grasping their rigor mortis stricken hands clumsily in his direction. They were now too close for his Sako85 to be effective. Maybe he should have stayed on the balcony of the Hotel? The butt of his high-powered hunting rifle became his melee weapon and crushed the face of a Limper who had once been a deputy sheriff. His boot snapped the neck of his next target, a seductive teen that had gone freak in an especially ugly way. Should he run? No, he had always held his ground, even when others had fled! He could feel the BMW gently recoil as freaks rattled the cans attached to the bumper and mounted the rear. He tried to bolt his rifle, but an enthusiastic Runner joined the mix and Jordan had to feed it the stock of his prized weapon, unfortunately the Freak took the Sako85 with him as it plummeted backwards to the asphalt. A stout Limper, suited out in its game-day number 66 football uniform, greeted the grounded Freak with a cleat to its brittle skull cap halting the Runner in its track and causing the ex-football player to fall to the side tackling the zombie mob to its left. This gave the huntsman time to unsheathe his fixed blade and plow a gap across the forehead of an eager sanitation worker gone mad. He turned and with lightening reflexes drove it to the hilt into the top of a Z-freak that looked like the local banker. He tried to retrieve the knife as the freak slumped to the ground but it slipped from his grip as he heaved and flew behind him. Jordan McDougall's nerves of steel were starting to shiver and he felt the power of his sturdy arms diminish as the clumsy horde took its toll. He was now bare handed against the dwindling mob. Before he could commit to retreat he heard the familiar grind of his A400 XPLOR being pumped.
"Get off my car!" A frazzled voice insisted. The woman in the wedding dress's next sentence was a blast that took out the two freaks climbing over the luxury leather seats toward McDougall. He wasn't sure if she had meant to shoot him or the creeps, but the gesture was appreciated all the same. She pumped the shotgun again and just to make sure of her intentions he jumped from the hood and inadvertently landed on a bloated grandma Limper who was trying to sneak up behind him. She felt like a lumpy mattress as they hit the sidewalk. Gagging fumes heaved from her facial cracks. Grandma clamped her jaws on the hand closest to her. He shouted an indiscernible string of curse words as he bounded to his feet bringing the attached freak upright as well. He wasn't supposed to get infected! He was the great Jordan McDougall!
"Shoot the hag, shoot her!" He demanded.
The woman in the tattered wedding dress ignored his predicament; instead she took aim and exploded the Puker who had stepped into view near the taillights of her rented BMW. The grandma Freak tightened her pit-bull grip on his hand with no effect. Her toothless gums were like a vise, but had no tearing ability. Jordan started to pound her in the jaw with his free fist. They both fell to the ground as he continued to beat her rubbery flesh. There was a muffled crack and he yanked his hand from her jowls slinging thick, greenish saliva against the side of the BMW. Next he heard the precision slide and click of his XPLOR shotgun.
"Hold it there, woman!" He insisted. Waving the slime soaked hand in front of him as if it would deflect the 12 gauge blast from his shotgun. "People don't shoot people."
She eyed him suspiciously. "How about five minutes from now?" Her waxed eyebrows raised and her blue eyes flashed an exclamation point back at him. "You still going to be people in five minutes or are you going to freak out? 'Cause you look pretty freaked right now!"
Jordan was straddling his opponent, pinning her arms with his legs, with one hand around her bloated neck and the other stretched out in a twisted frozen wave that was supposed to signal "don't shoot me!" His shirt was drenched with thick patches of blood, sweat and zombie spittle. This was not a good time for a pro-longed conversation however, and they both remembered their predicament at the same time. The woman in the wedding dress scanned the near horizon for pending freaks and Jordan flipped forward, scooped up the knife he had dropped and came to rest in the perfect action hero stance.
He glanced at her. She looked at him.
"Where did they go?" Jordan asked.
There was an awkward wall of dispatched Creeps about twenty yards in front of the BMW. Other piles of rotting flesh were scattered closer to him with a few lone corpses splattered here and there. Nothing was moving.
"Don't sound so disappointed." She retorted as she took a few deliberate steps forward and scanned the area again. She pointed the shotgun toward a sound coming from the broken taillights of the BMW. She tightened her grip on the bulky weapon and stepped sideways to see her target. A black and grey chicken fluttered from its hiding place beneath the car and landed on a dead body. It bobbed its head a few times then pecked the motionless Freak's forehead once, then raced cackling into the bushes.
"Great," she huffed, "just what we need, a zombie chicken!"
"What was that? Jordan glanced in her direction.
She relaxed her posture, "They're gone!"
Jordan stood tall and sheathed his blade. "Guess they were smart enough to know I was about to …"
"Will you shut up!" the woman in the wedding dress whispered in a yelling kind of way.
He walked toward the vehicle and noticed his footprint-shaped dents in the hood and winced as he hoped she didn't turn around and shoot him for the damage."
She was looking toward Main Street. "Listen."
The faint muse of a familiar tune danced in the stale air. Jordan quipped, "Sounds like music."
"There!" she pointed toward the clearing between two store fronts.
Jordan retrieved his hunting rifle to scope a better view. Z-slobber dripped from his weapon as he focused on his target.
"Hmm," He could see the Number 66 football Freak wobbling toward a crowd of Ghouls who looked like they were having a town meeting.
"What?" she whispered.
"That's strange!" The behemoth ball player plowed into the huddle sending a dozen Freaks, including himself, to the ground. It was then Jordan saw the harried man hanging half way out the side window of his vehicle taunting the approaching throng.
"What?" Her volume swelled.
"I've never seen anything like it." The man banged the side of his truck as if to cheer the creeps toward him.
Her voice was hushed, but she was doing that yelling thing again, "Do you want me to shoot you."
Jordan looked toward his new found hunting buddy. Her thin face was framed by swirls of well-manicured blonde hair. Her blue eyes were sharp and clear. Her thin nose gently sloped toward her still pink-glossed lips.
Jordan's hypothalamus kicked into overdrive, "The groom is one lucky man!" he said impulsively.
"What?" she took a step back and looked toward the ground. "He's not that lucky." She took a few more steps away from him and looked around the town square.
"Oh, man, I'm sorry." He quickly looked behind him to make sure nothing was skulking up on them. The side alley and the empty lot across the street were clear.
"It was an ice cream truck."
The woman in the wedding dress looked back at him puzzled." Wha..?"
Jordan noticed the grandma freak rolling back and forth on the ground. He planted his sized 12 hunting boot on her bloated face and ended her struggle.
He looked back to the woman in the wedding dress. "It was a man in an Ice Cream truck."
"Really?" Her disposition changed.
"He just sat there and let the zombie freaks get right up close and then he slowly drove off." Jordan smiled at the thought, "Like a pied piper of the undead."
"Oh, God, not her!"
Jordan jerked his head towards the woman in the wedding dress and then followed her intense stare. An older ghoul dressed in an expensive fur coat and out-of-fashion fluffy hat wobbled toward them. She snapped her jaws and started to increase her pace.
Jordan snarled, "This one has teeth."
"They are fake! Like everything else about her!"
The woman in the wedding dress stepped in front of Jordan and pulled the trigger. A chunk of flesh the size of a football burst from her chest and the Z-freak stumbled back. The woman pumped again and fired another blast taking off the freak's right arm from the shoulder.
"Okay, that seems personal. Who is this hag?"
The woman in the wedding dress brought another shell into the chamber and glanced back at him, "She's my mother-in-law!" This time the mother-in-law freak's face disappeared with a splat leaving a strange spray of wig and hearing aids fluttering in the air.
The woman turned and said matter of fact, "We should take advantage of the diversion caused by the man in the Ice Cream truck if we are going to find my husband."
Jordan didn't know what to say. He watched her walk behind a row of shrubs and then his eye caught the yellow traffic sign showing a rigid stick figure crossing the street, behind it was a construction worker Ghoul just joining the party. One eye was carved out and part of the brow area was missing. It also had a claw hammer piercing the top of its safety hat wedged into its skull. Earlier attempts by someone to down him no doubt. Jordan finished the job and was just cleaning his blade when the woman in the wedding dress reappeared.
She was dragging his gun bag into view.
"Next time," she snapped, "you should bring your weapons with you if you are going to face a horde."
She passed him and started walking across the town square.
He picked up the bag and watched her for a moment. Then he followed.
Several minutes later, after slaying two Runners, a Puker and a dozen or so Limpers formerly known as nurses and residents of the Shady Park Nursing Home, they stood at the steps of the Methodist Church.
"I guess this was your party?"
She looked at him and puffed a string of hair from her mouth. "You know how many times I've been left standing at the altar?"
Jordan took advantage of the pause to load his shotgun.
She raised the sides of her dress and started to scale the massive steps toward the chapel.
"Scott was a Banker's son. I believed you knifed his father back at the BMW. He didn't have the decency to even leave a note. We waited for hours. Everyone in their wedding best, even his father had no clue. His friends gave him a new nickname: The Flying Scotsman because he flew the coop!"
Jordan dropped his gun bag and stopped at the sanctuaries' carved doors and studied his five o'clock shadow in the brass fixtures, but the lady in the wedding dress walked in without hesitating.
"Then there was Arnold." She walked pass the Reverend Freak who was gnawing on the arm of the Saint Andrew's statue that had it pinned to the wall. "He was shy, cute and gay. I knew he was too perfect!"
Jordan picked up a nearby bust and crushed the minister's head. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."
"You are the most irreverent man I have ever met, that was Joseph of Arimathea:" She pointed to the busted bust on the floor, "He was a saint."
Jordan grinned. "I always wanted to do that."
The lady in the wedding dress twirled around and made an about face causing her gown to hover like a flower floating in the breeze. Jordan liked what he saw.
"What a package!" He quipped.
He followed her into the chapel. At first it looked like a parade had marched through leaving shreds of confetti everywhere. A second look revealed crushed flowers on the floor, pink and velvet ribbons scattered with pew stuffing and body parts. She was quietly standing at the altar. He walked up to her side and patiently waited.
After a few awkward moments of silence (well mostly silence, except when the woman screamed somewhere beyond the open window, "Oh God, not my poodle!") The woman in the wedding dress softly started her tale.
She thoughtfully looked from one side of the platform to the other. "The minister, whose head you just bashed in, was standing here." She slightly pointed. "Johnny and his best man were there." She nodded in his direction. "The bridesmaids, none of whom I knew personally, stood behind me."
She stood silently and bowed her head.
Jordan was stunned by the moment. Being sensitive or even having a conversation with a beautiful woman was not his forte. He was a man of action. He struggled for something to say. Quite by accident it was the right thing for once, "Go on, it might make you feel better if you say it."
She took in a deep breath and continued, "'Do you take this man to be your lawfully wed husband?' That's what the Reverend said. I was about to say 'yes,' I think..." She paused and shyly looked at Jordan. "Then Ms. Judy, the organist, sitting right there a few feet away from me, vomited all over the organ. That's when I should have called the whole wedding off, but I was so desperate…" She stopped and looked at Jordan." I mean. It happened so fast! It's amazing how fast people turn when they turn. She was smiling and winking at me one minute and snapping her teeth and growling at me the next."
"I hate teeth!" Jordan frowned as he rubbed the hand the grandma freak had used as a suck toy.
"None of us had seen a Puker before. Well, I doubt any of us had seen a freak in real life." She looked down at the organ and the body that was bent over backwards against it. "We had seen stuff on the news, but we thought it was just another California craze: you know bath-salt and that stuff."
"Father Farley stepped closer to see if he could help and she barfed all over him. That's when all hell broke loose. He turned in seconds. He's blood red eyes bulged out and I swear he went double jointed on us."
"He must have had a little memory still left because he ran right between me and Johnny and pounced on the annoying head deacon sitting in the front pew. Of course, everyone went crazy, and what did my darling Johnny do?"
Jordan started to respond, but the question was rhetorical and she continued.
"No, he did not run to my side and grab me by the hand and escort me to safety." She fixed her eyes on Jordan.
She took a step toward him, "No, he did not call to me, Honey Baby, come to me and let's get out of here..."
She took another step and looked sternly into his eyes, "No, nothing heroic or romantic or even civilized! He ran, ran as fast as he could with the other cowards he called friends, leaving me here to handle the problem." She hesitantly gestured toward the organ. Jordan looked around her and spied the well-dressed corpse with a superbly sculptured crucifix crammed in its eye socket.
"He…" She sucked in a puff of air, "left me alone at the altar!" She burst into tears and buried her face in the middle of his chiseled chest.
Jordan had survived a dozen death scenes because of his quick thinking and even quicker reflexes, but he did not know what to do. He could feel his own panic building. He looked around the room. Finally he placed a hand on her shoulder and softly said, "I'm still here. I haven't left you standing at the altar alone."
The woman in the wedding dress went silent and slowly looked up into his deep brown eyes. She gained her composer and huffed, "You may be the first."
She turned and walked toward the exit.
"But…" Jordan did not know what to think or say. He shrugged his shoulders and followed. He picked up his gun bag and scanned the horizon: very little activity.
A herd of Freaks had been stumbling toward the quaint little town of Apple Blossom for days, but most news stations were focused on the riots and rampaging in LA, and did not have the wit or will to report something useful, like "a slobbering mob of blood thirsty Z-Freaks are headed your way." As you might have guessed, Apple Blossom was not ready for the Freaks.
The woman in the wedding dress looked into the distance, "We need to go down town. I think they headed that way."
Jordan was puzzled. This Johnny guy had left her standing at the altar knee deep in deranged nut-jobs and she still wanted to save him? His mother had told him he would find the perfect woman some day and be swept off his feet, (He thought of falling off the BMW) but he did not think it would have been so literal! He watched her stomp down the stairs and pause at the sidewalk, stumbling over the right side of a freak lying across the sidewalk: half a head, well-tanned torso and one hairy leg. The other half of the ghoul was oddly splattered on to the surface of the church's wooden sign.
She looked back toward the chapel, "You coming?"
He had been infected by her every being and he would follow her to the end of the world.
She continued to gaze back at him, her heart rapidly beating. She was not afraid of what lay ahead, it was the fear that he would not follow. There was something about him. She could not place her finger on it, but he was not like any man she had known before. She released a whisper in his direction, "Please."
He called to her, "You think they went toward the golf course or merchant row?"
She smiled as he trotted down the stairs taking two and three steps at a time. He stopped at her side.
"Thank you." She said in a raspy hushed voice.
He gently smiled and then blew the head off a Limper dressed like a postman that had sneaked up on them.
"Excuse me dear," A tiny voice called from a nearby window. "You-who?" she said melodically.
Jordan stared at the elderly lady peeking out the open window. The woman in the wedding dress hurried to the white picket fence and looked up toward her. "Are you alright?"
"Oh yes, sweetheart. I am fine!" She squinted and remarked, "Oh, you must be Johnny's new wife? Margret told me that it was a beautiful wedding until the reverend started ripping people's faces off."
Our heroine was not ready for this conversation so she quietly responded, "Yes ma'am."
Jordan looked wide eyed at the two of them.
"I don't think that was very nice of Reverend Farley." Her forehead wrinkled, "I always thought there was something wrong with him."
Jordan chimed in, "It wasn't his fault ma'am. He turned into a Freak and lost total control of himself."
"Well, that doesn't sound very appropriate either! A Minister should never lose control of himself." The old woman shook her head in disapproval.
"Ma'am," the younger woman said as she opened the delicate gate and stepped closer to the window, "Do you know about the Z-freaks? You know, the zombies?"
"My yes, dear," The old woman sounded offended; "I've been listening to Fox news. They warned us they were coming. Put it on a big map and all that."
"Really?" Jordan quizzed, "I didn't hear a thing about it on the news!"
The woman in the window smiled as if she felt sorry for him, "You must be listening to the mainstream media! Damn liberals try to cover up anything they think it's going to hurt their man in the Whitehouse!"
"Well, how did you know about my wedding?"
"Like I said, Margret told me. She thinks it's her business to be in the middle of every social event in town so she can gossip about it."
Jordan was skimming the area for freaks.
"Maybe you and Margret can come with us. We could keep you safe."
"Well," The old lady looked back into her house and then gave the woman in the wedding dress an "oh, well" look, "Margret is not with us anymore. She passed out right by the pantry. I thought it was from all the excitement. I was wrong: She was dead, or dead-like. All I saw was a little scratch on her arm where she bumped into the church gardener. He would have done more damage I suppose but a nice boy with a football jersey came to her rescue and cut him in half with his own chainsaw." She paused, "I think Margret was exaggerating a bit."
"Lady, you need to get out of there now!" Jordan ordered.
"I will not young man, this is my home! 5840 Lyle Street, lived her thirty years."
"You, don't understand!" The jilted bride exclaimed, "Margret is going to turn…"
The sound of fresh-born freak bellowed from behind her. The little old lady turned abruptly and disappeared into the house.
"We have to do something..." The sound of a shotgun ended her sentence.
Jordan had his A400 XPLOR raised but was motionless.
The almost bride looked at him with a question in her eyes.
He shrugged, "I was going to do something but it sounds like the little old lady doesn't need our help!
"Or she's in there being eaten by a freak with a very big mouth!"
The elderly woman returned to the window. "My, those things smell terrible. You would think she had been dead for a week!"
"Oh, my God, are you okay?"
"Of course my child, I knew exactly what was going to happen so I tied her dead body to the furnace."
Jordan smiled and asked, "Fox News?"
"That's right young man." She looked at the woman in the wedding dress, "He's cute: got lots of muscles."
The woman in the wedding dress could not agree more, but this was not the time to savor the thoughts she had already been avoiding, she had to find her almost-husband. "Well, if you are going to be safe…"
"Of course, I have my Fredrick's hunting rifle and a bucket load of shot."
"Well, then, maybe you can help us." She looked toward Jordan, "we are looking for my husband and his groomsmen."
"Do tell?" The lady in the window responded, "If you are looking for a group of men in tuxedoes?"
"Yes," she perked, "Yes that would be them!"
"Well, Mr. Peters on the corner told me that a group of tuxedo wearing freaks were at the Bakery," She leaned out the window and whispered, "Eating the Baker's buxom daughter!"
The woman in the wedding dress huffed, "Figures!
"Well," Jordan said as he started down the street, "Let's get this search over with so we can get back to doing what we were doing."
The two women sensed his mood change and gave each other a puzzled look.
The younger of the two ran to his side, "Slow down cowboy, what's the rush?"
He kept walking.
"And what were we doing before this?"
He stopped and looked at her, "This is what you want. Save George after what he did."
"His name is Johnny!"
He started walking at a quicker pace, "who cares!"
"It's something I have to do!" she hesitantly exclaimed!
Jordan stopped and swung around, "Oh really, There is something I have to do too." He scooped her into his arms and tried to give her the most passionate kiss he could. She struggled for half a second and then fell in sync with the rhythm of his tongue. Everything was serene until the sound of the shotgun blast brought them back to reality.
Grandma held a smoking twelve gage and was hanging out the window shouting at them, "Get a room!" She pointed at the Runner who was half jogging and half wobbling as he came toward them. She had blasted half of his upper body off, but the adrenaline pumped freak was persistent and particularly hard to kill.
The woman in the wedding dress pulled the 45 caliber and shot shattering a car windshield.
"Here let me do it." Jordan reached for the gun.
"No," she jerked the weapon away from his grasp, "I'll do it." She aimed and pulled the trigger one more time. The bullet missed the freak by a few inches and collided with a gas can Brent Head had placed on his porch when he was getting ready to do his lawn that morning. It exploded sending flames dancing into the air.
"Really?" Jordan shot her an exclamation point with his eyes.
A man stepped out on his balcony overlooking the pillar of smoke, "What you trying to do, blow the neighborhood up?"
"Here!" She tossed the pistol into his hands causing him to drop his shotgun into a shrub.
"You wanted it! There it is!" She angrily walked away.
A face appeared in a window across the street, two houses down from the explosion. The little old lady with the shotgun waved at her neighbor and smiled. The neighbor was watching the odd young couple and then saw the familiar gesture from 5840 Lyle Street. She waved back and disappeared behind the curtains.
Jordan fumbled with the gun for a few seconds as the Runner approached its target. "Wait a minute!" he shouted to her and then nonchalantly pulled the trigger sending the freak in the golf shirt to the ground.
He scrambled to retrieve his shotgun and then ran to her side, "That's it?"
She kept walking.
"A 45 is hard to handle!" he said apologetically.
"Well," she halted and glared at him, "so am I!"
He tried to look her in the eyes, but the rest of her looked so good he couldn't help but stray. "I guess we both need practice!"
She rolled her eyes and retorted, "Besides, I'm married!" She started her brisk walk again.
"No," he answered as he matched her stride, "You were almost married and that means that you are not married!"
"I was close enough."
"But he left you!" he grabbed her arm and brought her to a stop.
The anger left her and she lowered her eyes to the ground. They paused for a few seconds, and then she timidly looked up at him, "Will you leave me?"
Jordan McDougall stood as tall as he could and answered without hesitating, "No, Honey baby, I will never leave you, and if it were possible I would put that wedding dress to good use!"
She smiled and said, "Good. Now, let's get this search over with." She started to walk away but paused to tilt her head back toward him, "so we can get back to doing what we were doing."
He knew what that meant, and if he had to find her almost husband to get back to what he wanted to be doing he was all in. Fortunately it was a short walk to the Bakery.
The Baker's daughter was laid out like a full course meal on top of the picnic style table in front of the shop. She had turned and was growling as she coughed up blood, but there were not enough body parts left to become mobile.
Jordan drew his straight blade and slid it into her forehead. He looked down the business end of the street but did not see anything moving.
He turned and saw the lovely woman in the wedding dress frozen in her tracks looking the opposite direction. He stepped to her side and noticed the Freak in the tuxedo struggling to free itself from the array of clear Christmas lights used to decorate the patio dining area.
"He was always a bit of a klutz!"
"That's your… That's Joe?"
"Johnny," She smiled at him, "but who cares!"`
She pumped the shotgun she had traded during the last leg of their journey and stepped closer.
Jordan looked at the freak and then studied the face of the woman he had fallen in love with. His impulsive side came to the surface, "Do you take this man to be your awfully wed husband?"
The A400 XPLOR gave her answer.
Hell turned to heaven as the two embraced and exchanged their best efforts to stimulate the other. She took in a deep breath and mumbled, "Maybe we should get a room?"
He gazed into her sparkling blue eyes. She nodded her head and tried to point with her eyebrows. He looked down the street and saw three Freaks in tuxedos slumbering toward them.
"What do you want to do?" He asked with a lazy grin.
She reached down and pulled a machete from the tote bag. "One of them has our wedding ring!"