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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
When zombie like creatures begin showing up in town, a young insurance agent finds he needs more than just a policy.

Submitted: April 06, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 06, 2017



 Neil Dougherty hated his job. He hated his apartment. He hated the quiet little town that he grew up in. That’s where his quiet little job and quiet little apartment were. He hated his quiet little life. He scowled as he tried one more time to tie a decent knot in his tie. He hated ties and he hated the suits they adorned. Actually, he liked this suit, but he really hated this town and he really, really hated his job. Oh how he hated being an insurance agent. Most people he knew didn’t want insurance. Why? Because they never needed it.

Neal wondered what day it was. They were all the same these days. Every weekday morning of the last five years. He would shit, shower, and shave while the early morning news played in the background on his pride and joy, a sixty-five-inch flat screen TV. Hanging there, it actually dwarfed the walls of the tiny apartment. It was incongruous, he thought, with the rest of the furniture. That was better than being what? What was the opposite, congruous? The rest of the furniture he had found while prowling the local Goodwill and a few yard sales. His mother said he was thrifty. His father, on the other hand, called him a skinflint. Said he was like his Grandpa Dougherty, a miserly old Irish goat. His father had made a lot of money in the insurance business, the benefit of being the only game in town, and saved a lot of money, the benefit of growing up the son of a skinflint. He also spent a lot of money, the benefit of being married to his mother. She was the head cheerleader who traded in the high school quarterback for the high school nerd. The American Express Black Card in her wallet told her it was the right decision.

During his own high school years, Neal had worked part-time for his dad in the office. It was spending money and made his dad happy enough to have bought him a relatively new car for his sixteenth. It was just a Tercel that they would affectionately call the Turd-cell, but the truth was that it was a lot nicer than his friend’s old jalopies. He still drove the Tercel and it still had low miles. The benefit of being thrifty, he would say. The benefit of being cheap, his friends would claim.

He had tried to spread his wings and fly, right after graduation. It seemed to him, that he had taken every crappy job he could, in hopes that it would lead to something better. The horse stable job had led to blisters, the florist job had led to allergies, and the underage bartending gig had led to an underage DUI. His father had swept that one under the table but managed to bring it out and dust it off every Thanksgiving for the past ten years.

Growing up in a small Midwest village was bad enough, there wasn’t any way he was going to live here forever. Whoever heard of a village anymore? And that is all that Kermit was. Sorry little place wasn't even big eneough to be a town. It was barely large enough to warrant a spot on the state map. On the county map it appeared a regular metropolis, and compared to a few of the neighboring villages it may as well have been. At least it had actual businesses and not just trailer parks known for their meth manufacturing. Still, that wasn't enough to keep a young man here. Not for the past five years.

Five years, he thought. Five years almost to the very day. “Five years that I’ll never get back,” he thought, angrily. On the bright side, he had stuck it out five years. “Give me five years,” his father had said, “and I’ll make something out of you.” He had. An insurance agent.

He was just about ready to head out to the office. It was just a few blocks away from the crappy, cramped apartment he rented. He could afford better but, “I’m thrifty,” he told himself. His father called it ‘The Hovel” and never stopped by. His mom, on the other hand, stopped frequently and dropped off all sorts of goodies. Leftovers from home and brownies and chocolate cake from scratch. She insisted he was too skinny and should move back home so she could fatten him up. He hated the phrase ‘fatten him up’. It made him feel like he was going to the slaughter. In truth, he was in decent shape. He had ran track in high school and still ran five miles on the weekends and on the treadmill next to his bed if the weather was inclimate. He glanced outside to gauge the weather even though the news had been on all morning. It was foggy. Not just foggy, he thought, really foggy. And I really hate fog, he thought. The weather was inclimate, he thought. He liked that term. It had always meant a day off from school. Now, it usually meant things were shitty outside.

He had never seen fog like this before. His ‘hovel’ was on the second floor of the unfortunately named Cox Building, but it was like looking out into a cloud. A bluish cloud that didn’t seem quite right. Something about the way it moved seemed off. It seemed to be climbing the building like some fast growing vine, exploring, searching. Across Bohner Street (of course, the Cox Building was on Bohner Street) the fog looked as if it were sending out tiny tendrils to explore and try and find some opening to exploit. It was more than creepy. Neil checked his window to make sure it was shut tight and locked without even thinking of it. He felt a chill despite the fact that it was already getting warm outside. Too warm for fog, he thought. Well, it will burn off soon.

He turned back to the enormous TV and began flipping through channels to see if there were any late breaking weather reports. Or accidents, he thought without knowing why. There weren’t and when he turned back to the window, it was all but gone. Just a few fine wisps lingering down along the edges of the old brick buildings that lined Bohner Street. His thoughts of ‘odd’ and ‘where had it gone?” were quickly displaced by a “Shit, I’m late.” He grabbed his compulsory polyester jacket and car keys. He glanced around the room for anything he might be forgetting, and with a crazy pirouette, he headed out the door to face the day.

It was early but warm and sunny. He decided to walk the three blocks or so to the office, but remembering he was running late, took the car instead. After getting in, getting out, and finding a parking space, it probably wasn’t any faster than running. He could always drive home at lunch, then walk back, stopping to grab a bite at the cafe next door. He noticed, as he pulled away from the curb, there was still some of that crazy blue fog lingering along the gutter. It was receding, almost as if some giant unseen vacuum was sucking it up. He had never seen fog “burn off” like that.

He made a left onto Main Street and headed toward the office. It was on his right, on the corner of Main and Walnut. There was a public parking area behind the office. It had once been the site of a meat packing company, back around the turn of the century. The last turn, that was. It had had many reincarnations since then, including a flea market, a doctor’s office, and for one week, a discotheque. Now it was gone and in its place, a parking lot.

Every morning he made the right on Walnut and parked in the village’s little lot. He would then cut up the alley that separated his office building from the one next door that housed the café he usually ate at. This morning he considered parking in front. One of his father’s cardinal rules was to never park in front. Those spaces were for the customers. His father wouldn’t be in today. Since he had recently joined the “semi-retired” he only made appearances on Tuesday and half days on Thursday and Fridays. And of course, whenever he damn well felt like it, he would remind his employees. Still, Neal gave it careful consideration before taking the space closest to the intersection. A day like today, Neal decide, he would most definitely be on the golf course. He again thought of the strange blue fog and wondered if it had reached all the way out to Raccoon Run Golf Course. He imagined his father wearing outlandish plaid pants stomping around the parking lot and waiting for the heavy fog to dissipate.

He hadn’t noticed, until after he had parked and got out of the car, that the town seemed almost deserted. It wasn’t a thriving metropolis by any stretch of the imagination, but there was usually more business on a Wednesday morning than this. A few years back, the town fathers or village elders or high muckety-mucks, had called a meeting to discuss the future of Kermit. Ever since the Army Corps of Engineers had dug a lake for no practical purpose back in the 70’s, the town had been cut off from the interstate. Cut off from civilization. Cut off from progress and quickly becoming the Town That Time Forgot. So they had reinvented Kermit as an antiquing mecca and arts and crafts paradise. It wasn’t any of those things, but the main street was now full of little shops that were normally livelier than this morning would indicate. Neal regarded the lack of cars and people as no more than a curiosity not worthy of a second thought.

 He walked toward the door proclaiming Dougherty Insurance Agency in a preposterous old-timey script, twirling his keys around his finger. He locked his car doors with the key fob, pausing momentarily for the tell-tale beep, then continued on to unlock the office door. He again paused with the door open wide. Something wasn’t right. There was a definite odor about the office that shouldn’t be there. Some old buildings have their own particular musty smells but this was the smell of decay and rot. Maybe a rat, he thought. The building was old and occasionally some critter would crawl into its nooks and crannies and breathe its last. He would have to call Pete, the weird pest control guy.

He propped the door open to air it out some, using a little wooden wedge for a doorstop, and clicked on the lights. The fluorescent bulbs protested momentarily then finally lit up the small office. Four desks were crammed in there with Neal’s dad’s office in the back, behind the door marked Private. There were two agents besides himself and the desk closest to the door belonged to Magdalena Bukowski, the secretary cum receptionist cum mother hen. Her husband Albert was chief of police in Kermit and the primary reason that his long ago DUI had gone away.

The other two desks belonged to Englebert Linden and Richard Foss. Linden was a scarecrow of a man. He only worked part time as he was currently in his seventh summer of college pursuing an ever elusive two-year degree. Richard Foss was Neal’s brother-in-law and de facto boss when Donal Dougherty was out of the office enjoying his semi-retirement. Linden was all right, Neal supposed, but Richard was a giant pain in the ass.

Neal’s sister, Emily, was a slightly prettier version of Olive Oyl and Dick Floss, as he was known in high school, was the only boy who had ever asked her out. They were both three years older and had got married three weeks after graduation. Had to get married. Olive Oyl was gaining weight and Bluto was the proud papa.

Back then Richard was known as that big dumb Foss kid and his potential earnings were meager at best. So rather than see his homely daughter impoverished, Donal Dougherty stepped in and gave Richard a job. A career, it would seem. By means of seniority and more mouths to feed, Richard had been promoted to vice-president. Donal had wanted that for his only son, but Neal had fought him for years and had only come into the fold recently. Donal secretly wished his son-in-law would have that inevitable heart attack and with the help of a boob job maybe his daughter could remarry back into the human race.

Because he lived closest, and more importantly, because his father had ordained it, Neal was the first one in. He opened up, turned on the lights and adjusted the thermostat. He would make coffee, check the copier for paper and ink, and empty the trash if forgot from the previous day. Maggie would be in next and immediately go to work. She was cheerful and had the kind of pleasant face only chubby girls ever had, not quite pretty but not wholly unattractive. Englebert would drag in or not, depending on his schedule. He would flop into his chair and moan about the disadvantages this world had heaped upon him. He would threaten that one day when he had obtained his degree from Southwestern State Community College, things would be different. Then it would be Richard. Dick Floss. He would be eating a banana, or an orange, or a muffin and looking like some great ape. The day would drag on with mind-numbing monotony and end with Neal at home, collapsing on the couch, turning on his big TV, and ruminating about his oh so dull and humdrum existence.

Right on time, Maggie Bukowski came bustling into the office prattling on a mile a minute in her inimitably cheerful manner. She smiled and waved the best she could with one arm holding a bundle of files and the other snaked through the straps of the largest purse Neal had ever seen. Maggie was a woman from a bygone age, a modern incarnation of Donna Reed. She always wore a dress and makeup and her hair was always styled, thanks to Wanda of Wanda’s Hair-do Shoppe. Her husband Al was a lump of a man and considered himself most fortunate for having landed such a beauty. They were truly happily married. Once in a while life does work out, Neal told himself. At least for other people.

She dropped the stack of files on the desk and a flurry of loose papers flew about. She then set her purse in her seat and began rummaging about in the depths of that gunny sack of a purse. “I wonder where everybody’s got to?” she said into the bag. “I took MacArthur in this morning and crossed Apple, Plum, and Cherry Streets because I hate that new light at Main and Oak and I didn’t see a soul the whole way. As a matter of fact, I only passed one car all the way in from Lakeview Acres. Must have been some lunatic, they were honking their horn and flashing their lights like crazy.

“Yes,” Neal agreed. “It certainly is a quiet morning.”

“Must be that fog this morning. Strangest thing I ever saw.” She pulled out a pair white sneakers from the bottomless bag. Neal always marveled at the endless assortment of things she would produce from that giant handbag over the course of a day. She sat down and began to exchange the sneakers for high heels she currently had strapped to her oddly small feet. Neal wondered silently how she managed to balance her girth on those tiny things. He also wondered if the heels of her dress shoes left tiny little divots when she walked.

“Yep.” Neal nodded still thinking mostly about her feet. ”I’ve never seen fog like that before, I don’t think.”

Maggie looked at him curiously. “It was foggy all the way up here in town?”

Neal continued nodding. “Yep. Real thick too. And blue or at least blue-gray. Came all the way up to my second story window.”

“That’s weird.” She pulled an egg sandwich from the bag and began to nibble thoughtfully. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen fog in town before. Out by the lake where me and Al live, sure. All the time. Never all the way up here in Kermit though. And it was kinda blue wasn’t it”

All of a sudden, Englebert Linden fell into the office, by way of careening off of the open door. He hit the floor like a bunch of sticks, skinny arms and legs flailing. He tried to get to his feet but slipped on the papers that had fallen from Maggie’s stack and fell back on his butt. He then quickly scrambled across the floor on all fours like a crab. He pulled his chair out from his desk and took its place, pulling his knees up to his ears.

“Hey there, Bert. Everything all right this morning?” Neal asked looking at Maggie who just shrugged and ate her egg sandwich.

“No,” he shrieked in a voice way too high for even him. “They’re coming. Hide you fools.”

Neal fought back a laugh and asked, “Who or what are you hiding from, Bert?”

“Zombies,” he screeched an octave higher.

Neal laughed a big braying “Hah” and Maggie snorted and chewed egg and bread sprayed all over her desk. “Zombies?” they asked in unison, Neal bending over to look at Englebert and Maggie rummaging around in her bag for a napkin.

“Fucking zombies,” the man under the desk insisted. “Lock the doors and hide you idiots, before it’s too late.”

“C’mon, Bert,” Neal coaxed. “Get out from under the desk and let’s get you sorted out. Want some coffee?”

“Fuck you and fuck your coffee.”

Neal was losing his patience now. Englebert wasn’t the kind of guy to pull a practical joke, not of this sort. He would have never guessed him to be the kind to have a nervous breakdown, but what else could it be? He bent lower and offered the frightened man a helping hand when the sound of breaking glass turned him around. Maggie screamed and fell backward out of her chair, her tiny feet pointing straight up. Englebert screamed at that, not even knowing what was happening. Neal would have screamed if his brain would have accepted what his eyes said was here.

Picking himself up from the floor was Mohandas Vemulakonda, the proprietor of The Flying Carpet Café next door. As he stood, bits of broken glass from the shattered office door dropped to the carpet. His turban sat askew and there were some small cuts on his face. But it was eyes that had stopped Neal cold. They were white, milky white, and they seemed to be leaking. There was fluid running down his cheeks, into his beard. His mouth was opened and spittle was flying with each of his heavy breaths.

“Mr. Vemulakonda? Are you OK?” Neal asked gently, knowing things were most definitely not. “Mohandas, are you feeling all right?”

As if to answer, the Indian café owner snarled or screamed or growled. Neal didn’t know which, but he did know Mr. Vemulakonda had never made that noise before. “He’s a zombie,” Englebert began to shout. “Kill him before he gets us. Kill him.”

“I’m not killing anybody,” Neal shouted in return. In the back of his mind, he was wondering how he would even go about such a thing. Mr. Vemulakonda was not a large man but he was just an insurance agent for Christ sakes. ”He’s just sick.” Very fucking sick, he thought. 

Before anyone could do anything, Richard appeared in the doorway. Dick Floss to save the day. “What the fuck happened to the door?” he demanded. Then looking at Vemulakonda, who had turned to face the new arrival, “You fucking towelhead, If you broke my…”

He never finished that or any other sentence. Vemulakonda had snatched him by the head and drove him back outside onto the sidewalk. Foss weighed two hundred and fifty pounds naked on his bathroom scales, but the man who ran the café with his younger brother had thrown him down like he was a child. Now straddling him on the sidewalk he began to beat his head against the concrete planter that housed a pear tree. When the town fathers had reinvented Kermit, they had decided to adorn Main Street with concrete planters holding fruit trees that in turn held twinkling lights during the Christmas season. The last thing Richard Foss seen was that pear tree. Blood splattered and flowed freely from his head. With each blow against the planter, Neal could hear the bone break and splinter. Richard’s legs shook spasmodically. Then he lay still.

Mr. Mohandas Vemulakonda had been demoted from a ‘him’ to an ‘it’ as the shrieking man under the desk screamed: “Kill it, kill it.” The cry was then taking up by Maggie, peering over her desktop. Neal looked around wildly for some weapon. “How? With what?” he was screaming back. Neal now felt that he had a moral and possibly legal obligation to stop the man that sold him his tuna melts and BLTs, but how?

“You have to shoot them in the head,” Linden was informing him even as he tried to get further under the desk. “Shoot them in the head,” echoed Maggie even though she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t up on current practices regarding the killing of zombies.

“With what, a staple gun?” asked Neal now starting to feel panicky. He knew his father used to keep a gun in the office. Donal Dougherty had always been a hunter, but he had begun collecting pistols when Neal was still little. Now that conceal and carry permits were allowed, he had been among the first in the county to obtain one. Neal knew it would be locked up if there was even one here and the keys were in the now limp body of his brother-in-law. The thing that had been Mohandas Vemulakonda, apparently satisfied now that Richard’s head was crushed like a melon, rose to his feet to face Neal.

“Fuck me sideways,” Neal said throwing aside the staple gun that he had subconsciously picked up. He began to grab random objects, consider their value in a life and death situation, and then discard them when they didn’t measure up. He was quickly finding that office supplies were woefully lacking in their lethal capabilities. Then he remembered the bat.

Richard kept a baseball bat and several old gloves beside his desk. He played softball on the weekends with a few other high school jocks desperate to reclaim their former glory. He rolled over Richard’s desk and began to look furiously for the bat. It had fallen down and rolled under the desk. While he was reaching for it, he saw Vemulakonda watching him. He wasn’t moving other than his chest heaving up and down as he breathed laboriously. His eyes were slowly clearing of their milky film and slobber was running freely down his blood splattered chin.

“Mr. Vemulakonda can you hear me?” he pleaded. The crazed man began slowly walking towards him. “Don’t come any closer,” Neal warned.

“Kill it,” demanded Linden from under his desk. “Hit that fucker,” screamed Maggie from as far under her own desk as her bulk would allow.

Neal closed his eyes and swung. The bat connected with nothing but air and he spun completely around. Vemulakonda growled and snapped his jaws at him. From behind the desk, Neal was too far away. He could wait for his target to come nearer or… Suddenly Vemulakonda turned towards Linden cowering under his desk.

The blood soaked café owner sniffed the air in an eerily animal-like manner and snapped his jaws as if tasting something in the air. “Get out of there,” he yelled at Englebert, knowing that it was a hopeless thought. Englebert Linden had already urinated all over his cheap suit and was prepared to do even more in the way of relieving himself of this morning’s stress.

Neal knew it was up to him to stop this madman. When his back was completely turned to him, Neal slowly climbed up on the desk. His slick dress shoes slipped a little on the papers strewn across the late Dick Floss’ desk. Neal wasn’t sure what his next move would be even as he executed it. Gripping the bat with both hands, he swung it overhead at Vemulakonda’s still crooked turban. Not taking into consideration the added height from standing on the desk, Neal swung the bat into the acoustic ceiling.

Vemulakonda turned back to face him, adding a snarl and two more jaw snaps for emphasis. Neal frantically pulled at the bat, trying to free it from the ceiling. The thing, or whatever he had become, made a grab for Neal’s legs. He jumped back off the desk and landed in the office chair. It practically shot out from under him. Neal pitched forward onto the desk, still clutching the bat, which came free of the ceiling tiles and landed with a sickening whack on the turban. The Indian, caught in mid growl, promptly bit his tongue off.

The breath knocked out of him, Neal rolled off the desk and found himself face to face with Vemulakonda. He was sitting beside Linden’s desk, legs splayed out and his hands in his lap. His head was on his chest. He could have been taking a nap, but the blood soaked turban, and the severed tongue, said differently. Under the force of the bat, his head broke open like an egg and blood now covered his white eyes and foaming mouth and formed little rivulets down his white dress shirt.

With the threat now gone, Maggie got to her tiny feet. “Is he dead?” she asked. “As a doornail,” Neal replied. Linden crawled away from his desk. The carpet under his desk had been soaked in piss and now blood was added to the mix. Neal poked at the dead man with the tip of the bat. “What the fuck was that all about?’ he asked no one in particular.

Linden noticed the broken door and scurried back to the door that said Private. “There’s more outside. They’ll get in here now.” He was pointing to the twisted metal and broken glass that had been the office entrance. “They are all zombies and they’ll get in here now. Nothing is going to stop them.”

“Calm down, Bert. There was just Mohandas. There’s nobody else and he’s dead now.” That thought suddenly made him ill. He had killed him. Mohandas may have stopped Richard from having that heart attack that the elder Dougherty dreamt of, but he had stopped Mohandas. There was blood on his hands now, too.

Someone had once said that all the world was a stage, and as if given his cue, Mohandas’ brother Sanjeet now entered stage left. There was no milkiness in his eyes, they were just two black marbles. He was snapping and snarling worse than his big brother. His clothes were covered in blood that Neal knew was someone else’s. “For fuck’s sake,” he sighed. “Sanjeet, fuck off. Get the fuck out of here or I swear to God I will fuck your shit up.”

Sanjeet snarled and rushed towards him, arms outstretched and hands twisted into claws. Neal swung the bloody bat. He swung the bat the way Coach Griffith had taught him back in little league. He swung level, snapping his wrists. He swung from the hips, turning, following through. It would have been a home run if it had not been a head. Sanjeet flew sideways across the room and into the wall. He crumpled into a heap, the left side of his face caved in.

Neal sat down on the edge of Maggie’s desk. She had pressed herself against the wall and he was sure she was trying to suck her belly in to make the smallest target possible. Englebert, propped up against Donal Dougherty’s private office door, was crying softly and wiping the snot from his nose with a sleeve of his piss soaked suit. Neal was going to be sick. He was sick. He vomited a little in his mouth and spit into the wastebasket at his feet. His head was spinning and a major headache was coming. He massaged his temples with one hand while the other kept a firm grip on the bat. His hands were shaking but Neal never noticed as he sat and stared at the dead man in front of him.

“I don’t know what the Hell is going on around here but I think we got to get out of here.” Neal’s voice was thin but steady. He took a breath to try and regain some composure. “I think we should go down to the police station and make a report. Let them figure this shit out.”

“A report,” Linden giggled to himself. It did sound ludicrous Neal admitted to himself. What the Hell else was there to do?

“There’s no answer,” Maggie squeaked. “I’ve tried calling Al, but there’s no answer.” She was beyond worried. Al had never not returned a phone call. They were soul mates for Heaven’s sake. Whatever would she do without him?

“Is it a recording or what?” Neal asked. He was trying to focus but the craziness had made it difficult.

“No. There’s nothing. No service.” Maggie was on the verge of hysterics. Neal could sense it. “Al’s not answering. I can’t get hold of Al.” Maggie sobbed a little. “Oh, Al.”

“They’re all dead. Zombies got them.” Englebert Linden shrugged and laughed. “Zombies got them all. We’re all gonna die.” His face brightened momentarily. “We’ll all be zombies.” Then it darkened again. “Fucking zombies.”

“Shut the fuck up, Bert,” Neal warned. “There’s no such thing as zombies. They’re just…sick.” Sick didn’t quite seem to cover what he had seen but zombies?

“Yep,” Linden nodded wildly, “Just ate some bad kuzhambu. Mohandas just ate some bad potato curry.” He giggled to himself. “Got the zombie trots.” He laughed loudly at that. Neal knew he was in shock. Lord knows what he had seen before he came screaming into the office. Maggie was worried about her husband Al, and frankly, so was he. This just could not be happening. Not on a Wednesday. Not in Kermit. He was just an insurance agent for Christ sakes. Not some kind of zombie killer. They aren’t any zombies he told himself. They were sick. Poisoned maybe.

“Well, come on now guys,” Neal said standing up. “We can’t stay here. We need to go and find help. Try next door or…” he remembered the blood already soaked into Sanjeet’s clothes when he burst into the room. Probably no one left alive in The Flying Carpet Café. “At least we can make it down to the police station. It’s only five blocks or so.”

“A walk in the park.” It was Englebert Linden. He was standing now, adjusting his tie and smoothing down his piss soaked pants. “I’m ready,” he said with a sigh and buttoned up his sports jacket that had Mohandas’ blood dotting its left sleeve. He licked his thumb and made a faint attempt to rub out a blood speck. “Out, damned spot,” he said in his best Shakespearian voice. Then looking down at Mohandas, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Who knew Bert to be such a theater aficionado? Poor fucker’s gone off the deep end. His cheese has definitely slid off the old cracker. “Damn, I wish I had a gun,” Neal said more to himself than his officemates. I might shoot Olivier there, he thought.

“Oh dear,” Maggie cried in a little voice. “I completely forgot. I have one. Al insisted.”

“You have one what?” Neal asked, his voice suddenly rising. “A gun? Goddammit, Maggie.”

“I know. I know. I’m so sorry,” she lamented. “I never touch the thing. It just lays here in the bottom of my purse.” She began fumbling around in the behemoth of a bag, muttering to herself. “Oh for Heaven’s sake, where did I put that gun?”

“Voila,” she cried holding up something.

Neal stepped closer to her to get a look. In her hand was the smallest gun he had ever seen. And it was pink. Fucking vagina pink. “What’s that?” Neal asked incredulously. “It’s fucking pink.”

“It’s a girl’s gun,” Maggie protested. “I think it’s cute.”

Neal took the pistol from her and checked the magazine. It was a .380 and held six shots. “Do you have any more bullets?” he asked hopefully but she shook her head no.

“You have to shoot them in the head,” reminded Linden.

“I fucking hope not,” said Neal. He was doubtful of that. They weren’t zombies. Zombies weren’t real. Then he remembered the gun that was probably in his dad’s safe, locked behind the door marked private. He glanced at Richard’s lifeless body and shivered. He would have to fish in his pockets for the keys.

The whole front of the office was glass, so peeking out of the door seemed senseless. He peeked out anyway. There was nothing on this side but across the street, there were several people hanging out in front of Gerhardsson’s Hardware. He hoped it wasn’t the big Swede Alvar Gerhardsson. He would need more than a pink pocket pistol for that huge fucker. One of them actually looked like his sixth-grade science teacher and little league coach, Vaughn Griffith, and he fought the urge to tell him about Sanjeet or ask him if he knew what was going on. Sixth-grade science probably didn’t cover today’s events. He didn’t know if those people were sick like the brothers, dead on the office floor, but his instincts told them they were.

He crawled out to Richard’s body, fighting the urge to vomit again. Before he died he managed to evacuate his bowels rather effectively. The keys were in his front pocket, next to a wet spot that was not blood. He fished them out with two fingers. Before he could back up into the office, his meager breakfast finally shot up and onto Richard’s already reeking body. He darted back inside, not stopping until he reached his dad’s office door.

It took several tries and some minor swearing but he finally unlocked the door. Neal knew his father kept a gun in the safe behind his desk. What else was in there, he didn’t know for sure, and it felt almost wrong to be opening it without his father’s permission. The combination was his mother’s birthday. He opened it and stood there staring at the contents. The gun lay on top of a small box. It certainly wasn’t what he thought it would be.

Staring at it in disbelief, he shuffled through the contents of the safe again. That was the only gun to be found. If you could call it a gun. Technically, of course, it was a gun. This was the smallest gun he had ever seen. It was a .45 two shot derringer called the Rustic Ranger. It said so on the little box it had obviously came in. And two shots was all there was, no other ammo in the box or the safe. “Kiss my ass,” he said, drawing each word out. He shoved the small piece of armament into his front left pants pocket with a sigh. Facing the Zombie Apocalypse with the Rustic Ranger or How I Saved the World Two Bullets at a Time.

Sudden shouting from Englebert and Magdalena, their names together sounded like an expensive perfume, brought him running to the front. Strange, the thoughts that run through your head when facing your own mortality. They were visibly upset and with good reason. Apparently, the town had woken up and there was fast becoming some nightmarish Mardi Gras parade on Kermit’s main drag.

“C’mon, we have to get out of here.” It was too late to make it to the trusty Tercel. An obese man with watery white eyes was standing next to the driver’s door, sniffing the air like some stray dog. Neal couldn’t remember his name but he knew he had had an appointment with him this morning. “My car is out so where are you guys parked?” He felt a little sad at the commission he had lost now that the fat man wasn’t in need of any insurance. This kind of shit is what kills the insurance business.

Englebert had walked and Maggie was parked in back. Going to the right and down Walnut to the parking lot was out of the question. They were going to have to try the narrow alley between the insurance agency and the Flying Carpet. One crazy person there would severely hinder their escape. The alley may have been wide enough for a sub-compact car, but the Vemulakonda brothers always had garbage cans tossed around haphazardly halfway down the alley. The street in front of the office was rapidly filling up with people. Some were snarling and fighting among themselves. None seemed to be running away.

They understood that there was no turning back. When they made the break for the alley, nothing could stop them. If they encountered anything in the narrow passage, they would have to run over it or through it. Maggie said a prayer and wished desperately that Al would miraculously appear. Englebert tried one more time to call out on his cell. Then it was time to run. Time to run like Hell. And run they did, tiny feet, pissy pants, and all.

Out the door and into the alley, they ran single file. Neal was in the front holding the little pink .380 out in front of him, hoping to not have to pull its trigger. The alley was clear, even the garbage cans were stacked neatly out of the way. They didn’t stop until they reached the end, and that was only long enough to get their bearings. “Where’s your car?” asked Neal and she pointed out a yellow Fiat 500. Neal knew her five foot three height wasn’t a problem, but her one hundred and seventy pounds had to be a tight squeeze. He was not sure that the three of them could get into the car quickly enough to escape notice by any wandering crazies.

Luckily, the lot and adjacent street were empty of people and only a handful of cars were sitting in the parking area. They ran towards the car the same way they had run down the alley. When Neal reached the driver’s door he tried to open it but it was locked. Maggie was desperately pressing her key fob to unlock the door but out of sync, she only pressed when Neal was pulling on the handle. He snatched the keys from her hand as soon as she was close enough. She was out of breath and clutching her chest. He had just opened the door when a woman, hidden behind a minivan parked next to the Fiat, tackled Englebert like a pro lineman. They struggled momentarily, but he broke free and in a panic, ran the wrong way. Despite Neal’s cries for him to come back, he ran into the street where she caught up with him. There wasn’t any chance of Neal shooting her from that distance with that gun. Englebert managed to shove her away only seconds before a speeding pickup slammed into both of them. The frightened man never even saw the polished grill gleaming in the morning sun. He was struck with enough force to knock him thirty feet and into a white picket fence. He was knocked out of the cheap dress shoes he wore and the life was knocked out of him. The flimsy white boards of a DIY picket fence had splintered under him and pierced his body in a dozen places His attacker, wearing a very short red dress, torn stockings, and barefoot, was shoved brutally into the asphalt. The big oversized tires crushed her bones and then tore the flesh from them in tiny patches. She lay there, a bloody heap of raw meat with the short red dress that was getting redder.

Maggie screamed and covered her eyes and Neal just stood there gaping. The truck sped down the street a few more blocks before veering sharply and running into the corner of a small frame house. It smoked for a minute, then a small engine fire broke out. No explosion like in the movies. No one got out of the truck. No one ran from the house. Neal shoved Maggie into the car still staring at the gruesome scene, still not believing what he had just seen.

Crammed into the tiny car, Maggie cried softly into the passenger window. Her breath fogged up the glass, and long strands of snot dripped onto the arm rest. She was mumbling something about death and God. Neal’s hands were shaking so bad he was barely able to start the car. He kept grinding the gears and cursing to himself. Maggie hardly noticed the sound of metal on metal or the violent jerking as the clutch was released. Neal once again found himself fighting the urge to cry. His chest was tight and his eyes had begun to well up a little. He wiped his eyes and forced the little yellow Fiat onto the sidewalk to avoid hitting Marta Houtman, the librarian. She had apparently jumped or fallen out of the second-story window of the library and now stood shakily on two skinny white old lady legs. He noticed one was bleeding profusely from a compound fracture. Her long old maid dress, the only type she ever wore, had unceremoniously blown over her head in the fall. Her granny panties had hearts on them. He wondered if they had been a gift, and if, from whom? She snapped at him like a mad dog as he flew by, missing her by inches. For a second, he considered backing over her before she could do whatever damage a ninety-pound septuagenarian zombie librarian with a broken leg could do.

Neal headed to the police station because that is what he thought he should do. He wanted to drive out of town, straight to his parents rambling brick ranch a few miles out. They had a house in the exclusive Oak Crest subdivision. They would be fine out there. Nothing like this could be happening out there. Those houses went for upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars. Nothing like this insanity could possibly go on out there. Never, he told himself. Not in a million years.

The yellow Fiat slid to a stop in the middle of the police station’s front parking lot. Neal didn’t bother to find a parking space. The lot was empty. No sign of either of the town’s two cruisers or their chief of police. They could be in the rear parking lot, but Neal doubted it. He felt completely alone. “Where’s Al,” Maggie sounded scared. “Al’s not here yet? Oh, thank God. He’s still at home. He’s not here yet.” They both knew that Al wasn’t the kind of guy to stay home regardless of the situation.

The police station was empty on the inside as well. Kermit had two full-time officers as well as the chief plus two volunteers that helped out on holidays and weekends. Petra Houtman was the volunteer dispatcher and the sister of the recently crippled librarian. A shawl was hanging on the dispatcher’s chair and a still steaming cup of coffee was beside the microphone. The speaker squawked static and Maggie insisted it was Al. The coffee cup had a picture of a cat on it. Neal was inexplicably drawn to that still hot cup of Joe when an icy chill ran up his spine.

He turned to face that maliciousness he knew was standing behind him. His heart sank. It couldn’t have been a sane Al or even an insane Aram Barsamian, the seventy-year-old weekend patrolman. No, it was Dorian Sartre, all six foot five of him. Zombification had barely dulled his Hollywood good looks. Dorian was tall and athletic, with raven black hair and dark brooding eyes. He gave local women orgasms along with speeding tickets. His bleached and capped teeth seemed extra menacing as he snarled at Neal. His dark deep-set eyes were rimmed with red and wide with rage. He was twice the man that Neal was in almost every aspect. Now that he had gone all Walking Dead, Neal figured he would just rip him apart. “This sucks,” he said out loud to himself.

He started to yell for Maggie to run but he caught a glimpse of her ample bulk flying down the hall on those tiny feet. Dorian came at him, not like a slow moving television zombie, but more like a pissed off Grizzly bear. Neal reached behind him for the pink .380 he could feel in his waistband. It was not there. Impossible. His hand searched feverishly as he kept his eyes on the quickly approaching officer. The gun was not there. But he felt it. Then he had the sickening realization that it had slipped down. He stumbled away from the attacking policeman as he felt the cold steel of the gun sliding down his pant leg.

The gun fell out and skittered across the floor just as Dorian closed in on him. What used to be a policeman snatched Neal by the throat and drove him backward. He slammed hard into the wall. Neal tried to hold him off but it was impossible. He crushed up against Neal. The larger, more powerful man was choking the life out of him. Neal clawed at the hands around his neck but the fingers just dug in deeper. His mouth hung open but no air could be drawn into his lungs. His vision was fading and his head pounding. The blood, as well as the oxygen, was cut off. His windpipe would collapse any minute he thought. His neck would snap like a dry twig in this monster’s hands. Dorian’s face was so close, almost nose to nose with Neal. He couldn’t look into that face twisted with rage, those eyes filled with hate. He had to turn his head. He could feel the heat of Dorian’s breath on his neck, hear it in his ear. His rabid dog like slobber splattered Neal’s face with each of his snarls. God, he could smell him, sweat and Axe body spray and something else horrible, something almost evil. Neal closed his eyes and waited for him to sink those incredibly white teeth into his cheek. He had been fumbling in his left pocket, desperately trying to free the little gun. His right hand still feebly trying to peel Dorian’s fingers away from his soft flesh. It wouldn’t be long now. His legs were too weak to support him but he still stayed pinned to the wall by the other man’s incredible strength. He wished he could scream. Suddenly, one deafening shot and a spray of hot blood.

Neal collapsed. He hadn’t enough strength to lift his head. He sucked air in short painful gasps. He wasn’t dead, he was in way too much pain to be dead. After an eternity laying on the cool police station floor, he opened his eyes. Dorian was looking back at him from cold dead orbs no longer burning with hate. His head lay in an expanding pool of dark blood that threatened to engulf Neal’s own. The smell of gunpowder was strong. The ringing in his ears blocking out all other sound. The top of Dorian’s head was gone. It had been evenly dispersed about the room. The Rustic Ranger was still clenched tightly in Neal’s hand.

“Hello?” somebody asked in a thick accent. “Are you alright?”

Neal did not answer. Neal did not know the answer. His neck was sore and his head throbbed in time to his racing heart. He was not dead, but was he alright? He was being dragged away from the dead man and the creeping maroon puddle. Neal tried to speak but it hurt too much. I might never speak again, he thought. I just want to lay on this nice cool police station floor. Please quit dragging me.

As if commanded, the thick accent promptly dropped Neal’s leg that he had been dragging him by. Ouch, Neal thought. He was now spread eagle on the floor, some little distance from the one-time policeman. “Are you OK?” asked the thick accent. It was a French accent. But not like his high school French teacher’s. This one was thicker.

“Pardon? Es-tu bien? Are you OK? Maybe some water?” It was the thick accent again.

Neal’s head began to clear and he sat up. “Water? Yes, thank you.”

There were now three other people in the room, four if you included the former Officer Sartre. “Wasn’t Sartre a French name too?” Neal thought to himself. Neal took the glass offered him from a heavyset man in some sort of uniform. He was the owner of the French accent. Next to him was an attractive woman in a lab coat. Her hair was mussed and she wore no makeup. Expensive looking eyeglasses were her only adornment. She looked confused. Behind her was Maggie, crying tears of joy and relief and clutching tightly to her husband Al.

“I am Gautier,” said the man helping Neal to his feet. Then with a slight bow and a sweep of his arm he added, “May I introduce Dr. Sybille Deforest?” It was a very European gesture Neal thought, but somehow seemed appropriate for the elegant although disheveled lady.

Neal simply nodded, fighting the urge to bow like the man had done. “Howdy,” Neal said and inwardly cringed. He had never said howdy in his life. Now, in front of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in Kermit, he had said howdy. She would never sleep with him now, he thought.

“Bonjour,” she replied and held out her hand. Neal reciprocated, then noticing the blood on his right palm, quickly offered her his left. The little derringer was still firmly gripped in his extended hand and the lady jumped a bit at the sight of it. “Sorry,” he said and shoved it back into his pocket. She smiled and nodded, but took a step back from him anyway, just to be safe. Fuck a duck, he thought to himself. She’ll never ever sleep with me now. He was surprised at his juvenile thoughts. It seems the mind wanders a bit after you’ve been on a killing spree. How many was that now, three or four?

“Where did you guys come from? Does anyone know what the Hell is happening around here? Where the fuck are the cops, Al?” Neal’s questions came out in such a flurry that both Gautier and Al held up their hands to quiet him.

“Well, you shot the only one on duty this morning,” he nodded toward the dead policeman. He put his hand up again at Neal’s attempt to explain. “I’d have liked to have shot that prick myself.” He glanced over to Maggie and added, “I had to shoot the neighbors this morning.”

“Oh dear, the neighbors? Oh, poor Edith and Ed.” Maggie sounded as if she were about to cry.

“Oh Hell no. The Wexlers are OK. I told them to lock themselves in. I meant the De Campos, Tony and Yvonne. They just kept chasing me around the Buick. Both of them and their damn schnauzer.” Al shook his head then held out his enormous revolver to demonstrate. “I told them to go back inside or I was gonna have to shoot ‘em. Well dammit Maggie, they just wouldn’t listen. Growling and snapping at me, just like that damn dog.”

“Frisbee,” Maggie said weakly. “Little Frisbee.”

“Yeah, well they wouldn’t listen. So, I, well you know.” Al pretended to fire two shots with his gun.

“Did you kill them?” Maggie asked.

“Nah. I didn’t know no better then. I just shot Tony in the foot and Yvonne right in her fat ass. When they fell down I jumped in the Buick and flew down here to the station.” He holstered his gun then added, “I killed the dog, though.”

“Was it affected, too?” asked Neal.

“No, not really. Fucker just keeps shitting on my lawn.”

We came here to the police this morning for help. There was an accident…” Gautier started an explanation that Dr. Deforest obviously disagreed with. “Ha,” she said derisively. Neal imagined that only French women could say ‘Ha’ like that. She rolled her big brown eyes and mumbled in French. He spoke rather sharply to her in French. She became quite animated and looked directly at Neal and said, “Enfant de brouillard. That is what has happened here. Can’t you see? Don’t you understand?” Her voice was quivering as she spoke. She threw her hands up in the air as an act of desperation.

“Doctor, please.” Gautier was obviously distressed about what was happening but also seemed curiously angry towards the doctor. He turned back toward Neal and continued. “We are both with the laboratory just outside of town. The Orlov-LeClair research facility.”

“Laboratory?” Neal asked. He was aware of the purchase of the old storage facility by what he thought was a French cosmetics company.

“Yes, it’s a laboratory. We were working on a chemical spray for the control of animal populations.” At this, he looked sternly at Dr. Deforest then added, “You know, for the deer and the lapin and the ecureuil.”

“The what?” asked Maggie, suddenly interested in the conversation. Neal had taken a year of high school French and understood that lapin meant rabbit.

Gautier fumbled for an English translation, but when he glanced at Dr. DeForest for help she again became very excited, talking too fast for Neal to make out anything but ‘enfant de brouillard’. Again Gautier shushed her, this time turning back to Neal and making the universal sign for crazy by twirling his finger around his temple. She saw and became indignant, ranting furiously in French with the addition of the English words “asshole” and “bastard”. They argued among themselves in French for a moment then she pushed Gautier away and rushed to Neal, grabbing his shirt and pleading, “Enfant de brouillard. You must stop it. It will kill everyone.”

Neal tried to pull her away but her grip was too tight. His shirt popped open, buttons shooting everywhere. He understood her broken English easy enough, but the stuff about scrambled babies was a bit hard to grasp. It may have been confused babies, he wasn’t sure. He now wished he hadn’t smoked so much weed before Mrs. What-the-fucks class in tenth grade. The beautiful French scientist was not easily dissuaded and again rushed at Neal, pleading in her heavy French accent. “It is the fog. Some it kill some it make like crazy in the head. It chooses. It make se enfant de…” a crackling of electricity finished her sentence for her and she toppled limp into Neal’s arms. He wished he would have caught her but it was so sudden that he stood like a statue while she fell heavily to the floor. Chief of Police Al Bukowski was standing over her holding a Taser.

“I am so sorry about that,” Al said. “I thought she was attacking you.”

Then Gautier piped up, “Poor thing. She has become quite unhinged these past few hours. This is all so traumatic.” He didn’t look sorry. “If you will help me put her in an office, then we can wait here for help to arrive.”

“Help? So someone is coming?” Neal asked enthusiastically.

“Of course. It is protocol.” Al looked like someone who had said too much. Al never used words like protocol.

“Protocol?” Neal asked just to be sure he had heard him correctly.

“Oh yes. Whenever there is an emergency the sheriff department is notified and maybe even the National Guard unit over in Grimsby.” It was Maggie. She was just making the assumption that her husband had all well in hand. Both Gautier and Al looked relieved at this explanation. Like they were off the hook.

Neal wasn’t sure what to do. The other two men had taken on a sinister demeanor and the gorgeous lady doctor had been electrocuted. Shocked unconscious at least. Al held a great advantage in his hand and his own pink defense was still lying on the floor. It occurred to him that he was not the hero type at all, and it made him a little sad and more than a little self-conscious.

He bent down to help Gautier with the unconscious woman when two of the local crazies burst through the door. One was waving what appeared to be a chair leg. He was covered in blood. The other one had a fork sticking out of his forehead and was wearing only one shoe. They both seemed to have had their fair share of violent encounters this morning but were still hankering for at least one more. Neal instinctively drew the derringer but a glance at Al who had traded the Taser for a hand cannon and he went for the pink gun on the floor.

“You have to shoot them in the head,” he informed the policeman.

“Why?” asked the chief. He shot Mr. Chair-leg in the chest and Mr. Fork-in-the-head in the neck. They both fell, squirmed and writhed in agony, then bled out on the floor. “They are not zombies,” he said. He also could speak with a great deal of derision.

“Well then, just what the fuck are they?’ Neal demanded. Just how much of this insanity a person could take was worrying him. He was sure something like this would lead to multiple sessions with a shrink. Some kind of support group certainly. Maybe even a trip to the loony bin.

“They are victims. There was a terrible accident at the lab and they are the victims of that accident.” Gautier’s explanation sounded more like he was practicing his testimony for someone far more important than Neal. “It was an industrial accident. A valve stuck and the chemical agents were released into the air. It was the cloud, the brouillard bleu, the blue fog that covered the village this morning.” It was like he was reading off of a cue card.

“That’s what she was carrying on about,” Neal exclaimed, pointing at the prostrate doctor. “She said something about fog babies or fog children.” Fog children made little sense but more sense than scrambled ones.

Al waved his gun hand dismissively. “She is disturbed. This has been too much for her. She has lost touch with reality. She believes the fog is alive and choosing its victims. But that is ridiculous,” Neal thought about how the blue fog looked to be searching this morning when he had seen it out his window.

“Then how come we are OK?” asked Maggie. “What about others?” She was holding on to Al again, so tightly her nails began to draw blood.

“It affects about ninety percent of the population. Destroys some brain function. Drives them mad as you have seen.” The man who seemed at first to be a security guard sure had a lot of information Neal thought.

“And its original use was to control the deer population?” Neal was more than skeptical. Gautier just shrugged. He wasn’t even trying to be convincing at this point. “Is there a cure? So what do we do now? We can’t call out.”

“Nothing. Just sit and wait. The proper authorities have been notified. They have terminated communications to stop a widespread panic. The National Guard or the county sheriff will set up a perimeter and contain the situation. The CDC has been notified. Nothing to do but sit and wait.” Everything that Chief Al Bukowski said sounded very well-rehearsed. Terminated communications? Really Al, Neal thought. No one mentioned a cure, and it was forgotten.

“I can’t just wait here, Al. I have to go and check on my parents. Tell them that Richard is dead. Oh shit, I have to tell my sister.” He then recounted the morning’s events, along with Maggie’s input, to the two men in the police station. Dr. DeForest had been taken to AL’s office and was still unconscious on his couch.

They discussed their present situation, with Neal being the only one not content to sit and wait. He spent considerable time in the bathroom cleaning off bits of other people. He returned the pink gun to Maggie in exchange for Damian Sartre’s police issue Beretta. Al gave him three extra magazines and a handful of .45s for the derringer. “For insurance,” he said with a wry smile. He also let him know that as the chief of police, it was his official position that Neal should stay in the police station. However, since it may very well be the apocalypse, he would allow him to leave.

Neal bristled a little at being ‘allowed’ to leave but he kept his mouth shut. He knew very well how small town cops could get when their authority was called into question. Besides, when it came right down to it, Al probably had the right and maybe even the responsibility to make him sit and wait. With martial law and emergency procedures and all that jazz, Neal could see how letting a civilian run around shooting your constituency, crazy though they may be, was not the best idea. Someone would show up shortly to shut this party down, Neal just couldn’t wait any longer. He had to check on his mom and dad and his widowed sister. He thought about retrieving Richard’s body, but, no. that wasn’t going to happen. Just grab a car and go.

Maggie’s car was too small for any type of rescue mission that may arise. Inexplicably, there wasn’t a single police cruiser around. Al had driven his personal car in. One look at the ten-year-old SUV, and the arm dangling from somewhere underneath, and Neal knew Al had taken the scenic route into work today. Strangely, the little yellow Fiat in the front and the worst for wear Buick in the back were the only vehicles to be seen. How the two French members of this little soiree got here was a mystery. Perhaps they were dropped off. Neal thought better of asking Gautier for any additional info. He really did not like that man. Besides, he was sure both Gautier and Al were full of shit.

He thought about asking Al for an idea on transportation but dismissed it as well. He had a creepy feeling that Maggie’s loving husband was somehow complicit in whatever was going on. He didn’t know how or why just that something wasn’t right. Something besides 1500 homicidal maniacs running amok in Kermit, that was. He couldn’t walk the ten miles or so to his parent’s subdivision but stealing a car was probably not too hard considering the way things were. Also, getting murdered was very high on the current probability list.

His own car was a consideration, but being right in the center of Crazy Town made it somewhat of a less than appealing choice. A few blocks over stood the firehouse. Even though Kermit had an all-volunteer fire department, certainly someone would have been on duty this morning. Then again, something about Al not mentioning them at all when he talked about ‘protocol’ made Neal a little worried. As he mentally made the walk from the police station to fire station he passed the village’s maintenance department. They had several pickup trucks, a dump truck, and other various vehicles always sitting in the parking lot, albeit behind an eight-foot chain link fence. He had worked a summer there and was sure he could get in and out without too much trouble. Hell, he thought, those lazy asses probably haven’t even shown up for work yet.

Neal considered telling everyone his plans but decided on not even letting them know when he left. He waited until they were gathered around Dr. DeForest, who was slowly regaining consciousness, to slip out the back door. He decided against locking the door in case he had to make a hasty return, and felt a little guilty for leaving them potentially open to an attack. Well, maybe they should be keeping a lookout rather than electrocuting beautiful French doctors, Neal told himself.

Outside the rear parking lot and the street that ran alongside it were empty. He could hear yells and occasional gunfire in the distance. It really wasn’t all that different from any other summer morning in Kermit. Kids could be heard from the nearby Horne Park playing basketball most mornings and afternoons or maybe Smear the Queer and since Kermit was located in a heavily wooded rural setting, hunters or gun enthusiasts were often heard shooting at something. He told himself it wasn’t really much different, but creeping down Water Street holding a dead cop’s 9mm Beretta made it very different. And it didn’t help that he had blown the dead cop’s head all over the place. A regular Dirty Harry, he thought with a small grim laugh.

When he had finally made his way to the village’s maintenance building, his heart sank. Sank to his feet someone might have said. This felt more like it sank straight through to China. Actually, the Indian Ocean to be precise. The fenced in area was crawling with what had yesterday been townspeople. He recognized a few of them as village employees. Shit. There were more of them inside the offices. He could see them, hear them, pounding on the glass, growling at him, snapping their frothing jaws. A few were banging their bloody heads on the glass, leaving smudges and streaks of translucent crimson. It was kind of a pretty color, he thought, with the morning sun shining on the glass.

Suddenly there was a loud crack, loud enough to make Neal jump. Then the sound of the big front window exploding outward from the force of a dozen ferocious and furiously clawing villagers, pushing their way through the opening. The glittering glass seemed to be suspended in the air for a moment. It too seemed strangely beautiful, like tinsel on a Christmas tree. The fenced in contingent went wild, screaming and shaking the chain link, trying to climb, trying to recall recently forgotten motor skills.

“Fuck,” Neal shouted. He started right, then left, then right again, like a spastic running back looking for a hole in the defense. If this were a movie, they would never catch him. Not with their lumbering gait and stiff-jointed movements. But he recalled how quickly Dorian Sartre had snatched him up by his scrawny neck and shouted “Fuck” once more. “Time’s awastin’ boy,” he heard his long dead grandpa say. It was a favorite of his.

Neal’s feet became unstuck to the asphalt parking lot and he ran as fast as he could down Water Street. There wasn’t any point in looking behind him, common sense told him that they were hot on his trail. Then, in the back yard of a crappy old house that had been turned into a duplex, there sat his salvation. It was a Hummer, and an H1, not the cheesy civilian soccer mom bullshit version either. “Christ on a cracker,” Neal yelled. It was another of Grandpa Dougherty’s favorite exclamations.

Neal knew this car well. It belonged to that dick that was the latest dick that was dating the girl that he had had a crush on since the ninth grade. He liked Noel Farkas before that, but the summer vacation between eighth and ninth grades the boob fairy had come to visit. They were friends but after fourteen years of trying, he had never got in her size one, two hundred dollar, Rag and Bone skinny jeans. No, he hadn’t, but that colossal penis Adrian Brimmer had. And Neal was his insurance agent. Oh, how very droll. The Hummer was still running, so Neal hopped in, slammed the door, and threw it into reverse. Spinning tires and slinging mud, he tore out of the dirt patch of a yard and backed down Water Street. He ran over three of his fastest pursuers, but at seeing the horde still running toward him, he changed his mind and gears and sped away.

He glanced quickly over at the two-story shack from where he had just acquired his ride and seeing no one objecting to his taking of the Hummer, he floored it. He laughed a little. For the first time since things had gone to Hell, he thought that everything might still work out. Then he smashed into gimpy Marta Houtman, still with her dress over her head. The poor spindly spinster librarian literally exploded on impact. He slammed on the brakes and the old gal flew into a rose bush on the side of the road. There wasn't anything more to her than a head on a bloody dish rag. She gnashed her teeth once more and he slammed down the accelerator. Tough old bird.

He bounced down the side streets of Kermit, headed for Oak Crest subdivision. He barely noticed anything going on to the left or right of him. He paid no attention to the people walking aimless around in yards or parking lots and certainly not the wisps of blue still lingering in the low areas and ditch lines. The Hummer sputtered. Damn, he thought. It sputtered again. He looked wildly around the vehicle, everything was suspect, and then his eyes settled on the gauges. Maybe some of old Marta got stuck in the engine compartment. It coughed and jerked. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” he cried. It was out of gas. That massive douchebag Brimmer couldn’t even fill his tank up. Too busy porking Noel, a mean little voice inside him said. The Hummer wheezed its last and died. He pounded on the steering wheel, as if that would bring it back to life. “Shit!” he exclaimed, then added a whole string of little shits to it, as he coasted down the street still doing fifty miles an hour.

Suddenly, two townspeople appeared in front of the rolling Hummer, complete with bulging eyes and frothing mouths. He struck them head on, but with not enough force to throw them as he had done with Marta. They managed to hang on somehow and he thought that they were actually climbing onto the hood. He swerved crazily in an attempt to dislodge his new passengers, but they seemed un-moveable. He was beginning to slow at a frightening pace, they would soon be on top of him, trapping him in the dead car. In desperation, he turned into a driveway and rolled without braking into a parked van. He didn’t hear them scream, in fact, their expressions were more of rage than pain. After a few feeble attempts at extricating themselves from the wreckage, they slumped onto the Hummer’s hood, blood trailing from their mouths to join the large splatters that had been thrown everywhere from the force of the crash.

Neal had put his seat belt on unconsciously right before impact. He was slowly becoming aware of the pain that the belt had caused him when it had tightened on him. The corpses lying limp on the hood held him mesmerized. He had never seen so much blood, even by today’s standards. He wondered if he would get over today. Would things simply return to normal? The insurance agent in him wondered about financial responsibility. Who would pay for all of this-this mayhem? His dad’s company may go bankrupt.

Neal had to turn sideways in the seat and use his legs to kick the door open. Once out, he checked himself rather absently mindedly for injuries. He still kept a watchful eye on the still figures trapped between the Hummer and now what he knew to be a bus belonging to the First Baptist Church. Their name was emblazoned on the side of the smashed up van. He was ostensibly in the pastor’s driveway, the church proper was next door. He had been here once, when he was a child, but for the life of him, he could not remember the circumstance.

No one came rushing out of either building, and for that he was grateful. He could not imagine having to deal with a member of the clergy, especially if they had turned into whatever these people were turning into. Would you still go to Hell if you had to kill a preacher? A crazy, lunatic, psychopathic preacher? Probably. How many people had he killed today? Would God understand? Would He care? Probably not. Maybe this was His way of taking care of things. Maybe this was the next flood. Could the Zombie Apocalypse be God’s wrath? Would it spare the pious, the good people? Neal didn’t have an answer for that, but he knew Insurance policies never covered acts of God. His dad’s company would be alright after all. Hell, they might even start selling zombie insurance, the kind on paper, not the kind that goes bang. 

There wasn’t any time for philosophizing. He had to find a new ride. He had to get to his parent’s home and make sure that they were OK. He was a dutiful son, God would appreciate that. And, as if a nod from the Big Guy Himself, Neal spied a car sitting in the open garage of the pastor of the First Baptist Church. Not just a car. A 1967 Corvette Stingray.

“Holy shit,” Neal muttered, appropriately he thought. He approached the car as if it were a wild stallion that may buck and bolt at any moment. The keys were in it. He felt a chill of excitement. Funny, he thought, how a car could completely supersede the horror of the situation. Well, he had always loved the Corvette Stingray. It roared to life without any hesitation and the rumble and vibration of the engine renewed his confidence. It gave him confidence rather. He put it in reverse and pressed down on the accelerator. He laid rubber on the cement floor as he shot from the sanctuary of the garage. He never saw the overweight and slightly balding man until it was too late.

He was there, then he wasn’t. Neal knew he was somewhere under the car, at least partially. He slammed it into first and slung grass and mud as he tore through the yard. Luckily, he saw that it was one of the affected and not some innocent bystander. It was flailing around and growling, unable to stand on its crushed legs. Neal waved as he ripped through the yard and into the church parking lot. He watched the thrashing figure in his rear view mirror. He had seen him somewhere before. Neal felt a little sick. He knew it was the former leader of the flock of the First Baptist Church.

Neal smiled, probably for the first time today. The gas gauge said full and the car ran like a dream. Like a scalded ape, his dad would say. It was all back roads now. All the way to the Oak Crest subdivision. Neal doubted he would pass anybody on the way. If he did, it wouldn’t be many and they wouldn’t have the roads blocked. Smooth sailing. He turned on the radio. There was nothing, no sound, not even static. Eerie quiet on every station. But he never thought anything of it. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the wind in his face felt good. He pressed the pedal a little more and the speedometer neared a hundred. He would arrive at his parent’s home in less than ten minutes.

There was a sound now, something odd but something familiar. He glanced around for some cause, but it was emanating from outside the automobile. Then he seen them. Black helicopters, flying low, just above the tree tops it looked, but they were at least a mile away. They were spreading out, cutting across each other’s paths. They looked to be searching for something. Some began to disappear below the tree line. Those were landing, Neal knew. They were cutting off all roads that led out of town. The escape routes. Keeping everyone corralled in the village limits. Trapping them. That’s what Al meant by “protocol.”

Neal knew that they would be landing at the intersection a few miles up the road. He guessed that the road that led to 27, the county’s main artery, would also be cut off. They probably had County Road 9 blocked as well even though it was much less travelled. But he didn’t need to escape the area, he just needed to get to his parent’s subdivision. It was only a mile or two now, but seemed like a hundred. He slowed to under fifty, trying to give himself time to think before he ran smack into the “authorities”.

Briar Ridge Road. The name popped into his head a second before the road sign came into view. A tangle of vines and branches obscured the sign so that if one didn’t know where it was, it was easily overlooked. Neal knew it well. It had long been a popular party spot for teenagers. Kids would park at one of the old tobacco barns or the old abandoned farm house that made up the only structures on the narrow gravel road. Police seldom patrolled it, villagers preferred the kids drinking and carousing out there as opposed to in town. And best of all, it came out just a stone’s throw from the back entrance to his parents subdivision and only locals would know this road.

He was now several miles out of town, actually quite close to the Orlov-LeClair facility, now that he thought about it. This was a rural area, dotted with farms and the occasional mobile home. But it was still well inside the boundaries set up by the circling helicopters. There seemed to be more of them now, somehow. Where were they all coming from? He turned into Briar Ridge still moving at over forty miles an hour. Gravel peppered the bushes like bird-shot. A cloud of dust enveloped the ‘vette and Neal wondered if it would be visible from the air.

He let his speed creep a little higher in spite that this could be a dangerous road. Trees a bushes grew right alongside the gravel, obscuring any view of what may be around or coming at you. In some spots the trees covered the road, their branches and leaves making a roof so that it seemed you were in a tunnel. The gravel was loose and treacherous. A piece of slow moving farm equipment would stop him in his tracks if not cause a wreck, and tractors were common out here in the boondocks. Still, his concern for his parents outweighed the risks and spurred him on down the narrow dusty lane.

 He reached the end without trouble, hitting his brakes and taking at least twenty feet to slide to a stop, inches from the stop sign. This road dead-ended into Oak Crest and his parent’s neighborhood was only a few yards to the right. He nosed the car slowly into the other road, craning his neck to be able to look right and left for any oncoming traffic. To the left Oak Crest Road stretched out as far as he could see, barren of any vehicles. To the right, it was different. There was a black helicopter hovering over what Neal knew was an empty field, north of the subdivision. It was still waiting to be developed. On the road near it was what looked like military vehicles, but these too were that same ominous black color. He couldn’t tell how many but he thought it was at least two Humvee types and maybe a big truck. There were a few people milling around, also dressed in black uniforms.

The Corvette was loud, but not nearly as loud as the helicopter still floating over the field. Neal peeled out, tires screeching when they hit the asphalt. He hoped to reach the back entrance before anyone saw him. He knew that they wouldn’t be able to reach him in time, not in those Humvees. But that helicopter would easily. He was only in second gear when he made a sharp left into Oak Crest. The houses on this end weren’t nearly as nice as his parent’s home. They were a bit older and a few needed some updating. These had been the first ones built, back before it became a statement to live out here and not in town. He wished the circumstances were different. How he longed to drive through this neighborhood in a car like this. He would burn rubber in front of quite a few houses, he thought with a smile, including the Dougherty’s.

It was eerily quiet, although it was often just as quiet in reality. Neal thought he saw some of that blue wispy fog, but it vanished before he could get a good look. It seemed to be hiding almost, retreating behind or under something whenever he tried to catch a glimpse. There was no sign of life anywhere. Devoid was the word. Not even a barking dog or scampering squirrel. Ecureuil. That was what she had said. Squirrels.

Then he was there, pulling into the driveway, thinking about squirrels. For a moment it seemed like an ordinary day. The house looked empty as the rest. He turned off the motor and for a second sat there confused by the sound of an engine. It wasn’t the car, it was the black helicopter. The authorities. They had seen him after all and were now skimming the roof tops, searching the streets for him. He thought about blowing the horn but decided against it. Hopefully the door was unlocked and he could get inside before they spied him. He knew where the spare key was, but it was in the back and that meant scaling the privacy fence that his dad had recently put up to keep his neighbors from watching him swim in the nude.

The helicopter was only a block away now. He thought that they could probably see him from that distance. He started to make a run for the front door, when his mother suddenly appeared at the window. She was waving. He waved back. She was pointing and waving madly. Poor woman, she must be scared out of her wits. Worried about her boy. The thought made him feel warm inside. Things would be OK now. She was mouthing something. Waving, pointing and trying to say something in an exaggerated way, the way someone would so you could read their lips. What was it?

“I love you,” he thought. She was pointing to him and saying I love you.

“I love you too.” He mouthed the words and waved back.

The helicopter was very close now. He saw leaves blow by.

His mother smacked the window hard. Again she mouthed the words and poked the window with her finger. Yes, he knew that there was a helicopter behind him. Was that what she was saying? Not ‘I love you’, but ‘Behind you’?

Her eyes were wide now, wide with fear. Neal stopped. He had never seen her like this. His hand fell idly to the Beretta tucked into his waist band. “Insurance,” he remembered Al saying. He chuckled to himself. He hadn’t needed any insurance.

Neal never saw his father coming up behind him.

© Copyright 2020 Terrence Lee. All rights reserved.

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