Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Paradise Undead: A Zombie Short Story

“Come on, Sam. Would you kill him, already?”
“I did kill him already! The second time is always harder!” The young man’s voice shook almost as violently as his left hand, which still held a death-grip on the .40 caliber at his side. The beep of the nearby heart monitor seemed weak and slow compared to the pounding in his chest.
“If you’re not going to do it, get out of my way,” the middle-aged man said, his voice level and deliberate. Sam moved to the foot of the low hospital bed and glanced down at the woman sleeping there. Well, not sleeping exactly. It’s hard to sleep when a Beretta is fired four feet from your head. She was clearly unconscious. Still, she was more alive than the thing that was slowly shuffling across the cramped hospital room. She was probably also less hungry for human brains.
            Sam did his best to focus on the beep…beep…beep of the heart monitor. He still wasn’t used to the sickly sound a nightstick made when it struck a walker’s skull. It wasn’t that he had a problem with killing the guy. He had put three bullets through the convicted murder’s chest less than 10 minutes ago. Had he put one through the head, the matter would be done with. Instead, his stomach got the best of him, leaving Ed, his battle-hardened partner, to clean up the mess.
            “Alright, Sam, you can open your eyes now,” Ed said, “The big bad walker won’t hurt you anymore.”
            Sam turned to Ed, first matching his keen, light-blue eyes, and then glancing at his gray beard. “My eyes weren’t closed. I was looking for evidence. Speaking of, you’ve got a little blood on your beard there. I hope it doesn’t stain. I don’t know if I could stand looking at you if you had to shave.”
            “I doubt you could if taking down a walker’s still too much for you.” Ed wiped off his club on the walker’s already bloodstained scrubs. “I’ve got scars under this beard from before you were born.”
            “Hey,” Sam said, taking a few cautious steps toward the body, “it’s not my fault once is never enough. You can thank the Adem for that.”
            Ed’s eyes narrowed and his tone turned fierce. “The Adem? You think they started this? They’re the only blameless ones left.” He waved his hand around the room. “Some cocky scientist tried to get famous by messing with things he didn’t understand. That’s how it started. But I wouldn’t expect you to remember. You were, what, three?”
            Sam reached instinctively into an inner pocket of his coat, pulled out a flask, and tipped it up to his mouth. His left hand stopped shaking as a familiar warmth spread through him.
“And what did I tell you about that?” Ed said, his voice retaining its fire. “If I see you drinking on duty again, I’m reporting you to the Chief. I’m serious. It runs in my family, too, but you don’t see me turning to the bottle every time things get hairy.”
Sam threw up an arm and began walking out of the cramped hospital room. “Fine. Whatever, Ed.”
He took his place next to a fidgety rent-a-cop and waited outside the door. His frustration had reached its peak, and he didn’t like being around when Ed was praying over the body. He had some respect for his partner and mentor, but some of Ed’s beliefs were childish, to say the least.
            Did he really think the Adem were blameless? And perfect? They were the source of the undying blood that had corrupted mankind. That scientist may have stolen it, but it came from them. Those perfect holier-than-thou hermits, lording over mankind from the safety of Eden Island.
            “We’re done here.”
            Ed’s gruff voice made Sam’s heart jump. The excitement of the afternoon had made him edgy. It wasn’t every day he tracked down a murderous surgeon at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Too bad this particular maniac had been taking orders from an unidentifiable superior. Catching a lackey was one thing, but trying to take down a homicidal genius was next to impossible, even if Ed was on the case.
            “Sorry about that stuff in there.” Sam followed Ed toward the elevator. Despite their differences, Sam knew it would make everything easer to keep on Ed’s good side. “I’m getting better though, right?”
            “At killing?” Ed asked. His voice held a note of reproach.
            “God, no. C’mon, Ed. I meant at police work.” Sam punched the down button on the elevator and continued. “You know, investigation, interrogation, tracking. All that stuff.”
            “All that stuff comes with time, kid. You came in way too hot. Thankfully it was him, but what if it had been an innocent surgeon trying to perform an emergency tracheotomy?”
            “An innocent surgeon probably wouldn’t have come at my throat with the scalpel the second he saw me.”
            “You know what I mean, Sam. You got lucky.”
            The two stepped onto the elevator, followed closely by a young nurse clutching a clipboard to her chest. She looked at the blood on Ed’s beard and quickly turned away. Sam reached past her to push “Lobby,” but her sudden jump made him jerk his hand back.
“Sorry,” Sam said, “Lobby, please.”
She stepped forward, hit two buttons, and locked her eyes onto her clipboard. Sam examined the girl for a lingering moment then looked over at Ed, who seemed to be deep in thought. The elevator was as silent as a mortuary until the young nurse practically jumped out on the second floor.
The doors slid closed and Ed began again, but his tone had softened. “His reaction was interesting, though.”
            “What do you mean?” Sam asked, still somewhat distracted by the young nurse’s perfume.
            “He was smart. He had six confirmed victims before we caught up with him. There are another twelve missing that are linked to him and his gang. We’ve had men on this case for over a month and he’s managed to stay ahead of us until now.”
“With someone else’s help,” Sam added, walking out into the hospital lobby. “We both know this guy was just one part of something bigger.”
“Sure, but still, he was fairly good at being a serial killer, as far as that goes. So why did he react the way he did? Did he really think he was going to take down two armed officers with a scalpel? I’d expected him to play the part of the innocent surgeon. At least until he had a better chance of escape.”
Sam opened his mouth to reply as they approached the sliding front doors, but an officer drew his pistol and cut him short. “I’m sorry. You can’t leave the hospital.”
Sam’s heart pounded in his chest again and his hand moved to the holster at his left hip. He glanced at Ed, and then almost laughed out loud at his realization. They were in their street clothes. He flashed his badge and the officer nodded and stepped to the side.
            “Who knows, Ed? The guy was crazy.”
            “I guess you’re right, kid.”
            Police reports were the worst part of the job. Sam was only a year out of the Academy and the paperwork made it seem like he had never left.
            “Can’t we finish this up later?” he asked, looking over his computer at Ed. They were the only ones in the station, aside from the Chief and the receptionist, Carla.
            “Always the rabid dog, huh?” Ed’s voice came from behind another computer across the room. The sound of his clicking keyboard didn’t stop as he talked.
            “You’re always going full-bore. You never take a second to process. Everything is do, do, do. If you don’t stop and think every now and then, you’re going to find yourself exhausted, foaming at the mouth, and afraid of water.” For a moment, Ed’s keyboard was the only sound in the office. “Well, maybe not afraid of water, but the rest is true.”
            “Maybe I just have more passion than everyone else around here.” Sam made a sweeping motion with his arm, though it was obvious Ed couldn’t see it. “Maybe everyone gets so caught up with the walkers that real crime doesn’t interest people anymore.”
            Ed’s keyboard stopped clicking and his head popped up from behind his computer. “You’ve got a lot to learn, Sam. Every single officer in this precinct eats, sleeps, and breathes law enforcement. Yeah, walkers are a huge issue. If we don’t keep them in check, it could mean the end of the world within the month. But, if they were all we had to deal with, I’d retire right now and become a licensed bounty hunter. They make more money bashing undead brains than anyone on the force.” Ed’s head slid back down behind his computer. “When it comes down to it, the walkers are just a nuisance. One we brought on ourselves. We’re here to protect the citizens against themselves, kid. We’re our own worst enemy.”
We’ve got a 187 at 5th and Mercury. Assailant is still on the premises. All units respond.
            The police scanner stopped their conversation dead. Sam barely had time to wipe the smile off his face before Ed was out the door. He grabbed his coat and ran to catch up. As he barreled out into the parking lot, a harsh winter chill made him pull his coat tight. He almost pulled out his flask, but thought better of it.
            “Not used to Saint Louis winters yet?” Ed asked as he opened the squad car and disappeared inside.
            “How does anyone get used to this?” Sam took his place next to his partner. “Whoever said Hell was all fire and heat never spent a winter here.”
            “Hey, you coulda stayed in Florid–” Ed bit off his last word as all expression drained from his face. After a painfully long breath, he shook his head, started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. “Sam, I didn’t realize. You told me you were from Florida, but I didn’t ever put the pieces together.”
            “Forget about it,” Sam said. He stared out the window as a wave of memories welled up. Ed was wrong. He had been 8 years old when the walker outbreak began. No one knew what was happening for nearly three days, and then a young microbiologist stepped forward. By then, it was too late. That headstrong scientist’s lab was only two blocks away from Sam’s childhood home. Sam barely escaped with his life, but not before he put a bullet through his undead dad’s head. He fled the city in terror while the Adem sat safely on their little island, laughing at the failed attempts and misfortunes of the Fallen. How could Ed stick up for them?
            The sprint to the crime scene was uncomfortably quiet, aside from wailing sirens, screeching tires, and the roar of a 340 horsepower engine. They were the second car on the scene. Sam jumped out just in time to hear two shots fired from within an old, two-story town home.
            “I’m goin’ in, Ed!” He was moving toward the front door, gun drawn, before Ed could protest.
            Sam swung open the screen door and looked inside. The inside door was standing ajar, nearly knocked off its hinges. The living room was empty. A coffee table was on its side. Sam let out a breath and quickly drew it back in. He stalked across the room toward a hallway, where yelling continued in a steady stream. He recognized two of the voices as belonging to officers Hayes and Sanchez. They were overpowering a third, intermittent scream. Sam set his feet and prepared to collide with the unseen chaos unfolding in the next room.
            “What do you think you’re doing?”
            Even at a whisper, the force in Ed’s voice nearly knocked Sam to the ground. He felt his stomach turn and his throat close, leaving him temporarily speechless.
            Some of the fire had left Ed’s eyes, but his tone was still intimidating. “You’ve got to be the stupidest genius I know.” He turned his head toward the shouting in the next room. “Is that Sanchez?”
            “And Hayes,” Sam replied, his voice still shaking. He wiped his sweaty right hand on his thigh, then almost holstered his gun to do the same with the left.
            Without warning, Ed turned the corner. “Cover me.”
            Sam only hesitated for a moment, but it was enough to leave him standing in the hall alone. He muttered a quick curse, lifted his gun to eye-level, and followed his partner into the unknown.
            He turned into the bedroom and saw three police officers, their guns pointed toward a bloody pile of man. The pile was doubled over, holding his abdomen with one hand and a 9 mm with the other. His eyes jumped to each of the officers as they shouted at him, and then locked directly on Sam. There was a moment of uncertainty, a cloud of fear across the man’s face, before he pointed his weapon at Sam and took three bullets to the head.
            Sam stood frozen, his unfired pistol still pointing at the dead man.
            The voice was faint and inconsequential.
            “Sam!” Ed shouted again.
            Sam turned his head slowly, shaken from his daze. “Two in one day,” he said weakly, almost to himself.
            “What?” Sanchez asked.
            “We took down Michael Bayes at the hospital earlier today,” Ed explained. He looked over at the twice-dead woman lying halfway off the bed. “Wait, this guy shot her in the chest?”
            “Yeah,” Sanchez replied, “She had already turned when we got here. I think he was getting ready to tie her up. What kind of sick freak keeps a walker as a hostage?”
            “I can think of a couple people,” Ed said, “This wasn’t a random homicide. Can you two finish up here?” He looked toward Sam, who was still fighting the urge to vomit. “Sam seems like he’s had enough for one day and I’ve got a hunch to follow.”
            Sam flipped on his kitchen light and sat his keys, wallet, and gun on the counter next to a glass bottle. He pulled the stopper off of the bottle and swallowed a mouthful of whisky. A comforting warmth spread through his chest and stomach, but his mind was still racing. Near-death experiences were still a relatively rare occurrence. He splashed cold water on his face and returned his pistol to the holster at his hip. He was used to holding the power.
Two in one day. He was out of resources.
            He walked through his living room without turning on the light. It was a new house, but he had come in at night enough to know its layout by heart. He stopped at the dark outline of a door and drew a key from his pocket. He slipped the key into the door handle and turned the knob. At first there was only more darkness, but as the squeaking door swung wide, a faint murmur crept up on a wave of damp air.
Sam flipped on a light, revealing a set of warped, wooden stairs leading into the basement. The murmur grew. He stepped onto the creaking stairs and the murmur turned to a chorus of groans. He ran the key along a broken brick wall as he descended, adding a dull scrape to the groaning. At the base of the stairs, the room was still shrouded in darkness. He reached up and flipped another switch. A wave of light flooded the room, revealing a small, makeshift prison cell, crowded with twelve moaning, mindless corpses.
“I missed you too,” Sam said, standing just outside the reach of the walkers’ groping hands. They were pathetic creatures, really, straining hopelessly through prison bars. One was actually gnawing at the lock. They would be perfect, but he only had twelve so far. If Michael and Gary had done their job today, that would have made fourteen. Then there were the six they killed before. Twenty walkers could have done a lot of damage in the right situation. Good help was so hard to find.
“Hands where I can see ‘em!” The power in Ed’s voice even made the walkers stop moaning for a moment. What was he doing here? Stupid question. He was here to arrest a homicidal genius. The real question was: How did he know where to look? Not as stupid as he seemed. Sam decided to play the part of the innocent partner.
“Ed,” he said, turning around to face his partner, “you scared me half to death. I guess we found the missing victims, huh.” He motioned to the walkers behind him.
“Guess so.” Ed didn’t move. His eyes and his gun were locked onto Sam, completely ignoring the horde behind him.
“How, how’d you find this place, anyway?”
“I looked up your home address at work. It’s over, kid. Come on, hands up.”
“My…what? No. No, Ed. It’s wrong. You’re wrong.” Sam made the mistake of reaching to his hip. Before his hand touched his pistol, he felt Ed’s bullet burn through his left shoulder and shatter his shoulder blade. The pain was blinding as he dropped to his knees. Only his pumping adrenaline kept him from passing out.
“Why, Sam?” Ed screamed. “Tell me why!”
“What choice did I have?” Sam clutched at his shoulder, wincing in pain. “No one else was…Do you think the Adem will stop with the walkers…Just the beginning. They won’t rest until we’re all dead.”
“What’re you talking about, Sam? You’re responsible for the deaths of twenty innocent people, and you’re still blaming the Adem?”
“I didn’t kill ‘em. Michael, Gary…they did all the work. And they were happy to. They–” A spasm of pain shot through Sam’s shoulder, dropping him all the way to the ground. He slowly regained his breath. “They knew it was the only way. I just gave them the direction. Not like any of ‘em didn’t deserve it, anyway.”
Ed took a step forward, his gun still pointing between Sam’s eyes. His voice was flat. “How does killing twenty people solve anything?”
“Look behind me…Children of the Adem. They created them, so they can have ‘em. Twelve might not do much, but fifty walkers let loose on Eden Island would–”
“Okay,” Ed’s face was beginning to blur, but the resolution in his voice was unmistakable, “I get it. Your parents were killed by the walkers, so you want to get revenge on whoever created them. But why the Adem? I tried to tell you, kid. We screwed up, not them. They just want us to be happy, but we can’t go two seconds without–”
Ed jerked his pistol to the side and fired again. Sam waited for the peace of oblivion, but was met instead with a sharp pain on the side of his neck. He instinctively jerked away, but a walker had his neck tight between its teeth. The cell door swung on its hinges. Sam was just able to make out a few broken teeth wedged into the rusted, broken lock. Ed fired again and the walker released its grip, but two more took its place. Sam tried to reach for his pistol, but he couldn’t lift his left hand and a walker had his right arm pinned against the bars.
“Ed!” Sam’s scream rose above the moans and gunfire, but his mind was already clouding.
His dad’s distorted face flashed in front of his eyes. It had been so long ago, but at the moment, it was more real than the chaos around him. Sam had found his dad’s pistol in the closet. He had thought it was a toy, so when his dad walked in, he pointed it up at him.
Whatta you think yer doin’? His dad swayed in the doorway as he spoke. I knew you were stupid, boy, but you’re gonna pay for this one. You think you can threaten me just’cause I’m drunk? Com’ere!
His dad lunged for the gun, but fell short, clutching at his bloody side and cursing. Sam’s ears rang as he stood in shock. His dad stopped cursing, and then he stopped moving. Sam stood over the body for almost ten minutes before it started twitching again. When it finally got back up, it wasn’t his dad anymore. His slurred speech was replaced with low moans, and he kept shuffling toward Sam even after he took two more bullets to the chest. Moaning seemed to fill the room as Sam suddenly became aware of a sharp pain in his shattered left shoulder.
His mind cleared and he locked eyes with Ed. "I'm not going to end up like that. I'm sorry, Ed, for everything."