The car was small but managed to take out three of the booths bordering the window. Officer Langley rushed to the mangled vehicle, briefly looked inside then inspected the impact site trying to see if anyone in the diner had been hit. I didn’t know if he had checked the car’s occupants and moved on because they were dead or because he thought the high-pitched screams were coming from under the car. Holly stayed a good distance from the accident avoiding the broken glass, twisted metal and possibly volatile vehicle.
I was keeping my distance but not from caution of the actual accident, it was because I didn’t know if the people involved were alive, dead or other. The accident was too peculiar to not be related to the virus. There were no other cars in sight, nothing visible that would have caused the driver to lose control and plow into a building. Curiosity got the better of me and I moved past Holly to try to see the car’s occupants, pulling my gun and keeping it hidden from view at my side. Two young women were unconscious inside the car, a driver and passenger. From what I could see in the flickering of the damaged diner lights there was something covering the drivers’ face, something yellowish mingling with blood on her chin and dripping from her closed eyes. The woman in the passenger’s seat had gone into the dashboard forehead first while the top of her head had struck and cracked the windshield. The seatbelt appeared to only be across her lap and a massive red stain covered her right shoulder where the shoulder strap should have been.
The screaming was coming from further inside the diner as Meredith the waitress trembled in shock and fear behind the counter with the 3 remaining patrons and the cook. Officer Langley didn’t seem to know what to do as he paced back and forth continually running his hands through his hair. One of the patrons started yelling at the Officer to do something, to call for back-up or paramedics, something. When Langley didn’t do anything, the man pulled out his cell and started to dial 911. Langley finally reacted grabbing the phone and ending the call before it could go through. That was not expected by anyone and the interrupted conversation from the police station refreshed in my mind as unanswered questions roared in my head. Langley knew more than he was letting on about what was happening around this town.
“George, what are you doing?!” Meredith sputtered between sobs.
“I’ll get help. We don’t need to call anyone.” Langley pocketed the phone, avoiding the eyes of everyone in the diner.
I watched all of this from beside the car not really paying attention to Holly or the injured women. My concern was with what Langley knew and why he was clearly hiding information from us. Nothing about this place had felt right since we arrived – the concern from the waitress, the serious lack of police in the police station and the sudden deadness of the town after we had arrived. Even with the appeared normality of the people I had seen earlier, something was very off. I just wished I hadn’t be so tired and worried about what Holly wanted to do to disregard the oddness of Langley and the bizarre quiet of the town. Langley stumbled through the debris of the broken window and pulled me aside.
“We need to get those people help but all the emergency vehicles are gone. I’m going to need your help getting those women out of the car, in your truck and to the next county.”
“Tell me what’s going on Langley.” I moved my gun into view; it wasn’t like me to threaten a cop.
“Look there is clearly more going on than either of us will admit but right now is not the time to have a chat about it. We need to help these people.”
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t trust Langley and I wasn’t convinced that the women were worth saving. That sounds harsh but they looked dead and dead didn’t mean dead anymore. Holly had been listening to us and decided to do what neither of us men were doing, check on the women and see if they were alive. The passenger’s door had been forced open when the car impacted with the building making it easy for Holly to reach in and place her fingers on the woman’s neck to check for a pulse. Alarm bells went off in my head and I told her not to touch the woman. Holly had already pulled her hand away but remained beside the open door, blood on her finger tips, and shook her head no to let us know that the woman was dead.
Holly couldn’t have known but I should have listened to my panic and pulled her away from the car. I saw the slight movement of the dead woman stirring from the corner of my eye and blinked just in time to see her lunge, only her upper body moving, and sink her teeth into Holly’s arm. Holly screamed, I screamed and the woman in the driver’s seat started to growl and hiss like a wild animal as she revived and struggled against the bonds of the seatbelt. The women had been infected with the virus and when they died, either from the crash or from wounds they sustained elsewhere, they were now Shamblers and Holly was in deep shit.
I dashed the short distance to the car and shot the woman in the side of the head, nearly hitting Holly as she struggled against the Shambler’s grip. The woman dropped forward hanging out of the car still strapped in by the lap belt. Holly stumbled backwards and tripped on the curb, landing hard on her ass under a street light. Her arm was bleeding heavily and I could see the flesh was torn and shredded. Her face had gone deathly pale and her eyes, those lovely blue eyes, looked at me filled with horror and pain. Holly knew that the bite had transmitted the virus and she was already infected. I had made her a promise if this were to happen. I stared at Holly, then raised my gun knowing I had to act quickly before I lost my nerve and before the driver got loose; her thrashing and growling growing louder behind me.
I saw the gunshot before my brain registered the sound. I watched as a bullet smashed through the beautiful blue of Holly’s left eye, eradicating its ocean depths in an explosion of red, her body smashing violently onto the concrete sidewalk. Officer Langley looked down the barrel of his gun, a tendril of smoke curling and disappearing in the dark of the night. He didn’t look panicked as he stood with unapologetic confidence staring at Holly. I had known Holly for less than a day but she was the only person who knew what I had done and endured. It should have been me to pull the trigger; it was suppose to be me. I had made Holly that promise, to kill her if she became infected and I failed to keep it. All I had done was lead her to die on a sidewalk in the middle of a nowhere town by the hand of a shady cop. I didn’t even know her last name or if she had a family. She was just Holly and now she was just another Shambler destroyed before she could infect anyone else. Another corpse like all of the others I had seen and created but I knew her and she shouldn’t have been put down that way.
Another shot sounded as Langley killed the driver who had nearly freed herself from the confines of the seatbelt. The Shamblers may be deadly foes but they have no coordination, no thought processes beyond feeding; even a simple task like undoing a seatbelt was beyond them. Holly’s death and the killing of the car’s occupants happened in less than 10 minutes and the 5 people left in the diner had no idea what the hell was going on or why I had shot the passenger and seemingly set in motion the killing of Holly and the car’s driver.
Meredith was sobbing even more and the cook held her with one arm while gripping a butcher’s knife in the other; the 3 patrons huddled beside them just as frightened and confused. Langley left me staring at Holly and went to try to explain what was happening. How much truth he revealed I don’t know. I went to Holly and knelt beside her body, her eyes, rather eye, was still open. I reached a trembling hand out and closed it, surprised to feel that her body was already going cold. I dug out the truck keys from her jacket and stood up to see if Langley had succeeded in making everyone calm. It didn’t seem to be working as he still held his gun and the cook hadn’t put down the knife. Langley wasn’t convincing them and I didn’t want to stick around to find out if he could. The car with the infected women was a sign that the virus was not isolated or contained and it was closer than I liked. I turned and started to head for the truck. I had to leave, had to try and get away from this fresh nightmare before anything else happened. Yeah, like it was going to be that easy.
“Hey, stop!” Langley caught me as I reached Holly’s, no, my truck.
“I’m out of her Langley and you should do the same.”
I moved to open the door but Langley had other ideas about my plans. He shot out the front left tire, and then the back left one. Did I think that he would kill me if I continued to try and leave? I don’t know and didn’t want to find out. I could have grabbed my gear and continued on foot but I feared that the next bullet would be in my back.
“What do you want from me Langley?”
“You saw me kill those people, your friend.” I was getting worried about what he would do to help me forget his actions. “Why are you ok with it, why aren’t you in shock?” He kept his gun on me as suspicion rose in his voice.
“I’m not ok with it. You shouldn’t have killed Holly that way. But you did what you had to.” I took a shaky breath and turned from him, reaching for my pack and trying to figure out how to get the shotgun from behind the seat without alarming Langley.
“Stop.” Desperation peppered his voice. “How do you know what I had to do, what do you know about the virus?”
“ What do you know?” This really wasn’t the time for 20 questions or playing games of subterfuge.
“Do you hear that?” Langley wasn’t dodging the question this time; there was some sort of noise in the distance.
We stood for a few minutes listening, unable to determine what the sound could be. The people from the diner came out, still leery and keeping their distance from me and Langley but more curious than cautious. I didn’t know what the sound was but I did know that staying in the street was not a good idea. I ignored Langley and his gun and grabbed my bags from the truck, digging behind the seat to pull out the blanket wrapped shotgun. I headed for the police station and no one stopped me. Slowly they started to follow and Langley came along without a word.
“You didn’t answer me, how do you know about the virus Langley?”
“Because they paid me and the other cops to keep things under control here. What do you know and what the hell is your name?”
“Louis Henning and I know there is some kind of virus spreading through the area; one that makes people…crazy and rabid.”
“Where did you hear about the virus?”
“I was at the army base in-“
“You’re one of the soldiers who were at the village.”
I wanted to ask Langley what he meant when he said the cops were paid to be there and keep control and how he knew about the village but the noise was getting louder, closer and even inside the concrete building I could hear it approaching.
“Tell me who you really are Langley.”
“That sound is those creatures, those zombies. The virus is out of control and we need to do something to keep from dying.”
“Yes we do but I need to know who you are and who you are working for. Who paid you?”
“I don’t know who they are. I was a guard at a research facility in the mountains. I never knew any names and I didn’t ask questions when I was told about the virus or told to come here 6 months ago.”
Six months ago? None of this was making sense but I could understand what I was hearing now; the sound of moaning was clear. I shook my head; this was turning into a bad movie. Both Langley and I had been ignoring the civilians who just stood there listening to our nonsensical talk and looking just as confused as I felt.
“We need to leave.” I was feeling the urge to move.
“I don’t think we have time. We should go upstairs.” Langley started pulling weapons from the gun locker.
“Why upstairs?” I helped him grab the guns and distribute them to the others.
“It’s been fortified for this type of situation. When we get to the top of the stairs, I can put a steel shutter in place to block the entry.”
What could I say to that? I had many questions and many fears but the moaning was getting louder. That was the first stand I made against the enemy without the support of my fellow troops. It was me, a security guard, a cook, a terrified middle-aged woman and 3 scared college kids. We were screwed.
© 2013, Denise Pasutti