Today’s Soundtrack – Change (In The House Of Flies) by Deftones
Here you have it, guys! The next link in the Zombie Project chain! But first, before I introduce you to the amazing writer who brings you the next piece of the puzzle, I have an announcement to make:
Anyone who comments on any of The Zombie Project stories from now until October, when the last (cry!) story will go up, will be entered into a draw to win a brand new copy of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, and an e-copy of the upcoming Running Home by Julie Hutchings! Each comment counts as an entry, so the more times you comment, the more times you’ll be entered!
And now, because I know it’s what you’re all waiting for, I give you Jessie Devine’s addition to The Zombie Project, which brings back some of the characters we saw last week in Bobby’s story. This writer is one of the weirdest and most wonderful people on Twitter, snarky to the best degree. You can find Jessie on his blog, here, and on Twitter, here. I’m particularly grateful Jessie agreed to take part, in despite of an actual fear of zombies – yeah, I know. I was shocked too.
So here goes…
Someone Knows Something
by Jessie Devine
Callie perched on a branch, her wiry body hardly making it sway. The wind kicked up and rustled leaves around her, and a couple strands escaped her ponytail flew into her face. She gripped the bark. She preferred these deciduous trees to the wide expanses of evergreens, at least for climbing. They were smoother, less prickly, and less likely to cover her in sap.
Her toes curled around the branch inside her five-finger shoes as she shifted to get a better sky-view. The black helicopters were closer than ever today. More active. Less careful. Something must have been happening. Callie sighed. Trey wouldn’t be happy. They’d have to be far more careful where they got their game. They’d have to go higher, farther into the mountains, where there was no chance of catching anything potentially contaminated. She took a breath and dropped out of the tree.
Her stomach rumbled as she walked through the forest, but now she was glad she hadn’t eaten last night. The rabbits from the edge of the valley could have easily picked something up from someone’s garden. Callie shuddered. She wondered how they’d done it this time, where the contamination started, and how widespread it was. She’d never seen so many of the buzzing little helicopters in one place before.
Callie pushed through the foliage at the edge of the Forest Service trail and paused. She could turn right and head back up to the cabin, give her report and be done. Or she could turn left and head closer to town, into the valley, and see if she could discover any real information. She reached up, grabbed her ponytail in two bunches, and pulled to tighten it. Trey would want her to come home. With so many helicopters around, it wasn’t safe to leave the cover of the forest. Plus, there was something far more dangerous than helicopters in the valley, or they wouldn’t be there.
But she didn’t have anything to tell him that he didn’t already know. There’s lots of helicopters. There’s something going on. He already knew that, or he wouldn’t have sent her out.
But she better report first, and get more instructions. Things were just too unusual today. She tightened her ponytail again and turned right.
She only stayed on the path for a few meters before she dove back into the brush. Open air made her uncomfortable. She recounted what she knew for the fourth time that day to soothe herself. This had happened before. It would happen again. It was a culling, a weeding, a controlled burn. Population control. The strong would survive. She would survive.
All was quiet around the cabin when she got home, too high in the mountains and too far away from town for the buzzing of helicopters. Her gray eyes shifted around the clearing before she left the shelter of the trees. It was very quiet, and she didn’t like it.
Trey was asleep at the kitchen table when Callie opened the door. Her stomach dropped. Know the signs. Upset stomach. Narcoleptic sleeping. Sure, he’d been up all night. But he wasn’t one to fall sleep in the chair at the kitchen table, especially not in the middle of the day, and especially not when he was waiting for her to report. She crossed the room to him to find his shirt soaked through. Sweating. But it was rather hot in there. He had white crust in the corners of his mouth. Callie’s hand went to the handgun in the waistband of her shorts. Dry mouth. Discolored skin.
“Trey?” she whispered. His hand twitched at his side and his eyes opened. The lids sagged away from the bloodshot whites.
“Callie,” he said. He stood up. “I don’t feel so good.” He rubbed his eyes and wiped his hand across his nose, coming away with green slime. His face melted into dismay.
Callie pressed her lips together and raised her gun. “Trey. The helicopters. They’re everywhere. You’re turning green. What do I do?”
“Shoot me,” he said.
“I know. After that,” she said. She counted her breathing, one-two-three-four in, one-two-three-four-five-six out. Too fast. One-two-three-four in . . .
“Go into town. You know nothing, do you understand me? Nothing.”
“Trey, what do I do when I get to town?” Four-five-six-seven out. This was happening too quickly. Trey’s answer gurgled in his throat. “No, no, you need to answer me. What do I do when I get into town? Before I—”
“Find. Someone. Someone knows something. You know nothing. Nothing!” He slammed his fist on the table and smashed it in half. His chest heaved. Unprecedented strength. Unreasonable anger.
“Trey, please,” Callie whispered. One-two-three in, one-two-three out. Her hands shook, but she didn’t lower her weapon. Sludge started pouring from Trey’s nose and eyes. He let out a screech like a wildcat and lunged for her, and she unloaded three bullets in his forehead. He dropped like a stone, and Callie let out a breath. A full minute ticked by in the oppressively quiet kitchen. “Now what?” she asked herself. Go into town. She looked at the man who raised her one last time, green and dead and smelling of rotten vegetables, before she tightened her ponytail, turned away, and stepped out into the forest. “No sympathy for the undead,” she quoted Trey aloud. “No matter who they were.” She accentuated the word were, to remind herself that she killed a monster, not her almost-father. No tears. She tucked her gun back into her shorts and hiked toward town, now extremely glad she hadn’t eaten last night.
This had happened before. It would happen again. It was a culling, a weeding, a controlled burn. Population control. At least, that’s what Trey said when he was sober. One time, when he had a few too many, he had loosened his usually tight lips. “We’re all in for it, Callie-girl. Those choppers know what they’re doing and once they perfect it—why do you think people in third-world countries die from diseases we’ve never seen in the States?” And he’d tossed back another drink. “One of these days, Callie-girl. One of these days.” And he’d laughed and laughed and laughed.
Sheriff Ed Harwood, Callie registered, watching from the bushes. And his deputy. Trey always told her to be wary of authority figures. Trey isn’t here anymore. Before she could decide whether or not to reveal herself, Harwood made eye contact with her. She ducked and slid further into the lilacs.
“Hey! Come back!” Callie watched him look for her and assessed how she must look to him: a slight, twelve year old girl, wide-eyed, ripped shorts, pink-and-orange striped shirt. She thought she could pull off scared.
Innocent. Clueless. Clueless was the most important thing. And she didn’t know if she could fake that. Yes you can. You have to, she told herself.
“Girl!” Harwood called. His deputy’s hand went to his shoulder and she said something Callie didn’t catch. Harwood shook his head and brushed her off.
“Is it safe?” Callie asked, her voice feather-soft.
“As safe as it can be,” Harwood answered. Callie climbed out of the bushes and approached them, opening her eyes wide. “Whoa, whoa, where’d you get that gun, girl?” Harwood demanded.
Callie’s hand flew to her gun. “I took it off a dead monster,” she whispered. She tried to sound afraid.
“Give it here,” the sheriff said. Callie shook her head hard, her hair whipping her in the face.
“Do you know how to shoot it?” the deputy asked. McClintock, Callie thought her name was.
“Yes. My dad taught me,” she said.
“Let her keep it, Boss. Could come in handy.”
“She’s just a kid!” Harwood said.
“This isn’t exactly an orthodox situation.” Harwood looked at her dubiously.
Callie drew her gun. “Blue goose.”
She blew the head off a blue lawn ornament three houses down. Harwood crossed his arms. “You can keep it.”
“Thanks.” She tucked it back into her shorts.
“At least this day hasn’t been for nothing,” McClintock said.
“We came back, looking for survivors. We haven’t found many,” she said. She pulled at the hem of her dress. She was dressed up for something. Corn Fest, Callie realized. It was in the gardens. “Fertilizer” this time, then. An accident in an idiot’s field, more than likely. Callie looked between them and then lowered her lashes. Harwood was staring at her, appraising her hard.
Callie swallowed. “I’m sorry to hear that. My dad and I, we don’t live in town so I wasn’t sure what’s going on.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before,” Harwood said.
“We don’t come to town a lot,” Callie said. “My dad, he doesn’t like people much.”
“And where’s your dad now?”
“Oh, he . . .” Callie trailed off and looked down, sniffling.
“Ed!” McClintock punched the sheriff in the shoulder.
Harwood cleared his throat. “Come on. Let’s get back to the truck.”
Callie looked up, pasting emotion on her face instead of calculation. McClintock put her hand on the small of Callie’s back and guided her toward the vehicle parked across the street. Harwood caught his deputy’s arm, and Callie just caught his words as she walked away.
“She knows something, Mandy. That girl knows something.”
If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link
in our grizzly chain, by one Benjamin Gumbrell! Not only that, but ‘Running Home’,
by one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, is being published by Books of
the Dead Press on the 22nd of July – get on Goodreads and add that bad boy here.