#3. Into The Maelstrom by Benjamin Gumbrell…

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Today’s Soundtrack – Make Me Wanna Die by The Pretty Reckless

First, a reminder about The Zombie Project competition – comment on any of the Zombie Project short stories and you’ll be entered to win a prize draw, prizes including a brand new copy of Warm Bodies and an eBook copy of Julie Hutchings’ Running Home, and more prizes may be joining those soon! Each comment counts as an entry, so get commenting!

You guys are in for such a treat today. The next link in our grizzly chain will shock and appal you – and you’ll love it. Benjamin Gumbrell is a writer who’s only recently allowed his writing to be seen by the public, and jeez are we lucky he decided to do so. Perfect for the project, he loves to write horror, and has an interest in the minds of society’s “monsters”, in particular. It is those monsters that scare him the most, as ‘they are the monsters that cannot be seen, until it is too late.’ His upcoming novel, The Deadman’s Door, will soon be seeking a publisher, and you can find Benjamin on Twitter, here. He definitely brings the monster with this gross little number, so sit back and enjoy.


Into The Maelstrom
by Benjamin Gumbrell

 

McClintock stopped, and watched the girl move slowly to the truck. She looked at Harwood.

‘What do you mean “she knows something”? What the hell could she possibly know?’ she demanded. Harwood sighed, and shook his head.

‘I don’t know, but there’s something that kid ain’t telling us- I can feel it. And how in God’s name can she shoot like that? That- that ain’t normal.’

Callie was standing by the truck, watching them from a distance, her grey eyes wide. She looked so small, so thin, and McClintock felt a brief rush of anger at Harwood- how could he accuse a small child of keeping secrets at a time like this? But this wasn’t the time for a debate.

‘What do we do with her?’ she asked. Harwood put his hands on his hips and glanced worriedly at their surroundings, as if expecting an army of infected to crawl out from the shops around them.

‘She can’t come with us- the station is too far into town for a young girl to go to. There will be those… things all over the goddamn place, and she’ll only slow us down. We’ll have to take her to the others, and we can all leave town together.’

Realization dawned on McClintock. ‘But that will take us in the opposite direction. It’ll be too late by the time we manage to get back. The Lodge is at least fifteen minutes south.’

Harwood rubbed a hand across his face. ‘I know. But what else are we supposed to do? Take her with us?’

McClintock took a breath and looked at Callie. ‘I guess we have no choice.’

‘C’mon.’ Harwood said, and took her arm, leading her to the truck.

The discussion was over- like it or not, Callie was coming with them, right into the belly of the beast that had once been their town.

*

The truck coasted to a halt a few blocks from the station, and Harwood cut the engine. He turned in his seat to face the little girl and looked at her sternly.

‘Listen, Callie, I should warn you: this is going to be very dangerous. We are going to walk from here to the police station, a few blocks that way,’ he said, pointing north. ‘We are going to radio for help, or- at the very least- we are going to get some weapons and supplies.

If those… things find us, we have to find our way back to the truck. Failing that, we have to make our way to The Lodge. It’s a few miles South of here. Here, look.’

Harwood reached across McClintock’s lap to open the glove box and took out a folded copy of what appeared to be a local map. He unfolded it and pointed near the centre. ‘This is where we are.’

His finger snaked its way down the street, following the minute bends until it stopped almost two centimetres from the jumble of cross-streets that made up the town. ‘This is where The Lodge is. You just follow the road behind us until you find the sign. This is very important: Do you think you can find it if anything goes wrong?’

Callie considered, took a breath and nodded.

Harwood looked doubtful, but nodded back. ‘Good. And remember: don’t use your gun unless you really have to. That display with the garden ornament was impressive and all, but I don’t want to attract these things unless we really have to. Do you understand?’

Callie touched the pistol in her shorts. ‘How many of those things are out there?’

‘I don’t know how many there are. Could be hundreds. Frankly, I don’t want us to find out. So I will ask again: do you understand what I told you?’

His voice had turned harsh, and Callie winced in spite of herself. Harwood’s eyes bored into hers, and she felt as if he was searching her eyes- looking for answers to questions unasked. He didn’t trust her, though he tried to hide it.

She met his eyes anyway. ‘I understand.’

Harwood’s eyes broke contact and he looked at McClintock with a grimace. ‘Alright, let’s do this.’

*

Just over the mountains, the base was a hive of activity. Scientists and soldiers alike ran from station to station, and helicopters landed every couple of minutes, bringing with them updated news on the progressing of Virus TRH-7453. Or as they liked to call it: Project Hazard.

Dr. Harold Tehma’s office looked down on the hub of activity, and he stood at the window, watching them. Things were moving quickly, and every second counted.

Tehma turned to the scientist behind him.

‘What’s the approximate rate of infection?’ he asked the man.

‘Approximately 95% of the town have been infected within two hours, sir.’

Tehma nodded. ‘How much of the liquid pheromone do we have?’

The scientist flipped a page on his clipboard, and peered at the writing. ‘There are approximately 94,000 litres of the liquid- the equivalent of two water-tanks.’

Tehma raised an eyebrow. ‘And are all precautionary measures in place? All missiles are on standby, I take it?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Good. Now leave me. Return when you find some suitable subjects for pheromone testing.’

The scientist nodded, and turned on his heel, marching out of the room as fast as he could go.

TRH-7453 was going as well as it had on their smaller trials, it seemed, and would soon find its way into the cereals of America’s most average citizens. Project Hazard was well on its way to being the terror success that his bosses had wanted.

But that would not be completely established until the pheromones had been proven to work when applied to a larger scale – otherwise what is the use of an army of psychotic creatures, unless they can be controlled?

Weaver ants were what had originally given Tehma the idea. During his study of Oecophylla weaver ants typically found in South-Eastern Asia and Australia, their behaviours called out to him, demanded him to reach out further into the abyss of their potential, and use their strengths to mankind’s own.

The weaver ant was the ultimate army.

A weaver ant on its own is weak and pitiful. But the weaver ant has also never had to adapt. This is because the weaver ant can protect their species and their home through the release of a specific set of pheromones.

When an ant finds a food source or an enemy, it releases a chemical into the air around it that draws the attention of nearby members of their nest. Then, as more ants come, more pheromones are released, until an army of ants appear, and overrun anything stupid enough to get in their way.

This is how Project Hazard works.

The use of pheromones can be used to create anything- from aggression to calm, and can even create trails for others to follow. What scientist could resist?

Soon, once the physical symptoms begin to manifest themselves, they would be able to secrete their own pheromones. But that would take time- although by now, they should be able to sense the pheromone, at the very least.

‘Sir!’

Tehma turned to see the scientist had returned. His face looked flushed, and his eyes were wide. ‘What is it?’

‘It seems we have some subjects suitable for trail and aggression testing. One male, one female, and a child.’

‘A family? That’s perfect.’

And it was perfect. The male could be a good tester for the new pack’s strength, while the woman and child could be the perfect testers for their conscience.

Tehma smiled and took the glasses out of his breast pocket, perching them atop a pointy nose. He followed the soldier to a screen, and watched the heat-signatures of three figures as they moved slowly up the street. Two taller, one shorter- definitely a child. It was a shame, but sacrifices had to be made.

‘Where are they?’

‘They are very close to the centre of the town- approximately a single block from the Police Station and closing in. We have identified the two adults- both are police officers.’

‘So we can assume they are going to the station?’

‘That would be an accurate assumption, I believe, sir.’

Tehma pinched his nose. ‘Has all communication lines from the station been cut-off?’

‘Yes, sir. And all of the power has been turned off.’

‘Good. Then send a chopper. Release the pheromones. And record all of what happens next -it’s important that the superiors see this.’

*

The trio were closing in on the station slowly when they heard the faint sound of the helicopter approaching. Harwood’s eyes widened and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

‘Shit!’ he exclaimed, and ran into the street, waving his arms in all directions, looking around for any sign of the helicopter, but couldn’t see anything. McClintock ran to his side swiftly and followed suit, but Callie didn’t move.

‘Don’t!’ she barked at them. Her eyes were wide again, but her hands were no longer steady. ‘Don’t signal them. Please.’

McClintock’s eyes were the first to drop from the sky, and she studied Callie, the grin disappearing slowly as she took in Callie’s expression. ‘Why are you scared, Callie?’

But then the helicopter became visible from behind the clock tower, rotors drowning out any sound and Callie gaped up at it, a soft moan escaping from her lips. ‘Please…’

But it was too late. The chopper was approaching them, and Harwood couldn’t hear Callie’s desperate plea. He didn’t even look at her- his gaze was fixated on the possibility of rescue. The helicopter glided above them until the wind from the chopper was so strong that all three of them felt their clothing whip around them as they screwed their eyes against the gale.

The helicopter hovered above them, and Harwood looked back at them, a large grin on his face as he gave a whoop of delight. ‘We’re saved! We’re getting’ the fuck out of here!’

Another sound the others could not hear.

Then the liquid fell down on them in a huge splash, soaking their clothes and falling to the concrete with a slap.

They looked up again, but the helicopter was moving away, leaving the trio alone, soaking in the pheromones of their worst nightmare.

*

It was only seconds later that they began to hear the rumble of the stampede and the tormented screams approaching.

The trio wiped the liquid from their eyes and exchanged looks.

It didn’t sound like a few of them – it sounded like thousands.

McClintock was the first to move. ‘C’mon, run!’ she screamed, and pulled Callie’s arm as she turned towards the station and ran.

Harwood turned and followed after them, his shock recovering as he realized the hoard were catching up… and fast!

He looked over his shoulder, as the front of the infected skidded around the corner of the nearest street, growling through puss and mucus as they worked their powerful legs into a sprint.

‘RUN!’ he screamed at the girls, and he picked up the pace, running faster than he had ever run before.

He could see the station’s front doors ahead and to the right of them and he focused on the doors, trying not to imagine the monstrosities behind him, catching up inch by inch. The growling of the pack behind him was getting louder.

His legs told him to stop, but he ignored them as more zombies ran into the street from in-front and from the sides. There were hundreds converging on them, and more were coming every second. Zombies crashed through windows as they scrambled past each other, desperately trying to be the first to rip them to shreds.

McClintock and Callie reached the doors, and McClintock held one door open for him as Callie ran behind her into the darkness of the station.

‘C’mon!’ McClintock yelled, urging him on. ‘C’mon, get here!’

He was meters away, closing in.

Fifteen meters left.

Ten meters.

He could hear the steps behind him.

Five.

Now he swore he could hear a panting in his ear.

Four meters to safety.

Three.

McClintock shrieked as an arm reached out and grabbed Harwood’s collar, jerking him backwards onto the concrete with inhuman force. His head hit the concrete, and he screamed at the shadows that fell over him and blocked the sun. He stayed awake long enough to feel the agony as the first set of teeth bit through the flesh of his jugular, and he felt a spreading warmth as his blood bubbled into a pool on the concrete beside him. The last sound he heard was the furious growling of the growing crowd, and the bubbling of his blood as he struggled to breathe.

McClintock screamed and tried to close the door, but she had waited a moment too late. A thin and dirty arm reached through the opening and gripped her wrist, pulling at it as hard as it could.

McClintock struggled, but it was just too late. She felt a tear fall down her cheek, and she whispered to Callie. ‘I’m sorry Callie. I’m so fucking sorry.’

She looked into Callie’s eyes as she felt her arm rip off, screeching as her blood fell in an arc over the inside of the door.

The zombie staggered back, arm in hand, and Callie used the opening to hurl all of her weight on the door. It slammed and she closed the latch with shaky hands, looking down at the screaming woman with a look that might have been pity.

McClintock had slipped onto the floor, where she thrashed in the pool of her own blood as it pumped from her in a stream of red.

Callie was scared, but there was one thing she knew.

She wasn’t going to leave without McClintock, no matter how bad her condition was.

She had seconds before they broke in, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by one J.C. Michael! His upcoming novel is being published by Books of the Dead Press this month, so stay tuned! Not only that, but ‘Running Home’, by another one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, is also being published by Books of the Dead Press on the 22nd of July – get on Goodreads and add that bad boy here.

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5 thoughts on “#3. Into The Maelstrom by Benjamin Gumbrell…

  1. Pingback: Building as you write, and its rediscovery | A Writer's Wonderland

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