Today’s Soundtrack – Highway to Hell by ACDC
Introducing this awesome piece of writer ass is making me feel redundant. Julie Hutchings is so hot on the writing scene she sets off smoke alarms. Her book, Running Home, has just been published, and is available on Amazon. One half of The Undead Duo, Jules is like the tipsy fairy godmother you never had – and if you’re not following her on Twitter, then Jesus, there must be something wrong with you. I hear people actually pay real cash money for tweets from her.
Yeah. It’s like that.
Oh, and you can find her here, too, on one of the best blogs you’ll ever read. (Did I mention she’s awesome?)
by Julie Hutchings
Thinking small was something the town of Haley did well. Even before the Reds came, there were only three hundred and forty townies, every one of them up in the business of their closest neighbor, who wasn’t even in shooting distance. A small place like Haley made for small people, without much to say or do. There was the Mayor, of course. But we’d all but lost him when the Reds came. He never came out of his big house by the woods anymore, and could be one of them for all we knew. There was Amber Wright, voted Miss Haley six years in a row, even after she became a Mrs. Haley, and had four kids. It didn’t matter to our town, she was still the prettiest girl at the Haley Day Parade. The town of Haley did love a parade, and they loved a familiar face.
So, when The Man walked into Blue’s Diner, it raised some interest.
I’d worked at Blue’s, the only diner in town, for almost twelve years. It was mostly regulars, but the truckers who pulled off the highway to grab a bite always tipped well, as did the supply truck gentlemen that brought us our frozen food. Not to mention, one of those supply truck drivers was just about the handsomest man anyone in Haley had ever laid eyes on. So the ladies from Haley were always trying to take my job, for the tips, and maybe for the chance to hitch a ride with a handsome trucker who could take them somewhere bigger. There was nothing big about Haley, and there was no getting out. That was even more true now that the Reds had taken over anywhere nearby. Now, no truckers came through, and I didn’t have enough to feed them anyhow. The rats had seen to that, coming and eating anything that wasn’t already spoiled or moldy. What was close to edible was rationed out to the town whenever folks had the nerve to leave their houses. It was dark, sad, and we were poor. Nothing was ever new, and nothing was ever interesting anymore.
So when The Man walked in, dressed in some fancy suit, looking healthy and like he was on some vacation, heads went up.
He strolled right up to the counter, staring at me the whole time behind these nice, black sunglasses. He smiled at me. Nobody smiled in Haley, not anymore.
He sat down right in the middle, picked up a menu that hadn’t been touched in months, and said something outrageous.
“I’d like a cup of coffee, please.”
I raised my eyebrows, and smiled at how ballsy he was. “You want a cup of coffee?”
He grinned, teeth sparkling white. I hadn’t seen teeth that white my whole life. When you lived in a town like Haley, nobody cared about your teeth, or even noticed them, until after you went Red, and they turned black, or fell out, or both.
“Yes, Ruth Ann, I would love one,” he said, looking at my nametag and smiling still. And damnit if he wasn’t a little handsome. There weren’t no handsome men anymore.
“Coming right up, sugar.” I winked, and rolled my hips a little slower than usual when I walked to the coffee pot. I poured some of the black muck into a mug, and threw it in the microwave. You never knew when you walked in what was going to work better, the coffee machine or the microwave. That day, it was the microwave. Every day I was surprised that we had power at all.
Bobby and JC were sitting in their usual booth, both staring at The Man as the mug clunked down on the counter. Even they hadn’t been brave enough to drink the coffee anymore, and they’d been good for three or four cups a day. The thing with the coffee was, we knew exactly how old it was, knew the water it was made with was full of dead Red, and that the rat droppings were impossible to see in the grounds.
“It’s gotta be black, darlin’, but I bet you knew that,” I said, leaning on the counter enough to let my cleavage do its job. He smirked at me, and took a good, long sip of that coffee.
That’s when I knew that he was scarier than any zombie could be.
He stared at me from behind those black glasses the whole time, and when he put the cup down, he licked his lips with a pink tongue. None of our tongues were that shade of pink now. None of us was that healthy.
“That was delicious, Ruth Ann.”
“He drank it,” Bobby said from the booth. I knew The Man heard, but neither of us looked away from the other. I was scared to.
“You see many visitors this way, Ruth Ann?” he asked.
“Not anymore, just the regulars. You drank the coffee.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Sharp looking man like you must know where that coffee’s been. Ain’t safe to drink, you must know that.”
“Then why do you serve it still?”
I laughed, I couldn’t help myself. “Ain’t nothing safe anymore anyway. And at least I can put it on the table and things could feel like they used to for a while.”
“Well, that’s a lovely sentiment,” he said kindly.
He drank the rest of the coffee without even wincing. Bobby and JC were getting suspicious of him, and for some reason, I wanted them to just shut up and leave The Man alone. I knew they probably wouldn’t, but I wanted them to.
“Would you like another cup, Mr.—“
He took his glasses off and showed me movie star blue eyes that went with his rosy cheeks and suntanned skin. I gasped, I couldn’t help it. We were all so dirty now, even when we were clean.
“Carter. Mr. Carter.”
“You got a first name, Mr. Carter?” I said with my best come hither smile.
“I suspect we all do, Ruth Ann, but mine isn’t important.” He smiled back, and he was right. I didn’t care.
“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the food here, Ruth Ann?”
“All right, I’ve had enough of this,” Bobby said, standing and coming towards us. “You leave Ruth Ann alone.”
“Bobby, we was just talkin’, now leave us alone.”
“Man like this ain’t got no business in Haley.”
The Man stood slowly, straightening his suit jacket. Not a drop of sweat was on him and it was at least ninety degrees in Blue’s. He was half Bobby’s size, but when he looked up at Bobby, he backed away. I’d never seen that happen before.
“Come on, JC, time to go,” Bobby said. JC got up as he was told, the way he always did. He walked around Mr. Carter as far as he could, and when they got to the door, Bobby turned around.
“I’d be getting’ on my way real soon if I were you, mister,” Bobby said.
Mr. Carter smiled at him, showing off those pearly whites again. “How do you know I can’t do you some good here, sir?” he said. But I think we all knew he wasn’t there to do us any good.
The door slammed behind the men, and Mr. Carter turned back to me. I wasn’t afraid to be alone with him, that’s what shotguns were good for.
“Alone at last,” he said. “Let me ask you, Ruth Ann, about the quality of your food here.”
I sat on the one stool without a ripped seat, and tried to size him up, but I had no idea what I was looking at. No idea where he could have come from.
“What do you want to know?”
“it seems to me that this is one of the only places in town still up and running. I imagine you do a fairly good business.”
“Sure, for one that doesn’t need money anymore.”
He sat next to me, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t smell good. Like the cologne samples you used to see in magazines.
He unbuttoned his blazer and took it off, and when he did…. When he did, there it was.
The chip in his wrist. It was red.
I screamed and ran behind the counter for the shotgun, but he didn’t come after me, just sat down again slowly and watched. Well, that made me feel right stupid, and if he’d wanted to eat me before, he could have. So I slowed down.
“How are you red and not dead? You look better than anyone I’ve seen in—well, my whole life, maybe.” I was shaking, and I’d be a terrible shot at this rate.
He shrugged, and grinned. “I work for the government.”
That was even scarier than seeing the red chip in his wrist. I glanced at my own yellow one, and wished he’d never walked into Blue’s.
The Reds may kill whenever they could, but we all knew the government was killing us town by town, all at once. We’d seen the planes flying overhead, and prayed they didn’t poison Haley. Genocide, the Mayor said it was. The best way to contain the outbreak. The government could save us by killing the right people.
I wondered as I looked at Mr. Carter, if I was one of the right people.
“Are you telling me,” I whispered, “that the people of Haley are going to die?”
“Without a doubt, Ruth Ann.” He put his elbows on the counter, showing off that bright red chip. “But you can help make it all easier.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You want me to—you want me to—“
“Kill people. Yes.”
I got dizzy real fast, and had to put my head down on the counter. I didn’t pick it up when I heard him move, I was too afraid to see what he might do. But I heard the front door screen door slam shut. No car starting up. A few seconds, and it slammed shut again.
“For you,” he said. I sat up, the room spinning slower, and saw an ice cold bottle of spring water on the counter, dripping fresh, clean droplets on the counter.
“Holy mother of Jesus,” I said, still staring, afraid it would disappear if I touched it. “Where did you get that?”
How could they have such good things and let us all suffer this way? Tears stung my eyes as I pictured men in fancy suits, watching big televisions, eating hot meals. I went home at night to a dark husk of a house, thirsty, wondering how long the rations at Blue’s would last. Nothing to keep me company but the constant worry that a Red was waiting in a closet for me, or that my chip would suddenly glow red.
“You’ve got a big personality, Ruth Ann,” he said, snapping me out of it. “And you could handle a big job.”
I felt like a monster, but I was becoming a monster more every day by living like this.
He kept going. I’d shown I was weakening. “The zombie population will take over this town shortly, they are closing in as we speak.” I sobbed, and he patted my back. “We need to find a new way to confine the contagion, Ruth Ann. You are a bright woman, so I’ll tell you straight. The toxins that the government has been blanketing communities with are not having the desired effect.”
“What are you asking me to do?” I sounded like a robo
He slid the water to me, and I drank.
His voice was softer, as he patted my back, like a regular person would. “We need to find a kinder, gentler method of exterminating the community before the undead move in. We think we have.”
“There really is no way out, is there?” I asked. I knew the answer, he didn’t have to say it.
“It’s a matter of when. And who will be left standing.”
Those last words hung in the air like the stench of rotting food and rat feces.
“What do I get in return?”
“We’ll keep you safe. Fresh food, water. Clean clothing. And when it’s over, you come to our compound.”
“You mean when everyone in Haley is dead?”
I must have been quiet a long time because Mr. Carter said, “I believe you can do this. Let me tell you how.”
I watched a tumbleweed blow by outside, and rats scuttle behind it. Who knew how many of the rats were Reds themselves? Who knew how many were turning in town right then? Or who was getting a nasty surprise in their shower to attack them? Who knew how long I had, out here in public view, seeing the most of the town once or more a week?
He brought me outside, something that was always nervewracking as hell these days. His car was as dark and looked as nice as he did. I couldn’t see in the windows, they were too dark.
But then the car rocked.
“What the hell is in there?”
“Don’t be afraid. You’re not in danger.”
He opened the back door, and a Red was stretched across a tarp on the back seat, hogtied and gagged. I could barely focus on it because of the God awful stench of the thing.
“Jesus Christ! You had a Red in the car with you?!”
“I assure you, he is quite secure. And I’ll show you how to make him secure as well. There is a certain drug that makes them more docile. If you can get your hands on them.”
The zombie stared at us with lidless eyes, chest heaving as it wriggled back and forth. I almost threw up, but I managed to stay calm. This was my only chance.
“Why you? You are in the perfect position to administer the toxin that will exterminate the community.”
“I am? What is it?” I was so confused, I couldn’t piece together what he was saying.
But instead of answering me, Mr. Carter quickly reached in and pulled the zombie out of the car, It’s tattered flannel shirt ripping more as he was handled, the rest of its naked body covered in pus and wounds that seemed to be moving on their own. God knows what was living in there. Mr. Carter pushed the thing forward into Blue’s, straight to the kitchen.
He turned to me after locking the zombie in the broom closet.
“Ruth Ann, I will explain this once, so please listen carefully.” I felt like I was back in the seventh grade. “The people of Haley come here to eat. It is likely the only place in town that can consistently serve semi-edible items due to your stores, small population, and electricity. We will administer the toxin to the townspeople through their food.”
I was no genius, but it was coming together fast. The Red in the closet, tied up, meant to keep. Me, in the perfect position to serve my neighbors food.
“Indeed. Ground flesh from the Red, fingernails, hair, fluids, especially fluids, in every meal you serve. It will act as a slow poison, ultimately attacking the nervous system and resulting in death.”
The kitchen went fuzzy, and spun. I saw a blur of Mr. Carter reaching for me, but I fell backwards and hit the floor just hard enough to actually wake me back up.
He ran to the front to get the bottle of water, and I was dying for it. The door of the broom closet rattled twice, then stopped.
Mr. Carter came back, still looking every bit as put together as he had before he wrestled a zombie into a broom closet. He held the water to my lips, his movie star eyes looking into mine, trying to get me to focus. When that water went down my throat, I didn’t think of anything except getting more of it. I would do anything to make sure I had it.
“Sit down,” I told him.
He sat without question next to me on the floor.
“I have to—cut—pieces off of it?”
“Unless they fall off first. Or you can always use a syringe to extract fluid. I will supply you with those to dope it anyway, to keep it under control.”
“And my neighbors will die?”
“They will. But you will not.”
I looked once more at the red chip in Mr. Carter’s wrist. I looked at his nice pants, nicer than any material I’d ever had. He smelled good. I wanted to smell good. And what the hell had Haley ever done for me except get me good trucker tips?
I drank the last of the water and held out my hand.
“It looks like this small town girl has got herself a big job.”
If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the wonderful Jolene Haley! And if you really loved it, don’t forget Julie’s book, ‘Running Home’, has just been published and is available on Amazon! Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.