Today’s Soundtrack – Whole Truth by Don Broco
Today brings us the seventeenth Zombie Project story, what should be the penultimate story, except we’ve had a recent addition to the list – one J.C. Gregorio, or @muchadoaboutJC, as some of you may know her. She was on the original mailing list for the project, but missed the email confirming her place, and now I’m thrilled to announce she’s back in the game.
Back to today, then.
Lauren Spieller is a must-follow on Twitter, so go check her out. You can also find her over on her blog. She has a healthy fear of germs in public bathrooms, and her story has books, gore and zombies – what more could you ask for?
The Library at the End of the World
by Lauren Spieller
I pulled Tara down into a crouch behind a white van, then peeked around the corner. There were only two of them wandering around—their eyes clouded white and red, the skin on their faces torn and swollen. The policeman was already dead, and that kid from down the block looked like he was limping. By the time the creature caught up with him, we needed to be long gone.
“How’s your head?” I whispered, pushing Tara’s bangs away from her face. The hair was matted against her head, thick and dark and wet. “It looks like you’re still bleeding pretty bad.”
Tara handed me the baseball bat and grimaced. “Means I’m still alive.” She pushed back into the van and inched her way up till she could peer through the window. A trickle of blood ran down the side of her face, pooling along her collar.
“Jules, we should keep moving,” she whispered. “The one in the track jacket is almost finished eating the cop.” Tara slid back down and gritted her teeth. “My head is killing me.”
I took her sticky hand in mine and squeezed. Our rings shone gold through the blood. “The old library is only two blocks away. We’ll break in through the back and board it up behind us. Then we can fix up your head, okay?” I patted my bag, where our first aid kit was waiting.
Tara smiled. “I’ll race you.”
“On three,” I said, getting to my feet but staying low. “One. Two. Three.”
We took off running, our feet pounding the pavement as we skirted around abandoned cars and jumped over the rotting corpses that had once been our neighbors. The library was close, so close—we just had to hope we didn’t run into anything alive enough to chase us. I kept my eyes on the back of Tara’s head as we sped through the streets. I wasn’t letting her out of my sight, not again.
Something slammed into my shoulder, throwing me to the ground. I rolled sideways, feeling around for my bat. A foot away from me, the thing slowly righted itself, its single arm swinging back and forth. I caught sight of my bat just as it rolled under a car.
I tried to get to my feet, but it grabbed my foot and pulled me back down. It’s mouth opened wide enough that I could see it’s swollen, rotting tongue rolling toward the back of it’s throat. “Help me!” I screamed, kicking at its face. “The bat, get the bat!”
Tara spun around and ran back toward me. I kicked the thing in the forehead, cracking it’s skull, but it didn’t let go. It tightened its grip on my leg, it’s fingers edging between my ankle bones. “Fuck, Tara, grab it!”
Tara took hold of its legs and pulled. The thing slid away from me, finally releasing my leg. I jumped to my feet and ran toward it just in time for it to sit up and reach for Tara.
She screamed and jumped back. I searched the ground for something to use as a weapon, but for once the street was clear of debris. “Jules!”
I ran forward, picturing soccer balls and footballs and every other kind of kickable-thing. A moment later the zombie’s head collapsed in on itself and it’s went body limp on the ground. I pulled my foot out of it’s skull and shook it off like I’d just stepped in a brain-filled puddle.
“Holy shit,” Tara said, her face bright white against the blood in her hair. “Thank you. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
I kicked the body again for good measure and chased after her. That wasn’t the closest we’d come to one of those things, but it was enough to make my legs feel like wet paper.
A siren wailed in the distance. For a second I considered pulling her off course, but the last time we changed our plan in the middle of a relocation, Tara had ended up falling through a ceiling vent into a nest of zombies. We’d barely made it out alive. We couldn’t afford another mistake, especially now that she had a head injury.
The lot around the library was empty, save for a lawn mower and a pile of dead leaves. We climbed over the railing and up onto the porch at the back of the building so as not to make any extra noise by taking the rickety stairs. The library had been boarded up for over a year, every entrance sealed to keep kids from sneaking in and smoking pot. Funny how your priorities change…
“Jules.” I swung around, only to come face to face with Tara, holding a huge axe. “What do you think?” she said, gripping it tightly.
Her tank top clung to her body and I could still see the hickey I’d left on her neck a few days ago. “I think you’re hot and if we weren’t in danger of being eaten alive, I’d eat you myself.”
Tara rolled her eyes, but I could tell she was trying not to smile.
I held out my hand and she handed me the axe, then hopped back off the porch and peered down the street. “I don’t see anything. Go ahead.”
I swung the axe into one of the boarded windows. The sound of wood cracking bounced off the surrounding houses. I cringed.
“Keep going,” she whispered. “We’re still alone.”
After a few swings, I pushed the board through the window and stepped back. “It’s dark and creepy inside,” I said, leaning through the opening. I pulled my head back out and grinned. “Let’s go.”
We climbed through the window and set to work boarding it up again behind us. “You’re sure there’s nothing else in here?” Tara whispered, her eyes shining in the dark. “What if we’re trapping ourselves in here with one of them?”
I pulled a small flashlight out of my back pocket and handed it to her. “I guess we’ll have to hope we have them outnumbered.”
A low groan sounded outside. I put my eye up to the crack in the board. “There’s one outside. Wait—no, two. Shit.”
I grabbed Tara’s hand and we backed away from the board, the darkness of the library swallowing us. The noises outside grew louder, hungrier.
“Did you hear that?” Tara whispered. “They’re on the stairs.”
“It’s okay. Just stay—”
A hand burst through the boarded window. The fingers were bent in all directions, raking the air like twisted snakes. I took a step forward and swung the axe through the wrist, severing the hand.
“We’ve got to lock ourselves in somewhere,” I yelled as another hand pushed through the hole in the wood. Tara’s hand slipped out of mine. “Tara?”
“My head. It feels funny….” She pressed her hands into the side of her head.
“Are you sure it’s not just them, I said, straining to see her.
“No, it’s not them, it’s…” Tara slumped forward, and I only just managed to grab her around the waist before she hit the floor.
“Tara!” I yelled, shaking her. “Shit, are you okay? Tara!”
The wooden board shuddered and another hand slammed through the hole. I jumped so hard I nearly dropped Tara. “Okay….okay we’re going to find an office, and we’ll lock ourselves in. Okay, Tara?”
She slid further toward the ground, her head slumping forward onto my stomach.
The boarded window shuddered again, so full of holes and hands that it looked alive. I dragged Tara into the darkness, my heart hammering in my chest. I’d lock us in somewhere, anywhere, and we’d just have to hope they never made it in, or that they’d leave. We had to hope.
I helped Tara to her feet and stared into her face. “You’ve gotta help me, okay? You’ve gotta walk. They’re coming—”
A body burst through the wood, bringing a blast of sunlight with it. I covered my eyes, blinded for a second. The smell of decaying flesh filled my nose. More of them crawled through the hole in the board, blocking out the light as they entered.
The first one through was fast. I yanked Tara toward me, just in time for it’s grasping hands to miss her face. I swung the axe madly. The thing threw itself forward, leading with the gaping hole in its face. I jerked backwards and tripped over a chair. The axe clattered to the floor. Tara grabbed it from the ground, then we took off blindly into the darkness.
A bookcase loomed out of the darkness. I hit my shoulder hard on its edge, sending a sharp stabbing pain through my right side. “Help me,” I gasped, pushing hard on the side of the shelving as one of the slower creatures staggered toward me. I looked to my right, hoping to see Tara pushing the bookcase with me, but she wasn’t there.
A scream filled the air, bloody and terrified and inhuman. I threw myself around the other side of the bookcase just in time to see Tara fall onto her back, her feet kicking at the creature on top of her. The axe lay discarded at her side.
“Hey!” I shouted, shoving aside a slow moving body sagging toward me. I stooped down and grabbed the axe, then faced Tara again. It’s dripping mouth was inches from her face. I planted my foot in the thing’s side and pushed hard. It fell off her, but was back on its feet almost immediately. I grabbed Tara’s hand and pulled her up. “Go!”
“I can’t, I’m already—”
“Just run, Tara!” I gripped the axe tightly and took a swing. The creature staggered forward just in time for the blade to sink into it’s body with a sickening crack.
“Fuck!” I yelled, grabbing for the axe hanging out of its chest.
“Jules, come on!” Tara screamed behind me.
The creature swung its arms wildly at me, it’s blackened fingers clawing at my sleeves. I planted my foot on its chest, then lunged forward and grabbed hold of the axe. I pulled as hard as I could, the zombie continuing to claw at my leg and arms, until the blade came free from its chest with a sickening slurp. Seconds later I sliced through the creature’s neck, the axe making short work of its decaying flesh and bone.
I caught up with Tara just as she rounded a corner into the administrative hallway of the small library. We flung ourselves into the first room we found. Tara slammed the door behind us and I immediately threw my weight against it. The room went black.
Something rustled in the dark and I heard Tara flick a light switch. Nothing happened. A second later a beam of light hit me in the face. “You have the axe?” she asked, breathing hard. When I nodded, she spun the flashlight to face the door. A bolt shone dully a few inches above the handle. “I still have that lock you found, but not the key. You’ll have to cut your way back out.”
I nodded and held up the axe. “I guess those things do bleed after all,” I said, watching the blade drip onto the ratty carpet. “Wait. What do you mean ‘I’ll’ have to cut my way out?”
Something hard rammed into the other side of the door. Tara slapped the lock onto the deadbolt as I backed further into the room. Another thump and a groan told us there were at least two of them out there.
“How’s your head?” I asked. If she thought I was going to be leaving here by myself, then she had hit her head harder than I realized.
“It hurts.” I felt her fingers snake through mine. “I shouldn’t have locked myself in here with you. I should have stayed out there.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I was bitten,” she said quietly. “When I fell through the ceiling this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “No, that’s not possible. You’ve been fine all day. It’s not a bite. You just hit your head.”
She opened her eyes and held out the flashlight to me. “I need you to take the flashlight, and shine it on my temple. You’ll see.”
I looked to the door, which had begun to shake. “There’s no time right now, we have to figure out how to get out of here.”
She pushed the flashlight into my chest. “Please, Jules.”
I swung the light down to our hands, not wanting to see what was on the side of her head. Tara reached out and put her hand on mine, helping me guide the beam of light up her right arm, past her neck, finally stopping on the side of her head. It only took a second for me to find it. I dropped the flashlight to the floor.
She put her cool hand on my face. I closed my eyes and leaned into her.
“I was planning on leaving once we found somewhere safe for you to stay,” she said, “but it looks like that’s not going to happen. So, you need to either get out of here before I—”
“Shut up.” I pulled away and walked back to the door. The things were still there, pounding on the wood. I thought of the boarded up windows, and wondered how long it would take them to claw through a door. “We have time. You just got bit this morning, which means you still have a little while.”
“I have minutes, Jules. I can feel it.”
The silence of the room pressed in on me, somehow louder than the things outside.
“You said you still have the axe.”
I looked back at her. She held the flashlight under her chin, lighting up her face from the bottom, like a kid who’s telling a scary story. “I’m not going to use it on you,” I said, my voice hard. “No way.”
“You don’t have a choice. If I turn, you’re going to have to do it. You’ll be stuck in here with me if you don’t.” She lowered the flashlight. “You promised,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. “We both did.”
I shook my head. “I’d rather be in here with you than out there with them! I’d rather—”
She sucked in a breath and squeezed her eyes shut.
I ran back to her. “It’s too soon,” I said, my voice cracking. “Fight it, you have to fight it!”
She looked up at me, her eyes unfocused. “I can’t.”
I crouched in front of her and took her hands in mine. “We can figure this out. Maybe I can, I don’t know…cut it off?” She smiled, but her eyes were watery. I squeezed her hands. “Tara, I can’t do this without you.”
She pulled one of her hands away and ran her finger along my lips. “Remember how we used to come here during the summers when it was too hot to be outside? We’d read to each other, and you’d use funny voices for the characters.” She wiped away a tear rolling down my face. “I always thought this place was so romantic. ”
I grabbed her fingers and kissed them. “It still is.”
Tara rested her forehead against mine. “I think I need to lay down.”
A screaming moan filled the air and I jumped to my feet. The entire wall shook, as if they were ramming themselves against the other side of the door. I had to find us a way out before she turned. If I could fight through them, maybe we could relocate again. Maybe I could find the source of the siren I’d heard earlier.
“Hey, hand me the axe,” I said, turning back to face her. “I’m going to—”
Tara lay on the floor, her arm stretched out to me, her fingers curled in toward her palms.
“No no no.” I picked up the flashlight and shone it on her face. She stared at me, but her eyes weren’t right. And her mouth…it was open, but her lips were pulled back against her teeth.
“Tara?” I dropped down on my knees in front of her and reached out a shaking hand. “You’re scaring me, okay? I need you to open your eyes. Can you do that for me? Please?” I took her hand in mine, but it was limp. “You have to wake up. We have to get through them, and then I’m going to find someone to help you.” I grabbed her shoulders and shook them. Her head fell back. “Tara! Tara please!”
The door shuddered behind me and I jumped. Tara didn’t move, didn’t blink. I brushed her hair out of her face, leaned down and kissed her head. My lips came away wet with blood.
I got to my feet, my legs shaking beneath me. Tears were falling fast, blurring my vision. I wiped my face with the back of my sleeve. Tara was going to wake up any second, and I didn’t want her to see me crying. Even if it wasn’t her, even if it was one of them—I still didn’t want her to see me cry. It always made her cry too.
I picked up the axe and walked back over to the door. I could hear them clawing against the other side. I took a deep breath, then swung the axe hard, cracking the lock clean in two. It fell to the floor with a thud I could feel in my bones. The door groaned, nothing holding it closed now but the bolt. I pictured them pressing against the other side, flesh melting across bone, teeth covered in clotted blood and hair. One of them had swallowed a piece of Tara’s beautiful skin.
The door shuddered again, and a crack appeared near the bottom. I wanted to be scared, to feel something inside me other than the slow twist of my stomach, but I couldn’t. Tara was gone.
The groaning and the scraping of nails on wood dulled to a gentle hum as I turned to look back at Tara one last time. She still lay on the floor, her eyes half open as if she was falling asleep. But she wasn’t sleeping and she wasn’t coming back, no matter how much I wanted her to. Not as Tara, anyway. She was gone, and I was still here. Alone. But without her, without Tara…I was more than alone. I wasn’t even me anymore.
Without her I was nothing but a body in a room.
I swung back around to face the door. The moaning and the strain of wood roared back to life. I lay my palm against the wood, feeling it shudder and shake and strain. They were out there, calling for me. And behind me, in only a few seconds, Tara would be too.
I bent down and put the axe on the ground, then stood up and closed my eyes. I pictured Tara leaning back against me, a book in her hand. We were happy.
I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and pulled open the door.
If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the spooky Cat Scully! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.