And so this thing begins! Words cannot describe the excitement. To get you in the mood, let’s make The Walking Dead soundtrack today’s soundtrack. Or the theme from Misfits. I’m too excited to care.
Bobby came highly recommended by the raven haired half of the Undead Duo, one Julie Hutchings. His fear of whales notwithstanding, Bobby’s credentials in the field of all things zombie made him the natural choice to kick this thing off with one hell of a bang. If you don’t love this, there’s a very real chance there’s something wrong with you. I’m sorry.
You can find Bobby on Twitter, here, and at his blog, The Severed Limb Movement, here (and if that blog name doesn’t give you an idea as to how great this story is gonna be, then go back and read it again.)
Without further ado, I give you the beginning of the apocalypse. Strap yourselves in, guys. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
No Place for Strangers
by Bobby Salomons
WHEN people think of America they think of New York, Washington D.C. and L.A. – it’s what they see in movies and on TV. If a monster is hellbent on destroying the country it’ll start in New York, if aliens invade the planet they obliterate D.C. first. Robots and natural disasters seem to prefer L.A. But ask yourself this question – if zombies were to take over, what better place than the very heart of America? A small town in the heartland known as Whitehill Frontier, Montana.
“So nobody here has ze cowboying accent?”
For a moment an awkward silence fell, only the radio crackled and the engine hummed. The three German backpackers shrugged uncomfortably as their reflection stared back at them in his sunglasses.
“I don’t know what you call a cowboy accent…” Sheriff Harwood spoke calmly with the slightest of a Montana accent. Though only in his early forties, he had a typical way of speaking.
“Well… Uhhh… With the movies they are speakings like ze former president Bush, yah?”
“That would be a Texan-accent.” Harwood smiled, mild annoyance registering as two teens raced by on dirt bikes, “You can go to Texas for the accent but if you want to meet real cowboys and not just a football team named after it – Montana’s a better place.” The three backpackers mumbled amongst themselves, pointing at a map and counting money. Just the slightest drop of sweat formed on Harwood’s forehead – while the three tourists were occupying his time the teens were making distance between them. Surely they’d tell their high school pals how they outraced the sheriff, worse they shouldn’t be going this fast on a windy and rainy day.
“Ze train station?”
“I’m sorry?” Harwood said, popping out of his worries.
“Ze train station? For a train to ze Texas?”
“Well, uhhh…the nearest by is about fifteen miles that way.” He pointed just behind the mountains. “I’m sure one of the locals will give you a ride if you ask nicely.”
“Zank you! We zank you for your kindness und hospitality. We are travels all through ze America and would really like to hear this accent, you understand?”
Harwood faked a nice smile,
“Sure… Whitehill Frontier is no place for strangers… You people have a good stay in this country and take care now, alright?”
“Yah! Und you too! Goodbye!” The three backpackers waved and strolled back to town to hitch a ride.
Sheriff Harwood rolled up the window and sighed. By now the teens could be anywhere. As he looked out on the fields, he smiled. Tourists didn’t know what they were missing. The corn that fed America, the beef that they were famous for and the people that worked hard to provide a nation. He popped open the plastic lid of his coffee and sipped from it.
“Sheriff Harwood?” The radio spoke, sound slightly distorted – most likely due to thunderstorms.
“Yes, Laureen?” he answered.
“There’s been accident…” The radio crackled, “One of the Hansen twins called it in.”
His heart skipped a beat.
“Christ, where are they at?”
“Rickerson Ranch, just between the cornfields – Joe’s already on his way.”
“That’s a 10-4, I’m moving. Over and out.”
Harwood turned the car around as fast as he could. Mud sprayed like a fountain as the tires fought to find traction. With a flick of his finger the lights and sirens turned on.
“Ed, it’s Joe…” The radio called in.
“Go ahead, Joe.” Harwood replied, he knew Joe hardly ever called in unless it was real serious.
“Looks like we’ve got a casualty here.” Joe replied.
“Jesus H. Christ! I knew it!” He cursed to himself, punching the steering wheel repeatedly.
“Ed…?” The radio asked confused.
“I hear you, Joe! Just do what you can – I’ll be there soon! Over.” His heart beat in his throat, in his mind he kept seeing the boys race by.
After racing over stretches of dirt roads and the interstate he finally made it there. Joe’s car parked by the side of the road. Lights still on.
Rickerson Ranch wasn’t hard to spot from the road but corn obstructed the view of the accident scene. He pulled over, grabbed his hat and ran out, distant thunder rolling ominously through the sky.
“I’m here!” He barked over his portable radio, “Where’s it at?”
“You coming from the interstate?”
“Just keep on walking through the corn till you hit a little dirt road – then turn right towards the ranch. Over…”
“Copy! I’ll be there in a minute!” Harwood replied and hurried through the wet cornfield. The thought of what he’d have to tell their parents was building up like a pressure cooker in his head.
The corn leafs made a rushing sound as he ran through, soothing in an odd way. After a few more steps he broke through, his feet sinking into muddy ground. To his right not too far away lay a dirt bike in a ditch, Joe’s brightly colored first aid kit from the car beside it. The flash of neon grabbed him by the throat.
“I see you, Joe! You’re right ahead of me!” He hollered and ran as fast as he could through the soggy soil.
Joe stepped into view shortly, almost nonchalantly and gestured him over before disappearing again, a lit cigarette in his hand.
Finally he made it there and turned to see the horror he had anticipated. But it was nothing like that. Before him stood the two teens, cold and shaky. One with a bandage around his wrist.
“…The fuck?” Ed mumbled as he looked upon a large overturned truck that had rolled off of the road and into the field. Joe strolled around the vehicle and waved from afar.
“Come on over!” He said over the radio and laid his hand against a truck tire. Harwood shook his head.
“You boys alright?” He asked the teens. They nodded. “If you ever race by me again like that I will beat the snot out of you and your momma will give you seconds. Got it?”
He stepped down and hurried over to the vehicle, the squished corn made it a little easier to make it there.
“Truck driver’s dead,” Joe yelled and pointed at the cabin.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, Ed.”
“Did you check his pupils?”
“Nope.” Joe replied and took a deep drag from his cigarette.
“You do know you’re not supposed to smoke at an accident scene, right?”
“I know. I’ve been careful.”
“Right. And why didn’t you check his pupils?” Harwood said, agitation breaking through. “We’ve got to make sure he’s not alive.” Joe grinned and a small puff of smoke escaped his mouth.
“If you want to check his pupils and make sure he’s dead you can go pick up his head… It’s right over there.” He pointed to a stretch of ripped apart barbwire and fence posts. Entangled between it was something round and bloody. It was pretty obvious.
“Poor bastard.” Harwood mumbled, Joe shrugged nonchalantly. “Those kids didn’t cause this, did they?”
“Nah. This happened a while ago… Crows ate out one of his eyeballs, can you believe it? The Hansen twins just happened to stumble upon it. The little one fell and broke his wrist. But at least they got to see a dead body, right?”
Above them the thunder gently echoed through the clouds as rain began showering them.
“A little more respect, Joe.” Harwood insisted and walked around the vehicle, noting the pool of fluids behind it. “Did you check the license plates?” He called back.
“I did! They don’t match the vehicle!”
“Yeah, that’s about our luck,” he mumbled. Another siren became apparent and the station’s big 4×4 truck drove up to the scene.
“Mandy’s here!” Joe called out and walked over.
“Tell her to park the truck right next to the vehicle! I want to climb onto it!” Harwood insisted, hoping to see some signs or marking on the side or at least a freight letter on the driver.
“Hey, boss!” Mandy yelled before bringing the pick up closer.
“Did you notice the fluids?” Harwood spoke to Joe.
“I did. Looks like some sort of liquid fertilizer.”
“What?” Mandy yelled from the open window as she parked the truck.
“I said – It looks like liquid fertilizer!” He repeated himself.
“Then why the hell are you smoking, Stanza?” She barked.
“Why won’t you people let me grow some cancer in peace?!” He bit back and strolled off towards the severed head.
“What’s that?” Mandy asked as she watched Joe approach a round object.
“That would be the driver’s head.” Harwood replied. His deputy looked shocked. “It happens.”
“Well, no lunch for Mandy…” She mumbled.
“Help me up.” He said and began climbing the pick up truck and vehicle.
“Careful, boss.” She insisted and walked with him along the length of it. “Anything?”
“Nothing.” He sighed and rubbed his head. On top of the vehicle he had a good oversight. From the ranch up ahead came another car. “Looks like the Rickersons woke up too.”
“Oh, boy.” She sighed as the shaky vehicle came closer.
“What happened? What are you people doing on our property?!”
“A truck overturned on your brother’s farm, Rick.” Harwood said from atop it, walking over to the cabin.
“Well…get it off!” He insisted, getting out of the vehicle with his brother by his side.
“Have you boys been drinking again?” Mandy asked, the two men gave her an angry stare.
“Impatient Ricky Rickerson, right?” Joe said, strolling over with something wrapped in a police jacket. “That’s what the teachers used to call you in school.”
“Stanza, what do you got there?” Rick replied, annoyed.
“Oh, this?” Joe said before stepping closer and opening up the jacket to unveil the severed head.
“Oh, God.” Mandy said, turning away just quick enough. The Rickerson brothers froze.
Rick emptied his stomach spontaneously while his brother gasped and stared at it.
“I would’ve figured that a tough man like you would have a stronger stomach, Rick.” Harwood said, making a face and reaching for the driver’s wallet. Everything was covered in blood.
“Fuck you!” Rick coughed, “Eddie Hardwood – that’s what we used to call you! You remember that? When little Susy gave you a hard on! Everybody saw it!”
“Mature. Well played…” Mandy mumbled.
“Hey, Rick – remember last year’s drunken escape during the harvesting celebrations? And you pissed yourself, slipped in it and broke your own leg? Do you remember that?” Joe growled, “Do you remember that? Cause I’m sure your kids still remember. Wasn’t that why Rebeccah left you and took them with her? Maybe you can do it again during tomorrow’s festivities.”
“You better watch your fucking mouth, Stanza,” Rick growled, grinding his teeth. “I could take you then – I can take you now.”
“Oh, really? How’s your new girlfriend? Cindy, right? Does she still work at truck stops with lonely truckers? Maybe she can give this guy some head too. Get it?” He added and shoved the jacket and head into Rick’s arms. Rick dropped it instantly.
“Enough! Stop!” Harwood yelled as he climbed off of the overturned vehicle. “Are you out of your mind?!” He hissed at Joe who picked up the head again.
“Rick, you two are no longer school bullies, no one’s scared of you. Go take a hike.” He spoke to his youth nemesis, before turning to his brother. “And you, Pete – don’t harvest this field. I don’t know what the hell is in that stuff, but I don’t think you want it in your crops. Got it?”
“Looks like regular liquid fertilizer to me.” Pete Rickerson insisted.
“I don’t care.” Harwood insisted, “Don’t. Fucking. Harvest. It.”
From afar came a buzzing, slowly getting louder. The group looked up at the sky. A small, black helicopter flew overhead. It slowed down near the accident scene and circled around a few times.
“Do you think those guys know what’s going on?” Mandy asked.
“Maybe. Or they’re just curious.” Harwood reasoned, “Joe – can you see any identification on that bird?” Joe grabbed his binoculars and looked up at the sky.
“Nothing I can make out!” He said. “Looks like that little chopper’s used for crop dusting though – they just removed some stuff. There used to be a logo on it but I think it’s peeled off!”
“What is it with unidentifiable vehicles today?” Harwood cursed. The small helicopter flew off again.
“…Well, that was odd.” Mandy mumbled.
“Alright – I’ll make sure the vehicle will be removed as soon as possible.” Harwood spoke to the Rickersons. “It’ll take at least eight or twelve hours. They’ll need a HAZMAT team, alright?”
“What about my corn?!” Pete Rickerson demanded.
“Aren’t you insured?” Harwood replied, “Cause if you’re not – you should be. Ask Mandy, her dad’s the local insurance guy.”
“I could get you a good deal,” she added naively, “Not for this incident, of course, but for the ne-…” The two brothers angrily stepped into their truck and drove off.
“Better luck next time, sweetheart.” Harwood said and patted her on the arm.
“Yep. Better luck next time – hey, you want to bring this to the coroners’ office?” Joe said, holding out the jacket with the head in it to her.
“Screw you, Stanza. Go smoke a whole pack.” She grumbled and stepped into the pick up truck.
“Ohhh – now you want me to have cancer!” He snickered.
“Come on, boys, I’ll get you home…” Harwood said to the shocked teens. “Joe, go take that… ‘part’ to the coroner’s office as soon as the fire department arrives.” He spoke over the radio.
“10-4, I’m on it!”
The night had been long and exhausting. They worked shifts to assist the fire department in getting the accident vehicle removed – slowly. Very slowly.
The body was removed and brought to the morgue. Firemen that came into contact with the fluids from the vehicle complained of strange itching, feeling disoriented and confused. All night the buzzing of a small helicopter somewhere in the distance had been audible. At least, if their minds weren’t playing tricks on them.
And now he just couldn’t catch his sleep, not for a moment. It was already light outside when he stepped into bed, meaning that by now it had to be near dinner time. Festivities for the annual Corn Festival were less than hours away. Suddenly the phone blared.
“Jesus!” Sheriff Harwood yelled out, knocking over a glass of water on his nightstand. “Hello?”
“Ed? It’s Laureen – festivities will start soon. Are you alright, sweetheart?”
“Oh, boy… Yes, I’m fine… Can you ask Mandy to pick me up?”
“Will do, boss. See you soon! Don’t forget to have fun – you earned it!”
“Thanks Laureen.” He sighed, hung up, strolled to the window over the wet carpet and looked outside. The weather had cleared up significantly and cars, parade floats and tractors bringing in truck loads of corn were making way to the small town.
Quickly he shaved, showered and dressed up.
Just shortly after he heard a quick wail of sirens outside. Mandy had arrived. He strolled out to see his deputy dressed in a pink and white checkered country dress, her brown hair braided – and a big smile on her face.
“I guess you slept well?” He said in a raspy voice.
“I guess you didn’t?” She said emphatically.
“You could say that. How’s Joe?”
“He’s a Stanza – do they even sleep at all?”
“Good point. Where’s your gun?”
Mandy grabbed around in the pouch of her dress and pulled out her Colt .45 1911.
“Nice, right?” She said enthusiastically.
“And your cuffs?”
“In my purse. Pepper spray in my wallet. My cellphone’s on two-way radio mode.”
Harwood smiled. “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks, boss.” She started the engine and drove off towards town.
After a short drive they could see people gathering about town for festivities.
“Hey, pull over for a moment,” Harwood said and stepped out. “Well what do you know? What are you folks doing here?”
“We decidings to stay! For ze Cornfest!” The German backpacker explained. “We were invitings and decide to stay one more day for this!”
Harwood snickered. “It’s a small world – enjoy the celebrations.” He stepped back into the vehicle.
“I’m guessing you know these people?” His deputy replied.
“I suppose you could say that.”
“Hmmm.” She smiled. “Do you think the Rickersons will show?”
“After last year’s fiasco? I think even the two of them become embarrassed at some point.”
“We can certainly hope so.” She said and parked the car, music filling the air with heavy bass and the sound of country and folk music.
“That music’s a little loud,” Harwood mumbled.
“Come on, boss. Lighten up!” His deputy insisted, “I’ll buy you some buttered popcorn and give you the first dance in my fancy new dress!”
Harwood laughed, blushing slightly – stepping out into the noise and the crowd.
Attendance was overwhelming, thick crowds around stalls, in front of the stage and speakers, parade floats and long tables filled with beautiful corn fresh from harvest just hours before. Through all the noise and busyness it was hard to spot or notice anyone or anything.
A hand grabbed Harwood by the shoulder.
“Jesus, Joe!” Harwood shivered momentarily. His deputy laughed.
“Aren’t you on edge, huh?” Joe’s laugh dissolved into a cough.
“It’s the lack of sleep – how are you, bud? What’s with the coughing?”
“Oh, it’s nothing – I had some amazing looking cob of corn. I guess they put some hot sauce on it or something and I just didn’t read.”
“Always feed an Italian before he gets hungry, right?” Harwood smiled.
“Particularly a Stanza!” Joe said coughing again. A trickle of sweat ran down his face.
“Are you sure you’re alright, Joe?” His friend nodded. “Let me buy you a drink…” Harwood insisted.
“We’re still in uniform, Joe. Nice try though.” Harwood replied, gesturing for a non-alcoholic root beer. “Here you go…”
Joe took a big gulp from his root beer and sighed.
“Better?” His boss asked.
“Better – thanks, Ed.” Joe wiped his face. “I’m thinking they put a bottle of dang Tabasco through the butter or something…”
“Always read the signs, Joe. Always read the signs.”
“Hey, guys!” Mandy called out and grabbed onto her colleagues, “How’s everything?”
“Well Joe had a piece of corn that’s working against him.” Harwood replied.
“Really? A Stanza that has trouble eating anything? I think that’s a first in the family, Joe!”
“Very funny…” Joe grumbled sipping from his soda.
“So – I still owe you that first dance, boss.” Mandy spoke to Harwood. Her eyes sparkled.
His heart jumped, just slightly. Never before had she given him this look. Quickly he looked over at Joe who gestured him to take the offer.
“Alright. I’m a terrible dancer though.” He said apologetically.
“It’s true – that’s why he’s a sheriff.” Joe coughed again, sitting down on a plastic chair. “Now he can make others dance for him.” Both men laughed.
“Hmmm – well I’ll be the judge of your dancing.” Mandy said and pulled Harwood by the hand.
She dragged him off into a crowd of people dancing. On the stage a band from the area were living up the party with some folk rock. Harwood felt insecure in his uniform, eyes and smiles were focused on him. His deputy moved in closer and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
“It’s okay, boss. I don’t bite!” She insisted and looked up at him. He gulped and lay his arms on her waist, his hellos to on-looking locals sounding almost apologetic.
“Alright, so now I…?” He said as she gently bobbed left and right.
“Now you focus on me.” She stroked the back of his neck. Her voice was low.
To his own surprise his knees turned to rubber. Going through the pockets of a headless corpse the previous day hadn’t had this effect on him. But she did.
“Hello, officer Stanza.” A teen voice said.
“Oh, hi there…” Joe said and turned around – the Hansen twins. And their mother.
“We’d like to apologize.” They said in stereo. Their mom had a firm hold of their shoulders. Joe coughed again and scraped his throat.
“No worries, it’s our job.” He assured. “Boys will be boys, right?” He spoke to the mother.
“Be that as it may – I told them to take it easy on those gosh darned bikes!” She insisted. “It’s already tough enough raising these two while their daddy’s serving overseas – I don’t need them to crash and hurt themselves.”
“Hear what your momma said?” Joe pressed, and the two nodded. Again Joe coughed and broke out in sweats, he felt dizzy and slightly off.
“Are you okay, officer Stanza?” The mother asked. He seemed pale and greenish.
“I’m fine…” He smiled faintly. “Hey, could you two kids do me a favor?”
“Yes, sir.” The two answered, synchronized again.
“Get me another root beer, will you? And make sure it’s got a little bit of alcohol in it.” He smirked and winked at the mom in a boyish way. He reached for his wallet.
“That beer’s on me.” The mother insisted. “Thank you for your service to the community.”
“Thank your husband for his service to the country.” He insisted.
“See? You’re an alright dancer.” Mandy said. Gently she squeezed his shoulders every now and then. By now everyone around had accepted the two dancing, focusing back on themselves.
“You look really great…” Harwood mumbled. She bit her lip and rolled her eyes in a cute way.
“Thanks, boss.” She dug her nails into his uniform. He wished he had danced with her before.
“Ed’s good, too,” He replied.
“Okay – Thanks, Ed.” She said with intention in her voice.
“Why don’t you two get up on the stage here?” A voice blared through the speakers.
Harwood froze and looked up. The lead singer of the band was looking straight at them.
“Oh, God…” He grumbled. The guy reached out his hand.
“Come on now, Sheriff! Let them see how you two can dance, be proud!” He insisted.
Before Harwood could say anything Mandy was already on stage. Cheers broke out everywhere. He sighed and let the singer pull him on, the crowd applauding.
Joe looked on from afar and smiled.
“You smooth motherf-…”
“Here’s your root beer, sir.” One of the twins said, handing him the bottle.
“Thanks, boys.” Joe said and twisted off the bottle cap. The twins looked at the stage.
“Is that the sheriff with one of the deputies dancing?” One asked.
“She’s looking smokin’ hot today.” The other said. “Why would she want to dance with him? I mean, he’s a cop… No offense.”
Joe swallowed his agitation and gave the boy a friendly smile.
“None taken.” He said, and grinned evilly. “Have you had some corn on a cob, yet?”
“No, sir – not yet.”
“Well you should. I just had some great corn.” He pointed at the table he ate from. “You and your brother should have some.”
“Alright, then that’s what we’ll do. Have a good fest, sir.” The teen replied and walked off.
“Oh, I will!” Joe called after them, snickering. “As soon as I feel better.” He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “Even nonna’s meatloaf doesn’t do this to me.”
“Alright! A big round of applause for the sheriff and his date!” The singer concluded. The crowd cheered loudly.
“She’s my deputy!” Harwood tried to clarify.
“His date is also his deputy!” The musician misunderstood and announced loudly. Harwood groaned.
“You could do worse… Ed.” Many smirked at him. He snickered embarrassed. She wrapped her fingers into his and waved at the crowd as they stepped down.
As he stepped down Harwood could have a good look at the crowd, and it appeared Joe was sleeping. Not too far away were the firemen – also seemingly asleep with their wives and kids trying to wake them up.
“Wow, look at those guys, huh?” Mandy noticed. “Do you think it’s the heavy HAZMAT suits they wore? Tired them out?”
“Maybe.” Harwood mumbled, “Let’s go thank them for their efforts.”
The two walked on over through the crowd. As they walked closer, the mood seemed to change. A small crowd had formed around the sleeping men. Worrisome mumbles came from the onlookers. The wives and kids were beginning to cry.
“What’s going on?” Harwood said and pushed through.
“Sheriff! Sheriff! They won’t wake up!” One of the wives cried, running her hands through her husband’s hair.
“Okay, calm down – ma’am.” He replied. “What did they do? What happened – is there any reason you could think of?”
“I don’t know!” She cried into her husband’s fire department shirt.
“My brother’s been feeling weird since yesterday, sir,” A relative said, trying to push tears back as he attempted to keep his brother upright.
“You don’t think…?” Mandy asked.
“Shhh,” Harwood replied. “Let’s not upset the crowd just yet.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” Mandy sighed. “Want me to go check on Joe?”
“Yes – go! Go!” Harwood said and she ran off. “Alright, everyone calm down. We’re going to fix this. Does anyone know where Dr. Gibson, is?” He addressed the crowd.
“I’ll go get her!” A local yelled and ran off.
“I knew this day was going to be special.” Harwood sighed under his breath and began attending to the men. “Whitehill Frontier is no place for strangers, but strange things all the more…”
“Joe! Joe!” Mandy yelled and shook his shoulder. No response. “Stanza!” She screamed into his ear.
“What?! What?!” He woke up confused.
“Thank God!” She hugged him. He was sweaty and cold.
“What’s wrong? Is Ed okay?”
“He’s fine. There’s something wrong with the firemen from yesterday!”
“The HAZMAT guys?”
“Yes – they’re not feeling well and they’re not waking up, Joe!”
“What? Why do they even wear a suit if it doesn’t work?” He asked, shocked.
“I don’t know but it’s time to get policing – come on!”
“Fine – fine!” He grumbled and raised himself. “You know what’s weird?”
“I feel like shit but my muscles feel really strong. Like… like I took something, you know?”
“What the heck are you going on about now?”
“I don’t even know – let’s go!”
“Hello, Ed.” Dr. Gibson spoke.
“Mabel! Thank God, take a look at these guys – they won’t wake up!”
“Alright, let’s see it.” She said and checked their vitals.
“Everybody just back up, please! Give us some space!” Harwood said to the gathering crowd.
“We’re here!” Mandy pressed through with Joe.
“Odd…” Dr. Gibson mumbled while checking the men’s pupils.
“What is?” Harwood insisted.
“It’s like I can’t find anything wrong with them. Heart works good, breathing is fine, their pupil reaction is even very fast… But they’re acting like plants.” She clarified.
“So what do we do?” Mandy asked.
“Good question. If you’ve got the answer, I’d like to hear it.” Dr. Gibson looked at Joe. “Oh my, Joe – are you okay?”
“I’ve been better.” He replied. His face was pale and clammy, huge pupils with baggy eyes.
“How are you feeling?” She persisted.
“Pretty crappy… I keep on being thirsty… Like my mouth is foaming… Damn local root beer.” He grumbled. “You know what’s weird? It feels like my muscles are really strong.”
“Oh?” The doctor asked.
“Oh yeah, it feels like I could lift one of these big fellas right up.”
“Well, why don’t you?” Harwood replied. “I’ll help you – we’ll get them out of this crowd.
“No need, I got this.” Joe replied and picked up one the firefighters as if they were a child. “See?”
The crowd gasped in awe. Harwood, Mandy and the doctor were intrigued.
“How did you do that?” Mandy stared. “He’s got to be at least one-sixty pounds!”
“You tell me! And that’s when I’m feeling sick!” Joe said enthusiastically about his condition. “Where do you want them, Ed?”
“Uhhh… I, uhhh… Let’s bring them to the cruisers,” he stuttered. Joe walked off with the fireman hanging from his shoulder.
“That’s not normal.” Dr. Gibson spoke. “Does he use steroids?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Have you noticed he looks green?” Mandy kicked in. “I know he’s Mediterranean but…”
“I noticed that too.” The doctor worried. “Didn’t you all go to that accident scene yesterday?”
“Sure,” Harwood replied. “So did these firefighters. You think…?”
“Those firefighters probably stood in whatever the truck’s contents were for a long time.” She added.
“But me, Joe and Mandy didn’t…” He continued.
“Oh, God.” Mandy grabbed Harwood by the sleeve, “That corn he ate… Where’s it from?”
“What?” The doctor asked.
“Jesus Christ!” Harwood ran off to find the organizer of the festival.
“Ed!” Joe called out after he dropped one of the firefighters.
“Joe! Joe… Listen to me… What table did you eat that corn from?” Harwood said, holding his friend around the back of the neck in a comradely manner, pressing forehead to forehead.
“Just answer me! I need to know this, buddy.”
“Uhhh, table sixteen, I think… With the really, nice and big corn on it. Easy to spot.”
“Listen, Joe, I need you to sit down and take it easy. Don’t fall asleep or anything.”
“No worries – I won’t fall asleep. You know something? I keep feeling angry… Like the Hansen twins said something and I just keep wanting to confront them or something, I don’t know…”
“Everybody wants to confront those two. Just take it easy, alright?”
Harwood ran off towards the large podium where the organization was seated.
“Hey! Hey!” He yelled from afar.
“Hello, sheriff. Looks like you’re in a hurry.” One of the commissioners said.
“What table is it with the ‘amazingly fresh’ corn?!” He asked breathlessly.
“…Uhhh? I think table sixteen, why? You want to take it with you? Someone found a bug in it?”
The commissioners chuckled.
“Who?” Harwood sighed. “Who brought it here?”
“The Rickerson brothers…” The man replied. Harwood froze. “I suppose they felt guilty about last year’s incident and wanted to make good by bringing some of their best corn.”
“…Oh, Jesus Christ.” Harwood gasped for air.
“Why, what’s wrong?” The man asked.
“Tell everybody to stop eating and spit out what’s left in their mouth!”
“What? I can’t do that! What are you talking about?!”
“Do it or I’ll have you arrested!” Harwood growled, the commissioners nodded and announced it on the microphone. All around people froze and did as told.
Harwood ran back to where he left Joe but his friend wasn’t there.
A blood curdling scream ripped through the night. As he turned around he could see it – Joe standing sixty feet away from him, frothing from the mouth and panting like a dog. There was a panic stricken expression on his face, yet a strange anger burned in his eyes. His hands were covered in blood. On the ground before him lay a firefighter. In halves.
“Jesus, Joe! What did you do?” Harwood gagged.
“He – he just ripped him in half!” One of the Hansen twins stuttered, only a few feet away from Joe.
“Get back, kid!” Harwood commanded, “Just slowly back up!”
The twin turned to him, looking pale and miserable just like Joe had been. Strangely, Joe seemed to ignore him.
“I don’t feel so good, sir.” The boy said, stumbling this way and that.
“Oh, no.” Harwood whispered. “Let me guess… You ate from the corn on table sixteen.”
The boy nodded before passing out. The crowd screamed, Joe growled with mucus and slime running from his mouth and nose.
“Joe!” Harwood demanded attention, what was still present of his friend turned his way. “If we have to do this… It’s between you and me.” He insisted with heavy heart.
Joe slightly trembled as if suffering from mild seizures. Harwood unholstered his gun. His friend was gone. Something else took his place.
“Jesus, Joe…” He whispered. “Joe… If you’re in there, I don’t want to do this. Get on the ground and remain calm. We can fix you. Somehow.” The crowd was completely silent.
There was a buzzing sound above them. The small, black helicopter had returned, watching them all from above. An eye in the sky that probably knew more than all of them together.
“You little bastard.” Harwood mumbled as he looked at the aircraft. Joe roared and rushed his way. “Oh, Jesus!”
Harwood stepped out of the way and Joe rushed past, colliding with a parked car at a breakneck speed. But he stood up unharmed, breathing heavily.
“Go! Get out of here! Go!” Harwood yelled. The crowd broke up in chaos.
Joe turned around and with incredible force ripped the wheel of a truck clean off. He focused on his friend and stepped forward.
“Joe! Joey, please!” Harwood whimpered and hurried behind a car. “Don’t do this, Joey! You’re my friend! You’re the brother I never had – please! Joey, don’t do this!”
Joe hurled the tire in Harwood’s direction with extraordinary force. It smashed into the vehicle, clean through the windshield – halting in the driver’s seat. Harwood ground his teeth together. He knew the outcome of this.
Joe screeched like an animal and next to him the Hansen twin rose up from the ground, as if awakened by Joe’s screech. It was beyond eerie, it was terrifying in ways that defied reality but were too disturbing even for a nightmare to be.
The two monstrosities began circling him.
“Oh, crap…” Harwood realized he had to keep them busy to create distance between them and the crowd. All around people lay, seemingly in a coma – waiting to rise again.
Harwood jumped up and made a dash for a number of stands, followed closely by his friend and the teen boy. Quickly he checked how many magazines he had, it would count. Close by he could hear the breaking and shattering of stands and products. The two were looking for him.
In the distance he could hear more dull pops, most likely Mandy opening fire in self-defense. It chilled him to the bone.
Suddenly he could hear heavy breathing, before he could turn around a set of hands picked him up. To his surprise it was the teen boy.
“Holy f-…” Harwood exclaimed before being tossed through the air, smashing into another stand. He wailed in pain, a rake sticking through his leg. “O, God!”
The teeth of the rake were poking out through his skin, a sickening sight, the pain beyond belief. He whimpered like a child as he pulled the garden tool out.
“Son of a…!” He growled and grabbed an apron from the ground, quickly ripping it apart and tying around his bleeding leg. “Round two! My turn!”
He raised himself up slowly, his leg pounding like it had a heart of its own. Before him stood the two creatures, staring. Waiting.
“I didn’t want to do this! But you made me!” Harwood yelled. The zombies looked at each other and rushed his way. Two loud bangs.
Joe lay trembling on the ground. The shot had entered his skull and emptied out an eye socket. Part of his nose was gone and a gaping hole where his sinuses were. It was heartbreaking.
The teenage boy lay still on the ground, a large hole in his chest oozing a liquid hardly comparable to blood. Whitish, green and thick slime. It smelled like spoiled vegetables.
“I didn’t want to do this.” Harwood whispered. One last time Joe let go of a wail. And there rose many others, up from the ground as if woken by an alarm clock.
Harwood turned around and ran off as fast as he could. Everywhere people were fleeing, scrambling for their cars, grabbing their children or fighting off people they had known for years. People they had grown up with, been friends with and even married to – now were monstrous creatures with enough strength to snap their beloved like twigs. And hellbent on doing so.
“Back off! Back off!” Mandy growled as another firefighter approached. He coughed up a green slime that bubbled as he roared through it. More of the creatures moved to his side – they were cooperating.
“Do it, Mandy! Just do it!” Dr. Gibson said, shivering from behind her.
“I can’t!” Mandy ground out.
“You listen to me, Mandy McClintock! I helped your momma through forty hours of intense labor before you were born! She said she couldn’t do it – I thought I couldn’t do it but we did it!” the doctor insisted, “And if you don’t I won’t be insured at your daddy’s no more!”
Mandy fired repeatedly. It was more horrid than she had imagined – the bullets ripped through like butter. At this close range she could hear the impact of the rounds. A hollow thud against the chest, the cracking of bone and the ripping of flesh. Then it oozed; a fluid most comparable to a vegetable smoothie.
“Do it again! Do it again!” Dr. Gibson squealed as another few approached.
“Would you stop being so demanding?!” Mandy growled and fired again, another two fell screeching. “Run!”
The doctor and deputy ran to where the police pick-up truck had been parked.
“Mandy! Mandy!” A voice yelled from afar. Mandy turned – Harwood.
“Boss!” She cried out, relieved. He was being chased by at least a dozen of the zombies. He had a rag around his leg, clearly in pain and they were gaining on him.
“Mandy! Don’t you dare!” Dr. Gibson yelled and tried to pull her along. “Please!”
“I have to!” Mandy yanked herself loose. Dr. Gibson fell but waited.
“Boss! Ed! Behind you!” Mandy yelled as she ran towards him.
“I drop! You shoot!” He yelled from afar. Within a moment he dropped straight forward onto the ground.
“Shit!” She opened fire as accurately as she could. Several creatures were struck in the legs, unable to pursue but alive none the less. Another was struck in the throat and spraying like a fountain. The last shots missed target.
Harwood looked back, seeing that his closest pursuers were incapacitated but not all. As quickly as he could the sheriff rolled onto his back and opened fire. Two hits on two targets, both in the central mass and destructive enough to do them in instantly. Then his weapon clicked. Empty.
“God, no.” He mumbled and accepted his fate as the monster rushed in.
A whizzing sound whipped through the air and the zombified woman’s head slammed back. For a moment she walked on as the green goo dribbled from the entry hole in her forehead. With a heavy drop she landed right on top of him, motionless.
“Ed!” Mandy yelled and hurried over.
“Get her off of me! Get it off!” He wailed in disgust. His deputy dragged her away. “Jesus!” He cursed.
“Are you okay?” Mandy asked.
“I think so, looks like I’m clean…” He sighed, relieved. “Nice shot, you!”
“I’ve never reloaded so quickly in my life.”Behind her, something roared.
“Look out!” Harwood yelled and kicked her out of the way. The monster missed and was now looking at him. It was one of the commissioners. Ironic.
Mandy rolled over and looked up – the creature was looming over her boss, her gun just out of reach. Adrenaline rushed through her system. Within a moment she was up and rushing towards the zombie. With all the power she had she jumped it, choking it around the neck.
“Goddamnit, McClintock!” Harwood cried out. For the second time that night he’d accepted his fate and for the second time she disturbed the process. As fast as he could he reloaded his weapon. After a moment Mandy flew by and landed harshly on the ground with a loud thud and pain-filled scream.
The commissioner approached slowly and ominously. He blabbered inaudible things while foam streamed down his neck from his mouth.
“I always thought you were a pompous ass… I think I was right.” Harwood grumbled and fired a shot right into the creature’s chest. The commissioner opened his eyes big as if he realized his heart just stopped working. He took one big breath and dropped. “Fuck, yeah!” Harwood yelled.
“Ed! I hurt myself!” Mandy sniffled, one of her shoulders clearly dislocated.
“I got you! Come on!” Dr. Gibson said and gently pulled her up, “Are you just going to lay around, Ed?”
“I’m doing the best I can already!” Harwood rolled over and followed them quickly. Everywhere around were creatures, chasing those unlucky few unable to hide or get to their car.
“There’s the pick up!” Mandy called out and pointed with her one good arm.
“I got this!” Harwood yelled and ran ahead, opening the door and grabbing the radio. “Laureen? Laureen!”
“…Ed?” The radio replied. “What’s going on out there? Is this some sort of April fool’s joke?”
“I wish. Listen! Get the tape recorder and record what I’m about to say – then play it on all the speakers we have in town and use the automated phone dialer, got it?”
“Yes, boss!” She replied and got away from the radio.
Mandy and Dr. Gibson approached quickly. Everywhere he looked Harwood could see people hiding in their cars. Whole families under blankets, shivering and shaking and waiting for the perfect moment to start the engine and race off. Sometimes one of the zombies would spot a family and grab them through the windows.
“I got it, boss! It’s ready – go ahead!” Laureen said through the radio.
Mandy and Dr. Gibson stepped into the truck. Harwood gave them a look.
“This will make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention… But I have to do this.” He said. His passengers nodded. He started the engine and began circling the parking lot as fast as he could. It was difficult with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the radio. The monsters chased him.
“This is Sheriff Ed Harwood! To all people of Whitehill Frontier! Find shelter inside buildings! Separate anyone that shows signs of change! Do not confront the creatures, and wait for help!” He blared through the police vehicle’s speakers. Dozens, if not more, of the creatures were chasing the pick up.
“I got it, boss!” Laureen radioed back, “I’ll be playing it all day!”
“Thank you, darling. And God bless you! Over and out.” He replied and raced off of the parking lot. A stream of monsters pursued. In the rear view mirror he could see how the people were starting their cars. This was the moment they had been waiting for.
“Where are we going?” Mandy groaned while Dr. Gibson attended to her.
“The goddamn Rickerson’s Ranch…” He growled and kept watching the swarm of creatures in the mirror.
The last few miles he slammed the gas to create some distance and raced onto the Rickersons’ property. He jumped out and walked towards the badly maintained house.
“Sheriff! Sheriff! I’m so glad to see you!” Pete ran out crying, only to be grabbed by the throat by a seething Ed Harwood.
“What did I tell you?” Harwood growled.
“You harvested that corn! You took it to the fucking Corn Fest you son of a-…!”
“I didn’t know!? It looked really good! I figured if anyone got sick they’d let me know before…” Pete went silent as Harwood threw him onto the ground and drew his gun.
“Before what…? …Joe died? …All these people turned into monsters?”
“Stanza is dead?” Pete Rickerson said surprised, “No, I didn’t mean… Monsters?”
“Then what did you mean?” Harwood screamed.
“They’d let me know if it tasted funny… Before the Crispy Country Cornflakes company would pick up the rest of them! They looked really fine, Ed! You got to believe me!”
Harwood nearly dropped his gun.
“You mean to tell me this load of corn was picked up to be made into cornflakes to be spread all over the country? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Ed! I didn’t know! Listen, Ed! My brother’s acting all crazy! He ate some of that corn and now he-…!”
“Yeah… Good luck with that.” Harwood grumbled and stepped back into the truck.
“Well?” Mandy asked.
“It’s worse than we thought.” In the rear view mirror he could see the swarm of creatures coming in.
Pete Rickerson screamed in fear and ran for the house. At the front door stood his brother, foaming from the mouth. Harwood slammed the gas and sped off as Pete was being torn apart by his own brother and the mass of monsters that joined in.
“Where are we going now?” Dr. Gibson piped up.
“Back into town,” Harwood spoke quietly as they drove away.
Somewhere, not too far away from them, hovered a small, black helicopter. But it wasn’t alone. Just behind the mountains was an armada of black helicopters waiting for a signal. Soon, it would be time to move in.
If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by one Jessie Devine! 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.