Almost, Then Never

Episode 33: Warning: Graphic Content

Maple Leaf Zombies - For fans of free zombie novels & web fiction

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Didn't Carl Sagan once say extinction is the rule, survival is the exception?

 

Well, the brainy astrologer may have been on to something with that one, Andrew contemplates as he sits in a corner inside the little cabin where they're being held captive. Like the rest of the camp residents now prisoner, and about to be cast out, he's wondering how long they'll last in a wilderness filled with new and bizarre apex predators.

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Maybe it would be more merciful for the bushmen who took over their compound to simply line them all up and shoot them, but for some odd reason their leader doesn't want to go there.

 

Nobody could get any sleep, obviously, as they waited for their doom walk into the woods where all the creatures seem to have mutated. What's more, the invaders brought their own tunes, playing throughout the night an opera concert featuring Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballé.

Mike Turner and a couple of others were taken in the middle of the night and kept under guard at another cabin, but are unharmed.

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The morning takes forever to make its crumby appearance but when it does, the sickening yellowish light begins to stream into their lone window, revealing tired and uncertain faces. One of the invaders, his fierce mug almost completely covered in dirt and grime, opens the door and orders them out.

 

From one of the cabins a cd player offers at fairly high volume Ave Maria by the duet of José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti. How fitting.

The prisoners are greeted by Turner who's already outside as well as automatic weapons locked and pointed straight at them. The intense invader leader, his arms crossed, is standing in front of a pile of supplies. Wow, how magnanimous of him!

 

"Listen up people, I've left you some stuff. Even a couple of knifes and an axe. If you can't make it out there with this, you deserve to get toasted. Now take it and go!"

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"OK, OK, you win, you've got us. You took over our camp, taken out supplies, our guns. You're killing us by sending us out there and you know that. Can I at least ask why? Why can't we work together?" Patricia asks, defiant. No point in being afraid now, she reckons.

 

The scruffy leader approaches, turning to glance briefly at Andrew and the others before setting his dark green eyes on Patricia, half-admiring her guts.

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"We trusted people before and that didn't work out so well for us," he begins. "Our people were killed. Now, we take. We're doing whatever we have to stay alive. Nothing will stop us. We're a god damn force of nature, lady. If you don't leave our place, I'll kill you myself!"

 

As the opera tune finishes, Patricia looks down and nods, knowing this guy is all business. Best not throw any more righteous indignation in his face and push him further. He then grabs her arm and changes his tone, talking somewhat softly as if there was a hint of concern.

"Look, that big fat guy told me you've been in contact with that army base. He told me a lot of things. Just keep close to the river, don't stray, and you could make it right there."

 

The exasperated group has no choice but to grab the supplies and they're escorted out, warned they'll be shot if seen anywhere near the camp.

"Who knows, you just might make it, wouldn't that be something," the leader tells them as the gate closes.

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"Come on, let's go, just go now!" Patricia urges her small group that scurries like rabbits into woods. "There's got to be other camps. I know there's cabins not too far away. Maybe we can make that base. Just move!"

To say the forest looks dark and foreboding is a bit of an understatement. It's like a big hungry mouth swallowing up these souls.

"You're kidding, right? You think we can make it?" Andrew asks before tripping and falling on his face.

"Ya, I believe. Don't you?" Patricia answers, standing over the fallen geek. He looks up and smiles before being helped up by Mike.

 

All righty, let's see how they make out. Let's not get into the cold, dispassionate percentages. They just might make it. Then again, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train. As the group eventually stumbles their way out of view of the camp, the new owners blare some other tune by Pavarotti.

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Just go...go, go, go! And stick close to the river, don't stray! After a few hours the dog-tired lucky buggers didn't encounter any beasts and actually found an abandoned cabin where they could stay the night. Smells like someone sick took a major piss in here but at least it's shelter.

 

"Why didn't that guy kill us? What's his story?" Andrew asks Patricia while the group huddles in their damp, cold lodging. 

"Why do people act the way they do? How can people change the way they do in this world? Can any of us go back?" she asks back.

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"How are we going to make it all the way to that base? We're going to die, most likely, no?" Andrew adds.

"You’re asking too many questions, Andrew. We're going to just push through," Pat replies. "We've got a chance if we just stick together."

 

"Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy," the geek counters.

"You're ripping off Carl Sagan now. He said that, I know. Just stop it," the exhausted woman laughs. "Next you'll tell me it pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out."

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Mike interrupts their moment of levity. "They didn't leave us much food. You think we should look for something tomorrow or keep going?"

"Unless we get something near the river, we're not going out anywhere," Patricia tells the group.

Andrew later draws a few half-smiles with his corny jokes. "My ex-wife says she misses me, but her aim is getting a lot better."

 

The hard earned smiles get flushed down the toilet, however, when an atrocious howl, something unreal, pierces the woods outside. Patricia opens the shutters slightly to take a peek but only sees the outline of trees in the night. The howl occurs a few more times, sounding as if it had a nice, big karaoke sound system to give it a bunch of reverb. No, not real, can't be.

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Does that thing out there know they're in the cabin? Best close the shutter and stay real quiet. Eventually, the demon outside leaves, but it's got Mic Mac Mike breathing extra heavily, adding an another layer of unwanted concern for Pat and the others.

Nobody wants to leave that filthy cabin, wood splinters everywhere, in the morning but if they are going to make it to the base, they have to move. They don't even know how many chilling miles they managed to hike yesterday, all they know is they have to stick close to that damn river.

 

At least it wasn’t freezing last night. In fact, it's unusually warm for this time of year for this northern region. Time for everyone to eat a couple of stale saltine crackers and get back into the creepy woods.

And here we go……..

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"I think we made good distance, ya, I think so. We'll be there in no time," one of the women, Alice McKnight, tells Patricia enthusiastically after hiking for about an hour. Alice is a nice lady but not the brightest. Likely thinks a state of mind is between Nebraska and Wyoming.

 

"We lucked out with that cabin, really. We might be stuck outside tonight," warns Patricia as the group hustles over the slippery rocks on the riverbank.  "Let's just stop talking guys."

Pat is exhausted, holding one of the boys by the hand and carrying the other child. The kids seem numb by the craziness of it all. Damn, Mike is falling further behind. Is he going to be a liability? No way she'll leave him behind, though, and be like that jackass who took their camp. Funny, that guy is trying to hold on to some shred of morality, thinking that by giving Pat a slim chance at living he can wash his hands of any annoying guilt.

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Then, it has to happen...here we go again!!!

 

Something unimaginable leaps from the brush and lands smack-dab beside Alice. What the hell is that? Looks like a wolf but it’s as big and heavy as a rhino. There's no time to react, or even scream, as the colossus sinks its teeth into her dainty mid-section and quickly twists its head, snapping the stunned woman in two.

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Holding the axe, Mike stumbles toward the carnage to take a swing, but the beast leaps with incredible distance back into the forest and runs away with its meal, leaving behind a pair of legs and blood covered stones. Finally, the screams come and the group sprints in all directions. Both kids with their little, cute voices join the scream choir.

 

Andrew, where the hell did he go? Andrew! No, have to stick together, stick near the river! No! Mike wobbles his way to Patricia and grabs a hold of one of the boys. Now, with a boy in one arm and holding the axe with the other, in a reassuring tone he tells Pat to stick with him and keep heading straight. It's down to the four of them as everyone else has made a blunderous dash into the forest.

                        

This is happening too fast. It's too much to process!

 

Three hours later, and somehow not being hunted, the four luck out big-time by reaching yet another cabin, also abandoned. Thank god! The door is unlocked and this place seems much cleaner than the last one. No food or water but at least it offers a little safety. Maybe, just maybe, the others will find their way here, but not bloody likely.

That evening, Big Mac Mike can't stop pacing while the others sit slumped on a lumpy bed. A dying rusty lantern left behind by the previous occupant provides a little light.

 

"When are we going to die?" one of the boys asks Pat, who's left dumfounded by the query. She not sure why she’s convinced their daddy, Leo, is still alive somewhere, she just knows it.

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"We're going to be OK. Don't worry boys, Big Mac Mike is here!" the big fella proclaims. He looks at Pat as if he was certain of this assurance and not just throwing around platitudes.

 

The supplies and meager food rations left at the river, all they have left is Mike's axe and his assurances. Is it all over? Should they even bother? Was this episode all too predictable? They're all getting hungry and the little boys' rants about how they want burgars and fries doesn't help the situation.

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They end up staying a few days in that cabin, just in case the others find it. They don’t.

At least Pat, Mike and the kids, who oddly start asking where's their real daddy, don't have to endure listening to any of those animal things but the silence of the woods is nagging. Mike manages to quickly get some water using a canteen left here but they won’t have enough energy to continue their long trek.  

 

On the morning Pat finally gives up on Andrew and the others, she decides to give it another go. No point in starving, right? Too bad the cabin doesn't have anything useful, something they can have to defend themselves.

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Each holding a weakened six-year-old boy, they leave the shelter for the bleak forest. So this is it? After a couple of surreal hours, they're too tired to keep going. They're heads light and legs feeling like spaghetti, the last thing they need is another monster. Mike's arms can't even hold the stupid axe by this point, so he drags the thing.

 

Yup, sure enough, the special guests have arrived for their dinner!

From the blackness of the woods, that awful clicking sound begins, perhaps a half-dozen or so. It gives Pat and Mike the adrenaline rush they need. The big guy, feeling angry, hands over his boy to Pat, then tells her to move, just keep moving! "Put me in coach!" he shouts. She gives him an approving grin.

The portly hero turns, clutching the axe, and heads toward the sounds, somehow feeling as if he's ten-feet tall and can take them all. Pat, meantime, tries to run but carrying two half-conscious little kids doesn't exactly make the endeavor easy.

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A thunderous roar then comes from Mike's patch of woods but Pat can't let that stop her. Less than a minute later she has no choice but to halt. In front of her, slowly slinking its way out of the forest to confront her on the river bank, perhaps a dozen or so metres away, is one of those weird wolf things. Its flaming red eyes fixated on the boys, the thing growls. Pat stands there, refusing to give the beast the satisfaction she's afraid. Two more of those big, nasty things suddenly appear behind her, moving ever so precisely into position.

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Also angry, she can't understand why they just stand there, waiting for her to make the first move.

"Come on, you pieces of crap! Come on, get it over with! What are you waiting for?"

It's kind of dark except for a bit of sunlight shining right on Pat and the kids, like a spotlight in a terrible play. The kids aren't even awake, thank god, as she takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. For just that moment, she's strangely relaxed...it's too complicated to explain. It's as if she’s drifting like a feather toward the bottom of a warm black pit, a hole where all are welcome.

 

                  BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! POW! POW, POW! POW!

         

Pat's startled, almost dropping the boys. A real WTF moment indeed.

 

Her mouth wide open, Pat is forced to shut her eyes when the thick  dark brain tissue and blackish fluid of one the beasts that was about to leap onto her from behind is blasted with machine gun fire. The rest of the thing thuds onto the rocks, while the other creatures run back into the woods, letting out a deafening yelp in the process.

My god, a rescue? Five men holding automatic weapons emerge from the woods and check on Pat and the boys.

"You OK? Are the kids OK?" one of the men hurriedly asks, his voice high pitch and cracking. The newcomer begins wiping sickening chunks off one of the boy's head.

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This is all too much for Pat who looks around and just nods. The boys are now awake and in a state of shock as well.

"Ya, ya, I'm all right. I mean, we’re, we're all right. Thanks. Ummm, ya, who, who are you guys?"

       

"You don't know? Lucky we found you. I'm Don, you know, Donny Bikes from the base. We went looking for you, you know," the rescuer answers. "We can't stay here. Those animal things will be back. We've got a boat that can take us most of the way back but we've gotta go now!"

                         

Feeling her bearings coming back, Pat needs answers before she accompanies these guys.

"H-how, how did you know where to find us?"

"Come on, I mean, you didn't respond to our communication the next day. We thought something happened to you. I think a day or two later some guy answered. Don't know who he was but he started making all kinds of threats for us to stay away," Don says. "Then he goes on to tell me that he took over your camp but I should hurry and come get you. Umm, said you'd be walking along the river. Sounded kind of concerned about us hurrying up and getting you, really!"

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"Wow, son of a bitch," Pat says to herself as she hands the kids over to a couple of the men.

 

Pat has to shake her head when asked what happened to the rest of her group, especially Big Mac Mike, the pilot. At least she and the kids will be safe for a while at that base but are they delaying the inevitable now that their only pilot is dead? Damn, a big-ass plane that can take everyone out of there but nobody who knows how to fly it. Oh, so close. Oh well.

She’s told to put her skates on and they hustle the hell out of there.

 

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