Bittersweet Reminder

Episode 18: Warning: Graphic Content

Maple Leaf Zombies - A free zombie online novel

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                      perilous times

As far as Leo’s new group - they’ve done all right gathering this and that at a few stores and houses that haven’t been picked over.

They spend their first night inside an abandoned house where the scrambling owners left a lot of good stuff behind.

Their next day yields great luck when they find a working SUV, a sport little red two-door and a stylish RV camper van parked in a loading area behind the Evergreen Mall.

They couldn't get inside that mall, though, because dozens of dead begin pouring out, forcing the group to hack and slash their way out of there.

 

They have no idea what happened there earlier...doesn't matter. Silent Dave impresses Leo with his skill in smashing grimy ghouls with a ballpeen hammer, but they’re going to need guns and ammunition. They'll also need stuff for surviving off the land if they’re going to be staying at Archie’s island. It's going to be a long trip.

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A couple of hours later, the new group sees a bunch of vehicles in the playing field of an elementary school and decide to look around. The school's doors are locked but Leo and Julia want to take a quick look in all the windows just in case there's anyone needing help.

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They separate briefly to make better time. What the dude finds in one window, a blood soaked class containing the body of a little kid, barely sinks him. Why isn't he upset? What's wrong with him? He just wants to go back to the good old days where he lived in a haze and everyone else was just a shadow, but there's no damn weed! He tells Julia he didn't see anything as they take off for other opportunities. 

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As it gets dark, the efficient group led by Big Gregg decides to check out a Super Buy Foods warehouse near the train tracks.

There’s a lot of tension since there’s so many places the dead can lurk and come at them. Brother Dave pries open a side door and, while Julia and George stand guard outside holding an axe and baseball bat, the group slowly enters. Strange, it smells like a giant scented candle in here.

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None of those plague monsters appear to be here….good news….and even though half the warehouse appears empty there’s a big section further inside with racks of food stocks….bonus!

They get in a little closer and grab some empty boxes to begin stocking up when a tall figure emerges from around the corner and pushes Vinny onto his butt.

 

“Don’t move…don’t you move!” screams the man holding a pickaxe. He’s joined by five other men and a woman holding knives, clubs and swords.

“Get out now, just go!” another man shouts as they clutch their weapons in a ready-to-kill stance.

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No way, Big Gregg and Leo stand their ground. Leo and Gregg yell at the strangers to back off. The adversaries, who don’t have guns either, look concerned about this becoming a full-on brawl even though they hold the bigger numbers.

 

“Stop, everyone calm the hell down right now…..I mean it!” shouts a male with an Aussie accent emerging from around another corner.

Looks like he’s the leader. “Everyone just calm the hell down, nobody is going to hurt anyone today!”

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The bald, large-framed man wearing a khaki army jacket reaches out and helps Vinny to his feet. “Look, we’ve been here a while, we were here first, but we’ll share with you guys what’s still left in here, all right? There’s no need for us to start acting like a bunch of savages, right?”

When one of the other men starts to voice objection, the bald guy quickly stares him down.

 

“Listen, all the stuff on this shelf here and the one down there, just take it. We’ll get the stuff over here….fair?” It seems extremely fair to Big Gregg who thanks the man before the two groups begin packing. Holy cow, there’s still decent people in this upside down world?

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“So, how are you guys doing? Anyone in your group sick or been bit?” the leader asks Gregg as he shakes his hand, but doesn’t give his name.

 

“No. I mean, well, we’ve been through a lot. Had to leave a nice old couple behind a couple of days ago when the husband got sick. But we’re all right. How about you then?”

 

“We’ve been through a storm too. Suppose we all have. It’s crazy out there. It’s really awful but I think we’ll make it. We’re going to try for a farm out of town,” the baldy replies.

"You know what Churchill said, 'Never, never, never give up.'"

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Gregg and the man continue their conversation as the two groups hurriedly take what they can from their respective shelves, neither speaking to nor acknowledging the other. One of the men from the other group is intent on grabbing as many bottles of Rogaine he can....OK, whatever.  

Both Gregg and the baldy agree things outside are bad, real bad, for now anyway.

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Gregg likes this guy. He seems strong and self-assured but is also careful not to reveal too much info at this juncture.

 

Turns out he was a prison guard in the old world, so has a knack for knowing how to deal with difficult people. He somehow made it all the way from Winnipeg, losing his family along the way to that wretched killer disease.

He tells Gregg despite that heart-wrenching loss, he’s going to hold onto his values, his spirit. If he doesn’t make it, he’s not dying an animal. It’s pretty heavy conversation with someone he just met.

 

“So, like, we have a couple of vehicles now. Have some stuff. We’re decent. What do you think about pooling resources?” Gregg asks hopefully. "The dead, they're everywhere. Our chances may be better fightin' them off."

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Too bad he’s shot down as the man apologetically states they have too many already and the rest of his group likely won’t take too kindly to strangers joining them. The counterpart, however, does give Big Gregg a jerry can of gas.

Hmmm, on one hand he tells Gregg he’s holding onto his values, but on the other hand he won’t take him in, but then shares some supplies. Seems he’s going just halfway.

 

“No more death, no more sadness,” the bald leader offers as a prediction for both groups.

 

They depart without further hostilities but Gregg can’t help but feel dismay at the rejection. Has this what the world has come to? Stupid question big fella! Gregg wonders if his group only had a couple of guns, would they have just taken what they wanted from that other group. Can't say either way.

                    10

That night Gregg’s group checks out a toy store as a promising place to camp out.

Leo and George take the lead, walking by shelves of dusty items that are now, sadly, completely useless, while Vinny heads down another isle holding his bat.

He puts the weapon down when he sees the same robot action figure in a box that he had purchased for his young boy on a whim just a few months prior.

                                                        

He's holds it and doesn't want to let go. The little boy’s eyes lit up when the doting father gave him the gift for no reason at all, other than to let his sweet joy know how much he loved him.

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The boy played with it non-stop, but then he got really sick. Vinny's wife got sick too, quickly dying and changing into an offensive sight.

Vinny now stands in the dark store isle staring at this reminder of a joyful period not meant to last, wondering why he never died and about the unfairness of living.

 

Suddenly, there’s a foul whiff of tooth decay. He turns and freezes at an abhorrent plague monster, its face covered in oozing raw blisters and black and yellowish muck streaming from its mouth, standing next to him. It literally snuck up on Vinny.

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The thing lunges at him but Vinny has enough time to raise his forearm in defence. No matter, the thing takes a deep, bloody bite into that delicious flesh, prompting the hapless survivor to scream for help. He manages to push the thing back and grabs his bat but the monster’s head is split in two from behind thanks to an axe-wielding Brother Dave. The sound of a skull cracking is unmistakable.

   

“He’s bit, it got Vinny! He’s bit!” Dave shouts out to the rest of the group who converge. Leo and the others look dejected when they see poor Vinny clutching his bleeding forearm and breathing heavily.

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“Don’t worry about me guys. I’ll be OK. Don’t worry. I’m not scared anymore. OK.” he assures his friends. “Don’t get it. Didn’t make any noise or nothing. Was real quiet and snuck up on me…..my arm!”

 

They have some dressing for the wound and also give him the injured man some of the pain medication, but know he’s a goner. In the stock room, Vinny sits on a box and looks down to the floor, already feeling nausea and a fever. Brother Dave, sounding cold-hearted but also extremely practical, tells Big Gregg that Vinny might infect them.

They must leave immediately, leaving him behind. He’s right, of course, but this really does suck. Vinny is such a nice man. They give him some food and a couple of bottles of water.

Leo also hands him the action figure out of the box, which lights up Vinny’s eyes. He gets leave this world devoid of hope to be with his boy soon.

                     2

The group ends up spending that night in the back of a men's clothing store. Nobody says a word about the precipitous drop in their numbers.

There's some nice things in this place, Leo discovers, taking a bowler hat for himself. Looks cool! Brother Dave, meanwhile, tries on a new suite, a real stylish number. When did wide lapels make a comeback? Julia chuckles that he looks good enough to be buried.  

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While the others hurriedly rummage, Leo has a chance to be alone for minute, gazing into a cracked little mirror on the wall to wonder about his role, how this new world and its unbearable rules will subsume him.

Pulling back his greasy thatch of hair, he finds himself transported to a simpler, care-free period when he was a kid riding motor bikes with pals on the family farm. Then, even better, he finds himself enjoyably intoxicated with fellow layabouts at an airport bar waiting for a flight to Vegas.

 

That perfect, precious moment of contentedness evaporates as soon as it surfaces. Will there be times like those again? Damn, it won’t be with these people, certainly. He already knows he’ll be the only one in this group who won’t be killed. It’s all according to design. Can’t fight it either. Oh well.

 

Later that night, Gregg puts his serious face on and asks George to see him in private. It's confrontation time in an office. There, he puts the constant comedian with the desperate comb-over on the spot about an inconsistency, a misplaced thread, within what's really a terrible story.

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Turns out during the early days of the outbreak, George, who lived in a basement suite in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, got a knock on his door from two little girls, sisters ages about six and eight. Holding little suitcases, they were accompanied by their desperate single-mom who was dropping them off.

Having nowhere else to turn, the woman was starting to feel sick and knew she was about to become one of the tens of millions in Canada coming down with the big nasty. She was a friend of George but only casually, having slept with him on a couple of drunken occasions.

 

She pleaded with the bachelor to watch over her girls, really putting him on the spot, until soldiers or police arrived to evacuate them safety.

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Fair enough, however, after a few days it was obvious things had deteriorated beyond repair. After George hooked up with Gregg's group, he explained that a large group of ravenous plague monsters broke into the place through the back patio door and ate the girls. Problem is, George had recently told a different story after downing that bottle of cheap rum, babbling how the undead broke through the front door of the house.

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Well, now on the carpet he has no choice to admit what really went happened, how he locked up the basement suite and left the girls alone one day so he could go out for a little reconnaissance, see if anyone else was still out there, only to come back to see dozens of plague monsters slowly shuffling around the house.

 

A freaked George didn't wait around until the coast was clear and hightailed it out of there. He now pleads with Big Gregg to let him stay, admitting the tragic error, but Gregg tells him he can't trust him and orders him to go.

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"You know I have to do this. You know, right? What else do you expect? If you want to stay, I'll have to tell the others, what do you think they'd say? Like, do you think they'd want you here?

A guilty-as-charged brooding George looks down. His hands in his pockets, he jingles those damn toonies and nods...it's over.

“I-I’m scared….Gregg. It’s so bad, I don’t wanna die.”

 

Gregg responds, “Me too, I’m scared too, really.”

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He hates this, and part of him seriously considers letting the guy stay and keeping this matter a secret, but the big guy just can't. He feels like crap, real crap, for the banishing.

Guess the apocalypse really does bring out the best and worst in people. The big guy wonders if he’s just as bad for doing this, not cutting the guy a break.  

While everyone is else is sleeping, George is given a few days supplies and one of the vehicles and is gone. Gregg tells his friends the next morning Georgie Boy left a note that he decided to take his chances up at the evacuation centre in Vernon.

Another member of the group gone...sucks!

 

 

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Story by Sandor Gyarmati

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