Episode 44: Warning: Graphic Content
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Well, they made it back to the cop shop in British Columbia, all of them. There's over a hundred now. Just look at all those frightened, uncertain faces offering unquestioned loyalty to Leo McGregor.
It’s all so clear, but it’s always been that way. He just didn’t want to proceed, programmed to fail by suppressing what the universe had been trying to convey by getting high and staying on that malingering level. Still, cannabis sure beat those wretched pills the fools had been shoveling down his throat when he was susceptible youngster.
One night as a confined pre-teen, strapped to a hospital bed and looking out a caged window at a whiter-than-white full moon, with precise foresight he decided it was best to keep his invaluable insight to himself for the time being. A cardigan-clad Jesus in a darkened corner of the room kept him company but said nothing, only bouncing a dirty tennis ball against a wall. One of the brutish orderlies eventually came charging in to investigate the noise, demanding answers from the subdued Leo who only offered a mocking smile.
Even back then, Leo was confident he was the omnipotent hand of god, a form of energy everywhere but nowhere, waiting to intersect with his string of space-time. He may have gotten sidetracked, but that’s all behind him. This is his time and he will lead the worthy survivors of the apocalypse to a new age of enlightenment.
Right now, he just wishes he had more guns and, more importantly, bullets. For now, they'll have to settle for gathering any kind of weapon they can get their hands on - be it swords, knives, machetes or blunt smashing instruments, as well as unrivaled brutality.
These people will also need to be trained how to defend themselves. A blood-soaked repeat of what happened in the container storage yard, maybe, can be avoided.
But then again, maybe not. Perhaps they're already checkmated at every turn and just delaying a grim demise. Maybe they're too late, perhaps it's always been too late. Meh, no point dwelling and moping, Leo decides. Better to fight the dying of the light and at least go down swinging.
It wasn't that dreary a ride through the Lower Mainland wasteland of browning trees, abandoned vehicles, gutted buildings and filthy, staggering plague monsters aimlessly searching for a fleshy meal. One or two of the smelly things roam outside these gates - no big deal.
Now the newly formed big group has hooked up with the rest of the gang at the station, a safe spot for now. The plan is to find somewhere far away, isolated, remote, out of reach from the rotting undead but also those sick blood sucking freaks that possess unholy telepathic control over the wandering ghouls.
They'll also need to gather all kids of supplies, critical provisions for their long-term survival. Everything from blankets, clothing no matter the brand and let's not forget toilet paper. They'll also need water purifiers, fuel and toys for the little ones. The list goes on. Heck, we forgot to mention shoes!
It's going to mean supply runs, as well as sending scouts on dangerous trips out in the country to find some kind of farm or ranch or tucked away place they can fortify. Of course, they'll also need equipment to start growing their own food. Yup, it's going to be a miracle if they can pull it all off. Good luck, Leo.
Standing on a counter, the intense dude is becoming more emotionally detached from his duty protecting these people, some still paralyzed with grief over the recent carnage of their friends and loved ones at the yard.
His hands in his dusty overall pockets, Leo notifies, "A lot of new mouths to feed. We got maybe three weeks food supply if we tighten things up, really tighten our belts."
"Three weeks?" a mortified older woman in the group exclaims.
"Maybe a month," the dude adds.
"Thank goodness!" the woman shouts, relief written all over her petite frame.
Leo and the others give each other a quick glace and shake their heads. What the hell?
Various duties will be assigned, ranging from keeping the kids occupied, reinforcing the perimeter or going out to the badland looking for stuff. Seth has been put in charge of handing out those responsibilities and keeping tabs on everyone, understanding their strengths and weaknesses while reporting directly to Leo.
The dude just carried out one job at the station personally - the execution of the two vile plague monsters smelling up the cells downstairs.
Both were unrecognizable but Leo is positive he knows the identity of one them. Yup, the Rooster. Leo instantly recognized the distinct getup including that baseball hat with the maple leaf. Well, at least he no longer has to wonder whatever happened to the guy.
Poor bastard indeed, but maybe he's the one with the last laugh. For him, there's no more fear, no anxiety over whether you'll make it another day. It's over for the Rooster but the anguish continues for those ignoramuses trying to stay alive.
"You OK, Leo?" Michael asks later in the afternoon in an office where Leo lays on a desk, fingers resting interlocked on his flat, hard stomach. Starring at the intricate water stains on the styrofoam ceiling panels, Leo remains expressionless, answering, "Everything is perfectly fine now. More than fine, excellent. It's all falling into place. Gotta lotta work to do before we find a place. These people, they're going to make it, you'll see."
White joins them. "Hey, Leo, Seth did another count on our inventory. Thinks we've got maybe a couple of weeks’ food and water, at most, for everyone. That's it. Guess we'll be going out tomorrow on a supply run?"
Leo moans, sits upright and shakes his head. "Tomorrow? Don't thinks so, man. I've been going over and over in my head everything we've gotta do. Mike and I, we're going out for a little run now. I'm taking Ford too. You'll stay here with Seth and make sure everyone is behaving."
Both White and Michael nod as Leo gets up and walks them out the room, telling his loyal comrades there’s a good chance they can get their hands on a few shotguns and a whole whack of ammo at Vance's military supply store.
There wasn't much on display out in the open but Vance told Leo all about the stash kept in a hidden storage closet.
Leo, amused he hadn't thought of it before, is keeping his enthusiasm in check, though, knowing there's a possibility some little scumbag may have gotten their hands on the prize already. Still, worth the risk, no? No matter where you go, there's always danger in almost every spot - kinda thrilling.
They walk past the capricious Vic who hobbles by with a cane, not exchanging eye contact.
A short while later in the parking lot, there's the 70s boogie van Ford used to make his escape from the Seattle facility and subsequent scouting mission.
He had to ditch it just over the line after he ran out of gas but the military man, along with Seth, later retrieved the useful vehicle. Getting ready to climb aboard for the gun run are Leo, Ford and Michael, while White and Keron are on hand to provide a polite send off.
"You really think, Leo, I mean, you sure we'll get what we need, make it out somewhere where all those things can't find us?" Keron queries. "We're all making it out of here?"
Holding a trusty machete while putting on the dusty bowler cap, Leo responds, "Not everyone, that's a lot to ask, but I can tell you, I promise you, I'll deliver this group to safety. You'll see. We're going to have to fight for it, but this group, it's going to be all right. I'll make sure of it."
"So all this, it's worth it? “Michael wonders.
"Of course, it's always worth it. Even when the odds are against you and things look crappy. It makes it all the more fun. If you win at the end if the day, it'll make life all the more sweeter, “Leo explains.
"Damn right, Leo makes sense. We're not sitting around complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves!" Ford contributes. "We're going to win this thing!"
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner, let's move!" Leo orders. Time to hit Vance's gun stash.
Before they get into the vehicle, Fred emerges, running and demanding to be part of the tricky expedition.
“Hey, Leo, wait a minute! I’m coming with you. Don’t leave me out of this!” protests the hockey player.
“We’ll be fine, just head back,” Leo answers, “You’ve got your wife, kids to watch after.”
“No, I have to go, cuz I’ve got a family, must do my part. Can’t have you running around doing all the providing for us!” Fred responds.
The dude shrugs his shoulders and raises his eyebrows. “All right then, let’s get goin’. Put your skates on!”
Fred has a thermus of coffee for them for the ride - sweet!
White and Keron stand side-by-side as they watch colouful van makes tracks, Seth and Peter opening the front gate.
"Out of difficulties grows miracles, right?" Keron asks gently.
White turns and smiles, admiring his friend’s childlike wonder. "Darn right they do. Leo found that place inside himself where nothing is impossible. So, we'll make it all right. Anyway, enough of the corny stuff. Let's see what they're up to inside, OK?"
While Leo and his crew descend into the dangerous suburbs, they have no idea that, just a couple of a couple days earlier, their new, ferocious enemy just missed their departure from the Bellingham mall.
Let's look back at happened when Hagstrom and Kate, both wearing welders' goggles and ridiculous getups, arrived in the Volare, followed by hundreds of feet dragging plague monsters under the masters' control.
The bloodthirsty villains stand over a small dried out garden patch near the evacuated shopping centre's front entrance, studying a small white cross planted into the ground. It's the burial marker for the infant that had transformed into something Leo couldn't allow to exist.
Little does Leo know that even the baby was able to call out for others of its kind, and through its eyes Hagstrom was able to see Leo standing over it, pointing a pistol.
Kate witnessed this vision as well, not surprised her old boyfriend was still kicking but having no feelings for him whatsoever, having completely separated herself from any vestige of the human condition. She had a vision of her own, fortelling a grim end of a horrific battle in which he stands waist deep in a pool of rich, deep red blood, raising his arms and looking to the heavens in anguish. She's not sure what exactly will come, what this scene all means, only that he's coming.
"The child, it’s in here. Those small, weak people, cattle, they murdered the child. I must, we must, destroy that man, his group. We must find him before he gets away. We will get him, then join our brethren at that monastery," Hagstrom predicts.
"Death eternal shall come to those who stand up against the chosen," Kate offers. "Will we catch him in time? I'm not so sure. He's a slippery, ingenious one, that Leo, really."
"Oh, yes, I wouldn't worry. He won't get away. He's probably scrounging around for an existence as we speak. I’ll provide him more suffering than any man can endure!" Hagstrom fumes, stepping back to face his silent, obedient army. "But now, how about a little snack my dear, hmmmm?"
Suddenly, four disheveled and exhausted people, taken captive during the temple massacre, are pushed to the front of the crowd, held tightly by the undead. The ghouls chomp their death and groan, but don't harm their prisoners due to Hagstrom's command, an influence on a level so other worldly, and so depraved, it leaves the prisoners in awe and bewilderment.
They know the end is near, so don't display fear. At least they get to witness first-hand both the end of all things and creation of something outrageous and extraordinary.
"You likely want to know why you're here and when you'll reach a conclusion to this little episode. Well, here we are. It's all over now, you don't have to worry anymore," Hagstrom tells the two men and two woman smugly.
The dutiful Kate stands behind, fists clenched, but remains silent. Before the captives can respond, the plague monsters drag the two women into the mall. They resist briefly, a useless automatic reaction for anyone about to be consumed.
With wanton malevolence Hagstrom and Kate follow their minions. As he walks away, Hagstrom informs the men being held outside of their fate with his usual smug tone.
"By the way, gentleman, my loyal subjects, they need a little bite to eat as well. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and they missed it. Bon appetit!"
The distraught men look at each other, providing suitable gasps. The dead quickly begin feeding, taking eager bites into their skulls and limbs, tearing large swaths of bright red flesh. The guts are devoured faster than a fat kid on a Smartie.
The screams echo throughout the parking lot as the diners' blood soaked faces are joined by a slew of voracious eaters trying to get in on the free meal, devouring every chunk, every morsel, in this sickening all you can eat buffet.
Inside the mall, Hagstrom and his confederate enjoy their lunch before engaging in love making. Within a couple of hours they depart, followed by the slimy, loyal horde. A couple of the undead, however, remain behind, shuffling in circles and kicking the bones that have been picked clean from their snack. No more tomfoolery for Hagstrom, he's got business. He feels his power growing.
Hey wait, there's more. Let's now get back to the present and Leo’s trip to Vance's gun place.
The streets are mostly empty, devoid of any activity, so they don’t encounter too many problems on their way to the business. But, sure enough, they find the front door pried open and the golden stash missing. Great, just bloody great!
The four frustrated men mill around for a few minutes, grabbing a can of pepper spray, although it likely would have zero effect on a ghoul, and a couple of packages of thermal underwear. Leo looks royally ticked, prompting the others to keep their mouths shut.
The silence is throttled by the sound of a car screeching away, and the men run outside to investigate. “Come on, let’s get after him, hurry!” shouts Leo immediately upon spotting a mid-80s Hyundai Pony down the street. The others reluctantly follow but try to warn Leo they have no idea whom they’re chasing. This is nuts.
The van has to avoid several abandoned cars but quickly gains on the stranger when they reach the Evergreen Mall parking lot, swerving in front of the rust bucket and forcing it to stop.
Holding a machete, and with Tim White’s pistol tucked in his pants, Leo is the first to get out to confront the driver. What they see is too absurd to be real. That driver, who seems not nervous at all and even carefree, steps out to greet Leo in an almost cheerful voice.
This stranger looks insane, really. He’s dressed like Elvis, wearing a puffy shirt, and even tries to mimic the king’s voice. Good grief! Up until the apocalypse he had little to offer, and his only real talent was taking unflattering pictures of people, but now in this revised world he can be whatever he wants. Leo isn’t sure whether to laugh out loud or punch this whack job in the face. Maybe he'll do both.
“Hey there, I’m Patrick, Elvis Pat Junior,” the man with the purple tinted shades introduces himself. “Say, that’s one cool ride you’ve got there. I dig it!”
Suspicious, Leo refuses to shake this character’s hand but introduces him to the other guys. Strange, this outlandish bloke isn’t at all concerned Leo might be a robber or worse.
“It’s pretty rough, pretty dangerous out here, really. We haven’t run into other people in quite some time. You alone or have a camp?” Leo asks.
“Oh, yes, for sure, I’ve got a camp. Pretty good group of guys and gals. Maybe a bit wild sometimes but tough as they come. They sent me out to look for stuff. Everyone’s gotta pull their weight, get it?” Elvis Pat retorts. “Just found a real nice stash of guns. Say, where’s your group? We have to get together, strength in numbers, you know.”
“Sounds like a good idea. Your group close by? Maybe we should meet first, talk things out?” Fred proposes.
“Hey man, love the idea. Just so you know, if you wanna hook up under our protection, we’re in charge. It’s the way it’s got to be?” the stranger responds. “Ya, we can all make out real nicely. Say, you got any cat nip?”
Leo rubs his beard, wanting to know what this funny-looking guy means. “You’re going to have to speak English, dude, I’m not so bright.”
“Come on, you know…..women. You got chics there at your camp?” the stranger with the low-pitch voice spells out.
Leo pauses and looks around briefly, making sure this guy’s pals aren’t close by. He paces and scratches the back of his neck, trying to figure out what to make of this unusual cat.
Fred, Michael and Ford all star looking worried, clearly not so keen to let this guy and his friends into their fold. Where in the hell is their camp anyway? Is it any safer than what Leo's got?
No matter, Leo pulls his pistol and points it at the stunned Elvis impersonator, whose lips begin quivering.
“Sing In the Ghetto, sing it now! I wanna hear how you sound!” Leo orders.
“W-What? What are you doin’? What are you talkin’ about?” the man stutters. “My friends, you do anything and they’ll kill you! You better put down that….”
Leo fires a single shot into the guy’s forehead. Done, a cathartic shot for the dude.
“Damn, now I’m down to two bullets in this thing,” the dude complains, standing over the dead man.
Looking at each other in dismay, the initial shock wears off quickly for Leo’s brothers in arms, but this latest violent act has them confused about what’s good and what’s bad nowadays.
“Jesus, Leo, kinda harsh, no?” Michael quips.
“The guy’s a rat. His friends, they would have been trouble. Best get rid of it right away,” a frowning Leo says.
“His pals, if they’re close by, they’ll be looking for who did this,” warns Ford. “We’d better stash this body and take the car. Might give us some time.”
Leo pats Ford on the shoulder, commending him for his fast thinking. He grabs the victim’s keys and opens the back hatch, removing a tarp to uncover a real bonanza. Guns: several shot guns, a few hunting rifles and two revolvers, all from Vance’s place. An even bigger bonus are the boxes of bullets.
It looks like there’s just over a thousand various rounds. And look and what we have here.........several cartons of cigarrettes. Seth will have a tough job fairly trying to allocate them, for sure!
Michael and Ford forget about the stiff a few away and give each other fervent high fives. Finding a stash like this in Canada, where nobody had guns, just improved their odds of breathing ten-fold. Yup things are looking up, but Leo signals that it’s best to hide the corpse before the guy’s friends come looking for him.
They load the merchandise into the back of the van and Leo takes the wheel. The others stuff the dead goofball into the back of the Hyundai and follow Leo. They have to find a spot where they can ditch the car, perhaps some bushes.
Well, things were going all right for the first couple of blocks, but you know things aren’t going to end up peachy.
Driving slowly, Leo keeps looking back to make sure the guys are keeping pace, but notices the piece of crap car has stalled.
“God damn it. What a piece of junk!” yells Fred, who’s driving the jalopy. Yup, something is coming!
“Come on, man, keep trying, Fred, but don’t flood the stupid engine,” complains Ford. Fred begins hammering a fist onto the dash board.
“Come on, come on, let’s go guys,” Leo grumbles, observing the broken down tin can from a half-block away.
The car ain’t moving, and neither is Leo until they do. The dude takes a minute trying to figure out his next move before getting out. The wind is picking up again (yes, like a spaghetti western) and that gross haze is darkening everything like a partial solar eclipse.
“What the hell you guys doing? Start it already!” an agitated Leo hollers.
Here it comes……instantaneously, Leo is pinned against the van by a dripping plague monster that goes straight for his throat. Leo pushes the bony thing off and pulls out the pistol to finish it with a couple of shots.
He turns to fire at another that appeared from nowhere but the weapon is empty. He has no choice but to drop it and kick the thing in the upper body, but his foot gets lodged in the mushy mass under the plague monster’s rib cage. He pulls back and falls with the aggressive dead creep falling on top of him. Things are happening way too fast but he's feeling elevated. This fight embodies the man he wants to become.
The dude somehow pushes the thing off and makes it to the van, pulling out the machete and taking a wild backhander to decapitate the thing.
Another growler appears from behind the open driver’s doors, forcing Leo to slice right down the middle of the corpse’s soft skull.
His adrenaline skyrocketing, Leo looks behind to see Fred, Ford and Michael engaged in a heated battle, hacking and slashing what appears to be forty or so plague monsters that practically creeped up on them. What looks like another fifty appear from around a corner, headed straight for all of them. They're coming in waves.
“Run, god damn it, run!” Leo directs the men, “Get the hell out of there!”
The dude turns to his left and slashes two more monsters’ heads off, but a whole lot more are coming. What’s more, it seems like a hundred more have come between him and the others. Fortunately, his men managed to break free, running together down a side street while hundreds of undead stagger in pursuit.