Episode 34: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - For fans of free zombie novels & online horror fiction
At least they don’t have to put up with self-entitled millennials whining how they're so hard done by, Patricia assesses as she dwells on what could be next in this bizarre apocalypse.
Safe, for now, at the air force complex after a heart-wrenching trek in the woods that saw only her and the two little boys come out in one piece, she wonders how the heck they are going to get through this stage. Leo's little boys are busy playing with a couple of other slightly older kids in the facility's gymnasium.
This place is actually pretty cool, outdated like a museum of the Cold War days, but neat nonetheless.
She doesn't want to feel grief, not now, over losing the jovial Big Mac Mike, Andrew and his silly jokes, Altman and the others. They're all gone. Good, decent people….gone. These were folks she really got to know, sharing laughs and cries, a real tight family. She misses them so much.
Now she's at another place with a couple of dozen new individuals, who've also been through quite a lot but have retained their decency. However, she doesn't want to get to know them, get too close.
No, there's no point getting close to people who may end up being taken cruelly from you sooner or later. She's not equipped to deal with it. She hears her rescuer, Sergeant Bikes in an adjoining room having a laugh with the others, who have welcomed Pat and the boys with open arms.
She just wants to be alone in the retro mess hall. She can't help staring at one of Altman's little wooden carvings that one of the boys had in his pocket. The little bear sits on the table, smiling at her. What in the hell does it have to smile about? She holds it for a minute, reflecting how she used to be an audacious and optimistic spirit. Now she isn't sure what she's become. Time to go back to her quarters for a little cry.
Maybe it's the lack of sleep. Maybe things will be better tomorrow. There's thunder out tonight, rumbling right over them, but not a drop of precious rain, as usual.
In the other room there's Donny Bikes, an unimpressive everyday man in the old world but now an admired warrior, short-fused but doggedly loyal. He's enjoying the dwindling whisky supply as he regales his rescue mission. He later knocks on Pat's door and seats himself next to her on her bed, not sure of what to make of his newcomer.
"It's going to be all right. I mean it. See how we pulled you out of there, just in time. See how I shot those buggers? Just in the nick of time!" he begins. "We're safe here. I mean, you're safe. Come on, buy you a drink?"
Bewildered, Pat doesn't want to seem ungrateful but can't get herself to the enthusiasm her host seems to be expecting. She looks down on the floor, warning the keen sergeant, "I appreciate what you've done, it was very brave. Everyone's been so nice. But, look, you've got a couple of months, three, of food and water maybe. Then what? One of your other guys said your bullets are almost gone. What are you going to do for food?"
She finds it strange that Bikes smiles. What's up with this guy? A bit scatterbrained?
"Look Pat, it'll work out. Things are going to be OK. I just know it.”
"God, those things are monsters. My people, friends, they tried to hunt them down and got ripped apart. You don't even have that much ammo!" she counters.
"It'll be all right. We figured things out. We know what we're doing now," Bikes replies. "You're with friends now. We look after each other. Nobody screws each other over here. So, we can't fly out of here for now. We'll find another way. Don't worry."
"Don't know how you can be so positive, Don. If some pilot who can fly your plane doesn't magically show up at your door, then what?" she asks. "And what if you don't get killed and manage to hunt down one of those animal things? There’s too many of them!"
He's kind of cute, a dead-ringer for Luke Perry of Beverly Hills 90210, but that doesn't mean she's interested. Bikes puts his hand briefly on her shoulder and then stands, knowing she feels messed up and wants to be alone. Before he leaves, he turns back and in and encouraging voice promises, "There's, I don't know how to describe it, hope, magic maybe. We'll be OK. Start believing girl. Just believe a little? How about a quick smile?"
She obliges. Donny just loves her slightly crooked smile.
God, how did these people stay alive this long? And this Bikes guy is asking her to think airy-fairy and turn her frown upside down? Well, what can it hurt?
Later, a good night's sleep doesn't bring renewed optimism but at least she's getting some of her strength back.
She's hungry too, wondering how big the rations will be now that there's three extra mouths to feed. The old base has a bit of a musty smell and the linoleum flooring is peeling everywhere. She follows the sound of chuckling, heading to a musky recreation room where the base inhabitants are watching an episode of The Love Boat on VHS. Even the kids are enjoying the sitcom.
"Oh hi! Come on over, sit with me," an older woman with big, crazy red hair invites Pat, moving over on the couch to give the newcomer room.
When she's seated, another woman rushes to the kitchen and comes back to give the newcomer a bowl of tasty, spicy chili. They're making it hard for her not to want to believe.
Further into the day, Patricia remains in the rec room, sitting watching Leo's boys play with an old Tinkertoy construction set that had been left here. The kids have been through a lot but seem all right. One of them suddenly decides to plunk himself onto her lap and asks why she looks so sad.
"I like this place. I like it, but I want to go," the boy says, his little arm around her. "I want us to go see my daddy. When are we going to see him?"
It's as if the boy with the cheeky smile is one hundred and fifty per cent convinced Leo is alive and that they'd be all together, happy and safe. Patricia doesn't know much about this Leo guy, as Lance didn't really talk about him, but she’s intrigued by the boys' determination to see him again. Perhaps the always upbeat Mike was right when he vowed Pat and the kids would somehow make it out in one piece..
“Maybe soon,” she says. “We’ll do our best. Things will work out just like Mr. Bikes says.”
Drawing her out of the room is an argument down the hall. Several of the ladies are trying to convince Bikes and three other men not to go out beyond the fence to track down one of those unholy beasts.
"No choice guys, Ben up in the tower could see something, a bunch of them, moving around in the bush at the perimeter. They're real close, maybe in a pack. We've got to send those things a message, at least," Sergeant Bikes explains as he checks a machine gun. "We have no choice. I'll be OK!"
"You really doing this?" inquiries Patricia. Even though she's a newcomer, she feels she has to speak up and talk some sense into these men.
She doesn't want to see history repeating itself.
"I told you about those things. They're smart. They're super strong and big. It's like they're out of some comic book. You don't shoot them in the head, they'd kill you, all of you, just like that!"
The anxiety on the women's faces is unmistakable. They know Bikes is taking a big, big chance but there's no changing his mind. When he's about to leave, Pat stands in the doorway, blocking his path, wanting to give it one last try. "You know, this isn't the smart move. You told me you knew what you were doing. You're probably going to die this afternoon."
He scoffs at the suggestion, then gives a quick, affectionate smile. He wants everyone to know the threads of destiny have not been woven yet.
It also seems he's taking a bit of a shine to his guest. "Girl, I'll be all right. Didn't I say you should start believing? Things will work out, one way or the other. Someone smart said your intentions set the infinite organizing power of the universe in motion."
What? She slowly shakes her head, convinced he is indeed a dumbass. Nice guy, sure, but a major dumbass in believing all that hooey.
"I don't want to see this happening all over again."
He puts on a pair of headphones and turns on a 1984 Sony Walkman strapped to his belt. Pat can hear Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac blaring through those things. Good luck, dumbass.
After the men strut their stuff out of there, Pat rejoins the boys in the rec room. A couple of the other exasperated women join her, not wanting to frighten the children. They quietly watch them play but no one's smiling.
Pat eventually grabs a 1978 edition of National Geographic from a table and begins flipping through it. The wait is just insane. Others join them a short time later, all saying nothing, just watching the boys play.
"Maybe, maybe they'll be all right. Donny is so strong. We wouldn't be here without him," the lady with the crazy hair, Beth, tells Patricia. "You know, my family got sick. They're gone. Sergeant Bikes and some of the others, they saved me. I was all alone. They didn't have to help but they did. We need people like our Donny."
Patricia doesn't know what to say, so she just holds Beth’s hand and gently squeezes it.
The sweet woman, who knows some of the men refer to her as to as "butterface" but doesn't let it bother her, goes off on a non sequitur, rambling how one of her sons was playing minor league baseball, a stud on the verge of making it to the big league. Her other son wasn’t so fortunate.
"My little Davey, who was such a good boy. So smart and curious. When he was about six, something started going wrong. He was in such a panic saying, 'Mommy, mommy, what’s happening to me? I'm forgetting the words!' He became totally autistic. It was so hard," she reflects. "You know, when everyone was getting sick and dying, when we lost our other boy, our Davey started getting better. He came back to us. God healed him. I can't explain it. He was talking to us again like normal, but his eyes turned all blue and he was white as a sheet. All we cared about was that he was back, but then he left us. Don't know where he went. I know it can't be the cities, they're much to dangerous now."
A strange tale that Patricia doesn't know what to make of. It's the first she's hear of this. All she knows is that she has to keep Leo's kids safe.
Sure enough, there’s a distant sound of gunfire crackling, echoing across the woods. It's happening. The group scurries to a window, then another, hoping to see what's going on. The kids just sit there, stoic, knowing damn well the killing is occurring again.
"Go up to the control tower, let's go and we can see," one of the women urges. Patricia grabs both boys by their hands and takes them with her.
As the group fumbles its way down a corridor, one of the women lets out a gasp when something pounds on a door.
"It's me, Lou, let me in...pleasssssse, let me in!"
They comply and Lou, one the tougher-looking guys in Donny's group stumbles inside and falls to the floor, his face covered in thick, foul chunks of monster brain tissue. He's out of breath and out of his wits, obviously going through the painful realization they bit off more than they could chew. Donny managed to pull off some incredible feats but, unfortunately, it lead him to believe he could pull off anything.
As they slam the door, a reeking Lou just lays there, shaking, and his eyes as big as golf balls. It's like he's been face-to-face with the devil himself.
Patricia kneels and helps Lou sit up, helping him calm down. He tells them they were jumped by a pack of something so bizarre that he couldn't even describe it. Something big, kind of like a bear and a velociraptor combined. It's insane! If there was only some way they could reach someone still in charge of the country, someone official to send help. That's just a stupid delusion now.
"They came out of nowhere. I can't believe it," Lou describes. "How, how can anything move like that? They're all over the perimeter, like they're watching us. They killed the other guys and took, took.....god...took a big chunk out of Donny's side. He killed a couple of those things, right in the head. I tried to help him out of there. I lost my gun but he still had his, told me to leave him. Said he was dead anyway and that he'd hold them off long enough for me to get back. Oh, Don!"
Yes, it's happening all over again. Pat never even got to know this group and they're already getting wiped out.
"All the guns, they’re out there! We've got a box of bullets and no more guns in here. Those things, they'll get in, what do we do?" cries Lou, grabbing Patricia's arm. "What are we going to do? We can't get out of here....trapped!"
This is too much for Patricia, like tearing a scab off a fresh wound.
"No, we're not!" Beth announces. "There's a concrete bunker at the far end of this compound. We can gather as all the supplies we can....food, toilet paper...everything, and stay in there. They may be able to bust their way in these buildings but not in there! Come on, let's hurry!"
Patricia agrees, telling Beth it's a good plan. Pat’s also feeling grateful she doesn't have to take charge again. There's no time to think about it, though, as they have to make their way to the bunker. If those creatures are playing some kind of game, then let them wait a while to claim their prize.
The women then notice bleeding from Lou's lower leg and pull up his pants, revealing part of his calf muscle having been bitten off. Beth’s expression suddenly changes, turning ice cold. "Take the boys out of here, now, Patricia!"
When Pat and the others are gone, the woman casually strolls down to the kitchen and returns with a big knife. Having remarkably calmed himself, Lou, sitting against the wall, doesn't protest, knowing he's finished. He's been bit and they can't take any chances. The others weep as they pack their things, knowing what's about to happen to Lou.
The doomed man and crazy-haired lady spend a few minutes alone, praying, before she plunges the thing into the side of his head. There’s no hesitation.
With that unfortunate bit of business out of the way, it's time for everyone evacuate to the bunker. Meanwhile, dozens of flaming red eyes lurk in the dense brush just beyond the fence. There's also an intense wind bending the trees, cracking branches, then the thunder returns.