Episode 42: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free zombie web novel
Well, well well, look at who we have here!
A dog-tired Ford, having fought his way out of several nasty jams the last few days, is surprised, to say the least, at who he sees, knowing he's in a bad spot for sure. He quickly recognized the angry leader of this seasoned group standing in front of him and the guy looks like he's beaming for payback.
"You....I remember you.......son of a bitch!" grumbles Leo, who proceeds to give Ford a wicked smash across the jaw, dropping the soldier onto his butt. It's not the first time Ford's been punched out but who would have thought the angular dufass he encountered all those months ago would be the one doing the dropping?
Damn, if he only had a gun, this sucker wouldn't be breathing right now.
"What are you doing here? Why is he here? Where did you find him? Where’s the other soldiers?" Leo demands to know, pointing at his unwelcome visitor.
"Leo, just wait......we were at this store, found a woman still alive, then a whole bunch of those rotten corpse things piled out of nowhere!" Michael describes,
"They got her but we climbed up on some scaffolding but were, were really trapped. Those things started shaking and rocking it. Used all our bullets, gone, too many of those things. Then this guy shows ups, blows them away with his big revolver and finishes the rest with a machete. It was really something, should have seen it!"
"You did that, for my friends?" a puzzled Leo asks Ford. "Who the hell are you?"
"Ford, just call me Ford, the military man answers, standing up and dusting off his khaki pants. “I came a long way, looking for a safe place for my group. I ran into these really big herds of dead, unbelievable. Got pushed up here. I got to get back to them, good people!"
Providence on his side, Leo, his face still covered in black and red chunks, looks at Michael with a blisteringly hostile expression.
"There's a lot more to this guy, you know!"
Michael’s thoughts convert to an odd combination of deep horror and an exhilarating sense of wonder as he starts slowly walking to the centre of the compound. His mouth open, he’s stunned seeing all the torn bodies. It's beyond appalling. Deep red puddles and squishy bits are everywhere!
"Sweet Jesus, oh man......what, what happened here. Oh no, the dead got in? How many did we lose?"
"A lot, too many. Little kids too. That's why we're going to that RCMP place, we're leaving here. But first me and this guy are going to have a little talk!" answers Leo.
The dude picks up the pipe and shoves Ford, ordering him to go to the office for more interrogation.
Vic follows, still holding his manly hunting knife. Fred also joins them but is weaponless.
His terrified kids grab onto his sleeve, begging him not to leave them, prompting the hockey player to kiss them on the head and assure that everything will be all right now. He'll be right back.
It's in the office where Leo describes to how Ford and the other soldiers tried to carjack him and his buddy Laszlo. Leo also lets Ford know that he's fully aware of what he's been up to thanks to Sandlak's confession.
He knows all about the kidnappings and human experiments and, although Ford in his defence tries to explain that he tried to stop Hagstrom, must decide whether to banish him.
The only reason he's not dead already is that he risked his neck to save Michael and the others. How can he allow him to stay here, though?
The others are aghast to hear all this.
"Holy crap, you were doing all that? Get rid of him Leo, come on! I'll go along with whatever you decide but I say you should kick this goof out!" Vic recommends.
"Just wait a second," Fred interjects. "I'm not excusing what he did, but he did help Michael. He's also got a group, a big group, looking for a safe place. Man, Leo, there's no one left out there. If there's other people out there, and he says they're decent, shouldn't we try to help them, have a chance to grow our numbers. Look at how many we lost today."
Sitting slumped on an office chair and looking up at the three standing interrogators, Ford says, "I made mistakes. But I want to help. Our groups, we should get together. We've got a lot of women and kids."
Leo paces briefly before lowering his voice, asking, “Kate....she still alive? What happened to her?"
Ford sighs, then provides more shocking elements to the story, describing how Kate and Hagstrom are now blood sucking freaks controlling an army of walking corpses. Leo is stunned.
Curious, Ford asks what happened to Sandlak but gets no answer. Leo is too bewildered at this turn of events.
Is that it? Is everyone going to die now? Is there nowhere safe? Is every city, every stupid little town, just a death trap crawling with infected? Leo refuses to believe that, yet.
"Oh no, there's more of them out there, got to be kidding me," Vic yells. He then pounds his fist against a wall. "We just took off from a bunch of those blood suckers after us, monsters, and you're saying there's more of them out there? They control the dead?"
"This is not good, not good at all Leo. What do we do? We only have a few guns and now zero bullets. How can we fight off those creeps if they control an army of plague monsters?" Fred inquires. "This is bad, real bad. We've got to find some place far away, but we've got to help those people!"
Leo shakes his head, "Not our problem, and besides, I still have to figure out what I'm going to do with this guy."
Concerned their leader is going too cold, Fred takes Leo aside, asking in a calm voice, "I'll follow you. You're my friend. But I'm asking, please, let's go get these people. Maybe, you know, we all hook up and go somewhere far away, far away from those freaks at the monastery and Seattle. Maybe start a farm but way the hell out in the country, up in the Interior. The dead are everywhere too, so, you know, we need the strength in numbers thing too, I think...."
"Easy, that's OK, just easy," Leo interrupts, putting his arm around Fred's shoulder and acknowledging the somewhat valid points.
The idea his Kate becoming a monster shoots through his soul. "No, can't be. What happened, Kate?"
She’s gone. So are Anna and Julia, all goners.
Distracted, his thoughts drift briefly to his two little boys, out there somewhere in the wilderness. They’re in great danger but not dead, Leo figures, not sure why. They're being protected and will be coming home somehow. Funny, going along with Fred's recommendation to help these Seattle people is key.
The dude then leaves the men momentary and walks to the hallway, turning to see his friend Big Gregg leaning against a wall.
Wow, it’s been a long time and he really missed the big guy. His arms crossed, Gregg doesn't say a word, just smiling and nodding approvingly. Leo smiles back, leaving the friendly apparition in the hallway and returning to the office with a decision. There will be absolution for Ford and his people will be retrieved.
"OK, Ford, put your god damn skates on. We'll go down and find your friends. Bring them up here. We've got a police headquarters we're staying for now. We'll get something even bigger. I'm going with you."
"You sure about that?" Vic protests. "That's a hell of a trip and with those dead things crawling around all over the place? We've got no more ammo, none!"
"We'll make it. Fred, you've got kids, you're staying. Vic, you and Michael are coming with us," the dude responds. “We'll take some fuel, that police car, and go."
Ford, relieved, stands up and shakes Leo's hand. "Thanks, thank you! You're going to be saving a lot of good people. And yes, we're going to make it all right!"
He's hoping he's right and that the temple hasn't turned into just another party palace for the dead.
After grabbing everything useful, a convoy leaves the container storage yard death scene for the police station, while Leo and his small group head the opposite direction in the cop cruiser for a precarious trip to bring back that other group.
The road out of town is jammed with cars that were tyring to make it out, so Leo just drives on the other side of the road - problem solved.
They've got a couple of hand guns but no bullets. An axe and other assorted blunt force weapons are all they have for self-preservation.
Seated in the back with Ford, Vic grumbles, "They'd better still be alive when we get there, Ford."
Meanwhile, across the border, or what used to be a border, things are starting to look up for Tim White. He's found a small shopping mall in Bellingham that's secure and, hopefully, far enough away from Hagstrom and Kate. They only had to clear out a couple of hungry dead creepers from the place.
He's already managed to bring up two busloads of his people and is driving the empty vehicle back to the temple for more. Two more trips should do it. Following the bus is Jack Burrows, who's driving the Volare, accompanied by his boy Eric.
It's hot and muggy, something of particular concern nowadays given the late time of year. The prolonged drought has transformed the landscape to something you'd see in a depressing doomsday painting including dead trees everywhere. The deserted highway has a few abandoned cars but, for the most part, it's smooth sailing.
Keron, seated behind White and leaning forward, is feeling pretty good about their situation. They don't talk about Ford anymore.
"You know, I told you we'd make it. That's a real good spot you found. I told you things will be OK. I know it, Keron smiles, "Everything is going to be all good if we just stick together."
White grins and looks back, "My friend, I think you're right. Keep the faith, brother."
Changing the subject, he asks, "You came from a pretty tough upbringing, no?"
"I came from a real tough neighbourhood. I put my hand in some cement and felt another hand," the older man laughs.
White chuckles. A Rodney Dangerfield fan? Awesome!
Now that those notorious I5 traffic jams are a thing of the past, it doesn't take that long to arrive at the temple but something is all wrong, terribly wrong. The fact White is playing Bela Lugosi's Dead by the Bauhaus on the cassette player isn't exactly alleviating the sense of unease and gloom.
A weird and rank thin mist hangs over the street that's filled with rotting corpses.
"Oh my god....what happened?" a fearful White wonders as they approach the temple. "The gate, it's down!"
The occupants in the Volare are going through the same trepidation.
The loud, arrogant crows as well as the cracking of the gravel beneath the tires add to the terrible atmosphere. Yes, something bad just happened.
They nevertheless pull into the parking lot where Jack urges Eric to stick real close.
Down to just four bullets, a perspiring White holds his service pistol, while Keron follows a few feet behind with Jack and his boy sticking close. They enter ever so slowly, peeking in every room and down every dark hallway. They can hear a tap ceaselessly dripping but nothing else. Where is everyone?
“Ohhhh, h-help meeee,” a faint voice calls from a locked janitor’s room. The men look at each other with a momentary lapse in bravery before White kicks open the door.
There, they find a badly wounded Suzanne, huddled in a corner and soaked in blood. She’s shaking and burning up, bones on fire after having been bitten on the shoulder, the wound vigorously infected and oozing putridity.
While the others stand astounded, White kneels in front of her and in a soft, reassuring tone asks what happened.
“They, they came, so m-many of them…the dead, thousands of them. They pushed their way in and got inside. They got inside and started killing everyone. No, not everyone, s-some of them, they, they were being carried away. Oh god, they weren’t bitten, they were being carried or dragged away,” Suzanne explains, fighting to stay conscious.
“Me and a couple of others made it to the roof and we saw, I can’t explain it. We saw two people standing on top of a car wearing welders’ goggles and masks. They were, like, raising their arms and controlling the dead. How did they do that?”
“Hagstrom,” White mumbles.
“The gym, don’t l-look in the gym, ohhhhh….” Suzanne warns as she fades to sleep. She’ll be dead soon but the men don’t have the heart to bash her brains out. They should because she’ll turn. Instead, they leave her there and wedge the door shut with a chair.
At least there doesn’t seem to be any dead around as they make their way to the gymnasium. It’s a catastrophe, mutilated bodies, organs and other body parts everywhere, walls and floor nothing but red.
The smell gives White and his friends intense gut rot.
There’s also quite a few skeletons with the meat and stuffing all gone. Although he wants to toughen his son up, Jack just can’t take it, telling Eric to stop looking and turn around. The teen, oddly, seems to be taking the fly covered bloodbath better than the rest of them.
Tears begin streaming down Keron’s face. This unbearable finality is breaking him. “I was so sure, so sure we’d all make it. All these good people, they didn’t have to die like that! We failed them. It's over!”
“No, stop talking like that, Keron. Half the group is still alive, we’ve got them at the mall. We’ll find others, I promise, everything will be OK,” says Jack. “We’ve got all the kids out, our future.”
White wants to believe what he’s dishing out, or at least have Keron, whom he senses is on the verge of an emotional breakdown, maintain faith.
“Things have a way of working out. All you have to do is have a little faith and believe, OK?”
Jack, meantime, is feeling annoyed at what he sees as Keron’s self-indulgence in the self-pity party, but keeps his trap closed.
How can they keep going? How can they survive with those two psycho freaks after them, having some weird power to control the dead?
They’ve only got a few guns and are almost out of precious bullets. Even if they had a hundred machine guns and tens of thousands of rounds of ammo, how could they possibly hope to stop such a threat? The only thing they can do is keep on moving, keep going further and further away to some place out of reach from Hagstrom.
“Look, dad, a shotgun, come on, I’ll get it,” Eric says casually, then strolling out in the blood and muck. Looks like all those desensitizing, violent video games were useful after all. Jack runs after his cocky kid and pulls him back, but a wide-eyed Keron proceeds to step into to mush and grab the weapon that’s dripping with blood.
“Tim, I believe you, brother. There’s going to be something, some kind of miracle that will save all the rest of us. We’ll find other good people too. I believe!”
“Enough of this, let’s get the hell out of here!” Jack argues. There’s no debating it’s a good idea to hightail it out of there.
Once they’re outside and, wouldn’t you know it, the Volare won’t start. White has Jack pop open the hood for a quick look but the awful sound of hungry plague monsters begins somewhere in the distance. It’s hard to see how far away due to that sickening haze, so the guys aren’t taking any chances, getting onto the bus and rumbling away.
Less than a block away, standing on an army tank, Hagstrom and Kate watch the survivors flee, amused how they’re trying to evade inevitability. Hagstrom is wearing a vintage welder’s mask as well as a black leather bodysuit, army boots and a dirty brown suede trench coat.
It's obvious not an ounce of sunlight is touching this freak's skin. Kate is also wearing welder’s goggles and a mask as well as a black biker’s jacket and gloves. They don’t say a word as their future meals drive away. Hagstrom knows he and Kate are the sons and daughters of darkness, found the most worthy to inherit a world lost by god to the son of perdition. Soon they will connect others like themselves to rule an earth in his honour.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaming lion looking for someone to devour.”
White, for a while, doesn’t encounter too many plague monsters on the way back, with the exception of a few wandering or laid out on the crumbling road. Nobody says a word as they head north, hopefully far enough away from that inexplicable evil.
Jack and Eric pay no attention to a rotting girl sitting in a pool of blood but Keron can’t help but gaze, placing his hand on the window and offering a quick, silent prayer for her salvation.
Is there any trace of her soul, any memory, still in there? Suddenly, his forehead bashes into the seat ahead as White is forced to slam the brakes.
“Damn it!” shouts the frustrated agent. Now what!
Keron remains seated while Jack and Eric scurry to the front, Eric sporting a bloody lip thanks to the quick stop.
“Ficken Christ, no way!” hollers Jack. What they see ahead are several hundred ravenous, emaciated plague monster lined up from left to right, blocking their path and slowly with arms extended shuffling straight for them.
“How, I mean…..is this Hagstrom’s doing? Can’t be, not this far away!” says White, “Just a delay boys, we’re getting outta here!”
The resolute FBI man backs up and eventually turns the big bus around. Heading back to the carnage in Seattle isn’t the answer, so they make a turn off a side road and begin to wind their way out of there, passing several farms before ending up behind a casino.
The new plan is to stay in the bus and get some shut-eye but, lo and behold, eighteen desperate survivors who had been holding out at the gaming facility for the last couple of months come pouring out, begging White to take them with him. What’s he going to say, no?
The thankful newcomers get big-time welcoming hugs from Keron but the gruff Jack, although smiling politely, finds it all dubious.
Sharing their dwindling supplies with strangers? Maybe not a hot idea, he worries.
It’ll be at least a day or so before the coast will be clear and they can return to the mall.
Just over forty eight hours later, when White finally decides it’s time to go, everyone piles into the dirty yellow bus for what hopefully will be a relatively smooth ride to the temporary sanctuary. As he drives onto the exit and to the highway, guess what, there’s yet another surprise….a bizarre coincidence or maybe something more.
A police car, one from Canada, speeds up from behind with its sirens activated. A cop? A speeding ticket? Really?
White reluctantly pulls over and his passenger are understandably confused. He opens the passenger door, revolver in hand, and there to greet him is Ford - he’s alive! He’s also in the company of three tough-looking men. Are you kidding?
“Hey there, Tim, what the hell you doing up here? Funny running into you here of all places. I was just heading down to get you. Came from Canada. I’ve got good news!”
Jack shakes his head as a teary Keron leaps to grab White’s shoulder, proclaiming, “You’re right, I should have known you were right. Things have a way of working out. I have faith. I believe!”