Episode 43: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free digital zombie book
There's plenty of handshakes and pleasant introductions at the Bellingham mall where FBI man Tim White finally shows up with a busload of weary survivors. Also joining, driving the Canadian police car, are Leo, Vic, Fred and Lieutenant Ford, whose mission to find a new group is a success.
There's just over sixty people from all walks of life here, including a few with rapier wits, a couple of intellectual semi-giants and some not so tolerant of unorthodox opinions. There’s also a butt-wipe who claims he’s accepted Jesus into his life and will no longer drink alcohol, expect beer.
One of the women, Jenny, recently had a beautiful baby boy who’s doing just fine.
White maintains a self-assured face but isn't all that confident his people won't be eaten alive. It would be kind of nice having another authority figure to take over the ominous leadership responsibility since he's running out of ideas. Ford's alive, which is a fantastic miracle, but White isn't so sure he's got enough brains and cunning to be the big cheese around here.
However, the arrival of these newcomers including, in particular, this intense guy with the bowler hat, might be the answer. White just wants out of this mess, having to make tough decisions that may end up making not a god damn bit of difference in the end. The dead, they're everywhere!
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
Leo and White get to know each other and get filled in on what's been happening on both sides the line. Still somewhat flustered by the bloodbath at the temple, White gets the sense Leo is just the Rambo type they need to fight their way through these horrific times.
But can he be really trusted? Perhaps this newcomer has crossed over too far into crazy land and will bring the whole group down in flames?
They stroll through the mall that's remarkably clean and tidy, a yellowy sun beaming through the skylights.
"I'm sure you've seen a lot of whacked-out stuff. Lost a lot of good people. Well, it's the same story with us, all of us. I'm not sure how we can shake off those freaks, though. None of this seems real," White complains.
"Oh, it's real all right. We've got to be ready to do whatever it takes, Tim. I'm the one who will do it," Leo responds. "Things are upside down, screwed up. Maybe they'll never get back to normal, you know. Looks like things won't ever be like the used to. The old rules, well, we can't think like that anymore, just can’t. I’m talking about taking by force from other people or groups that might be out there and don't want to share, that kind of thing. We need food and will have to take it.”
"I know, I know all that," says the dispirited FBI man. "But the world can't be all over. This can't be it. I'm not liking the idea of restoring to, well, don't get me wrong, resorting to being a bunch of savages. But we have no choice, do we?”
Leo stops and looks White square in the eyes. "Nope. It's all about survival now. New rules. If you want my help, I have to know you're going to back me up. Things are going to get real ugly, you've got to know that."
"Gotta tell ya, Leo, not looking forward to the pretty scary crap we're about to face," adds White, prompting Leo to quote Gandhi, "Fear has its use but cowardice has none."
“Ya, I get it,” White replies. “But what’s going to become of us. What will it be like in the end? We’ll be alive, maybe, but our spirits will be empty?”
“Let’s just concentrate on the staying alive, I'll be the hand that delivers,” Leo suggests as he kicks aside a children's robot action figure on the ground. Yes, Vinny inexorably comes to mind. It's just for a moment, though. And that weird dream Leo had as a kid, not the Jesus one but the one in which he was about the battle something nefarious in the darkened corridor, has become invigoratingly clear. And it’s also clear there’s no such thing as certain physical events having no cause. There's a reason behind every action, for everything.
White grins, sensing this gallant provocateur is probably so smooth at battling the undead, he could likely slice a dozen or so heads off while a cigarette hangs from his mouth. And getting him upset is probably the same as dropping napalm on a tinder-dry forest.
The rest of the group also gets to know each other in the food court over bottled water, stale crackers and canned turkey.
White rejoins them and is told how several surprisingly quick plague monsters managed to get inside the mall, sending everyone scrambling for the JCPenny.
Fortunately, no one was lost as some of the brave-hearted managed to stand their ground and blow the fiends' brains out. Good job, however, they spent all the ammunition. Agent White still has four rounds in his handgun and there’s seven shells for the shotguns - that's it.
Nope, definitely not a good situation. Leo nonetheless is impressed with their ballsiness. The last thing he needs is putting his neck on the line trying to save sniffling weaklings.
The dude now knows about the two demons, sadly one being Kate, that massacred the temple and their infernal power over the dead, while the others learn all about the cluster of blood suckers at the monastery.
Sitting on a small table in front of the taco place, Leo lays out his logical plan that involves finding a couple more buses and hauling everyone up to the RCMP station in back up Canada. The following step is to find a place far enough away, isolated, from the freaks.
Leo's longer term vision, not laid out yet, is the destruction of the cardinal and his hive, and now also the destruction of Kate and Hagstrom. He knows that's the only way they can really be sure they’re safe. It just sucks they have no real wepaons, no fire power at all.
Of course, if they can find other survivors to grow their numbers and make themselves stronger, all the better. However, if someone out there looks like they’d be a liability and weigh the group down, admittance will be refused.
Also, anyone they come across who might be a possible threat, or doesn't want to share supplies, must be viewed with derision and destroyed. Yes, it's the only way to be sure about anything.
Leo stands up and begins pacing through the food court, describing what'll need to be done, while also sizing up any potential adversaries in this crowd. The members seem, for the most part, impressed with his decisiveness and robust conviction, but also continually look at White to see if he's on the same page.
The agent, standing with arms crossed next to Michael and Vic, just nods. This Leo must have been in the military, maybe special forces, White wonders, not knowing that they're about to be led by a former stoner.
Keron, seated with Jack and Eric, doesn't know what to make of Leo and his over-the-top bravado, but the other two eagerly smile.
"Hey, ummmm just a second. You just got here and you think you can tell us what to do? We never voted you leader. Tim is in charge and I want to hear what he says," a short, stout man dressed to the nines bellows, getting out of his chair to point at Leo.
The dude provides a brutal glare and approaches the chump, lowering his voice and speaking slowly to make a point.
"What did you say? You questioning me? The only way you join my people is following my rules. Or how about I kill you where you stand?"
Leo then grabs hold of the guy's Windsor necktie knot and stares into his withering soul. The man, feeling his stomach drop as if it's going down the biggest roller coaster hill, squirms.
"Come on, where's your gonads," Leo inquires. "Maybe I should just leave you out there to fight off all the dead things by yourself? How long do you think you'd last without me?
The man sheepishly answers, "I was, was just saying you just got here. Tim White, he's ummmm....but I, I'll go along with whatever."
"Shut the hell up and sit down...now!" White shouts at the man, knowing he just saved the schmuk's bacon. White isn’t worried, yet, about whom Ford just brought into their fold, sensing this rough around all edges individual could indeed deliver them to safety.
Leo, meantime, continues to stand over the man, remarking, "Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die, huh?"
Leaning against the Chinese food joint's counter, Ford gives Leo and approving nod. The dude gives a quick nod in return. Ford has been in a few tight spots lately and was feeling he was running out of chances. The dead or blood suckers were going to get him sooner or later, but now he's liking his odds with Leo around.
Later in the Bed Bath and Beyond, White lays on bed that has a super comfy quilt. He stares at the ceiling, hoping the new large group they're about to form will elude the blood sucking monsters, the roaming corpses but also other people whom Leo might feel inclined to kill. If Leo means what he says about striking first and taking from others, well, that's bound to create enemies.
But then again, to say these are uncertain, terrifying times is a major understatement. Yes, what choice do they have?
Vic sneaks in quietly and sits at the end of the bed, asking, "So, Tim, I heard you’re on board with letting Leo run the show. How do you feel about that?
Surprised, White returns, "What is this, some kind of test?"
"No, nothing like that. I mean, Leo doesn't just talk tough, I've seen him in action. He didn't tell you what we did a day before we ran into you guys, did he?"
Obviously curious, White shakes his head and wants the scoop. Vic quickly obliges.
"You're not going to like it," he chuckles. “Here it goes. I thought your guy Ford would have told you this."
"Ford, he's not my guy. I agreed to take him in, that's all," White snaps, "So what's this big story you seem to really want to tell me?"
Vic stands and starts walking in circles, rubbing his hands as he goes over their little misadventure which needs no theatrics or embellishment.
“You’re going to find out about this sooner or later,” he explains. “Here we are, minding our own business, when a bunch of these dead ghouls appear on the road blocking our path, going right at us. Good old Leo turns our police car around and up we go another way and guess what, blocked again. So we end up going here and there and shake them. Ford and me spot a couple of guys watching us on the roof at the hydro sub-station out there in Ladner. We tell Leo to peel over there, since it’s gotta big fence all around it, hoping they’d let us in.”
He continues, “These sons of a bitches at the gate wouldn’t let us in. One of them was pointing a hunting rifle at us and these other guys only had bats, yelling at us to get away, didn’t care. Well, that ticked Leo off big-time. Can you believe it? The guy goes gets this big truck with an empty container, then we go to this electronics store and he gets himself a boom box, puts it way in the back and starts playing it real loud and, wouldn’t you know, a whole whack of the dead are attracted. Start piling in. Then he shuts the door and drives the thing right through the front gate, opens the sliding door and runs outta there. The dead, of course, pile out and start eating the whole damn lotta them. A little revenge from Leo there. You should have seen it!”
Odd, White isn’t shocked by what he hears but is slightly disturbed how Vic seems so eager to rat Leo out. What’s his game here?
White gets off the bed and stands face-to-face with the informant. “Why the hell are you telling me all this? What do you want?”
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Vic answers, “Just saying I like the guy but if you think things get too far, I’ll go along with you.”
“Well, thanks for telling me. I’ll keep it in mind,” White counters, clearly suspicious. Vic smirks and gives a thumbs up while leaving.
Yup, White has a lot to think about.
He exits shortly afterward and sees Keron sitting alone on a bench near the juice place. The agent sits next to the affable man. “You know, Tim, I believe. Things have a way for working out if you believe, put that thought right out there. It’s not even wanting, it’s believing.”
“I’m glad you believe in us. You know, Keron, I think this Leo guy is tough enough to help us out. We’ll join up with his group once we get our hands on a couple of buses. It’s going to work out.”
Keron is excited about not only the prospect of safety but also perhaps enjoying some of the creature comforts of the past, getting to live like a normal human being once more. What's the harm in letting him feel so inspired? The only problem, the slight wrinkle, is the dead bugging the warm blooded.
White wants to talk about the upcoming logistics of their trip but is suddenly interrupted by a frantic woman running through the mall looking for him.
“Oh god, Tim, Tim, you have to come quick!” she shouts.
“They in? They get in?” the flustered agent wants to know.
“No, no it’s not that. It’s Jenny’s baby. Something’s wrong with the baby!”
White and Keron join her in the mad dash back to the Babies R Us, where the concerned group stand outside looking at White as if he has the ability to save the child. He slowly enters where the gurgling infant lays in a top-of-the-line crib, the child's teary mother stroking his head. Also there is an older gentleman, Warren, the group’s only doctor, who’s stumped.
“Tim, I can’t explain what happened. Some kind of, of, mutation, I guess. The baby’s vitals seem fine, but look at the appearance. Seems healthy. No temp. The only thing is a sensitivity to light, I mean…..”
“That’s fine, Warren,” White interrupts, amazed at what he sees. The innocent child has become pale as a sheet, its eyes turning into bright blue balls.”
“Warren, doctor, please do something, do something please!” the desperate mother begs.
Everyone hushes when Leo enters, grim faced. “I’m sorry, but the kid, it’s turned into one of them,” he says in a melancholy tone. “Nothing you can do, doc. I know what has to be done.”
The mother becomes hysterical, having to be restrained by Ford and Jack.
“You sure, Leo? There’s no other solution?” White inquires, but also realizing what needs to be carried out.
His hands on the railing, Leo stares blankly. The dude then runs his hand though his greasy hair before extending his arm for White’s pistol.
“You got, what, four bullets left? We’ll have to waste on this. No choice. Give it to me.”
Relieved he doesn’t have to be the one doing this, and thankful now more than ever for Leo’s arrival, White doesn’t hesitate to obey. The mother is dragged out kicking and screaming. Leo tells everyone to get out and quickly completes the task.
The previous night Leo had another peculiar dream in which he was relaxing on his outdoor lounge chair in sleepy Point Roberts. Instead of the amiable Archie, the one and only Jesus was taking it easy in the chair beside him, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, feeding Leo’s driving conceit about divine energy patterns and obligations. What was said was finally clear and Leo can remember it all.
In this hallucinatory swath, the son of god, wearing the usual sandals but with jean shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, confirmed the dude is on the right path and his intemperate tactics are justified in this calamitous world.
Three days later, Leo and Jack manage to find a couple of working and fully fueled school buses. They were chased around by the undead, having to hide due to the lack of weapons, but are none the worse for wear. Things are indeed working out. Time to head back up to Canada.
As the convoy leaves the mall, less than thirty miles away a bizarre sight is heading their way, a sight too ridiculous to even describe.
Still wearing their welders’ goggles and masks, Hagstrom is driving the not so lonely highway with Kate in the Volare, which they repaired. They have to drive slowly because behind them are hundreds of dirty, growling plague monsters, clothing tattered and body pieces continually dropping off. They’re obediently following their leaders. More join in as the hungry horde heads north.
The blood suckers not only control the dead but have the power to connect with others of their own kind, even from far away. Unbeknownst to Leo, Hagstrom knows what the once righteous dude did to the baby.
His megalomania growing by the hour, Hagstrom is incensed, determined to somehow find the survivors and get his hands on Leo. Before they join their brothers and sisters at the monastery, revenge must be served.