Episode 17: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free zombie web novel
It's another hot, dry late afternoon under a pee sky when the dirty white cube van enters the parking lot of that terrible grey building. It's followed by another car that has three men who pile out holding long barrel hunting rifles.
They slide open the truck's back door and order a husband and wife to exit, each nervously holding a crying toddler. The sinister jerks show no mercy as they unlock a metal door send the family inside the building, locking the door behind them. Time for the bandits to go home.
Where's home for these men in the clean shirts and dress pants? Well, since you've asked, they've got a pretty good setup at the big supreme court building out here in the suburbs. A chain link fence has been erected around the perimeter and a man with a rifle always stands guard on the roof.
Every door and window has been boarded up and additional reinforcement has been installed for the underground garage door, the only entrance point to the spacious complex. They've gathered a fleet of working vehicles and enough food, water and fuel to last a couple of years.
They also have sizable cache of rifles and recently got their grubby hands on a couple of machine guns. They've also got knives and other stabbing weapons out the ying yang! Everything you'll ever need for paradise.
For now, it's a safe and comfortable place to hold up. A couple of dozen men live here, occupying the first two floors, while the third floor is the exclusive domain of their queen bee, Lillian Zhao, a classic sociopath whose truculent personality and unyielding cruelty easily dominates the myopic minions.
Whatever Lillian says goes, no exceptions, no negotiation or debate!
They spend their days raiding and killing off any undead. To save their bullets, they remove any potential threats by transporting individuals to that heinous building for slaughter. Oh, there's also something else: Lillian's husband, Thomas, who was a real estate mogul in the chronically ambivalent world. He was also an avid outdoorsman with a taste for the high life. Also once having a combination of industrial prowess and philanthropic largesse, he's now a dark figure, separated from the rest, keeping to himself in his own room under special conditions.
Only Lillian and her top henchman, a rotund, curly haired danger named Bogdan, know the whole story, including why they're sending so many captured and tied up individuals to his room. Bogdan later disposes their bodies. What's their terrible secret?
Let’s go back a couple of weeks to a quite evening at the courthouse..........
As the men play some gin rummy in a second floor chambers converted into living quarters, Bogdan leaves them for a while and heads upstairs and knocks on his boss's door.
He's allowed inside, the only one ever permitted to do so. Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D Major plays in the apartment while a single lit table lamp reveals ornate furniture and tasteful artwork on the walls. What's wrong in having a little ostentation in the apocalypse?
"Lillian, how is he tonight? Feeling any better? What else can I bring for you?" he asks respectfully, hushed.
"He's good. Good spirits. Just keep feeding him. My dear Thomas is fine. He gets so thirsty. Just keep bringing them," the woman in the expensive designer glasses answers. "Come, get rid of it now, my Thomas needs his rest. Take it out of there."
She accompanies Bogdan to another court chamber that's also been converted into a fashionably elegant, but dark and rank, apartment. A figure in there moves back from the doorway into the shadows, but enough light spills into the room from the hallway for the henchman to get a bit of a look.
The husband doesn't look right. He had a glorious head of hair but now appears completely bald. He's also white as a sheet and his eyes look bright blue.
Odd. It's all Bogdan can make out as the husband, who remains silent, disappears from view. None of his Bogdan's damn business anyway, but he wonders if the man is sick and whether it's contagious.
No matter, he has a job to do and that's to clear another body out of the suite. He drags a corpse of a young woman, her hands and feet bound, by the ankles into the hallway. There's zero colour left in this body.
Her throat has been skillfully slit open. Death by exsanguination, not an ounce of precious blood remaining. Funny, the woman looks so peaceful, like she’s sleeping, Bogdan observes. Lillian locks her husband's door and leaves Bogdan to dispose the carcass. Not even a thank you!
"You can bring up my supper in one hour. I want white wine tonight," she instructs in a terse voice. "And I want them to be quiet down there, my Richard needs his rest!" The goon nods. "Yes Lillian. Sure thing."
When the henchman eventually rejoins the other guys, he remembers to pull out a bottle of sanitizer and slathers his chubby hands.
Making sure to keep the windows closed to keep out a foul stench of burning hair, Bogdan will make a nice martini and enjoy a game of cards. Several of the men are in a side room watching episodes of AfterMash on VHS. A few are talking a little more loudly thanks to the endless supply of booze.
While the men are feeling quite merry, a couple express reservation about their long-term prospects. They also openly wonder why everything in the world had to go so sideways.
Bogdan laughs and assures them, "There's a reason behind everything, despite appearances."
The next day Lillian stays behind as some of her men drive to the Evergreen Mall where several survivors are holding out. What was supposed to be a straight forward raid, though, turns into a bloodbath that morning when Bogdan's force faces resistance from the group inside.
A gun battle within the mall attracts a herd of growling flesh hungry undead that begin devouring the living from both sides. Most of Lillian's men make it out but the other group wasn't so lucky. Still, this episode will make the queen most displeased.
During the carnage, off a short distance from the mall, the mustached man in a white cowboy hat sits on that big-ass red motorcycle and watches through binoculars.
A priest’s collar is visible under his trench coat. The colourful character chuckles, saying to himself in a rich voice that sounds like actor Morgan Freeman, "You just wait Miss Lillian, just wait!" Yes, we'll see even more of him later.
Speaking of hairy situations, that's what a team of soldiers from the research facility north of Seattle are hoping to avoid as they cruise the ruined suburbs in an SUV looking for survivors.
They're offering shelter, sanctuary, protection - anyone would be crazy to refuse, no?
The soldiers stop when a young man with a dirty face in a tattered shirt runs from a pet store waving his arms. "Oh please, help us, please, don't leave, help us!" Three soldiers pile out and stand around the vehicle with weapons raised, pointing in all directions.
A fourth, a big guy with a scar, emerges and calls out to the survivor, who's a couple of hundred metres away, to get his ass over to truck. The young man, who's a spitting image of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, hysterically laughs, almost crying in relief, as he calls for his girlfriend who emerges from the store. They’re definitely a barometer for the despair nowadays, looking in pretty rough shape.
It looks they've been saved. Well... maybe not. From around a corner, suddenly and in massive numbers, growling and snarling plague monsters appear and head straight for the warm blooded meals. A bunch of them appear to be little kids, or what used to be kids.
"The dead, the dead, open fire boys!" the lead soldier commands. The soldiers shoot and a dozen drop quickly.
The flesh eaters that only receive bullets to the body are pushed back just a little but keep moving. More roving dead appear. There's hundreds of them. The young couple stand frozen, the woman screaming, but the soldiers know what to do.
"Out now, retreat!" the lead soldier orders. The rescuers climb back into their vehicle as the grey, deteriorating hands reach for them. The SUV screeches in reverse and is gone in a shot. The weary young couple is stunned and turn to run, only to see so many of those monsters blocking the pet shop entrance.
They look around in grim amazement at how quickly they've been encircled.
Once again, it'll all be over very soon – num, num, num, num.
From a rooftop a block away, two men including former FBI agent Tim White, watch the gory spectacle through binoculars. They have seen those soldiers on a couple of other occasions including one where they took a man away at gunpoint. Nope, something wasn’t right about them, not at all.
A grape flavoured sucker in his mouth, White tells his partner it’s time to get back to their temple hideout.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati
Comic art by Jess Soares (HouseofBlackArt.com)
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