16: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free online illustrated zombie novel web book.
Back to what's happening now at the sex shop, and after a couple of days Leo and the new group of misfits are standing near the front window checking the situation outside.
Big Gregg unlocks the front door and steps out a few feet to see only one hunched and shuffling plague monster with crazy hair down the street.
Its face is warped into a grey and yellow gelatinous mash with eyes.
Looks like the herd has moved on but the survivors know how the ravenous dead can appear in massive numbers suddenly and out of nowhere. What’s worse, the tormenting crows are extra loud this morning. Gregg made it clear they have to get away from the city.
They're almost out of food and water and things will only get worse in that department as other survivors will be fighting for dwindling supplies in this deplorable wasteland.
Everything you see in that world of bubble gum science fiction is now cruelly a fact of life, or whatever is left of it.
Archie's Island is their best bet, says Gregg, his warm, bubbly smile assuring the group their chances are not that bad.
"Gregg....he's sick, really sick!" Vinny tells the group as he emerges from the back of the store with a frightened look. "Gregg, come quick!"
Oh no, Bert is sick, laying on an office couch, Edna on her knees beside him dabbing his burning forehead with a damp cloth. A stinking waste basket full of puke sits beside them. In her gentle voice, she sings the Scottish tune Sleep Silently My Beloved, while the others watch sullen through the open doorway.
"Dèan cadalan sàmhach a chuilein mo rùin,
Dèan fuireach mar tha thu ‘s tu ‘n-dràst’ an àit’ ùr,
Bidh òigearan againn làn beartais is cliù....."
Bert is shivering, suffering. A deep, raspy, painful cough, shortness of breath and bones on fire just a few of the symptoms of the big nasty. They've all sadly seen this before. Brother Dave angrily slams the door.
"Oh great, he's sick.....we could have caught it, he could have killed all of us.....damn it!" he hollers in another revealing outburst.
The others look at Big Gregg for direction in this conundrum but all he can do is stand there with his mouth open.
"He's such a nice guy. How could this happen?" a discouraged Gregg asks.
Vinny tells them Bert wasn't feeling well yesterday but this morning suddenly took a bad turn, steaming Brother Dave all the more since the entire group was likely exposed.
"I'm not dying because of him, not that guy," he protests.
"He's right. We have to go now. Leave him Gregg," Julia suggests. Georgie and the others nod and agree. Being a newcomer, Leo hangs back, leaning against a wall and not contributing to the bleak conversation.
Nervously rubbing that Gonzaga logo, the big fella looks at each member and tells the group to start packing the minivan - they're outta there ASAP!
Big Gregg says goodbye to the nice old couple, married over 50 wonderful years. Now it's over and we all know what happens to those who catch the big nasty, right?
"Edna, I'm so sorry, how is he?" Gregg asks after opening the door slightly and peeking his noggin through.
"We can't stay here, you know that right? The others....well....you know we have to go, leave him here."
Edna smiles as her partner fades in and out of reality. She's not scared or even seems sad. She's strong and ready, a very brave lady indeed.
"We can leave him a little bit of food, some water. You can have the rest of the pain killers too, all right? Well, maybe you should come with us, you know you can't help him," he says, but he knows the answer she'll give.
"Oh Gregg, my dear. Don't feel bad. We understand. You just go, it's all right. Make them safe. My place is here with my husband. This is where I belong. Please now, just go.....I'll be all right," Edna says. Just leave the city, please. It's not safe for you here.
"Edna, I'm so sorry. When he's gone, well, you know what's going to happen. He'll turn. You know what to do, I'm so sorry," Gregg adds, his guilt palpable as he drops a hunting knife onto the floor. He wishes he can do something, anything, for the nice old lady, but instead has to abandon her. This sucks!
"Don't worry about me. Don't feel bad. It's going to be all right. You just go now dear. Please, make them safe for me....thank you for helping us," Edna tells the big guy. He glances at Bert's bow tie and fedora on the desk and closes the door. The devoted wife starts singing again.
Gregg will never get that song out of his head now. The group leaves in the minivan, a rusting piece of junk.
"Man, don't know why you left her that knife, Gregg. I feel bad for them too but what are we supposed to do? We don't have a lot of weapons. No guns. We really need a gun," Brother Dave argues.
Gregg tells him to be quiet and, in fact, the whole group should quiet. They have no idea, of course, that something more horrible than the roaming corpses watches them from a darkened school room as they drive past. The thing doesn't say a word. It senses others of its kind calling through time and space to join them.
Its thin skin white as a sheet, and its eyes deep blue balls, the hideous mutation has been busy killing survivors, feeding off them, while having no reason at all to be fearful of the plague monsters.
As the vehicle rolls through the ruined suburbia, Julia, seated next to Leo, gives the righteous dude an unexpected, brief smile and then looks out the dusty window.
Leo isn't getting any ideas this time around. They're off to gather supplies and find a boat, a road Leo has been down before.
After a while, Georgie Boy breaks the silence with an observation. "It's so dry. It hasn't rained in a long time guys."
Leo grins, wondering if he has what it takes to change in order to adapt to this suddenly vile, sulfuric world. For the longest time he was nothing more than a self-parody, but that was fine. Now it's as if someone has to tear a page out of a comic book and paste the superhero to his forehead. Will the damned thing stick? If it does, will he still be just another oval-shaped peg in a world needing a square?
Meanwhile, things at the research centre north of Seattle feel miserable.
The entire place smells like a urinal. Several more staff and soldiers took off but Kate remains, having to deal with misogynist creep Hagstrom.
In a staff lunchroom she has to put up with Andy Williams tunes playing through the speakers as she snacks on an emergency food bar. Tastes like an old shoe but has much needed calories. Her friend and co-worker Charlie was killed, probably, a few days ago and she's feeling his absence.
This place seems devoid of hope, devoid of expectation, anything positive at all anymore. Things are also starting to look messy and disorganized around here and only a few of the lights are working. Only three scientists and a handful of soldiers are left.
Still, they have enough to keep going. A haunting beauty even with very little makeup, Kate, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, is going over and over in her mind what they could be missing.
There's got to be something they're not looking at right. It has all the telltale signs of pulmonary mucormycosis but in some cases it resembles Guillain-Barre syndrome.
It seems to mutate, change its very form, mid-infection, its essence. If it's a virus, it's the most perfect killing machine. A nightmare. Hagstrom seems to actually admire it.
Everyone seems to carry it but not everyone gets sick, and those who die as a result of other means don’t become re-animated corpses.
Anyone bitten or scratched by the infected, though, have a one hundred percent probability of becoming ill with the mystery bug.
An a-hole disease. It's perplexing. Kate can't help but wonder if mankind, long struggling against itself, finally shattered like a glass into a hundred pieces onto a carpet. Now she's left trying to pick up each shard and repair a glass that was hideously flawed to begin with.
Another scientist, an older Sikh gentleman named Abhi, enters the lunchroom with his hands in his lab coat pockets and sits across the table. The staff nicknamed him lizard tongue due to his incessant licking of his lower lip.
Tired, he tells her the disappointing results of the latest round of tests.
There's also something else going on at the medical centre they don't want to talk about, something inconceivable. He reaches into a box on the table and grabs one of those yucky energy bars.
"This is so awful. I really don't know if I can eat this anymore," he sighs, shaking his head in frustration.
Kate just nods and smiles and the two begin a dreary conversation about what foods they miss. The third and final scientist, Hagstrom, soon adds to the gloom by joining them and reminding the two he wants reports on his desk in duplicate. "My desk by the morning, all right, hmmmm?"
Kate doesn't know why she's thinking about Leo, but she's also been, rightfully, wondering if her kids made it up to Alaska and are all right. Lance will protect them.
He just oozes bravery and virtue. If she could have only changed Leo, convinced him to shape up, maybe she would have been happier. But those are the cards she was dealt.
Well, she'll be happy to know Lance indeed made it.
Quite a good group of Americans and Canadians up there who got together to live off the land. Their log cabin community surrounded by a well-made timber fence is close to the Arctic Ocean. It's about two hundred miles east of the United States Air Force Long Range Radar Site at Point Barrow.
The scenery is wild and breath-taking but it also takes a lot to live in this isolated region.
Lance, looking more like a hipster dufus with his new beard and 1800's haircut, is patrolling the dense woods with two other men, all with powerful .905-caliber rifles.
Nobody got sick at camp and nobody is bothering them, including the dead.
While Lance is hunting, the two boys are in camp getting a lesson in angling and using cast nets. His brother-in-law Andrew, tending to the chickens and goats, is considered the most useless of the community, but there's still hope he'll start pulling his weight. He's earned the nickname Mr. Pleats thanks to his obsession with pleated trousers.
They'll need to stock up for a bitterly cold winter. Funny, though, that it hasn't rained for a while. And even way out here, things aren't so pristine with that yellowy tinge in the sky. Damn it, even here.
Lance's hunting party enters a clearing, tracking a moose, when they hear something unusual. Sounds like some kind of animal with a giant blow horn, maybe.
The sound is deep, long and freakish, coming from a dark patch of forest just ahead.
They nervously hold up their weapons and look at each other. The two men look to Lance the superman for some all-American toughness but the terror that emerges is beyond him. What the hell is that? Can't be!
It's some kind of monster. A big, really big, grizzly thing charges from the brush, but it's no bear.
The men are stunned at what they see: a grey furred grizzly-like thing with an even bigger shoulder hump than normal, eyes blood red.
Its claws, my god look at them! It's too huge – bigger than the now extinct short-faced bear. Is this carnivore some sort of monster or terrible mutation? Odd, at this very moment Lance realizes how he's more fake than hero. How could he turn down all that adulation?
The thing charges and Lance fires the first shot followed by the other two. The gun blasts boom across the forest. The monstrous creature drops, but only briefly since they didn't score a vital headshot. It leaps back up with incredible speed, black ooze flowing from its wounds, toward Lance again.
There's initial shock but no fear, since fear is only for those who have the slightest chance of surviving. Yes, it bites down onto the American hero, the massive black mouth and teeth enveloping his upper body and tearing him in two. Blood and flesh chunks explode everywhere. The two others have the equilibrium to shoot again.
Once again, the thing drops but then leaps to sink its teeth into the waist of one of them, picking him up like a doll and running into the woods. The meal drops his gun and screams as blood gushes out of his mouth. His predator takes him deeper in the woodland and disappears.
The third man is the lucky one, getting to live for now, and sprints away. He stumbles and drops his gun but manages to keep going, falling a few times before making it back to camp. Yes, this group is going to have some serious problems, but let's get back to them later.
Story by Sandor Gyarmati
Comic art by Jess Soares (HouseofBlackArt.com)
Check out our Facebook page too https://www.facebook.com/mapleleafzombies/