Episode 46: Warning: Graphic Content
Maple Leaf Zombies - A free zombie web novel
Someone with lots of brain cells once said there was never a night or problem that could defeat sunrise or hope. FBI man Tim White hopes it’s true as he downs some canned whole chicken with Jack, Fred, Avril and Keron in the lunchroom.
Leo, the malcontent Vic and a couple of others are out on a supply run, looking for fuel while mindful of Hagstrom being out there as well. Leo recently picked up another school bus as well as few other useful things including lots of tasty mac and cheese.
While things may be starting to look up, the specter of that evil skunk and his putrid army looking for them is top-of-mind.
This group of over a hundred now has to remember that hope conquers fear....well, it should.
Yup, it's tough to think like that when there's a dead creepo around every stinking corner and seemingly every nook and cranny. Almost everyone here has had close calls.
The biodome way the hell out there, hidden in the middle of nowhere, gives everyone reason for enthusiasm. Not only that, perhaps it'll be a paradise, a reflection of heaven on earth.
White, though, knows Leo, despite his incalculable value to the group, has an unqualified aversion to not striking back at Hagstrom, eliminating the threat. Let's not forget about the heinous hive up at the monastery.
But will he be saving them or exposing the group to greater danger, dragging them down the tubes?
Leo doesn’t seem like the religious type but quoted from the good book, “Therefor put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”
They made it this far, which is amazing and, although they just lost Michael and Ford, the lunchroom session focuses on the importance of hope.
"You know, Martin Luther King said we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." Keron tells White. "Well, I believe it. I think we have a real shot now. I'm liking our chances and things always seem to work out. It's providence. I mean, look at how we ran into Leo in the middle of nowhere. Now, well, we've got a place to go."
White smiles, "I hear you, brother. I hear you."
Seth joins the gathering but is not interested in that unappealing meal in the big white can.
"Those crazy freaks running around, boy, it's awful tough," Fred contributes. "I guess we really do have a shot at making it, though."
The laughing kids playing tag in the courtyard briefly grab their attention. The cowboy opens the blinds to take a gander at the gleeful action outside. He grins and closes the shades, in awe of the children’s ability, despite all the ugliness and everything they've gone through, to find some gaiety.
"We're so much stronger. I'll do what I can. I'll fight side-by-side with you guys to keep our people safe. I'm ready to do what it takes, do what Leo needs us to do," an unapologetically upbeat Keron proclaims. "Things will work out. We're OK. We'll be all right as long as we stick together. We're a family now, going to live like one."
"Never mind about that talk now, your sage advice. That other group you were talkin' about, Fred, you think they're close by? You think we might end up in some kinda war if we come across them?" Jack asks, incredulous. "The more I think about it, the less I like sitting around here. It's like we're sitting ducks!"
White can't help but wonder where Jack found the god awful brown and white plaid pants he's now sporting. He wants to ask who would ever tell him they were fashionably acceptable even in the apocalypse.
Seeing that the surly, poorly dressed biker is restless, White responds, "I know, I know, we all know that. We're fine here for now. We got weapons now, but Leo is right when he says if that dome place is gone, we'd better have a contingency, some stuff we can live on until we find somewhere else. Don't worry, no way we're staying here too long."
Feeling careworn, Fred adds, "He's right, you know, Tim. Sitting around here, well, the longer we wait we're just asking for trouble. You should see what I saw, those freaks controlling all those dead things, so many of them. They just kept coming and coming. Now I’m just kinda numb."
"Oh, I’ve seen what they’ve done, the massacre in Seattle. So many lost. I totally agree," concurs White.
Avril and Seth exchange strained glances before she exits, telling the lunch crowd she has to check up on her kids.
Not bothered by the buzz of the overhead neon light, the cowboy decides to peek through the blinds once again and this time Keron joins him.
"They're so beautiful," Keron declares. "I can see why Leo will do anything to save this."
“Guess I’m ready to do what we have to as well. But, you know, I just wonder what we mean when we say that, how far will we really go to live? What kind of people will we become and would we ever be able to go back?” Seth contemplates.
"Man, how in the hell could you eat this? It's terrible!" Fred laughs, having sampled that atrocious chicken meal.
In the browning, littered and cadaver strewn streets of Burnaby, a hazy area some distance from the police station, meantime, Leo, Vick and two other men, a skinny belligerent loser named Ken and Ian, a chest-puffing bull, travel in the boogie van.
Everyone has a shotgun courtesy of the dude ripping off the Elvis impersonator, but the driver, Leo, also has his handy machete. Oh, guess what, Leo is playing The Doors tune Riders on the Storm on the cassette deck........yes, really!
Nobody talks about the vile dirty diaper stink infused with burning hair, nor the occasional plague monster slowly staggering on the road.
Those things are barely able to keep upright.
Funny there's not too many of the rotting ghouls out here. Leo correctly concludes that Hagstrom and Kate must have them corralled somewhere, which is not good news at all. Leo knows that as soon as he rids himself of those freaks, he must propagate a new lockstep ideology which will ensure his group's survival.
Speaking of Kate, what she’s become, it still doesn't seem real. It's as if Ford was telling porky pies when he described how she had turned into an unspeakable freak. Now she's like the cardinal and Leo heard all about his antics as well.
Is there some way he can get through to her? Is there any reasoning? Meh.
Ken finally breaks the silence, "God, I still can't believe things are like this. The world fell apart. I was always expecting things would straighten out, not be like this."
Vic looks back and smirks, "Don't waste time talking like that. No time to feel sorry about stuff. The dead are everywhere. It's survival time now. "
"Things were bound to be like this sooner or later. The world was crap and it was time for a little flushin' anyway," Vic rebukes.
Ken chuckles, "So, before all this, were you a pair of brown shoes and the world a tuxedo?"
Ian notes, "We're going to be all right. We have a real chance here. Things are all falling into place for us. I'm ready to kick some ass."
Kick ass? We'll see, Leo observes. Vic is nasty enough but are these guys prepared to do what needs to be done to save the group?
Leo, believing Nietzsche was a goofball for saying hope is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man, continues to say nothing and just keeps nodding. The dude then twirls a gold chain around his neck, a little souvenir he ripped off the neck of that Elvis guy after blowing his brains out.
The necklace has an emblem that reads TCB, the famous moniker of the King that stands for Taking Care of Business.
The dude has always been a big Elvis fan but hates impersonators.
A few minutes later, he slows to a stop. Down the street is a nondescript recreation centre that catches his eye and gets his adrenaline pumping.
The place is located next to a cemetery - how fitting.
"OK boys, keep sharp! Look ahead at those cars and that old van lined up. Windshields, they're not dusty at all. Clean, like someone is using them. Someone is in there. We've gotta get that fuel for the buses, maybe some more things."
"We inviting them to join us?" Vic inquires. "We've already got enough mouths to feed."
Leo shakes his head before slowly backing the van around the corner. "We don't know who they are. If I don’t like the looks of them, we'll have to kill em' and take what we need."
"Jesus, Leo, we really doing this?" a perturbed Ian asks.
"Hell ya, I'm with Leo. I thought you said you were ready to kick ass," Vick argues. "No more of this wasting time. How are we going to do this?"
"I just walk up to the front door and say hello. You guys hang back and cover. One way or the other, I'm getting their stuff," Leo instructs.
Leo seems cool as a cucumber but the other men, including Vic, are clearly nervous while getting into position. The headstrong dude strolls deliberately to the front door as if he's bloody John Wayne. He casually knocks before rubbing some grime off the glass to peek inside. No sign of activity, so he knocks again.
It takes a few minutes but he gets a response.
"Hey, who the hell are you? Don't you move!" an angry, scruffy man wearing a red mac jacket and brown corduroy shorts shouts, pointing a Winchester model 94 deer rifle.
Only holding the machete for protection, Leo raises his arms and backs up, trying to reassure the stranger everything is cool. Two more grubbies emerge, one holding a baseball bat and the other grasping a really old Saxon's miner's axe, a museum piece. The guy with the bat is also wearing 70s Elvis glasses....goodness gracious!
"Hey dudes, it’s all right. It's all good, really. I'm just out looking for people, other survivors, to join our group. There's barely anyone left, so we have to pull together. We want to help, really!" Leo promises. "I'm a friend!"
The men look at each other, not sure what to make of Leo and his pledge.
Before Leo can resume his talk the front door opens and an odd figure emerges. Holding a hammer, it's another man wearing Elvis glasses but also going the whole nine yards with a ridiculous Vegas jumpsuit and hairstyle. Are these guys nuts?
"Who the hell are you? Whadda you want here? How'd you find us?" the jumpsuit weirdo demands. "You here alone? Where's your friends?"
Wow, clearly a suspicious bunch.
The Elvis guy and Leo lock onto each other as the weirdo continues with questions and an occasional threat.
The rangy Leo attempts to reason with the guy but that all changes when the adversary spots the TCB chain. OOPS!
They don't say a word and stare at each other. The weirdo's lips begin to curl. All that's needed at this tense, awkward moment is some spaghetti western music about to hit its climax.
The Elvis guy then breaks the silence, demanding, "You know what I'm thinking?"
Leo in his low, gravely tone shoots back, "Nope, but I know what I'm thinking."
"AAAAAAAARGH!" Leo and the Elvis guy shout in hokey unison.
Too bad for the other guy Leo is a little too quick as the dude makes an overhead slash, sinking the machete several inches into his skull.
Several shots from across the street then ring out, resulting in the head of the mac jacket guy exploding, thick red chunks splattering onto the pavement.
The man with the bat goes for a swing against Leo but the dude spins, like some action character from a corny movie, swinging the machete perfectly to decapitate the foe.
The one with the historic axe turns to make a run for it but is shot in the back.
Of course, that Boney M song decides to start playing in the dude's head, but it's tolerable.
"Brown girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There's a brown girl in the ring
"Tra la la la la la..."
Vic and the two comrades proceed to scurry to the scene where Leo drops his machete to snatch Ian's shotgun, yelling, "Come on, we're going in!"
The four quickly enter the facility with Ian now in possession of the blood covered deer rifle and head down a hall.
A shadowy figure appears and fires a small pistol, missing. Vic fires his weapon and the figure is blasted, thrown back several metres.
A woman emerges behind the marauders but Leo once again is too fast, turning and firing his weapon, blowing away the defender. Vic's ears are ringing.
The deadly quartet head down another hallway, blasting yet another inhabitant who appears from behind a counter, then one more.
Both were unarmed. In for a penny, in for a pound, eh?
The invaders hear whimpering coming from behind a locked office door that a ramped-up Ian takes it upon himself to kick open. Leo moves to one side, trying to warn, "Wait, just wait!" It's too late, though, as a shotgun blasts rips Ian's lower torso apart courtesy of another woman inside.
Leo, his face covered in red spray, returns fires, throwing the woman against a reddened wall.
"Nobody move! Hold it! Nobody else has to die if you keep your hands up!" screams Leo, pointing his shotgun at the four remaining women and a teen boy, who are all crying.
There's no time to feel crappy about Ian as Leo grabs one of the women by the collar, pointing his gun up her cute little nose.
"The supplies, the fuel....keys to those cars.....now!"
Her chest heaving, the petrified and teary victim immediately complies, guiding Leo and Vic to the weight room while Ken watches the prisoners. Of course, all the noise attracts the attention of you know what.
The stone-face Leo can't help but crack a small smile when he sees the bounty that awaits - boxes upon boxes of food, dozens of big jerry cans filled with precious fuel and several flats of water.
Fortunately, these people didn't have enough guns to defend this choice stash. "Take it, take it all!"
Ken continues point his gun at the chumps who are forced to help load the valuable resource into the boogie ride as well as the defeated group's rusty 1965 Ford Econoline van. Leo has confidence his group has zero choice but to do this, dumping all the old school thinking and pugnacious paradigms out the window.
Ken hops into the older vehicle and takes off for the cop shop while Leo and Vic stay behind, not sure what to do with the women and the kid. Killing them would be the most merciful thing but Leo, despite Vic's objections, prefers giving them a fighting chance, however slim.
"Why did you have to do this? You're killing us, you know. Were you a bad person before everything happened?" one of the women finally builds up the nerve to ask.
He’s thrown off momentarily and before Leo can answer the inevitable growling sound emerges.
Yup, from around a corner and across the street, dozens of sickening plague monsters carrying their disgusting odour head straight for them. Leo blasts away the heads of two that get close and Vic obliterates three others, but now they're out of ammo.
"Damn, get in the van!" Leo orders as he drops the shotgun and grabs the machete from the ground. He runs straight for two more almost skeletonized monstrosities, slicing the tops of their noggins clean off.
Two of the women help out, grabbing the baseball bat and ancient axe to slash away a couple more. One of the putrid attacking cadavers, however, suddenly appears behind Leo and grabs his arms. Leo stumbles and falls onto his back with the thing on top of him, reaching its head in an attempt at taking a chomp out of Leo's cheek. Where the hell is Vic?
Then, swiftly, the thing is killed when the women with the axe plunges her weapon into the back of the monster's head. Leo is able to push the carcass off him and get back onto his feet to resume hacking and slashing several more creatures.
They're coming way too fast and from all directions. Leo and Vic manage to make their way into the van while the women continue to defend themselves at the front entrance, abandoned.
One of the older women who’s unarmed is grabbed by three discoloured ghouls and forced to her knees.
Her friends can only watch the flawless horror of the victim being bitten on the side of her head and neck.
She only has a chance to let out a short yelp as one of the things shoves its hands into her mouth and rips her jaw apart. A half-dozen more, some in dirty tattered clothing and others naked, then pounce for the brunch. The surrounded teen goes next.
Leo looks in his side mirror as he speeds away, noticing the last gals running back into the rec centre, chased by undead. The dude has to swerve around a few more roaming corpses but makes his getaway. Mission accomplished.
Vic laughs, his adrenaline also skyrocketing, and slaps his hands together. "Holy crap, that was close! We did it! But damn, that was close...what a rush!"
Leo calmly looks at the truculent sidekick. "We got a bunch of fuel. Ken has the food. We made out OK on this one. We lost one more but we made out OK, wouldn't you say?"
"Ya, suppose so," Vic answers, suddenly self-analyzing. "Holy crap, Leo, what we did today....so I guess we're the bad guys now?"
Leo pauses to crack open a warm soda to share and takes a swig. He then responds, "You know what Tim says, well, c'est la vie, baby. We're alive, our people will get to live. That’s all I gotta say bout that."
"Vic looks ahead, a bit flabbergasted. “Christ, OK then."
It's all quiet again, the only sound in the desolate streets being the van rumbling around abandoned vehicles and debris.
A short while later, Leo is forced to stop near the highway entrance by another ghastly sight. Crap!
It's the vintage van they just ripped off from that unlucky group. No sign of Ken.
All the doors are open and what appears to be a couple of dozen plague monsters are crawling around inside like unwanted worms in an apple. Did they get Ken? Probably, though Leo is more disappointed about losing those provisions. At least he has the gas to fill the buses to take them out of the city.
Vic mumbles something but the dude shushes him, looking around to see if they were also entering a trap. He then slowly backs up and tries another road only to be stopped in his tracks a minute later by yet another creepy scene.
It looks like a thousand groaning plague monsters standing in the distance. A panicked Vic begins spewing obscenities, prompting Leo to once again order him to shut his yap.
"Hagstrom, it must be him. That bastard and Kate are close by. No way they cluster around like that and just stand still," Leo assesses. "Must have gotten Ken. No problem......we're rolling outta here."
Impressed with Leo's stoic, calculating demeanour, Vic says, "You're right, man, I agree. Let's just find a way out."
That's just what Leo does, backing up the van once more and trying another route, which turns out to be a series of side streets to zig zag back to the burbs. A nice bit of driving.
Watching from a rooftop of a 7-Eleven, Hagstrom and Kate see the vehicle disappear. Totally contemptuous of human life, they smile but don't say a word.
Leo makes sure he takes the scenic, less direct route back to the police station, knowing Hagstrom may be a lot closer than everyone suspects.
As soon as the gate is opened and the van pulls in, the unwavering leader wastes no time in ordering a gathering in the courtyard for an important announcement. Nobody even asks about Ian or Ken, already having assumed they're toast.
"Listen up, everyone!" Leo, who's standing on a concrete table, instructs. "We may not have much time. No time, in fact. We're evacuating tonight, heading out of the city, out to that biodome. Far away from here. We've got fuel, so we'll be all right!"
"Now, tonight? Hey, what happened out there? Are you saying Hagstrom is close? Is he going to find us? The dead are coming?" White asks.
"That's right. He’s out there, looking for us, and he's got a thousand of those dead things with him. Maybe, maybe we'll last another day or two before he finds this place, but I'm thinking he's already got an idea of our general vicinity and is on his way!" Leo warns. "The more we stand around talking about this, the more time we lose."
There's several justified gasps as members of the newly formed colony look at each other in alarm.
"Tonight? It's going to be dark real soon, you want us to go out in the dark?" Keron wonders, his voice percolating dread.
Fred and several others also start tossing needles questions, while others convey support for the agressively resolute leader.
"Shut the hell up, everyone. You heard what the man said, let's start packing!" Vic interjects.
"We leave in a couple of hours. Seth will assign seats and say who's driving and who's got guard duty. Vic, you're coming with me!" Leo barks. "You want to die or what? Move it!"
You can say the anxiety is so thick you can cut it with a steak knife, so nobody doddles.
In just under two hours the convoy of buses, led by the retro van, heads out onto the freeway, their dim headlights barely able to pierce the black.
The goal is simple - go so far away Hagstrom won't know where to start looking. Ya, there's always hope that'll be the case.
Other than one or two plague monsters slowly staggering in the night, it's all clear.
"I just know it's still there, your dome thing," White, who's also a passenger in the van, tells Vic.
"Better be, it's far away, kinda hidden. Otherwise, I'm not sure what we do," the sleazy entertainer answers. "I just wanna get the hell out of here. After what Fred said, how that freak went after them with all those dead things, man, it's too impossible to be real."
"This is going to work, trust me. You'll all be safe for a while, but it won't be over," says Leo, designating himself as lead driver.
"I know, I know," White responds. "We're going to have to figure out how to get Hagstrom and all those ones in the monastery too, aren't we?'
"That's right, it's the only way to be sure," the dude states.
"And how do you propose to do that? I mean, my group, we barely got away. What do you have in mind?" Vic asks.
"I've got a plan. Been working it all out in my head. First thing I've got to do is hide this group, go to your dome. Then, ya, I've got it all worked out how we kill them all. If Hagstrom is like them, he'll be there too, then we can get them all," the undaunted chief explains. "First thing, we have to get these people away."
"If anyone, any people we come across, get in our way, then what?" Vic continues. "Or if they've got something we need, we just kill 'em and take what we want?"
Well, a touchy subject indeed, but Vic really felt some distorted need to go there.
"Jesus, Leo, really?" White interrupts, not entirely shocked.
"I told you, I told you all I'm going to save you all. The time for talking and debating, all that bull crap, that's done," Leo retorts, sounding frustrated. "Don't give me any talk about human dignity either. I'm keeping these people alive, get 'em out of this city."
White clears his throat before asking Leo what happened a couple of days ago. It was a seemingly successful supply run with Peter as they came across the flat of boxed mac and cheese. The kids loved it but Peter didn't want even a taste. He was sullen and withdrawn after that run, so White pressed him on exactly what happened but couldn't get a straight answer.
Did he and Leo engage in something deplorable to get their hands on the tasty dinner?
"You really wanna know? No point but I'll tell you if you think it's so important," answers Leo. "We came across these people hiding out in the back of art gallery."
"Art gallery? Really?" White asks, surprised.
"Ya, that's right. Noticed a car parked in front. Windshield totally clean. You see, that's what always gives it away. Anyway, we get in there and find these people. They seemed all right, at first, and I even offered them to join us."
He sighs, then continues, "They were kinda rude, telling me to go away, saying they didn't need anyone. Saw what they had and, well, I wasn't going to leave without taking it one way or another. So, ya, I did what I had to and the kids got to eat some mac and cheese."
Vic looks back, "Guess the kids aren't even beyond reproach, no?"
White looks down and shakes his head, "No, I guess you're right. Guess none of us are, not anymore."
Leo pushes a cassette into the deck and the Doors tune resumes.
They drive for hours before deciding to pull over to a rest area for a couple of hours.
When the sun comes up they'll resume their lengthy trip.
It's tough for most to catch some z's including Leo, who's sensing that while they're out in the middle of nowhere, they're still exposed.
He spends the rest of the night sitting on the roof of one of the buses, legs crossed and a shotgun in his lap. He wonders if the now dead world tried hard enough to save itself.
These people, good people, need his leadership. Everything he's done for them is a holy thing. And are his boys still alive? He's sure they are. He doesn't know why he knows, he just knows it. Yes, there's something divine going on here, he just knows it. He is the anointed hand of the all mighty, indeed.
Meanwhile, Hagstrom and Kate, followed by thousands of dripping undead, arrive at the police station and storm the facility. Realizing they're too late, Hagstrom raises his fists and screams.
He'll search all the land with his army and will find them one day, he resolves, but first he and Kate must join their brethren. This world is belongs to them and mere mortals are just slaves or food for the taking. He is the enemy, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Back at the convoy, later, when the sun starts arriving Leo still isn't tired.
Everyone who needs a bathroom break has to do it under guard at the side of the road. Nobody is to be separated.
Feeling cranky, the dude has a little extra snarl and nobody dares complain.
The caravan eventually resumes the journey that's still a few hours from completion. A few cars and campers are scattered here and there but the road is mostly smooth sailing. The buses, though, are hot and stinky, while the only scenery for the weary passengers are dying trees.
Nothing but decay. God, when will it rain again?
It's just Leo and Vic in the lead van for this leg of the trip.
"So, like, you know, Leo...you're doing a good job. These guys wouldn't be alive without you. You know, back in the day, before this disease thing happened...." a glum-sounding Vic begins.
Whether he wants to open up and confess his sins or just make light conversation, Leo isn't interested in hearing what Vic's about to say, telling him it's non-talk time. He turns on the cassette which begins playing the Kiss favourite I was made for Lovin' You.
Guess what, something has to happen, of course…and this one is completely out of the blue.
The song is muffled by a huge, roaring vintage transport plane that flies right over the convoy, headed for a highway landing. What the hell? Who is that? The vehicles screech to a halt. Time to turn around and check this out. What did Keron say about providence?