Sunday, February 08, 2015

Post-Apocalyptic Cooking with the Living Dead

WARNING: This is a story of the zombie apocalypse. It is violent. It is ugly. And that’s just among the survivors. You get “triggered” by anything, that’s on you.

For those unfamiliar with Derek and Agnes Grace and their monster truck, well, their names are Derek and Agnes Grace, and they ride in a monster truck with Agnes’ daughter from her first marriage, A.J. Their convoy is on the run out of Colorado Springs and they’re looking to pick up some friends in Black Forest before hightailing it to promised sanctuary on Monument Hill. 

Problem is, Black Forest is under the control of a regime hostile to Derek and Agnes’ tribe of survivors. There is bad blood between them, and a score to settle.

We approach slowly. They’ve got no less than eight people with AR-15s trained on us. Make that ten, with the two on either side of the road pointing weapons at us. Make that eleven, with the smug young thing strutting out behind his goons to hold up his hand for Agnes to stop. 

Brother Christopher has already stopped a good 300 yards behind us. Smug Young Thing makes a motion for Agnes to kill her engine while scowling at the line of trucks down the road. He windmills his arm by way of instructing them to come forward.

I can’t help laughing out loud at his expression when he looks up to see me shaking my head and waving Brother Christopher back. “You want me to shoot you up there?”

I remove my headset and drop it into my seat. “Col. Dietzen might be upset with you if you do.”

“Col. Dietzen is dead, thanks to you.”

“I find that hard to believe, unless he got shot down in that big black Chinook I saw landing as we left.”

“That chopper was picking up the solar panels you stole.”

“Really? Did they get the ones here keeping you warm over the winter? The ones my people got for you?”

Smug Young Thing makes a move like he’s going to unload his AR-15 on me. I can hear A.J. whimper, and Agnes shush her. I remain still, my eye on the boy. He’s 22, tops. Looking to get one over on the old man. 

“You’re gonna bring your people over here right now, or I swear to God I’ll shoot you. Then my boys will have some fun with your woman while your little girl watches and waits her turn.”

“Is this some new thing Pastor What’s-her-fugly-face has going on? Rape and kill all who show up at the gates looking for sanctuary? I wish I could say I was surprised.”

“Get your people over here now. And I’m gonna hurt you for disrespecting Pastor Julie.”

I hold up my hands. “Hey, all right. I’m calling them over.” I turn to face behind the Xenocider. The convoy is too far back for me to tell if Brother Christopher and his crew have already left their vehicles while Smug Young Thing was having fun with me.

The concussive roar of a shotgun from the woods answers my question. The checkpoint guards at the front of the Xenocider lift their weapons towards the sound of the report. Smug Young Thing turns as well.

I take this opportunity to pull my nine and squeeze off a round. My aim is thrown off by the scorching backwash of the flame thrower as Agnes sweeps the area in front. I squeeze off another round in time for my target to turn and face me. He goes over backward, his AR-15 firing away into the sky.

I throw myself to the deck of the truck. The shooting stops. I lift myself up slowly, just enough to see the huge black and red stain I gouged out the top of his shoulder, right over his shooting arm. Hooray for the good guys.

I crawl forward towards the cockpit and pull the cover from the hatch. I drop the ladder. I don’t look at either Agnes or A.J. as I let myself down.

The flesh crackles and crisps on the bodies in front and to the right of the Xenocider. They writhe where they fell, so close to the flame they didn’t have a chance to scream before it burned out their tongues, their throats, their lungs. I note the difference in bouquet, the tang of fresh vomit that burning living flesh offers, versus the stinging, rotten garbage smell that arises when the torch is put to long-dead, unnaturally preserved flesh.

I walk up to Smug Young Thing, groaning in the dirt alongside the road. “Hey,” I say, nudging his ribs with the tip of my boot, “how long have you been working these checkpoints?”

His face is the closest thing I’ve seen to an undead rage face I’ve seen on a living human. “I’ve been in charge of perimeter security since February, you ass.”

“So, you’re aware of what happened that night when a young man came by looking to get the midwife.”

“Aware, shit. I was there to turn him away. I heard his woman and her sprog died. You gonna send the whiny faggot over to finish me? I’ll be impressed if he has the balls to do it; he begged like a bitch.”

I grab him by the front of his shirt and yank him up. “Justin Driscoll is a fine, upstanding Christian man and one of our best warriors. That he doesn't dedicate his life to seeking revenge on the people who caused his woman and child to suffer and die for sheer spite shows a strength of spirit I hope to understand some day.” I shove him hard to the earth. “I should live so long.”

Smug Young Thing has done a fine job of suppressing his pain. That is, until he lands on his wrecked shoulder, the gritty earth digging into his open wound. As I liberate his AR-15, strip him of his sidearm and his phone, I notice another odor in the air. 

I step away from Smug Young Thing and look towards the woods on the opposite side of the road, then towards Elyssa’s and Brother Christopher’s convoy. “Heads up, everyone.”

The shotgun blast that distracted the checkpoint crew rang like a homing beacon to the local population. The smoke from the burning live bodies draws them in like burgers on the grill. And now Agnes, who can see them coming from her perch high up in the Xenocider, has already started the engine.

“Wait!” screams the former chief of perimeter security for the Abundant Life settlement. “Aren’t you going to shoot me?” He struggles to get up, but it’s hard to do with one arm. 

“I just did.” I put my heel out again and push him back down, this time on his bad side. Although I missed the artery, the little psychopath sustained serious trauma on his right shoulder. The round scooped the entirety of his upper deltoid muscle almost clean from the bone. Gotta love those hollowpoints.

I turn away and walk towards the ladder hanging from the truck. I don’t want to spoil the moment by walking too fast. I have to trust that the woman in the filthy, blood-rotted shift will settle for the easy meat right behind me. The high shriek I hear over the sound of the Xenocider’s engine as I grasp the first rung of the ladder confirms that she did just that.

I don’t waste time trying to look smooth scrambling up the ladder, though. A man wearing the black ribbons of a white T-shirt and the ruins of boxer shorts is swaying up behind the dead woman, and the long, hungry, masculine growl I hear beneath the second scream  tells me he caught up. As the others in the area will soon do.

Agnes puts out her hands to help me up. “You think those things coming up will be interested in our friends down there?” she says. 

“Two are still twitching, The others haven’t been dead for too long, and these things are crazy hungry.” I look down through the hatch and yank the rope ladder upwards before the sharp-reflexed corpse of a young man can snatch a rung. His companion steps into view, and, God help me, tries bouncing on the balls of his feet to jump and take the ladder from me. I slam the cover over the hatch and scramble out of the cockpit to my harness seat on the flatbed.

Before I can get my headset on a loud beeping stabs my eardrums as Agnes backs up the Xenocider to get around the burning bodies in the road. There’s a grunt as we bump over a ghoul behind us on the left. Agnes puts the truck back into drive and angles around the billowing, flesh-flavored smoke. As the scene falls behind us I see a couple of former citizens tearing pieces from the smoking bodies, mostly about the groin and legs, well away from the crisped areas. Cooked flesh holds no appeal for our monster friends. Their meat has to have that spark of life to it, however faint.

Smug Young Thing is getting around quite a bit, so to speak, as four hungry diners take an arm here, a loop of intestine there, and stagger away as quickly as their dead legs can carry them lest they find themselves forced to share their bounty with latecomers. A.J. calls out to me from the cockpit. “Brother Christopher wants to know if we should put down these things.”

“No. Save our ammo for the escape.” Less than a year ago you would never have seen a walker on this road. Now I wonder how much time we’ll have at Loretta’s. She’d better have her luggage ready to load and go.

I’m in a hurry, too, trying to finish this. Meanwhile, you can take your time processing the ultraviolent events that led us to these sticky circumstances:

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.

BLEEDING KANSAS, GRACE AMONG THE DEAD, THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD Copyright © 2013-2015 by L. Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.