WIP: Zombie Fight Night
The idea behind this project was originally conceived a short story for a themed anthology, but I found I quickly exceeded the word count, so it has become one of several novellas I am working on.
The gunshots echoed through the concrete canyons of New York City’s Greenwich Village. To David Valcin, who drifted in that blissful state between sleeping and wakefulness, it was the sound of distant thunder. He rolled over, waiting for the drumming of the rain to begin, but that first volley of shots was only followed by another round. He reached out to pull Mark closer to him, seeking comfort in the warmth of his lover’s body, but his arm fell on empty space. He opened his eyes to the darkness of their bedroom to find himself alone in bed. The space next to him was still warm, so Mark had only recently gotten up. Rolling over to face the window, he found his lover seated on the window seat, one leg curled beneath him, the other pulled up to his chest. His chin was resting on his knee as he stared out onto the street below. His nude form was a mask of shadows highlighted by the bluish rays of the full moon filtering through the grime-streaked glass.
“Whatcha thinkin’ about, Babe?”
Dave didn’t really need an answer to the question; he knew exactly where Mark’s thoughts were. He didn’t think it likely that Mark had put the events of the previous day behind him so quickly, but he had yet to really talk about it, as if by not talking about it would make it less real. It wasn’t that Mark was unaware of what was happening; he was just in denial, and the fact that this new reality had forced its way into his sanctuary, had threatened those who had been entrusted to his care, Dave feared it was a little too much for Mark to handle.
Dave knew something had happened at the school. The details had been slow coming in, but from what Dave had been able to piece together, the principal had suffered a heart attack and died, only to come back and attack one of the classrooms. One teacher and five students had been bitten by the time the police had arrived. The officers were left with no choice but to put them down, like they were nothing more than a pack of rabid dogs. This was the world they lived in now. The threat had been contained to one classroom on the second floor, so there was never an immediate danger to Mark and his class, who were on the fourth floor of the building, but the threat had been a little too close to home. When Mark had come home, he was quiet, never mentioned the incident, and Dave hadn’t pushed, figuring when his lover was ready, he’d talk.
When no response was forthcoming, Dave figured Mark hadn’t heard him. “Babe?”
Mark turned his head. “Did I wake you?”
“Nah.” Dave shifted, laying on his side, and propped himself up on his elbow. “Anything exciting out there?”
“Not really. Quiet, actually.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Mark went back to studying the street below.
“Talk to me.”
After a long silence, Mark said, “It’s not fair.”
“Mark. . .”
“It’s not,” Mark whined. “This was supposed to be our ‘Happily ever after’. Our fairy tale ending. Not something out of a fuckin’ Stephen King novel.”
Mark’s head whipped around. “How can you be so. . .”
“Rational? Matter of fact?”
“It’s a fuckin’ nightmare!”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad? There are zombies out there! Real-life fuckin’ zombies!”
Sensing that Mark was on the verge of another emotional meltdown, Dave threw back the blankets and got out of bed. He was naked and the slight chill in the room caused him to shiver. He crossed to the window and wrapped his arms around his lover, pulling the younger man securely against his chest. “It’s not that bad because I’ve got you with me.” He placed a kiss on top of Mark’s head before turning his attention to the street below.
The bar across the street was dark, the windows broken and boarded up. The newsstand next door to it was in a similar state, the glass panel on the door shattered, the display window gone. Glossy pages of skin mags littered the street, offering up an eye full to those who passed by – if they cared to look, but at this hour of the night, those who wandered the streets only had one thing on their minds. Food. Warm, living flesh and hot, racing blood. It was getting harder to come by. People had learned quickly that while the walking dead never slept, they were more active at night. During the day, the dead were drawn to cool, darkened interiors, the parking garages and the open warehouses, almost as if they knew the heat of the day would speed up their decomposition. What it would be like once the weather started to cool Dave didn’t want to think about.
Armed with that knowledge, the living took advantage of the daylight hours, venturing out and foraging for food and supplies. All that was getting scarce, too, which is why Dave thought it best if they put the city behind them. The reports on the news, of which there hadn’t been any in a couple of weeks, warned that the dead seemed to be drawn to the cities. Reports coming in from all over the world confirmed that the large metropolitan areas were no longer safe. But was anywhere really safe anymore? Who knew how long it would be before the dead outnumbered the living? It could realistically happen.
Dave shifted his weight from one foot to the other, the movement pulling Mark from whatever thoughts he was lost in. The younger man sighed.
“What is it, Hun,” Dave asked.
There was a hesitation before Mark spoke, as if he was afraid to give voice to his thoughts. He continued to stare out the window. “Do you think. . . Do you think things will ever be like they were?” There was a silent desperation in his voice, a need to be reassured, and Dave didn’t think he could give him that reassurance. When Dave didn’t answer, Mark looked up at him. “Well, do you?”
“I don’t know.” Dave looked down and felt his resolve begin to slip as he met Mark’s gaze. He realized in that moment just how bad things were for Mark, especially when, after yesterday’s incident, that had decided to shut down the schools. Without the classroom, without the kids, there was nothing to keep the younger man occupied during the days when Dave was at work. Mark knew his own weaknesses, and facing down a zombie was one of them, which is why yesterday had to have been traumatic for him. Had that zombie broken into his classroom, he would have been paralyzed with fear, powerless to protect his charges. Dave had a feeling Mark would no longer have any desire to venture out, and how long would he last mentally if he cooped himself up in the apartment with nothing but books to pass the hours away while Dave worked? For the first time since all this came down, Dave felt scared, for himself and for Mark. He didn’t know what he would do if anything happened to Mark. And that’s when he had made the decision. They had talked about it, but yesterday had removed any doubt Dave might have had.
“Shift,” Dave said, giving the other man a nudge with his thigh.
When Mark inched forward, Dave slipped in behind him. He sat down and pulled Mark closer, resting his chin on the other man’s shoulder, cheek to cheek. The glass pane was chilled against his bare flesh and he shivered. As Mark turned his attention to the apartment building across the way, Dave wondered, not for the first time, how things had gotten out of hand so quickly.
It had only been six weeks — God, is that all it’s been? — since the first report had come over the news that a woman in Saint Mary’s Hospital who had been declared clinically dead had returned to life. She had been deemed a medical miracle until test results indicated that she was still clinically dead. No pulse. No heart beat. No respiration. No nothing. She should have been lying on a cold slab in the morgue, but instead she was up and walking around. Well, shambling around would have been a better descriptor. You could see from the film footage that it was an effort for her to put one foot in front of the other, like a marionette with an inept puppeteer pulling the strings. The news commentator did state that the woman, whose name was being withheld, did seem to have a healthy appetite. At the time they had failed to mention what the woman had had a craving for. It hadn’t come out until the next day that she had killed the morgue attendant, had partially eaten his body, and he too had come back from the dead. He had been found on the third floor of the hospital, in the maternity ward. Enough said there, but there was no way of knowing how many people he had infected, as he had been free to roam the building the entire night before being found the following morning. The hospital had been placed under quarantine, but not before whatever it was that was causing the dead to rise up had escaped from the facility. The way the plague was spreading morbidly reminded Dave of that old Faberge shampoo commercial, the one that said, “I told two friends, and we told two friends, and so on and so on. . .” By the end of that first week, reports of the walking dead were pouring in from all across the United States, and by the middle of the second week, the situation had gone global.
A tension beneath his hands brought Dave out of the past and back into the present. Only one thing could spark this sudden reaction in his lover.
On the street below, stumbling from the shadows into the harsh glare of the streetlight was a woman. Or had once been a woman. You couldn’t think of them as people anymore, not when your very survival depended on your ability to put a bullet through their heads. Or an axe. Whatever it took to damage the brain. It was a short trip to insanity if you couldn’t put that kind of distance between yourself and them. It was a concept Mark still had difficulty wrapping his mind around. Whenever he saw one, he froze, like the proverbial deer in the headlights, unable to believe that the thing before him meant to do him harm. Even three flights up, in the safety of their apartment, he still suffered a strong reaction to the walking dead. If Dave hadn’t been around, Mark would have joined their ranks weeks ago. No matter how often Dave tried to drill it into his lover’s head, Mark still lived in the world of Denial.
Tightening his left arm around Mark’s shoulders, Dave’s right hand soothingly caressed the other man’s bare chest. Together they watched the zombie shamble its way down the street. Its gait was uneven, having lost one of its high-heeled shoes somewhere along the way. Dave fought to suppress a chuckle as an old nursery rhyme from his childhood played through his head: Deedle deedle dumpling, my son John, went to bed with his stockings on. One shoe off and one shoe on. . . His laughter would only serve to aggravate Mark’s delicate condition, but trying to find humor in this Romero Film Fest come to life was the only way he was able to retain his tentative hold on sanity. That, and the man in his arms. Mark had no clue how much Dave relied on him to be his anchor. Without Mark, would there really be any point in going on?
As it continued on its way, the couple could see that the back of the thing’s blood-stained blouse had been shredded, exposing skin that had been repeatedly clawed at by undead fingers eager for warm meat. The smooth flesh of its arms and legs was marred by ragged wounds where the skin had been bitten and ripped away. As it continued down the street, two more zombies came into view. There would be more. The night belonged to them.
Dave placed a gentle kiss on the top of his lover’s head and tried to gently pull him away from the window. “Come back to bed,” he whispered. “I want to make an early start.”
Mark tilted his head and looked up at him. “We’re still going?”
“But why? We’re safe here. Why can’t we stay here?”
“Babe, we’ve been over this before,” Dave explained for what seemed like the hundredth time as he led Mark back to their bed and gently pushed him down on the mattress. At times like this, Dave felt as if he was dealing with a child rather than a grown man. Mark allowed himself to be tucked in, but his eyes never left Dave as the man rounded the bed and crawled in next to him. Pulling Mark close and holding him tight, Dave sighed. “It’s not going to be safe for long. You heard what they said on the news. Those things are being drawn to the cities for some reason. We need to leave before we’re trapped here.”
“But this is our home,” Mark mumbled sleepily.
“Home is where the heart is, Sweetie,” Dave whispered in his lover’s ear. “And my heart is with you. Always. Wherever we go, as long as we have each other, we’ll always be home.” Dave knew how corny and cliché that sounded, but it was what Mark needed to hear. He needed the reassurance that they would always be together, even though Dave knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep. As he had said earlier, shit happens, and while he would do his damnedest to keep them both alive, he couldn’t guarantee that he would always be successful. Dave waited until he knew the other man was asleep before allowing himself to close his eyes and let sleep claim him.
Civilization had devolved so quickly once the dead started walking, and it had rapidly become every man for himself. The police had given up trying to stop the looting; they had bigger problems as they tried to stem the growth of the booming undead population. It was a problem they found near to impossible to contain; the civilian casualties were adding to the undead ranks faster than the police and military could cut them down. As a result, not a store front had been spared. It didn’t seem to matter what the store sold, from flower shops to sex shops, the jewelry stores and the video stores, if there was something to be had for the taking, it had been taken. This early in the day, the once-bustling streets of Greenwich Village had the abandoned feel of a ghost town. As far as the eye could see, the streets were deserted. The dead had taken to the cool interiors now that the sun had risen, but it was still too early for the living to be out foraging.
Standing on the corner of Bleeker and Christopher Streets, Dave waited for Mark to come down. Dave felt a pang of guilt as a patrol car passed by a block away, heading south along Seventh Avenue. Probably headed for City Hall to defend the City’s illustrious mayor. So many of his fellow officers had already abandoned their posts in the name of self-preservation, packing up their families and getting the hell out of Dodge before the much-dreaded dam broke and the dead came pouring into the city. He refused to judge them because as much as he had cursed them out at the time, here he was about to do the same thing. He would just be one more body who didn’t show up for roll-call this morning.
A sound drew his attention and he turned to look up the street. Across from the apartment building, the door to the boarded-up bar opened and a man stepped out. He was a tall man dressed in black jeans and a blue denim shirt, and while not fat, the man’s fondness for the bottle was beginning to become evident in the slight paunch he carried. His wavy brown hair, which normally hung loose to his shoulders, was pulled back in a ponytail, exposing the profile of a handsome bearded face. In his right hand was a 12-guage he had looted from one of the sporting goods stores.
Dave started up the street towards the bar. “Hey, Dean,” he called out so as not to startle his friend.
Dean Miller didn’t respond at first, only watched Dave approach. As Dave pulled up even with the man, Dean eyed the backpack strapped to Dave’s shoulders. “Finally abandoning the sinking ship, huh?”
Offering up an embarrassed grin, Dave said, “Yeah. The gun shots last night clinched it.”
“Didn’t hear it.”
You wouldn’t, Dave thought bitterly. Probably drank yourself into oblivion. “It’s getting worse. Mark. . .”
He’d been about to explain what happened at the school but the bigger man cut him off with a wave of the hand. “Don’t need to explain yourself. You’ve been talking about it the past few days.”
“You sure we can’t convince you to come along?”
Dean shook his head. “They’ll get them under control.”
“That’s not what they were saying on the News.”
“And when have they ever been right? Christ, they can’t even get the weather right.”
Dave bit his tongue. The bartender could be as stubborn as all hell, and was there really any point in arguing? Comparing a weather forecast to a zombie apocalypse? The man was almost as bad as Mark when it came to living in denial. Dave wished he could be so lucky, but he had always been a realist, even as a kid.
He had known his mother slept around. There had been no sugar coating that fact. Just like there had been no way to paint a rosy picture of the fact that his father liked to suck cock. His old man had been a heavy drinker, and then blamed the alcohol, but Dave knew the booze had only served to lower his father’s inhibitions and allowed him to give in to his baser desires. It had also been the only way of alleviating the guilt of betrayal he had felt every time he had one of his trysts. When the man was sober, the venom that spewed from his mouth towards the fags had made Dave fear for his safety when he was younger.
Over the top of the SUV parked at the curb across the street Dave could see the door to the apartment building open, followed by, “Some help here!” He grinned as he excused himself from Dean and started over to help his lover. Mark had just made it out the door. He had his backpack on and was struggling with two large boxes. Dave wondered what the hell was so important that it couldn’t be left behind. Taking one of the boxes, which was heavier than he had expected, he moved to the rear of the SUV and opened the back hatch. “What the hell do you have in here,” he asked as he opened the flap of the box. He hadn’t planned on taking anything that they couldn’t fit in their packs, but what he saw caused a lump to rise up in his throat and his eyes to well up with unshed tears. On top was a large white photo album with silver lettering that declared, “OUR WEDDING.” While the state of New York still didn’t officially recognize same-sex marriages, they did acknowledge domestic partnerships. He and Mark were still newlyweds. They had had their commitment ceremony just two short months ago and had taken their “honeymoon”, spending seven days touring the Down Under. They had only been back a few days before the shit hit the fan.
After Mark had set the box down, Dave, feeling the tears slip from the corners of his eyes and roll down his cheeks, pulled him into an embrace.
Mark returned the smile and wiped away the trail of tears. “Did I do good?”
“Babe, you did great!”
“I wasn’t sure. . . You know. . . If we were coming back.”
It was little things like this that made Dave love Mark all the more. Where Dave tended to see the big picture, it was Mark who thought of all the little details, and while it could be aggravating at times, there were other times, like now, that it was so endearing.
“I know what you said about packing light,” Mark said, pulling back slightly, “but I couldn’t leave them. . .”
Dave silenced him with a kiss. “It’s okay. Really. Now go say goodbye to Dean and let’s get this show on the road.”
As Mark went over to say his goodbyes, Dave finished stowing the boxes and backpacks, nestling them alongside the rest of the gear he had already packed while Mark slept. When he closed the door and turned around, the two men were standing by the vehicle. There was an awkward moment of silence as the men stood there, none of them really wanting to say goodbye.
Dave finally broke the silence. “You sure you don’t want to come with us?”
“Get the hell out of here.” Dean turned to Mark. “You keep him out of trouble, y’hear?”
Mark nodded, then threw himself at the bigger man, hugging him tightly. After a quick embrace between Dave and Dean, the couple got in the SUV. Dave kept his gaze fixed on the rearview mirror as they pulled away from the curb and drove down the street. Dean hadn’t moved. Dave held his breath, hoping the man would start after them, having a change of heart, but he only stood there staring after them. As he made the right turn onto 12th Avenue, Dave wondered if they would ever see the bartender again.
Neither man spoke as they made their way slowly uptown, maneuvering around the abandoned vehicles littering the stretch of road. Occasionally Dave would glance over at Mark; his lover had his head back against the high-backed seat, eyes closed. Dave envied him. He didn’t have to witness just how bad the situation was in the city. The street was awash with deep brown pools, evidence of the “roadkill” the police department spent much of the morning cleaning up. Roadkill was their term for what the zombies left behind. There was a fear of their numbers increasing, so every morning patrols were discharged to gather up the remains. In most instances there wasn’t enough left to come back, but still they gathered up what they could. The remains were loaded into trucks and transported to the Bronx, where they were burned. By midafternoon, the smell of burning flesh was so thick in the air that it reached the other boroughs.
Passing through the Meat Packing District, Dave prayed Mark would keep his eyes closed. The area was aptly named, more so now than in the past, and once housed butcher shops and slaughter houses that supplied the city’s supermarkets with fresh meat on a daily basis. Now it was a central depository for roadkill and zombies alike. Mounds of bodies and body parts had been dumped in the truck bays, awaiting transport to the Bronx. Armed soldiers stood around looking bored, a precaution just in case anything within those mounds started to move. Within the cool darkness of the buildings, Dave knew corrals had been built and were being used as pens to hold the walking dead. The President of the United States had handed down an edict that every city across the country was to round up as many active specimens as possible for research. It was not yet known what had caused the dead to come back to life, but Washington was determined to find out why.
The midtown stretch of the West Side Highway was so congested with abandoned vehicles and an overturned tractor trailer that Dave had to detour to the side streets, but the streets proved to be just as impassable as the main roadway. As he eased his way between a rusted minivan and a blood-splattered white gold Chrysler Sebring convertible with its roof shredded, his attention was so focused on making his way to the less-crowded sidewalk that he wasn’t aware of the corpse making its way towards his vehicle until pounded against the passenger-side window, earning a startled shriek from Mark. It pounded against the window again, pressing its mouth to the glass as if it could bite through it. The wild mane of black hair matted with blood, the grey-tinged chocolate brown flesh, and the milky white orbs that seemed to stare through him had Mark pressing against him in an effort to put as much distance as possible between him and that thing, which made it difficult for Dave to reach the holster that contained his service revolver. He knew they were safe in the SUV as long as the doors were locked, but his police instinct kicked in. After a quick scan of the area, he unlocked his door and started to get out, but stopped when he felt Mark’s restraining hand on his arm.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting rid of it.”
With the door slightly ajar, the smell of death was thick in the air and Dave could hear the unmistakable moans, drifting like the wind through the leaves, emanating from the parking garage across the street. They had stumbled across a hive of them. Staring past the thing on the far side of the SUV, he could just barely make out the movement within the shadows. Without getting out of the vehicle, he pulled the door closed and locked it as his foot depressed the gas pedal. The SUV inched forward with painstaking slowness, the zombie easily keeping pace, pounding against the window with the flat of its hand. The big vehicle climbed the sidewalk with ease and then he floored the pedal. The zombie stumbled as the SUV leapt forward. At any other time, the sight of the woman’s breasts popping free of the stiff leather bustier it wore would have been comical, but seeing the bags of desiccated flesh swaying in the breeze as the thing fell left Dave feeling sick to his stomach. It was uncharacteristic for him, and he couldn’t understand why some things effected him and others didn’t. He could stare these things down and blow their brains out the back of their skulls without flinching, but something as simple as a “wardrobe malfunction” left him feeling shaken. Maybe it was the simple fact that it reminded him that these things were once human.
As they approached the corner and prepared to make the turn onto the Avenue of the Americas, a woman stumbled from the Old Navy, shopping bags in hand. She paused on the sidewalk in front of the oncoming vehicle, forcing Dave to step on the brake. She seemed oblivious of the SUV bearing down on her as she looked frantically around. She appeared to be in her thirties and was dressed in jeans and a dirty, sweat-soaked t-shirt that clung to her pregnant form. Dave watched as the woman darted forward between two parked cars with a speed that belied her condition and bent down to pick up something from the street. When she stood up, she held in her hand a stuffed toy elephant that had seen better days. One ear was missing and the trunk was in danger of falling off. A tuft of fluff poked through the material, like the oozing puss of an abscessed wound. Even though the windows were closed, Dave had no problem hearing her as she cried out, “Victoria!”
With a quick glance in the rearview mirror to check how far back the hooker was, Dave opened the door and rushed around the front of the vehicle. He needed to quiet the woman down for her own safety. Regardless of the time of day, shouting was one way of agitating the dead. It was like ringing the dinner bell around a bunch of starving kids. The sound of slamming car door told him Mark was following his lead. Together they approached the woman.
“Ma’am,” Dave said, automatically switching into cop mode. “Miss?”
The woman turned, noticing them for the first time. She hurried to them. “Have you seen my little girl? She’s only six and she doesn’t understand.”
“Just calm down, ma’am. We’ll find her.”
In a practiced move, she slid the shopping backs into her wrist and clutched the stuffed toy in both hands, pulling it to her chest. Her eyes darted up and down the street. “I had to go to the bathroom. I told her not to wander off. Victoria!”
“Ma’am, that’s not a good idea.”
“The yelling. It’ll draw them out from wherever they are.” Dave cast a glance over his shoulder. The hooker had managed to get herself onto her feet and was making her way towards them, hands raised in front of her like a blind person who had lost her cane. “I think it best if we move this indoors.” He indicated everybody should relocate inside the department store.
“But Vicky. . .”
“We’ll find her. But you’re not gonna do your daughter any good if that thing gets hold of you.”
The woman glanced at the approaching zombie then back towards the store she had just left. It was obvious she was torn as to what to do. If she chose to continue her search outside, Dave would leave her to it. As cold-hearted as that might seem, he wasn’t about to jeopardize their safety. He held his breath, waiting for the woman to decide. Finally, with a cry of frustration, she darted back through the glass doors.
The interior of the department store was a-shambles. Clothes littered the floor and display racks had been knocked over. Cash registers had been smashed to the floor and against walls in desperate attempts to break them open to get at the riches contained within. Dave turned to the woman. “Where did you last see her?”
The woman, whose name was Cheryl Peterson, scurried over to one of the check-out counters. “I told her to stay right here. I told her not to move.” Tears threatened to spill as her voice broke. “I was only gone a few minutes.” Her hands absently kneaded at the stuffed elephant she had clutched to her chest.
“I want both of you to wait here. I’m gonna take a look around.”
“You’re wasting time,” the woman pleaded. “I looked everywhere.”
“And while you were going up the escalator, she might have been coming down the other one. You might’ve been missing each other.”
When a thorough search of the lower level and the upper floors turned up nothing, Dave returned to where Mark and the Peterson woman were waiting. While Mark had taken a seat on the floor with his back to the counter, eyes focused on the door, she was pacing anxiously between the two escalators.
Seeing him, Mark asked, “Anything?”
Dave shook his head.
The Peterson woman came running at the sound of Mark’s voice. Without waiting for Dave to reveal his findings, the absence of her little girl with him evidence enough that she was not in the building, laced into him. “See! I told you you was wasting time. I already looked. She’s out there somewhere!” She pointed at the plate glass window for added emphasis.
Mark stood up and approached Dave. “What now?”
“I want you to stay here.” Dave shot the woman a glance. “Both of you. I’m going to take a look around outside.”
“I’m going with you.” Cheryl Peterson stepped up close and personal and Dave forced down his cop instinct to push her away. She was worried about her daughter, and with another one on the way, her over-protectiveness was kicking in. A little late, Dave thought, but he could forgive her invasion of his personal space.
“No. You’re not.”
“She’s my daughter.”
“And if you want her back safe and sound, you’ll do as I say.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but Dave cut her off. “There’s no telling how many of those things are out there. If I have to watch out for you, you’re only going to slow me down. Put us both in danger. Put your daughter in danger.”
“Vicky doesn’t know you. She won’t come to you.”
“When I find her, if that’s the case, I’ll make sure she’s safe before coming back for you.”
Cheryl looked as if she wanted to argue, but the look on his face and the tone in his voice said there would be no further discussion on the matter. Before she had a chance to recover her voice, Dave turned and left the store.