'Eggs, hash and grits'
The smell of sweat and blood and tears, the sound bare of feet on a concrete floor. Soft flesh and bone colliding. A loud chorus of people shouting and smoking and drinking. The smell of motor oil and leather hanging in the stale air. A group of people were huddled around two half-naked men knocking the shit out of each other.
“Where the fuck is Bernie?” Mojang hissed as he reclined on a large, high-backed office chair. The wheels and stand were broken. but he sat on it as if it were a low throne. A sexy biker chick in her underwear straddled him.
She leant over him with a needle and a trail of dental floss, and delicately sewed up what was left of his eye.
“Keep still baby,” she said as she pressed her slinky tattooed flesh against his.
Mojang had set himself up in a garage on the far side of town. The smell of motor oil, and the tools and spare parts clanging, put his mind at ease.
He’d holed up in the dilapidated office and the rest of his crew were getting lit on the garage floor. They took out a couple of scrappy survivors they’d picked up on their day’s raiding and set up a little fight club.
There was a ring of drunken bikers on the concrete floor of the shop. They surrounded a skinny office clerk as he pounded the cartilage of a fat barista against the concrete floor, until a satisfying, greasy, wet, snapping sound cut a swathe through the loud, drunken crowd. The clerk pounded his sweaty mitts into the stubbly fat face of the barista against the grey concrete: hot, wet, slapping sounds of meat and bone colliding on the cold, wet floor; rivulets of muddy crimson blood that would make Jackson Pollock cry manly tears. Eventually he stopped shaking and a viscous red bile started pouring from his nose and mouth.
“We got a winner!” A hairy biker in a leather waistcoat picked up the dazed office clerk by his slick, skinny wrist, propping him up. The office clerk, almost unconscious, panted out a relieved smile as his eyes rolled back in his skull.
Bernie watched from a darkened corner as they took the ‘winner’ and threw his almost lifeless body into the net of half-dead, twitching corpses, laughing as they did it.
Bernie perched in the corner next to an old payphone bolted to the wall. He rested the receiver against his ear and spoke softly.
“I hear you…tomorrow…can’t wait.” He tried to hold a smile back, tightening his face as he looked about the dim garage, lit only by unwieldy camp fires and generator-operated standing lights. He hung up the phone with a tight, satisfying click.
As the crowd got a little quieter, coming down off their wave of excitement, Bernie could hear his name being shouted.
“Bernie! Get your fat Jew ass in here!”
Bernie unfolded his arms and sighed with icy aggression as he peeled himself off the cold, concrete wall of the garage.
He popped the door of the office open. It was one of those thin plastic doors you were afraid you might yank right off. He stuck his head around the door like a temp.
“You call me?”
“Take a seat,” Mojang said, through the girl still straddling him, sewing up his eye. He didn’t move from his seat.
“There isn’t another chair in here”
“Then stand,” Mojang said as he moved the half-naked girl off his crotch. “Two minutes.”
The girl flounced out of the small office. She dragged a feminine, two-day-old musk behind her as she shut the door with a definitive bang.
“Was there something?” Bernie said as he turned around looking at the closed door, his eyes careless.
“How does it look?” Mojang spoke to a rear view bike mirror he held up in front of his face. He tilted it down, revealing his sewn up eye. It was swollen and bloody; it looked like there was a red baseball stuck in his skull.
“You talk to him? The man? He called you?” Mojang reclined in the seat and tilted his head to one side.
“Yeah I talked to him.”
“You didn’t call me.”
“You were busy.”
“Uh huh. Well, what does he want? Do they have the scores?” Mojang seethed, his eyes scanning every inch of Bernie.
“Err, yeah but that’s not why he called. Said there’s gonna be a drop. Not even a block away - good shit,” Bernie said, grinning and rubbing his stubbly face.
“’Good shit,’ huh? OK. We’ll take it, tomorrow. This whole town is gonna burn. That fat boy and his bitch included.”
“I heard about that. Some kid did that to your face?”
“You heard about it, huh? From who? The man?”
“Around,” Bernie snorted as he pulled out a candy bar from his pocket and began opening it noisily. “Some pudgy twelve-year-old fucks you up, people talk about it.” He smiled as he took a bite out of the candy bar. Strings of caramel and nougat dangled from his bottom lip.
“Uh huh, yeah. It’s pretty fucking funny.” Mojang hopped out of his seat. He stood a good foot taller than Bernie.
“You gotta see the funny side: you lose an eye, you still got another one. We’ll get him tomorrow; his bitch too, you’ll see. You want a bite?” Bernie snuffled with the candy bar in his mouth. He smiled, breaking off a piece and offering it to Mojang as he closed in on him.
“Yeah, we will” Mojang said. A vicious smile was stitched on his face as he clutched Bernie by his jaw, forcing him against the chip board wall of the small office with a dull thud. He snatched the candy bar out of Bernie’s hand and forced it into his gaping face, wiping it all over with a forceful hand. Bernie’s neck snapped back painfully as he spat out the wrapper and he groaned as Mojang delivered a powerful uppercut under his ribs. He slid down the wall, stunned by the sudden controlled burst of aggression. “Now get the fuck out of here,” Mojang said.
TJ bent down over his little chest of dreams. The latch was bloody and there were small, odd scratches all over it. As he lifted the lid, with one rash movement like pulling a band aid off, he couldn’t hear a thing but his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. Straining his eyes to make sense of the mess of blood and metal and bone that was amassed inside, he blinked and stepped back. But before he could form a cogent sentence whatever it was uncoiled like a hose filling with red water.
TJ squinted. All he could see were its shiny metal arms, covered in spikes and little gouging blades: twisted metal darkened with brown stains and a smell like old meat and cheese. It was almost unrecognisable. Its entire body was covered in the same deep cuts it had inflicted on the walls. It was tall and slim. There were chunks missing from its arms and face. Its clothes were shredded beyond repair. Shreds of denim jeans clung to its damp, cold, grey flesh.
It cocked its head to one side, moving with jarring motions, as if it was a hand puppet covered in grey luncheon meat. It loomed about a half a foot over TJ as it lumbered towards him, those shiny metal gauntlets at its side and pieces of flesh falling off its bones.
TJ stumbled backwards, trying to think. He tried to unsheathe his sword, but as he backed into the window in the corner of his room, the pommel hit the drywall and the sword bounced back into the sheath with a petulant click.
Whatever it was fell forward with its arms outstretched. Its fingers were bony. They looked wet and covered in sores that would never heal. Its flesh had bubbled up in patches as if it had suffered an allergic reaction. All TJ could do was bar its advance with his sheathed sword.
Its shambolic movements were slower and more deliberate than those of most zombies he’d come across. It was different somehow, he thought. A mouth opened in a face made of raw hamburger meat. It lunged at his pudgy neck like every other zombie had.
“Ggggggggrr-ggrraa-rrraaa-tttteee!” It strained against the scabbard of TJ’s sword, scraping at the faux-lacquered piece of plywood between him and his meal. Both its bony hands locked onto the sheath in a macabre tug of war.
“A little help!” TJ yelped, trying to fill his lungs with enough air to talk and fight off whatever the fuck this thing was. His pulse went from naught to sixty as he noticed that, besides his dance partner, he was alone in the room.
Sunday marched through his door and swung a maple baseball bat at the back of the creature’s gaunt knees, forcing it to lose its grip and fall to one knee. Its head hovered dangerously close to TJ’s crotch.
Sunday locked the wooden bat under the thing’s chin and pulled it back against its throat as hard as she could, her knee forced into the middle of its back, pinning it. It flailed as if it was choking but then regained its focus again almost instantly. It took hold of the bat instead of trying to wrench it away and began moving its arms back and forth, in a sawing motion, against the wooden bat. It rent chips of wood and sawdust from the maple bat. Sunday lost her grip. She moved her hands up and down the shaft of wood, trying to avoid the maw of the serrated gauntlets, then wrenched the thing away from the window. But this didn’t stop the creature’s beaver-like assault on the piece of wood. The sawdust coming off it now was a noxious cloud of yellow and brown smoke, getting into Sunday’s eyes and throat.
“Hold its arms up!” TJ said as Sunday coughed and tried not to lose a finger.
She nodded and closed her eyes, taking the bat away from its throat and lifting it above its head in one smooth motion. It was so well choreographed you’d have thought she’d been a cheerleader in a past life. The creature couldn’t resist following the piece of wood, entranced, it seemed, by the mere act of grating. In the process it grated most of its own face off.
It reached for the bat, gripping it in both its mangled hands. TJ, who’d been given enough room by his lovely assistant, the one and only Sunday, had stepped out from the cramped corner of his room. Sidestepping, in one smooth motion, he drew his cheap sword from its tacky sheath and cut both the creature’s arms off just above its uncovered elbows. The arms came off with a raw, cracking sound, as if there was no flesh at all, and the sword had just broken the soggy bone apart. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and resheathed his crappy mall sword with a clunky click.
The creature fell onto the floor and began to gesticulate, oozing a strange orange liquid. After a moment of this activity, it stopped moving. TJ and Sunday watched and waited nary taking a breath between them.
It rose to its knees, as if it had just taken a nap, and swayed back and forth like a runaway mardi gras float.
TJ, stunned by the display, fell back onto his mess of a desk and dropped his sword at the feet of the malformed biped. It didn’t seem to react.
“Hey!” Sunday shouted to get its attention. It seemed to grow larger under its ragged clothing. The odd orange substance congealed over the severed stumps of its arms. The stumps seemed to pulsate and breathe in and out, growing longer. It turned its attention on the slight girl. She looked so small and fragile before this six foot and growing freak of nature.
Sunday’s eyes flitted around the room. She saw TJ’s sword. The freak kicked it along unwittingly with its indelicate steps. As it got closer she could smell whatever the fuck was happening to its arms. It smelled like dirty diapers and Mexican food mixed with disinfectants. The bat she had come in with was almost in two pieces and the freak’s severed hands were still locked onto the haft with a death grip.
It was unsteady on its two feet and she doubted it could see too good with a face like steak tartar. Her head was swimming. Without a weapon she felt truly naked, disconnected from everything around her. Her legs locked. The creature seemed to grow taller. Its arms started to reform into something that resembled human limbs, but not quite.
“SHOVE IT!” TJ squealed as he waited on all fours behind the now freakishly tall zombie.
Sunday awoke from her stupor. Seeing TJ behind the creature’s knees, she launched her small frame at the thing’s torso, striking it hard and low, like a football player. It felt smaller when she hit it, almost like it was just a skeleton under all those rags. All she could feel were crisp, hollow bones giving way. It fell back into TJ’s window, smashing it, and crumpled right the way through onto a solid concrete patio two storeys below.
TJ stood up, panting.
“Maybe I should have opened the window first.”
Sunday picked up the bat with the freakish forearms still attached inside the odd gauntlets. She tossed the whole thing out the window too.
“What the fuck were those? Looked like cheese graters.”
“Where’d you get that bat from?” TJ said, panting uncontrollably, a tide of brow sweat beaching his monobrow.
“Under your mom’s bed, right next to her big black dildo,” Sunday sneered.
“I’m fucking with you!” She laughed. Her face hurt as she smiled. A swirl of emotions rushed around her head. They had been a long time coming. “You did pretty good.”
“Thanks. I’m gonna go check on my mom,” TJ said as he slipped out of the room.
Sunday edged her way towards the window. Poking her head out, she scanned the dark patio, lit only by the ambient light of the kitchen. There was nothing there, just glass and blood on the concrete.
Two sets of shoes scuffed up the floor of a filthy, ransacked diner by the light of a phone charger.
“I said no.”
“Oh, come on, baby, it’s the end of the world.”
“I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s not where you get my number,” the slim woman said through a quaff of greasy, dark hair.
“It’s night time. No one’s coming. I haven’t seen those bikers in ages and those things don’t seem to see so good when it’s dark. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
He had her pinned to the dirty diner floor, kissing her neck as he slid off his boots. He tried to keep her pinned as he got his pants off. His stinking breath oozed around her head as she wriggled listlessly, tired from running. Since breakfast she had only eaten a granola bar she’d found in a dead jogger’s jean shorts.
“I don’t feel like it.”
He ignored her as he loosened his belt. She was too tired and defeated to protest anymore.
He smiled as she seemed to relent and he got up to take his shirt off, revealing a pudgy middle-aged-postal-worker-turned-apocalyptic-He-Man underneath. His hairy back glistened with a sheen of satisfied sweat as he loomed over the docile girl.
He removed his jeans but was interrupted by a small chipping sound, like someone breaking the handle of a coffee cup. He looked up at the window to see if anyone was there, but there was only a small hole in the window. Cold night air whistled through it. A tight uneasiness gripped his chest, turning into a mild burning sensation.
“Your chest,” she said drunkenly, looking up at her Romeo.
“Huh?” he said, before looking down and seeing a straight black shaft, around a centimetre in diameter, sticking out of his chest.
His mouth opened in a gasp, as if he only felt it now his eyes could comprehend the pain. He fumbled with the shaft, to make sure it was real, and it was. He pulled at it, to make sure it wasn’t stuck on with a suction cup; it wasn’t. He pulled it and felt a sawing pain in his chest. His ribs parted; his lungs filled up with fluid. A tiny trickle of blood came from the hole. The wound was so snug. He found it harder to breathe now and fell back onto his flabby ass. He took shallow, cold breaths that felt like ice water, then stopped moving.
The girl rose wearily, pulling her shirt down and smoothing out her greasy, dark hair. She hugged herself tightly and approached the window with the hole in it.
“Thank you,” she whispered, exaggerating the sentiment with her mouth so whomever it was could see.
She smiled, holding herself like a toddler, finding a little energy in her hips to bounce up and down to fight the cold.
She stood for a moment, expecting some white knight to come by on a horse and pick her up after slaying her flabby postal dragon, but t a quick inhalation of cold air cleared her head and she realised that she was alone and had to get warm.
She sighed and turned away from the window. She looked her attacker up and down to see what she could salvage of his clothes. He had discarded his heavy, smelly sweater. Before she could take a step though the chipping sound came back.
She stopped, frozen, as if an icicle from a falling jumbo jet had just fallen through the ceiling and poked her in the eye.
She began to laugh; she heard herself as if in another room far away. She felt a warm sensation on her head, and her thoughts swam. She watched her own hand pat her head and it was as if her arm was suspended by unseen strings. It looked and moved like a store mannequin’s. She felt warm wetness on her fingertips. Her alien hand hovered in front of her shrinking field of vision.
It was as if she was sitting in an empty movie theatre, seeing herself from a couple of feet away, but she was shrinking further back as time passed and the screen got darker. She saw blood on her mannequin hand. A dull ache in her head. She felt drunk and she turned back to the window. She saw another hole next to the first, and her own reflection. There was one of those perfect black shafts sticking out of the back of her head. Locking eyes with herself in the window, she reached back to tentatively touch the black aluminium arrow. Her fingertips sent vibrations through the shaft that made her feel dizzy.
She opened her mouth and a hollow drone came out that was supposed to be words. Another arrow penetrated the window, coming in at a slightly higher angle. Instead of flying straight through her skull and stopping, like the first, this arrow bounced, after piercing the first layer of bone, and took the top of her head clean off. She fell to the ground as if falling through a trap door.
“Well, now I’m bored,” Pete said as he sat back down on the gun shop roof.
“What do you expect? You paid to sit on a roof for three days,” Dave said.
“What’s that s’pose to mean then?”
“You wanted the real ‘zombie apocalypse experience’,” he said, using air quotes like an angsty teen.
“Well, it isn’t sitting up here relatively safely while it’s all going on down there, is it?”
“Oh, shut up you wet c’ant! Go back to sleep!” Pete said, letting that one go. It’d been a long day of trying to shoot at slow moving targets and the odd passer-by. “You know what, you soppy c’ant? I’m running a likkle bit low on the old arrows, my son. Why don’t you pop off down there and go collect a few, eh?”
“You must be joking,” Dave said, almost jumping off his bedroll.
“Nah, it’s the perfect time. Don’t wanna be caught up ’ere with just our todgers in our hands on day three, do we?”
“I’ll never make it!”
“Don’t you worry, Haji, my son. I’ll look after ya. Just stay in ear shot,” Pete said, grinning like a tax man.
“How am I even gonna get down? You put those mines all around the entrance?” Dave said, scratching around under his turban, trying to think up a reason why he couldn’t go down there.
“That’s what the rope ladders for, innit? Just gimme a whistle and I’ll let it down, awight?” Pete watched Dave’s light brown face turn an even lighter shade. “Those things don’t see all that good in the dark.”
“How do you know that?”
“It was in the brochure,” Pete sighed. “Alright, ’ere, you can take this if it makes you feel any betta.” Pete slid the Kukri Evergreen had given him out of the buffalo hide sheath on his hip.
Dave took the large, curved knife, a gormless expression of abstract loss on his face.
A large, East London gangster grin peeled across Pete’s face, like someone slowly opening a zipper on a bag of gold teeth. He shooed Dave in the direction of the rope ladder. “Now off you pop.”