Roy held the camera low, trying to be discreet. It created a shaky low shot of TJ’s front door. A doorbell ringing sound; a cool morning mist starting to creep up on them.
“Who’s there?” TJ’s mom said from an upstairs window. The camera panned to the window as she leaned out in her yoga gear.
“Oh hey, Mrs Kincaid, a lovely morning, am I right?” Zed said with a tinny laugh, like he was selling Jehovah.
“Oh you’re those nice neighbour boys. TJ’s not home right now; he’s out getting milk; he can’t come out to play.”
“Err, yeah, you see… TJ kinda said we could come and borrow some of his stuff for our show, for the Internet”. Roy stumbled over his words, his frantic nerves stripping all charm from his voice.
“Oh well, he didn’t say anything to me about it. But I suppose, since you only live next door, and it’s for the Internet, you said?” TJ’s mom ditsily mused on what that might mean as she leant out the window.
“Err, yeah,” Roy said, a tired indifference climbing into his voice as he realised he’d been up all night. Was he holding up the camera or was it holding him up?
“The door’s open; his room is at the top of the stairs. How’s your mother doing, Teddy? You boys want some green tea and rice cakes?”
“Err, no, we’re good, thanks; she’s fine,” Zed said, surprised at how easy that was.
A brief cut and it was a shot of TJ’s stairs as they climbed up towards his room. All TJ could see was a POV shot of the back of Zed’s legs as he went up, followed by Roy.
Zed stopped on the stairs and turned to Roy with an odd smile on his face, the camera uncomfortably close.
“Dude, why’d you stop?” Roy said, behind the camera.
“How much you wanna bet the fat fuck’s a brony?” Zed sniggered childishly, forgetting the blood under his fingernails.
Another brief cut and whoever held the camera was elbow deep in TJ’s drawers. “Where the fuck is it?”.
“Dude, I found it.” The camera panned impatiently to Zed who stood in front of the closet, smirking.
“Friendship is fucking magic.” Zed chortled as he spoke. Parting the clothes in the closet, Zed revealed a secret ‘My Little Pony’ poster on the back of the wardrobe. “I fucking knew it.”
“Yeah, that’s great; the dude’s a fucking faggot who wants to fuck a horse. Can we get back to finding the weapons now, so, you know, we can fucking live through the night?” Roy snapped, gripping the camera harder, until it was audibly creaking. He span the camera around and it fell on the red toy box at the bottom of TJ’s bed. “Here we go.”
“Yeah, I’m betting porn and an inflatable pony.” Zed chuckled in the background as Roy lay the camera down on TJ’s bed. He knelt in front of the box. Zed went through TJ’s action figures and miscellaneous cosplays, giggling fecklessly in the background.
Roy opened the box. “Look at this shit - fucking mall crap! Gotta bag this shit up.”
“Then what?” Zed said, some ice closing in on his voice.
“We gotta deal with Gil. If he’s bit, we gotta cut his head off; that bitch too, just to make sure.”
“I don’t know-”
“It’s fucked. It’s so different from how I thought it would be.” Roy sighed as he started to pack the weapons into a ‘Naruto’ duffel bag. “Fucking otaku pussy.”
He put his hand on his knee and eased himself off the ground.
Zed sighed; the character he had created had crumbled and he felt like a kid. His skin sticky and dry from where he had washed off Christie’s blood. “I don’t know if I can do it.”
Roy fumbled as he picked up the camera and turned it off.
Another cut. The camera seemed to be resting on the edge of a sink, turned on by mistake as if placed there in a hurry.
Scuffling sounds, sounds of muffled whimpering. The camera was out of focus. A blurred figure came into frame and snatched it up. Fumbling sounds of plastic creaking. It was still being held low, around waist height; there was nothing to see just yet.
“You’ve got to do it.”
“Why do I have to do it?”
“Because I’m holding the camera,” Roy said, a cold smile in his voice.
Roy raised the camera, like a shield, to put the spotlight on Zed’s pale and drawn face. Zed sat on the bed in his room; he knew it had to be him. He swallowed hard, took TJ’s crappy mall sword in both his hands and unsheathed it a little to check it didn’t stick. He hesitated. “Oh, fuck it,” he said as he unsheathed the sword all the way. He threw the cheap scabbard across the room and held the handle as if it was a machete. The sword wasn’t quite a katana; it was one of those cheap ninja swords with a straight blade and no guard. He grabbed at his knee a little, rose with a jerky jolt of energy and began to march out of his room. Roy struggled to follow him out into the hall.
“Wait up, dude.”
They got to the inner door of the garage and Zed stood sullen with his hand on the doorknob.
“I thought he locked himself in?”
“He did, but I’ll try the door and then we can go around the front and open the garage door. He might be OK. Garage door makes a lot of noise,” Zed said.
“Yeah, best episode of ‘Zombie Stump Fuckers’ yet.”
Zed sneered and a sickly smirk passed over his face. He swallowed hard again and twisted the knob. The door opened with an uneasy jerk. Zed froze. He stopped breathing and then breathed out. Then in again with a low, shallow, silent breath.
He began to open the door wider, inch by inch, praying for it not to creak. It did. He took a deep breath and launched himself into the garage. Roy followed. The camera fell on Zed as he swung the sword awkwardly, nerves and adrenaline making it shake in his hands, creating an annoying rattling sound.
“What the fuck?” Roy said as he panned the camera up to a tense close up of the garage, lined with black bin bags. He zoomed out to Zed in his uneven warrior stance, a small pool of congealed blood on the floor. “Where’d he go?”
Just at that moment, a clichéd woman’s scream rang out and they both knew where he was.
“Mom?” Zed’s voice broke as he spoke, the sword shaking in his loose grip.
The camera cut again; Roy must have pressed the button by mistake. He saw that it was on and picked it up with one hand, his grip loose and shaking. Roy breathed in, his breath ragged and forced.
“It didn’t go well, err, he, err, well it’s fucked. It got bit. I took it off”. His voice was quiet and his words fell over each other. The camera turned to his arm, which was missing from the elbow, hacked off unevenly by a blunt knife. “I did it myself with one of those turkey carvers. I think it turned out OK. Well, I guess if anyone finds this tape, I, err, oh, fuck it-”
The video ended and TJ took the viewfinder away from his eye and felt naked, as if he was watching a movie and now he’d woken up on set. All the monsters were sleeping in the next room for another big day.
He paused and put the camera down on the side table in the hall. A shiver ran up his spine and he licked his lips, swallowing a little warm bile. Inhaling through his nose, he began to sheepishly move around and check the lower level of the house. Everything seemed still; the lounge was empty: a little lived-in but otherwise normal. There was a big TV on the wall, a leather couch, pretty minimalist, and a glass and wood coffee table.
The dining room looked unused; there was a film of dust on everything and the room was cold. The room was sealed off with flimsy glass and wood doors that looked like they’d make a noise if he opened them. So he didn’t. He moved on towards the kitchen.
The kitchen was a different story. The back door was wide open and the wind banged the door ominously, as if it were in an old horror movie. The wind was cool; the day was getting a little brighter. A warm light came in from the east, touching the linoleum floor of the kitchen. It stretched over the semi-dry blood stains and turned them a noxious orange colour.
TJ followed the blood, cold fingers crawling up his spine. He saw the turkey carver Roy had mentioned placed neatly on the counter. Bits of ragged flesh still clung to the flimsy blade.
He approached it slowly, picking it up as if it was a strange artefact from a daytime TV show. He looked it over, swallowed hard and depressed the button. It jolted into life, making a vicious whirring sound. TJ jumped out of his skin and pulled the plug out of the wall. He tossed it back onto the counter and edged out of the kitchen.
In the hall again he heard movement upstairs: feet creaking on a wooden floor, slow, then quick thudding footsteps. There was an odd scraping metal sound that went right through him, like nails on a chalk board. Then the pressure came off the floor boards with a slight inflection and TJ’s heart stopped in the hall. A crash of glass rang out, like in an old 1940’s monster movie, and the sounds stopped. TJ paused for a good five minutes, keeping his breath shallow to make sure the sounds stopped. He exhaled as soon as the coast seemed clear.
Since he hadn’t found any of his weapons and the turkey carver hadn’t turned out that well, TJ knew his only option was to investigate the next level. That or take his chances with garden implements and ramshackle sportswear. No, he’d prepared too long to have all his shit taken at the last minute and for it to be for nothing. All those mowed lawns and all those chores were going to mean something. He was going to get it back and put his personal apocalypse back on track. It hadn’t gone to plan so far, but it wasn’t over just yet.
He took the first step on the flight of stairs. And of course, it made a tremulous creaking sound, one which forced TJ to tense his sphincter as if he was trying to create nuclear fusion in his underwear. He stopped to make sure he hadn’t created any dark matter. When he was sure nothing was reacting to the noise, he took another step. And then another and then another and he thought he was getting the hang of it. He reached the top and looked back and got a little dizzy. He braced himself against the wall and felt something slimy om his hand. Holding it out, he could see the slimy substance was blood and there was a trail on the wall he hadn’t noticed. It led up the stairs.
TJ held his breathe again. He was becoming accustomed to the sight of blood now, but this was different. This was still warm.
Rounded droplets of blood led down the hall. TJ put a foot forward without thinking and another loud creaking noise froze the blood in his veins. He paused again, listening for movement. He heard nothing but a cool breeze moving a light piece of curtain netting.
He floated down the hall, as lightly as he could, trying to keep close to the ground, like some kind of Indian stalking an elk. Following the blood trail past a medium-sized guest bedroom, curiosity or a sense of hyper-alertness forced him to glance into the cold room. He could see a girl’s legs sticking out of the bathroom. Suddenly it wasn’t all just a movie; it wasn’t a prank. He held his breath again and tried not to vomit. He swallowed another glob of warm bile.
TJ took hold of the door frame for balance. The silence in the house made it possible to hear the door taking his weight, the wood fibres all quietly shrieking. It felt like the whole house groaned a little and he launched off from the door frame using his upper body, all the energy gone out of his knees for a moment.
He got away from the door and continued to follow the drops. He worked his way, with muffled steps, to a larger master bedroom. The door was ajar. The blood drops stopped. He half-expected a cheesy note written in blood: ‘Abandon all hope all ye who enter.’ Or something equally as clichéd, but apparently the zombies weren’t that theatrical. There were cast off blood spatters, smeared contact patterns, formed by the fumbling, weak movements of someone losing a lot of blood, and trying to find somewhere comfortable to bleed out.
TJ pushed the door open with a weak little shove, as if he was planning to run away after opening it, but he stayed where he was and squinted a little, as if what he was about to see would be bright. The room was dark, all the windows sealed but one: the window that had been broken. It was blown open, like a seal on a submarine, allowing light to flood in and making it even harder to see the rest of the room.
The window gaped open as if the phantom of the opera had jumped through it. The curtains, hanging on a ragged curtain rail, swayed in the wind. Without thinking, TJ crossed the room to the window. He looked out and saw nothing but glass and shards of wood from the window on the lawn below. He pulled his head back into the window. As he did so a chunk of human skin came far too close to his face. It was clinging to a piece of glass in the shattered window. He swallowed a warm mouthful of spit and attempted to close the curtains. The bright morning light was making it impossible to see the rest of the room.
He closed what was left of the curtains, with a laboured curtain shriek, popping curtain rings. One broke and rolled off onto the floor. He followed it with his eyes as the room became more clear, now that the light wasn’t whitewashing his vision. The curtain ring rolled and stopped as it touched a curled up mound of clothes on the floor.
TJ’s eyes gradually regained a nuanced view of the room: the mound of clothes was bleeding. TJ swallowed hard, like a cartoon cat coming face to face with a cartoon dog. He turned his head and looked at the queen-sized bed that stood beside the window. It wasn’t empty.
Turning his whole body away from whatever was on the floor, he looked at the bed. The covers were pulled up on the bed and it was the main focus of the room. A small TV hung on a rack drilled into the wall in before the bed; it had been turned off.
The sheets had some sort of sickly lime green floral pattern. There was a small dressing table, near a door he assumed led to a bathroom, and what appeared to be a booze cabinet at the side of the bed.
Fuck knows why, but TJ got it into his head that he had to see what was under the covers. Like he’d become trapped in a cheesy horror movie. He couldn’t do anything but follow a structured path to his own desolation.
He pulled the sheets slowly, trying not to disturb any evidence, wake up any ghosts. The covers were heavy and a little wet; he pulled them down. Black matted hair on a white pillow. The pillow was stained with yellow bile, black and red blood, and chunks of bones and teeth. As he pulled the covers back further he could see it had once been a person, but now its head resembled hamburger meat. All it’s features had been ground off with some sort of shredding tool, like an angle grinder. Or maybe something not as... elegant. He could almost smell the bone, as if it was still hot from the friction, as if he was inhaling the microscopic bone fragments and he wanted to sneeze.
He held his sleeve up to his nose to prevent a violent sneezing-vomiting fit. In doing so he inadvertently pulled the entire cover off the bed, revealing her lower body, which appeared to have been hollowed out like a Halloween pumpkin. What was left of the organs was strewn carelessly about the bed, ripped apart as if by a wild animal covered in razor wire.
He spun around, trying not to vomit on the bed. He caught its corner as he heaved last night’s meatloaf onto the classic shag carpeting of the bedroom.
He was on his hands and knees. A vicious shaking had taken over all his joints; he felt ethereal for a moment. He clutched a handful of the shag carpeting to make sure it wasn’t a dream. The carpet felt damp and sticky. He lifted his head and saw Zed hunched over in a ball. Blood had pooled around him. A strange shape coming out of his back had raised his clothes like a little tent.
TJ resisted the urge to poke him, instead opting to place his hand on his shoulder and rock him. Zed was cold and a little rigid; he felt like a waxwork. For a second TJ imagined this was all a prank. And he felt a little better, before Zed reached up with an icy hand and grabbed TJ’s wrist.
Zed lifted his head with some effort. “Dude… the bathroom… you might… wanna give it a minute.” He sighed hard and his eyes rolled back into his head like greased golf balls.
TJ shrieked like a little girl and yanked his hand away. His heart beat so hard he could feel it rubbing against his rib cage. His arteries struggled with many years of abusing a clusterfuck of energy drinks. A cold sweat broke over his face, as if someone had dumped a bucket of water over his head. He was happy to just sit there and be damp until the faint sound of an icy snicker reached his ears.
“Are you fucking crying?” a cold female voice said, sniggering.
TJ was dumbstruck. Sitting like a toddler who had just fallen down on his ass for the first time, he wiped his face as if forgetting the whole scene.
“Err, what, no,” he said, trying to regain some composure, though with a slight crack in his voice.
The girl with the green hair, from the store, walked into the room as if it wasn’t littered with corpses. She put her bat up against the side of the door.
“He’s toast, just a death rattle,” she said and rested one of her sneakers on Zed’s very dead shoulder before shoving him onto his side. He rolled like an oil tanker, his arms and legs still frozen in the position they’d taken.
“Is that yours?” The girl said, pointing at the underside of Zed’s corpse.
TJ turned his head towards Zed, but his eyes were still locked on the girl. With noticeable effort he turned his eyes to the spot she was pointing at. He strained to look past all the blood and saw the hilt of his sword lodged in Zed’s lower abdomen.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said.
“Pick it up,” she said, walking past the corpse towards the bathroom door.
“He said something about the bathroom.” Caution skirted around TJ’s voice.
She didn’t seem to hear him; the door stuck a little, but she eased it open. TJ scrabbled to his knees to crane his neck and look into the bathroom. She was already inside, standing next to the toilet, leaning over the bath. The floor was covered in semi-dried blood. Towels caked in gore were strewn all over the sink.
She sighed and turned away from the bath, walking casually out of the bathroom and leaving the door wide open. TJ watched her go back into the hall. She leaned on the door frame and yawned, folding her arms, her bat still resting on the raised doorframe.
TJ breathed in sharply and tried to stand. His hand shook as he reached for the hilt of his mall sword. A slippery screech of porcelain sent shards of fear hurtling through his spine. He cast a timid gaze into the bathroom and he heard it again.
“I’d hurry if I were you,” she said, mid-yawn.
He cast a sweaty glance back at her. His quick head turning launched sprinkler levels of brow sweat across the room. He turned back to look at the sword hilt, sucked in his gut and took on the posture of Arthur, standing before the sword in the stone. He began to put pressure on the hilt, a pound at a time.
The slippery screeching sounds coming from the bath got louder and more frequent, and a deep dull thudding sound, like a drunk trying to wake up, accompanied them, setting TJ’s teeth on edge. He squeezed the hilt tightly and tried to pull it from Zed’s putrid guts. It was sticky; the blood had congealed around the blade. It could have gotten itself lodged between vertebrae in his spine, or twisted up in his intestines. TJ felt like he was trying to pull it out of industrial-strength custard. And for every inch it felt like Zed’s guts swallowed the blade back, millimetre by millimetre.
The thudding sound grew more distinctive. And the screeching sounds from the bath got faster and more erratic. TJ swallowed hard and looked at the bath; a bloody stump waved over the lip of the porcelain tub. TJ’s heartbeat punched his rib cage, getting harder and faster. He turned to the girl. She leant on the doorframe with the bat at her feet. Her eyes flit sleepily as she continued to yawn.
He took one hand off the hilt of the sword and sheepishly pressed on Zed’s shoulder for leverage. But as soon as he felt how cold and wet and very very dead it was, he recoiled in muted mortal terror. He turned back to the bath and saw a bloody hand finger-painting gore on the rim of the tub, looking for leverage on the slippery surface. It raised its head and he saw gnashing teeth. He turned back to the girl. Her eyes closed and an insolent half-grin appeared on her face.
TJ took a deep breath and focused on the sword hilt. He rolled back onto his spacious rear end and put one foot on Zed’s chest and then took hold of the sword in both hands and pulled, putting all his weight behind the it. A hissing, burping sound could be heard deep in Zed’s gut as the sword began to give way.
TJ’s head grew lighter as he felt the sword coming free. A distinct smell of old blood and shit was released in the wake of the sword dislodging. He breathed the vile smell; it was the smell of his effort, the smell of success. His heart hit the cold basement floor as he heard a loud thudding sound. It sounded like a wet sack of potatoes dropped on the hood of car. It induced, in him a state of abstract horror.
Huddled at the base of the bath, Roy’s body uncoiled like a broken slinky. Slick with blood and missing an arm, he flailed at the smooth surface. Trying for any sort of traction, his hungry mouth snapped at the air like a new-born monster.
“Hey!” TJ whispered at the girl, but she just yawned again and began cleaning out one of her ears with her pinkie, like a cheesy anime character.
He pulled harder and faster, adrenaline working its way down his arms and legs, turning them to jelly. His strength leaving him, his breath waning, TJ turned back to look at the bathroom. Roy was on all fours, using his stump of an arm like a dog’s leg. He saw TJ for the first time and his eyes dilated as far as they could go. He launched himself towards the door, slipping on his own blood. His mouth was open, as if he was trying to speak, but the only sounds that came out were breaths that sounded like two wooden planks rubbing together.
Roy scrabbled to the shag carpet on one hand and his knees, scrambling for any leverage that would get him closer to a bite out of TJ’s fat ass. TJ screamed like a little girl again, then turned to the girl to see if she had heard. Her eyes were closed.
TJ’s arms felt like wet noodles and the sword wouldn’t budge an inch. Roy squirmed over the carpet like a komodo dragon, closing the gap between him and the buffet that was TJ.
TJ’s was about to accept he would become a zombie’s first meal when a spark of his lizard brain kicked in and he let go of the sword and took Zed by his rigid shoulders. Rolling back with all his girth, TJ pulled the stiff corpse over on top of him and fell on the soft shag carpet. The cold body covering him like a cold, smelly ironing board. Roy mounted Zed and a terrifying game of piggy in the middle began.
TJ found himself locked in a morose struggle. A slice of white bread in a zombie sandwich, he was struggling desperately not to be the luncheon meat filling.
He held onto Zed with a deathly grip as Roy flopped about on top of him, snapping at TJ’s face. And then, when he couldn’t reach, snapping at TJ’s fingers.
“I guess cutting your arm off doesn’t work,” the girl said wearily.
“Please, help!” TJ’s words were strained, as if talking in full sentences might anger the cannibal corpse on top of him.
“Haven’t we already done this?” She sighed and looked away. “Ok, fine, but after this…” She picked up the bat again and, with pantomime-like exaggeration, slung it around, as if it was heavy for her, which it most certainly was not. She slung the bat over her shoulder and walked towards the all meat sandwich.
Tears of pure exasperation streamed down TJ’s neckbearded face.
“Hold his head up,” she said dryly, as if talking to herself.
“What??” TJ strained. His heart beat like an oil drum rolling down a steep hill. He closed his eyes. Drool and blood, and whatever else was leaking out of Zed, was pooling on his face and neck.
TJ forced Roy’s head up with all his strength.
The girl with the green hair smiled and crouched beside Roy, laying down her bat as she met his eye. Roy noticed her for the first time and made a muted hissing sound, like air escaping from a tyre. She grinned.
He snapped at her.
She sighed and rose to her feet. “I guess we’ve got nothing in common,” she said as she scraped the bat off of the floor and proceeded to decorate the seventies-style drapes in his brains. She swung the bat so hard and fast that TJ almost missed it. It was different from the first time; before it had been as if she was swatting a bug. This time there was something there, a spark of hatred. It was hard to explain, a fleeting necessary rage that flared up and died down like the roar of a gun.
All that was left was Roy’s lower jaw. His tongue lapped up the last remnants of the atmosphere as TJ began to push both corpses off of him. Zed snapped in half as he did so and some black paste that had probably been his organs spilt over TJ.
“That’s gross. Never seen that before,” the girl said with cat-like curiosity.
“Yeah, great. What now?”
TJ pulled the sword defiantly from Zed’s torso with a slimy-sounding but authoritative tug. The blade was covered in that black goo.
“I’m gone. Don’t need to say thank you or anything.” The girl started wiping brains off of her bat with a torn portion of Zed’s shirt.
When it was clean enough for her liking, which wasn’t very clean at all. She threw it over her shoulder heroically and smiled fiendishly at TJ. He was so shocked that he sniggered and her smile broke into something a little softer.
“Thanks,” TJ said, but she was already out the door. He sighed, feeling the goo on him growing colder.
TJ scrambled across the shag carpeting to look into the hall. He saw the girl’s shock of green hair sticking up over the landing as she called back to him.
“Where are we going?” he said.
“Your place,” she said as she continued down the stairs.
“Oh, OK…Wait, I don’t even know your name!”