Chapter 8 - Entry 1
May 6th cont. - May 7th
Following the blood trail proved more difficult than one might expect considering the red cast set by the setting sun above. I had the scent though; body odor and woodsmoke mingled with the coppery taste of a leaking wound. My feet moved in a blur thanks to Maliqe’s contribution, her bite adding yet more to my arsenal of inhuman abilities. I raced through the woods, my woods, stalking the prey. My prey.
I was fuming. Raging. Hands vibrating as they clutched the HK in one and my combat knife in the other. I could taste my quarry at every stop they’d made; pausing to lean against a tree or falling down after tripping over a rock. The trail exited my woods into a home’s backyard, passed through the open house where two zombies were put down silently with my knife, and across the street where yet more woodlands began.
Time meant nothing as I hunted. All perceptions narrowed to the trail and the rhythm of quick movement through the woods. Duck under a branch. Step over a fallen tree. Hop across a stream. The scent grew stronger even as the bloodflow seemed to diminish. Overhead the sky shifted to a darker shade of red as the sun prepared to set. I ignored the hunger growing inside me as my body burned through calories to fuel its heightened speed.
Sounds reached my ears just as the last vibrant streaks of crimson were swallowed by black clouds overhead. Excited voices. Growling. Children playing. A glow slowly grew ahead, flickering in between treetrunks and amid thick underbrush. I could smell meat roasting. Wood burning. Unwashed bodies. The undead. My pace slowed as I cautiously ghosted forward.
A campground lay just beyond my position, surrounded on two sides by the elbow of a steaming river. Tiny log cabins sat along its banks, front doors facing inwards where a large covered pavilion without walls occupied the central clearing. A gravel parkinglot, home to a single SUV, lay near a bridge that crossed one section of the river and led to a dirt road that disappeared northwards beyond.
There were people gathered around a large fire burning in the pavilion’s center where a huge spit had been set in place. A zombie, impaled on the spit and still writhing as its bare flesh blackened, filled the air with the sickly-sweet scent of its cooking. Crouched down amid the underbrush, I watched those present for several moments, brain trying to wrap around the scene before me.
They were cooking a zombie, a runner by the looks of its movement. A dozen children, visible skin unnaturally yellow with blood red eyes, held hands and danced around the raised firepit, singing ‘Ring Around the Rosy’. Twice as many adults, all with the same skin and eyes, were setting dishes, cups and pitchers on wooden picnic tables beneath the shelter. A small cluster had gathered around one woman who seemed to be crying and favoring her right leg.
And there were zombies, fifty at least, that shuffled about the clearing. Ten runners were penned into a space between two cabins where chain link fencing had been raised to cage them in. Most simply stood, sniffing the air as their dead eyes watched the yellow-skinned survivors. Others threw their bodies against the fencing or cabin walls over and over again.
Ten minutes passed as I observed the group before the adults ushered children into seats and joined them at the tables. A pair began slicing meat off the zombie they had spitted, carving slabs as the thing still writhed and placing them onto a large silver platter. Drinks were poured from the glass pitchers and the silhouette of something small, moving, could be seen floating inside one as it passed the fire’s light.
The zombie meat was divided among those gathered and a quiet hush fell upon the group as a man rose, holding his hands out wide. Unlike the others, his skin was pale and the clothing he wore resembled a priest’s robes more than tattered rags. His bald head reflected the firelight, standing out in sharp contrast to the messy, untamed locks of those seated before him. The silence lingered as he stood that way for several moments, arms spread wide and eyes closed as if he were offering a blessing. When they opened at last I could see they weren’t bloodshot like the others.
A shiver ran down my spine as he smiled, teeth filed to points, and took his seat. The meal began; a feral feast without utensils where the sounds of ripping meat and wet slurping filled the air. It wasn’t the way they ate, or the source of their food, that turned my blood icy cold. No it was his eyes.
Solid white. Just like mine.
I extended the stock of my HK and laid flat on my stomach, getting into a firing position and drawing a bead on the man’s forehead as he ate. Fat glistened on his pale lips and fingertips while thick black blood ran down his chin. I forced my breathing into a slow, steady rhythm and watched him down the line of my gun’s iron sights. Studying his mannerisms and waiting to spot a repetition in his movements. Finger lightly stroking the trigger. A dip of his chin as he swallowed. A scan of those seated before him. A sip from his cup. Another bite taken. The dip.
The gun bucked against my shoulder as I sent a round flying towards his temple. With a growl I watched a woman’s head explode in a cloud of pink mist when she chose that moment to lean forward and speak with him. Silence reigned briefly in the heartbeat that followed.
As one they rose, some diving for cover beneath the table as others stood and scanned the area for their attacker. I paused long enough to pull three magazines from my coat pocket and thumb the selector to full auto. Then thunder filled the air.
My finger caressed the trigger, coaxing short bursts into the gathered group. Some collapsed from fatal wounds to heads and hearts. Others jerked as rounds struck their bodies but recovered quickly, seemingly oblivious to the pain. Children ran screaming to cabins while the adults spread out and zeroed in on my position. They charged, armed with nothing but black fingernails and sharpened teeth.
I lost track of their leader in the chaos, too intent upon the rushing mob as they ran full bore into my killzone. Two magazines were empty by the time I rose, flicking the switch back to single fire mode and choosing my shots carefully. Adrenalin surged through my body as I leveled the HK with one hand, dropping bodies left and right. It was then that I noticed there were Runners, the faster sort of zombies, among their numbers. A glance towards the pens showed me their leader there, herding undead out the gate.
My last magazine dropped to the ground as a woman, red eyes feral and teeth snapping madly, dove towards me. I raised my foot and kicked out, connecting with her forehead and breaking the neck with her own momentum and my augmented strength.
A pair of men followed quickly on her heels, one tackling my legs while the other swung a stick towards my head. I let gravity and the leg-grabber’s impact drop me, feeling the air’s disturbance as the stick passed inches from my scalp. My knife lashed out, ramming through cartilage and brain matter when it pierced the center of the tackler’s face. His body flailed in its death throes, arms pinned beneath my legs and holding me still. His buddy raised the stick overhead for another try.
I used the HK like a metal shield to block the first swing, kicking the corpse off my legs and rolling away in time to avoid another. Three men and two women came running through the underbrush behind him, fanning out to form a circle as I regained my feet.
“Run,” I said calmly. “Or die.”
Naturally they ignored me, rushing in as one. I spun on my heels, grip tight on the HK’s extended stock and using it like a club in one hand with my knife in the other. The crack of bone was like a gunshot as a woman’s skull caved in. Warm blood washed over my hand when a throat was slit, blade tickling bone before sliding free.
Fists lashed out, fingernails clawed at my face and arms wrapped once more around my legs from the four left alive. A body slammed into my back and I tumbled forward, knife flashing out to slit another throat on the way down.
I twisted my hips and managed to roll over just as the stick slammed down, clocking me on the side of my head. I felt my jawbone break from the impact of a boot-stomp and lashed out blindly when my vision blurred.
Kicks pounded into my ribs, arms and legs. The stick came down again and again, bashing against the arm I raised to fend it off. Somehow I’d lost the HK but still had the knife so I slashed out in a wide arc to one side, feeling the blade slide through fabric and the leg meat beneath.
A jarring kick landed against my temple and for a brief heartbeat blackness washed over me. The sharp pain of a rib snapping brought me back to the surface with a warbling cry.
Then a still, quiet calm filled my mind as something stirred awake deep inside. It rushed forward, climbing from my throat in a bestial scream that gave pause to my attackers’ efforts. The rational part of my mind tucked itself away in a little corner, unable to do more than watch as my body moved of its own accord.
I was on my feet, surrounded by shapes that kicked and punched. The scent of Runners filled my nostrils as they neared, each footfall in the dead leaves sounding like thunder. Heartbeats pounded all around me. The stink of hot breath tickled every inch of my flesh.
My entire body vibrated as I fought, insane strength surging through limbs that healed damage as fast as it was inflicted. The hunger inside me grew, twisting and writhing until it blocked out all other pain. It consumed me and the primal thing at my core knew somehow that the suffering would not end until it had killed them all.
Hands hooked into claws, the combat knife falling forgotten to the ground as I lunged forward into the thickest knot of my attackers. Those hands each found a throat, crushing windpipes and snapping necks with unnatural strength even as I swallowed tainted blood when teeth ripped a chunk of meat free from the face before me.
Bodies blurred as I jumped backwards, slamming into my stick-wielding tormentor and knocking him several feet away. Crouching low, I spun on one foot as the other leg swept in a half circle that broke kneecaps and sent bodies crashing down.
A form ran screaming toward me with a meat cleaver, only to be caught in both hand, lifted overhead, and thrown against a tree where backbone and bark were introduced with a spine-shattering impact.
A Runner leaped onto my back and teeth sank into the flesh where neck and shoulder meet. I ignored it, howling in pain with a broken jaw while punching through a man’s face. His decimated brain was a hot, spongy mass as I clawed my fingers inside, ripping it free of its moorings before allowing it to plop wetly to the ground.
Agony exploded in my chest when a machete made contact. I managed to grab the wrist of its user and pulled him forward, ramming my forehead against his face with a crunch of bone and shattered skull for both of us. Mine healed. His didn’t.
And on it went. Each new threat put down with hands, teeth and vicious kicks. Time had no meaning, measured only by the appearance of something new to kill. These were no longer prey. The hunter had become the hunted and like a cornered predator, I fought without quarter, mercy, or concern for my own well being.
A distant, disconnected part of my mind watch as I butchered them and realized at some point the humans had fled, leaving only the Runners and those Shamblers that had followed them behind.
Eventually all that remained was silence, broken only by my ragged breathing and soft moans from the dying that lay around me. The thing that had awoken let out a primal scream of victory before slithering back into its cave, leaving the rational part of my mind to deal with the broken body left behind. I collapsed to my knees, vision cloudy and wracked with pain. Wounds were healing beneath tattered clothing but the agony flared with each gasping breath.
I vomited tainted blood from where I’d bitten the twisted humans, then gingerly held a nearly severed breast into place as the flesh knit back together. Six fingers were rebroken and set correctly. Resetting my jawbone from where it had healed offcenter rendered me unconscious for awhile.
It was some time later that I managed to rise, stepping over broken bodies on unsteady legs. Dimly I was aware that the humans who died, even those with no head wounds, had not risen again as zombies. The fog of pain kept me from dwelling on that fact overly long. Hunger consumed the whole of my existence.
The sun was beginning to rise by the time I stumbled into the Home. Molly was at my side in an instant, her scent filling my nostrils while drool flowed freely as I licked her arm. The blood of her wound was intoxicating. I felt myself lifted from behind, feet off the ground and arms pinned at my side. Frank held me there, an unmovable statue, while I salivated and tried to dip my head towards Molly’s slender neck.
Despite the strength gifted to me by Maliqe’s bite, I was like a weak child in Frank’s iron grasp. I struggled, trying to reach Molly with snapping teeth, barely conscious of who she was through the haze of agony gnawing at my stomach. When at last the fight had passed and I lay limply in his grip, words croaked out my cracked lips.
“Food. Lots. Hurry.”
Molly disappeared from view as I wept, sobbing helplessly through the pain. My eyes closed when a piece of ham pressed against my mouth. Barely chewing, the meat slid down my throat and settled like a healing balm inside. The next piece joined the first and on it went until there was no more.
Frank lowered me to the ground as Molly returned with canned food, feeding me spoonfuls as I leaned against her father’s legs for support. Eventually the pain faded, leaving me too exhausted and weak to speak or move. Dimly I recall Molly cutting away what remained of my gore-covered clothing. A warm sponge used to clean my skin. Her father gently placing me into bed.
There were nightmares that night. Scenes of the feast where it was Molly who roasted on the fire, still alive as chunks of tattooed meat, blistered and burned, were sliced free for the meal. I was the one standing, arms spread wide before the others, blessing the infernal feast. Molly’s head was delivered on a silver platter, eyes alive and watching as my hand lifted her scalp to reach to steaming brain within.