The following short story was written for Adrian's Undead Diary and is based in the setting created there by Chris Philbrook. It's generic enough to fit any zombie apocalypse background though so I figured I'd post it here. Enjoy!
I know. I counted.
“Anything new?” Carol whispered urgently over my shoulder.
“A few more zombies but nothing to write home about.” I didn’t bother to whisper in reply. If the half dozen dogs barking non-stop in their kennels wasn’t loud enough to mask normal conversational tones then the car alarms out front certainly were.
“Scott, we’ve got to get out of here.” Again with the whispering. It grated my nerves. Made me want to open the door and shove her out. Out into the dead’s waiting arms.
“They can’t get in here Carol. Not with the bars on the windows. Not through the brick walls. Not unless we make a mistake.” It was then that I tore my gaze away from the fourteen undead outside. Yes. Fourteen. I’d been counting since the first trio shuffled forward and started banging on the door.
She was young, barely out of her teens, and still a bit pudgy with baby fat. Her rounded cheeks and short hair reinforced what we veterinarians had known for years; pets and their owners eventually begin to look alike.
In Carol’s case, the fat black cat that annoyingly scratched at its carrier in agitation and indignity managed to match not only her appearance, but also the tendency to rake nails down the chalkboard of my nerves.
“You’re welcome to leave though Carol.” Her expression of horror made it plain that I was well and truly stuck with her. And Mr. Jiggles.
Another man, missing part of his right arm from the elbow down, stumbled forward to join his peers as they slowly surrounded the clinic. I watched him stand still for a moment, swaying slightly before raising his one remaining fist against the front door. Recognition took hold as I stared at his face. Clem Burrows. A pair of pit bulls. They were overdue for their shots.
I turned away and closed the paw-printed curtains, blocking the view from my office window and surrounding us both in darkness. Night had fallen, the electricity was as dead as the people outside and only the tire store across the street had provided any light. The scent of burning rubber still hung thick in the air as flames danced beneath a heavy column of black smoke rising above.
“What are we going to do?” Carol asked as she fell into step behind me. I ignored her and checked each window and door for the eight time in an hour. Eight times. Yes I counted.
“Stay put until someone comes to rescue us, I suppose. Nothing else we can do.”
My circular trek led me through examination rooms with their short, metal tables, small offices and larger spaces where x-ray and ultra-sound equipment were kept. All empty now. All dark from curtains pulled shut. Around back, where animals recovered from various treatments or were simply boarded by our loyal customers, lay cages stacked three high. Most were empty save for six dogs, two cats and a rather plump bunny. I tried to soothe them but animals, being as intuitive as they are, simply weren’t buying it. A cup of Snausages given to each worked where words failed and for a few moments there was blessed silence. Until Carol spoke again.
“What if there’s no one left to help us?”
“Then I’ll simply put everyone to sleep once the food is gone. You don’t mind Purina, do you Carol? It’s a bit crunchy but I suppose some water added will soften it up nicely. No?”
Mr. Jiggles hissed dramatically in his crate as his owner recoiled at my words.
I ignored them both and finished my inspection in the clinic’s waiting room. There was Mrs. Winkler, seated calmly where I’d left her, reading an old magazine aloud to the ancient bulldog resting comfortably in her lap. Ginger was the dog’s name. It snored softly without a care in the world.
“Everything secure Dr. Scott?”
I nodded to the older gentlewoman in reply.
“Ironic isn’t it? The robbery last year driving you to have bars installed in all the windows?” She smiled and shook her head slowly from side to side. “Likely the only reason we’re still alive.”
“He wants to euthanize us when the food runs out!” Carol shouted. Mrs. Winkler’s reply caught her off guard and sent blood rushing to fill full cheeks with a bright, unflattering blush.
“Far better that than to starve, though I suspect it will be the loss of water that sees our end before a lack of food.” Calm as you please, the old gal went back to reading her magazine aloud. Ginger’s feet kicked slowly in the midst of a little puppy dream.
One hundred and sixteen minutes passed before anything changed. Yes one hundred and sixteen. I counted. That change was subtle at first. Barely noticeable really. A slight change in the air pressure. Just a hint that something new was afoot. Or more correctly, ablaze.
The tire store across the street had collapsed with a quiet groan as the fire within destroyed inner supports. Nothing explosive mind you. Just an old man rolling his head to the side before breathing out his final breath. Flickering orange lights made shadows dance across the waiting room’s far wall when shuffling bodies drifted away to investigate. Three remained behind.
Yes three. I counted.
Carol’s voice rose to unintelligible hysterics as a burning tire rolled from the wreckage and struck the line of undead. Their forward movements halted. Slack neck muscles allowed chins to lower and heads to droop as they stared dimly at the flaming doughnut. No reaction stirred within the first, a young woman with five earrings dangling from her lobe, as her jeans caught fire.
And yes. There were five. I counted.
The scent of roasting meat wafted our way and, God help me, my mouth watered. Despite my earlier bravado, I really had no desire to eat dog food. A glance at my watch told me it had been seven hours and twenty three minutes since the tunafish sandwich I’d carefully made for lunch disappeared down my throat.
Stomach grumbling, I watched as the girl slowly turned and shuffled back towards the clinic.
“Oh dear,” Mrs. Winkler commented while Carol devolved into a blubbering mess nearby. Vaguely understood words dribbled from her lips as she raised one chubby hand and pointed towards the walking torch. I believe she said ‘neighbor’, but I might have been mistaken.
Regardless, the fire began to spread. Bodies packed tightly as the zombies, for what else could they be, began to cluster outside the shatterproof glass doors that separated dead from living. The stench of burning hair soon ended the fit of hunger my stomach had suffered.
“Not to worry. This may, in fact, be good news.” Both women glanced my direction before I continued. “The animal hospital’s outer walls are brick so I doubt we’re in serious danger. I cannot imagine it will take long before muscle burns away and they are reduced to little more than ash. At that point we can make our escape.”
“Oh how very clever Dr. Scott. My car is parked in the handicap spot just outside the door.” There were seven keys on the keychain that Mrs. Winkler dug from her purse and jingled before us. Yes seven. I counted.
I hurried after that, dashing into the secured room where various medicines used to treat our animal patients were kept. Pain medicines. Antibiotics. Bandages. Armfuls were shoveled into a cardboard box and set by the front door. A glance outside showed me several of the zombies had dropped to the ground, smoldering and unmoving even as others stepped into their place. And the burning remnants of their clothing. Like the Olympics, the flame never died.
“What about the dogs?” Mrs. Winkler asked once I’d slipped on my coat and an old pair of jogging shoes bought the year before. New Years resolutions. My immortal enemies.
I spared a glance over my shoulder and chuckled. “I never really liked animals to begin with.” A nod of my head guided their gazes towards the final zombie as he collapsed into a smoking heap. “Now or never.”
The three of us stepped cautiously outside, pausing long enough to determine no undead lay hidden from our sight, and made great speed to Mrs. Winkler’s car. It was a rather large Cadillac of late model. I opened the door as soon as I heard the locks lift from its owner’s remote. Unfortunately, a series of events brought disaster to an otherwise simple endeavor.
First, it was at that moment that Mrs. Winkler’s heart gave out. Clutching her chest, she collapsed to the ground eighteen steps from the car. Yes eighteen. I counted. Ginger bounced as the bulldog was dropped and landed with a yelp directly in Carol’s path.
Ass over teakettle is the term, I believe. Head over heels the young girl went, the infernal Mr. Jiggles spilling out of his cat carrier in a black roll of fat, fangs and fur. Sensing the presence of his kind's mortal enemy, the cat then proceeded to expend more calories by attacking Ginger than he’d likely used in a year.
I stepped out of the car to aid Carol when movement flashed in the corner of my eye. Four zombies had approached and were rounding the car’s backside with remarkable haste. Heedless of the danger, Carol simultaneously held her ankle, cried with pain, and tried to recapture Mr. Jiggles with one chubby hand.
Writing the young woman off as a lost cause and, truth be told, hoping the cacophony of noise coming from her direction would distract the unwelcome newcomers, I dashed across the distance to grab Mrs. Winker’s keys. To say the old gal had a death grip on them would have been both morbidly amusing and entirely accurate.
Eyes opened as I struggled to pull the key ring from her bony grasp. Words gurgled from her slack lips. Apparently she wasn’t dead. Carol’s voice rose in pitch somehow, threatening to shatter glass and my eardrums in one fell swoop. Having had enough, I simply stomped down on Mrs. Winkler’s hand until brittle bones snapped like twigs. The keychain came free and I half expected a spear of light to descend from Heaven and illuminate the glistening metal. Needless to say, I was back in the Caddy a heartbeat later.
Zombies are rather messy eaters. I learned that while watching Carol’s bulk feed an army. Literally. Seventeen undead had drifted into the clinic’s front lot and were enjoying their all you can eat buffet. Yes seventeen. I counted.
As the feast got underway, I did not. Get underway that is. Key in the ignition and obscenities flowing freely from my lips, I cranked and cranked the damned engine over and over to little avail. The battery wasn’t dead. Dinging chimes and blinking lights told me as much. Fists started to bang on the exterior just as I remembered to lock the doors.
And so I sat, watching Carol disappear bite by bite as Mrs. Winkler slowly rose and looked about with dead eyes. Of the embattled animals there was no sign though the sound of dogs barking inside the clinic carried easily to my ears.
On unsteady legs came my former valued customer, shuffling towards my position as I helplessly watched. A mangled hand, fingers splayed out at entirely wrong angles, slapped against the window inches from my face. Five times. You know. I counted.
It seemed for a moment that she paused, staring down at the door with a slack-jawed expression. Other hands and fists were pounding in all directions, setting the car to rocking back and forth beneath the assault.
I decided then to take a fatal dose of painkillers and reached into the back seat for my cardboard box. Naturally it was not there and in that instant I recalled leaving it on the roof. Cursing my bad luck, I began to search the glove box when I heard the door locks open. Sitting upright quickly, I barely managed to lock them from within before Mrs. Winkler’s shattered hand glided past the keyless entry once more.
Fingerprint scanners apparently continue to work when you’re dead.
We played a game then. Her fingertips would brush the sensor outside the door. I’d relock them from within. Over and over it went. One hundred and thirty six times before I finally gave up and let them open the door.
Yes one hundred and thirty six times. I counted.