Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Zombie Tale from: Scott Nicholson

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by Scott Nicholson
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A Farewell to Arms

The barn had everything you’d want in a place to die.

Some soft, golden hay, a few chickens down below if you liked your eggs raw, an old hand-operated water pump that sucked cold water from an artesian well deep beneath the soil. It was quiet, except for the chickens, and surrounded on all sides by unkempt but level pastures. Not a living soul in sight.

No unliving souls, either.

The little farmhouse at the end of the dirt road had burned days before. Casey had kicked around in the charred chunks, looking for anything useful like canned vegetables or metal tools, but all he’d found were some coins and a handful of bone fragments. The fragments bore teeth marks.

Leaning against a hay bale in the loft of the barn, he tossed one of the blackened coins in the air.

“Heads or tails,” he said.

“Heads,” Maleah said.

Casey let the coin hit the hard boards of the floor. It rolled until it found a crack, then fell through into the dried manure below.

“Guess it won’t be so easy,” Casey said.

“Did you think it would be?”

Seven days on the road, and they’d developed an uneasy conversational style. Casey, the hardened optimist and Maleah, the determined cynic. They might have made a good comedy team. The Belushi and Akroyd of the apocalypse. The audience would be dying with laughter.

Beyond the pastures, the gentle hills rolled in September splendor. The ocher, purple, and scarlet of the changing leaves were like a rumpled patchwork quilt. If not for the thin threads of smoke on the horizon, then it might have passed for an idyllic autumn day in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“You never told me where you were headed,” Casey said.

“Is anybody headed anywhere?”

Casey was annoyed by her habit of making a question out of everything. He had as many questions as the next guy. Like, “What the hell happened?” and “Why is God such a heartless bastard?” But did you hear him going on and on about it? No. He played the cards you dealt him. “I mean, before all this. You had a family, right?”

Maleah twisted her wedding ring. She hadn’t mentioned her husband. It was another of those questions that Casey had kept to himself. God was heartless, but adultery was a sin, and the less said about that, the better.

“I was going to Charlotte,” Maleah said. “I thought I’d fly to the Bahamas. But they’d already closed the airport.”

“They’re probably in the Bahamas by now anyway.”

“Probably everywhere.”

“Arctic, maybe. Do people live up above Canada? Maybe if it’s too cold, they can’t move.”

“They’re dead. I doubt they feel the cold.”

Casey stood and walked to the shelf where hand tools, farm supplies, and buckets of screws and nails huddled in dusty piles. The wall was covered with dried-out strips of harness, yellow rope, baling wire, and chains. A couple of shovels, a hoe, and a blunt, rusty axe hung from ten-penny nails. A dented trash can in the corner was half full of dried feed corn. Casey scooped a palm full of kernels and tossed them through a hay chute. Below, chickens squawked and tussled over the grain.

Maybe they would cook a chicken first. Casey had killed chickens as a kid while visiting his grandfather’s farm. Well, he hadn’t actually been the one to bring down the blade, but he was there when the chickens ran around, frantic and flapping, their heads lying with beaks opening and closing, probably asking questions of the god of the chickens.

He could do it. Bring the blade down quick—that’s what Grampy Willers said. You owed it to them to do it clean. “Painless that way,” Grampy insisted, as if he knew the feelings of chickens.

Casey tore a strip of tar paper from the roll beside the shelf. He carried it to the window, which was just a square opening covered with chicken wire. He spread out the strip of tar paper and fished a small can of pork and beans from his pocket. He placed the can on the black paper so the sun would heat it up.

“Pork and beans again?” Maleah said.

Beans made him fart. Maleah said something the first time, as if manners still mattered. And for a while, Casey would walk a little bit away, release his gas, and sidle back over, barely missing a step. Then he decided this was no time to be uptight about farting, so he let them rip whenever he felt like it.

“I thought about cooking up a chicken,” Casey said. “We’d have to make a fire, and they might smell the meat.”

“They smell the meat anyway.”

Maleah, sitting on a bale of hay, pulled an apple from her satchel. She rubbed it against the thigh of her jeans and took a crisp, wet bite. Chomping with her mouth open, she said, “Wonder what—happened—to the—people—in—”

“You know what happened.” Casey was mad now. “It doesn’t matter what people, where, or when. You know what happened.”

She finished chewing before she spoke again. “Have you seen anybody get bit? Up close, I mean?”


Guest post created for September Zombies event by Scott Nicholson, author of various horror, mystery, and thriller novels
© 2011. All rights reserved.

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by Scott Nicholson
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Zombie Bits
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Jack Kilborn
Jonathan Maberry
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