Show me more Shomi, you say? [Hee, I iz funneh]
Molly Anderson is not your average twenty-one-year-old. It’s been six years since she and her family escaped into a bunker, led by her conspiracy theorist father and his foreknowledge of a plot to bring about the apocalypse. But her father’s precautions didn’t stop there. Molly is now built to survive.
Yes, Ian Anderson’s favorite book gave him ideas on how to “improve” his daughter. Molly is faster, stronger, and her ocular implants and razor-tipped nails set her apart. Apart, when—venturing alone out of the bunker and into a plague ravaged, monster-ridden wilderness—what Molly needs most is togetherness. Chase Griffin, a friend from her past, is her best bet. But while he and others have miraculously survived, the kind boy has become a tormented man. Together, these remnants of humanity must struggle toward trusting each other and journey to the one place Molly’s father believed all civilization would be reborn: the Magic Kingdom, where everyone knows it’s a small world after all.
The zombie turned suddenly, bloodshot eyes zeroing in on where Chase stood in the shadows. Forcing himself to keep his breaths slow and regular, he lifted his rifle, trying not to make any sudden moves that would set her off. His hands shook, making it difficult to line up the female creature’s head. The money shot. The shot he’d need to take her down for good and protect his family with the least risk to himself. How had she gotten so close without him realizing?
The woman let out a muffled moan, hairless, bony arms outstretched like something from an old George Romero movie. But this was no film set. The world in 2036 had become a true horror flick, and Chase was one of its stars. He was the one who’d done the drugs, had sex with the girl and uttered the words, “I’ll be right back.” In other words, he was the one who was about to wind up dead.
It was more than a bit tempting to run. To get as far away as possible from this pus dripping creature formerly known as a human. But she was too close to the campsite where Molly and the children were sleeping. And while Chase had failed before things were different now. For the first time since the plague erupted, there was hope. And no dumb, oozing, post-apocalyptic monster was going to take that away. Not on his watch.
He blew out a breath and steadied his gun, eyes narrowing to slits. Steady as she goes, he told himself. This was a matter of protecting his family: both what was left of it and what he’d rebuilt. It was a matter of doing good, and not the simple rehash of senseless violence that once had been so popular on the silver screen. Shoot-’em-up slasher films… It was so different in reality—tougher to summon the courage to fire, to engage, to set in play the sequence of events that he knew had to follow.
In an instant it happened. The creature lurched forward and Chase fell back a step, squeezing the trigger of his rifle. Its recoil bruised his shoulder. Blood gouted from the woman’s chest—he’d missed. Only a flesh wound. And she was still coming. And two other shadows had appeared behind her. Three…no, four? How much ammunition was left in his gun?
He fired again at the Other, twice more, and her head exploded in a mass of red and grey pulp. At the same time he reached around his neck and pulled free a whistle. Sometimes this worked, as the creatures were sensitive to high-pitched noises. He blew as hard as he could. Sure enough, the shadows that had risen behind the first Other stopped moving. There came a cacophony of inhuman screeches and then the shadows dissipated. The creatures had turned and fled, hands over their ears.
Chase watched them go, breathing heavily. The whistle fell from his bloodless lips. “Yeah, I thought so,” he said, shaking out his arms and trying to regain some composure. “I thought so! Run, cowards!” He nodded to himself and stepped out from the shadows.
Only to find himself thrown backwards.
He crashed hard onto the asphalt of the street, the impact knocking the breath from his lungs. His vision blurred and, for a moment, nothing made any sense. Then he looked up and saw what had struck him. An Other towered above, clearly not scared away by his whistle. It was growling and spitting.
It was a huge male, and it lunged forward, hands finding Chase’s neck, encircling and squeezing tight, cutting off his breath. Desperate, Chase kicked out, slammed his foot into the creature’s groin. The monster bellowed but didn’t let go. Chase struggled harder, panic slamming through him as he used one arm to brace himself, fighting to keep away from the monster’s mouth. He reached for his boot with his free hand, feeling for the knife he always kept there. It took what seemed forever to wrap his fingers around the hilt. The creature’s grip tightened, and Chase saw blackness swimming toward him. Pain seared through his shoulder. Then, in his final moment of consciousness, he managed to yank the knife free and drive it into the creature’s heart.
The zombie recoiled then fell on top of him, crushing Chase with his weight. But the fingers loosened and Chase was able to breathe. He sucked in a huge breath and pushed the creature off. It rolled back onto the pavement, staring up at the sky and whimpering. The heart was always a weak spot.
Chase surged to his feet, stared down at the monster. It looked a lot more human lying there now, vulnerable and bleeding. This was something he always hated. He wondered who it had been before the change. A doctor? A lawyer? Maybe a humanitarian who built houses for poor people.
It didn’t matter. It was none of those things now, he reminded himself. Just a monster. A monster that needed to be put out of its misery.
He grabbed his rifle and pressed the barrel to the zombie’s head. Closing his eyes, he pulled the trigger. The shot shook his arm and echoed in his ears. He let the sound fade away before looking. The body was twitching, the head disintegrated.
He forced himself to look away but as he did a piercing pain found his right shoulder. Startled, he glanced down, his mouth falling open as he saw where his leather jacket had come open, where the shirt below was ripped and bloody. Teeth marks. He’d been bitten. He’d been bitten.
“Chase! Chase, are you okay?”
He looked up. Molly. She was running toward him, her face white.
“I’m okay,” he said, turning at an angle so she couldn’t see his wound. “I got him.”
She stopped a few feet away, looking down at the remains of the two dead zombies. “God, what happened?” she asked.
“One got the jump on me. No big deal. It’s all fine,” he lied. The pain gripped his shoulder like a vise and it was all he could do not to fall to his knees. But if he fell, she’d know. He couldn’t let her know.
She took a step forward but he held out a hand. “I’m all slimy,” he said. “Zombie gook. You know. I’m going to go find a fountain or something to wash off.”
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked, peering at him, confusion and worry warring on her face.
He felt sick to his stomach but nodded. The last thing he wanted was to lie to her. But what choice did he have? He had to think of her and the kids. She was too weak to get where she needed to go on her own now. Wonderful Molly. Tough Molly. His beloved. She needed his help to find her father. To complete her pilgrimage. To save the world. And who knew how her priorities would change once she learned the truth?
Well, he had two weeks. Two weeks before the virus could work its way fully through his system, mutating his cells, destroying his brain and turning him into one of them: a diseased, merciless monster with an appetite for human flesh. An Other. He had two weeks to get Molly where she had to go. Then he’d use his rifle one last time—to put a bullet in his own head.
© Marianne Mancusi. All rights reserved.