December 25, 2012

Short Story: Cold Comfort

Submitted For the approval of the Midnight Society...
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago I found myself wrapped into a three-way Twitter conversation with Nick Vogt, bka Deli Mane of Dior Sentai, and Blam Lord, the curator of one of my favorite blogs, Blam Blam Fever. The two were talking of zombie apocalypse dreams, and they mentioned writing stories from the dreams. I immediately jumped in to note that if they did write these stories, we could post them here to Decoder, and both were into the idea. I couldn't imagine a better Christmas present to our readers; one that even those who don't celebrate the birth of Santa Clause should be able to appreciate. Yesterday we posted Nick's story, Secret Ingredient, and today we have for you the Blam Lord's Cold Comfort.

Sound. It is your enemy. More than any zombie on your trail. Any noise made notifies the upright corpses wandering aimlessly around you on all sides. It is a beacon. It is a homing device. If you can navigate the exposed world quietly you can move about almost unhindered, but what do you do if your environment is made of a noise creating substance? Where every simple motion sends a sound wave pinpointing your exact whereabouts? Take snow, for instance.

Late December, somewhere in the central Ohio valley a man by the name of Marc Thibodeux has no idea that it is Christmas day. Normally, he would be surrounded by family and friends, but 'normally' flew out the window when the first outbreak occurred. Holidays were a thing of the past. And so were family and friends. The only thing that mattered was survival.

And this is how Marc ended up leading a rag tag bunch of survivors out of Presque Isle, Maine. The horrors they had seen getting this far had hardened them all beyond any level they had ever imagined. Initially eleven people, give or take those who joined up with them for a stretch, but after fighting to live every day non stop since they set out they were down to just four. Make that three now, because Marc just witnessed another torn to bits at the hands of the undead. Which leads to his current dilemma. Getting back to the others. Alive.

An hour or two ago, after a long rigorous day of foraging abandoned houses, it was about time to get back to their encampment; a small 2 story house off the main highway. A mile away lay this gated community where Marc and one other party member, a young and spunky Black woman by the name of Ivette Hatch, went to investigate. Having gotten this far dealing with the undead; all you needed was a partner to watch your back, a weapon to protect your front, and a direction to move when outnumbered. Simple right?  

Or so they thought, but nature doesn't care about strategies. A very light sleet started nipping away at them as soon as they got near the houses. The two had slipped into the development with ease, scaling a wooden fence behind one of the prefabricated houses. They had learned before even getting out of Maine to never approach a house that seemed occupied. Boarded up windows, cars parked haphazardly about and signs of life could mean trouble more often than not. This small row of houses though seemed completely abandoned. By the living, at least.

In the first house Ivette killed a zombie with one swift swing of a two foot long lead pipe as they stood in the kitchen. A little girl, no older than ten wearing a blood encrusted yellow snow suit with attached white mittens dipped in gore. Below her presently caved forehead it was easy to see that she had been busy eating the house pet. A grey cat to be specific since it's remains lie strewn under the dining room table. A quick yet thorough examination of the rest of this house told them they were alone, and this is how they operated for the rest of the afternoon. Only stopping for a fast meal at a halfway point, with a dozen homes left to go. There really wasn't much. The community had been gone over by previous scavengers but every single canned good, weapon and even pairs of socks could mean life or death at a later date, so they went through each room with a fine toothed comb. 

They did this in complete silence having grown accustomed to facial expressions and body language. Every home that was locked up they skipped. It wasn't worth trying to break in considering what may lie inside. A spooked survivor is ten times worse than even ten of the undead.

Soon they were at the last house, one new and full backpack sitting propped up by the back door. They sat in the living room sipping on cold instant coffee with their weapons propped on the couch arms. Marc preferred a survival hatchet, trading cleanliness for accuracy. There were guns too, but rarely were they used, having learned the hard way it just causes more trouble and in this case they had left them back at camp. Ivette and Marc were a well oiled machine. They had been paired off since crossing Vermont and losing her older brother.

If it wasn't for the snow; something they hoped to escape forever as they headed south. The snow had decimated their, group sounding off alerts everywhere they went. Marc sipped the remains of his cup as he wondered how fortunate desert folk must have been when the event took place. He laughed inwardly realizing they wouldn't even know they were fortunate there, they would still be dealing with the same sheer unimaginable terror. Maybe dehydration would be the additional enemy in the desert. Standing up, he tucked his cup back in his bag, shouldered the extra bag and looked at his partner to see if she was ready. A nod from her and they opened the back door and slid quietly outside.

Darting in and out of houses they hadn't realized what effect the sleet had on the snow but a couple steps outside of the fenced in enclave they realized their error. The sleet left a thin shell of ice over the entire surface making each step a small but resounding crunch. Ivette looked at Marc with uncertainty before tilting her head back towards the houses and without a moment’s doubt Marc began to walk back towards the fence. They would have to wait it out or bring zombies from all around down on their camp's head.

Before they had even fully turned around the horde was upon them. Over a dozen or so zombies that could have been milling about out here now focused and drawn in by their movement. Marc swiftly dealt with the two nearest him, already checking to see if Ivette was out of danger’s way. They were in a serious bind; they couldn't turn and try getting over the fence for fear of leaving limbs exposed to attack (and therefore infection) and there was no opening to make a quick escape. So they braced themselves and fought it out.

The first few went down with ease. The snow making their actions slower too but it was the sheer amount of them. That disgusting unending pour of living dead hands pawing at you, attempting to tear out and eat your insides. Stumbling back and forth in the slushy snow Marc felt his arm begin to burn with exhaustion as he chopped away at the nearest targets and it was in that moment he saw the fat, Asian, and very dead businessman in a tattered off the rack suit lurching up behind Ivette. He was out of breath yet still tried to bark her name out in warning. It was already far too late. The businessman's hands grabbed her by her fighting arm and jerked her around, leaving her flank vulnerable to those she was combating. Marc took a step towards her right before she yelled in pain as a half naked woman bit down on her opposite arm. The open wound and its profusely running blood painted a target on Ivette and in moments they dragged her to the ground. There is nothing to do but escape Marc thought as the undead who were focused on him turned away to bear down on his dying partner. Survive. The pain of losing Ivette wracked his body as he scrambled over the fence and returned to the initial house they had entered. Still, he simultaneously reminded himself where she was taken down because her pack was full of items they needed. Cold comfort indeed.

The little dead girl sprawled in the kitchen instantly reminded him of his lost companion and he had to fight back tears for a moment, almost upset at himself for his callousness. Not too long though. So many people had died along the way. Ivette knew the consequences. What if they were on the inside of the fence when this happened? They could have easily retreated to a house. All these things he pondered as he sat alone in the dimming light. He’d head back tomorrow, snow be damned.

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