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Authors: H.E. Goodhue

Tags: #Zombies

Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel (7 page)

BOOK: Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel
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-20-

 

In the back of the storeroom, I found the breaker and killed the power to the pharmacy. I didn’t like the idea of searching the store in the dark, but killing the power kept the doors closed and bought me a little more time.

The inside of the pharmacy was a sea of shadows. The windows were set high in the wall and let through a limited amount of moonlight. The shelves towered over the sides of the aisle and cast them in deeper shades of black and purple. I hadn’t seen any husks when I first entered the pharmacy and was pretty sure they would have come after me if they were inside, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.

I moved down the cold medicine aisle towards the pharmacy counter in the rear of the store. It was a straight shot and I didn’t see anything lurking in the shadows. As I got to the counter, I swept my shotgun over the other aisles. They were empty.

A set of saloon-style doors led behind the pharmacy counter. I used the barrel of my shotgun to push them open and couldn’t stop the soundtrack of a cheesy spaghetti western from playing through my head. There were shelves near the front of the pharmacy area that held things like cold medicine and other over the counter drugs that now had to be monitored. When I was in prison, the guy in the cell next to mine was there for buying three counties worth of Sudafed. It was amazing what white trash could accomplish and still stay white trash. I guess meth was the new moonshine, but neither was doing much to lift anyone out of the trailer park.

I pushed a few boxes of things into my backpack. There were supplies in my basement, but a little extra Tylenol wouldn’t hurt and could be used for bargaining with people. Once Jared and Danni left for South Dakota, they were going to need to be prepared for a world unlike any they had ever seen. Money doesn’t mean shit if there are no banks and government to say that it still does. Something like a bottle of painkillers or cough medicine might end up being worth more than a whole stack of hundreds.

Searching over the shelves, I grabbed a few other boxes and bottles of medicine that I wouldn’t have previously been able to obtain. We needed to be ready to be our own doctors from now on.

A white box of 130 mg potassium iodide tablets sat on the far shelf in the back. It wasn’t something the pharmacy made regular use of, so it had been moved back here. The drops I left with Jared would hopefully keep things from getting worse, but they sure as hell weren’t going to make it better. I threw the potassium iodide into my bag and followed it with a bottle of grape flavored Pedialyte. I remembered buying the stuff when Kara had a fever and the doctor told us she needed to keep hydrated. She hated the stuff, but unlike a toddler, reason could make Danni drink the foul-tasting liquid.

I moved around the counter and computers that loomed in the middle of the pharmacy area. My boot thumped against something soft. I looked down at the leg of a man in a white pharmacist jacket. He was slumped against the counter. An open bottle of Oxycodone had spilled across the floor near his left hand. His face was blue and slightly puffy. I was relieved to see that it wasn’t dried out and leathery. The one thing about that husks that I guess might be considered helpful, was at least you could easily tell who was and wasn’t one of them. Then again, I thought Ian was dead and he came back as a husk, so the same thing could easily happen here. I toed the corpse and the pharmacist slumped over onto the floor. That was good enough for now. I wasn’t planning on staying long enough to find out.

The front doors groaned and I heard the sharp pop of plastic breaking. Husks spilled through the front doors of the pharmacy in one rotted mass. I leapt over the counter and ran.

-21-

The husks tripped over the ones that had fallen to the floor. The toppled security towers and broken doors provided a second set of obstacles, but there was no stopping the husks. They were single minded in their focus. All they could see and understand was that I was somewhere inside the pharmacy and that I could be eaten. I think it was the second part that drove them. The husks appeared to have no real motivation beyond eating. They showed no fear of fire or weapons. All they wanted was to feed.

I sprinted towards the left side of the pharmacy. The storeroom had a rear exit that should open on the far side of the building. The noise and other husks should draw any of the ones outside to the inside and hopefully there wouldn’t be any waiting for me.

The inside of the storeroom had no windows. Piles of boxes towered around me like long-forgotten obsidian obelisks. I tried not to imagine countless husks hiding behind each box, but my imagination had turned against me. In the shadows, I saw teeth gnashing and skeletal fingers ready to tear into my flesh.

I could hear the husks toppling shelves and groaning as they made their way towards the storeroom. I pushed the bar to open the back door. A fire alarm began to wail. The small red box set above the handle beeped incessantly, calling out to any nearby husks. The power was off, but the alarm continued. It must have some sort of back-up battery. I thought about shooting the alarm. It was more out of anger than anything else. The husks would have already heard the sound and were no doubt stumbling towards it. A blast from my shotgun was only going to make more noise and leave me with one less shell.

I ran out into an alley behind the pharmacy and slammed the door. I could still hear the alarm droning inside the pharmacy. The husks inside were going to be drawn to it and eventually they would push against the door and get it open. A wooden fence cut off the far end of the alley, so I turned and headed back towards the street.

Husks stumbled through the streets in giant knots of leathery flesh. They were preserved, almost jerky-like. Any time I had engaged in the zombie apocalypse debate with friends, I would argue that all you had to do was wait for them to rot away. Weather, bugs and decay were all on our side. I was wrong. The husks were desiccated, completely dried out and persevered. They weren’t ever going to rot. I was sure they would wear down, maybe fall apart from walking endlessly, but they weren’t going to decay.

More of the disgusting creatures fell through open doors and shattered storefronts. Most were following the sound of their dead comrades and the wail of the fire alarm to the front of the pharmacy. This was perhaps my best and only chance to escape.

I moved out from the alley. The streetlights had flickered on, painting the ash-choked streets in orange and gray. I seemed incapable of escaping the two colors that I hated the most. I ducked behind a pickup truck that was parked near the curb.

A husk lunged from behind a nearby mailbox. Its skeletal fingers raked across my NBC suit as it tried to pull me to the sidewalk. I stomped on its neck and felt the reverberation of vertebrae snapping. Its mouth continued to work and its dusty, gray eyes spun wildly in deep boney sockets as the husk still tried to bite me. My boot crushed the side of the husk’s skull, releasing a thick black gel that oozed across the sidewalk and dribbled into the street. The husk was dead, or at least dead again, but the lack of blood was still unsettling. I had seen plenty of blood in prison, some of it my own, and never enjoyed the sight of it. But the utter lack of it in the husks spoke to a lost degree of humanity that my mind wasn’t ready to deal with.

More husks had turned towards me. They stumbled across the street. The sound of their clumsy, stilted steps and moans drew more husks from the front of the pharmacy. A small mob turned the corner and loped towards me.

I turned and ran back for the alley. The husks followed, but I reached the high wooden fence before they could catch me. Enough of them would fill the alley and topple the fence, but not before I was long gone.

Straddling the fence, I turned back to look at the husks. I knew I should be running, but couldn’t stop myself from staring at the monsters. These had been people I passed on the street, people I might have called friends. What looked to have once been a woman stumbled down the alley. Her leathery skin scraped against the brick side of the pharmacy. A patch of skin peeled away, revealing her elbow bone, and fluttered to the ground. She showed no reaction.

Watching the husks from atop the fence flooded me with an odd anger. I wanted to kill them. I wasn’t sure if it was their lack of humanity or the loss of it that angered me. Was I mad that they were monsters or that they had been forced to become them?

My phone beeped. Another text message came through. I had no service. How were these texts getting through?

Kara: Daddy, where are you? I miss you.

The anger bled out of my body. My heart twisted and hurt.

The stupid buttons wouldn’t light up. They were broken. I couldn’t send a message back.

“I’m coming, Kara,” I said, barely above a whisper, and leapt over the other side of the fence.

 

-22-

 

I managed to avoid most of the husks as I made my way back towards my house. Two or three husks stumbled into my path. These husks came at me one at a time. If it had been a collective effort, I would have been left with no other choice but to shoot them. Saving ammo and making as little noise as possible were two of my main goals besides staying alive. I smashed their skulls with the stock of my shotgun and splashed their rotted insides across the pavement. 

Thick, gloppy chunks clung to the ashy pavement like some long-forgotten primordial slime mold. I stepped over the mess, not wanting to track any into the bunker and honestly just being disgusted by it.

The streetlights still provided sepia pools of light, but I clung to the shadows that grew between houses. From what I had seen, the husks weren’t capable of hiding or setting a trap. They wandered through the streets, until something caught their attention and then they attacked. The only motivation or thought the husks appeared to have was to feed. That knowledge was unsettling, but also helped me avoid the husks. As long as I was quiet and didn’t appear to be a meal, other things would distract the husks.

I turned the corner to my block. The world was painted in shadows. Objects, covered in ash, had soft edges and looked blurry in the limited illumination of the streetlamps. My house was towards the middle of the block. I could have found my way home blindfolded, but saw that wouldn’t have been necessary.

A set of blinding headlights lit up the front of my house. A boxy black Hummer was parked diagonally on my lawn. A row of extra lights on the roof of the SUV painted my house in white. A few husks stumbled towards my steps, attracted to the noise that trickled out from the open front door. More would be there soon.

Someone had collapsed on the stairs of my porch. The husks shuffled past the body. If there had been even the slightest flicker of life left in it, the husks would have torn the body apart.

I moved around the edge of Danni’s house and ducked down behind her parked car. The silhouette of a person moved in the driver’s seat of the Hummer. From the size and outline, it appeared to be a man. He didn’t look too concerned about the husks. Whoever these assholes were, I knew why they were in my house. They were looters. I don’t think they knew about my supplies, but they probably stumbled across my house after going through a few others. I’m sure if Jared put up a fight or they found the bunker, either one would give them reason enough to stay. I hoped that Jared had been smart enough to seal the bunker and stay put.

The driver of the Hummer waited for the husks to stumble up the stairs before he opened the door and leapt out of the stupidly oversized vehicle. He wore a cheap respirator – the type used for painting, and carried a rifle. It looked like a deer rifle or something of that nature.

At first, I worried that these guys were cut from the paramilitary psycho cloth. The kind that spent their entire lives hoping and preparing for a disaster like this. Granted, I spent my time preparing, but I wasn’t happy to be right. I wanted nothing more than to be wrong. These guys were the type that saw a disaster as a chance to lose their humanity and prey upon other people. That wasn’t me. I just wanted to keep my family safe. And now, these assholes were preventing me from helping Danni and going to see Lisa and Kara. That was something I couldn’t allow.

The driver shouldered his rifle and shot the first husk in the back of the head. Chunky splotches of black, red and gray splattered across the front of my house and trickled to the porch. The other husks, having heard the shot, turned towards a closer meal. The driver chambered another round and shot a second husk and then a third. He may have had a stupid car and cheap respirator, but he was good shot. I would need to be careful.

The last husk tripped from two steps above and crashed to the sidewalk below my porch. I could hear the muffled laughs of the driver from beneath his mask. He pulled the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and knelt on husk’s back. Pulling a large hunting knife from the sheath on his belt, the driver began carving long lines into the husk’s face. After a few more lines, the driver used the tip of his knife to peel back the hardened skin. The husk thrashed beneath him, not because it was in pain, but because it was hungry.

I’m not sure why, but watching this guy abuse the husk filled me with rage. I hated the husks. I hated what they were, but I was still sad that they had lost who they once were. Killing a husk was something I would never lose sleep over, but I did it because I had to, not because I thought it was fun.

The driver was busy skinning the husk and blind to the fact that I had crept up behind him. I whistled.

The driver turned, a stunned look in his eyes. I smashed the butt end of my shotgun into his face. His nose exploded beneath his respirator. Blood dribbled out the chin of his mask. I grabbed the side of his head and pushed him forward.

The husk beneath the driver’s knees lunged forward and buried its teeth into the nearest soft target – the driver’s crotch. He let out a muffled scream and tried to stand, but the husk had clamped onto his crotch and shook its leathery neck like I had seen alligators do on a nature show I used to watch in prison. The driver dropped his hunting knife and beat at the husk with his fists. It held strong.

Arms flailed and tried to grab the rifle on his back, but the driver couldn’t reach it. I let the husk tear a wet chunk free and begin chewing. It thudded back to ground in a cloud of ash and blood. The driver was too stunned to scream. His eyes, wild with pain, alternated from staring at his ruined crotch, the chewing husk and the stranger standing behind him.

I picked up the driver’s hunting knife. He stumbled towards me, his hands cradling the ruined remains of his crotch. Blood spurted from between his fingers and dotted the ashy ground below. I grabbed a fistful of his hair and yanked his head sideways. The hair slid off his scalp in a greasy tangle. I gagged and tossed it aside. Whatever masks these guys were wearing, it only appeared to be slowing down their deaths. I plunged the hunting knife into the driver’s neck, twisted it and pulled it sideways.

Pulling the hunting knife free, I let the driver’s body fall to the ground. The husk scuttled through the ash and buried its face in the open wound. It yanked a stringy wad of meat free and began chewing. I drove the hunting knife into the back of the husk’s skull. It collapsed onto top of the driver. I wrenched the blade free, cleaned it off on the driver’s clothes and slid it through my belt.

I made my way up the front steps of my porch and into the front of the house. Stopping to listen, I could hear men shouting in the basement. I didn’t hear Jared or Danni.

Moving to the top of the basement stairs, I expected a fight. The stairs were empty. Whoever was in my basement, they were preoccupied with something else and weren’t expecting anyone else to come home.

“Smart kid,” I muttered. Jared must have heard the men coming through the front door and locked the bunker. I racked a shell in my shotgun and crept down into the basement.

These assholes were keeping me from seeing me family. They were going to regret that.

BOOK: Dry Rot: A Zombie Novel
2.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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