Authors: Ryan C. Thomas
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Teen & Young Adult
HISSERS II: DEATH MARCH
A novel by Ryan C. Thomas
Copyright 2014 by Grand Mal Press. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written consent except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address www.grandmalpress.com
Published by: Grand Mal Press, Forestdale, MA
BETTER RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE
TUESDAY, 5:49 AM
In the distance, trees fell in slow motion. Their roots squealed in protest, their massive trunks striking the dewy forest ground with sodden
, sending wildlife scurrying for new shelter. The long segmented legs of something simultaneously arachnid and human made its way over them. The beast toppled more trees in its path, looking for food, searching for flesh. Behind it, a dozen more spider monsters followed like an army, their legs a mesh of once-human torsos and appendages, now fused together by some psychotic god with a superglue fetish. They moved almost as a unit, on a primal hunt to eat, like a battalion of spider crabs along the ocean floor. As the night’s purple bands gave way to morning’s pink striated clouds, one could hear the spider monsters moaning with famine.
Another tree down.
. Yet another.
They’re getting closer, Connor thought, pulling himself tighter into the hollowed-out pine trunk he had spent the night in.
He watched as a brown rat took off in flight, terrified of the approaching demolition noises. He could have stayed up higher in the limbs, what with the hissers still running at random through the woods and nearby distant towns, but he’d decided that being able to take off and sprint without having to leap down three stories of branches gave him better odds in the long run. Besides, the spiders were knocking over the trees and anything resting in the tops of those trees was getting thrown violently to the ground. A broken leg wouldn’t do at all.
t had rained throughout the night, and his clothes were soaked. He took off his shirt and rang it out, let some of the water drip into his mouth, swallowed it. It tasted like sweat, dirt, and blood. The bandage on his leg was coming apart again, the adhesive nullified by the moisture in the air. He yanked it off and scrutinized the wound. It was getting better, thank God, the skin finally closing up. It still hurt to walk on, but any trace of infection seemed to be going away. Chalk that up to the military’s medical supplies. One good thing they did.
Rings spread out in the puddles around him. It sounded like giants were coming.
,” he whispered to himself. “Time to go.”
He stepped out of the tree trunk and put his shirt back on. Reached into his pocket and withdrew a handful of acorns he’d collected. He chewed them, swallowed
hard, winced at the taste. Awful. Squirrels were nuts to eat this crap.
Overhead the birds were scouting
, looking for their morning worms, acting as if the world was still the same as it had been a week ago. Acting as if dead people weren’t running around eating everyone, as if mutated, hissing monsters from a child’s nightmare weren’t deforesting the region at an alarming rate.
his other pocket, felt the flash drive secure inside. He still had no idea what it contained or if it even worked anymore. Assuming it did, and that it did have pertinent information on it, would it even matter this late in the game? The world was ending, and it was going out in a blaze of undead glory. He’d spent last night not only listening to the spiders off in the distance, but also the rat-a-tat anthem of the military trying their best to get the situation under control. Judging by the amount of hissing that still carried on the wind, they weren’t doing a very good job. He hadn’t heard a single gunshot since the horizon had rolled over red.
Shit that was close, he thought. Turning, he saw dust rising from the forest floor just a few hundred yards away. The tree lay on its side, leaves fluttering, birds even now flying out of its boughs. Not far beyond, he saw a massive shape cut through the shadows, move off to his left. He made out human hands and feet melded together, a woman’s high heeled shoe, a man’s ripped pair of jeans, fingers with rings on them.
Then, movement to his right. A sibilant hiss that raised the hairs on his neck. He turned, went wide-eyed, saw the creature, a bearded man in a tattered suit, racing st
raight for him. Where one of the man’s eyes had been there now grew half a foot.
slithered out of the tree, broke out into a sprint, running now for his life, leaping logs and ducking branches. The hisser saw, cut into a sprint behind him, its footfalls slapping through the forest’s muddy puddles, its body crashing through bushes and thicket, oblivious to the lacerations it received from the walls of overgrown thorn bushes.
back to gauge his distance, saw the zombie’s arm reach out and snatch at his shirt. He rolled into a ball; the gray, undead fingers caught nothing but air. Rolling up again off to the side, he cut into a zigzag run, his heart in his mouth, his wounded leg burning hot with pain. He stumbled in a shallow gulley, felt his knee hyperextend, and crashed to his face with a cry of surprise and agony. Behind him, the hisser also hit the gulley and flew forward, landing against a small boulder, breaking its own leg. But this did not deter its need to hunt, and it leaped up and found Connor a few feet away. With its first step on its broken leg it fell down again, gave up trying to walk and began to scramble forward on its arms and good leg, like a maniacal three-limbed dog. The foot fused to its eye socket kicked up and down as well, as if it too were running.
ed through him so fast he couldn’t breathe. He found a good-sized rock at his side and hurled it at the hisser. It struck the creature’s mouth and sent teeth spraying into the air like chaff from a piñata. But it did not stop. At the last moment, he reached into his waistband and pulled out the two shivs he’s fashioned last night in the tree, and drove them out and up just as the bearded undead thing fell on him. The sharpened sticks drove up through the chin and into the hisser’s brain. It twitched, tried to bite him, swiped at his head. He caught the thing’s arm and held it back, yanked one of the shivs out and jammed it into the zombie’s eye, felt cold red goo rush down his hand. In one swift move he rolled the monster off him and dove for the nearest puddle, threw his hand into it to get the blood off. He still didn’t know what all could transmit the virus. Bites for sure, scratches maybe, and blood…well he couldn’t be too careful. Behind him the thing was still hissing like a steam train, but as he jumped up from the puddle, Connor could see he had blinded it. Which was only a minor blessing since he knew they had incredible olfactory senses. It snarled and sniffed the air, trying to get a bead on him, but seemed to not know exactly where he was.
Must be the mud and leaves all over me, Connor thought. I smell just like the forest.
The hisser slid forward now, getting closer. One shiv in its eye, the other jutting down from under its chin. He hadn’t killed it but he’d disabled it. Only, he knew it wouldn’t be long before it got up and ran again, he’d seen too many of them run until the brain was destroyed. You couldn’t just put them down with a shot to the chest. It had to be the brain, however you could get to it.
The pain is his knee was passing now, or at least was lessening enough to trot away, which he did, tears running down his cheeks. Rays of bright morning light were stabb
ing through the trees now, beckoning him forward. God’s rays, he’d heard them called, though where God was now he didn’t know. He’d been traveling west for days, but this chase had him turned around. He’d need to find his bearing again soon. But first he just wanted to find an edge to the forest, get out of the mud and dirt, find himself some roads, and hopefully, some humans.
A massive pine crashed to its death just yards away. Then, like a high school football captain running through a homecoming banner, a massive spider crashed through the trees, headed right for him.
He turned and ran. Felt the beast right behind him, felt the impact of its body on the ground
. There was no time to turn back and look, nor did he need to know how close it was; he expected to feel its teeth in his back any second.
Something whizzed by his ear.
Another. The report came again and again. More buzzing by his ears, the telltale sound of bullets passing right by him. Then the monster hit him, drove him to the ground, carried forward over him, pinning him into the mud. Its weight was massive, the combined heaviness of ten or eleven people fused together. The air squeezed out of his lungs and spots danced before his eyes. Panic set in, and he tried to wiggle free but could not move. He screamed.
“Give me your hand! Now!”
A voice. A human voice, nearby.
“Kid, c’mon. Hurry!”
Connor pushed his arm out from under the monster, felt someone take it. With a sudden lurch he was yanked out from under the spider, hauled to his feet in front of a woman in blue jeans, black jacket, and a black baseball hat. In her right hand she held a rifle. He barely noticed the genesis of crows feet around her eyes before she was pulling him into the trees. “This way. Run!”
The sounds of his pursuers were audible once again
, still after him, hissing, crashing through the trees. Now he risked a look back at what chased him, felt his knees quiver at the sight of so many undead coming at him.
“Kid, you need to run faster than that. Let’s go.” The woman cut through the forest like a woodland creature and it was all Connor could to to keep up. “My leg,” he said, “I can’t run like this.”
“Then you’re going to die because I ain’t carrying you. Duck.” She spun back, aimed the gun at Connor face. Instinctively he dropped down, heard the gun fire above his head, felt something wet hit the back of his neck, heard a body slump down beside him. But before he could look at it the woman was yanking him up again, and they were running.
I ain’t gonna have time to unlock your door. You just jump in the truck bed and stay down. C’mon pick up the pace!”
Man oh man, Connor thought, she would have made a good soccer coach, if the world of high school sports even still existed. He was pretty sure it didn’t.
“There it is! See it! My truck!”
“Yeah, I see it.” They were coming out toward a dirt road, most likely some kind of access road for rangers or utility people that had to run wires through the woods. The black Ford pickup sat in the middle of it, covered in brown dirt and mud, and even at this distance, the familiar spatter of dried blood.
Connor swooped low, felt the breeze of the rifle as the woman swung it
over him like a baseball bat and crushed the skull of the hisser behind them. This time he didn’t need to be yanked up, he was already moving to the side of the weapon’s arc and running again. The hisser, a blonde girl maybe his own age, fell face first to the ground. A second later a dozen more were jumping over her body.
The woman reached into her coat pocket as sh
e ran, pulled out her car keys, found the ignition key and held it out like a knife.
“Truck bed! Now!”
Bursting out of the trees and onto the road, Connor leapt up over the side of the truck and hit the corrugated metal bed with enough force to make his teeth chatter. Out of the corner of his eyes he watched as the woman rounded the front of the truck, took another potshot at the nearest zombie, missed completely, and threw herself in the front seat. The engine started and the tires spun out, kicking up dirt like a mushroom cloud. Visibility dropped to nothing as it engulfed them. And then through the sudden haboob, a hisser hit the truck to Connor’s left, made an attempt to get over the side of the bed just as the vehicle lurched forward, and ended up getting dragged for a hundred feet before it lost its grip and flipped head over heels along the dirt road. Connor sat up and watched as the spiders emerged onto the road behind them and gave chase, their multiple human heads shrieking in rage. But the truck was too fast and soon there was distance between them.
From the rear window there came a knock. The woman was beckoning him, bloody knuckles on glass. “Door’s open now, sport. Climb in.”
She didn’t stop as he made his way over the side of the truck bed and into the front seat. After a second of catching his breath he said, “Thanks.”
She pulled a .45 and pointed it at his face. “Take your clothes off.”
“You heard me. Now! I want to see you’re not bit.” She shook the gun to emphasize her point.
“Okay. Okay.” Connor took off his wet shirt and shorts, followed by his shoes and socks, embarrassment coursing through him as he watched this woman scrutinize him in his underwear.
She pointed the gun at his groin. “Those too. Then do a quick spin so I can see you all over, make sure I’m
not carrying a flesh eater-to-be.”
“No buts, do it.”
He hesitated, began to pull down his boxer shorts and stopped
, visibly embarrassed.
“Kid, I’m thirty, I’ve seen it all before. I’m not interested in anything but making sure you didn’t get nicked when you were under that piece of shit thing.”