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Authors: John Russo

The Hungry Dead

BOOK: The Hungry Dead
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the Hungry Dead
John Russo
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In the beginning, the most serious question was: How to feed them?
They shunned animal flesh, although the undead were animals themselves, just like all humans living or dead. “Higher animals” versus “lower animals,” those were the designations. The undead, for some presently unknown reason, recoiled from the flesh of the so-called “lower animals,“ no matter how hungry they were. They wouldn't eat it even if they were experimentally starved for a week or more. No, they only liked the flesh of living or recently dead humans.
It was very clear early on, in the laboratory, that these zombies shunned all
nonhuman flesh
—whether living, dead, or near dead. They would not try to make a meal out of a wounded or helpless nonhuman animal of any species, although everyone knew by now that they fiercely pounced upon living or near-dead humans and devoured them like packs of hungry wolves. Even though they were themselves rather slow-moving, their strength was in numbers, and in their ravenous appetites.
But in captivity, when one tried to force-feed them dog meat or horse meat or turkey meat or even more exotic sustenance like rattlesnake or shark meat, no matter what it was mixed with, and no matter if it was marinated, basted, baked, roasted, stir-fried, or deep-fried, it would make them violently ill. It was extremely difficult to control and clean up after them, for they puked and puked, flailing and writhing and banging their heads against the padded walls and the bars of their cells, like crazed crack addicts going cold turkey.
Their value as lab creatures was drastically compromised when they were in such a sick and frenzied state. Dr. Melrose found
out in the early stages of the epidemic and the experiments. So did the other scientists. The ones who later viciously castigated him, joining in with the hordes of unenlightened fanatics who smugly, self-righteously proclaimed his ongoing experiments to be “unethical and immoral” and ranted that he was “playing God” and “doing the work of Satan.”
Yet many of these same scientists used to wholeheartedly condone marvelous scientific breakthroughs like stem cell therapy, gene-splicing, and cloning. But now it was as if they had crawled back into the Dark Ages. They were acting like ignorant savages, frightened by the rise of the undead and by everything that science, so far, had utterly failed to understand about them.
Dr. Melrose despised these hypocrites and naysayers and came to the realization that he was much braver and farsighted than they were. He was a visionary, and they were not. And he was determined to keep on experimenting with the undead, because if he could solve the mystery of their inability to totally die, he might at the same time unlock the Secret of Eternal Life.
It was a bright July morning, and the sun had risen an hour earlier, making sparkling diamonds of the dew on the manicured grass between the tombstones.
It should have been a quiet and peaceful cemetery.
But Deputy Bruce Barnes was taking careful aim at a ghoulish creature plodding toward him.
This one was a male, maybe forty-five years old, wearing a tattered gray suit, a dirty, blood-spattered white shirt, and an unknotted necktie that hung loose, outside its vest. Bruce knew that this walking dead man had probably once loved and likely was loved in return. Perhaps, because he was wearing a suit, he could have worked in an office doing some kind of clerical job. Maybe he had been an accountant, a businessman, or a lawyer. But that was all over now. He was yet another unfortunate victim of this horrible epidemic that no one knew how to cure.
Bruce knew that he had to dispatch the undead man with a well-placed shot to his head. He tightened his finger on the trigger of his high-powered rifle, held his breath, and waited for the creature to come closer. He sighted in on it, steadied his aim, and fired, and the creature fell with a heavy thud.
Bruce ejected the spent shell and chambered another round in his lever-action Winchester. Primed to face even more danger, he sensed movement in the leafy shadows of the maple trees on the outer edge of the cemetery. He heard crackling noises of twigs and underbrush, then another of the undead beings stepped out into the open. And when it came into closer view, Bruce saw that it was a huge male—and he shuddered when he realized that the big oaf was munching on the soft biceps of a severed human arm. The arm looked soft, flabby, and stringy, and perhaps relatively easy to bite into. Absorbed in what he was doing, the big ghoulish zombie did not notice, assuming that it was capable of noticing, that he was being watched by somebody with deadly intentions.
Bruce found this particular zombie to be especially scary. The man was not only threateningly huge, but he had a cruel-looking snarl. It was easy to imagine him as a thug of some sort, a mean, brawling behemoth in his previously “normal” life. He was wearing a flannel shirt, bibbed coveralls, and huge clodhoppers, and Bruce guessed his height at over seven feet, his weight at somewhere between three and four hundred pounds. Subduing this guy on a drunk and disorderly, when he was fully alive, would've been a daunting task for Bruce and any other of the three uniformed cops that he worked with on the county police force. But now the big brute was dead and still walking, slowly and painfully with ebbing strains of rigor mortis still partially disabling him—and yet he was even more frightening than he might have been when he was kicking ass in some booze-ridden dive.
Just as Bruce was about to try to bring down the gigantic creature, several more emerged from the surrounding woods. Perhaps they could smell live flesh, for they immediately started shuffling toward Bruce, drooling as if they could already taste him. They were more decayed and dead-looking than most of the ones he had encountered earlier, and there were four of them. He hoped he could squeeze off that many accurate shots before they got to him. He wondered where his fellow cops were. He hoped they didn't get themselves surrounded in some other part of the cemetery, and he cursed himself for impetuously moving ahead at his own pace instead of waiting for them to catch up. He wasn't trying to be a hero; he was just trying to get the job done quickly, and he had thought they'd stay close behind him. But now he might have to pay a terrible price.
Which one should he aim at first?
He decided to keep his rifle trained on the monstrously huge zombie carrying the severed arm, try to take him out quickly, and then go for the others.
Just then a volley of shots rang out.
Two of the zombies menacing Bruce went down, hit in the head with bullets.
The big one in the bibbed coveralls dropped the severed arm and turned back toward the woods. A bullet tore into the dead man's right shoulder, but he kept going, trying to get away. Bruce fired at him and missed. He quickly cocked his Winchester.
More shots rang out as cops and posse members rushed forward, firing their weapons, and several more zombies bit the dust. One of them, a female shot in her torso, reeled but did not fall. Her rasping breath got louder as she kept coming, angry and hungry, wearing an ordinary print housedress, her hair up in curlers. Then a shot right between her eyes brought her down.
Bruce took another hasty shot at the big zombie in the bibbed coveralls, wishing he had a scope on his Winchester, but he didn't, and the bullet went wild. He cocked his lever-action rifle again and was about to take aim when he heard his boss, Sheriff Paul Harkness, yelling from somewhere behind him.
The sheriff was a gruff, big-bellied man with a cigar-smoker's loud, hoarse voice. “Hold your fire!” he barked. “We gotta
a few of these damned things! It's orders from the higher-ups, and we gotta obey!”
Sticking close to the sheriff was another uniformed deputy, Jeff Sanders, who had been Bruce Barnes's sidekick on many a patrol. And following those two lawmen were about a dozen well-armed citizens who had volunteered to be part of the ghoul-hunting posse. They clustered among the tombstones and monuments, catching their breath and waiting for Sheriff Harkness to tell them what to do next.
Bruce was on the verge of firing his rifle again at the big dead ogrelike fellow in the bibbed coveralls, but the sheriff said, “Hold it, Bruce! Stop! Let the doc and his guys try to collect
big ugly brute! He might give 'em more than they bargained for! I tried to tell Dr. Melrose we need to kill 'em, not fuckin' experiment on 'em, but he don't wanna listen!”
Bruce really didn't want to ease up on his trigger because the big zombie that he avidly wanted to bring down had momentarily stopped trying to escape and was instead coming back for the severed arm lying in the grass. “I say we kill 'em all!” Bruce said. “Only good zombie is a dead zombie!”
“Listen to me, Bruce,” the sheriff said. “The scientists wanna study 'em—find out why they ain't quite as dead as they oughta be.”
Bruce shook his head in consternation as he eased up on his trigger finger.
Jeff Sanders put his hand on Bruce's shoulder. “I want to shoot every damn one of them, just like you do,” he said. “But orders are orders. You don't wanna get yourself fired.”
Bruce knew that his buddy Jeff, ten years younger than he was, was usually even more of a hothead. Dark, handsome, and effortlessly charismatic, Jeff was a ladies' man whether off duty or in uniform, although his habitual flirting didn't seem to ever lead anywhere; it probably could have if he wanted it to, but although he was a flirt, he loved his wife Amy very much, and the bottom line was that he seemed to remain faithful to her. Yet on the job he was often flamboyant or impetuous, sometimes getting both Bruce and himself into unnecessary danger. But at the moment he was trying hard to be the adult in the group and not piss off Sheriff Harkness.
The sheriff yelled over his shoulder. “You guys with the dart guns—c'mon, get up here!”
Four men in white lab uniforms emerged from among the tombstones, wearing white caps and surgical masks and carrying weapons capable of firing the kinds of darts that are used to immobilize wild animals. The sheriff barked at them, “Hurry up! Go get that big guy munching on some poor dude's arm! Don't let him get away!”
The four men advanced timidly toward the big zombie in the bibbed coveralls, and Bruce stared at the bold black letters on the backs of their white coats:
In their temerity about facing an ominously huge zombie feasting on a human arm, they slowed and hung back, and Dr. Harold Melrose, a small, balding man in a dark suit, now came forward, flashing Sheriff Harkness and Deputy Barnes a contemptuous look. Around his neck was a stethoscope, and he wore wire-rimmed spectacles and a prissy little mustache, and to him the sheriff and his deputy were just dumb cops, too obtuse to understand the exigencies of true science, so he hustled past them as if they were as worthless as dirt.
As Melrose's lab technicians got closer to the big foreboding zombie, he dropped the severed arm that was his meal and turned toward the men and scowled at them ferociously. He took a few slow, ponderous steps toward them—and they immediately started firing their paralyzing darts. One dart missed, but the other three struck the big zombie in the leg, chest, and shoulder, and he groaned and fell with an earth-pounding thud, then rolled over, flat on his back.
One of the technicians said, “My dart missed. Lemme have another shot.”
Another said, “No, hold off. We're not supposed to finish him. Dr. Melrose wants 'em alive.”
“Haw! Alive is exactly what he ain't! Not like you and me anyways.”
“That's why the doc wants to find out what makes 'em tick.”
Dr. Melrose came on the scene, looked down at the unconscious zombie, and said, “Excellent . . . excellent . . . a fine specimen. Stand back, will you?”
He knelt over the huge specimen, cupped his hand around the bell of his stethoscope, and started to bend forward.
Sheriff Harkness stepped up and barked a stern warning. “I wouldn't get that close if I were you, doc.”
Deputy Barnes added, “This is a four-hundred-pound man. You might not have him fully immobilized.”
“Nonsense!“ Dr. Melrose intoned haughtily. “His eyelids aren't even fluttering. I have to make sure there's a trace of a pulse.”
Deputy Jeff Sanders couldn't help scoffing, “What makes you so sure these things even have a
“That's precisely one of the factors I intend to explore,” said Dr. Melrose. Then, staring at the sheriff and the deputy, he hit them with a prissy-sounding complaint. “This fellow has been shot in his shoulder. He's damaged goods.”
“What do you expect?” Barnes said. “He was coming right at me. I wish I had blown his brains out, or what's left of them. I was trying hard to do exactly that.”
“Don't blame you,” said Sanders.
But Doc Melrose went on ranting at Bruce Barnes. “You didn't do so well, Mr. Macho Man. You only gave him a flesh wound, a shoulder burn. It may heal or it may not. We can't predict yet how much healing capability they may have. That's one of the very important things we wish to find out.”
He crouched and leaned forward, placing the bell of his stethoscope against the big zombie's chest. He listened intently while the other lab men looked on with fear and tension in their faces.
Suddenly the huge zombie that was supposed to be inert lunged at Dr. Melrose and grabbed him by his head. The doc tried to pull away, but he lost the struggle, and the zombie sunk his teeth into the good doctor's throat.
Paul Harkness, Jeff Sanders, and Bruce Barnes jumped around aiming their rifles, trying to get a clear shot to shoot the zombie in his head, but were too scared of hitting the doctor or each other.
The four lab technicians got into different positions close to the big, madly chomping zombie and fired more darts into him, till finally, to everyone's great relief, the zombie slowly let go of his grip on Dr. Melrose's head and fell backward and once more lay still.
Bleeding from his throat, the doctor pulled out a white pocket handkerchief and tried to stanch the flow of blood while he groveled in the grass for his wire-rimmed spectacles and put them back on even though they were bent. His neck wound was a quite terrible one, and it kept bleeding profusely, even after Dr. Melrose decided to lie on his back in the grass and try to calm down, hoping that if he slowed his pulse it would slow the blood flow.
One of the lab men rushed forward and seized the bloody handkerchief, trying to help press it against Melrose's throat wound. The doc was breathing in and out slowly, in great raspy groans.
Deputy Bruce Barnes, a bit panicky now, stepped closer to the doc and put the muzzle of his Winchester a foot away from Dr. Melrose's temple, saying, “He's been bitten. He's gonna turn into one of
One of them lab men said, “No! Don't shoot Dr. Melrose! Let us take him to the medical center!”
Bruce said, “No way. You smart-fart scientists don't even know what causes this, let alone how to cure it! He's gotta be shot.”
“Fuckin' a!” Deputy Sanders said, suddenly blurting out his true belief in no mercy as he drew his own revolver as if he would dispatch the wounded zombie even if Bruce didn't.
But Sheriff Harkness intervened. “Hold your fire, you two! At least for now! He hasn't become one yet, and he won't until he dies.”
“He's gonna die right now,” the leading lab man said, “if we don't stop arguing over him. We have to get him to the medical center right away!”
Another lab man pleaded, “At least give us a chance to help him pull through. If he doesn't make it . . . well . . . we can do whatever becomes necessary at that time.”
“Okay,” said the sheriff. “That sorta makes sense. Good luck to you. You're sure gonna need it.”
Dismayed by this turn of events, Bruce Barnes grumbled, “Mark my words. Only good zombie is a dead zombie.”
And Jeff Sanders said, “Right on!”
BOOK: The Hungry Dead
9.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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