I scream, "On your right, on your right!"
McMurphy spins the wheel and pulls the emergency brake sending us sliding sideways and slamming me against my door. I taste blood where I bite my tongue. I laugh. Mc Murphy releases the brake and guns the engine. The Humvee roars forward, plowing into the two mutants shuffling along the middle of the road. They explode into a gooey technicolor haze, coating the windows with gore.
"Tha's a two'fer lad. 10 points plus the 5 bonus makes 15. Puts me in the lead again." McMurphy flips on the windshield wipers sweeping away the naked eyeball that had been staring at me through the glass.
From the back seat Sarah rubs her head where she bumped it during Mc Murphy's power slide, takes a deep pull from a bottle of 30 year old McCallan scotch, and tells us we're both assholes.
I take a pull from my own bottle of scotch, a 1969 Glenlivet, and wince. "This shit tastes as foul as you smell you rotten Scot. Now pull over, you drunk, and let me regain my honor."
"Lad, if you weren't as dumb as you are ugly you'd know that I might fight like a Scot, swear like a sailor, and fuck like Don Juan himself, but I was fortunate enough to be born an Irishman, and if my manly smell offends your delicate nose mayhaps you should shove it back up your ass where I won’t have to look at it."
Sarah really busts a gut laughing at this one. I glare at her in rear view mirror. I feel a small glow of satisfaction when she stops mid-laugh, turns green and pukes up half a bottle of scotch and two bags of Cheetos in the seat next to her.
“Well McMurphy, whatever primitive skirt wearing race you belong to, we need to pull over and hose out the back seat again.”
McMurphy considers this for a moment, takes a speculative pull from his plastic gallon bottle of Dewar’s, and curses under his breath. “Fine. We may as well fill up the tank and see if we can find some more hostess cakes as well. We’ll see a gas station soon enough.”
We pull into an abandoned Allsup’s convenience store. McMurphy pulls up to the Super Unleaded pump, ramming into the rusty Chevy Cavalier parked there, pushing it out of the way. I watch it roll across the parking lot, the headless corpse hanging from the driver’s side door dragging it’s arm across the pavement. It hits an ‘84 trans am and comes to a stop. The body comes tumbling out. The corpse of a child tumbles out with it. I take another pull of the scotch and look away.
McMurphy cracks all 4 windows and shuts off the engine. In the silence we listen.
Sometimes you hear them before you see them, guttural moans cut with a high pitched whine like escaping steam. Sometimes you smell them before you see them, rancid meat and something like the over ripe smell of rotten peaches. Sometimes you don’t hear or smell them. Sometimes, you wake up in the dark and see them outlined in the moonlight trying to reach you through the thick glass of your car. Sometimes you scream and piss yourself. Sometimes you crack the window enough to fit the double barrels of your sawed off 12 gauge and turn their bubbling heads into mist. Sometimes you open up another bottle and drink yourself to oblivion watching their headless bodies still scratching at the windows...
At least out here in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between what used to be home and a desperate voice from Harveryville, Ohio, you don’t recognize any of those bubbling lumpy faces wanting to tear your face off. There’s something to be said for setting off for undiscovered country.
We give it five minutes. We don’t smell, hear, of see anything. From the back seat Sarah says, “the smell of these Cheetos is making me sick. Let’s go already. I’ll run the pump, let’s just get out of here.”
“Bullshit,” I say, “You’re on squeegee duty. I’ll take security. I think it's McMurphy's turn on pump.”
McMurphy gives a grunt of agreement. We check our weapons. I’m packing two double barrelled Browning over-under twelve gauge shotguns with stocks and barrels hacked down to stubs. These hang from my shoulders by cords run through eye bolts drilled into what little is left of their stocks. In holsters at my waist I carry two semiautomatic Beretta 9mm’s loaded with hollow points. Across my back I’ve slung a snubby Paratrooper model AK-47. First it’s the shotguns. Anything still standing gets the AK. The pistols are mostly for scavengers and loonies and for doing me and my friends if I need to. Mutants don’t seem to really mind having a couple little holes punched in them.
McMurphy and Sarah are both carrying 12 gauge Remington 11-87 Police semi-automatic shotguns. Both have small pistols for much the same reason I do.
We step out of the truck, leaving the doors open behind us. McMurphy pulls a length of tubing from beneath the seat and finds the vent hole leading to the storage tank beneath the pumps. Sarah and I watch both ends of the parking lot while McMurphy starts the siphon.
“Clear”, he yells.
McMurphy takes Sarah’s place, one of his guns at the ready. Sarah sighs and pulls the squeegee from the holder on the side of the pump. She heads to the back seat. I can hear her gagging and groaning as she cleans up. I watch the parking lot.
I see a shape shuffling from behind the dumpster in the back of the parking lot. I happily notice that it looks humanoid. The humanoids are much easier to handle. The disease seems to have infected only humans, canines, and pigs. Dogs are the worst. Fast and viscous. The disease seems to make people stupid. It’s seems to make dogs smarter.
“Shuffler, four o’clock,” I say.
“Take em, boy,” McMurphy says, unconcerned.
I unstrap the AK from my back. Release the safety and site down the barrel. Tight against the shoulder, breathe, hold it, now squeeze just like McMurphy taught.
POP! One in the head slows the mutant down. What’s left of it’s brains hang lopsided from the large hole created when the left side of it’s head was ripped away.
Breathe out. Breathe in. Hold it. Sqeeze.
POP! One in the left leg blowing away the knee. The knee cap spins away, skittering white across the hot asphalt.
The mutant collapses and begins pulling itself across the parking lot with it’s arms. I put two quick shots through it’s elbows and leave it flopping and leaking 20 yards across the pavement.
I scan the area and don’t see anymore of the creatures.
“Clear”, I yell, “Five minutes!” There’ll be more of them on the way, attracted by the noise and the smell of fresh violence.
Sarah crawls out of the Humvee. “I wanna go get some snacks and maybe some toothpaste. Can I get some backup?”
I yell back at McMurphy, “You got it covered out here Mac?”
“Aye Lad, I can hold down the fort. But don’t you go playing grab ass unless you wanna become Mutant food. We’re on a clock.”
Sarah and I head for the front door of the Allsup’s. I try the handle and find it locked. Two rounds from a Berreta get us inside. Sarah and I split up. I go left, she goes right, working our way down the aisles, shotguns ready, looking for anything moving.
“Clear” she yells.
“Clear” I yell back.
We hit the snack cake aisle. Chips and individually wrapped fruit pies always please. I grab some cans of potted meat thinking some protein might be handy. Sarah grabs a large tube of crest and some mouthwash.
“We gotta go babe.”
“Coming” she yells back. “Grab some bags for this stuff.”
I head to the front counter and pull a couple of paper bags from under the register. I’m waiting on Sarah and oggling the cover of the last Hustler magazine that will ever be published when a foul smell washes over me.
“Sarah, heads up. We’re not alone.” I hiss in a half whisper.
“What?” She replies. “I can’t hear you.”
I wince at the volume of her voice. Nothing to be done now. I yell over at her. “We have incoming Sarah, look alive!”
I hear the clatter of snack food and dental hygiene products hitting the floor as Sarah empties her arms, quickly followed by the sound of a shell being racked into the chamber of her gun.
I crawl to the top of the counter, both sawed offs at the ready, and try to see over the shelves. I don’t see anything except Sarah crouched by the soda fountain, her long gun sweeping left to right.
“Sarah, work your way towards me. I’ll cover you from up here!”
She slides around the room keeping her back to the wall behind her, gun at the ready. I cast my eyes around the room waiting for the nightmare that shares the room with us.
I hear a hiss and low growl from the employees only area at the back of the store. A growl means a canine. I curse under my breath. “It’s a fast mover baby. Stay Sharp.” I hear her stifle a cry in her throat. “Just keep moving. It’s in the back. I’ll get it when it shows itself.”
The back of my neck is tingling like someone or something is behind me. I ignore it and keep staring at the back of the store. The growl grows in volume, something like a gurgling bark punctuates the end. “Baby, hurry up.” I try not to blink. My neck tingles. The feeling of being watched is stronger now. I keep my eyes on the back of the store, watching the ‘employees only’ door, waiting for it to swing inwards.
Seconds go by like hours. I don’t breathe, I don’t blink. Out of the corner of my eye I see Sarah still sliding around the wall, to the magazine racks now. I notice the rotten hotdogs sitting on rollers now stopped. The feeling of being watched is growing worse, but I’m scared to look away from the back of the store where the growling is coming from.
“Baby,” my voice cracks now, “hurry up. This is bad.” I can almost feel the breath of a monster on my neck. I can imagine it’s teeth sinking into my flesh. I feel the pressure and the burn followed by the numbness and tickle of blood running down my chest. I can’t take it anymore. I spin around on the counter. I have time to glance through the glass door and across the street to see a large man dressed all in Pink, sitting on the curb and licking an ice cream cone, and then I’m facing the back of the store again. A have a glance of a black shape disappearing behind a row of shelves to my left and the employees only door swinging back and forth. They are fast, too fast.
We are in deep shit.
My voice cracking a bit now, “Baby, ummm, it’s in here, I, ummm, missed it.”
“You fucker,” she says, almost in tears, “if we die, it’s your fucking fault.”
My fault? Somehow I don’t think it’s my fault that the world I know has turned into Hell. I don’t think I’m the one who let the mutants out to play. I’m just stuck here. I did fuck up though, and I won’t argue the point. I briefly wonder who that pink freak is, but file that away under ‘things to be considered if I’m alive in 5 minutes.’
I’m watching the shelves to my right where the shape disappeared, waiting for a four legged freak to come launching itself around the corner and straight towards my throat, when I hear the employees only door swing open with a bang. I swivel to face the back of the store and see a blur of movement heading straight for me growling and churning it’s legs. I raise the sawed off in my hand and unload both barrels. The black blur stops in mid-leap, blown backwards and shredded by the force of the buckshot. Time slows. I see it’s tongue spiral across the store, slapping against the door of the beer fridge and sliding down the glass. I see the mist of blood and smoldering flesh descending in slow arcs through the light.
My mind shifts and I step outside myself.
Like watching TV, I see the other mutant rocketing across the store towards me. I see me turning my head, jerking up the other sawed off. I see my hand raising in slow motion. It’s too slow. I know this. The beast will be on me. I’m dead. I know this as well.
I barely have time to feel bad about it before the mutant is slammed sideways by a hail of bullets. The first catches it in the side, knocking it into the shelves, the next, so close to the first that I still haven’t heard the report, rips off the bottom of it’s jaw. I have time to see it’s tongue flop bloodily out of it’s neck before another shot takes off the rest of it’s head, followed by two more that knock it’s legs out from under it.
I come back to myself just in time to feel the piss running down my leg. I look over my shoulder to the parking lot. I see the large man in pink still sitting on the curb across the street, ice cream in one hand and the biggest pistol I have ever seen smoking in the other. He smiles at me and gives a little wave. I wave back and wonder where he got the icecream. My knees buckle and I pass out.
When I come too Sarah has dragged me out of the store and is dumping water on my face from an Aquafina bottle. McMurphy is leaning against the truck, staring across the parking lot, a very worried look on his face.
“Wha, the fu’ M’Murph,” I slur, my tongue obviously still unconscious. I struggle to turn my head and follow McMurphy’s gaze.
I see the large man crossing the street. He seems even bigger now. At least 6'4. He is shockingly pale except for his rosy cheeks. His skin is absolutely unlined, his age unguessable. His fine blond hair is worn long, fluttering around a bit in the soft breeze. He is wearing white pants and a pink button down shirt with a pink tie perfectly knotted and a pink jacket. An image of cotton candy flits through my mind. I almost giggle, but the enormous gun still clutched in his left hand stops the laughter in my throat.
“Ack, lad. What pile of shit have we stepped into now?”
“Wha?” I mumble.
“You know who that is lad?”
I give a noncommital grunt.
McMurphy sighs. “I do believe that’s the Cupcake.”
“Ta Cu Ck?” I gurgle.
“The Cupcake?” Sarah asks.
McMurphy sighs again, even bigger. “Stupid kids, don’t read the papers. The Cupcake. Killed enough people for the Gilliani family to fill two cemetaries. Some say he’s even freelanced for the government. And twist my tits if he isn’t headed this way. Afore this is over, you might wish that dog had gotten ya back yonder. For an awful lot of poor damned souls, The Cupcake is the last thing they ever seen...”
The Cupcake steps over the curb and around the back of the Humvee. He gives a little wave and smiles. “Hello all! Beautiful day isn’t it?” His lips are blood red and disturbingly large and sensual. “I’d hate to spoil such a nice day by anymore shooting. What do you say we load up in this charming truck of yours before any more of these unfortunates show up? We can get acquainted on the road. I do so love a nice drive...”