Janice turned the wheel hard. Tires squealed over Freddy Mercury’s soaring vocals from the car stereo as the vehicle shuddered down a two-lane road leading into suburbia.
“I’m on Crescent. There’s a small horde behind me, but I should be safely back to you guys before they catch up,” Janice said.
Her voice, mixed with Queen, sounded in Tim’s earbuds. Tim stood on the balcony of their apartment with their fifteen-year-old son, Steven. Both of them scanned the area for zombies as the summer sun beat down, intensifying the stench of rotted flesh. “You’re clear all the way to the drop-off. Then we’ll cover you the rest of the way to us. Can you turn off that music? It’s not—”
“It’s the only time I get to listen to anything,” Janice interrupted her husband. “Do you really think it’s any more likely to draw out our friends than a car engine?” Janice pushed on the gas pedal and cranked up the volume, drowning out her husband.
The rev of the engine echoed in the air. Tim spared a glance at his son as he surveyed their surroundings. “Your mother can be dangerous sometimes. It’s unnecessary. That’s the sort of stuff that will get you killed.”
“Dad, give her a break. We’ve been doing this a while now and it’s fine. I’m heading down.” Steven set his rifle on the table and grabbed the pistol lying there.
“Be careful, Son.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
The door clicked shut after he slipped out.
“Steven’s standing by. You’re both clear.” They’d been doing this for over a year. The school parking lot a block away was littered with vehicles they had discarded. Survival of the fittest, that was what Tim had been telling his wife and son since the outbreak occurred.
Tim went on the first couple of supply runs but as a strong, able-bodied male, he was given a wide berth. Janice was petite and cute with eyes that sucked you in. People were drawn to help her. But the minute they got close, she would shoot them and put their bodies in the backseat of whatever car she had grabbed that day. Then take any supplies and head back. The fresh corpses left in the cars kept the zombies from sniffing the family out in their apartment. The fetid scent of death was like a drop of blood in water to a shark.
Janice had cried after her first time. Tim kept reminding her—and Steven—it was survival of the fittest. It became his mantra. Kill or be killed. That was what their life would be from now on.
The white Azera Janice had acquired for this run crested the little hill on Crescent. It caught a split second of air before slamming back to the road. Janice gave a delighted whoop.
A commotion in the trees lining the road to the right of Crescent drew Tim’s gaze. Five zombies rushed from the wooded area and stopped in the middle of the lane. A couple looked left toward the noise of the engine. The other three looked straight at Tim and Steven. The smell. Damn it.
Tires screeched. The Azera slammed into the first zombie, sending it into the windshield then up over the car. Janice gunned it and plowed through another one. This time the zombie managed to latch onto the vehicle; it snarled at Janice through the cracked windshield.
Janice pumped the brakes and turned the wheel left, trying to throw the zombie free. She started to lose control and turned back to the right, flooring the gas pedal. Another slurping thud resonated and rotted zombie organs sprayed up the passenger side of the car.
Thump thump thump thump. The front passenger tire exploded, jolting the zombie from the vehicle. Janice’s vision cleared just in time to see the drop-off at the side of the road past her turn to the apartment. Once more she slammed the brakes and jerked the wheel to the left, but she stood no chance. The car swung sideways and slid down a couple of feet before wedging itself against a tree. The impact rattled Janice’s insides and sent a shock of pain from her right ankle up her leg.
“Janice!” Tim said, bringing his rifle up.
Two of the five zombies remained standing. One bolted toward the apartment, but Steven was already on his way back up, or at least he was supposed to be. The second zombie started toward the car.
“I’m here, Tim,” Janice said over a Brian May guitar riff. “I think I’m okay.”
Tim lined up the shot and pulled the trigger. A single retort scattered the few birds perched on the roof. The zombie’s chest opened wide as the bullet hit home, knocking the creature to the ground.
“Go, Janice. You’re clear.”
Janice grabbed the pistol that had managed to stay in the seat next to her and opened the door, swinging out. She stood up and promptly crumpled to the ground, pain exploding in her right ankle. She pushed herself up and limp-ran two more steps before faceplanting in the middle of the road.
Tim watched his wife fall to the ground. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He looked down for the zombie that had made for the apartment but couldn’t find it. And where the hell was Steven? A pistol shot sounded below. Followed by another. And another.
Tim took aim at the zombie he’d shot in the chest. It was struggling to right itself. He fired one more round and got a clean head shot, dropping it.
The apartment door opened. “Dad, where’s Mom?” Steven kicked the door closed behind him then beelined for the balcony. “Oh, shit,” he said when he saw the chaos below.
Janice stood and got another few steps before she hit the pavement again. Gritting her teeth, she got to her hands and knees and started crawling in the direction of the apartment.
A half dozen zombies burst through the same trees as the others had, then came to a stop as their brains processed the information around them.
Tim fired and missed his target. “Run, Janice! Go!”
The shot snapped the zombies to attention. They ran toward both Janice and the two men on the balcony. Tim couldn’t tell which was heading where and he pulled the trigger again and again. One shot spun a zombie down but not out. Steven joined in and took three quick shots, two of them taking down one more of the six.
Blood dripped from various scrapes and cuts on Janice’s body and her ankle throbbed, but she ignored the pain and got herself up, running as fast as she could, crying out each time her right foot hit the ground.
Two more zombies emerged from across the street, followed by another three from the trees. A couple lunged at the car with the corpse in the backseat, but most were heading for Janice.
Tim fired as fast as he could, barely aiming now. “Janice, you can do it, honey. Keep going. You’re almost there.”
Steven took aim and pulled the trigger.
“Janice!” Tim screamed.
Her head snapped back. Her body dropped for the final time.
Tim dropped his rifle and wailed, “What did you do?” He wheeled on his son, grabbing him. “What did you do? Fuck, fuck. She was going to make it. What…”
More zombies crashed through the trees, a horde forming. “Dad, we have to g—” Steven didn’t finish the last word as Tim punched him in the jaw. The boy staggered to his knees. More punches rained down. “Dad! Stop! Please, we need to go.”
Tim missed a punch and instead hit the table on the balcony, knocking the pistol to the floor. Steven grabbed it and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through his dad’s thigh.
Tim yelped in pain and grabbed the balcony railing. The pain reset the synapses firing in his body. Sobbing, he said, “I’m so sorry. Fucking hell. We need to get out of here.”
Zombies littered the ground, most of them distracted by Janice’s body. The two men didn’t have long. The blood dripping from Tim’s leg would slip through the slots in the balcony floor and draw their attention.
“We need to go, Son. Right now. You’ll need to drive.”
Steven looked at his dad and the scene behind him. We’ll never make it, Steven thought. For a moment the world stopped except for Freddy singing about that “crazy little thing.” Steven swung his fist out as hard as he could and caught his dad in the temple. The butt of the pistol struck his dad first. Tim groaned and flopped over the railing. Out cold.
They were never going to make it, but Steven could. His dad taught him well. Survival of the fittest. He put the gun to the back of his father’s head and pulled the trigger, then shoved the corpse over the balcony.
That should give him enough time to get to the car and get away.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.