|Zombies man, and your teacher is one of them.|
© by Gary L Morton (9,800 words)
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Stars vanished in a violet explosion, causing him to roll and moan. Then a new dream began. Eddy knew he was dreaming; he often did. This was a lousy dream, one of those repeating dreams he hated. He struggled to wake, but without success - the effort another phase of the nightmare.
The lights were bright and everyone he admired looked on, only he couldn't see them - he couldn't see anything but glare. It was the sort of awareness a paranoid schizophrenic person gets - everyone was there and god he wished they weren't. They had to know he in no way deserved the award he was about to receive.
Eddy had his clothes on this time, but he wished he hadn't worn such a huge pair of soiled running shoes with his suit. If he’d shaved and taken a bath it would’ve been better too. Naturally it was too late to run to the can; he was up and his name was ringing in his ears. Why did the guy have to shout so loud?
A face showed and it wasn't Robert Robinson this time. “Who in the hell is it?” he thought. “Or who in the hell are they?” By they he meant that a sort of shape shifter from hell was presenting this year's Mars Victory Award. The face shifted rapidly and some visages were of writers that died years ago.
Gulping visibly, Eddy began to walk. The glare didn't blind him and there was some relief in that . . . what really knocked him out was the shape shifter. It was switching through a bunch of B-movie zombie bodies that looked too real to be hallucinations. He feared insanity - maybe his mind had snapped. The setup sucked, lights hot enough to melt his runners, and the cheap rubber soles made a horrible sucking noise as he climbed the three large steps to the platform. Turning, he saw some faces grinning through the glare. All eyes were on his feet and that caused him to smile nervously as his cheeks reddened.
Blood dribbled from the corners of the shape shifter's mouth as he said a few words in a distorted monotone. Eddy picked up the words visionary and brilliant as his eyes focused on the award. He'd won with his first story. It was a gadget story he sort of borrowed from one of his pals, and to his dismay this year's award had been redesigned to look exactly like the ugly contraption in the story. A piece of junk really. He'd forever be explaining it to others and he doubted many of them would believe it was an award and not something he'd welded together in a junkyard.
At one time Eddy had been critical of gadget stories and tales that predicted the future. Leonardo da Vinci would always be remembered for predicting the airplane, but who would remember forty thousand science fiction writers for the gadgets they had predicted first? Only a minute ago he'd believed awards to be surrogates when it came to fiction; forget to reward yourself by writing what you really want to write and you'll forever seek awards from others. Now as an award winner his views had changed and his fears were gone. He decided to say a few words.
He looked to the audience and had to pause to wipe tears from his eyes; tears that were an effect of the lights and not his emotions. “Some people can predict the future,” he said, then shouts cut him off and faces loomed up. It wasn't an audience of writers after all, but a gang of reviewers and critics. The sort of people who wouldn't let you say a small word without tearing it down.
One of them was his high school English teacher, Ms. Mansion, and she mounted the stage, waving his old report card, yelling, “Eddy Dash couldn't have written that story! Here are his marks! He failed high school English at Trent! And he never would admit that he's gay.”
Eddy's head began to spin, Ms. Mansion snatched at the award and they began to fight over it. Pulling back, he knocked the shape shifter and got free of her. She came at him again and he got her with a vicious kick to the shin, causing her to howl. He grinned, unable to stop himself - he'd always wanted to give her that kick. “That one's for everyone you made me hate!” he screamed. Looking to the audience, he saw people in shock. Obviously, they believed he was out of his mind. “She made me hate everyone, really she did,” he whined. And it was true; there were no writers he hated more than ones he'd studied in school. Like most English teachers, Ms. Mansion dissected everything, killing the mystery and the story, turning exciting authors into pieces of bullshit grammar.
A flash brought him back to reality. It was the shape shifter, he'd transformed to a weird version of one of the old TV Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. He raised a weapons arm that reminded Eddy of Judge Dredd and fired. Flaming oil shot out and hit Ms. Mansion, burning her like she was a wax witch.
Eddy faced the shape shifter and shook. Now the thing had a dark robe and a golden mask; the weapons arm still up. “You wrote a story about the future?” the shifter said.
“I didn't write it. I stole it from Steve,” Eddy said, beginning to weep. “I can't write about the future. I can't write anything. It's the others who can predict the future.”
“A Dweller from the future will be talking to you Eddy. You have done well,” the shifter said. “But the others haven't been honest.” He turned to face the gasping crowd. “You fools!” he shouted. “Don't you know the future is something you will not predict?” He lifted his weapons arm and sent burning oil streaming into the crowd. Horrible screaming began; blood, fire and smoke fanned up and roared.
Eddy shot up in bed and cradled his head in his hands. Not that guilt dream again. It had repeated about a hundred times, and had something to do with his failing creative writing. God he hated it. Damn, failing creative writing, and in Canada, where anyone who could write a paragraph passed. He'd never get over it.
His erection was staring him in the face so he covered it, wondering if he wasn't becoming just a little perverse. Was seeing people fry giving him a rod or was it Ms. Mansion? He hoped it was seeing people burn.
The clock was at ten but it looked more like night outside. He went to the window naked and glanced down, and then he jumped back. It looked like a crowd below. Deciding to get dressed, he went to the closet and fished through the heap; he kept summer shorts and T-shirts in a pile so getting dressed would be easy. Eddy was lazy; he never wore long pants in the summer because they were too hard to put on. Eddy Dash -- even his name seemed wrong, like it described someone exciting rather than a person considered a dreamer and mentally slow. Looking in the mirror, he saw a slim young man with prominent cheekbones, a sharp nose and a mop of blond hair; he wore an earring but it didn't make him appear effeminate. Young and handsome perhaps, but the difference was there in his eyes. They always looked strange and otherworldly like he was hooked on some powerful drug. The drug was his mind, which had always been off balance, hooked on dreams.
Ten minutes more and he'd miss breakfast at the Emerald Hotel across the street. Stepping back to the window, he looked down to check the crowd, and found that it wasn't a crowd. The people were shadows. If you could call them that. Forms moving slowly, rolling and shifting like tumbleweeds, most of them not connected to any real objects. Flecks of light drifted hypnotically like snowflakes and he thought of winter, remembering Christmas. The shadows were his cousins carrying gifts. He saw Mary standing under the big tree in the town square. She was beautiful, flowing hair and eyes that glittered with dreams. Pain stabbed at his heart, because Mary had drowned, and he was alone. Even his cousins hadn't spoken to him since Uncle Jack had decided to disown him. Now he had the graveyard flowers, the sound of the river and the screech of tires from the accident that executed his parents and brother -- all of it flowing past.
“Not that dreaming while I'm awake shit again!” Eddy thought, pounding the wall. He recalled the disadvantages. It was a condition he sometimes got. Dreaming was a condition he always had. Usually it was daydreaming when he was awake. Normal concentration was something he lacked and because of it he was out of work, collecting medical welfare. Things other people called simple tasks were too much for him; he couldn't even go fishing without cutting his finger while hooking the bait. He always got to dreaming about something else and his drifting mind bungled the task.
Depression of the suicidal sort was the result, so instead of finding success in life he graduated from high school to welfare and a tiny apartment on Brightsville's main drag. It wasn't good for the old self-image, and when it did occasionally emerge from behind the wall of dreams, he saw himself as a loser.
The hicks at the restaurant were sure he was gay and Eddy reflected on that as he went out the door. Since he was handsome and young the hicks were probably more like wishing he was . . . they would screw anybody - man, woman or thing - they just wouldn't admit to it. Being the only guy in the area without a car didn't help much when it came to getting a reputation for dating women and he knew that wouldn't change - he hadn't been in a car since the day his parents died in the crash, or out on a date since Mary died. And he wasn't gay or anything; he was a sort of loner - a guy with only one friend. Even a person with a handicap would get some kind of work in a small town, because of the buddy factor. Eddy knew that but it was of little help; he disliked other men. In this town, they weren't like him so he shut them out.
The door creaked open on blowing shadows and an empty street -- ghost town airs. Eddy was afraid to step outside. Malformed dark clouds scudded under a stone-gray sky. He pictured himself choking to death in shadows that were really poison gas, and then he stepped out and looked around. No one was on the street, and the shadows did feel hot when they touched him, like he was getting sunburned or something. Some pickups parked up by the Emerald meant the restaurant was full of older hicks. They were the only guys who still favored pickups.
Old creeps or not, Eddy was still hungry and the Emerald was the only place where he didn't have to pay. He did some dishes sometimes and he’d promised old Jake he'd keep an eye on the place from his window and report if he saw anybody spray-painting JEW BOY on the windows again. Some of country hip-hop boys didn't like Jews and Jake wasn't a Jew . . . but what could they do when there were no real Jews around to pick on?
Going in the front door would draw all eyes to him so he headed down the alley and went to the service entrance at the back. The door was open so he went in, glancing at the kitchen as he passed. A fat woman was in there instead of the regular cook, but that didn't interest him so he went straight to the main room, stopping by the jukebox for a look-see. Maybe he'd eat in the kitchen if the customers were too ugly.
A new version of Only the Lonely was ending. Dan Montana, Joe River and Missy Marshall were sitting at a table by the window. They stared through the glass at the shadows. Red splotches like birthmarks or acid burns marred their faces. The other patrons, older guys Eddy didn't know by name, had their chairs arranged so they faced Joe.
Missy suddenly came to life, her knuckles flashed as she caught a bug running across the table. It was a roach. She ate it, licked her lips then her expression deadened.
Joe turned his face from the window. “Fine weather today,” he said. “The Dweller will be rising early. Guess I better go over to the park and supervise the work.”
“Who does he want now?” Missy said.
“Plenty to choose from,” Joe said. “Maybe I'll get Jake and let him make the pick.”
It was like they'd dreamed they were zombies and it'd come half-true. Eddy stared as Dan Montana picked something black and gross from a plate of fries and began to munch on it. A homely woman with a fright wig of lifeless blond hair was coming over to the jukebox so he figured leaving was the best idea. Taking a step back, he knocked over some empty bottles, and then froze as everyone looked his way.
“Hey kid!” Joe yelled, rising and knocking over the table. Eddy gulped. He saw something shiny - a brand-new Ruger shotgun Joe had been holding on his lap.
The blond woman suddenly bared her teeth and lunged so he turned and ducked through the door, hearing the gun blast as he moved. Blood painted the wall and the woman's headless body crashed at his heels. One quick look back at the corpse and a jawbone embedded in the broken floor and he took off like a cannon shot.
Swirling shadows made it nearly impossible to see anything in the alley. Dizzied by the furious motion, Eddy ran on, stumbling and tripping until he ran out of breath. He leaned against a graffiti-scarred wall, his head spinning, his lungs aching. Moments later, he fell to his knees, hallucinating.
The walls of the alley melted; he found himself in a shimmering tube, facing a panel of electronic instruments. A golden face appeared on a screen and began to speak, but the words slurred, he didn't get the message except for the last two sentences, which were - “You must stay alive! The Dweller needs you!”
As swift as it came the illusion vanished. Eddy looked down the alley, feeling refreshed. No one was out back of the Emerald; it looked like the creeps were either slow or they weren't going to give chase. Rising and running he got back to Main Street and checked the front. The pickups were still there and no one was outside.
Not sure what to do, he ran for his apartment with the idea of barricading himself inside. Reaching the top of the stairs, he threw the door open, saw someone standing there and swung, catching the guy with a hard punch. The guy went down and Eddy realized he'd just hammered his pal, his only friend, Steve.
Steve looked up from his knees, his blond hair tangled, and his baby face desperate. “I hear the voice. I hear it,” he said. “Don't hit me.”
“What voice?” Eddy said.
“You must not be one of them,” Steve said, getting up. He rubbed his sore jaw. “It's the rest of the gang I'm talking about. I just ran a half mile to get away.”
“No. You mean our people are nuts too? I’m running from the hicks. They tried to shoot me.”
“Something happened early this morning,” Steve said. “I was sleepwalking. Woke up out on the sidewalk and saw other people, sleeping on the road and grass. Brown shadows were blowing and there were no morning sounds, then some kind of light exploded right through the ground and woke everyone.”
“Funny,” Eddy said. “Nothing happened to me. I had that same old nightmare about winning an award with your story.”
“We're different though,” Steve said. “I got the weird sleep disorder and you're dream crazy. I think whatever changed people got fed in through their dreams or their thoughts and we opted out because we're not normal.”
“Could be. But I did hear a voice telling me to stay alive.”
“Can't be the same one. The other voice split the town in half. It's a death voice. Our younger friends think they have to kill the adults and the adults think they're obeying a creature called the Dweller.”
“We better find out if it's only in Brightsville.” Walking to the far wall, Eddy grabbed his dresser and wheeled it over by the window. He opened the door behind it and went into the next room, which was his computer room. He had the computer hidden because he didn't want the welfare department to find it and declare it an asset. He also didn't want them to find out it was a source of income, loaded with outstanding games that he rented out.
“This is definitely no time for playing games,” Steve said, his pale blue eyes widening with disbelief.
“I figure the modem's safer than the phone. You should know how to get the most info, being that you're a tech nerd?”
“That's cracker with family corporate connections,” he said, sliding out the keyboard. “We're not nerds now. What we are is unknown. Everyone is on the net now and no one knows shit.”
“Yeah. They're hooked on Microsoft and Apple. Whatever happened to old-fashioned country values -- like believing in doing sweet nothing and bumming around?”
“Old-fashioned values are out and renamed as really dumb social networking. But is it true friendship or a new name for desperation. Say, according to the weatherboard it's a sunny day everywhere except in Brightsville. Looks like normal messages on the Trent U board. I think it's safe to talk to someone there. Only Brightsville has been shadow bombed.”
Steve was about to key in when the screen went blank, and then they heard a blast. A second explosion blew the window out in the room behind them.
Eddy spun around and saw splinters of wood and glass nailed into the wall. “Take the stairs to the back,” he said. “Get ready, go!”
They flew out and across the room, just getting out the door as another blast came through. Eddy bounded down the stairs, threw the back door open and found himself facing a sixtyish shotgun-toting redneck. He snatched the barrel before he had a chance to aim and whacked him over the head with the butt. The guy went down, Eddy kept the shotgun and they ran between the sheds and over to the next street.
People were out front of Montana Hardware so they ducked into an empty barbershop. Catching his breath, Eddy studied the shotgun; it was new, a Remington with a fancy catch for extra ammo. “I haven't felt this way since the last time the Cross Gang chased me.”
“You better be ready to meet the Cross Gang again, because they've taken the lead of the high school kids and the battle against the adults. Most of the fighting is going on out by the quarry.”
“Shit,” Eddy said. “I got them and the hicks hating me the first time by making a speech in favor of gun control. Now I'm going to have to blast them with a gun. This whole deal is breaking my heart. I never thought I'd be a worse monster than the monsters. I never thought I'd be calm after passing into hell. Life’s a survival bitch.”
“Oh-oh,” Steve said. “I hear someone in the alley.”
Ducking behind a coat rack they watched as a rifle-toting man appeared. It was Abe Hardcastle, their high school principal; he wore a tattered suit and blood, dirt and whiskers added an edge to his pinched expression. Hardcastle was a right wing extremist and had taken personal time to counter Eddy's high school speech on gun control. He likely would have shot to kill even yesterday. Messing with him wasn't a good idea.
Hardcastle spotted the partially open door of the barbershop, raised his rifle and fired a shot through the wood. A mirror and bottles of tonic exploded; Eddy ducked to the right then back as a bullet shattered the window.
Hardcastle was marching straight for the entrance so Eddy went down and rolled on the floor. A hard boot knocked the door open; Hardcastle showed, his aim ready, his huge jaw set -- and Eddy fired . . . both barrels flaming. The recoil pounded back and the blast hammered Hardcastle; his midsection crumpling, becoming a flying shower of dark gore as his body went out to the street. He was cut right in half - his legs did a dance into some garbage cans and his upper chest and head caught on a parking meter and hung there.
Steve jumped out through the broken window and looked down the street at the hardware store then waved for Eddy to come out. Eddy staggered out, still shaken by the recoil and what he'd done to Hardcastle. A couple guys were running up from the hardware so they took off, headed over toward the town square.
Bullets whizzed through the maples as they ran across a lawn. Lilac hedges, a rubbish heap and an old shed put distance between them and their pursuers. Eddy ducked behind a broken foundation wall in a vacant lot. Steve followed and they waited.
“Looks like they're not following,” Eddy said. He looked at the shed, the milkweed, thistles, crabgrass and broken stones. It seemed like the world was on a tilt, except for the shadows it was a cloudy summer day. “If this was one of your stories what would be the cause of this?”
“Doesn't work like a story because there has to be an explanation for it and supernatural Cuthulu or zombie explanations don't cut the mustard as far as real science goes.”
“It has something to do with the future because the voice I heard came with a dream of the future. I didn't see much, a golden mask . . . the sort of video their equipment displayed was almost like reality. Maybe it's fifty years from now.”
“Fifty years isn't much in time. It has to be more -- the distant future. I think there will be nothing but imagination then. We're nearly through harnessing just the physics side of nature. Most new discoveries help free the mind and imagination. The end is the human imagination free of nature's limitations -- godlike beings. If the future is screwing with us now it's them - the gods doing it.”
“I can't believe we become gods. Extinction is what I believe in. The reason is that humans aren't full emotional beings. We don't have enough feeling to care. All Hardcastle had to do was change a bit and I killed him like nothing. It's not just this town, the whole world was going to hell for a long time and the people didn't care. A true emotional being would suffer. Toys like cars and televisions are what they've always cared about.”
“You're deluding yourself with your beliefs. You saw a future so believe it. We somehow overcome our flaws.”
”Okay, people of the future have caused this. So what next?”
“We observe the adults. See if we can get a look at this Dweller guy.”
Eddy grimaced. “Man, watching folks that want to blow us away isn't going to be easy.”
“There's a lot of activity near the park and the town square, and we can get good cover there.”
“Okay, I don't like it, but let's give it a try.”
Summer dust blew up on a hot wind and pop cans rattled. They passed a mound of rubbish and went through a screen of reddening sumac. A statue of Lord Simcoe with a fountain and flower garden was on the edge of the school grounds. Beyond the school, a street of factories and warehouses separated it from Hepburn Park and the town square. The sun glowed behind veils of haze, a blind eye lost in its own dreams, and the odd beam lanced through, adding a knife-edge gleam to the drifting shadows.
Trent High was usually open for summer school and the pool. Today it looked deserted, with no cars in the parking lot. They crossed the football field, spooked by the eerie eclipse-style daylight. Steve found himself looking around too much and finally he began to run, headed for the main building, an ivied university-style quad.
Eddy got ahead; he halted at the arched entrance to the quad. “If we run straight in we could be spotted from all four directions.”
“Gotcha,” Steve said. Dodging left, they ran to a window. Forcing it, they climbed into a chem lab. The sports complex and pool ran underground, beneath the quad. Cutting to a stairwell, they went down to the gate. A magnetic pass was needed and they didn't have one so Eddy simply kicked out a six-foot window beside the door.
Following a vestibule, they got to the pool and began to pass it, headed for the exit on the other side of the quad. A rank odor and dead silence gave them an uneasy feeling. Slime of some sort shimmered on the water so they walked up to the glass for a better look and saw something surfacing. It was a corpse rising, its face battered, swollen and blue. The green-tinted water was still clear enough for them to see bottom, and it was as full as a morgue slab after a chainsaw massacre. Bodies and torn body parts floated everywhere. It became obvious that the slime was blood turned green.
“Man, let's get out of here before I throw up,” Steve said.
“Not so fast. The killers might be around. We got to duck ambushes.”
Looking left and right, they went up to the ground floor and out the door. Dust blew in the arch and they stepped into it, making sure they checked their backs. The field at the center of the quad was now visible and it wasn't clear. Two ragged men stood by a fountain.
“Oh, great,” Eddy said. “It's the fucking killers.”
“Yeah, and they look like two swamp mutants. Say, those are axes they're carrying.”
Eddy frowned, his mouth quivered. “I can just shoot them.” He moved to reload and found that he couldn't open the ammo catch. The two men were walking now, coming out of shadows and swirling dust like it was a tunnel from the extinct future Eddy believed in. He stared and froze for a moment. Blood, sweat and dirt coated the men's faces; they wore uniforms of a savagely torn green material that showed they had been janitors before being reincarnated as subhuman losers. Scariest of all was the way they limped on bloodstained legs; it meant they were so bloodthirsty they had wounded themselves with their axes.
“Run,” Eddy said, “back inside. It'll be easier to get away.”
Flying in, they dashed up the stairs and down a long hall to the engineering department. A crash echoed up as the men burst into the school.
“Try to load the gun,” Steve said. “I'm going to search for weapons.”
Ducking behind some lockers, Eddy struggled with the catch. Figures the guy would fix it so only he could open it, he thought, and then it popped open. Amazed by his luck, he adjusted it and reloaded. Pointing the gun, he tested the sight and found himself aiming at Steve as he came around the corner carrying an iron bar.
Steve dodged to the side. “God, I thought you were going to spray me.”
“I got it reloaded, but the idea is to try and sneak out. I really don't want to mess with guys that dangerous.”
“If the pool is a sign, they've been favoring the basement. Let's take the top floor back to the exit stairs.”
One hall from the exit they ran back down to the basement, grabbed a row of lockers and sent them crashing to the floor. Then they ran back up to the top, down to the end and down the stairs to the exit. They assumed the janitors would head for the noise, but they failed to rise to the bait. Both of them were at the doors, and the tallest guy was already swinging his ax at Eddy as he charged down the stairs.
Eddy ducked the flying blade and Steve dodged and tumbled. There was a crash as Eddy smashed into news boxes, then a boom as his Remington shotgun misfired, and another wham as the ax followed through and bit into a service room door. Steve's metal bar bounced on the floor, and from his knees, he saw the first janitor catch the misfire blast. It got him in the upper body, kicking him right through the Plexiglas doors . . . sending him into the dusty wind like a gory scarecrow spit from a monster exhaust fan.
The second janitor lifted his ax to strike, his face a hostile mass of fresh scar tissue. Steve knocked his bar as he tried to reach it and it clanged on the steps. He heard Eddy moan then he saw the ax coming down. Scrambling left, he managed to snatch the bar and get out of the way.
Glancing off the stair railing, the blade hit the stone floor. The force of the blow staggered the janitor and he stepped back, holding the ax with shaking hands. He growled, his scars purpling as he prepared to strike again.
Afraid to engage in close combat with such a freak, Steve simply stepped back, mustered all of his strength and threw the bar. Gleaming, it connected with the janitor's throat, knocking him back. He staggered, choked, spit blood and then charged, tripping over Eddy as he tried to get to Steve.
A blackened hand reached for Steve's feet, he leapt over the janitor and seized the other ax, which was still embedded in the service room door. It came out easy, but Steve was trembling so much he could barely lift it. Knee-shaking fear, the black magic of terror was crippling him. Eddy was stunned so he knew he couldn't count on him . . . he had to swing and total the guy before he got up. But he couldn't stomach killing someone with an ax. It was more like he could only tremble. Then the janitor got to his knees and the fear turned to a power that brought the ax down on its own. It got him in the back, a gross crunch, and Steve staggered back, staring at the blood oozing up from the punctured lung and spleen.
Squirming, choking grossly, the janitor died. Eddy got to his feet and studied the carnage. He wiped tears from his eyes with a shaking hand. “I think my ribs are broken from the recoil,” he said. “Jeez, this is no gods from the future. This is brain damage, like these people fried themselves with poison or got a new strain of disease.”
“How do you explain the Dweller?”
“We don't even know what the Dweller is . . . maybe he's just the ugliest of these creeps.”
Crossing the road, they went into weeds and bushes, then up on the railroad grade and looked down at warehouses and factories. Litter rattled as it spun on the stones in the lot below. The street was deserted, just a couple of abandoned cars.
“These people do no regular work, that's for sure,” Eddy said as they descended.
Steve nodded. “I have a hunch that they don't clean anything either, meaning the Laundromat should be empty. We can check the square and the park from its roof.”
Weeds and long grass grew out of cracked concrete and the wind whistled in the warehouse alley. Here the day seemed empty, lonely enough for ghosts, and Eddy wished it really were that way. It would be nice to see Mary's ghost wandering in the dust, maybe wearing the faded red dress she used to wear.
They saw a farm truck pass up on Dundas Street and slowed. Stopping near the end of the alley, they moved up to look. People were moving down by the square but no one was in the Laundromat. Another truck passed then it was clear and they ran across and entered by way of a side door. Going out the back door, they climbed on some barrels, swung up on the first roof then climbed the fire ladder to the top.
Odors of tar, vegetables, gasoline and corpses were in the air and the wind was gusting. They got to their knees near the edge and crawled through the tarred stones. Using a large air vent for cover they looked down at the square.
“Unreal,” Eddy said. “We're watching a rerun of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “but this remake would be better titled Invasion of the Zombie Clutzos”
The sun glowed behind the clouds, adding an eerie orange tint to the gray day. Cars were parked everywhere, but not in the proper spaces and they were banged up. Farm trucks loaded with melons, spuds and vegetables circled the summer open-air market - most of them parked on curbs or partway up the steps to buildings. People, all of them adults, wandered aimlessly in the market - their legs wooden and their faces blank. It was business as usual except that no one was actually buying anything. No one was saying anything either and they paid no attention to the corpses scattered in the dirt. These were people who were deteriorating - rotting. Some still looked clean and somewhat normal, but most were at some ugly stage of decay. Clothing soiled, shirts untucked, ties askew. At least half of them had blood oozing from battered faces and untreated wounds. One woman had her bruised breasts hanging out and the old man next to her held his false teeth in his hand. On the north side of the square gasoline was spilling across the concrete from the self-serve and although strong fumes were rising no one noticed them. Mayor Billy Johnson and the police chief stood near the corner on the steps to the theater and they held rifles. Blood stained the steps and bodies blocked the entrance behind them, which indicated that a massacre had gone down during a run of a new pirate adventure flick. A larger crowd milled in the park, many of them trampling the flowerbeds by the square. The Dweller was supposed to be in the park somewhere, but the screen of trees - oaks, maples, elms and willows - blocked their view.
“See anyone from my family there,” Steve said.
“No,” Eddy said. “And there won't be any from mine because I don't have a family. Unless it's my uncle and cousins, and they were zombies before this even happened.”
“What we're seeing makes sense in a way,” Steve said. “You likely don't see it in most zombie movies, but if you started to deteriorate the first things you'd lose would be fine motor skills like driving skills. Many of them have simply injured themselves in fender benders and falls and left the injuries untreated.”
“Man they're ugly, but I guess one of the great things about being human is that it doesn't take much to turn you into a horrible piece of shit. I would never want anyone to see me like that. Maybe I should shoot myself before it happens.”
“Oh-no,” Steve said, lurching forward. “That's my father down there by the gas station - bleeding badly from the chest. I've got to get down and rescue him.” He got up, exposing himself, and it was fortunate that no one looked up at the roof.
“You can't rescue him. Think, man - that's not your father anymore. It's something else.”
“No! There are no real zombies. Whatever he has is a disease. I can get him to Toronto and treatment before it's too late.”
“How? If you go down there they'll tear you apart. Even if you succeed I can't let you transport an infected person to a city.”
Steve looked to the square and back to Eddy. Wind whipped his hair and desperation contorted his face. His hand flew to his head, thumb and index finger to his temples. He drew back. “Don't try to stop me!” he yelled, and then he ran for the fire escape.
Eddy chased him, but he ran like a champion and was down in moments. Following him farther meant certain death. Eddy remembered the dream voice telling him to keep alive and it jogged his preservation instincts. Walking back to the edge he looked down and saw Steve running across the road toward his father. There weren't many freakos near the gas station but several had spotted him and were turning to look.
The day was so dark now the scene was nightmarish, much more like a dream than reality. The unreal shadows kept shifting, and he saw Steve reach his father and touch his shoulder. His father turned to face him and growled, loud enough that Eddy heard it up on the roof. Then he was on Steve like a rabid animal, trying to sink his teeth in his neck.
Steve yelled and struggled, managing to throw his father to the ground. An army of zombies moved toward him now, but only three were close. Deciding to take a chance, Eddy lifted the Remington, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. Even from the roof the blast was powerful, it took the three zombies out and carried a spray of red with it as kicked up asphalt and went on to wound several more with a rain of gore and brain matter.
Steve was racing back now, but the sheriff and the mayor had spotted the action and were running from the theater with their rifles raised. One shot rang out then a blue Ford suddenly careered in from a side street. Tires squealed as the driver dodged some people and parked cars. Going over a curb with a bang the vehicle got on track and headed straight for the mayor and the sheriff, who turned and looked just as they were brutally mowed down.
Growling zombies converged on the car from all directions, and the driver had boxed himself in . . . he banged a couple of parked cars then reversed out, knocking several zombies down. It looked like the vehicle was going to escape the square, then blue-faced Dan Montana stepped from behind a melon truck and took the windshield out with a rifle blast.
Blood and glass flew, reversing out of control the car went off the road and through the front window of Bradshaw's candy store. Eddy saw a guy jump out the passenger door. It was John Beck, a pitcher on the high school baseball team, and no doubt he'd been obeying the Voice Steve had mentioned. His left shoulder was bleeding but John managed to fire at the approaching creeps with a pistol, killing a few before he ran out of ammo. His expression went from maniacal to grim as he threw the gun and charged. He socked the first couple of creepoids hard, knocking them down, but then big Dan Montana moved in and slugged him. John staggered back and the others were on him before he could recover.
Eddy froze, the scene sickened him. Sound bites from the growling zombies carried up to him on the wind. They tore and bit like rabid dogs. John howled, wild screams of pain, then a zombie chomped into his throat and blood jetted from the jugular as he was silenced. They took John the rest of the way down, continuing the cannibalistic attack. They started feeding on his belly, and as one zombie pulled out a gory sausage Eddy found himself going numb, getting a flashback of an old B-movie . . . faces full of ketchup, green slime in their hair, the bleeding body writhing like a loose rag doll. A grinning zombie rose, liquid fat dribbling from his lips as he held a handful of guts pulled from the corpse. Eddy came back to reality. He lifted the Remington, locked on and fired both barrels, a blast that kicked everyone flat to the ground.
Only meat pie and a blood pancake remained as Eddy ducked back. There was the flash of a head bouncing over a car. He peeked out again. The rest of the zip-brains didn't know where the shot came from, but now he could hear Steve yelling from below. “Motherfuckers!” Eddy yelled, and then he scooped up Steve's metal bar and went down the fire escape.
Steve was at the bottom, struggling with a huge sucker of a zombie. Moving in from the rear, Eddy swung the bar and crushed the guy's skull. He fell to the pavement like a heavy sandbag.
Eddy's eyes went to the blue face of the dead man.
“I'm okay,” Steve said. “Damn, we've attracted the whole gang.”
An army of zombies moved across the square.
“Let's get behind the gas station,” Eddy said. “If my plan works we'll escape by way of the rooftops.”
“Roofs are the best idea,” Steve said as they ran out. “Those freaks likely aren't well enough to climb.”
Dodging the first cluster of zombies, they raced straight out into the square and turned left, headed for the gas station. A hand snatched at Eddy's shirt as he passed a parked car. He beat it back with his gun, acutely aware of the fact that he would be a goner if any of them held him for long. He led Steve wide of the spilled gas and around back. Glancing around, he saw an alley running between two warehouses on the other side of the fence.
They jumped the fence, got to a fire escape in the alley and ran up the steps. Near the top they halted. As Eddy had hoped, they could see over the station roof. Zombies were gathering at the front and a huge crowd was heading over from the square and the park. A rifle shot pinged in the alley and they ducked.
“He's right by the pumps,” Steve said. “See if you can plug him.”
“That guy couldn't hit a barn door,” Eddy said as a second shot hit wide, then he stood and fired a shot at the pumps. It took four men down and sent a severed arm to the top of the sign, but it didn't ignite the gasoline as he had hoped and he had also missed the guy with the rifle.
More wild shots came as Eddy reloaded, he took aim again, and then a stray bullet near the pumps lit the gas. Flames leapt up silently, a hungry roar rushed with them as they grew. People near the station were instantly consumed and the conflagration reached deep into the square, making torches of most of the approaching zombies.
Eddy and Steve ran to the warehouse roof and away from the heat. The firestorm nearly got them, and it was fortunate that the wind was strong and in their favor. Heat seared their faces and they ducked back farther, watching the fireworks as the pavement near the pumps rocked with a series of blasts. Flaming bodies and liquefied asphalt sailed over the station; human torches stumbled in the square. Two flatbeds and a Toyota blew up - a concatenated blast that sent flying debris ripping into several zombies and melons rocketing through what remained of the windows in Discount Mart.
There were still a lot of zombies that weren't hit full on by the blast, and they were stupefied, showing no reaction at all. Some of them were at the edge of the fire and had burned legs, hands and faces. They should have been screaming and running, but instead they strolled, feeling no pain, not even bothering to pat out the flames on their smoking clothes.
Nearby buildings were catching fire, but the warehouse had been spared. The fire was shrinking back from the square, spitting out little heaps of fried bodies as it moved. Black smoke blew steadily from the pumps and faces and windows glowed with hellish light. It was certain the wind would spread the flames, eventually destroying most of the town.
“Fire hypnotizes them,” Eddy said, turning to Steve, who was grimacing as he checked a burn and a bad bite on his arm.”
“What if I become rabid?” Steve said.
“You probably won't. They all turned at once, remember?”
“Yeah, so let's get into the park now that they're out of it. This Dweller guy is the root of this evil. We got to find out what he is.”
Eddy led the way as they climbed down on the far side. Steve started to jog toward the square and Eddy caught him and stopped him. Sharp eyes were the name of the game and he didn't want Steve dashing into a trap. Coming out of the alley they met with a crawling corpse. Its whitened tongue protruded past withered lips, enough of the face remained for them recognize it as Mayor Billy. He growled low and snatched at their legs.
Steve ducked back. “Looks like they will still attack.”
“He's blind,” Eddy said. “The flames didn't affect him. We better watch out for that.”
Zombies in the square were falling, collapsing from smoke inhalation. Cutting directly through it wasn't a good idea so they turned and went through the market. Burst melons and spilled tomatoes squished underfoot. Chin’s Theater was ahead and it would be possible to avoid the bitter smoke by walking through it to the back. The alley there was next to Hepburn Park.
Bodies were scattered out front, mostly teenagers shot by the sheriff and his mad pals. A grim Butch Landry, holding a weapon that resembled the RPG from the ancient Duke Nukem computer game looked down on the scene from a huge movie poster.
Steve covered his eyes and they walked past and toward the entrance. “I don't want to know who they are,” he said. “It's less painful that way.”
Eddy glanced back. Dark smoke, easy shadows shifting over fire, blood and wreckage. He knew who they were; they were everybody - extinction come true, and Steve thought men would be gods.
Shotguns had shattered the glass doors. They walked straight into the empty lobby. Popcorn crunched underfoot and they could hear the movie playing. Eddy swung the doors and they stepped in cautiously, seeing car-chase action on the screen and death in the seats. Bodies were draped over the rows, Eddy saw a bloody finger sticking out of a box of fries and a couple who looked like they'd been making out before a gallon of ketchup had hit them.
There was so much blood they didn't want to touch anything, and it was so unsettling they remained silent and walked to the curtains. Eddy was about to part them when light flashed on the other side. It meant someone was opening the exit door. He tapped Steve on the shoulder then parted them a sliver and peeked through. Mary was standing in the doorway, alive, and she didn't appear to be a zombie. Silky blond hair, blue eyes sparkling and that old cynical look of hers, like she'd suspected everyone might be zombies all along.
She stepped back and the wind suddenly blew the door shut. Eddy came unglued, burst through the curtains and hit the bar handle . . . but it wouldn't open, the door had locked. He pounded it with his fists then Steve pulled him away.
“You’re losing your mind! There are only zombies out there.”
“No, it's Mary! Mary's out there!”
Steve's eyes softened. “You know Mary's dead. It's just the stress, causing you to see what you want to see.”
“What I saw was too real to be a hallucination.”
“Okay, but let's not rush out there. Remember your own advice.”
Eddy tried the handle again. It squeaked but didn't catch so he began to pump it up and down and managed to open it. The wind was forcing it shut so he put his shoulder to it and it flew open and banged against the side wall. Smoke rushed in with the wind so they stepped out and covered their eyes as they jogged to the park.
Black smoke was billowing in a funnel from the roof of the old post office and the wind was whipping tentacles of the smoke down into the trees. The roar of the gusts and fire was frightening, but they were safe in the park where things weren't dry enough to burn. The freakos had cleared out of the park and were in the square staring stupidly at the conflagration. Eddy scanned the trees and flowerbeds trying to catch sight of Mary, but saw no one at all. He did notice something large at the center of the park that hadn't been there before so they headed in for a closer look.
Eddy felt lightheaded, slightly ill. Sweat and soot clung to him and his empty stomach churned. He thought of how nice it would be to go skinny-dipping with Mary down at the canal, and the memory hit him with so much power he saw it like a mirage. He shook his head. “Maybe I am seeing things,” he said.
“I must be seeing them too, because those stones weren't there before,” Steve said.
They stopped and stared. The big oak trees at the center of the park were gone and a huge pile of boulders stood there. Standing stones were at the perimeter of it, like the townspeople had been in the process of building a version of Stonehenge out of shopping-mall marble.
Moving out of the trees they circled the heap of the stones and came to a cave-like entrance. At first they saw nothing then a patch of color flashed in the darkness.
“Somebody's in there,” Steve said.
“That was part of a woman's dress I saw. Mary must be inside.”
“No. Don't go in. It's some kind of trick from this Dweller. Once you're in there he'll have your ass.”
“It doesn't matter. We're going to die anyway. I want to see Mary before it's too late.”
Stinging tears came to Eddy's smoke-reddened eyes. He wiped them away and ran to the entrance. Glancing back he saw that Steve wasn't following, and then he plunged into darkness and tripped. A rock banged his knee and he stopped, gasping. Moving slowly he headed down on a slope toward a very faint light. The tunnel took a sudden turn then the light brightened. The walls ahead glowed and the floor changed to blue, almost like carpeting. Phosphor light cast the colors, and patterned illusions on the stone.
A low whistle of wind in the cave caused him to shiver. He rounded a bend and came to a door. It was silver and in place of a handle it had a heavy plate with the image of a human hand stamped on it. He put his palm on the plate, heard something click and watched as it opened.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the blue lights. A cavernous room loomed beyond the door, circular with bright instrument panels, like it was the master control room of a nuclear power plant or a space ship. Awed by the discovery, Eddy stepped inside. Before he could look around, he heard the door shut behind him.
Turning back, he shoved the door, but it wouldn't budge. Pacing the room he looked for another exit. A narrow hall showed at the side of a tall instrument panel and it led to another area. Eddy headed down it and entered a huge room. Glittering cylindrical cocoons lined the walls and an embossed control panel was at the center. As he walked up to a cocoon he heard a door open behind him. Turning he saw a stocky figure walking out of a haze of blue light. The being was humanoid but not human. Its body and features were lumpy and blue, its lips black and twisted. Oval eyes brimmed with alien intelligence and strange understanding, like it was a creature that felt your pain, even if it did plan to eat you.
Eddy knew this thick-skinned creature was the Dweller, but now that he'd found him he didn't quite know what to ask. He felt only fear and mild loathing. He watched with a quivering lower lip as the Dweller grinned. Pointed teeth and a melting green mucous membrane showed. Eddy trembled as the Dweller raised a powerful arm, then when he saw that the open blue hand was lined with filaments and electrodes he raised his shotgun.
Paying no attention to the threat, the Dweller stepped forward, reaching for the weapon.
Shaking, biting his lip, Eddy pulled the trigger.
Fire licked from the barrel. Time slowed. He saw the Dweller's hand detach itself at the wrist and float to him. A powerful grip, cold electrodes and a paralyzing charge took him. Blinding light hit his eyes, then the flash faded and he saw the shotgun blast connect. The Dweller's head and shoulders vanished in a nova of blue-black blood. Deadly force threw the headless body against the door and the recoil knocked Eddy back into one of the cocoons.
Blue light shone through, cold pain making him numb. His view was from above like in a dream. He saw the shotgun going to the floor and his body banging into a cylinder. Across the room the Dweller's headless body was fizzing up yellow blood and mist as it melted to lumpy clay. The detached hand floated away from his head and touched the cocoon above his body. It was feebly trying to hold it shut, but it failed and the front swung open. Mary was inside, a metal helmet fastened to her head.
Sunlight flooded in; Eddy found himself in Hepburn Park. The day was a scorcher, people were strolling by and he saw a kite soaring above the willows. Turning, he saw Mary and looked her up and down, at the nice curve of her thighs, her red shorts and tank top. She smiled and they embraced, kissed. He held her and she whispered in his ear. “I saw people in the future,” she said. “People who wanted to see the past. Do you know how they did it?”
“No,” he said, caressing her shoulder, letting her voice touch him more than her words.
“They found that they couldn't physically enter the past. But they could enter by dreams. It's the mind that is constant. Think of it - if you could enter someone's dreams, say Plato's dreams, you could learn a lot about history just from that.”
“Whose dreams did they enter?” Eddy said.
“Your dreams,” she said.
“What?” he said, pulling away from her. His vision blurred and Mary was gone. He saw the twisted lips of the Dweller and began to struggle, but he couldn't break free. A sharp pain told him the powerful hand had a grip on his temples.
“They entered your dreams,” the Dweller said, his voice deep and distorted. “Your dreams and the dreams of some of the others. And they made a mistake. The theory didn't work as expected. They altered history, creating several holes that must be patched.”
Eddy stared into the Dweller's wide blue eyes. “My dreams. Why me?”
“Not because of who you are now, but who you will be when you're older. History is merciless. If I do not correct it, it will self-correct in ways that are too horrible and cruel for the human race to imagine. I exist because people in the future are too kind. They can't kill even one man, as they are truly emotional beings - creatures of love. Yet there was one woman who created me and I am the Dweller who is not even a dream and does not exist. Brightsville is a town that I am patching. Most of the people here should not have been born, so I am destroying them. The bodies in the cocoons are a few people who died when they should have lived. Some of the survivors will remember me and that’s why I look like a monster. When the authorities investigate the calamity here they certainly won’t believe stories of monsters and zombies because you will tell them you believe a poison of some kind got in the town's water supply. You will remember everything because we cannot risk touching your mind at all.”
“Why should I help you?”
“Because there is no other way. Because you'll have Mary again and because a being that destroys himself as part of his work does not lie.”
“Okay, I'll do it, but I find it hard to believe there couldn't have been a cleaner way. Couldn't you have teleported the people away or used some other method?”
“No. It takes energy to speak your language and it is taking incredible amounts of energy to return a few people. I had to weed out the mistakes, so I entered their dreams and changed their reality. What you must do is close the cylinder you knocked open and then run out. I wasn't allowed to read your mind, so I made a mistake. I didn't think you would shoot me. To help me finish my work you must see that all the town's records are destroyed. Burn any remaining churches and government buildings and destroy any identification found on the corpses. Do what you can.”
Eddy had one more question, but it never got out. Abruptly, the scene changed and he was on his knees beside the open cocoon. The Dweller's hand slipped from his temple and fell to the floor in front of him. As it vanished in mist, he stood up and closed the cylinder door. He took a quick look around, and then he ran to the hall and found an open passage leading up into the park.
The light blinded him, he emerged staggering, fireworks exploding in his eyes. Even the trees looked to be on fire. He shook and fell to one knee as his vision began to settle. Smoke rolled over the town. The sun was out and Mary stood under a maple tree. She was weeping, so he ran to her and embraced her.
“It's so terrible,” she said. “Nearly everyone is dead.”
He held her tighter, caressing her. Glancing up he saw Steve coming through the trees. “Yes, it is horrible,” he said, and she couldn't see that he was smiling.
---- the end -----