Reader’s Choice selection from DMC’s flash fiction group, Friday Frights.
by Jeffrey Hollar:
When you don’t have much else to do but sit and wait for the end to come, a dark room is really a pretty good place to do it. Whether you accept your end stoically or whether you’re scared bug-shit crazy by it, at least nobody can see your face. Since we all slept in mostly-dark rooms as kids, it’s easy to let your mind wander back to those better days when blueberry pancakes were waiting for you in the morning. Aren’t any blueberry pancakes anymore…just desolation, destruction and death around every corner. That’s what was waiting for us anyway.
In retrospect, we should have known better. If the Shamblers had taught us anything it was if something looked too good to be true, it probably was. In our defense, though, it was a freakin’ Super Mega-mart Store! We’d been on the run since, practically, day one with no real preparation and precious little to scrounge along the way.
A Super Mega-mart would have clothes. We could all use something to replace the stinking rags we’d been living in for longer than we could recall. It would have toiletries and sanitary supplies and a pharmacy with first aid stuff and maybe a stock of meds we could use. It would have a hunting/fishing/sporting goods department. It went without saying how badly we needed the things we could get out of there.
It was a big, blocky, shiny reminder of better times and better days. And we should have just looked at it, smiled at the memories it brought back and then drove our asses on down the road to somewhere else. Well, we didn’t. When you come up over a hill and see a gold mine down in the valley, you don’t care that it might have petered out a long time ago; you just HAVE to look for a few stray nuggets. The Shamblers may have changed a lot about the world we live in, but temptation, greed and the lure of creature comforts still remain.
Now, don’t go assuming we wandered in there like a buncha dumbasses with no clue of what we could be up against. The six of us had been together for a good bit of time now. We were smart and strong and well-armed. You didn’t make it through the week if you didn’t know how to take care of yourself and cover your back.
We parked our vehicles well out of sight and loaded everybody into the big duelie Ram. We got as close as we reckoned was safe without committing ourselves and we hunkered down to wait and watch. We had three pretty decent pairs of binocs and we intended to give the place a real thorough look before going any further.
Sure, we saw Shambler sign, but nothing looked too recent. There was no trace whatsoever of any other humans and that wasn’t surprising. On the outskirts of a good-sized town it was only gonna be a matter of time before you had to move to somewhere less exposed. That seemed the case here.
The store itself looked mostly intact. We saw busted windows, some stuff scattered around the lot, but nothing to indicate the place had been picked clean. We whiled away a good three or four hours just waiting and watching. When the sun was hitting mid-day and it started to get a bit too warm, we took a vote on how to proceed.
Nobody wanted to be the voice of dissent and so the die was cast. The plan would stay simple. Simple plans always had the best chance of not getting mucked up. Carlos, Jaime and Buck would be on guard inside while the rest of us went foraging. We’d grab anything and everything we could and then boogie out. At the first sign of Shamblers, the trio on guard would shoot first and ask questions later. Speed and superior firepower would get us out of any complications, we figured. It was a good scenario and, by all rights, should have gone down without a hitch. Well, the best laid plans and all that shit, y’know.
We had us a pretty good pile of stuff and going back for more when the shit hit the fan. The boom of Jaime’s big elephant gun was unmistakable. The chatters and bangs that followed left little doubt that it was a big enough deal for the other two to chime in. We beat feet down to the first floor and saw the reason for the ruckus.
There were a dozen or so Shamblers down and way more than we had time to count headed towards us. We didn’t have a clue where so many of the damned things had been hiding until we saw them boiling up out of the underground loading docks. Damn it all! They had us cut off and we didn’t have near enough guys or guns to get out of this one intact.
While the brothers and Buck kept hammering away, we weighed our options. The roof was accessible only by elevator and that wasn’t going anywhere without electricity to run it. There were two other exits but our truck was out front and our odds of getting back to it from behind the building just plain sucked. We’d just about resigned ourselves to fighting until they swarmed us under when Jesse spotted the stairwell.
Stairs are a great thing to put between you and Shamblers. It doesn’t take a genius to realize they don’t handle such well. We didn’t have any idea where the stairs down led, but we were running out of ammunition and options.
We charged down them, firing over our shoulders until we reached the bottom. All we found was a big, steel security door marked “Maintenance”. There was a short walkway off to the left that vanished into darkness but too long for our flashlights to see far.
It is, in times of panic and desperation, that what seem to be really good ideas aren’t really such. We nodded to each other before throwing open the maintenance door and heading inside. There might be a back exit and, even if there weren’t, we’d have a barrier between us and the undead. Right now, that seemed like plenty.
The door had a heavy deadbolt lock and we even wedged a crowbar across it for a little extra insurance. We could hear the Shamblers crashing down the narrow stairs as we took stock of our haven. It didn’t take very long since the room wasn’t more than maybe 30 foot to a side. The first, and most telling, thing we discovered was there was NOT any other way out of here. The walls were good, solid concrete reinforced with iron rebar. The only way back out was the way we came in.
There was a small sink and a grubby toilet so we’d have plumbing at least. We found no food, no weapons and not a whole lot of anything of any use except for some hand tools and a couple of boxes of emergency candles. We’d need those since one of the big things we’d been shopping for was batteries.
Our plan was to just wait them out. Shamblers can be damned persistent, but eventually they get hungry and move on. We didn’t like our odds getting back up those stairs and free to outside, but, again, we were six hard men and we still had plenty of weaponry if the bullets were a bit low. We’d just have to hack and slash our way out.
That big old steel security door ultimately proved to be both our salvation and our undoing. While it did a really great job of keeping the Shamblers out, the big problem was it didn’t let very much of anything in…like fresh air, for instance. When the flashlights started to go weak, Buck fired up a candle with his old Zippo. It didn’t take long to realize that, with near to no ventilation, the candle was sucking up air at a dangerous rate. So, out the candle went and we waited.
Like I said, we had plenty of water but precious little food. When you’re a survivor, you always carry a little something on you but not enough to keep half a dozen guys going for very long. Between the lack of food and the lack of air, we weren’t faring very well. If the Shamblers had just moved on, things might have gone differently, but they didn’t. After two days, they were still thumping and pounding away at that locked door.
It might have been Jaime who first broached the subject. I don’t remember and it doesn’t much matter now. His idea was to get ourselves in position around that door, have somebody fling it open and then just blast our way out. The plan had about a bazillion holes in it but we all knew time was no longer our ally. If we didn’t make a move soon, we’d be too weak to make our move.
Things couldn’t have gone down much worse than they did. We loaded up for all we were worth and one of the brothers unlocked the door and pushed it open. Well, that was like ringin’ a damned dinner bell for the Shamblers. Before we knew what happened, they snatched Carlos and commenced feeding. Jaime did his best to get to his brother, but he went down almost as quickly.
Somebody had the presence of mind to figure the two were beyond help and got the door secured again. We were treated to the sickening sounds of them feeding as we collapsed to the hard floor.
Another day or so passed and we finally came to realize this was the end of the line. Buck wasn’t keen on waiting it out so he blew his head off sometime on day three or four. Kenny followed suit a few hours later. That left me and Jesse with no options, no hope and a couple of dead bodies mucking up the place.
I’m not sure anymore how long we’ve been in here. I think Jesse passed out or found some quiet way of ending his captivity. He doesn’t answer me and I’m too tired to crawl around looking after him. So, that just leaves little old me and a shitload of Shamblers. I suppose in a while here, I’ll get up and open the door and let the fuckers finish me off. Yeah…I’m gonna do that I think. I just need to take a little…nap…first.
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