A Light Snack, by Edward Taylor
Man I would give my left arm for a meal; I mean something to help with the hunger I feel. I really should be out hunting, but it is the middle of the day and I might be spotted by one of them, so that is pretty much out of the question. The thought of hunting makes me even hungrier; stalking a deer or even smaller game like a rabbit (or for god’s sake even a dog) would hit the spot right now but one step in the wrong direction and it’s all over for me. All over; that’s rich. It was “all over” for the human race and yet despite a terrible plague and famine and years of war, the world just kept on going and so did we. They say hundreds of people die every day, and the news is not even a blip stuffed between the sports and the editorial section of the papers, but what happens when the dead just don’t stay down? What if every person that died just got up again as if the switch never got turned off only when they come back they are no longer “people” and just relentless killing machines whose only goal is to rend the flesh from your bones? Yeah, it kind of gets your attention a little more than a sale flyer for Target or some advert for a “Gentlemen’s Club” smeared across the corner in black and white.
In the beginning people went to the usual places and tried to hide: some sought solace in the church, believing that it was the rapture or some shit like that. Others blamed the government (ours or theirs take your pick) and it’s wanton raping of the world. Some said it was an engineered virus that went awry and got away from the genius who created it. Whatever the answer was, no one knew for sure. Most were too busy trying to stop grandma from eating their face off or making sure that junior was sealed in a concrete box before he was “laid to rest”. Man all this chit-chat shit is making me hungry, just a taste of anything right now would do me good, instead I have to deal with the gnawing feeling in my gut and the dry mouth that seems to go along with it. Anyway, killing them was not too hard, you just put a bullet in the head or smashed the brain and it was all good in the hood. Getting rid of them seemed to not be the issue; it was the fact that anyone who died for any reason seemed to get back up with a severe case of the munchies but a few minutes later. War was pretty much put on hold from that point on as no one really wanted to add to the issue, but since we could not prevent people from dying, no matter how hard we tried, the world went to pot pretty quick.
Enough of this “recap” stuff, not like it isn’t old news anyway. Forget the sun, forget them hiding behind every car and around every corner, I need to eat. Slowly I move to the window and take a look around, the street is clear, nothing moves. Like I said, the daytime is hard to move around in, you can be spotted too easy and then your day goes bad real quick. Opening the door to my hideaway and taking a few steps onto the sidewalk, I am almost forced back by the heavy glare of the mid-day sun. Cursing my luck and poor timing will not fill my belly, so I move down Chapel Street towards Main, sticking towards the shadows as much as possible. I don’t expect to see anyone, we pretty much own the University section of town but you never know when one of them will appear. I stop next to what is left of the old Chapel Street Playhouse, never was there before, not going to try it now. The doors are boarded up, which means one of two things: one of us is hold up in there, or one of them is just waiting to get out. Either way I was never one for the theater.
Carefully I move closer to Main Street, memories of how it used to be on days like this floating through my brain: hot college co-ed’s running around in close to nothing, guys sitting on one of the many front porches of the local bars, hooting and hollering at the aforementioned. People who called Newark home for more than 4 years at a time just milling about, trying to avoid the students and the out of town shoppers looking for bargains in “tax free Delaware”, counting the days until the UD let out and they could reclaim a little sidewalk and some peace and quiet. Yeah, “peace and quiet” is pretty much in the shitter now, along with the rest of the town. Lost in my thoughts I almost don’t hear the first shot ring out. It’s just low enough to wake me from my walking reverie but not loud enough to give me direction on where it came from, let alone let me know if it was directed towards me. You normally don’t hear gunshots around here during the day; it draws too much unwanted attention, so unless you are good or just plain crazy, you keep quiet lest you get discovered.
I keep on keepin on; sticking to the shadows, watching the area for whomever was pushing lead around. I hear two more shots; these are much closer to my location and I see why: I spy two shambling in the street, about 10 yards away. One of them appears to be a Cub Scout, the remains of his last meal caked onto his neckerchief and face. The other is a man that I swear looks like Mr. Corradin, the manager of Day’s Of Knights (Newark’s only real board game shop, like that matters anymore), who has so much gore all over him and is missing part of his leg, so I know what “side” he is on. The Cubbie is looking for the shooter when his head explodes like the 4th of July, spraying Mr. C with grey matter and teeth. The small form drops to the street, twitches twice and then never again. The older man, slowed by his wounds even before his death cannot move out of the way of what is coming; two more rounds cut the air and plow into him. The first takes a large chunk of his neck away, just below his right ear, the other rips his scalp open and his brain slowly slides out of the grapefruit sized hole above his right eye. He moves a few more steps while the important parts of his cerebellum are still under cover, but after that he loses locomotion and falls face first onto the curb in front of the old St. John’s church.
I catch a flash of light and see the shooter in the bell tower of the church; it’s a girl from what I can tell, a living girl! I raise my arms and start moving towards her location but then a crack of gunfire sparks and I am hit in the hip and dropped between two cars. She shot me! It’s not too bad, not much more than a flesh wound but still I am left to wonder what has happened. I really don’t blame her, looking at my reflection in the polished side of this car shows that I am nothing but skin and bones. My ribs can be seen though my flesh, my fingers are just skinny nubs, I look nothing like I did before all this shit came to pass. Regardless, I need to get into where she is. She’s food and shelter from the others, so I make a quick scan of the street between my cover and the church. It’s all boarded up at the main doors but I think I can manage to make it into basement via one of the smaller windows at ground level. They are small and glass covered, but not having eaten in a while has tightened up the beltline if you catch my grip.
Minutes seem like hours when you need to do something, I see my goal in sight and nothing will take it from me, now all I need is to get her focus off of me. As if someone up there is still keeping track of prayers and requests: another shamble moves out of the old Mexican cantina, drawn from the sounds of the gunshots no doubt and straight into the line of fire. I slowly crawl from between the cars and keep flat to my stomach as to not draw too much attention to myself. It feels like I am crawling across jagged rocks but I cannot let a moment of pain deter me from goal. With as much alacrity as I can summon on a weakened system, I move to the window and punch a hole into the single pane glass. Reaching in, I feel the lever and push the latch open and fall into the dank, dark basement of the old church. A dozen smells assail my nose, most are those of rot and mildew, but oddly above all else I can smell warm food above me. I salivate, my stomach growls low and long and I am driven through the cellar looking for a way up and out. Looking around, I see a sliver of light floating up in the air about 10 feet away and begin to fumble through the dim light of the basement. The open window is filtering enough of the bright sunshine into the room to cast a grey pall over everything, just enough to locate the stairs and move onto the first floor. The door to the basement is not locked and I wind up coming up behind the sacristy. Moving out and behind the altar I can see that the pews all seem to have been piled up at the front and the side doors, creating a crude but as of late effective barricade against intrusion. The church has seen better days but then again, I am pretty sure we all have. Another staccato burst of gunfire above me reminds me of why I am here, so I dispense with love of the fortifications and move towards the twin stairs that lead up to the choir loft.
Obviously whoever has taken cover here has decided that what meager work they have done to secure the doors is enough to keep them safe as the stairs to the loft are clear of any obstructions, as is the door to the bell tower. I pull it open carefully and begin the arduous task of climbing the steep stairs with a leg injury slowing me down. Several more shots ring out, much louder than before and then I hear her cursing at the dead that are now clambering towards her sanctuary, not fully understanding that it is her weapon that is drawing them to her. I mount the last step and spy the encampment; it is filled with garbage and spent brass piled high along the floor, a sad scene has desecrated the once hallowed building, an even sadder one leans out the window, raining lead upon those on the streets below. She is no more than five feet in height, looks as famished as I but judging by the waste around her she has been living well enough. A spark of memory jumps to my mind and I think, no I know that I know her face. Under the grime and filth is a girl I once dated, nothing serious, just a movie set up by friends to see something forgettable at the Newark Cinema. I move to her, my arms raised up in elation, just happy to see a face I knew. She catches my movement, spins around, her face one of grim determination and anger, she fires off a round from her rifle that strikes me in the left shoulder; shredding my arm. The useless limb falls to the ground, leaving only ragged bone and sinew in its place, I am stunned as she takes better aim at my face, no doubt trying to end my life. She squeezes the trigger but instead of the last bang I would ever hear, the thunderous echo of an empty chamber fills the room. Her expression changes from one of anger, to one of mortal terror as I move towards her and drive my sharp, boney nubs of what once were fingers into her exposed throat. A loud gasp of air fills her windpipe as I tear it from her flesh, and a welcome shower of warm dark blood sprays me all over. She falls to the ground and as I watch the last of her life ebb from her green eyes, I smile a rictus grin and begin to devour her slowly. I spend hours rending flesh from bone, enjoying my meal as if it were my last. When it is over, I am sated but I know that despite feeding on a whole person, to the hunger she was just a light snack…
Hailing from the small college town of Newark, Delaware, Edward A. Taylor splits his time between writing and raising his two shoggoths with his thankfully understanding and patient wife Kelley. He has appeared in Morpheus Tales #’s 21-22-23 and Rivets And Rain – A Steampunk Anthology. Tales of his exploits and other stories can be found on his blog: http://mylongroadoutofhell.blogspot.com