Sneedville, TN. / 07:13 Hours / November 13, 2013
Carl sits alone at the counter of a little diner, his legs resting on the foot rest below him. His left hand is laced through the handle of a worn out, stained coffee mug. His right hand assists, in the effort to move the exceedingly full cup to his lips without spilling it over his clean white shirt. He sits sipping at his hot black coffee. The waitress made it just the way he likes. He knows it’s a perfect cup of Joe, when he can drink it without adding cream or sugar. Or at least it’s acceptable, and not too bitter.
Carl is a tall, slender man. At six foot five, he towers over most people. When a person first looks at Carl, they see a man fit, from a life time of walking from place to place. He has never had much money, and spends much of his life bouncing from job to job. He’s held titles in work from a handyman, to salesmen at Best Buy, to a short stint in the army during the Gulf War. His F.O.B. (Forward Operating Base) job was fixing broken and war-torn Blackhawks in the heart of the green zone, so Carl never saw any combat. He knows he should feel lucky about that fact, but there are moments he feels like he could have done more, been more, seen more. These thoughts give him pause, but Carl isn’t a man for sentimentality, so he brushes them off and moves on to other things.
The diner looks as if it’s been ripped straight out of the fifties with a few hints of renovations from the nineties. Every-things is outdated for the time and shows of wear. It’s packed with people who resemble loggers and truckers. An older couple sits in a window booth, reflecting on a life once lived. They make small talk of their children and what to do next in their days of retirement.
Carl sits at his stool three quarters of the way down the counter in a cheap dark blue suit. Like everything around him, it shows of heavy wear, as if it’s been washed one time too many. His jacket sits folded in half, draped on the empty seat next to him while Carl waits on his steak and eggs, a novel breakfast of his.
The diner is filled with soft chatter and the sound of the morning news emitting from the old, tube TV that sits nestled above the counter to the left of him. Outside it’s late dawn; people are just beginning their busy day of work and endless tasks of daily hustle in the small town.
The waitress behind the counter notices Carl and, trying to be polite, asks “You’re looking very nice today. What’s the occasion?”
“Thanks, I--” Carl begins to reply in the same polite tone, but is cut off by the sound of screeching outside. Everyone turns to look out the front windows of the diner. An ambulance, traveling far beyond the posted 25mph speed limit of Main Street with its lights flashing and sirens’ howling, collides with a parked vehicle. The back end of the faded blue Chevrolet that was parked on the corner crumples in, sending the once inert vehicle flying over the curb. The front of the ambulance collapses as it becomes entangled with the car. The two objects are launched into the air for a split second before gravity condemns them back to the earth.
Everyone in the diner and walking the streets pauses, slack-jawed and astonished, casting an eerie silence in the air. People stare in disbelief at what they’re witnessing.
There’s a long moment of silence. Had it been an old western town, one would think a tumble weed might blow through the street. Adrenalin courses through everyone’s veins, shrouding the echoes of the world around them.
The retired woman closest to Carl moves her right hand over her gaping mouth, impulsively trying to squelch the sound of helplessness trying to escape from within her. Her left hand, still clenching her warm mug, tightens.
The heavy metal door of the ambulance crashes open, fighting the crumpled corners as the weight propels it. A blood-spattered paramedic falls out, colliding with the pavement. He lands in a sea of shattered safety glass and fluids. He lifts himself up into a crawling position grasping his neck with his right hand. Rocking back to settle on his legs folded below him, he reaches forward with his free hand. It’s sewn with fragments of glass fragment and tiny rocks. He tries to mutter a gargled cry for help but the words never arrive; the blood pouring into his wounded trachea prohibits him.
Everyone begins to panic and the silence is broken by a woman yelling for someone to “Call 911!”
From the front of the diner Carl hears, “Holy fucking Christ!”
Another bellows out, “Someone fucking help him!”
As the patrons in the diner begin rushing towards the front windows to obtain a better vantage point, Carl slowly stands to see over them.
Two cop cars speed by the front of the diner, lights and sirens pulsating. The closest car skids into a few vacant parking spots parallel to the diner’s front entrance. The driver quickly throws the transmission into park before the vehicle can come to a full stop, lifting the back end high over its axle. The suspension fights to pull the body back while the engine and body lose inertia. The officer swings the door of the cruiser open and fumbles to get out. The bulky utility belt around his waist makes it a challenge to navigate the wheel. His partner is able to make a quicker exit, having more room on the passenger side.
The second cruiser skips to a stop much the same as the first, only it’s situated about fifteen feet behind the rear of the ambulance. The troopers exit in the same fashion and draw their weapons. They hold them with both hands trained on the injured medic, who’s still clenching his neck and sobbing in fear of death.
One of the officers begins to shout at the man, “Get down! Get down no!.” He then turns to another officer, his partner who is still holding his weapon at the man. He hollers over to him, “We have to kill him! He’s going to turn!”
People inside are unclear of what’s being said. They hear the words but are having difficulty comprehending the situation unfolding before them.
The driver of the car yells again, the desperation in his voice apparent, “You have to shoot him, shoot him now. He’s infected!”
The officer looks back at the medic on the ground and fires two rounds in to his chest. The medic’s chest explodes as the forty caliber rounds tear through his flesh and muscles. The force throws his upper body back, folding it over his legs.
Panic suddenly floods through the diner as people realize what they’ve seen. In their minds, they’ve just witnessed a handful of police officers shoot and kill an unarmed and injured paramedic with very little hesitation.
The officer closest to the diner begins ordering people to “Get down. Stay back,” but his voice and body language display fear rather than any kind of authority. His shaking hands and the fact that he’s not quite able to stop blinking rapidly show that they didn’t cover this scenario at the academy. He hears the civilians around him shout in fear and anger, “What’s going on? He just shot that medic!” He tries desperately to tune out the accusation in their voices but guilt rises from somewhere in his gut and he swallows back a sob.
The officers from the farthest cruiser move around their vehicle towards the rear of the ambulance. As they approach to within a few yards the double doors explode open. Three bloody and disfigured-looking people rush out. They run in an awkward gait, screaming like wild animals, towards the frightened officers, who start firing rounds with little thought and regard towards accuracy. Rounds tear through the creatures, shredding off chunks of flesh, splattering blood across the street, only momentarily slowing them down.
As the officers start to retreat blindly, firing more rounds haphazardly behind them, the closest officer is tackled to the ground, slamming down on his back. One of the creatures reaches the officer and begins tearing at his face with his teeth. Another throws it self upon the downed officer, adding to the feeding frenzy.
A second officer runs towards the car, screaming into his radio for backup as a third creature tracks toward him. The officers closest to the diner unload their clips into the creatures on top of the downed officer who is still struggling in the center of the street. Seeing what little effect the bullets are having, the officer on the passenger side runs around to the trunk of the cruiser, yelling “Pop the trunk, pop the trunk.” The driver knows the drill; he reaches down and pushes the release button. The distinct sound of the trunk releasing is made just as the other officer reaches the rear of the vehicle.
Carl’s eyes take in everything but very little information seems to travel to his brain or the rest of his body. He stands there frozen like the others around him, watching, waiting for something to make sense.
The officer at the trunk lifts the lid, and peers into the cargo area. The officer holsters his pistol and reaches around, shoving emergency road equipment and rain gear to the side. He lifts himself up from the bent position he needed to reveal an AR-15 and a 30 round clip. The officer slams the clip into the receiver, holding the rifle in his left hand. He pulls back the charging handle, chambering the first round.
He then scrambles back around towards the front of the vehicle. Taking half-assed aim, he fires round after round into the two creatures on the downed officer. Bam, bam, bam, click. After all 30 rounds are gone the bolt locks back. The creatures fly backwards from the force of the 5.56mm, full metal jackets ripping into their soulless bodies. Blood splatters about, covering the side of the cruiser. They’re lifted up from the force, halting their feeding frenzy, then slammed into the ground with a thud.
At the same time, the only remaining officer at the far side is being attacked with his back on the hood of the car. Teeth rip into his face and neck, and blood soaks his fresh uniform as he screams in agony.
“Zombies,” Carl mutters to himself. It’s as if something has suddenly clicked in his mind. He starts to slowly stumble backwards, half tripping on an empty bar stool. He subconsciously grabs it before it can fall and places it upright, still shambling backwards.
A loud crack is heard as a zombie collides with the glass wall to the right of Carl, just beyond the booth across from him. Everyone in the diner jumps, startled with surprise, and, as if choreographed, they turn their gawking eyes attentively to the window, where the zombie returns their gaze. Its body and white t-shirt are crusted in coagulated blood, so dark-red it’s almost black. His appearance resembles the result of a biker traveling 60 mph on a Harley and becoming one with the rear window of an SUV. Chunks of flesh have been gnawed from its face, exposing some of its lower teeth and jaw bone. Its face, body, and arms slam aggressively against the glass, biting at the customers like a German shepherd hanging on the end of its leash, trying to attack a passing cat.
A scrawny-looking farm boy in overalls appears out of nowhere and open fires on the creature. The bullets shatter the window, causing people to duck their heads and seek cover. The chatter of people screaming to help that had filled the diner only moments ago is replaced by the sounds of desperate screams and gunfire.
Carl stands with his back to the counter, bracing against the edge. He’s half-leaning over the bar, his back arched. He watches the kid pump twelve more rounds into the thing’s chest, but it continues to inch forward, crawling across the table in front of the missing window. Its hands reach out, grasping, before it finally takes a round to the head.
The sudden introduction of the bullet to its brain snaps its head up and silences it. It slams on the table face first, crushing the half-eaten breakfasts from a time that now seems to have taken place so long ago. Its arms hang motionless over the sides, coffee blended with blood trickling off the edge of the table. Its back is full of holes and soaked in dark bodily fluid.
The good old farm boy turns to Carl and the others, “Get out. Find a safe place.” He tells them. He waits for them to move, but when they stare blankly back at him, he shouts, “What are you waiting for? Go!”
To Carl, everything seems to be happening in slow motion, with colors and shapes ghosting in front of him like a cheap television. Words are distorted and hollowed as adrenalin races through his veins. It all feels like a dream to Carl, but suddenly, as if he’s coming to an abrupt stop from light speed he snaps back into reality.
As he peers out from the chaos of the diner, he finds there are more people in the street taking down the zombies, many of them screaming and motioning for men behind them to move up to the next block. Carl tries to take everything in, trying to determine the best route to safety. He watches as a man stands over one of the zombies, holding it down with one boot on its chest, and fires the kill shot into its crazed face. Everything about them is wrong. They move with a twitchy motion, looking like they had been filmed in a low frame rate, capturing only one or two frames a second. With their mouths foaming, they look like rabid dogs. Their eyes are red and blood shot. Blood trickles out from around their eyes streaming across what’s left of their cheeks. They move quickly, hungry for flesh.
People in the diner begin scrambling and crying hysterically, with no apparent goal to their actions, only the release and admission of fear.
Carl snaps to attention at the sudden commotion. He turns to his right and retrieves his jacket. He pauses for a moment as he grapples with the jacket, both hands shaking in front of him. With hasty purpose, Carl starts to head towards the front door. The events outside now seem to be just a background activity. As he reaches the door, Carl is rammed back towards the counter numerous times, by horrified patrons scrambling about.
He makes it to the entry way, clinching the door frame with arms spread to each side, still holding the jacket in his right hand. He leans halfway out the opening, taking in what’s happening but never fully grasping it all. He pulls himself through the opening, breaking free from whatever panicked force is holding him inside the diner. Maybe it’s his subconscious primal instincts telling him to hide inside.
Carl exits the diner and turns to his left, facing his 96 Ford Crown Victoria, which is parked four cars down. As he makes the quick approach to the vehicle he reaches in his pocket for the keys. He fumbles about for the keys but they twist up and become stuck behind a bulky zippo, which is keeping them pressed deep in the pocket. He stops his rush to the car to adjust his coat in his hand and stuff it up under his arm making it easier for his right hand to assist his struggling left.
As he pulls the keys out from his pocket he is startled by the roaring sound of an engine racing towards him, side swiping cars in the intersection. It cuts across the lane crashing up the curb to the sidewalk.
Carl freezes with fear as the early 90’s suburban screams towards his car which is the first in the row. A creature hangs from the outside of the driver’s door, struggling to hold on, as it claws at its next meal.
The dark blue suburban collides into the right quarter panel of Carl’s faded maroon Ford. It launches the front end over into the car parked to its left, crumbling the hood and any straight parts left on the worn out old car. The suburban catapults up on the hood, like a monster truck enjoying another kill.
The zombie is thrown into the air, moaning and growling like a mad creature.
Again it seems like slow motion to Carl as he stands there with his hand holding the key as if he was still going to get into the car. The zombie lands on its head, before flopping over just inches from him. Blood splatters up over Carl’s polished black shoes to, its face ripped open as if Hannibal Lecter had just finished with it.
The women in the suburban lets out a wailing scream. Blood is all over the window and smoke begins filling the inside.
Carl turns around, panicking about his next move now that his car has been obliterated. He sees an old, rough-looking truck running, but he realizes anything would be a better option than his own vehicle at this point.
The owner is on the ground, holding his neck. He’s an older overweight fellow, wearing a grey suit that gives him a distinct middle class look, as if he made something of himself after 60 years of living the American dream. There’s a zombie lying on the ground next to him with a hole in the side of its head, exposing brain matter.
Carl runs towards the truck, side shuffling around the blood squirting and flowing out from around the clenching finger of the man grasping at the bite. Carl makes it around the man and takes a long, awkward step over the motionless corpse. He pulls his hind leg over and makes a sloppy, half-turn to keep an eye on the two bodies lying there. Throwing his jacket like an unwanted item to the passenger side, he climbs into the truck. He keeps his eyes on the bodies as he reaches over and pulls the heavy door closed. It sticks for a second and squeaks from lack of oil. He reaches up with his right hand and pulls the column shifter into reverse. He turns to his right, throwing his right arm up on the seat top to help get a better look behind him. The tires squeal as he backs the old truck up. He cuts the wheel hard to the right, bringing the tail end around towards the direction of his former ride. Carl slams the brakes, pulls his body back around until it’s straight with the street. Reaching forward with his hand, he throws the transmission into drive and guns it. The truck weaves from left to right, dodging the people and wreckage covering the war torn streets of the once quaint city.
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