Middlesboro, KY. / 07:47 Hours / November 27, 2013
The next morning Carl and I rearrange the gear in the back seat of the Jeep, making room for Jimmy and Kaylee Ann. I search the house one last time for anything else that might be of use to us. I do manage to find an old hand pump siphon down in the basement. The rubber is a little dry rotted but it holds, and the hoses on either side are still in good condition. We can easily extract fuel from other cars now, which will make our voyage that much safer and quicker.
Carl goes up stairs and grabs the old hunting rifle from Jimmy’s deceased cousin. Luckily it is the same caliber and model as my 30-30 that sits in the back of the jeep, only this one is decades older. Carl also finds some old hunting clothes that belonged to Uncle Rog. They’re baggy on him but would be more comfortable than the old suit he’s been wearing since I met him.
Jimmy comforts Kaylee Ann by the jeep while we’re inside house. They’d both had some trouble sleeping last night and I can’t say that I blame them. I did as well after Carl took over watch and I’d sunk down on the floor, hoping to nab a few hours of sleep, but dreams of creatures emerging from secret room upstairs continued to wake me through the night.
It’s sunny out today, the air still and quiet. I stand in the front yard, watching the perimeter while the others get a few more items loaded into the jeep. The morning sun rise is beautiful. I close my eyes and let the heat from the sun’s first rays warm my face. As if by some miracle, the air smells clean allowing me to feel free for the first time in weeks.
“All set?” Carl’s voice wakes me from my day dream.
I turn and head back towards the group waiting around the jeep.
“Thank you for helping us mister,” Jimmy says in a sincere voice, climbing into the back of the jeep after Kaylee Ann.
“Please, call me Jack, and don’t sweat it kid.” My response to Jimmy calling me mister makes me feel old. Kid that was my father’s term of endearment for me and it feels odd sliding off my own tongue.
We have a full tank of gas now, but the cans in the back are empty. “Carl, we should stop at the first place we can safely get fuel. I don’t want to run out at the wrong time.”
Jimmy chimes in from the back seat, “There’s a place just up the road, a little closer to town. They sell used cars and have their own pump out back. It runs off a car battery. We just need to hook up jumper cables to its motor.”
“Sounds good to me, you cool with that Carl?” I ask.
Sounding renewed, “Let’s do it.”
We continue on our journey, leaving Uncle Roger’s vacant for the undead to claim. Jimmy and Kaylee Ann have no other family around and figured sticking with us was their best option. The used car lot is about five miles closer to town than I would have liked. The road is empty on the ride there, but we do see some dead off in the fields. They ignore us while they feast on the bodies of cattle. An easy target for them still penned in the fields that once helped protect them from predators. I feel bad for them and more so for the ones that must be trapped in the dairy barns; it must be like a drive-thru for the undead. Part of me wonders if they might be doing the animals a favor though, because if farmer Joe is dead, then they won’t be getting feed anytime soon. I don’t know which is worse: starving to death or being eaten alive.
We slow to a stop about a half mile from the car lot and I jump out to scope the area with the binoculars. I scan from left to right seeing no sign of dead or undead. The place appears to have been vacated before the plague reached this area.
I climb back in the Jeep, “Let’s drive up slowly. We don’t want any surprises.”
Before we can start moving, Carl voices a concern of his, “I was thinking Jack. We should get another car here. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to travel with another in case one breaks down.”
“That’s not a bad idea at all.” I turn back to face Jimmy and Kaylee Ann, “You two do look cramped back there, what do you say?”
“That’s fine by us mister, I mean Jack.” Jimmy quickly corrects himself.
We pull into the lot five minutes later and all is still quiet. The jeep slowly creeps through the lot and our eyes scan the area for any sign of trouble. Carl shuts the engine off and pulls the emergency break. We get out first and fold our seats forward, allowing Jimmy and Kaylee Ann to climb out from the back seats of the two door body.
“Let’s fill the cans first, guys, in case there’s any trouble.” I feel vulnerable in the parking lot so close to the town. Also I have a sneaking suspicion were being watched by someone or something.
“Jimmy, Kaylee Ann.” I talk in a low voice to get their attention, “Carl and I will go ahead and check the area out. Drive the jeep around when we call you on the walkie-talkie. Make sure it’s on Channel 7, sub channel 23.”
“I will. Oh and the tank is behind the building on the other side of that fence, ” Jimmy explains while he and Judy climbed in the front seats of the Jeep.
Carl and I move forward, weapons at the ready, and scan every inch of the used car lot. We look under and around every car we pass by. The fence is now just ten yards ahead. We move closer to the gate and I see our first obstacle. The gate is locked as is the building, and I’m positive the key is inside.
I stare at the locked chain holding the gate shut, lifting the uncooperative piece of metal with my free hand, “What do you think Carl?”
“We could shoot it, or we can just climb the fence,” Carl suggests.
“No we need the jeep to turn on the pump and we can’t shoot it without giving ourselves away.” Peering around I see nothing that would help us. “Fuck it, let’s just break a window in the dealership and find the key. It won’t be as loud and we need to get a key for another vehicle anyways.”
“I’m cool with that,” Carl states, nodding his head in agreement.
Shifting direction we creep over to the showroom floor. A classic, 69 Chevelle SS sits in the center of the show room floor. The paint job is fresh and the black body shines in the early morning light. They stopped making cars like that long before the zombies walked the earth, which is a plague in its own right.
The main windows are most likely some kind of safety glass, probably thick and not going to break with the butt stock of a gun. I signal to Carl to follow me around the side of the building. Right before the fence begins I find what I’m looking for. A regular window sits in the wall starting at the top of my head. Carl is a lot taller than me and can see in. “You see anything in there?”
“No, nothing just an empty office,” he replies.
“Give me a boost. I’ll go around and unlock the door for you.”
Carl takes a knee and I step up on his thigh and I gain access to Carl’s view of an empty office.
“Close your eyes; I’m going to brake the glass.” I look down to see if Carl is ready before I do and see his eyes shut tight. I grasp my rifle with both hands and cock it back over my shoulder to build some momentum. The window shatters on the first hit and look down to my hands. I’m lucky on two counts when I see my hands aren’t covered in blood. I use the rifle again to rake the rest of the window frame, removing any sharp glass from the frame, ensuring I won’t get sliced open on my way in.
“Boost me up.” Carl obliges with a little more energy than I was prepared for and I end up tumbling through the window in an awkward somersault. “Sorry,” I hear him say softly.
“Somebody had their Wheaties this morning,” I joke as I get to my feet and brush myself off.
I double-check the room to make sure I’m still clear of any predators before sticking my head back out the window. Before I can tell Carl to move around the front, my stomach lurches. I pivot to look behind me. Still nothing. I shake my head to clear it and then move back to the window.
“Go around front; I’ll open the door.” Carl nods and jogs off out of sight.
I move into the short hallway just outside the office. The place is deserted, papers litter the floor. I use my rifle like a laser pointer, aiming it at everything I look at. There is no indication of life in this place, dead or alive. I can see Carl through the window by the front door. He is signaling for me to hurry over his expression worried. I rush to the door and unlock it allowing Carl to pull it open as he had been trying.
Carl barges in. His movements are panicked but stealthy. I watch his hands move to quietly shut the door and lock it.
“What’s the matter?” I whisper. “What’s out there, Carl? Did you see something?”
“Just hide, get to the back and stay low.” Carl turns, giving me a shove to move for the hall.
We duck into the office in front of the one I came in through. It has the same set up but is much more organized and has a larger heavier window looking outside. I can see the Jeep and the reason Carl is so distraught.
A pack of dogs is jumping at the sides of the jeep. The fur on their backs stands at attention and their teeth are bare as they circle the vehicle. They imagine they can smell Jimmy and Kaylee Ann inside the jeep. I can see Jimmy holding Kaylee Ann, who is crying in his arms.
“They’re dead.” Carl says, his voice monotone.
I look at him straight on, disliking his sudden negative attitude. “No! We can save them. We’re not going to just sit here and let those dogs kill them.”
Carl’s voice grows more intense, “Not them. The dogs, the dogs are fucking zombies.” His index finger points at the car and I look again, paying more attention to the animals that are circling the newest members of our group of travelers.
Flesh and blood hang from their teeth and I can make out wounds on a few of the dog’s bodies. I count five hell hounds altogether.
Ducking back down, “Shit man, dogs can get it too.” This is both a statement and a question. I wasn’t prepared for yet another new development. For the first time since I was a boy, I’m glad I never had a dog.
“I heard them coming when I got to the door. I thought at first they were just wild or had rabies or something.” Carl explains.
“Get the radio out and call them.” Carl removes the bag from his back and searches for the radio.
He checks the screen to be sure it’s on the right channel. “Jimmy, Jimmy can you hear me.”
There’s a moment of static before Jimmy’s voice breaks through, “I’m here, but they’re all over the car man. What should we do?” Kaylee Ann can be heard hysterically screaming in the back ground.
“What should they do?” Carl asks me before responding to Jimmy.
I really don’t know what to say. I’m still having a hard time grasping with the idea of zombie canines. They‘re so much faster and stronger than anything we’ve encountered so far. I tell Carl the only thing that comes to mind, “Tell them to go around the block and try and lose them.”
Carl keys the walkie, “Jimmy.”
Jimmy is quick to answer and Kaylee Ann is still in hysterics in the background. “What should we do?”
“Leave. Go around the block and try to lose them,” Carl advises.
“What about you guys? We can’t leave you.”
I grab the walkie from Carl. “Don’t worry about us. They don’t know we’re here. Just go around the block and we will call you when we have a better plan.” I let go of the talk button and look to Carl. “Christ, fucking dogs now? What’s next? Zombie Alligators? Horses?” I couldn’t take on a dog if it was alive never mind a ravenous killing machine.
I watch out the window as Jimmy floors the jeep in reverse to the street. The dogs give chase, just about keeping up with them as the head up the street. I watch on till they are out of view from our position.
“To hell with the gas let’s just find some keys and get out of here.”
The jeep’s tank is full at least, and with the dogs occupied for now it gave us the chance to make our move. We exit the office and head to the front desk where I saw the key box earlier. The metal box is locked and built into the wall. I don’t want to shoot it in case more dogs are lurking around.
“Wait her, I’ll go in the repair shop in the back and grab a crow bar.” I pray that’s the one thing this uptight facility decided to keep locked up.
I quickly find the door leading to the mechanics area. There are tool boxes at each lift, and the area is surprisingly clean for an old auto shop. I try to open the first box but it’s locked. “Of course”. I have the same results with the next two and I fight the urge to slam my fist on the metal top. The last box looks brand new and has stickers plastering the sides. Quadratec.com, Summit Racing, and one that looks like a fox head are just a few that stand out. I’m guessing a young kid must own the box, maybe just out of high school. I try the top lid and it flips open. Thank Christ. I imagine his boss screaming at him for not being responsible and locking the box before he left work on a Friday afternoon. Maybe he was in a rush, going on a first date with a girl he met at a party the week prior. I laugh, because for once his carelessness might have done some good. I find a crow bar in the third drawer down and hurry back to Carl.
“What took you so long?” Carl asks, and I ignore his accusatory tone.
“No one wanted to lend me any of their tools,” I say with a shrug, but Carl only frowns at my lighthearted tone.
The door to the keys pops open quite easily under the strain of the crow bar. The keys all hang from thin, metal pegs beneath I.D. tags. Each tag has a serial number on it. I look over each one but have no way of knowing which car they go to without seeing the number in the car. One is different though, a white rabbit foot dangling from its metal key ring. I smile and lift if off its peg, feeling confident I know which car it belongs to.
Carl looks at the key, then me. “That’s not what we want.”
“Relax, it’ll do for now.” I feel like a sixteen year old again. “Call Jimmy and find out where they are. Tell him to meet us on the other side of town on US-25E.” Carl gives me a perturbed look before calling Jimmy. I move to the floor and checked out our new ride.
Hopping in the front seat of the sweet 69 Chevelle SS is just as I dreamed. The leather seats and old school instruments give me a cheap thrill. Carl finishes telling Jimmy where to meet us and hops in the passenger seat. I turn the key in the ignition, ready for the rumble of the 396 Big Block V8. It turns but nothing happens, I try it again and again to no avail. I look around the dash to see what the problem might be. The car has probably been sitting for a month so maybe the battery is dead. Then I notice a switch under the steering wheel, with a label over it saying “BATT.” One of the previous owners must have put in a kill switch for the battery. I flip the switch and try the key again. The roar of the engine is music to my ears. I hit the pedal and the engine torques the car with its power, whining into the space of the showroom, before it spotters and dies.
“Shit.” I try to start it again but it won’t fire. I try a few more time with the same outcome.
“It might be flooded give it a few minutes.”
I look around the car while I wait trying to get familiar with the controls. Carl takes the time to scan the streets for any sign of Jimmy or more undead. I’m sure he didn’t want any more surprises today; the dogs have been quite enough for the both of us. As usual we don’t catch a break. The noise the big block engine produced in the five seconds it was alive was enough to alert everything in a five mile radius as to our whereabouts. They start to appear one by one and then in pairs, racing out to the street in front of the dealership, sniffing the air. We watch, horrified as they try to identify the location of the dinner bell they have just heard.
Carl slaps my shoulder to focus my attention, “Try it again. Hurry up man were drawing a crowd here.” I was trying to figure out what a switch on the dash was for before the movement outside distracted me. “Hurry up,” he repeats.
I turn the key again and the motor turns over, but only to sputter out and back fire, causing another deafening blast in the enclosed showroom. The creatures have a lock on us now and make a beeline for us. I keep trying to bring the engine to life but it continues stalling out over and over. This is hell, I think, as my hands and feet fumble over the key and gas pedal.
The first runner makes it to the window. It hits hard and falls to the ground. The stupid thing had no idea there was a window there and others behind it do the same thing. Bloody face prints pepper the glass after each hit it, like you might find on the glass doors and windows of houses that contain small children, minus the blood hopefully. Of course this invisible obstacle only pisses them off more, and they began slamming the glass hard with their fists and faces. One manages to crack the thick glass by slamming its head hard against it repeatedly, with a determination no living man could withstand.
“Why won’t this piece of shit start?” I hit the wheel hard with my left palm repeatedly while I kept turning the ignition.
As if it’s been waiting for my vocal command, the damn thing finally starts and I give it full power. The motor screams and grey smoke fills the showroom floor.
“We need to get out of here.” Carl shouts while coughing on the thick smoke.
Pressing the clutch I throw the shifter into first gear then dump the clutch. The front end lifts as the rear tires spin on the tile. After a few seconds they finally gain traction and launch us forward through the room.
“Hold on,” I shout to Carl as we speed towards the front windows where the undead have now formed a line.
The glass shatters into a million pieces as we hit, and Carl and I instinctively shield our faces with our hands. Screaming corpses collide with the Chevelle and fly backwards. Blood impairs my view out the windshield from the creatures exploding off the grill. The Super Sport plows its way to the street, throwing Carl and I around in our seats. I cut the wheel to turn us north towards freedom, away from this zombie land. As I hit each new gear we put more distance between us and the dead.
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