Thursday, April 25, 2019
THIS IS WHAT HE’D trained for. The Academy. His time spent as a rookie riding shotgun with a seasoned Trooper. He should be ready. And yet, as Tracey’s scream hit his ears, Adam found himself rooted to the spot.
It didn’t take but a half a second for chaos to take hold and infect everyone within the small building. That one scream and soon everyone was shouting, praying, cursing, crying, or in the case of the old woman in the cardigan, all four.
The noise woke the little girl and soon she added her voice to the others.
“The keys!” someone shouted.
Adam could only stand and stare as, out in the lot, the man who had only stopped for gas was pulled to the ground by one of the people who had come out of the night from across the highway. Despite the badge on his chest, the pistol at his side, and the oath he'd made to serve and protect, Adam did nothing as the man disappeared behind the car where, thankfully, he wasn’t able to see the rest.
The others were there behind them, shambling along to join their companion out there on the other side of the car. As he watched them, he became aware of tears rolling uncontrollably down his cheeks, and one word grew in his brain. A word he didn’t want to think about. It was a crazy word. Unreal. It just wasn’t possible. Yet he couldn’t help but notice the similarity to the perps outside and the creatures on his favorite survival horror TV show.
He needed to do something, it was his job. He held something clutched in his right fist, a few somethings actually. He couldn’t quite remember what they were but they began to dig into the palm of his hand, biting. The pain jolted him for a moment and he took in his surroundings.
Remember your training, he thought. Assess the situation.
The old couple were kneeling, each trying to comfort the little girl while trying to do the same for each other. Luke and Dan were like statues. By the looks on their faces, he figured that the very same word that had taken up residence in his head had also kicked down the door into theirs.
But that was ridiculous. Sure, those creatures were plentiful in fiction, he couldn’t browse an on-line bookshelf or skim through his streaming account without stumbling across them. But that was fiction. This was the real world.
He shook his head. He had to stop with that. He had a job to do. He turned his attention back to the lot. Even more of them shuffled in from the highway, stepping out of the darkness like slow moving wraiths. Each of them dressed in their Sunday best. What was once four became seven, twelve, twenty. More and more continued to emerge from the darkness.
“The keys!” The shout again.
It was the man in the fedora. Norman. He was staring at Adam with determination.
The keys? Something clutched in his right fist? Biting into his skin. A man in the lot dying. Adam looked down at his hand, opening it to reveal a set of keys. All sound rushed back into the world and everything became clear. He rushed forward toward the door, but the man the fedora, Norman, barred his way.
“The keys,” Norman said.
“He’s dying!” Adam shouted, struggling against the other man. “I have to help him!”
“It’s too late,” Norman said. “It’s over, he’s done! We need to lock this door!”
“Someone has to help that dude,” Luke said, stepping forward.
“What are they doing to him?” the woman asked. The couple were standing once again, the little girl in the old man’s arms. She sobbed, her face buried in the man’s chest.
“Look,” Norman said. “I know that we are all strangers here. But I’m gonna need everyone to trust me if anyone else is gonna survive this night. We need to lock this door. Now.”
No one moved.
“Look at them,” Norman continued, gesturing emphatically outside. “Look at how they move. They ain’t human. Not anymore.”
They all turned as one to look out at the people in the lot.
Adam wanted to laugh, but Norman was right. They weren’t human. The way they moved, all slow and jerky, like robots that didn’t quite work the way they should.
“They’re coming this way,” said the old man. The girl in his arms continued to sob.
“Is there an office in the back?” Norman asked.
“Yeah,” Tracey said. “It’s uh, it’s in the back.” Once again, Adam almost laughed.
“Sir,” Norman said, talking to the old man. “You need to get your little girl back there. She doesn’t need to see any of this.”
“Uh, sure,” the old man said. “Of course. Connie?”
The woman looked at him and smiled.
“Right behind you, Stewart.”
The old couple made their way into the back as the rest of them watched the crowd of strangers descend upon the Gas and Stuff. Adam couldn’t keep his eyes off them. He couldn’t shake the feeling that none of this was real. It was all too familiar to him, like he was living through a movie.
“Alright now,” Norman said, shaking Adam back to reality. “We need to lock this door before they get it. That happens and it’s gonna to be a slaughter house in here.”
The perps—he couldn’t bring himself to use their true name, not even in his head—had finished with the man in the convertible and were now shambling toward the building.
“Okay,” Adam said, his eyes growing wide. “You might be right.”
Adam stepped to the door, keys in hand. He hesitated. There were over a dozen on the ring, and they all looked the same. He tried one, it fit into the lock, but he couldn’t make it turn. He moved on to the second with the same results.
“Which one?” He said, looking back at Tracey.
But she didn’t answer. Her face was a mask of fear and confusion as she stood transfixed, her eyes glued to the lot.
Adam moved down the ring, each key coming up wrong.
“Hurry!” Dan shouted. “What are you doing!?”
“Can’t find the right key!” Adam shouted back. He glanced out the door.
They were closer now. Nearly ten yards away, close enough that there was no mistaking what they were. He’d been hoping that he was wrong, but now there was no question. While they looked like people, they also looked… dead. Walking corpses. Less flesh, more of what was underneath. Their skeletal faces devoid of any thought.
“Zombies,” he said.
“Not quite,” Norman said. “Snap out of it, trooper. We need this door locked.”
Adam flashed him an apologetic look and went back to trying keys. “Too many,” he said.
“Here they come,” Norman said. Then he turned to Luke and Dan. “You two, we need to buy the trooper some time. Help me with these doors.
Luke and Dan rushed forward, hitting the doors like an offensive line in a football game. Adam wanted to call out, wanted to stop them, but they’d moved too fast.
Maybe the two, Luke and Dan, had forgotten that the two entrance doors to the Gas and Stuff opened both ways. More than likely in their heightened state of panic, it hadn’t even dawned on them. Regardless, when they hit the doors, they swung open in the other direction, out into the oncoming wave of the undead.
If that hadn’t been enough, Adam had just been attempting to use another key and the jolt had caused him to drop them. Then, in the shuffle, someone had managed to kick the keys out onto the sidewalk.
“The keys!” Adam shouted.
He was about to step out and grab up the keys, but it was too late. The living dead were on them. They moaned and sighed, biting at the air with clacking teeth as they pushed against the doors, wanting in, wanting to feed. Luke, Dan, and Norman managed to brace the doors, keep them from opening inward. But it wouldn’t be much longer, not without those keys.
“Push it open.” Adam shouted, rolling up his sleeve.
“Are you crazy!?” Dan called back.
“We need those keys,” Adam said. “Push the door open, just a bit.” Then he dropped to his belly as the three men pushed back against the oncoming tide.
The door moved, just a little at first.
“More!” Adam said. He couldn’t get his hand through, much less his arm.
The three men groaned with one big push and the gap widened.
“That’s it!” Adam said. “Hold it there!”
“Be careful!” Tracey called from the counter.
Adam stretched his arm out through the gap, grasping for the fallen keys. They were too far. He strained, pushing himself further. His probing fingers brushed along the key ring, pushing them away.
“They want through, man,” Luke said, the sound of strain clearly evident in his voice. “Hurry your ass!”
“Shut up,” Adam said, stretching out even more.
“Don’t stop,” Norman called out. “If we can’t keep this door open your friend there loses an arm.”
Adam’s fingers, once again, found the keys. He clawed at them, extending his arm to the limit, spitting with the effort until he was finally able to snag the ring with a finger and pull them into his palm.
“I got ‘em!” Adam shouted.
That’s when it happened. One of the undead had noticed Adam there on the ground, the flesh of his arm exposed. It bent, crouched, and then fell. As Adam snatched up the keys, the thing reached out with both decayed hands and took hold of Adam’s arm.
Adam’s reaction was the typical response to such a change in circumstances. He yanked his arm back. Or at least he tried.
Despite their feeble, withered appearance, Adam’s arm was held fast, the creature’s grip like a vice.
“It’s got me!” Adam’s celebration quickly changing to horror. “It’s got me!”
Norman was there at once. He wrapped his arms around Adam’s torso and pulled. Adam felt his arm slip, but it wasn’t enough. The thing pulled itself through a forest of tattered legs, ever closer to Adam’s exposed flesh, its teeth biting in anticipation.
“No!” Adam continued to shout. “Help me! Oh, God help me!”
The creature’s mouth clamped down on Adam’s exposed flesh and he felt his own blood, hot and yet chilling, gush from his arm as he screamed.
Are you caught up on Volume One? Wouldn't it be cool if you could own the first volume, all 47 parts, on eBook, paperback, or both?
Good news, Awesome Reader, you can purchase The Adventures of Norman Oklahoma Volume One now.
JUST CLICK HERE or click the cover below.