The Slow and the Dead

by Joey Payne

Ben screamed as the top of the thing’s head flew off from the gunshot. He stood there for a moment, breathing heavily, the old colt revolver still held out in front of him. As smoke lazily rolled from the barrel Ben shook his head. The ringing in his ears from the shot sounded like a siren’s wail. “What the hell…” Ben said to himself  as he tried unsuccessfully to make his feet move forward. After a few moments he swallowed hard, and this time was able to force himself to move forward slowly.

As he approached the creature on the ground he kept the gun pointed at it even though his hand was shaking uncontrollably. As he approached he was scared that it was one of his friends or neighbors in a costume, a prank that had gone horribly awry. Ben shook his head again to try and clear it of adrenaline and think clearly. It couldn’t have been a costume he told himself. After two tours in Afghanistan he knew what real wounds looked like… didn’t he? His suspicions were confirmed as he got a clearer look. As his eyes scanned the body his training kicked in and his mind was suddenly crystal clear. The thing’s skin was gray and glistening, slimy almost. Under the skin were spider web patterns of bluish purple veins. He noted that it looked like ruptures under the skin. A bite-sized chunk was missing from his arm that no makeup could replicate. A green, thick, puss oozed from the wound. By the time he assessed the thing’s face he did not doubt it wasn’t a costume.

It was his neighbor, Carl, or at least it resembled Carl’s face. Besides the half dollar-sized hole in his head, his face had the same deathly gray pallor. Blood poured from his eyes and like tears. The eyes themselves were a dark red where all the white should be. Ben knew that a head wound from his revolver wouldn’t cause that kind of wound pattern. Trying to make sense of it, Ben played the morning through in his head again.

He had woken up and was going to go the shooting range to test out his new colt revolver. As he walked out to his car he saw Carl across the street in his other neighbor’s back yard. He remembered calling out a friendly good morning and waved in a neighborly fashion. Next thing Ben knew Carl screamed like an animal and ran at Ben while wielding a hammer. He was fast, his feet pumping like a sprinters even when Ben screamed “Whoa hang on!” Ben had fumbled for his keys and dropped them as Carl closed the distance. As Carl had reached the top of the driveway Ben knew he would have no time to retrieve his keys and raised his Colt. He remembered saying “Stop or I will shoot!” clearly as Carl ran at him, slavering and bleeding from the eyes. Ben fired when Carl was halfway down the driveway ending Carl’s assault with one shot.

“But what the fuck happened to you Carl?” Ben whispered to himself as he fumbled for his cell phone to dial 911. Ben’s mind warred with itself, as he didn’t want to say the one word he knew described the situation. A deep fear Ben had carried his whole life, Carl had become a zombie. Since he was young Ben had suffered from nightmares about a zombie horde ripping him limb from limb… Their sharp teeth tearing into his flesh… Of his dead friends and enemies clamoring and groaning as one for him to join them. He had fought it down for years but after a zombie resurgence on the internet he could do almost nothing without seeing a reference to the coming zombie apocalypse and the nightmares had returned. Ben shook his head to clear it of the troubling thoughts as he held his cell phone to his ear and listened to the steady, rhythmic ring on the other end.

“Come on!” he growled as the phone rang over and over. And breathed a sigh of relief as the ring was interrupted by someone picking it up. “Hello,” Ben said, “I need help, I’ve had to shoot someone.” Ben waited for a second for any reply to his statement but was met with silence. “Hello?” he asked again and was met by a low groaning sound from the other end. A lump formed in Ben’s throat as the monotonous groan continued. Ben looked at his phone slowly to make sure he had dialed right. The animal growl from the other end audible as he saw he had indeed called 911. His attention was torn from his phone as another scream was heard at the top of his driveway.

Two more creatures stood there, a woman and a child, pointing and screaming like banshees. The child began to run at him with her arms thrown wide. Blood poured from her eyes and her teeth were, chipped and jagged. The woman was right on the little one’s heels with arms outstretched. The nails on her hand were like talons and dripped with blood. Ben didn’t waste a moment and fired off two quick shots. The first caught the smaller zombie square in the forehead. The other bullet caught the woman in the shoulder causing her to spin as she fell to the ground. She writhed on the ground, her back arching and hands clawing as she screamed.

Ben cursed as he saw that her screams were attracting more of them. Bloody hands smeared windows as they peered out at the commotion. They ran out into their yards and were pointing bloody hands at him. They were all screaming their gurgling, animal-like screams, drawing more and more of them out of hiding.

With another deep curse Ben ran back into his home and slammed the door. His mind raced as he thought about what to do next. “Gotta be the rapture…” he said to himself in an attempt to figure out the situation.  “Reload…” he said, reminding himself. As he opened the cylinder on the old colt he let his mind wander to when he bought it yesterday.

He had bought it from an old Cheyenne man at a gun show. Ben had just gone to look; he didn’t own any guns and had not even touched one since the Army. As Ben handled it he could tell it was old and not a replica because of the patina on the metal and the worn front sight where it had been pulled from a holster many times. He had noticed the tick marks in the grip of the gun and when he asked about it the old man had shook his head sadly.

“My Grandfather told me those were left by the people who owned the gun throughout the years. Before it came to my Grandfather it was owned by a Calvary solider who was hanged for murder. Grandfather said the owner was a bad man and the gun held bad medicine.”

Ben wasn’t the superstitious sort and had bought the gun to shoot for fun and to brag about. Now he sat running his thumb over the 6 tick marks in the gun’s grip, worn down from years of use. Each one still a stark reminder of someone’s life. As he felt them he wondered who they were, why the gun’s owner had killed them. He was pulled from his thoughts by a banging on the door. A loud slam of meat against wood and the groans of something horrible wanting in.

“Go Away!” Ben screamed and shot a round from the gun through the wooden door. Suddenly the sound of glass breaking filled the room as the zombies shattered through in force. The loud crack of the back door breaking down and the sound of multiple footsteps seeking him out, demanding his life. Ben fired shot after shot at the lumbering dead, counting each one until he knew there was only bullet left. This last shot he had saved for himself and lifted the gun to his head as he pulled back the hammer. But before he could pull the trigger they were upon him, clawing at him with bleeding eyes and fetid breath.

“NO!” he screamed as they grabbed his arm, pulling the gun from his grip and forcing him to the ground. Ben closed his eyes and waited for the end.

“We got you now you bastard!” a voice said angrily in his ear and Ben opened his eyes suddenly. Police had him pinned down and were putting cuffs on him. “W…What’s going on??!!” Ben stammered

as he was pulled to his feet. “What the…” Ben began as he saw two dead and one wounded police officer in his living room. “No. No! But they were dead… I mean they were zombies… wait!!” he stammered on as he was dragged out of his home. “No! No! NO!” he screamed as he saw Carl lying in his driveway with the body of Carl’s daughter lying close by.

“Monster!” Carl’s wife screamed as paramedics tended the bullet wound in her shoulder.  “Went crazy…” his neighbors whispered. “Might have been bath salts,” they said as they pointed. Ben shook his head frantically as they pushed him in the patrol car. “You’re gonna fry for this!” the cop said and Ben tried to explain to them… tried to tell them that he had defended himself. That they had been zombies and he was innocent… they had to believe him!

From within the plastic evidence bag the old colt revolver lay still. If anyone had been listening to it they would have sworn that from somewhere inside the bag was a deep yet quiet laughter. And a faint scratching noise as a seventh tick mark appeared on the gun’s grip.

***

Joey Payne enjoys writing post-apocalyptic novels and horror short stories. His first release, a book set in a grim future world, entitled Love and Radiation (Book 1 of his Radiation Tales series) was published in October of 2012 and is currently available via Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle App Store. The second in the Radiation Tales Series—Death and Radiation—is expected out sometime in 2013. His latest published work, The Slow and The Dead, a horror short, appears in this year’s 13 Stories Till Halloween 2012 edition.
Joey is a Georgia boy and lives with his wife and children in his beloved home state. He also loves river boating, fishing and collecting antique firearms, which he shoots often to help him concentrate.

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6 thoughts on “The Slow and the Dead

  1. The ending gave me chills too! This might be my favorite of the 13. Ever since I got sucked into the Walking Dead, I realized I should never own a gun because I think I see zombies everywhere. I could be Ben. Also I love the line about bath salts!

  2. Pingback: Coming Soon – 13 Stories 2013!! | 13 Stories 'Til Halloween

  3. Pingback: The Block – Joey Payne | 13 Stories 'Til Halloween

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