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SCREAMERS, GHOSTS, AND CHILDREN: CHAPTER 2
When Siren awoke from her liquor-induced slumber, she realized that there was a muted light spilling in from the doorway of the bar. She blinked the haze from her eyes, squinting from the tile floor where she slept. Distant yelling brought her to sit straight up and to take inventory of those around her.
Max. She was there, behind the bar. It seemed that she'd also heard the noise and tied her hair up in a green bandana while moving toward the door.
Jim, who sat at the bar with a coffee mug in front of him, swiveled his stool around toward the door but didn't stir towards it.
Scott was just tentatively moving around, a few feet from where Siren sat. She'd heard his sick-wet snoring all night long and figured he wasn't quite awake yet so she hissed at him to wake up.
Candy, who partook a little more than the rest of them--or maybe she just had a naturally-flamboyant personality--stumbled out of the restroom, ramming her shoulder on the door frame as she did so, and then giggling, "I think I'm still drunk. Bloody Mary, anyone?"
Crew and Spider were nowhere to be seen. Siren instinctively knew they were outside. "Max, what's going on?"
Max was at the door now and her only answer was to hold out one finger behind her back, which was facing the rest of them. Siren watched as Jim fidgeted, picking up his mug and placing it back down without taking a drink. He put one foot on the floor and assumed the position of a man about to make a move.
Jim was a pleasant guy. Siren had known him casually for several years, having seen him in passing at the store and the pharmacy. He was decently successful--as successful as anyone could be in this ghost-frame of what used to be a vibrant logging community. He was a plump fellow, not overly obese, but he had a roundness in the belly that suggested a taste for cheeseburgers and sweets. His disproportional legs, arms, and face suggested he'd once been fairly active.
Siren rose to her feet and slapped on the Coors Light fanny pack they'd found in the back room at the bar. They'd stashed medications pillaged from the pharmacy in it after emptying the bottles into space-saving sandwich baggies labeled with their contents: Acetaminophen, three baggies chock-full of two types of antibiotics, a stash of Fentanyl patches, steroid pills, and a trillion antiseptic wipe packets. Bigger items, liquid medications, a few inhalers, first aid supplies, and a plethora of other things she didn't know the names of or uses for, were loaded up in the two backpacks Jim had also swiped from his pharmacy.
They'd found another backpack, a duffel bag and a wheeled cooler in the back as well, promotional supplies provided by beer and liquor vendors, which they'd packed full of a few cases of beef jerky, popped popcorn, chips which they'd popped the air out of and consolidated into smaller bags, Max's last case of trail mix, water, and a few bottles of clear liquors--tequila, vodka, and white rum.
A crack and thud indicated that something was happening outside. Max responded by running through the door to the blue-purple, early-morning mysteries on the other side, while Jim used his grounded foot as a launch point from with he took off behind the bar, disappearing behind it in a hurry.
"What's going on out there," Candy asked before matching Siren's pace toward the door. The two of them saw Crew and Spider, with Max coming up behind them, fending off four non-human creatures, Spider burying the end of a crowbar into the eye socket of one of them while Crew had a rifle set into his shoulder. As Max approached them, she yelled "Look out!" and a cursory glance told Siren that there was the shell of a woman encroaching upon Crew's backside.
Max was unarmed, but came upon a smaller, skinner creepy dude and high-kicked him in the side of the head so hard that he fell to the ground. Spider had just sickeningly plucked his crowbar from the face of the other thing and spun around to cram the business end into this poor soul.
There were two left.
"What are you doing, Crew, SHOOT!" Candy screeched. He was standing there, pointing the muzzle of the rifle back and forth between the two mystery beasts.
Spider echoed, "Shoot them, boss."
With three loud pops, he dispatched the nasty things before he mopped the sweat from his brow. It wasn't even moderately hot out, but he was drenched in sweat. Spider clapped him on the back and reached around to Max, embracing her in a one-armed hug. They headed back toward the door to the bar.
"What the hell were you doing outside," Siren managed to spit out.
"We were going through cars to see what other supplies we could snag," Crew said.
"It was a good thing," added Spider, "check out the goods! A rifle, a crowbar, and a falling ax." He zagged toward the back of a hatchback car and swooped up the ax he'd mentioned on his way back.
Now that the immediate threat seemed to have disappeared, Siren bounced back inside and powered up her phone to call her twin sister. They'd decided to meet her and Siren's niece at the movie theater, which was closer to Cypress than it was to the bar, but the consensus was that there was safety in numbers and a thin, young woman and a child shouldn't be asked to make a massive trekk alone.
When they reentered the bar, Jim was standing, panting, in the center of what was a dancefloor in better times. "Man, I was just about to run out there and beat some ass, but I saw y'all had a handle on it. Good on ya!" Siren covered her smirk with the back of her hand as she hit the number that would dial Cypress and put the phone to her ear. Scott proclaimed that it was time to take off and everyone began loading their respective backpacks, coolers, and purses that they had packed the night before.
While the phone rang, Siren watched Candy walk behind the bar, grabbing a pitcher and filling it with vodka, a thick, red liquid Siren assumed was tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, spices, and Max walked up behind her, offering mason jars with various pickled additions to the breakfast treat.
"Hey," Cypress said. "You're still good. Thank the goddesses." This was a saying they'd picked up from their mother, who was not particularly fond of religion, but whose spirituality was a heavy influence on their lives and motivated them to be the best versions of themselves.
"Yeah, I'm good. How's Harlowe? How are you?"
"Harlowe is so brave, Siren. She's grieving, I think, for her dad, but she woke me up an hour ago saying we needed to meet up with you. The little stinker had snuck downstairs while I was sleeping and loaded up all the supplies we could possibly need. I just need to grab the pistol and the ammo. We have lots of food, three flashlights, jewelry Harlowe thought you couldn't live without...the girl even grabbed condoms, pads, tampons, toilet paper, and sweatshirts. I can't even with her!" Harlowe was Cypress' 10-year-old daughter, who had jet-black hair despite her mother and aunt's red hair. Flaming red hair. She did sport a shock of strawberry blonde, which the sisters had congratulated themselves upon. She looked just like her father, so this hint of mom-genes was celebration-worthy. She was smarter and more mature than any kid Siren, who admittedly wasn't fond of kids, had ever known.
"That's mah girl," Siren pronounced before getting down to business. "Alright, Cy. Here's the deal: We're going to meet at Budget Cinemas. Bring everything you can. It's backed up to that steep hill, so it's easier to defend if we have to spend a day or two, plus it's situated in a strip mall where we might be able to score some supplies. You'll have my pistol. Use it if you have to. There are something like 280 rounds, do not leave any behind. It looks like we're in this for the long haul. It has finally happened, sis. The end of the world."
There was silence for a moment before she continued, "Okay. What time?"
Siren looked around. Everyone seemed ready. Everyone except for Candy was downing the last of the free-flowing water and was loaded up with their stuff. "We're leaving now. Wait about thirty minutes and then take off. I'd rather we arrive before you and get inside than have you waiting out in the open for us."
Just then there was a smash of glass and boxes and a sea of arms reaching through wherever they could. Grey, filthy arms. Tearing at each other. Tearing to get in.
"I have to go, Cy," so as not to worry her, she added, "we're taking off real soon. Be careful, shoot to kill, and I love you two." She clicked off the phone and had just remembered to remind Cypress to bring her cell phone charger when all hell broke loose. From the front door came pouring in what could only be described as corpses. Covered in congealed blood, filth, vomit. First there were three, then six of the things.
"Oh shit," cried Candy, who grabbed her pitcher and said, "back door, back door, back door, guys!"
Jim was already there, moving boxes frantically, without regard for their fragile contents. Siren initially thought he should be more careful and then realized what the hell she was thinking and helped move, throw, kick boxes out of the way. They were meant to keep them from harm in the night, but in these early morning hours, they were the barrier to escape.
"Go, go, gooo!" Max yelled, pushing Jim, Scott, Candy, and Siren through the door while Crew and Spider brought up the back, wielding their weapons as threats the flesh-eaters weren't taking seriously at all.
They rushed through the back door into an alley on the opposite side of the building that they needed to be on, in a shaded alley behind the Twisted Tavern. Spider crawled through with his crowbar in one hand and the back of Crew's shirt neck in the other, guiding him through the door as he sent blasts into the increasing numbers of whatever-the-hell they were.
When Siren turned around, Jim and Candy were about a hundred yards up the alley, hauling serious ass. Crew slammed the door shut on the head and protruding upper body of one of the...she'd decided to call them 'dead dudes,' even though this one was a particularly motivated she-dead. "Let's go," she wailed behind her as she took off after the others, Scott alongside her.
They turned the corner of the alley onto the street parallel to the one with all the dead dudes. Candy and Jim had apparently decided the coast was clear and stopped in the middle of the car-packed road. When she caught up, Siren saw that Candy had sloshed much of her Bloody Mary onto her bright orange top. It looked like a massacre. She was taking her pointer finger and wiping the thick mess until she had globbed enough to put in her mouth.
"Gross," she thought, but didn't judge. She'd eaten chocolate off of the floor her two cats and pitbull, Ghost, had traipsed all over. Not much better, she decided.
As they walked, Siren thought of her pitbull, not two years old. Her cats, Smitten and Smiley. What would happen to them? Would they turn into whatever this was? And what was this?
They walked for three blocks without incident, aside from Candy's incessant naming of the corpses inside the cars they passed. Two blocks to go.
A child appeared from behind a homemade outhouse. She was dirty and cried quietly.
"Oh shit," Max said as she decided to trot closer.
"No," Spider boomed. "Wait."
Only a few car-lengths ahead of Max now, the girl had seen us. All of us. Siren's fear was the same as Spider's.
The girl stayed put, just looking. Crying quietly. The sound of it was eery, against the hushed backdrop of our surroundings.
"Are you okay, hun," Max cooed.
She stared through Max, but stopped crying. Her eyes grew impossibly large before she tilted her chin toward the sky, only slightly. A little more.
Siren furrowed her brows as she realized that the little girl's face remained lifted up, but her chin was drawn down, back toward the chest of her pastel-pink shirt.
They saw the effects of it before they even heard it, as though her bellow shot faster than the speed of sound down the street towards them. The windows of the buildings on either side of the street simply shattered as the high-pitched scream raised every hair on Siren's arms, every follicle on her head.
She screamed a scream that sent shock waves through the atmosphere, visible ripples in the fabric of the air, first through Max, then Scott, myself and Candy, Crew, and then Spider.
She fell to the ground after a simple pop. Crew had shot her. Max turned around, then, as Spider dashed up to her, stopping short when he saw her face.
From her eyes and her nose spilled deep red blood, dripping to her shirt in a steady stream. She fell to her knees, arms splayed, and coughed. Twice.
Her vomit was black and thick like tar. Siren had to look away, seeing the beautiful girl as she was before them was traumatizing her. She knew because she felt that she was going into shock herself. She realized she couldn't hear, a muffled fuzz hanging about her head. She could make out that there were voices, but staring at the Converse on her feet, she couldn't identify the words or the sources of the sound. Soon she regained hearing, incrementally. She looked up to see that Max was a collapsed body upon the ground.
"She's not dead," Spider exclaimed.
Crew rushed up to Spider and Max. Spider was knelt down beside the once-pretty girl, with two fingers against her neck.
"We can't leave her," Spider said definitively.
"Spider, man, we can't bring her." Responding to the tortured look on Spider's weathered face, Crew continued, "there's no way she'll bounce back, Spide. She has lost so much blood. What are we going to be able to--"
"So what? We just leave her to be eaten by whatever the fuck comes along?" Spider demanded.
Candy spoke up, "How are we going to get her to the theater?"
"I'll carry her. I'd carry you, Candy. And I'd carry you, too, Crew. I'm not leaving her." He pulled her up and over his shoulder and started walking without another word.
Nobody argued any further. Siren noticed that she hadn't seen Jim, who just that moment crawled out from behind a two-ton truck, yanking on the adjustments on his backpack with a nervous--what was it, a smile? She stared him down, glaring, then cried silently as they walked the two blocks to the theater, slowly, so Spider wasn't left behind in his slow movement with his cargo.
When they arrived, they knew it wasn't the ideal scenario. The door to the theater had been smashed open already. Siren, Candy, Jim, and Scott paused, looking to Crew and Spider for guidance. The two men paused for a moment and then continued on without a second hesitation. Everyone cautiously followed. What could be in there?
"Jim, you wait here and watch for Siren's sister," Scott suggested.
"Oh, um, naw. No. I uh, I mean,"
"Don't be a goddamned weiner," Candy spouted. Everyone was thinking it...
"No, that's not it," Jim said. "I'm the only medically trained person here. I mean, the pharmacy, you know. Max is going to need me."
"You're a siss and everyone knows it, Jim. We all saw the way you hid behind the bar this morning! You're a siss, tell him, Scott."
Scott opened his mouth as if to speak, but Candy cut him off, "A slathering of panty waste."
Siren shuffled her legs together.
"Crotch butter," she continued, "I'll stay here, you big, fat, ripened canker!" Jim brought his chin to his chest and didn't protest.
"Thank you, Candy," he said, "I will admit, I'm afraid. I thought I'd be tougher, better than this, brave. But I'm not. I'm so afraid. Afraid of everything, shattering glass, parked cars, garbage floating by from the wind. It's not excusable, but it's true. I just can't stand out here all alone."
Just then, a familiar face came panting forward. A blue-grey pit bull, smiling as if he'd never been happier than now, this apocalyptic moment, back-over-front feet, barrelling toward the group.
"Ghost," Siren cried. She dropped to the ground and held her arms open for him. He happily obliged, careening into her so hard that she fell backward and then licking her face, dropping slimy drool across her cheeks as he covered every inch of her exposed skin. "Ohh, Ghost."
She knew what this meant and she looked into the distance. Only a few hundred feet away, her sister was running, Harlowe keeping up, to where she knew that if only they had each other, they had the world. Everything was going to be okay.
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