The Way of the Word

23. March 2010

Passenger – A short story by Jens H. Altmann

Filed under: Fiction,general,Uncategorized,writing — jensaltmann @ 10:01
Tags: , , , , ,

Anne put both hands on the smiling baby’s body. She lifted her up over her head.

“Whee,” she said. The baby laughed. Slowly, Anne lowered her hands until the baby’s body was at the level of her face. Anne pressed her face against the baby’s belly and gnawed the soft skin with her lips, tickling. The baby gurgled happily and grabbed Anne’s hair with both hands, pulling enthusiastically.

“Ow, stop that,” Anne said. “That hurts, Joy.” Responding to the laughter in her mother’s voice, Joy laughed and pulled harder. Taking her daughter’s hand, Anne freed herself.

“Are you sure we’re safe here?” Jeff asked. “I really don’t like the isolation. And how are we going to defend this place?”

Anne turned her head to look at her husband, who was talking with his best friend Kent.

“As sure as anything is these days,” Kent said. “The isolation is just what makes it safe. They will stay in the cities and towns, where they can find… find their food. It’ll be a while before they’ll start foraging in such isolated areas. By then, we’ll have figured out where we can go.”

“Someplace really safe,” Mattie said. “Someplace with thick and high walls all around. Thick and high enough that they can’t get over them.”

“Like the state penitentiary,” Kent said. “I’ve been thinking along the same lines. But not just yet. I don’t think the streets are safe yet. In a week or so, I think it’ll be safe to travel in a week or so.”

Anne sighed and turned her attention back to Joy. The baby girl made some gurgling noises. Anne held her a little closer and wiped drool of her daughter’s face.

“Thank god you’re too young to understand this,” she whispered. Then again, Anne didn’t pretend she understood any of this. And she was sure that Jeff or Kent or Mattie didn’t, either. But at least Kent had something resembling a plan to get through this alive, and he was kind enough to take Jeff and his family along.

This cabin in the forest was scary, though. Anne didn’t really feel safe here. It was isolated, and Jeff kept complaining how difficult it would be to defend.

As if his computer gaming experience made him anything like an expert on these things. At least Kent’s horror movie addiction seemed to be useful.

“What do we do now?” Anne asked.

“We wait. We brought enough supplies to last two or three weeks. Including milk for Joy, unless you’re still… err…”

“Joy’s on formula,” Anne said. She smiled at Kent’s discomfort.

“Okay. Yes. Anyway. What we need to do is, we need to board up the windows and the doors.”

“Won’t that attract them?” Mattie asked. “I mean, if I had to choose between a house with boarded-up windows and one that looked normal, I’d check out the boarded-up place.”

“It hasn’t been established that they think,” Kent said. “They probably can’t even tell the difference. At the very least, it’ll buy us some time to get down into the basement.”

“What kind of weapons do we have?” Jeff asked. Anne rolled her eyes. Mattie saw that and grinned.

“I have a 9mm pistol and a shotgun,” Kent said. “Do you know how to use either of them?” Jeff shook his head. “Me, neither,” Kent admitted. “I never thought I’d have to use something like that.”

“I guess all those survivalist camps, they’re gonna be very safe now. Haven’t they prepared for this kind of thing?”

“Probably. Good point, though. I’ll need to figure out a way to get in touch with them.”

Jeff got up, slapping his hands together.

“Okay, let’s get on with it. Where are the tools?”

“In the car. Let’s go fetch them. Anne, Mattie, would you help carry? The sooner we’re done. Err… Anne, that is, if Joy can stay out of trouble for five minutes or so…?”

Anne put her daughter down on the blanket. The baby’s smile faded slightly, replaced by something resembling a frown. Even the baby sensed that the situation was really desperate.

“I suppose,” Anne said, tickling Joy’s belly. “I’ll be right back, sweetie.”

Kent stopped in the doorway for a second and looked around.

“Okay, looks good. Let’s go get the stuff.”

He went towards the station wagon, Mattie close behind him. Anne followed Mattie, with Jeff coming out last. Anne heard him mutter something about ‘bringing up the rear.” Kent opened the wagon’s rear hatch. He reached inside, pulled out a box and passed it on to Mattie. Mattie stepped back, looked around…

She screamed and dropped the box. Kent straightened up, then ducked when he banged his head against the upraised hatch.

“What the…?”

Anne saw what had frightened Mattie, and joined her friend in the scream. The zombie that shambled out of the forest reacted to the noise and headed towards them.

“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck,” Anne heard Jeff mutter. Mattie’s paralysis broke. She turned and ran towards the house. Anne still screamed.

“Annie, run!”

She heard Jeff’s yell, but found herself unable to move. She barely noticed Kent sitting on the ground with his mouth open. Anne heard a loud bang. The zombie staggered, then straightened up. Another loud bang.

Kent got up and ran towards the cabin. Was he screaming, or was it still her? Anne wasn’t sure. Maybe it was Jeff. The zombie came closer. It stumbled over the box Mattie had dropped and fell, fell towards Anne. When the clammy dead hand touched her leg, Anne found herself able to move again. But the hand grasped her ankle with incredible strength. It wouldn’t let go. Anne tried to tear herself loose. She lost her balance and fell.

More bangs. The zombie jerked. Anne felt a pain in her calf. She kicked the creature in the face. It let go. Anne crawled away. Her calf hurt horribly, far worse than a graze from a bullet should have. She looked up to see her husband stand, legs wide apart, holding the pistol with both hands, taking aim. He pulled the trigger twice more. Something moist hit her. Anne looked at the zombie. Jeff had finally hit the head. The moist stuff she had felt were the creature’s brains, splattering over her leg.

Anne struggled to her feet.

“Jeff, I…”

“Stay back.”

Jeff pointed the gun at her. Anne looked at it, blinking, not comprehending.

“Jeff, what…?”

Jeff pointed his chin at her leg. Anne looked down. Looked at the wound on her calf. A wound that looked a lot like a bite.

Oh no.

“Don’t come closer. You’re infected. You’re gonna be one of them.”

“Jeff, honey, I…”

Jeff took three steps backwards.

“No. No, I… Stay back, Annie, please. You’re infected. I can’t… I can’t…”

Annie stumbled another step closer. She held out her hand, begging.

“Jeff, please.”

“Shoot her,” Kent said. Both looked at him. “She’s infected. She’s going to be one of them. Shoot her, before that happens.”

“Kent, she’s my wife. My wife.”

“Shoot her.” This from Mattie. “It’s better for her too. You wouldn’t want to come back like… like that, would you, Anne?”

Jeff looked at Mattie, then at Kent. Then he looked at Annie.

He lowered the gun. His mouth moved, he tried to say something, but whatever it was, it was too quiet for Anne to hear. Jeff’s shoulders dropped. His face twisted. Anne saw tears run down his cheeks.

He held the gun out towards Kent.

“I can’t. I… I…”

Kent took the pistol. He took aim at Anne. She closed her eyes. She felt tears run down her face.

“Please … can I see Joy…?”

A moment later, she heard something click. Not the bang she had expected. She opened her eyes.

She was alone. The cabin’s door was closed. The three had gone inside, left her out here to…

To do what, actually? To die? And to eventually come back as a zombie? Which was what would probably happen, unless more zombies showed up first to eat her.

Why hadn’t they killed her? If they were so sure she was infected and would die and come back as a zombie, why hadn’t they shot out her brains? It had worked with… with that one.

Maybe, maybe if they had taken her in, and treated her, maybe she would live and they could take her to a doctor who could do something. So that she wouldn’t die.

Maybe in an hour or so they would realize that and let her in. Until then, it was important to get to a safe place. Someplace where zombies wouldn’t get her. If there was one, there were probably more. And she wasn’t feeling all that well, actually. She felt dizzy, and a bit feverish. The shock, yes, it was probably the shock. If she could get a bit of a rest, she’d be fine again in no time.

Anne thought of Joy. She wiped some tears from her face. That was the worst, actually. The thought that she might never see her baby again.

I need to lie down. Just for a moment.

Anne looked around. The only safe-looking place was the station wagon. She took a couple of unsteady steps towards it. Then she climbed into the back and pulled the door down. It closed with a comforting thunking sound.

Anne rummaged through the boxes. There was a blanket here, there had to be. She remembered packing one, and she didn’t remember unpacking it. By now, she was shaking. It felt a bit like a cold. A bad cold.

I’m running a fever, she thought. The idea comforted her. Fever, that meant her body was fighting the infection, burning it out.

There was the bag. Anne unzipped it with unsteady hands. The blanket was right in top. It was a nice, cozy, warm fleece blanket. Anne pulled the blanket out of the bag. She wrapped herself into it, crawled to the backseat and stretched out as much as the station wagon’s dimensions allowed. The blanket helped, she felt a bit warmer. The shaking didn’t stop, however. Anne closed her eyes. She felt so weak. Maybe, maybe if she rested her eyes, the fever would burn the infection out and she would feel fine again. Then she’d get out of the car, knock on the cabin door, yell at the three idiots inside. They’d let her in, treat her injury, and she would hug her baby and feel better again.

Anne hung on to that thought of holding her baby as the world faded to black.

*          *            *

It was the sense of motion that woke her up.

Motion? What motion? Why were her eyes open? What was wrong with her eyes? They seemed to be somewhat out of focus.

The motion was her body. Why was her body moving? Anne had never been a sleepwalker. So why was her body moving now, when she wasn’t making it move?

Her body was bumping into the closed car door. It was trying to open it.

Oh, come on, have you forgotten how to open a door?

Apparently so. Anne couldn’t tell how long her body took to accidentally turn the handle that opened the door. Unprepared, the body fell out, to the ground.

As the body staggered to its feet – from the way it looked to Anne from somewhere inside the body, it must have been a comical sight – she noticed something she hadn’t noticed before, because it had been out of her body’s line of sight.

There were zombies all over the place. They were everywhere. There was no place to escape to, especially as uncoordinated as Anne was right now.

But… They were ignoring her. Instead, they were all moving towards the house.

And… they all moved as stiffly and slowly as Anne’s body did. Anne’s body had finally managed to get to its feet. Now it was wobbling and swaying. It was relearning how to keep its balance. When it stood firm on its two feet, it took a slow step forward. The legs felt stiff for some reason, Anne could tell that it was hard to move. The body held out the arms in an effort to maintain balance.

Why were the zombies ignoring her? That other one hadn’t, it had bitten her…

Oh.

No.

Anne became aware that her body smelled something. Something enticing, appetizing. Her body stopped, getting its bearings, and finally turned towards the cabin.

Why were there no gunshots? The others had been armed, they had been ready to fight off zombies. Why was the…

Oh no.

As Anne’s body stumbled towards the cabin, she noticed that the door was open. How long had she lain in the car, completely out of it? Clearly long enough that the others had already fought the zombies, and lost the fight. Now the creatures were swarming inside.

What was that sound? Anne was positive that there was some sound coming from the cabin, some sound that wasn’t the zombies moaning and smacking. It sounded almost like…

No! No!

Her body seemed to take forever to reach the cabin. It stumbled repeatedly, it fell against other zombies. Somehow, it managed to stay on its feet, it managed to move forward. As the scent … What was that scent anyway? What was it that smelled so good, so tasty?… grew stronger, as that sounds she couldn’t identify grew louder, Anne’s body quickened its pace of its own accord. It pushed its way through the door past some other zombies.

The body ignored the sight of the zombies feeding. Anne’s mind screamed. She only recognized what was left of Kent by the shirt she had last seen him wear. Three zombies were pulling on Mattie’s limbs, fighting over the meal.

Oh my dear god, is Mattie still moving?

Anne tried to see, but her body ignored it. Whatever attention it had was completely focused on reaching the source of the smell. The smell and the sound both seemed to come from the cupboard. Through the hazy vision, Anne could make out some zombies that stood there and tried to get through the closed cupboard door.

Where was Jeff? Was he covered by the pile of zombies over there to the left?

Anne’s body reached the cupboard and pushed the other zombies aside. Anne could sense her body’s greed, the hunger. The body grabbed the cupboard doors. Muscle memory made the body pull. The doors opened. The smell and the sound were joined by the visual.

Anne’s mind screamed. She tried to focus, she tried to burn her will into her body’s limbs.

Her mind was not nearly strong enough to influence her body’s actions. Anne’s body reached into the cupboard, took hold of the baby, and pulled it out.

Joy stopped screaming. Anne wondered if her daughter recognized the body as that of Mommy, she wondered if her daughter thought that everything would be okay now that Mommy’s here to protect her.

Anne’s mind screamed and raged and tried to stop her body. Anything, anything but this! Turn around you traitorous undead machine, don’t do this, we need to protect her.

Joy actually smiled when Anne’s body’s face pressed itself against her belly.

Then she screamed as Anne’s body bit into the soft flesh.

THE END

(c) 2010 by Jens H. Altmann. All rights reserved.

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7 Comments »

  1. Very brutal, and very good. I won’t say I didn’t kind of see the end coming once I knew there were zombies involved – the first few sentences foreshadowed it quite heavily – but I didn’t expect to see it from Anne’s point of view.

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 23. March 2010 @ 22:07

  2. Thank you. Yes, I know the opening telegraphs the ending. That’s where the entire story came from: this image I had of that affectionate nuzzling the mother does, contrasted against the biting down at the end. There was also the thought: What if somewhere inside the zombie, there is still the original mind of the person it used to be, and what could be the worst thing that could happen to that mind?

    Comment by jensaltmann — 24. March 2010 @ 09:05

  3. I don’t mind being able to guess the ending when the way there is so well done. Kudos!

    Comment by Anders Gabrielsson — 24. March 2010 @ 16:55

  4. Thank you.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 24. March 2010 @ 17:07

  5. I also didn’t mind the foreshadowed ending but that doesn’t matte with a well-done execution… uhm, no pun intended. Hah!

    Comment by Jimmie Robinson — 14. May 2010 @ 18:29

  6. I meant, “but that doesn’t matter…” (iPhone typo).

    Comment by Jimmie Robinson — 14. May 2010 @ 18:30

  7. Thank you. Considering the source, I see this as high praise indeed.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 14. May 2010 @ 18:36


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