By Rick McQuiston
Chet felt a terrible headache coming on. The pressure started in his temples and progressed to his eye sockets. A dull, throbbing ache that would persist despite any remedies he would try. He knew it was hunger; it had been days since he’d last eaten and even then it had only been scraps he had salvaged from a trashcan.
“Are you going to eat that?” he asked Calvin who sat opposite him with a half eaten rat splayed on his lap. He had managed to catch it as it had darted towards a small hole in a nearby wall.
“No, you can have it,” Calvin replied. “Still can’t get used to stuff like that.” He tossed the bloody rodent to Chet. It landed with a plop and laid there, a motionless meal.
Chet greedily stuffed the remains into his mouth. Not his first choice but better than the alternative.
“How long you been in here?” he asked Calvin as he pushed his oily blonde hair out of his face.
Calvin looked up. “’Bout a week,” he said while eyeing Chet closely, noticing the blood from the rat drip onto his tattered shirt. “How many do you think are out there now?” he asked while watching Chet’s throat surge with each mouthful.
“Gotta be a couple dozen by now. They know we’re in here. Some of them followed me…must’ve told others by now.” His eyes, sullen and empty, looked down at the floor. He always had trouble looking people in the face.
Calvin mumbled in a defeated voice, “Guess so. Probably be over pretty soon.”
The rat had made his hunger subside but Chet knew it wouldn’t last. It never did. The hunger always returned—usually worse than before. Always demanding to be satisfied. Insatiable. He knew his new friend would be hungry again soon as well.
“It’s difficult, but I can still remember before this nightmare happened,” Chet said. Calvin looked up, his face reflecting interest for the first time in days. “I remember going to church…quite a few times actually. Did a lot of praying.” Again he looked at the floor. “Look where it got me. I feel as if God abandoned me.”
A sharp knock on the door shattered the silence. Both of them reacted slowly to the noise as if expecting it. They looked at each other with empty eyes.
“I knew they’d find us,” Calvin whispered. “Sometimes I wonder who the real monsters are.” Calvin stood up. His knees cracked loudly as they straightened but he didn’t notice. Looking towards the door, which now sported several blades coming through it, he cursed at their impending killers. “Leave us the hell alone!” he shouted.
Chet stood up as well. “Another thing I do remember from church,” he said quietly, “was to forgive your enemies.”
Calvin snickered. “No! They want to kill us. It’s not our fault what happened to us. People want to destroy what they can’t understand!”
Chet nodded his head slightly. “That’s true, but we must be bigger than that. We must be strong.”
The doorknob was hit with a vicious blow and fell to the floor in pieces. What was left of the door was violently pushed aside as dozens of dirty men wielding knives and axes vied with each other to get through the doorway. They approached Chet and Calvin rapidly and yet carefully, eyeing the pair with hatred and rage.
Chet moved in front of Calvin, whose insatiable appetite had returned and had begun its ugly transformation. He tried to reason with them, explaining that they only acted out of hunger but the men heard nothing but grunts and moans.
One of them lunged at Chet and narrowly missed his head with a hammer. He crashed to the floor, cursing. Calvin fell on him, quickly tearing open the back of his head and stuffing the man’s brains into his mouth. The hunger had overtaken him and he was powerless to stop it, or perhaps he just did not care anymore. Regardless of the reason, it resulted in the men jumping on Chet and Calvin and hacking them to pieces.
A flood of memories came into Chet’s mind just before he died. The woman he had loved, the church where he had prayed, his career. And his mother and father—he hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye before he…he… He felt truly sorry it had come to this.
“Go and tell Sammy we got two more of ‘em,” the gaunt leader said to the bald, sweaty man behind him. “Tell him they got Lander.”
Two more men sauntered up to the leader. Each was heavily armed with various knives and pistols and wore long, battle-worn expressions.
“Sir, think we’re making a dent?” one of them asked.
“No, not really…not yet anyways,” the leader responded with a blank look.
Disappointment flashed across the men’s faces, but they expected answers like that. They’d heard many of them since the nightmare began almost a year before. The effect seemed to diminish each time.
“Damn zombies,” one of the men scowled. “Those brain eating monsters make me sick.” He spit on the corpses and left the room clutching his rifle.
The leader looked down at the crumpled bodies. The thought that they were once men with families and jobs made him even more sick with remorse. But those feelings quickly vanished when he remembered his mission…to take out all the zombies he could before they overran the country. He had seen too many good men succumb to the disease and he vowed he would do whatever he could to stop it.
He fingered the dangling chain that hung around his neck. It held a small gold locket with a picture of a little boy with blue eyes and bright blonde hair…his little boy who’d grown into a man—with a woman who loved him, and a career ahead of him— killed by a zombie months earlier. He clenched it tightly as he fought the urge to cry.
“I wonder who these men were,” he mumbled to himself, looking down at the bodies.
Taking a deep breath, he paused.
“Nothing. All right let’s go.”
The men slung their weapons back and left the room.
© 2003 Rick McQuiston
This story originally appeared at Barbaric Yawp in 2003. Reprinted with permission.
Rick McQuiston is a father of two who manages a condo project and shopping center by day and churns out spine-tingling tales by night. He’s had over 100 pieces published along with a collection of his short stories titled, "Many Midnights." Rick just finished his second anthology, "Chills by Candlelight." Both books can be purchased from his Storefont at Lulu.com. Rick is also an annual guest author at a Junior High School in Michigan.