“Oh no,” Kale said, eyes going wide. “He’s here! Quick, we have to run!”
“He? Wait, Derek mentioned someone like that. Who’s he?”
“You know Derek?” Kale asked, grabbing Jaime’s hand and tugging her towards the ruins of a gas station, the signs all worn from sea spray and detritus while the inventory was all looted or rotted away. “Never mind, we have to hide!”
Never ignore sage advice, Jaime thought, allowing Kale to tug her into the ruined shop, running behind the counter to hide. Kale was crouching behind the counter, hands over her head and eyes clenched shut, but Jaime was peering over it, just to get a glimpse of what had Derek, and Kale, so frightened. Whatever it was, it had to be terrible.
What she saw shocked her.
Climbing over the trunk of the corpse tree like a spider was a large man, his arm and leg sockets rolling as if they weren’t connected. His bare back was littered with large knives, stuck deep enough to pierce old organs and bone. His face was atrocious, a permanent leer shaped from some sort of plastic over most of his head that created smiling red mask. The eyes were blocked, as were the ears, but the nose holes had been torn open by long, dexterous fingers. Racing over the rubble, giggling like a clown of old, the creature came to a halt over the spot where Kale had been knocked to. It adjusted its head, lowering its face until it was flush to the ground.
A long, slow rattling could be heard, and it took Jaime a moment to realize that was from the knives clacking against each other as the creature took a prolonged sniff. Worried, Jaime looked down at Kale and back at the monster, only to find that the freak had vanished, the giggling
fading off in the distance.
She was about to speak when Kale grabbed her arm, squeezing tight. She glanced down and saw Kale shake her head no.
Suddenly, the roof shuddered, dust falling from the ceiling, and the rattling of rusted metal knives sliding along each other could be heard. The giggling had returned tenfold, and the creature was stomping up and down the roof, racing along the edges and across the middle for whatever mad purpose.
Jaime stared at the dust coming down, wondering if the structure could take this much abuse for long.
Guess it’ll have to see if it can, Jaime thought, a bitter taste in her mouth, no way am I coming out with that lunatic stampeding about!
The giggling continued, the knives slicing along each other’s blades hard enough for sparks to rain down from up high. No other zombies were attracted by the noise, however, which Jaime found strange. Around six minutes passed of this loud assault before the monster calmed and fell silent, stopping at the middle of the roof. Jaime gazed up at the ceiling, wondering what the insane creature was doing, but she didn’t have to wonder for long.
Landing with a crack of pavement in front of the store, the creature reared to its staggering height, the red-capped face blocked from view by the ceiling. The broad chest and thick muscles were scarred, with moss growing over them like the rest of the zombies of this town. It started to giggle again, this time as if it had an idea. Holding up its mammoth right fist, wielding a butcher’s cleaver that was easily three feet long, it began hacking into the wooden structure of the building, splinters raining down onto Jaime and Kale as the register and counter shook.
Still Kalwe didn’t scream, and Jaime didn’t budge at all, staring at the creature with morbid curiosity. What had made it? This was intelligent, like the others, but none of them were following it. It was almost as if it kept other zombies away from them!
Like the opposite of a Preacher, Jaime thought, remembering the two-day siege she and her companions had withstood from the bible obsessed undead.
It’d claimed the life of her lover Amy, after she fled, and they’d never been able to kill it. By the time Jaime had returned to the mall to look in on her cache of goods, the old brick-and-mortar store she’d used as a refuge had been transformed into a temple for the dead, the zombies having constructed nine pillars around it out of materials pulled from the surrounding buildings. The insides of the bookstore were victimized by a fire, which had been washed out by rain, and her remaining ammo supply had been destroyed.
Now, staring at the giggling monster that was cheerfully chopping into the building with a tool designed to murder cattle, she couldn’t help but wonder what the connection was. How had it grown into this monstrosity? The mouth could open, albeit barely, so how did it eat? Most bulls tore at their meals like a wild dog, while this one looked like it would have trouble eating anything solid due to the plastic encasing its skull.
Another three minutes died to the hacking, until the metal of the butcher’s cleaver began hitting the stone steel framework of the building, causing the whole store to quiver and shake from the force of the blows. It continued for a few moments, giving two more whacks as if it really didn’t want to stop, before it relented. Lowering its arm, the Giggler chuckled and sheathed the cleaver into its back with a meaty slicing noise. The large, calloused hand came back, shaking, and the Giggler dropped to all fours again. It crawled over to the tree and stayed there for a few minutes, reaching in and crushing and crunching on the branches with excited laughter, before crawling away.
Kale’s white-fisted grip let up on Jaime’s arm, allowing the woman to let out a sigh of relief, “you have one hell of a grip kid…”
“We some time now…” Kale said, looking up at Jaime, “the others won’t come by since He was here.”
“Yeah, about that… the fuck?” Jaime asked, waving in the direction the Giggler had crawled off in.
“I don’t know, he’s always been here,” Kale said.
“Uh-huh,” Jaime said, crossing her arms under her breasts, “and I thought you were passing through?”
“Um, yeah… about that…” Kale said, looking away.
“Save it,” Jaime said, “I’m not someone who cares why you would lie. You lied to me and that is some grade A bullshit. I know you’re just a kid, but no more of that, okay? We stick together we have to work on our trust.”
“Okay,” Kale said, still averting her eyes.
“No tell me about the Giggler,” Jaime asked.
“Giggler? We never really named him, but it fits… he’s really twisted,” Kale said, whispering almost, “he can hear really well and tracks by smells you make. He probably smelled my blood, and was trying to scare us into making a noise or running out of here so he could pounce on us.”
“Why doesn’t he have any zombies around him? We were stuck here for ten minutes, and you just said we’d be fine to rest a few,” Jaime asked.
Kale shook her head, He doesn’t kill people to eat them. He kills them and nibbles on them, to make them infected. Then after they’re a zombie, he starts to hunt them. That’s why they roam in packs, and use the old ones like dogs. They’re trying to keep him away and stay alert.”
“Oh,” Jaime said, thinking about it, “so he eats other zombies?”
“Yeah, one of the doctors where I was living said it had something to do with the plants that grow outta them,” Kale said, looking up at Jaime, “He can’t chew that well, Dr. Knoll said, ‘cause of the plastic. But it can eat the rotten meat after the plants have softened it up.”
“And the, um, knives? What’s the deal with those?” Jaime asked.
Kale shook her head again. “I don’t know. Most of the people around here came after the Darkness, but legend has it that he was someone who used to work on a ranch, where meat used to come from, and he turned there. Somewhere along the way he got his head dunked in the plastic and it settled, but he broke through what he could and now he just runs around, killing people and eating zombies.”
“That… sounds like a nightmare,” Jaime said, looking out across the corpse tree again, the broken branches highlighted in a new, disturbing fashion, “he, he wasn’t just messing with the tree, was he?”
Kale hummed. “He was probably eating the zombie that was controlling it. He likes them fresh, so he probably settled on eating it instead of killing us.”
“I’m going to just settle for the letdown for now,” Jaime said, “now, I know you said we can relax for a bit, but I’m nervous if I stay anywhere that isn’t fortified for more than five minutes. Let’s get a move on.”
“Okay,” Kale agreed, walking ahead of Jaime with confidence, stopping to look out around the ruined wall, “looks clear over here.”
“Good,” Jaime said, stepping over some shattered wooden boards that’d once made up the doorway, “I think the path the Giggler took will be zombie-free, but call me a risk taker when I say this, let’s head the other way.”
“That’s leading towards Lincoln’s Grove,” Kale said, sounding hesitant.
“Oh?” Jaime asked. “That’s where the library is, right?”
“That’s where me and grandpa came from,” Kale whispered, looking at her feet, “they don’t like me there.”
“Because of the surviving-the-bite thing?” Jaime asked. Smiling when Kale nodded, Jaime reached up and pulled her vest off enough to lift her tee shirt up her body, up to her shoulder blades where her own bite wound was. She waited until she heard Kale squawk out in horror, “there it is! Yeah, you can live for a good long while with the infection in you. I got it when I was younger than you.”
“Really?” Kale asked.
“Really,” Jaime said, adjusting her clothes back into place, “the bite is really only dangerous because the human mouth is so filthy. When we get bitten, we develop nasty infections while the zombie disease lowers our immune system temporarily, getting a foothold in our nervous system. I was treated with antibiotics, strong ones at that. How about you?”
“Grandpa bribed one of the night watchmen to smuggled him some medicine, which he made me take three times a day when I first got sick,” Kale explained.
“Sounds about right,” Jaime nodded, “I’ve heard of people like us making it out of the sickness despite everyone claiming we’d die. Be careful who you tell after all of this, just say a dog gave it to you.”
“Because people will be afraid?” Kale asked.
“Yeah,” Jaime said, trying not to sound sad about it, “people are going to fear you at first, may even try to hurt you like your former friends in Lincoln’s Grove might have done.”
Jaime’s soft smile creased into a frown when Kale straightened up at that, her body going rigid as a board.
Monsters… Jaime thought, and I’m not just thinking about the fucking zombies…