Frank rode in the backseat of the jeep next to Larry and Sam. His smashed dirt-bike was left at the gas station where he had sacrificed it to save the four survivors. He looked out at the passing desert with a face so calm and still it took on a stoic quality.
“I can get a new one, if I need to. There are many things left behind in Vegas. Along with hope and dreams and the collective sins of the world, I’m sure someone left a bike around too.”
James thought on that statement. A lot was left behind when that particularly bloody dawn came carrying a virus so swift, so infectious half the world was as good as dead. No trace of humanity could be found, no thought could be perceived, and no emotion was evident in the virus victims. Yet those inhuman, thought voided, emotionless creatures still walked. Half the population of the world became one of those creatures before the dawn turned dusk. The rest soon followed. All that’s left are false hopes, false dreams, and sin.
Not a sin against a higher power, but a sin to the race that thought themselves gods to this world. At a specie’s apex the only following action is decline, or to compare better with the gravity of this decline, an extinction event. The survivors of that extinction aren’t survivors at all. They are just slow. The people that still walk with un-stilled minds are just the last breathes of a dying world. The last breathes of a creature that can’t survive. A new set of creatures have risen to cleanse the world of the sinful progress-stopping apex.
James’ mind continued to wonder on that dreadful subject until, at last, the collective of structures once named Las Vegas neared and enveloped the jeep. Buildings once serving a purpose passed on one by one now purposeless, except for their remaining job of guarding the city against the sand. The sand, ever ready for a chance, will swarm in and retake the city turning the structures into buried relics.
There were zombies scattered across the city too. They kept themselves to the side of the streets mostly. The shadows the buildings draped onto the ground offered a decent hiding place from the harsh sun. But a few of them would depart from their idling stupor and cool shade to pursue the jeep. It of course was too fast for them, and eventually it outran them completely.
Yet the undead weren’t the only things moving within the city. The air vibrated as a booming sound disturbed the dead ambience. Frank broke his concentration on the passing world to explain.
“That noise is a club down a ways. There was a group of survivors that passed by not that long ago. Their bus got trapped, but one of the braver ones amongst the group went out to distract the horde. He fought his way into a rave and turned everything on. He turned every dial he saw and played every song they had. The zombies came running to investigate the noise. He didn’t make it back out of that club, but the bus got away. Now, to this day, that infinite playlist of bass thumping and ear shattering music keeps playing. Kinda like a tribute to his bravery. The zombies still gather around that place.”
“They do seem to show an acute reaction to noise.” Larry observed and commented upon. “I saw them in a thunderstorm once. It was the most terrifying scene I ever witnessed. All of them came crawling that night. Every-single-damn-one. They looked to the clouds and the lightning like they never seen it before. But only with the long, rolling thunder. They don’t pay any attention to the quick sounds, like gunshots for example. Unless there’s a lot of shooting going on.”
As interesting as zombies’ reaction to sounds was, James wanted to avoid the heavily infested area. Frank informed and assured his apartment was a good distance away from the raving dead. There will also be fewer zombies than usual because of the distracting party several blocks away.
“You wouldn’t mind us crashing at your place, would you?” Beth questioned. “I know it’s a lot to ask, especially after you already lost your bike saving us.”
“That’ll be fine.”
Frank’s place was a modified, modest apartment sited between two buildings that were sufficiently newer and more intimidating than his. The structure contained two stories and a basement, with the ground level story protected by barbwire and sandbags. The windows were bricked up except for a few windows with flowing drapes.
“I used to have a fellow tenant who lived up there. An old lady of fifty-something.”
“What happened to her?”
“She was old.”
The survivors entered their companion’s residence after he unlocked the three amateur-installed deadbolts. The room they entered had all of the furniture stacked in a wall-like fashion a few feet from the door. If the horde managed to chew through the door they would then have to negotiate over the trenches of a disordered apartment.
“Upstairs is a little homier.” Frank defended.
And Frank didn’t lie. The upstairs portion of the apartment, where the old lady of fifty-something used to live, was filled with fine furnishings and draped with white flowing curtains across the windows. There was a lofty couch positioned against a wall, a chair situated in front of the window, and an impossibly large dining table. The table stole a person’s attention away from the rest of the magnificent room with its grander. The table held long candles unlit and shiny forks unused. Such luxury was a rarity now, to say the least.
“It would almost be a shame to dirty it with food,” Beth commented after a pause for gaping mouth to close.
Frank finally allowed his expression to change when he smiled. “But you must be hungry.”
“That we are.” James couldn’t lie.
“Me too,” Frank whispered into James’ ear then sprayed him in the face with a strange, sweet-smelling liquid. James fell to his knees as the world fuzzed over. He watched, unable to move, as Frank sprayed the others. They all fell to the ground, and then into a sound slumber.
Slowly the world came into focus and faded away from darkness. Featureless objects started to take shape and gray colors filled James’ vision. He took note that this must be the basement of the apartment. The gentle clanking above his head hinted he was chained up. The pain around his wrists supported that theory.
“Ah,” a featureless Frank said. “You are awake. Good.”
James couldn’t see him clearly but he could swear the words sounded like they were said through smiling teeth. He tried to focus on the source of the voice. The figure developed features as it grew closer.
Frank was indeed smiling. His face twisted in a strange ecstatic expression. Second, James noticed the knife he carried in one hand. It was a stainless meat cleaver that would look right at home in a master chief’s kitchen. It was stark and simple, elegant in design and manner. Not a weapon to be used against a foe, but a tool to be used on the helpless.
James felt as helpless as a piece of meat, ready for the cleaver.
There was a slight, sleepy moan to James’ right. He tried to turn his heavy head to see. He caught a glimpse of Beth chained and hanging from a pipe stationed below the ceiling. She dangled there still unconscious, yet alive. His head quickly swayed back to a rest as its weight proved too much.
“Try not to stress too much. Chloroform leaves its victims with a bit of a headache. Lucky for you I’ve been doing this long enough that I got the correct dose down pat by now. There shouldn’t be any side effects. Not that you need to worry about that.”
James’ tongue moved slowly in his mouth trying to work out words. “W-why?”
Frank’s smile only widened. He drew closer with his cleaver, placing it against James’ neck. He pulled it gentle across and as blood kissed the blade James let out a hiss of pain. In his discomfort, Frank breathed in a hiss of his own—although his was the hiss of a man trying to contain his pleasure. After that hiss he exhaled his shaky, hot breath into James’ face.
He held the knife up to his eyes and watched the blood work its way down to the handle. Before it touched his hand he pointed the knife down. The blood then made a new path to the tip then to the floor.
“Oh how tasty it looks—delicious and red—but I can’t try it yet, you see. There might be an infection hosted in your blood, your cells, your bones. I’d rather not become one of those mindless things. Those hungry things.”
Frank pulled James’ head up by the back of his hair. Frank brought himself inches away from his face. The lunatic smile faded with a bit of effort, but only for a few seconds.
“I’m hungry too though.”
Frank dropped James’ head and allowed it to pivot heavily on his shoulders. Frank backed away with his vicious smile making its way back to its place. He skipped away from James and approached Beth.
“Ever since I saw you I’ve been wondering which one I wanted first. Now the boy would make a nice appetizer so I thought he might go first—“
“Don’t you touch him!” James interrupted. “Where is Sam? And Larry? Where are they, you bastard!”
Frank’s smile disappeared and he marched back to James, cleaver held high. “Don’t interrupt! I have been rather hospitable—I’ve given you a nice shelter, I’ve welcomed you to dinner, and have treated you respectfully. I expect the same respect! . . . Now don’t interrupt. I was getting to them.”
He pulled away from James and slowly made his way to Beth again. His face untwisted from its angry expression and retwisted back into a smile.
“As I was saying, I originally thought the boy would be best. So he might be the first one to grace the menu. But I can’t eat yet. One of you may be contaminated. So now I need to decide who looks the most fun to play with. Now I can’t say I’m bias towards woman or man, but I have taken note of a strange event that happens when both are presence. It is quite enjoyable to watch. Here, observe.”
Frank took his almost spotless cleaver and sliced Beth across the belly. Her shirt tore and split revealing her toned, once unscarred skin, now marked with a long red line. She jerked up with a sudden cry of pain. James rocked forward until the chain stopped him. He strained every muscle to break loose. “I’m going to wrap these damn chains around your neck!”
“See,” Frank continued his lecture calmly. “Just a scratch and the male in the room gets all excited. Very interesting if you ask me.”
The cleaver came back in for another run across her skin. She pulled herself away as far as her bonds would allow. It wasn’t far enough. Several new red lines raced around her belly as she protested painful screams. Frank smiled more and more. He had to stop occasionally to wait for his almost violent twitching to cease. He couldn’t allow his fits of pleasure to play havoc with his hands during his bloody work.
“Sorry. I just get so worked up. But I can’t have too much fun. I have to leave you alive long enough to see if you change. Then if you are still human within three days, I can have all the fun I want.”
He brought himself within licking distance to Beth.
“And trust me, I plan on having lots of fun. After three days we can stop all of this foreplay and move on to the intimate stuff. The stuff of dreams. Well, maybe nightmares for you.”
He gave Beth one more cut on her cheek for good measure then returned to James.
“And I won’t spare one. We all get to enjoy my fun! Like I said, I’m not bias. Height, sex, age: no matter! Everyone is tall enough to ride this ride!”
His eyes looked to the ceiling and they became distant. The eyes of a waking dreamer.
“I can see it now. It’ll be perfect. The table will be set. The candles will finally be lit. The curtains will be thrown open to the world for all to see! Whoever is left will see the perfect party over the perfect meal! They will all grow jealous, but all the invitations are sent. No visitors. It’ll be a private party! For me and you and you and them!”
James could feel the heaviness leave his body as Frank spoke. He could, although sluggishly, move his limbs and lift his head. He looked to Beth and saw her eyes. They gleamed with one tear and one tear alone. She wouldn’t give the madman anymore. She was strong enough to hold them back. She was a strong girl, a strong woman. That strength against all hope was a beauty all on its own. To pay her any respect now James would have to match it. He would have to prove he could be just as strong, for her.
He pulled down on the chains and felt the skin of his wrists twist against them. But it wasn’t enough. He pulled harder and harder in a building rhythm. The pain of his wrists he paid no mind. The pain of his heart that told him to move he obeyed. The pain of action building within his chest shouting “do something!” he followed.
“Stop that,” Frank commanded. “I know it is a very exciting idea but you must wait. Be patient. I lost control of myself there and I’m sorry. It wasn’t a very respectable thing for a host to do. So stop, you are being rude. I said stop!”
James pushed his feet off the ground in a jump, lifting his body into the air. As he descended back down he pulled once more. The pipe he was chained to creaked a metal creak then snapped. Water that the pipe contained and rust poured down on James. He slid the chain down the fractured pipe and used the loose chains as a weapon. He smacked the shocked Frank across the face with them. Frank tumbled and fell headfirst into the wall. His face dragged down, coming to a rest on the floor in a twisted, unnatural position.
James helped Beth remove herself from the bonds and quickly fastened her wounds with the torn ends of her shirt. He assisted her up the stairs as they exited the basement, until she protested she was fine and able to walk on her own. She was still strong.
In the upper end of the apartment they found Sam and Larry tied up, thrown on the table, and unconscious still. Beth lifted Sam and carried him while James did his best to wake Larry.
“Come on, you lazy ass.” James shook Larry by his shoulders.
Larry slowly opened his eyes and they lazily absorbed his surroundings. It seemed to take him awhile to figure out what was happening. “Man, I have a terrible hangover.”
“Yeah, well, let’s not stay for the after party.”
Cody J Kempf copyright 2012