She was lost. The trees surrounded her, blocking her every turn, while the wind howled and moaned in her ears. The bitter cold pricked at her skin, which was mostly exposed, because she’d run out, without even her shoes or coat. There hadn’t been time.
Deciding the best thing to do would be to figure out where she was, Fran climbed a tree, scraping her leg on the bare branches. Cursing, she wiped the blood with her hands. On the horizon she saw them coming, the dead that now plagued her world. Already, the wind was carrying her scent to them.
Fran woke with a start, her heart pounding. The memory of the dream began to fade as she watched the snow fall, safe and warm in the confines of the house. She almost forgot about the disease infecting her world. Allowing herself to relax, she leaned her head back, sinking into the overstuffed leather seat. The apocalypse seemed ages ago and not just a few months. For a moment, lost in the magic of the winter wonderland outside the window, Fran closed her eyes again, pretending everything in her life was still normal. She must have drifted off, because when she opened her eyes, it was dark outside and a snarling baby was standing in front of her. Throwing herself backwards Fran tipped the chair over, rolling onto the floor as the toddler lunged for her. Fran scooted backwards, her ass sliding across the floor, backing away from the creature as quickly as she could. “What the fuck!”
The toddler sized zombie stumbled for her, his hands held out, reaching towards her like she were a piece of candy. His once cherub face now discolored by the plague, chunks of skin fell from his cheeks, revealing gore and maggots. He drew his lips back in a feral snarl, saliva dripping from his gums, as he gnashed his teeth, anxious to sink them into her skin and consume her flesh.
Oh my God, this is not happening, Fran thought. She had killed a lot of zombies to survive, some of them children, but none as young as this. Usually, children didn't survive the infection, a blessing Fran attributed to God's mercy. This abomination contradicted everything she understood about the disease. She had thought any child this young would have been consumed by the first wave of the undead creatures as the infection spread throughout the city. How this one had survived was beyond her. Of course this now created problem for her. Killing a baby, even one trying to eat her, went against everything her conscience dictated. Fran wanted so badly to wake from this nightmare and find herself once again in a world where babies didn’t resemble demons and her family and friends were still alive.
Struggling with her scruples, Fran rolled to the side as the child attempted to attack her again. Pulling herself to her feet, Fran kicked the un-dead baby in the face when he threw himself at her. The blow didn’t stop him. The child emitted a scream sure to bring others, bigger monstrosities, ones harder for her to deal with. Fran picked up a vase, tossing the container at the crazed tot. The vase shattered against his head, shards of glass cutting the already festering flesh and raining water and long dead flowers over him.
A growl from behind confirmed her worst fears; the nightmare toddler wasn’t who she needed to worry about. Turning, Fran sucked in her breath, Mama was there too, and apparently more protective than a mother bear. The older creature bared her teeth at Fran as she staggered into the room, placing herself between her child and the threat to his existence.
So much for being mindless beasts, Fran thought, observing the mother touch her child’s cheek, giving him what could only be described as a loving gaze. Is it possible some semblance of motherly love remains, even after infection? This didn't make any sense though. Nothing Fran had seen, up to this point, even suggested they were capable of rational thought, let alone the sense to protect and love.
The mother's leg was broken and she dragged the limb behind her as she moved towards Fran. The bone protruded from the graying skin, maggots and other bugs burrowing their way into the wound, feasting off the dead, rotting skin. Fran winced, realizing that would be painful for any human. The bloodied, twisted leg was another stark reminder this was no longer a human world.
What the hell? Fran thought, I searched the house, where did these two come from? Fran had been glad to get out of the cold, but she hadn’t lost her common sense when she found the farmhouse, which was sitting in the middle of some nowhere town in Ohio. The first thing she had done was search the place, even looking in the vents, which were wide enough for a small child or woman to fit into. She hadn’t forgotten the time she’d spent the night in a house with similar vents and been woken by a teen girl crawling up from the floor, one of the rats infesting the tight space still squirming in her mouth. Fran had pulled her gun from her backpack/pillow and shot the walker as she stood over her. The blood and guts had been a bitch to wash out, especially when there was no hot water available. She’d made sure to check even the tightest of hiding spots ever since, and she knew the farmhouse had been empty, which was why she had allowed herself to relax. Her backpack lay across the room and Fran cursed herself for her lapse in judgment. Cautiously, Fran backed up, trying to put distance between herself and the protective mother.
Sensing the window behind her, the frightened woman weighed her options. She could dive through the window, but without her coat, she would freeze, and without her gun, she'd be food. Either way, the window meant death.
"Not today," Fran said, working out a plan in her mind. Grabbing the back of the chair she'd flipped out of, she righted it, grasping the back of the huge, wing backed seat and running straight at the undead bitch. The chair glided across the hardwood floor while she screamed at the top of her lungs, releasing her frustration and anger. Nearing the creature, Fran let go of the chair and dove to the left of her, positioning herself closer to the backpack and further from the dangerous tot. The armchair continued forward, barreling into the mother and knocking her forward and over the back where she landed face down on the floor. Fran heard a crunch as the zombie’s nose broke, completely shattering under the impact. The creature lifted her head, snarling at Fran while bugs feasting on the inside of her snout, scuttled out.
Latching onto her backpack, Fran felt better about her chances. She was far from safe but the odds were now in her favor. She was next to the archway leading to the dining room, then the kitchen and back door. She grabbed her coat, ready to make a run for it, pausing, as she turned, as a thought occurred. If she left now, she would possibly run into more zombies. During the day, her chances of survival would be good, but at night, with visibility obstructed and the walkers strong sense of smell, she'd be outmatched. Deciding her best chance would be to stay and fight two undead, rather than an uncertain amount outside the house, Fran reached into her pack and pulled out her gun.
Releasing the safety, she turned, aiming at the female, then froze, shocked at what she observed. Her decision to turn back and fight took place in a matter of seconds. She'd seen the baby move and figured he'd be heading towards her, fork and knife in hand. Her plan had been to shoot the elder zombie and then the baby. Clean, well relatively, considering there would be brain splatter, and simple. Instead, what she found made no sense to her. It certainly was nothing she had ever experienced in the last several months.
Hell's version of a baby, the monstrosity created amongst all evil imaginings, had tottered over to his mother, trying to help her to her feet. The mother was having difficulty getting up because of the mangled leg. The baby, confused, let out a cry and then, unbelievably, the female zombie picked the baby up, cradled him in her arms and began nursing him. As the child suckled at his mother's breast, she glared at Fran, her lips curled into a snarl. Fran had the feeling the only thing keeping mama zombie from lunging for her throat was the need to comfort her child.
She was so stunned by what was happening she didn't realize anyone else had entered the room until the mother's head exploded. Fran jumped, nearly firing her gun and shooting the man who stood there, his own gun now aimed at her. Screaming in rage, the infant leaped across the room at the stranger. He moved his gun a fraction of an inch and shot the tiny tot out of the air.
Fran tried to speak, but all she managed were a few strangled groans before collapsing on the floor.
“You’re welcome,” the man said, chuckling as he reached to help her stand. “It was a bit of a shock the first time I ran across one too. You’d better get used to it, there’s more to come and I think they’re a bit smarter than their parents.”
“There’s more?” The words all but exploded out of Fran’s mouth. “How? They’re dead! Or at least…not alive.” Fran was a bit fuzzy on the whole dead, not dead thing. A part of her hoped maybe they were still alive and a cure might be found. “How can they reproduce?”
“Think about it,” he said. “What happens to the babies of the pregnant women infected by the virus?” At her silence, he continued, “After the first outbreaks, most of the infants died. Many were miscarriages, some were premature births. The ones born alive were, in general, eaten by their mothers and if not their mother, then other zombies stumbling across them.”
“So how did this one, and the others you’ve seen, survive?”
After some pregnant women became infected, the baby continued to live inside, growing, feeding off of its mother and mutating. And for the mother, well the instinct to feed is not as strong as the instinct to protect their child. The first one I ran across, the baby was younger than this one. The mother was actually feeding the infant parts of a human brain.”
Fran thought she might vomit. “But this one appeared to be at least a year. He was walking.”
“I think this is a part of the mutation. They mature rather quickly, and as I said, they appear to be smarter than their parent. At first, they seem as helpless as a normal baby, except for the decaying skin. As they get older, they become more cunning. Their brains are capable of rationalizing a situation and developing a plan. They can think, which means, we’re in trouble.”
* * * * *
The armchair once again back by the window, Fran sat watching the sun rising, its light causing the snow on the ground to sparkle and shine. Fran found herself longing for her younger brother. If he were still alive, he would be out at first light, building a fort and preparing snowballs for the war to be waged with his friends. Wiping a tear from her eye, Fran told herself to forget about the past. Billy wasn’t alive anymore and she didn’t want to remember how he looked the last time she’d seen him, standing over their mother and eating her organs. Her intestines were hanging from his mouth when he’d turned, revealing to Fran what he had done. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The way their mother’s body was positioned, her clothes torn, legs spread and genitals exposed, she appeared to have been raped before being killed. Her brother was only fourteen. Could he have done the unspeakable to their mother?
When Billy had seen her, he’d run straight for Fran, his mouth open, tongue hanging out. There was something in his eyes, decidedly bent. He wasn’t her brother any longer. Billy was the first zombie she had killed.
“Are you hungry?”
The voice was Sean’s, the man who rescued her the night before. He was sitting up on the couch, where he had slept peacefully through the night, a stark contrast to Fran’s fitful sleep.
“Not really,” Fran answered. “I’ve never been a morning eater.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Sean said, reaching into his bag and pulling out a box of cereal. “No, milk, but there’s plenty of sugar and is even fortified with vitamins, for extra zombie ass kicking.” Sean tapped the side of the box where words were scrawled to attest to the nutritional value of the product.
“That stuff will rot your teeth,” Fran said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
“If I live long enough,” Sean said. “Considering I might be someone else’s food tonight, I’m going to take my chances and enjoy what pleasures I can find.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Fran who stared at him deadpan. She didn’t see the humor in joking about being eaten. “Have it your way,” Sean sighed. Reaching back into his pack, he pulled out a granola bar and tossed it her way. “You still need to eat. We have a lot road to get behind us today.”
“We?” Fran asked, raising a brow, while catching the granola bar midair.
“I thought it would be nice if we could keep each other company,” Sean said. “And besides, there’s safety in numbers.”
Fran could disagree. She had started out with a small group and they had helped each other out, but then had disagreed on which direction to travel. Some had wanted to head south, sticking to warmer states, while others had wanted to head north where it was cold.
“Maybe these creatures can freeze,” one man had argued. Fran had thought that sounded like a good idea and left with him and a few others. Unfortunately, somewhere in Kentucky, he’d been bitten. After the group had managed to kill off the small pack of zombies attacking them, the man had failed to tell anyone of the bite and no one suspected until they woke one night to find him chewing off his wife’s face.
They had killed him, but not before he bit two others. Fran and Jonas, a man who reminded her of her father, were the only two left at the end of the battle not compromised. They continued on together until Fran woke with him on top of her, his dick hanging out of his pants. Using one of her bullets on him, Fran had continued on her own. Until last night, she hadn’t seen another human for nearly a month. Looking him over carefully, Fran sized Sean up, trying to decide if he was the kind of guy who would try and force himself on her.
As though reading her mind Sean said, “If I had wanted to rape you, I could have last night.”
“You might have tried,” Fran said, lifting her gun. “I suppose it won’t hurt to travel together though… for a while.”
The two searched the farmhouse, taking with them anything of use. There was some canned food in the pantry and beef jerky. They packed extra socks and traded their worn out shoes for boots they found in a closet. Fran’s were a little big on her, but with the three pairs of socks she was wearing, not too loose. They even found a couple of guns under a bed, and bullets in the nightstand.
Opening the front door, they stepped out into the cold. Sean held in his hand a ring of keys, one of which he was hoping would start the pickup truck parked in the driveway.
“I hope this beast has a full tank,” Fran said, clapping her hands as the truck roared to life.
“Half a tank,” Sean said, looking at the gauge. “We can still get quite a ways. Hopefully, we won’t have far to walk before finding another when we run out.”
“Where are we going?”
* * * * *
“I think it’s dead.” Sean spoke the words gravely, looking down at the truck’s engine.
“We should have traded in for a new one while we had a fighting chance,” Fran said accusingly. The two of them stared down the long stretch of road behind them. They couldn’t see far, but there was a small town a few miles back, one they had barely escaped with their lives.
“It would have been suicide,” Sean said.
“And it’s not now?” Fran argued. “We have to go back.”
“Fran, it’s suicide,” Sean repeated.
“Suicide would be to try and walk in this cold,” Fran yelled, her voice echoing back at her with the wind. Sean glanced around, worried about what might be near enough to have heard her. “Sorry,” Fran lowered her voice. “But you realize I’m right.”
“I know.” Sean reached into the pickup and pulling out his backpack. “I wish you weren’t.”
The two had driven for a few hours, following I75 until the truck had begun to sputter. It hadn’t been well maintained and the two were relieved to have gotten as far as they had. There was a town off the highway, so they exited and began to search for another vehicle they could swap this one for. Unfortunately, the sound of the engine had attracted some of the locals, and not the living kind.
“I thought the cold was supposed to freeze these things,” Fran complained, racing through some back alley, a snarling zombie close on her heels.
“Seems to slow them down a bit,” Sean huffed, pausing a moment and shooting a female walker between the eyes.
“Not enough.” Fran screamed. Sean turned in time to see the girl go down in the snow. Rolling on her back, Fran thrust her feet in the air attempting to keep the creature off of her. The zombie, for his part, was salivating, his arms reaching for her head, anxious to have a taste of his unexpected treat. Sean leveled his gun and fired, splattering the zombies head all over Fran.
“Lovely,” Fran sputtered, shaking blood off. Standing, she glanced around. The gunfire had brought more of the creatures their way. One of them leered at Fran like lecherous old man.
“I suggest we get out of here quickly,” Sean said, backing towards the truck, which they had left running in case they needed a quick get-a-way.
Jumping in the truck, they took off, a dozen zombies behind them and more coming from buildings ahead.
“What the fuck?” Fran screamed as one hit the windshield, then rolled off and bounced on the ground. “Where are they all coming from?” Ahead of her she saw a couple of small zombies. They all appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old. Converged together, they stood in the middle of the road as the truck bore down on them. Moments before Sean would have hit the group, they stepped to the side, allowing them to pass. The one in charge, or at least the tallest of the five, stood so close Fran could see his eyes. They were calculating, intelligent, and Fran had a feeling he was sending her a message with them, promising they would meet again.
* * * * *
Walking back towards the town they had fled, Fran glanced towards the sky and the dark clouds beginning to converge. “Probably better try for a truck, preferably a four wheel drive. Snow will make driving difficult.”
“Yeah I know,” Sean said. “I suppose we should be grateful it’s been as mild so far or we might be stuck in a drift somewhere.”
“I’m not sure.” Fran gazed around at the trees lining the side of the road, trying to spot potential danger. “If we had to deal with snow drifts, so would the walkers; might make it harder for them to chase us down.”
“And make it harder for us to run.” Sean stopped to read a sign at the entrance to the town. “Welcome to Leema.”
“I think the name’s pronounced Lima, like the bean.”
“Lima? Why would anyone name their town after a bean, especially one so god awful gross?”
Fran shrugged. “I am pretty sure it is…and I like lima beans.”
“This may work. Without the sound of the truck we won’t be such a distraction.”
There’s a car lot up ahead.”
“Not likely to have enough gas to get very far,” Sean said. “We’ll have better luck taking one from one already owned.”
“What about that one?” Fran pointed to a Humvee parked next to the building in the lot. It had dealer’s tags and probably belonged to the dealer.
“Should work.” Sean glanced around as he sidled up to the Hummer. Opening the door, he leaned inside. The keys were in the ignition.
“Sean,” Fran said, her words coming out strangled.
“Pay dirt,” Sean said, turning to grin at her and then frowning as he saw why she sounded so scared.
“Easy now,” Sean said to the man holding a knife to Fran’s throat. He held his hands in the air to show he wasn’t armed.
“Get his bag,” the man said to a young boy standing next to him. The boy, who appeared to be about ten, skittered forward and grabbed Sean’s backpack from him.
“Empty your pockets,” the man ordered.
“Why are you doing this?” Fran asked.
“It’s survival,” Sean said, emptying his pockets and handing his knife and gun over to the boy. “Isn’t that right?” Sean asked, looking at the man. “You’re trying to survive. So are we. We could join together. Help protect each other. There’s room in the car for all of us.”
“My mom’s hurt,” the boy said.
“Shut up,” the man yelled at his son. “You don’t tell them anything.”
“I used to work as a nurses aid,” Fran said. “Maybe I could help her.”
“You know anything about knife wounds?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Fran lied, grabbing hold of the glimmer of hope this man might not slit her throat.
“Ok.” The man let go of her and pushed her in front of him. “You can come with us.”
“What about my friend?” Fran asked.
“What about him? He doesn’t know medicine, he stays.” The man took the gun Sean had handed the boy and pointed it in Sean’s direction.
“If you shoot, the walkers will hear and come running,” Sean said.
“And I won’t help your wife,” Fran added. “He comes with us, or you might as well shoot me too.”
“I can do that,” the man said, pointing the gun at Fran’s head. Fran closed her eyes, regretting her rash decision. The little boy started to cry.
“You don’t really want your son to see you shoot someone,” Sean said. “Let us help you. Please.”
“The last group offering to help us stole everything we had,” the man said. “Stabbed my wife and raped my daughter. They did all this while I was off looking for food to help feed their sorry asses.”
“We aren’t like that,” Fran said.
The man seemed to be thinking for a moment and then made a decision. “Come with me, but I’m warning you, I’m keeping your guns. If you do anything funny, I’ll kill you. I don’t care who’s watching.
They didn’t have far to walk. The man directed them across the street and onto a golf course. There was a building not far ahead and Fran surmised that was where they were heading.
“Interesting place to hole up,” Sean said. “Don’t you think it’s a little too much in the open? Makes you an easy target.”
“Also makes it easy to see them coming, dumb ass,” the man growled, making it clear he was in no mood to argue.
When they reached the club house, the glass doors opened up and a young girl holding a gun rushed them in.
“Who are they?”
“I found them at the car lot,” the man said. Indicating Fran he added, “This one used to work as a nurse’s assistant.”
The girl smiled at Fran, then ducked her head, avoiding Sean’s gaze. Fran was sure she was afraid of Sean and recalled the father saying she had been raped by some men they had tried to help.
“Where’s your mom at?” Fran asked.
“This way.” The man lead the way into a room set up with a couch and chairs. A woman lay on the couch, her face pale. Bandages covering her side were soaked in blood.
“Derrick, what’s going on?” she asked weakly, fear in her eyes at the sight of two strangers.
“They’re going to help you,” he said.
Fran knelt next to the woman, looking at the bloody mess. “I tried to sew her up,” the girl said. “But I didn’t do a very good job.”
Fran peeled the gauze away and examined the wound. It was red and hot to the touch. “It’s infected. Do you have anything around I can use to clean it?”
“Closest thing we have is alcohol,” Derrick said.
“That will have to do.”
Derrick went over to a bar and rummaged behind it, coming out with a bottle of something, Fran thought maybe vodka. She wasn’t a drinker. She took it and poured it on the wound, warning the woman it would hurt. Judging from the scream, it hurt badly.
“I need some scissors…or a knife. I need to cut the thread you used and sew her again.” The boy ran into another room and Fran heard him rummaging around, then he ran back out with a pair of scissors.
Fran wasn’t quite sure of what she was doing, but she knew the wound, which was deep, needed to be closed properly to stop the bleeding. She wasn’t too sure there weren’t internal injuries, for all she knew the knife could have nicked something vital, in which case this was all pointless, but she had to try something. When she was finished, she cleaned the blood up and poured more alcohol over it and covered it with more gauze. The woman had remained calm, trying not to flinch at the pain. Fran knew it was all show, so as not to scare her children.
“That’s the best I can do for now,” Fran said. “Now we wait and see.”
“We don’t have to do anything,” Sean said. “We did what you asked, so if you will give us our stuff, we’ll be on our way.”
“You aren’t going anywhere,” Derrick said.
“Oh, so you’re as bad as the thugs that attacked your family?”
“No,” Derrick answered. “But I don’t think you want to go out in that.” He nodded towards the window, where snow could be seen falling outside. It was coming down fast and thick, and despite it being daylight, you couldn’t see through it.
“SHIT!” Sean slammed his fist down on a table, causing the girl to flinch.
“It’s okay, Maggie,” the mother said. “I’m sure he’s just frustrated.”
“You’re welcome to stay here with us,” Derrick said, handing Sean back one of the guns he had taken from him. “I’m sorry if I was overly cautious, but I wasn’t sure I could trust you.”
“It’s understandable,” Fran said.
“Yes, completely,” Sean said, the sarcasm dripping from his voice.
“If you’d been through what we’d been through, you would understand. You can leave if you want, I don’t think your odds are very good. If you stay though, I would appreciate it if you help with watch duty.”
Sean gestured to the window. “And how are we supposed to see anything coming in this?”
“Hopefully, if we can’t see, they can’t find us, but any kind of warning would be good. By the way, I didn’t catch your names. I’m Derrick; my wife is Joan, my daughter Maggie and my son Elijah.”
“Fran and Sean,” Fran said.
“Would say nice to meet you,” Sean said. “But it’s been anything but a pleasure.
“Sean, he said he’s sorry…and they needed help.”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard. When the snow stops though, we’re getting the Humvee and leaving.”
* * * * *
“Are you okay?” Fran asked Maggie. The girl was doubled over in the kitchen, clutching her stomach. Vomit on the floor in front of her indicated she’d been sick.
“Just my nerves. I haven’t felt well since the outbreak.”
Fran helped the girl stand up, letting her lean on her as they went into the huge social room. Joan was sitting on the couch looking out the window. It had been three days and the snow hadn’t stopped. “What’s wrong?” she asked, trying to stand and come to her daughter.
“I think she’s sick,” Fran said. “Possibly the flu, but,” she paused, trying to choose her words carefully, “another possibility exists. I hate to ask, but has she been bitten?”
“No,” Maggie answered. “I’ve never been bitten. I’ve never even been close enough to one of those things. When the outbreak happened, daddy boarded up the house. Then when we had to leave, he brought us here. We ran into a few on the way, but daddy and mother made sure Elijah and I were safe.”
“It was terrifying,” Joan said. “Especially when we saw the babies. I never imagined anything as horrifying as a two year old trying to attack us. When we locked ourselves in here we discovered it was infested. I thought we were dead. Then Aaron and his gang showed up and helped us kill them all. I thought we’d found some friends. Instead we traded one kind of monster for another.”
Maggie doubled over, clenching her teeth to keep from screaming. Fran helped her lie down on the couch. “Something’s moving inside,” Maggie screamed. Lifting up her shirt, Fran felt the girl’s stomach, and then jumped backwards when she felt something squirm beneath her touch.
“What the hell is inside me?” Maggie screamed. “GET IT OUT!” Her cries brought Derrick, Sean and Elijah running.
“What’s the matter?” Derrick asked, looking around the room. He’d been sure when he heard his daughter screaming, that his family was being attacked by an army of undead zombies.
“Something’s inside of me,” Maggie cried.
“I think she’s pregnant,” Fran said. “Several months judging by the movement inside. I’m surprised her stomach isn’t swelled any more than it is.”
“I can’t be pregnant,” Maggie said. “Until Aaron…until…I was a virgin.” Maggie choked the words out through her tears.
“That was what, a few days ago?” Fran asked.
“Last week. Two days before you and Sean showed up,” Joan answered.
Maggie rolled onto her side, pulling her knees into a fetal position, sobbing. “What’s happening to me?”
“Was Aaron infected?” Sean asked.
“He seemed ok,” Derrick answered. “But he was with us a week and became increasingly erratic, so did his gang.”
“He had a wound on his chest,” Maggie said. “It could have been a bite.”
“It takes about a week to turn, once you’ve been infected,” Sean said. Maggie started crying. Sean raised his gun and pointed it at the girl. Derrick pointed his at Sean.
“You aren’t killing my daughter,” Derrick said.
“She’s been infected,” Sean said, trying to reason with the Derrick.
“We don’t know that,” Fran said, putting herself between Maggie and Sean’s gun. “It’s been five days since her rape and she’s not showing any signs of turning.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Sean said. “If a bite from an infected person can turn you into a zombie, sperm certainly can!”
“A bite from a zombie can turn you into one,” Fran corrected. “Aaron wasn’t a zombie when he attacked her. We can’t even be sure if he was infected!”
“If the thing moving around in her is a baby, then it’s not a normal baby,” Sean argued. “She’s only been pregnant for a week!”
“If she is pregnant. She could have picked up a parasite somewhere.”
“You mean like a tapeworm?” Elijah asked. “Cool!”
“Doesn’t seem very likely,” Sean said.
“Perhaps not,” Fran agreed. “But until we know for sure, we shouldn’t be jumping to conclusions. So put your gun away. Please.”
Everyone could feel the tension in the room as Sean continued to hold his gun in front of him and Derrick kept his pointed at Sean. Finally, Sean lowered his and everyone felt a sigh of relief as Derrick lowered his.
“Hey, it’s stopped snowing,” Elijah yelled, running to the window.
“As soon as we can, we should leave,” Sean whispered to Fran.
“That might be difficult,” Fran said. Sean followed her gaze to the window. A few flakes of snow were still swirling around outside, but it had slowed considerably, all but stopping. Amidst the glare of the snow there appeared to be a fence line Sean hadn’t seen on their way to the clubhouse. Squinting, he moved closer to the window, trying to get a better look. A line of zombies stood outside the building, stretching across the width of the snow covered golf course. Standing side by side, they made an impenetrable barrier, which made it impossible to leave.
“What about the back?” Sean whispered.
“There’s a stone wall out back,” Derrick said. “We’re trapped.”
“Aaron is with them,” Maggie said, staring out the window at the man who had attacked her. Fran followed her gaze, seeing a zombie that didn’t look as decayed as the others.
“Well, I think that settles the question of whether or not he was infected,” Sean said. “And whether or not she’s carrying a little monster inside of her.”
“How did they manage to organize this?” Derrick asked. “They’ve never seemed to be able to think past their need to feed. I’ve seen them rip off other zombie’s arms to have something to eat. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“I think the answer is right there with them,” Fran said, pointing towards the middle of the line. A boy, about the age Billy had been when she’d killed him, was standing there, staring straight ahead at her. She met his gaze. She knew those eyes, only last time she’d seen them he had been all of five years old. Today, only a few days later, he was a teenager. She told the others what she suspected.
“You’re telling me that thing was something like five the other day?” Derrick asked in disbelief.
“Probably younger,” Sean said. “He may have only been a few days old, but these ‘new’ zombies grow at an incredible rate. It must be a result of the disease.”
“But that quickly?” Maggie asked, pressing her hand against her stomach. She could feel the creature inside her moving. It already felt larger than it had earlier. Her stomach rumbled. She was hungry. She remembered how she had gone to the kitchen to eat earlier and pulled what was left of the raw deer meat from the refrigerator. Her dad had killed it the day Aaron had raped her. It wasn’t fresh. Even cooked it probably would make them sick to eat it. It smelled divine to Maggie though. She’d stuck her nose up close to it and sniffed. Then she’d eaten it, wolfing it down so fast, she’d gotten the hiccups from swallowing air along with the meat. Then, realizing what she had eaten, she got sick. Now she wanted more. Turning away from the window, she avoided looking at Sean. He wanted to kill her. He wanted to kill her baby. Again, pressing her hand to her stomach, Maggie felt her baby move. She heard him speak to her in her mind, begging her not to let Sean hurt him.
“I won’t,” she answered back.
“Okay,” Sean said, oblivious to Maggie’s withdrawal from the group. “The most important question is, can they get in?”
“I don’t think so,” Derrick answered. “I went over the place pretty thoroughly when we first got here. You’ve seen for yourself everything is boarded up, except for the windows in here and the front doors. Granted, Aaron helped before he started acting crazy and attacked my daughter. I don’t think he had an agenda at the time.”
“Okay, well to be safe, we need to go back over every point of entry. Windows, doors, even crawlspaces, we need to make sure there is no way they can get in.”
* * * * *
Elijah watched his sister leave the room and followed her. He was worried about her. She was acting strange. He followed her to the kitchen, where she was rummaging around in the refrigerator looking for something to eat.
“What are you doing Mag’s?” he asked.
Maggie turned towards her brother, the blood from the raw meat dribbling down her chin. The meat was good, but it wasn’t quenching her hunger. Her stomach growled and the baby demanded food. All that mattered was nourishing her child.
“Maggie, are you alright?” Elijah asked, backing away from his sister.
“I’m fine Elijah,” Maggie said. “Only hungry. Would you like something to eat?”
“Dad said not to touch the deer meat…are you eating it raw?”
“Of course not,” Maggie laughed. “Come here and I’ll show you what I’m eating. It’s good.”
Elijah wasn’t sure he wanted to see what Maggie was eating, but he wanted to be sure his sister was alright. Slowly he made his way across the kitchen.
* * * * *
“Where’s Elijah at?” Joan was looking around the room and didn’t see him anywhere.
“Maggie’s not here either,” Fran said. “He’s probably with her. I’ll go find them and bring them back.”
Leaving the common room, Fran headed for the kitchen, remembering Maggie had been there before. Standing outside the double doors, she heard the sound of crying.
“Maggie, Elijah, are you in here?” Fran asked, pushing one of the doors in. She could see Maggie across the room. She was sitting on the floor crying. She was also eating something.
“I’m sorry,” Maggie said, looking up at Fran. “I was so hungry. He was hungry.”
“Who was hungry?” Fran asked. “Elijah?”
“No, my baby.”
Fran stood over Maggie, looking at what she was eating, and screaming.
* * * * *
Sean was on the other side of the clubhouse when he heard Fran scream. Dropping the board he was nailing into place, he ran from the room and towards the common area. Fran wasn’t there, only Joan, who was struggling to cross the room, despite the pain she was in.
“The kitchen,” Joan said.
Rushing to the kitchen, Sean found Derrick already there. He was holding a gun on Fran.
“What’s going on?” Sean asked, pulling his own gun and pointing it at Derrick.
“Maggie,” Fran said. For the first time, Sean noticed Maggie was sitting on the floor. He also realized Fran was pointing her own gun at the girl. Sean felt a wave of déjà vu. Then he felt a wave of nausea, seeing the carnage on the floor in front of Maggie.
“She’s turning,” Fran said.
“She’s my daughter,” Derrick said. “No one is going to kill her.”
“Oh my God!” Joan had made it to the kitchen and stood looking at her daughter and the remains of her son on the floor. Maggie had torn out his throat first, ripping it open with her teeth and preventing him from being able to scream for help. He’d died quickly. Maggie had scooped out as much meat from his neck as she could before ripping into his stomach. She still had remnants of his intestines between her teeth.
“She’s not your daughter anymore,” Sean said. “If she lives, she will end up killing us all.”
“We’ll put her somewhere safe,” Joan said, realizing the truth in what Sean was saying, but not wanting to end her daughter’s life. “Someone might find a cure.”
“Who?” Sean asked. “Everyone is either dead or going to be dead.”
“It’s the only choice you have,” Derrick said. “We’ll lock her up where she can’t hurt anyone.”
Outside the kitchen they heard the sound of glass shattering.
“They’re in,” Fran said.
“Put her in the freezer,” Sean said, nodding his head towards the huge walk in. “Fix it so it can’t be opened from the inside.”
After Maggie was secure, they split up, all armed and ready to fight off the zombie invasion, even Joan, though movement for her was difficult. When she rounded the corner and saw Aaron, she smiled. She aimed her gun at him and blew his brains out. Then she spit on him, unaware of the child standing behind her.
“He’s a drone,” the child said. “Mindlessly acting on instinct alone, like the others that came first.”
Turning, Joan stared into the eyes of the teenager that had led the other zombies to the clubhouse. “You can talk,” Joan said, surprised.
“He and the others were the first wave. We are the second. The child your daughter carries is among the second wave. Smart, he will help us conquer your kind. You can witness it if you like, or die now. You choose.”
“What do you mean?” Joan asked.
“I was joking,” the teenaged zombie said, laughing. “You’re too old to reproduce, but you can feed us.” Then he lunged across the room and ripped her throat out.
* * * * *
“They have us outnumbered,” Fran said, lying next to Sean in the crawlspace. She had seen the zombie kill Joan and taken a shot at him, but the creature was too fast, dodging the bullet. These new zombies were the complete opposite of the older, slower ones. Not only could they think, but they could talk as well. From what she could gather, humans of breeding age were being used to create a new race of beings. Maybe that was a part of the virus. She couldn’t help but remember how her mother had been ravaged by her brother before being killed.
“I don’t think they can find us down here,” Sean said. If we wait, maybe they’ll leave and then we can escape.”
“Maybe,” a voice whispered behind them. “But I don’t think so.”
Fran screamed as hands grabbed her feet and pulled her from the crawlspace. She could feel Sean being pulled along next to her.
* * * * *
Inside the walk in, Maggie felt a sharp pain and then water spilled out between her legs. Lying on the floor, she screamed as the baby inside her ripped his way out of her body, using his teeth to chew his way up through her abdomen. When he was out, the creature crawled up to his mother’s breasts and began suckling on her. She wasn’t completely dead when the door opened.
“Come now, baby,” the young zombie leader said. “You weren’t supposed to eat your mommy.” Turning to the woman next to him he said, “I suppose that might be a problem at first, before they can rationalize on their own. Don’t worry; we won’t leave you alone when your time comes.” Then he touched her belly lovingly, recalling her screams an hour ago as he consummated their relationship.
Fran didn’t hear him, nor did she feel his touch. She was trapped in her mind somewhere, back home with her mother and brother, back before the world as she knew it was destroyed. Inside of her, something squirmed.