Friday, October 9, 2009

Chapter One

Ben Ferris opened the front door and looked out. The storm from the night before had left it’s mark on the yard and all over the remnants of what used to be a very attractive neighborhood. About 20 or so “cookie cutter houses” dotted the landscape which he was sure at one time had been meticulously manicured. He had kept the grass and weeds in check since arriving here, but he was sure that the previous tenants would be appalled at how he had “let the neighborhood go” so to speak. He surveyed the damage in the front yard and cursed under his breath. He was sure the better part of the morning would be spent cleaning up the debris, and making sure none of the equipment had to be repaired. The fences, at least from what he could already tell, looked intact and that was a good thing. He supposed he could fix them if he had to, but he prayed that it wouldn’t be necessary. Not today, at least. It was dangerous work, and he hated it. However, he decided that he should check the perimeter before doing anything else, and that required firearms. He grabbed the Kalashnikov AK-47, and two P226 357 SIGS, loaded them and headed to the fences.

The perimeter of Ben's “safe zone” surrounded what was once an affluent subdivision. The people responsible for its construction had erected a seven foot high brick wall surrounding the entire neighborhood. The wall was intended to give the homeowners privacy and security from a world that they viewed as dirty, and below their standards. It was solid all the way around except for an 18 foot separation at the entrance/exit where a guard shack stood. There had once been 5 men, operating in different shifts, allowing residents access, and refusing those who did not possess the proper credentials to enter. Now the guard shack stood empty, except for a small covey of quail that had decided it would make a proper nesting site. Ben didn’t mind them. He had, in fact, captured quite a few of them from time to time and cooked them up rather nicely. Fresh meat was in short supply these days, and he would get it wherever he could.

As Ben approached the guard shack his stomach curled into a knot so tight he felt it could have crushed him. He hated coming this close to the fence. The sight of it always reminded him of how he had become a prisoner. It reminded him of how he had had to leave his former life behind. Most of all, though, he hated it because that’s where they were. Whatever those things on the other side were, he hated them more than anything else. He hated coming here because he knew they would be there waiting for him. This morning, however, they did not greet him on the other side of the chain link he had put up in the separation of the entrance. It was the rain, he knew. The water, of course, didn’t harm them in anyway (he knew this because he had seen a few of them fall into the pond outside the fence once and watched them crawl out again, resuming the guttural moan that seemed to be the only word in their barbaric language). It wasn’t the water, and the thunder and lightning didn’t seem to affect the majority of them either. Ben guessed that in the way dogs and cats sense something about an impending storm, those things out there must possess the same ability. It seemed to him to be the only thing resembling intelligence that those things had. He had realized, that when the storms came in, they left the fence, presumably to take shelter in the abandoned buildings in the city. This didn’t bring him much comfort, however, as when the storms passed, soon they would be out there again, and that mindnumbing moan would accompany them like a choir of the dammed.

He checked his fence and found that, thankfully, it was completely intact. The barbed wire wrapped throughout its web of twisted metal links had rusted slightly from its tour of duty, but not nearly enough to even begin to worry about just yet. He didn’t know how long it would last out here, but judging by the length of time it had been in service, he had a few more years to go before having to replace it. He wasn’t sure why the barbed wire worked so well, after all it didn’t seem that those things felt any pain, and if they did, it didn’t seem to affect them in any human way. They would drag themselves along the fence, assumingly looking for a way in, tearing their stiff flesh to shreds until they gave up and went back to moaning again. God, how he hated that sound! He checked the bolts on the frame and after determining they were ok, decided that thankfully his work here, at least for the time being, was done. He looked up at the sky and saw a flock of seagulls heading for the beach. “Lucky bastards”, he thought. “So free, and without a care in the world”. His gaze was so fixed on them that when the creature slammed into the fence, he was caught completely off guard and fell square on his shoulders, knocking the wind out of him.

It was a woman this time. Her hair (what was left of it) was pulled into a lunatic ponytail with a faded, bloody yellow ribbon in it. She was dressed in a waitress’s uniform that was covered with dried, black blood. She stared at Ben with savage eyes and let out that blood draining moan. She slammed her hands on the barbed wire almost hysterically, as if she were desperately trying to escape from a prison that she didn’t remember being locked up in. He didn’t even have to look at the nametag (which was still attached) to know who she was. “Sally”, he thought. He wanted to cry.

Sally Gibbons had been a waitress at Mike’s CafĂ© out near the beach. Before the world had gone tits up, Ben had stopped there every day before and after work for a cigarette and a cup of Sally’s “World Famous Coffee”. “Best on the whole damn boardwalk”, she always boasted. Ben never understood what made it world famous, but it was good, and she was nice company. She was never without a kind word and a friendly smile, and Ben supposed that’s what he liked about her so much. They had even had a few drinks together at Sharkie’s Pub down on Lawson Street one night. Ben had not considered that a date, even though he thought maybe she had. She was two years younger than he was, blonde, beautiful, and amazingly intelligent. He liked her, maybe even some part of him might have loved her, but he was never very good at those sort of things. He had spent a great deal of his life alone, and there was a part of him (a large part, in fact) that had gotten maybe a little too comfortable with solitude, but she had made him feel differently. She had made him feel that, perhaps he needed someone in his life besides himself. It was, however, now a moot point as Sally Gibbons, world famous coffee brewer and waitress extraordinaire, had become a mindless, flesh eating monster that bore little resemblance to her former, beautiful self.

When Ben had regained his breath, he stood up and backed away from the fence. Sally Gibbons was still dragging herself from one side of the chain link to the other, ripping her uniform to shreds, looking desperately for a way in. Ben wanted to let her in. He wanted that more than anything right now. Here was a friend of his, a very good friend of his, standing not 10 feet away from him. Sally Gibbons, that beautiful girl with the hypnotic green eyes was standing almost close enough to touch. He wanted desperately to see a trace of humanity left in her emaciated, rotting face. He found himself almost unable to see her for what she was, only for what she used to be. Tears ran down his face as he watched her tearing her cold gray flesh on the barbed wire. He could hear the ripping sound as each little sharpened piece of metal tore through her like a dull razor. She pushed her face to the fence as if doing so would possibly allow her to see inside, and as she did, one of her eyes caught the barbed wire. Ben watched as her eyeball was split in two and a thick, black slime oozed out, slowly making its way down what was left of her cheek. Ben couldn’t bear to see anymore. He could not bear to watch his friend rip herself to shreds, even though he knew this wasn’t Sally. Not anymore. He knew that whatever this thing on the other side of the fence was, it had no memory of him at all. It did not remember serving him coffee, it did not remember getting him an ashtray when he came to the diner, and it certainly had no memory of standing at her front door and kissing him after he walked her home from Sharkie’s that night. He knew that she was gone and more than that, he knew what he had to do. She didn’t make a sound when the bullet from the Sig 357 tore through her face just above her eyebrow and drove itself through what was left of her diseased, rotting brain. Sally Gibbons stood motionless for a few seconds, staring at Ben through her one eye, then slumped forward and fell to the ground…. the huge exit wound on the back of her skull, like an insane mouth, pointed to the sky. Ben fell to his knees, losing the contents of his stomach onto the warm asphalt road. He buried his face in his hands and cried.