For the past two Halloween evenings, I’ve taken to “live-Tweeting” a story on Twitter while trick-or-treaters wander the neighborhood. The idea is that I “narrate” the story, one 140-byte chunk at a time, for however long it takes to spin the entire yarn. In 2009, I offered up a “Twitter-fied” version of story I’d previously written, a short zombie tale called “Last Stand.” Last year, I wrote a new story, “Counter-Protest,” which didn’t use zombies.
For 2011, I return to the world of the shuffling undead with a new tale written just for tonight. It’s a short, rather sardonic look at zombies from the perspective of a regular old working-class guy just trying to get by in a world that occasionally descends into chaos…at least long enough to screw up his bottom line from time to time. Unlike the previous years, and since I won’t be home this evening, I’m not going with the “live-Tweet” option. Instead, I’m just posting it here so you can read the whole thing at your leisure.
Please be advised that the story contains strong language and depictions of graphic violence. So, without further stalling, here we go for Halloween 2011….
Few things piss me off like somebody trying to skip out on their tab. That goes double when it’s one of my regulars.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going, Tucker?” I barked, stopping Tucker Hayden in his tracks as he was making his way to the door. He at least had the decency to look dumbfounded as I crossed the bar toward him, pushing past some of the other regulars who always stayed right up to the second I kicked them out the front door at closing time. Moving so that I now stood between him and the front door, I was able to see from Tucker’s eyes that he was six kinds of shit-faced. He probably didn’t even know where the hell he was.
“I was just gonna take a leak,” he said, with more than a hint of whining underscoring his slurred words.
Shaking my head, I grunted in irritation. “John’s back the other way,” I said, pointing over his shoulder toward the rear of the bar and the narrow hallway leading to the restrooms. “Unless you’re looking to piss on another cop’s car, that is.” Tucker had crossed paths with the local law a month or so ago, when he’d decided that a squad car parked on the street in front of my place made for the ideal urinal. The cop assigned to the car hadn’t shared Tucker’s opinion, and it was only because he was a frequent customer of mine that I was able to talk him into not citing Tucker for indecent exposure and branding him a sex offender or some other such damned thing.
His shoulders seemed to slump a bit, and he couldn’t even look me in the eye as he sighed. “I’m sorry, man. Things have been real shitty, is all. You know I’m good for it, right?”
Part of me was furious with him, because this wasn’t the first time he’d pulled this stunt. Still, I knew he’d been having a rough go of it. He’d been laid off at his job down at the mill, and now he had money problems including the bank circling him like vultures as it pushed ahead with foreclosing on his house. Tucker’s marriage was in trouble, too, likely owing to all of that, and it probably wasn’t helped by him coming into my place and running up a tab he couldn’t pay. I try not to be a dick about these kinds of things, especially when it’s somebody I know, but I hate being played for a chump.
“Look,” I said, conscious of eyes on us and keeping my voice low as I leaned in closer to him. “I get it, all right? But I warned you the last time you tried to pull this shit. Don’t be sneaking out on me, okay? That ain’t cool. I got bills to pay, too, and I can’t be tolerating any deadbeats screwing me over. Got it?”
I don’t even remember what I was going to say next, because that’s when I heard the front door open behind me. That was when Alicia, the last of my waitresses still working this late at night and doing her damnedest not to bust out of the skin-tight black tank top she was wearing, released a blood-curdling scream. Flinching in response to that, I jerked my head to look in her direction and saw her pointing toward the door.
Three zombies had walked into my bar.
No, this isn’t the set up to some joke. Three fucking zombies, each of them wearing camouflage uniforms, had pushed their way through the door and now were shuffling toward me. I heard the sound of chairs and tables pushing across the hardwood floor as people scrambled away from the new arrivals, and to either side I could see my customers all scrambling for an exit or a place to hide.
“Shit!” I grunted, backing away from the trio. “This again?” Their uniforms weren’t an uncommon sight, given that the center of town was less than two miles from the main gate of one of the larger army bases on the east coast. My bar was a regular hangout for active and retired soldiers, but it also meant that it, like everything else this close to the base, was one of the first places affected whenever crazy shit like this happened. It was obvious that the army, having learned nothing from the last however many times they’d fucked up with stuff like this, was up to something yet again.
“Alicia!” I shouted as I backpedaled toward the bar. “Throw me the bat!”
Already behind the bar, Alicia turned and reached for the baseball bat I had hanging on the rear wall, between shelves of liquor, and with the word “BOUNCER” burned into it. I didn’t have any real bouncers on the payroll, but the bat had served that purpose more than once over the years.
Pulling the bat from the pegs holding it on the wall, Alicia turned and tossed it underhand toward me. I caught it with both hands a second before the zombies reached Tucker Hayden, who was too drunk to realize until way too late that he was fucked.
The first zombie sank its yellow, rotting teeth into Tucker’s neck and he screamed in pain and terror as blood sprayed everywhere. I felt some of it across my arm and face but by then I was lunging forward, brandishing the Bouncer and taking aim on the nearest zombie. Tucker was still shrieking as I stepped into my swing, bringing the bat around until I felt it slam into something soft and lumpy. My follow-through was pretty sweet, if I do say so myself, and I was rewarded with the zombie’s head sailing across the room until it smashed with a wet thud into the back glass of the pinball machine in the far corner.
Home run, mother fucker, I thought, although any enthusiasm I might’ve had was lost as I saw and heard the game’s glass panel shatter at the same time all the lights on the scoreboard went dark.
I had time only to swing the bat in the other direction as the zombie chewing chunks out of Tucker turned toward me. Tucker fell to the floor while his attacker and the third zombie lumbered forward. Behind them, those few customers who’d still been here when the zombies showed up were bolting for the door. Like me, they’d seen this shit enough times to know that getting the hell out of Dodge was the smart play, but there was no way I could leave my place to get trashed. While I should’ve been angry about them leaving me and Alicia to fend for ourselves, what really burned my ass was that every single one of those dickbags was beating feet out of here without having settled their tabs.
Deadbeat sons of bitches, the lot of them.
I moved back behind the bar, handing the Bouncer to Alicia before reaching for the sawed-off pump-action shotgun I kept under the shelf. Eyeing the zombies as I pulled the shotgun from its mount and checked to see that a round was chambered, I couldn’t help but wonder what these poor bastards done to end up like this.
How many breakouts did this make for the year? Four? Damned army and their fucking pencil-necked science geeks and their never-ending dumbass experiments. When would those shit heads learn to lock the damned doors on that base? It was like a right of passage for zombies to wander off the reservation, making their way into town and raising all kinds of hell. They came through more often than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for fuck’s sake, but at least those pricks didn’t try to eat you.
“Get in the office,” I snapped at Alicia before catching sight of Tucker, still squirming and whimpering as blood oozed from his neck and half a dozen other places where skin and meat had been ripped from his bones. I couldn’t do anything for him now, not with the pair of zombies shuffling toward me and Alicia. The stench of decaying flesh assaulted my nostrils as they moved closer, and despite my telling her to head for the office, Alicia stayed where she was, looking too scared to try outrunning the things. “Go!” I said, pushing her in that direction, but she held her ground.
“No fucking way!” she yelled. “Just shoot them, already!”
It’s gonna take me a week to clean up the mess. I brought the shotgun to my shoulder, taking aim and pulling the trigger. The blast pounded my ears as the first zombie’s head disappeared in a red rain, showering its buddy, Tucker, and the nearby chairs and tables with bits of blood, flesh, and bone. I racked the slide to chamber a second round and that’s when the shotgun decided to jam.
“Damn it!” Dropping the weapon from my shoulder, I clawed at the spent shell casing wedged into the breach. Alicia was backing away from me, holding the Bouncer in front of her as she moved down the bar. The lone remaining zombie was almost within arm’s reach and I side-stepped the bastard, still fumbling with the shotgun and trying not to serve myself up for dinner.
Then I caught movement near the door and got a glimpse of camouflage and light reflecting off long black barrels. There was just time enough to grab for Alicia before the first shots rang out. My fingers closed on the first thing they found—the front of her tank top—and I pulled her down to the floor with me as a hailstorm of bullets screamed overhead. I heard glass breaking and wood splintering, and I covered my head as I felt a shower of debris falling down on us. Something wet splashed across my pants legs, and I tried not to think about the money these soldiers were shooting all to hell.
I heard something heavy drop to the floor on the other side of the bar, accompanied by a voice from somewhere near the door yelling that everything was “All clear.” Then that same voice called out to us.
“Everybody okay back there?”
Rising to my feet, I pulled Alicia with me, and we got our first good look at our saviors. Two soldiers, dressed in full combat gear and looking too young even to be shaving yet, were pointing rifles at the festering corpse before them on the floor. The zombie looked dead for real, this time, with most of its head gone and lying in an expanding pool of dark, murky fluid that might once have been blood. That shit was never coming out of the wood, I thought; I’d have to strip and refinish the whole damned floor. Again.
One of the soldiers, noticing Tucker twitching nearby, turned and fired a single round into the luckless man’s skull, putting the poor bastard out of his misery. Satisfied with his handiwork, he turned and looked at me.
“You all right, sir?” he asked, before his attention shifted to Alicia, and I realized for the first time that in my haste to pull her to safety, I’d torn her tank top. She wasn’t wearing a bra and was doing her best to cover herself, but there was more her there than tank top.
“Asshole,” she hissed at me.
Reaching beneath the bar for one of the clean towels stacked there, I handed it to her before looking back at the soldier. “Oh, we’re just fabulous here. Just another Monday night, you know; no football, no baseball, but plenty of critters to shoot at.” I cast my gaze around the bar, noting the number of bullet holes in the walls and the shattered remnants of what had once been a fully stocked bar. Nothing makes me smile like having to replace the bulk of my inventory, to say nothing of repairing small arms damage to cedar wall paneling. “Nice shooting, boys. Glad to see the army’s keeping up with marksmanship training.” The comment earned me a pair of withering stares, but I didn’t give a damn. “So, what the hell happened this time?”
The soldier’s lips tightened and I could see his jaw clenching before he replied, “I’m afraid there’s not much I can tell you at this time, sir, except that there’s been another containment breach at the base, and you’ll have to come with us.”
His partner gestured for us to follow him. “We’re evacuating all civilians to a safe location until the situation is under control. It’s for your own safety, sir.”
“Of course it is,” I said, shaking my head. “Just like the last, what? Three or four times?” I indicated the wreckage that represented what was left of my bar. “What the hell am I supposed to do about all this? My insurance company’s getting tired of cutting checks for me to fix everything after one your little lapses over there.” I stepped past Tucker’s body, sad to see that he was dead but thankful that he hadn’t turned into one of those things. Despite my mixed feelings for the man, I could only shake my head as I considered a single, humorless thought: He’d managed to skip out on his tab, after all.
Well, I suppose I could let him have that one.
“I’m sure the army will be more than happy to reimburse you for your troubles, sir,” the first soldier said, though I could tell from his expression that even he didn’t believe the bullshit he was shoveling.
“Yeah,” I replied, using every last bit of willpower I possessed to keep from giving him the finger. “You mean like last time, right? And the time before that? If this is going to keep happening on a semi-regular basis, maybe it’s not too unreasonable for the army to maybe start a tab?”
Cripes. How the hell is a guy supposed to make a living around here, anyway?
Copyright © 2011 by Dayton Ward. All Rights Reserved.