Monday, February 20, 2012

Apocalypse Then

Don’t look back.
Just run.
Ignore the pain in your side, the burning in your lungs and the fear in your heart.
Run as if your life depended upon it, because it did.
No rifle, horse gone, no bullets for your pistol, out here in the open you’re a sitting duck for those…those…ghouls for lack of a better word.
All he had for a weapon was his side knife and that wasn’t much of a weapon except as a last resort and after what he witnessed, he prayed it didn’t come to that.
He needed to find cover and fast. Ahead, maybe a half mile, the hills loomed invitingly. He could find some cover there and wait out the afternoon, then travel at night. He wanted to stop for a moment to look back, but he was afraid of what he might see. That spurred him to run faster.
His legs started to burn and cramp. His lungs were on fire. He felt dizzy and slowed his pace for a moment, then had to stop when the need to vomit overcame him.
He fell to his knees and puked up vile, hot liquid that burned his throat and nose. When he stomach settled a bit, he looked back; afraid of what he would see, knowing that he had to.
Around five hundred yards behind him, a shirtless ghoul stumbled across the open plains. He couldn’t see the face, it was just a spec, but he knew it was one of them by the way he stumbled as if drunk, but never fell.
And it seemed to be plodding along directly towards him.
He wiped his mouth, stood up and walked quickly toward the hills. When the hills were close enough for him to run to, he raced the last five hundred feet to the base, turned and sat on a rock to catch his breath.
The ghoul was a distant spec, but was still coming. He could see the lumbering outline as it plodded along step by clumsy step.
Oh, God, it just kept coming.
He pulled his Colt revolver and checked the shells. All six were spent. The 32 slots on his belt were empty and all his ammunition was miles away in the saddlebags on the back of his horse.
He fished through his pockets and found three, .45 shells and chambered them into the Colt. He remembered the derringer in his boot and withdrew it. Two unfired .38 shells were in the derringer.
Five shots altogether.
Not a lot.
Better than nothing.
He returned the derringer to his boot and looked at the ghoul. It came slow and steady, bumbling, stumbling, but always coming.
He looked up, selected a path to the rocks and started to climb.
He didn’t stop to rest until he was five hundred feet above ground. He sat on a rock and looked down upon the open country. The ghoul had walked several hundred feet closer, but was still too far away to see his face.
He looked up. The rocks were steeper above his head, too difficult for the ghoul to traverse and he stood and headed straight up.
Burning, aching, his legs and lungs on fire, he forced his body to obey his commands and reached the top after an hour of steady climbing. He sat to catch his breath and scan the country 1500 feet below.
The ghoul had traveled another 500 feet in a direct, if wobbly straight line.
Jesus Christ, was it actually following him?
It was.
He knew the answer, but didn’t dare speak it, think it.
He stood and checked the wide plateau of land that stretched behind him. Some good cover, trees, woodlands, enough places to hide if necessary.
From where he stood, he could see anybody on horse or on foot approaching. He tapped his shirt pocket, then removed the tobacco pouch and rolling paper stored there, rolled and lit a smoke off a wood match.
He sat, smoked and watched the ghoul continue its approach.
The bastard just kept coming. Stumbling, plodding, it kept moving forward at a slow and steady pace. Maybe it was wounded, hurt in a fight or something?
Cigarette spent, he flicked it away and kept watching the ghoul.
The son of a bitch was closing in on the base of the hill and looked up as if trying to spot him. From 1500 feet or so, that was impossible, but he kept looking up as he fumbled along.
He stood to look down as the ghoul reached the base of the hill. It paused for a moment, then started to climb the hill, quickly falling on its face.
“Dumb bastard,” he said as he watched the ghoul topple over.
But then it picked itself up and started again, slipping and sliding, but slowly making ground up the hill.
“Well, when you hit the rocks, we’ll see,” he said, watching the ghoul.
Feeling a bit more confident that so lumbering a creature as the ghoul could never make the rock climb, coupled with five rounds of ammunition gave him a new sense of courage and he decided to stay put for a while and watch.
If it weren’t so threatening, it would almost be comical watching the ghoul try to take the rocks. It slipped, skidded, rolled and crashed, yet it kept climbing, grunting and growling as it made slow, steady progress.
He thought about shooting the bastard, but a shot this high could be heard for miles in every direction and he didn’t know who was about and what their intentions might be. He rolled and lit another smoke, sat and watched the ghoul make a slow, but steady ascent up the rocks.
Unbelievably, the ghoul was suddenly just a hundred feet below him and he could see clearly the hideously diseased face on the man. He was an Indian of all things. A Crow Warrior from the looks of him. Snarling, blood foaming at the mouth, eyes rotting in their sockets, the ghoul spotted him and quickened his pace.
Leprosy was the word that came to mind.
Except that lepers didn’t act this way and besides, there wasn’t a case of the decease reported in a hundred years or more that he knew of.
He stood up and withdrew his Colt, cocked it and aimed. The ghoul looked right at him as if he didn’t care and kept coming.
He de-cocked the Colt and returned it to the holster. He picked up a few rocks and threw them at the ghoul. A few hit him in the chest and the ghoul paused for a second to hold his balance.
Okay, that worked.
He grabbed a few more rocks and hurled them at the ghoul. One hit him in the face and drew blood. He picked up a few larger rocks, threw them, grabbed a few more and let fly.
The ghoul backed up, snarled, and then came forward again.
He picked up a large rock, several pounds in weight and hurled it with both hands. The heavy rock struck the ghoul square in the face, split it open and the ghastly beast fell backward and rolled down the mountain and out of sight.
The dust cleared.
He waited.
No sound or movement.
It was dead.
After a hit like that and the fall of a thousand feet, nothing could survive.
He looked at the sun. Two hours or so until it set. He needed to find a place to hold up, grab some sleep, think it through and then make his way to a town.
He started walking west, carefully scanning the terrain for any sudden movement. He went about a mile and spotted a small cabin in the distance. He approached the cabin slowly, cautiously and when he was a hundred feet from it, he drew the Colt and cocked the hammer.
He approached.
No horses.
No smoke from the chimney.
The door was open.
There was just enough sunlight left to see inside. Bed, table, woodstove, water pump, canned goods on shelves, sacks of flour and coffee, a glass jar with jerked beef, the cabin was well stocked.
It had to be a lineman’s shack for a ranch nearby. Maybe the lineman was off gathering strays, or maybe he was…
A noise.
He spun and aimed. It was a rat scurrying for cover.
He sighed relief, de-cocked the Colt and holstered it. He grabbed a tin cup off the shelf and filled it with cool water at the pump. He drank his fill, then scanned the canned goods on the shelves. Peaches, pears, beans, soups, stew. He grabbed cans of peaches and pears, a few sticks of jerked beef and left the cabin.
If somebody came, he didn’t want to be trapped inside where he couldn’t make a quick escape.
He walked around to the side and spotted a wood ladder on the side of the wall.
He climbed the ladder to the flat roof ten feet high and pulled the ladder up with him. The roof was covered in a soft layer of sod to waterproof it against the rain. He sat, pulled out the knife on his belt and used it to open the can of peaches.
He drank the sweet syrup first, then used the knife to spear the halved peaches and ate them. He ate a few sticks of jerked beef and decided to eat the rest later. He rolled a smoke, lit it with a match and felt a heavy weariness wash over him.
Before there was no time to think about what happened, but now there was time to reflect. In his eleven years as a US Marshal, he never came across, read about or heard of such an incident as what happened.
With a deputy, he rode into the Crow Indian Nation to hunt for an escaped convict named Jed Johnson, who was reportedly seen by some trappers. They made camp at the base of the Nation and that night the ghouls came out of nowhere.
Dozens of them.
Diseased and rotting eyeballs, blood dripping from teeth.
The noise of twigs snapping woke them just in time to see the horde of ghouls closing in. They pulled their Colts and shot at them. He hit one Ghoul three times in the chest and still he kept moving forward.
He shot one in the head and he went down twitching.
He shot two more and there was no time to reload.
They were all around them with snapping teeth as if…
His deputy screamed.
A ghoul had his leg and was biting it.
No, trying to eat the flesh right off the bone.
Others jumped on, tearing and ripping at his deputy’s flesh with snapping teeth.
For the moment, he was forgotten and he jumped back to safety.
The horde of ghouls converged on his deputy, grabbing his arms, legs, neck and stomach as if he was a Thanksgiving turkey.
His deputy screamed in agony.
The ghouls were eating him while he was alive.
In the moonlight, he saw a ghoul rip out his deputy’s intestines and eat them like a sausage as his deputy screamed and screamed, calling his name for help.
Finally, the screams stopped and he knew that his deputy was dead.
The ghouls completely tore him apart, eating the flesh off his arms and legs as blood ran everywhere.
He turned and ran.
Ran for hours, strengthened by fear.
Ran clear to daylight.
To safety.
He stubbed out the smoke in the sod of the roof and rested his head back and looked up at the failing sunlight.
They ate his deputy alive. His intestines and liver, stomach and heart.
Even his eyeballs.
His deputy’s screams still echoed inside his head.
And he started to cry so hard he fell asleep.
When he opened his eyes next, the moon was bright and glowing in the night sky. He looked at the position of the stars and estimated he was asleep for about six hours. He ate the can of pears, the other sticks of jerked beef, then rolled a smoke.
The moon was bright enough to travel by if he could keep his direction by the stars. He knew the closest town was due west about ten miles. If he moved quickly, he could arrive there by dawn.
Quietly, he lowered the ladder to the ground and climbed down into the waiting arms of a hundred or more silent ghouls, who immediately pounced on him.
No time to grab his Colt.
They bit his arms, neck, shoulders and legs, hungry to feed upon his flesh.
He heard himself scream as a ghoul bit out his left eye and chewed on the soft flesh like it was a child’s candy.
Down he went as they ripped out his flesh and ate him alive. They tore open the soft flesh of his belly and he saw the pears and jerked beef spill out to the dirt, covered with slime and blood.
And the last thing he saw just before it all went dark was the snarling face of a ghoul just before it tore open his neck.
It was the ghoul he hit with the rock on the side of the mountain.