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Monday, September 5, 2011

ZOMBIES - Family pain in the Z-Poc from an excerpt from "Down the Road: On the Last Day" by Bowie V. Ibarra

  

(From the first chapter of "Down the Road: On the Last Day" by Bowie V. Ibarra.  From Permuted Press.)

 

FRANK GARZA

MAKES A CHOICE
            “We have to kill her,” said Frank Garza, sitting on the couch in his charming south Texas living room.  A crocheted blanket was draped across the couch, darkened a bit by age, but still nice.
            He held a .38 in his hand.
            “We can’t,” said his wife, Dolores, who was standing and gazing through a gap in a boarded-up window.
            The afternoon was pretty.  A spring day was dawning.  Birds flew from tree to tree.  A butterfly fluttered in the wind.  A soft breeze caused tall grass on the side of a distant road to wave gently.  The wind washed a zombie that shambled across a yard two blocks away with gentle caresses.  It was a sweet sensation of nature it would never appreciate again.
            “Please don’t shoot Alyssa, Daddy,” cried Blanca Garza, weeping.  “Please don’t.”
            Alyssa was Blanca’s best friend.  They first met in kindergarten, fighting over a young boy they both thought was cute.  Their animosity turned to friendship, and they spent the past eight years having fun and getting into some trouble along the way.
            One night during their first year of junior high school, Alyssa snuck out of her house to meet a cut boy while Blanca was sleeping over.  When Alyssa’s mom came to check on the girls, Blanca stalled for time and stuffed Alyssa’s bed with some blankets and a pillow.  Blanca answered the door and-making sure the lights stayed off-told Alyssa’s mom that they were sleeping.  Politely and quietly, Alyssa’s mom apologized and closed the door.
            Things were fun and games for the two girls.
            Then the plague hit.
            Three days ago, when the world began to fall apart, Frank had to shoot Alyssa’s father dead outside of his own home.

*   *   *   *   *

            Alyssa had called Blanca’s dad for help.  So Frank ran down the street to their house.  Alyssa was in the yard, hiding under the porch.
            “What’s wrong?” asked Frank.
            “It’s my dad,” she said, rocking back and forth, hyperventilating.  “My dad.”
            Frank entered the house through the front door and went straight into the living room.  The screen door was yanked back closed by the spring.  Wood slapped against wood as Frank gazed in horror at a nightmare.  Larry Munoz was on his knees by the sanguine corpse of his wife, Nina.  He had torn open his own wife’s stomach and was eating her bloody innards, soaking their pretty patterned carpet in blood.  The red liquid and goo caked around his mouth as he chewed on a long cord of intestine.  A struggle must have occurred, as the house was a total mess.
            On the television screen in front of Larry and his dead wife, a commercial for Spray-n-Clean illuminated their bodies in a blue wash.  Despite the national emergency, sponsors were still shilling their products.
            New Spray-n-Clean Double Power combines two powerful stain fighters to clean more stains better than StainMan and OxiWash!
            Had Frank not regurgitated his breakfast in disgust, Dead Larry might not have noticed him, as he was concentrating intently on his red, raw meal.  The vomit splattered onto a large area rug by the door.  A lion resting on the African savannah was now covered in the breakfast that started Frank’s day that morning: chorizo and eggs.
            Take the Stain Challenge and get an unbeatable clean versus most leading detergents!
            Frank could remember when Larry and Nina had traveled with him and his wife to Piedras Negras across the Mexican border.  One of their stops was the Mercado, where Larry haggled over the price of the carpet.  Larry always claimed he could get a good price on anything there, and he did get a good price for the carpet.
            After the first round of vomit, Frank darted back out the screen door, spitting up again on the porch.
            Alyssa stood on the front lawn nearby and watched Frank puke.  She hoped against hope that Frank would save her father, help him recover or at least contain him.  Instead, she puked on the lawn in concert with Frank.  Some specks of brown bile peppered her white and red shoes.
            Frank stepped off the porch and stood near her on the lawn.  “Go to our house, Alyssa.”
            Before Alyssa could start running, her dad, Dead Larry, threw open the screen door and stumbled on the porch.  The screen door slapped against the doorframe again, echoing through the house.  An intestine, partially consumed, was still in his hand, slowly dripping dark brown slime.
            Frank was stunned for a moment.  Larry’s eyes met with Frank’s.  A second passed before Larry began to smile and extend his hands toward Frank, as if he expected a hug or some kind of camaraderie. 
            “Get to the house now, Alyssa!” Frank yelled as he raised his gun at Dead Larry.
            Alyssa quickly began to scurry down the road to the Garza’s house like she had done hundreds of time before to go hang out with Blanca.  Only today, she was crying in disbelief.
            Frank aimed directly at Dead Larry’s head as Larry tumbled down the stairs.  He hit the pavement of the concrete walkway hard, busting his undead head open.
            Frank had spent the past four days learning about the plague from news reports, but he never expected it to come to Beeville.  And he certainly did not think it would strike in his neighborhood.
            But small outbreaks were occurring in town the past two days.  Local law enforcement contained the spread in the town and quarantined the city, but the past several hours had seen a rise in the problem.  Not only was the infection a problem, but word came that the police numbers were depleting.  Some dying.  Some running.  Some hiding.  The remainder was defending the city from anyone trying to enter through major inlets.
            A rumor started two days before that kids returning from San Antonio on school-related activities had started the problem in town.  Band students and the track team all fell ill with high fevers after returning from a track meet at MacArthur High.
            Larry was a bus driver for the band on their trip to S.A.  Good old bus 26.  He had driven it for close to fifteen years.  Larry knew where every child that got on his bus was let off, knew all the parents, and was stern.  The parents depended on him for that.
            And now he was rising from the pavement.  Dead Larry.  Blood trickled from his now broken nose and split head.  Frank raised his gun again.
            But before he could get off a shot, an adolescent boy grabbed his arm.  Instinct and quick thinking caused Frank to jerk his arm away, stumbling back and falling down.  The kid fell awkwardly to the ground, and judging from the way the boy growled, Frank knew the kid with the blonde mullet and white Poison t-shirt featuring C.C. DeVille and Bret Micheals, stained with blood, was infected.
            Dead Larry was now just a few steps away.  So Frank, still on his back, brought the gun up and popped off two rounds.  One cut into Larry’s shoulder just above his embroidered initials on his blue Polo shirt.  The other hit square on the forehead, creating a small entrance wound and a large exit wound out the back.  Blood, skull pieces, and brain matter sprinkled across the lawn before Double Dead Larry fell flat on his back.
            The boy was quickly crawling toward Frank.  Frank rose to a knee and let off one shot, splitting the kids jaw in two and severing the spine.  The blonde hair on the back of his head, (the proverbial party in the back), flew up for a moment as the bullet exited from his neck.  The young boy fell to the ground and started to twitch.  Nerves were trying to regain control in a noble yet futile effort as the brain was still feverishly sending commands to disconnected extremities.
            A scream resounded through Frank’s ears.  Standing, he noticed an elderly neighbor had exited her house next door and was holding her hands to her face.  Her bright green and orange flowered muumuu stunned Frank for a moment.  It was atrocious.
            “Get back in your house!” Frank yelled.  “It’s not safe out here!”
            Several people in the neighborhood joined the old lady on their respective porches.  Though the town had been secured for the most part, Mayor Hickland encouraged all people to stay in their homes and fortify them as they saw fit.  They were encouraged to stay there as well, even though a large area of downtown near the courthouse was secured if anyone wanted to go there.
            Or, if things got worse before they got better.
            Frank put the gun in his belt and ran home.

*   *   *   *   *

            Now Alyssa was gone.  She had become one of the creatures.
            She had been almost inconsolable during her stay.  But she was also showing signs of infection.  The day before, she had become very lethargic.  She had a high fever and her skin began to lose its dark brown color, turning paler and more sickly by the hour.  Frank and Dolores figured she was on her last leg. 
            So moments after she closed her eyes, Frank and Dolores duct-taped her to a metal folding chair in the guest bedroom.  Within three minutes, (only mere moments after she was secured to the chair), her eyes opened.  He eyes, once a pretty shade of brown, had become clouded with goo, an effect of the infection.
            Minutes after putting Alyssa in bonds, the family knew things were probably going to get worse before they got better.  So Frank asked his wife and daughter to go to the shed and get the wooden boards and anything else they might be able to nail to the walls to secure the windows and doors.  It was two hours into their work when the mayor issued the edict via recorded phone message for citizens to stay in their homes and secure their property.
            Before nightfall, Frank’s family had secured every door and window of the house.
            But Alyssa’s screams and groans throughout the day had echoed through the walls, slowly driving the Garzas bananas.  After repeatedly listening to the television advising people to shoot any creatures in the head, Frank presented the idea to his family.
            And so there they sat, on the couch they bought only a month before.  It was brand new, but Dolores insisted on keeping the embroidered throw blanket on it.  It was part of their home, she said.  Her mother had made it ten years ago, and everyone who had seen it raved about it.  The craftsmanship.  The colors.  The time sacrificed.
            When her mother died two years after making the blanket, the throw became a comforting reminder of Dolores’ mom.  Dolores became very protective of the blanket, mending it when it would unravel and even go so far as to insist Frank didn’t fart on it.
            As the years passed, the blanket lost its luster.  Stains from drinks, snacks, and a general use had tarnished it.  Yet it remained in place.  Frank and Blanca knew how important it was to Dolores.  So did all the same people who raved about it for so many years.
            But the memory of Frank’s suegra was the furthest thing from his mind as the family contemplated taking Alyssa’s life.
            -Or afterlife, whatever the case may be.
            “Please don’t kill her, daddy,” pleaded Blanca.  She was a blooming thirteen year old girl with all the worries, desires, and tensions of a girl that age.  Boys.  Looks.  Stars like Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp lined her wall.
            She was having a tough time, too.  She hadn’t heard from any of her friends the past two days.  And spending this time with Alyssa made her fear the worst.  For a girl who spent several hours a day on the phone with friends, she was suffering a kind of smoker’s withdrawl: tummy aches accompanied by headaches.  Fortunately, there was no weight gain.
            But it was clear to the Garza family that the isolation that Beeville once enjoyed was being invaded by the plague the TV made out to be a big city problem.
            Blanca’s beautiful tan face was stained with tears.  Her long black hair was beginning to tangle.  It rolled down the back of her faded blue American eagle brand shirt.  Her off-white cargo Capri pants were dirty from wiping her hands from the lumber used to fortify the house.  White chanclas held fast to her feet.  The white strap secure between her red painted big and second toe.
            Frank stared at the votive hands forever sculpted in prayer on the coffee table by the issue of TV Guide.  Kelly Clarkson’s Texas smile graced the cover, promoting her scheduled guest appearance on Dawson’s Creek tomorrow.  Pre-empting the show with the government-sponsored news reports of the terror across the nation was highly probable.
            “What are we going to do, ‘Lores?” asked Frank to his wife.  “Just keep her in there?  Huh?”
            Dolores knew Frank was right, but only responded with silence.  The zombie outside, many yards away, stood still for a moment as if it was lost.
            “Mi hijita,” Frank began, “Having her in here puts all of us in danger.  You’ve heard the news.  Their bites are infecting people.  Making them sick and turning them into one of them.”
            Blanca, sitting on her knees on the floor, put her face in her hands and wept.
            For several minutes, everyone stood in their places:  Dolores watched the zombie down the way.  Frank sat, deep in thought.  Blanca wept.  Clear snot clogged her nose.
            Frank continued to sit silent, the votive hands on the coffee table reminding him to pray.
            Pray for protection.
            Pray for his family.
            Pray for forgiveness.
            Frank rose and strode to the room Alyssa was tied up in.  He took the gun off safety.
            Dolores and Blanca were so focused on their thoughts that it took them a moment to realize Frank had left.
            Frank opened the door.
            Blanca rose from her knees and screamed, dashing to the back room.
            Dolores awoke from her daydream and followed Blanca, yelling, “Frank, no!”
            Alyssa was still tied to the chair, and her black hair was still tied in a chongo on the back of her head.  Her plain red shirt was moist with saliva.  She still had on her very short blue shorts.  Solid black Jordan’s were still on her feet.  Her dark brown skin was pale, her cheeks sunken.
            Frank raised his gun.
            Blanca pushed her father aside and stood between him and Alyssa.  Frank immediately raised the gun away from his daughter.
            “Mija, get out of the way!” he yelled.
            “Please, Dad!  Don’t!” she screamed.
            “Move now, Blanca!  I’m not playing!”
            “No!” she yelled.  “I won’t.  Look.  I can show you she still has a chance.”
            Blanca turned to Alyssa and gazed into her glazed eyes.
            “Alyssa,” began Blanca, calming down, desperately wanting to prove her point.  “Alyssa, its me.  Blanca.”
            Alyssa looked into Blanca’s eyes.  She groaned a phlegmy response and opened her mouth.  She seemed to smile.
            “You remember me, right?”
            Alyssa began to wiggle in her chair.  She vocalized awkwardly again.  She tilted her head to the side and smiled.
            “You remember when we were at the mall?  At Claire’s?  You bought me this bracelet there, remember?" she asked, indicating her simple bracelet.  Alyssa smiled again, a bigger grin, with teeth.  Her eyes squinted a bit, a sign of a true smile.
            Blanca turned back to her dad.
            “You see?  You see?  She remembers.”
            Alyssa’s smile quickly faded and she looked at the warm flesh of Blanca’s arm.  In a surprise move, Alyssa yanked free from her bonds, grabbed Blanca by the arm, and bit.  Blanca screamed in terror as a piece of her warm flesh and blood found a new home in Alyssa’s living dead mouth.  The bite was precise and efficient.
            Frank grabbed Blanca by the shirt and threw her behind him in the hallway, out of the room.  The powerful yank caused the flesh on her arm to tear clean off, the strength of a father trying to protect his daughter.  A modest arc of blood flew through the air in the empty space of Blanca’s flight trajectory.  Blanca crashed into her mother, and both hit the wall, tumbling clumsily to the floor.  Frank and Dolores’ wedding picture fell from the wall and busted open on the floor.  Shards of glass found a new home on the hardwood.
            Alyssa slowly chewed on Blanca’s flesh.  Blood oozed messily from her lips.  She gazed at Frank, who was already pointing the gun at her.  She had no chance to grab at him as the bullet was already flying to her face down the well-oiled barrel of Frank’s .38.  It exploded her nose as it traveled through the nasal cavity and viciously cut through the R-Complex above the spine.  Red blood splashed against a bookshelf behind her, covering Blanca’s YM magazines in red as she fell to the floor.
            Frank immediately spun around and answered the cry of pain from his own daughter.  She was already being treated by Dolores, who had wrapped a towel around her bite.  The magic of Dolores’ motherhood shined bright. 
            Frank embraced Blanca, who was crying in pain.  Dolores joined them.  They all knew what was about to happen.  With emergency help out of the question, her fate was sealed.
            Blanca looked into her father’s eyes.
            “I love you, Daddy.”
            “I love you, too, mi hija.”

*   *   *   *   *

            The next three hours were difficult at first, but warm in the final minutes.  They all recalled happy stories from the past.  About family.  About trips.  About life and love.
            “You… you remember,” Blanca began, short of breath and tired.  Rivulets of sweat fell down her face.  “You remember… when Tio Manuel’s … pants fell down… at the river?”
            Frank and Dolores smiled and giggled.  Sadness laced their laughter.  “Yes, mi hija.  I remember.”
            As Dolores and Frank strapped Blanca into a chair when she continued to become progressively lethargic and racked with fever, it was her love of her parents she professed.
            After a Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary, they made the sign of the cross as a family.  Frank and Dolores kissed their daughter.  Both began to weep.
            “Don’t leave me, Mom.  Don’t… don’t leave me, Dad,” mumbled Blanca, barely coherent.
            They didn’t.
            Frank and Dolores held her cold hands until her eyes closed.
            Then Dolores left the room, shaking and crying.
            Moments later, Blanca’s eyes slowly opened again.
            Foggy.
            Sad.
            Frank discharged an aimed bullet from his gun, dropped it, and searched for his wife.
            They both cried themselves to sleep, embracing each other on the new couch, comforted by the faithful old blanket.

======================

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Bowie Ibarra is the author of the "Down the Road" zombie horror trilogy, available at ZombieBloodFights.com.  His latest story, "Codename: La Lechusa" is a superhero action story featuring a single mother who moonlights as an assassin.

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