The day was clear, and the sun showed through the windows. Kelsey and Rance had come out of hiding in the fridge to set about making breakfast. Kelsey wasn’t sure how long the utilities would last but she intended to take advantage of it.
Shannon, having had the last watch, had an olfactory front row seat to the smells of breakfast cooking. Her stomach warred with her sense of preservation that the smell could attract any lingering zombies. All it took was for one to sound the call that breakfast was indeed being served.
She listened as the sleepers awoke one by one to the smell of coffee and a breakfast unlike any the diner had ever seen.
Helfron, still stewing over his confrontation with Deidre, relieved her. He had no appetite for food or Deidre’s company. Shannon wasn’t surprised to see that Helfron was the type to hold a grudge. She pushed his mental presence aside and moved to the kitchen.
Rose was doing better. She sat on a step stool, Rance in her lap, sharing bacon and toast with him. Between mouthfuls she commented on how she’d hired Kelsey for the wrong job and how she’d have replaced Greg if she’d known about her cooking abilities.
The morning held promise. There were no zombie sightings since Deidre’s encounter with undead Greg and the zombie kids. It was inevitable that the breakfast conversation would turn to the crisis maybe being over. None, not even Kelsey, held hope that that was true.
“How sick are those people, momma,” asked Rance. He worked the words around a mouth full of toasty and bacon.
No one spoke. The answer was a matter for Kelsey and not for Zombie Expert Greene or Werewolf Princess Shannon.
“Very sick, baby.” Kelsey scooped the last pancake off the griddle, set down the spatula and wiped her hands on her already grimy apron. “A doctor can’t help them. The only thing we can do is avoid them.”
“Oh, okay.” Rance went back to his shared food and then asked to see what was on Cartoon Network.
“I’d be surprised that anything’s playing anything past the Emergency Broadcast jam,” said Helfron walking in. “Nothing’s moving out there so I thought I’d get some coffee.” He avoided Deidre as he moved to the pot.
“Maybe there’ll be some news on,” said Rose hopefully.”
“But I wanna watch Adventure Time,” protested Rance.
“Later, baby.” Kelsey picked up Rance and walked as quickly as she could to the TV that hung over the counter.
The others followed as soon as the television clicked on.
Water and power weren’t the only things still going. Satellite was working normally in the aspect that it still broadcast stations albeit emptier than normal.
The first eight channels offered nothing more than the blaring EBS signal but the ninth, a national channel, showed something other than the ‘This is the Emergency Broadcast Station Please Stay Tuned’ screen.
An extremely tired anchorwoman spoke about the President’s coming address on the national crisis. The woman looked like she hadn’t bathed or eaten anything substantial in several days. For Shannon, this woman was the face of every American trying to survive.
Behind her someone groaned about a talking suit in a bunker God knew where bloviating on something he probably had no first-hand knowledge about. Shannon swore it was Greene, but wasn’t sure. It could’ve been Helfron too.
The anchors talked about how the situation was deteriorating at an alarming pace. Deidre’s no shit comment was followed by her staring out the window at zombies walking down the road without a care in the world. Shannon found herself shushing Deidre. She wanted as much information as she could take in.
Major cities like New York, Flagstaff, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Philadelphia were lost, along with the entire west coast. Fort Drum, Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, had been devastated. Military medical centers like the San Diego Naval Hospital, the naval hospital located at Beaufort, South Carolina, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and if reports were to be believed, Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii were no longer havens for the dead and dying.
Centers designed to study and combat infectious diseases like the CDC in Atlanta and USAMRIID at Fort Detrick, Maryland no longer offered a glimmer of hope. The dead and undead, lycan and otherwise, owned those locations now. The light of hope had been overtaken with grim where-do-we-go-now attitude. The military was effectively nonexistent to any survivors. No rescue was coming. The light at the end of the tunnel had really been us.
The news moved on to a list of Aid and Rescue Centers in the tri-county area, but the smart money was to avoid those at all costs.
Greene scoffed as the list scrolled across the screen. His fetish with horror movies was showing strong at that moment. “Well, I’m willing to bet we can take Fort Shelby off our list of vacation destinations.”
Shannon couldn’t tell if he was joking or being truthfully grim.
President Alec Gordon appeared suddenly on the screen. He appeared to be taking the news of the nation’s demise better than expected. At first he looked calm, as if the crisis was something that would be decisively dealt with within a few months. Then he opened his mouth to speak.
The situation was worse than what the news had reported. The contagion was worldwide with many cities, large and small, reporting deaders. No one knew if they should be relieved that it wasn’t just an American problem or fearful that there was nowhere to run.
President Gordon seemed to be wrapping the speech up when he announced that the situation had taken a turn for the worse. What remained of the CDC and military hierarchy reported that the reanimating contagion had mutated further. He detailed how reanimated dead were turning lycan before engaging the civilian populace and military personnel around the world.
“We’re asking for people to stay in their homes.” He paused and Shannon watched the sweat bead on his forehead. It rolled in thin trickles down his cheeks. “If you have an ill loved one, we’re asking that you contain them at least. Ideally…” He cleared his throat and continued. “Ideally we’re hoping the populace will do what is needed, which is to destroy the brain of a loved one. You cannot allow them to walk again. There is no way to tell who will turn into one of these…” President Gordon cleared his throat again, and then coughed. “There is no way to tell who will turn into a beast once they pass on.”
“Is there any connection to the undead and these reports of people turning into bipedal canines?” asked a reporter in the gallery.
“We don’t know.” The President ran an uncharacteristically shaking hand through his hair. His hand came away glistening.
“Can we depend on the military to curtail the undead and werewolves?” There, a reporter had let the genie out of the bottle. It was a woman and she stood with no small amount of pride. A reporter sitting on her left tried to pull her back down to her seat. She shrugged him off and continued standing. Even in those trying times the station showed her name as Gloria Tan and her connection to Hughes Media Group.
The image went back to President Gordon. “That’s not what we’re calling them.” The President tried to look stern, but came off as miserably uncomfortable.
“But that’s what they’re being called by citizens lucky enough to survive an encounter,” added a woman reporter. The camera swung accusingly to her and then back to President Gordon.
“We’re not calling them that,” said the President. “There’s no proof of that assertion.” His face grew ashen, and he rubbed the back of his neck. His hand came away crimson. He coughed and then slammed a fist down on the podium. “We’re not calling them that. Werewolves do not exist!” he roared before collapsing.
The camera zoomed in on the unmoving body of the President.
“Get back,’ bellowed the woman reporter who had asked the question. “I knew it. I could smell it. He’s been bitten. I smelled it! Get away from him!”
Uncoordinated choruses called for the feed to be cut. Someone else, it sounded like the female reporter, ordered the cameras to keep rolling. And the diner denizens kept watching.
The President lurched to his feet. Screams filled the television, and Shannon could hear the sound of automatic weapons actions being worked and pistols being pulled from holsters.
For a moment the air in the diner and at the press conference grew still. It felt to Shannon like there was no air in the room. Then the President attacked. Automatic weapons fire tore into President Gordon. The fusillade threw Gordon back and his body returned to the floor.
“Don’t do it,” advised Greene like he would with any horror movie. All he needed was a bucket of popcorn to complete his appearance. “Don’t move to the body. None of you idiots scored a headshot. Feckless morons”
The camera angle widened, showing three Secret Service agents and two Marines closing slowly on the fallen ex-President.
“He’s going to check for a pulse,” said Deidre in a voice barely above a whisper.
A Marine stretched a hand toward Gordon’s neck. The move was practiced and quick. Even quicker was Gordon reaching up and grabbing him, biting into his cheek. The Marine screamed and tried to bring his rifle up, but couldn’t. Gordon was fastened onto his face.
“Fire! Fire!” screamed an authoritative voice. The majority of the rounds impacted on the Marine’s body and body armor.
The automatic fire ended and only the sound of pistol fire could be heard over the screams of people trying to force their way out of the room. The ex-President took the poorly aimed center mass shots as he moved to the next man, a Secret Service agent who had finished reloading his MP5K. He fired into Gordon’s already ruined chest.
Gordon grabbed the agent by his lapel and drove his face into the man’s neck. The agent roared in pain and anger as he pushed Gordon away. Almost in panic he fired his machine pistol. The burst hit Gordon in the head. Gordon fell.
“He bit me,” cried the agent.
A female agent rushed by his side and consoled him. She unexpectedly raised her pistol and shot him behind his left ear. The round tore through her head as well. The act took even Shannon by surprise.
“Aw, shit,” shouted someone behind the camera. “That mother fucker’s getting up. Fuck this,” cried the voice. It was assumed the voice belonged to the camera man because the camera shook briefly and before spinning around to face Gloria Tan. She had her back to where the Marine had fallen. He’d already turned and was moving toward her.
“Today I’m going to show you something to make you believe.” Tan spoke through clenched teeth. Tan spasmed as she turned toward the shambling Marine.
“She forcing the change,” said Shannon. “That’s why it hurts like it does.” She cast her gaze around to everyone. All were rapt with attention. Kelsey was the exception. She held Rance close to her with his face buried into her chest. Disgust and anger raged through Shannon. She could understand wanting to protect your child, but the monsters had come out of the closest and no amount of hugging and reassurances would send them back.
Tan’s change was complete. She leapt through the air, landing on the Marine. She tore his body armor off in frenzy and before ripping the undead man in two.
Shannon watched, uneasy in the pleasure at finding out that chances were very much in her favor of being able to do the same thing. She’d never tried tearing anyone in two before, but now she had an urge to try it on someone at the diner. Maybe even Kelsey. Or Rance. Or perhaps both. She forced the urge aside and continued watching, even though nothing showed except the scattered remains of the dead Marine.
The background was filled with shrieks of terror and more gunfire. Finally, all that could be heard was a mix of sobbing voices, and heavy breathing mixed with wet deep growls.
Someone moved the camera around slowly, showing the carnage. Tan had torn through the few remaining servicemen and Secret Agents, and a few unarmed civilians for good measure. Then Tan stepped in front of the camera again. A group of six business dressed men and women sat behind her, huddled against a heavy steel door.
“More. After. This. Commercial. Break.” She spoke in between great heaving breaths. “Stay. Tuned.” She stepped out of view. Wet slurping sounds from off camera mingled with the the survivors’ whimpering.
“Is it over?” whined Kelsey. “Please tell me it’s over.”
“Shut up,” snapped Shannon, Deidre, and Helfron simultaneously. Only Shannon let slip, “Stupid bitch,” from her lips. Kelsey was fast wearing out her welcome with her.
Kelsey stared with a hurt expression from one to another. She scooped Rance up and ran crying to the freezer.
“I’m going to make sure she’s okay,” Rose said contemptuously to the three.
“You need to stay put,” said Shannon still looking at the TV. “She’s not going to last long with someone running after her to soothe her hurt feelings.”
“She’s gotta toughen up-,” started Deidre. She fell silent as Tan reappeared, moving toward the survivors with clawed handfuls of gore.
“You,” said Tan gruffly to a man in his late fifties. “Come here.”
“Oh hell no,” said Helfron. “I’m turning this shit off.” He stood, but Deidre spoke.
“Leave it. We need to see this.” Greene was more serious than normal in the face of Helfron’s sudden, unexpected lack of nerve.
“No, we don’t,” Rose answered defiantly. Rose stood so suddenly that her chair flipped back onto the floor. She stalked off toward where Kelsey and Rance had retreated.
“We need to witness and remember,” said Greene lowly. “As a group.” He looked in the direction of the walk-in before continuing. “Or at least of what’s left of a unified group.” He shook his head in disgust as he turned back to the television.
“Watch what, Steve? Barbarism at its best? No one needs to remember this.”
“Steve’s right. We need to witness this.” Shannon spoke calmly and evenly. “You leave if you’ve lost your scrot. The rest of us will watch, and learn.”
“To hell with you, Steve. I’m going to remember this. And fuck you, Shannon.” Helfron left.
“Yeah. See you in hell, Dennis,” muttered Greene.
Shannon wasn’t sure if she wanted to remember what they were watching for the sake of human posterity. For her it was more morbid, feral curiosity.
And Gloria Tan did what Helfron had feared, and Shannon and expected. Tan grabbed the unwilling newsman, and forced the mutilated mess into the man’s unwilling mouth. He tried to fight back, but couldn’t. A woman beat furiously on Tan, but she was batted away. The woman fell back against the wall with a yelp.
“All of you move over there,” Tan ordered, waving to somewhere behind the camera. She howled indignantly at them when none did as she commanded. “Watch,” she grunted turning her attention back to the camera. She moved away and the man came into gruesome focus.
The man gagged as the offal slid down his throat. He stayed on all fours as he gave a violent dry heave then went into convulsions.
It was difficult to watch the man’s seizure, but they watched. Suddenly he grew still. The camera remained on him and for five minutes so did everyone’s attention. Deidre broke away for a cigarette or ten, while Shannon exited for an overdue bathroom break. Might as well, she thought, as she walked through the door marked “Gals”. Not like the plumbing is going to be here long.
Shannon was wiping herself off when Deidre burst into the bathroom, excited.
“Get out here. The news guy’s coming to.”
Shannon rushed to the TV. It was as she feared. He was coming back, but as a disgruntled undead.
The undead reporter looked around the room, his posture almost straight. He turned toward the camera and appeared to drunkenly adjust his tie and pat his hair.
“See that?” said Tan. “Something remains after turning. Pompous ass in life, pompous ass in death.”
The undead reporter turned toward the sound of her voice. A growl seeped slowly from his throat as he tracked Tan’s move back into view and then out of frame again.
The camera angle changed and the view of the room view tripled, showing the undead man, and Tan reappearing.
“Come and have a go if you’re hard enough,” she said. She waved her hairy, clawed hand at him, urging him forward. “It’s a dog eat zombie world, Limey.”
The zombie lunged at Tan, but she stepped away, slashing at it with the claws of her left hand. Shreds of well-tailored suit and chunks of bone, and meat flew away from its ruined right shoulder.
Shannon watched intently, sure that Tan could have dodged it even without her werewolf abilities.
Tan didn’t give a chance to recover. Halfway through it’s turn to face her, she dropped kicked it in its upper chest. Before gravity could force her to fall, she sprang into a back flip. She landed in a flamenco dancer’s pose. The move was beautiful and graceful. And merely for show. Tan was playing with something that could have once been her food.
The zombie had been driven back into a skid across the floor. It rose on unsteady feet and shards of bloody bone and torn flesh poked through the ripped shirt and jacket. Its tie had been twisted around its neck and flapped over the shoulder.
Tan rushed it again, driving her fist through the shirt and into the wound. She wordlessly ripped his heart out while pushing it back with her free hand. The zombie feel on its butt with a comedic sounding thump. It wasn’t until later that Shannon would realize that people had been screaming in horror for almost the entire fight.
The zombie stood once again, but instead of returning to the fight, it appeared to be looking for an exit. It across the walls, hands searching for the door knob. It kept looking over its shoulder, but with unseeing eyes. Shattered cheek bones had lodged its shards into the eyes. It was afraid, and Tan laughed bitterly at the sight.
The laugh had the quality of broken, ungreased machinery grinding together. There was no true joy or mirth in the sound and it revolted Shannon.
“Party’s over when I say,” said Tan, springing onto the zombie. She grabbed its head and slammed it into the floor and wall until nothing but pulp remained. Tan howled triumphantly, and licked dead man from her palm. She howled again, pausing only to lick, and then she stopped.
Tan looked into the camera and slowly changed back into her human form. “Oh shit,” she whispered.
“Crazy bitch’s crying,” scoffed Deidre.
“Quiet,” snapped Greene. “She’s gonna say something like I’m sorry or some shit.”
“I’m fucked,” Tan said instead.
“Ha,” said Deidre. “She said something totally different.”
“Shut up,” said Greene sulkily.
Tan looked to the still, silent humans. “Run.”
They didn’t need to be told twice. They ran almost as one to the door, and cries of joy and amazement at finding it open emanated from the speakers. Six seconds later the reports of automatic gunfire and shrieks were heard.
“Oh fuck me,” said Tan, wiping tears from her eyes. “Nothing lasts forever.”
Overkill filled the scream as automatic gunfire ripped Tan apart. The last thing any of them saw before the TV went to static was Tan collapsing.
“No amount of lycan ability is bringing her back.” Shannon spoke in a low voice. She was suddenly very aware of her mortality. “She could withstand half of that, but…” she shrugged.
The image of the local news anchors returned. The silence shared between the anchorman and anchorwoman would have been inexcusable, and grounds for termination for lesser beings, on an average news day. History was being made, showing average had been redefined. With all they’d seen and reported, each tried to make sense of the madhouse the world had become.
Finally the male anchor looked at the woman and said, “Piss on this, Barbara. We have families.” The woman nodded her head slightly and the man left to the tune of panicked and furious protests in the background, ordering him to stay. Shots were heard in the background, but the sound did nothing to shake the woman, Barbara.
“My family was killed four days ago. One of the first, I think,” Barbara said flatly. My son was bitten first and he brought it home. I should’ve taken him to the hospital, but the military was taking the infected and killing them. I couldn’t do that to my baby. Dale, Marsha, Stevie. I’m coming home.” Without any hesitation, Barbara put a snub-nosed revolver to her right temp, and squeezed the trigger. Greene cried out. He clasped his hands to his mouth.
Greene’s move touched Shannon, though she couldn’t understand why. He was a cop and a Marine. Death and gunshots weren’t new to him, but Barbara’s suicide had rocked him. Shannon wanted to comfort him, but couldn’t.
The camera remained on the empty desk. Shannon was about to leave before a young twenty something walked into view and sat behind the desk. The young lady looked to be barely in her twenties and stoned. She looked like an intern that had dressed in a hurry or like she no longer gave two shits. “I own this fucker now, bitches,” she said, giggling. She straightened her posture and stared into the camera, trying to be serious. “This just in. My pussy’s pierced and wet, and I’m going to fuck all of you.”
“I can stomach watching the President die, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to witness fools and morons inherit the planet,” said Deidre, rising to turn off the TV.
“Leave it on, Dee. I want to see what she’ll do next. May be the last porn any guy sees. Ever.” Greene chuckled mirthlessly.
“Misogynistic asshole. Look, I’m going for another cup of coffee. And maybe to the roof. I need some practice. You want anything?” Greene nodded no. Deidre left with her sniper rifle, and headed toward the roof stairs.
Shannon pondered her options before realizing that the motel had guests that she hadn’t seen. She wondered if they were digging in until things blew over or had bugged out. Or maybe the worse had happened.
As she rose, Greene stopped her. “Where you going?” he asked, placing a gentle hand on her arm.
“We haven’t seen any guests since day before yesterday. Somebody should go check on them.”
“Don’t know. Could be.” “If there aren’t any definites then forget about them.” He grinned humorously again and turned back to the screen. “The smart ones either ran off or would’ve joined us by now. The only other option is more than likely they were turned dead.”
On the television the young woman had launched into a profanity laced rant on global warming, gun control, abortion and why crime should be outlawed. She paused in mid sentence, struck a lighter, and took a long, deep toke from a small wooden pipe. Greene had first hand knowledge about some of the young woman’s rant, but couldn’t care about any of it. Her tirade might have made him listen out of curiosity a month earlier, but now he wasn’t interested. He wanted to see what physical not verbal stupidity she might produce next.
Shannon was stunned by Greene’s assessment. People’s lives, even strangers in her vicinity, meant something to her. No matter how much she wished she could simply forget about them, she couldn’t. “That doesn’t matter, Steve. Someone needs to check on them.”
Greene remained sitting, and looked up to her indignantly. “If there’s anyone left, and that’s a long shot, they paid for a complimentary breakfast hot and a cot, not to be babied. I say fuck ‘em. Effective yesterday, I’m no longer a cop. We’ve got our own shit to worry about.” He turned back to the TV, crossing his arms.
“Dennis was right. To hell with you. I’m going.” Shannon strapped on her gun belt. She stormed out just as furiously as she stormed into the motel check in area.
The area was as quiet as expected. Nothing moved except the cool air pushed by the over taxed air conditioning.
The check-in log lay open on the front desk. The corners of the first two pages moved lazily as the vent above hit them. Shannon didn’t know the day shift manager, a woman she knew in passing as Carol, well enough to wonder where she was. She guessed the woman was long gone and hopefully not the in the same way as Greg.
Rose and Herb were traditional in requiring a written check-in/check-out register for guests. Neither trusted computers enough to require one to do the job. Their distrust of them was compounded when Greg arrived one morning complaining about his crashing.
The log listed seven rooms out of eighteen filled. Three doubles and four singles were unaccounted for. Shannon started rethinking the gun as a primary weapon. “Might need lycan to do this.” She spoke to the empty room, testing to see if any zeds were lurking unseen nearby.
Something moved behind her. She heard the air move and a new heartbeat enter the lobby. It was Helfron, and his nervous heartbeat betrayed him. He really didn’t want to be there.
“Decide to be useful for once?” She turned to see him standing in the doorway, pistol in hand.
“I guess. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just here to keep you out of trouble.” He sounded stuffy still and the swelling hadn’t abated. “Steve told me what you were up to. I think it’s stupid.”
“Well, then either leave or try not to get yourself killed on my account.” Shannon was tired of saying things in a half joking way even though she was serious.
“Worry about yourself. I know what I’m doing.” He surveyed the room. “How many people do we have to find?”
“Ten from what the ledger says. Could be more. You know how people say one thing and can mean another.”
“Yeah. Let’s just get this over with. I’m feeling a bit exposed here.”
Shannon memorized the room numbers. It was now or never to begin what could be a wasted search mission.