(I thought I'd share with ya'all another short story. I just found out about a contest for a zombie short story that had an end date of January first and since today is my day off, I sat down this morning and put this together. Once I knew the premise, I understood the theme. I had a lot of fun with it because I adore zombie stories and wanted to write one more about the poignancy of the flesh eaters. I hope you enjoy this entry submission. Wish me luck!)
Only four hours had passed and yet Donna McClintock’s life had changed in a way that was irreparable. She stood at the foot of the bed watching her Cousin Joe struggling in the damp sheets. For the past two hours, his body drenched in sweat, he contorted with seizure-like movements, making sounds that were completely inhuman, his breathing coming in short fast pants like a dog on a hot summer day. She turned away, feeling guilty. It would almost be humane if the last breath came soon and the room turned to silence rather than the tension that existed right now.
“They’ll get help” Sandy offered.
Donna’s brother Carl and her Uncle Tim had gone for help an hour ago, but the cabin was a good 20 miles from the nearest civilization. Then, it would surely take even more time to get back in to the cabin. After all, that lumber road was an impossibly slow trek.
Oh, I never wanted to go to this stupid hunting cabin.
Donna hated guns, hated violence, hated the killing of animals. She only came to support Joe when he stood up to his father.
Glancing at Joe’s ashen face and agonized expression, however, she could kill the raccoon that bit him. How could an animal bite turn so quickly? Even if it were rabid, would it cause symptoms within minutes?
He tried to rescue the raccoon trapped inside the trash can. Uncle Tim proceeded to mock him and tell him to kill the creature instead of rescuing it. Joe continued with his efforts, only to be bitten as the creature scrambled from the can. His father, as usual, just snorted and told him he got what he deserved.
In fact, her uncle’s last words were another bullying taunt, “Men are killers. We eat meat. You eat meat. Are you a man?”
Uncle Tim never gave up trying to push his macho deer hunting mentality on his tender-hearted and gay son. It was a reality the man would never accept. Every autumn he dragged the family back to the cabin. This year, with Joe graduating from high school, the family was fed up with the usual drama and refused to come. That left Donna and Carl tagging along for moral support. Without them there to referee, it would have been a bloody battleground.
Donna glanced around at the wood paneling and the beautiful afghan now sliding from Joe’s slender body as he kicked and growled deep in his throat. Drips of foam exuded from the corner of his mouth as his head locked into a position that was impossibly awkward. Sandy wrung her hands, as if not sure what to do. Donna suspected her brother’s girlfriend had led a pampered life and had absolutely no idea what to do with a sick pet, let alone a sick human being.
No, I’m in this one alone.
For a brief moment, Joe’s pale gray eyes met hers and Donna thought there was recognition. The pupils were strangely dilated and black against his anemic eyes.
“Joe?” She leaned forward.
His arm lashed out towards her and Donna tried to calm him down by pressing his hand back against his chest, but his long fingers clawed into her hand and pulled her forward. Losing her footing, she fell against the headboard with a grunt of discomfort and surprise.
“Joe!” Sandy on the other side of the bed tried to hold his shoulder back as he continued to pull at Donna’s hand.
“I-I can’t get loose.” Donna screamed out.
His mouth opened, drool streaming down his chin as he growled, pulling her hand towards his mouth.
“He’s going to bite you!” Sandy gasped.
Knowing if she were to be bitten she might turn just like Joe, Donna planted her foot on the edge of the bed frame and shoved backwards, freeing herself as she fell to the floor with a thud. Sandy came around and helped her up.
Joe began another round of thrashing on the bed, the sheets sliding from his sweat-soaked body. Every muscle was chiseled and spastic; his head twisted upward, the long corded muscles of his neck jutting. He screamed out in an agonizing gurgling cry and then went strangely silent.
“He stopped panting.” Sandy whimpered.
Donna leaned over her cousin’s body stiffened in a strangely epileptic posture.
“He’s not breathing.” She announced, her fingers pressing his taut neck for a pulse. His skin was wet and cold, the muscles beneath still stiff and bulging.
“I can’t find a pulse. Oh God.” Donna sobbed.
“We should do CPR.” Sandy offered.
“No.” Donna shook her head. “We can’t risk exchanging fluids with him. If this was some variation of rabies, we can’t take the risk.”
“Should we cover him up?” Sandy asked.
“I’ll take care of it. You go see if you can find phone signal somewhere.”
“We already tried that.” Sandy complained.
“We didn’t try the roof. Why not use the ladder by the shed?”
“I’m not going out there.” Donna whined. “The raccoon is out there.”
That was true enough. Besides, he was dead and Carl and Uncle Tim would be back soon with help.
“Let’s go in the other room. Get something to drink.” Donna ushered the useless woman from the room. The silence of the cabin became evident now that the poised listening and waiting were over. Every muscle in Donna’s body burned and her temples ached. She felt around inside the cabinet above the stove for the bottle of aspirin.
“I’m so sorry.” Sandy offered.
“Thank you. I suppose I should call Aunt Kathy.”
“Not yet.” Sandy patted her shoulder. “We’ll wait until the authorities tell us what went wrong. His family will want to know what killed him.”
That was perhaps the first bit of wisdom and insight Sandy had ever shown in the one year since she started dating Carl. For a brief moment, Donna felt a twinge of pride in the woman’s ability to stay composed. Those hours in the room with Joe, Donna imagined Sandy falling apart, not wanting to see the graphic truth of a dying man, and crying and begging for comfort, but she had surprisingly risen to the occasion. Always of the belief something good comes out of something bad, Donna had to admit that this trauma made her brother’s girlfriend a bit more respected in her eyes. Perhaps in some way, it might settle some guilt in her uncle’s heart, as well.
Donna slumped down on the sofa, a boneless wreck.
“I-I’ll make something to eat.” Sandy offered.
Food sounded horrible right now, but Donna nodded, glad to give the woman something to do. For some reason, the tears wouldn’t come. The reality hadn’t quite set in. She knew Joe was dead, but she couldn’t seem to comprehend that tomorrow they wouldn’t wake up to him singing in the kitchen and making a killer omelet. Her uncle would wake up and come out grumbling, but eat the omelet without compliment. He in no way wanted to encourage Joe’s interest in cooking.
The cabin had always been a battleground for her uncle and cousin. Uncle Tim continually pushed Joe to hunt and do manly things. As an only son, the pressure was on. At the same time, Joe grew more and more certain of himself by visiting the cabin. It somehow confirmed to him that he would never make the transformation to killer.
“I think I hear something.” Sandy called from the open kitchen.
“A car?” Donna jumped up. Ashamed of herself, she felt a moment’s glimmer of relief someone else would take over this burden. She didn’t want to be strong. She wanted to curl up in her bed and sob her heart out with no witnesses.
“No, not a car.” Sandy came into the living room. “It sounded like a thud.” Her eyes rounded. “Oh, God! You don’t think it’s the raccoon trying to get inside?”
“Where did you hear it?” Donna asked.
“In one of the bedrooms.” She pointed down the hallway.
Donna stepped into the hallway and studied the open doors. The only closed one was Joe’s room. She poked her head inside each room to see the hazy gray sunlight of the dismal day playing in the moldy air to create a colorless palette. The place was deathly still.
“I don’t see anything back here out of place.” Donna called out.
Just then, something heavy fell against Joe’s closed door. Donna leapt back in surprise.
Sandy raced to Donna’s side and huddle against her. “What could have done that?”
Sandy had barely asked the question when the heavy weight thudded against the door again, rattling the knob.
“Someone’s in there.” Sandy trembled violently.
“L-let’s get out of here.” Donna ushered her past the door quickly when the wood splintered and something large fell from the broken door to the floor of the hall.
Sandy screamed directly into Donna’s ear. While her head was ringing, Donna squinted into the semi-dark hallway to see Joe’s body face down on the floor.
“How did he do that?” Sandy whimpered.
Donna peeled the woman from her side so she could see.
“Maybe he wasn’t dead?” Donna asked hopefully as she raced to his side. His stiff body was strangely clutching the floor at jutting angles like a pile of lumber caught downstream in a river bank.
She tried to turn him over, but he was so stiff and too heavy for her. One of his disjointed arms lurched forward and then a leg unfolded.
Donna stood up and backed away, heart racing. Something was not right about his posture, his actions. He seemed robotically driven and mechanically challenged as he unfolded himself to a semi-standing position and then lurched one more time to ratchet himself to his full 6-feet 4 inches.
The two petite women backed away, studying the shadow cast by the gray-faced man whose eyes were now completely blackened by his pupils, his mouth unhinged strangely, little gurgling sounds emitting from deep within his chest.
That is not Joe!
Donna backed up, pushing Sandy further into the living room area. Something inside her split into two parts, the one who wanted to rush forward and help him and the other who felt an imminent unexplainable threat.
The door to the cabin swung open and Carl bounded inside, their Uncle Tim shoving him aside with a meaty hand. Uncle Tim stopped and swayed on his sturdy legs.
“Jesus, will you look at that. He’s up and around already. Christ! I told you he was faking it. He just wanted to get out of hunting. It won’t work this time, Joe!” He lumbered forward.
Joe’s head tilted to the side, his complexion waxy and pale gray, his mouth twisted open, drool dribbling from one corner.
“He’s in no shape to hunt, Uncle Tim.” Carl warned him as he too came forward.
“Don’t worry, Joe. We called for an ambulance. They’ll be here soon.” He stopped before Joe and apparently the same instincts struck her brother because Carl stepped back and studied Joe’s blackened pupils and emotionless face.
“He looks like hell.” He remarked under his breath. “How’d you get him out of bed?” Carl turned to her.
“I didn’t. He died. He stopped breathing. He had no pulse.” She whispered desperately.
Carl’s eyes widened and he looked back at his cousin as his Uncle grasped Joe’s arm.
“Okay, okay. You got a good nap. Now, it’s time to hit the woods. You’re not getting out of this. Today, you become a man. Today, you’re gonna come out of those woods having killed.”
“Uncle Tim!” Donna cautioned.
Just then, Joe’s head swung around and he yanked his arm back jerkily, throwing his uncle across his body. The two fell with a thud to the floor. Carl stepped forward to offer assistance, but their cousin was atop of their uncle, growling menacingly as he held the big man down. Their tall slender cousin suddenly had the strength of a lion predator upon its prey. His head lowered and his uncle cried out as Joe sunk his teeth into Uncle Tim’s shoulder. The man’s legs thrashed wildly as he tried to pitch his son from him, but Joe’s hold on him was rigid and iron-like.
The crunching, gobbling, slurping sounds filled the air and Sandy screamed and raced out the front door. Carl didn’t pay any attention to his girlfriend. He leaned over the pair, trying to pry Joe from their uncle, but his hold was vice-like.
“Donna, help me get him off.” Carl called out.
Donna came over behind Joe, trying not to pay attention to the pleading screams of her uncle and the distinct sounds of hungry feasting. The metallic smell of blood filled the air and Donna fought back a wave of vomit that rose to her throat. Joe’s body was rock hard, completely stiff and locked in position. Their uncle quit screaming, his body limp beneath Joe as their cousin began to tear as the tender flesh of the throat.
Carl grabbed up Donna and pulled her away from the grisly scene. The pool of glistening dark blood followed the ancient wooden floorboards, filling the grooves, trickling towards their feet. The pair leapt away from the seepage. Carl backed her towards the door and away from the scene. The last thing Donna noted as they exited the cabin was the distinct crunching and chewing and gorging sounds of her cousin Joe digesting his father’s flesh in a killing frenzy.