Teaser: Dredging Up Memories

Dredging Up Memories is almost here. On May 7th, 2016, Stitched Smile Publications will release the story of Hank Walker in a zombie infested world. To whet your appetites here is the first 1100 words or so. Enjoy…

Five Weeks After It All Started…

The rifle was light. Unlike Pop’s shotgun; that thing was heavier than any firearm should be, and the kickback could knock you on your ass if you weren’t ready for it. Pop called it Ox—I guess it was an appropriate name for something so powerful. It always reminded me of Babe the blue ox, Paul Bunyan’s companion. I reckon that’s how Pop saw his shotgun—more as a companion than a weapon or hunting tool.

One time my brother, Leland, thought he was man enough to wield old Ox and took him out of the gun rack in Pop’s shop. He handed it to me, and I almost dropped it. The wood stock was cold, the barrel like ice and my nerves were frazzled. You see, Leland was the oldest of the four of us, and I was his sidekick little brother. He played jokes on all of us and did things that the rest of us wouldn’t think of doing. Like pulling Ox off the gun rack.

“Come on,” he said and took the shotgun from me. I had never been so relieved in my fourteen years.

“I don’t think this is a good idea, Lee.”

He shook his head, and his hair—which was down to his shoulders—moved from side to side. “Don’t be a wuss face, Hank. Dad will never know. We’ll go out to the fence behind the barn and shoot a couple of shells and put it back. Easy as pie, little brother.”

Easy as pie?  Nothing is ever easy as pie.

I set up a can on one of the old fence posts by the chicken coop and then got behind him. Leland took aim, the shotgun in the crook of his shoulder, right in the socket where the collarbone and shoulder come together. He squeezed the trigger with no hesitation.

A bomb went off in my head, and my ears rang for most of the rest of that day. Leland went backward and ended up on his back, unconscious. Seven hours later, he came home from the hospital, arm in a sling; shoulder dislocated and collar bone broken. He had a lump on the back of his head where it hit the ground, resulting in a concussion that gave him headaches for months after.

“Did I hit the can?” he asked me before he went to bed that night.

“Nope. But you did take out one of the fence runners.”

Memories. It’s the hardest part of this whole…end of the world thing? If that’s what it could be called. That’s all I have now: the memories of loved ones and friends passed on and, in many cases, rose up. How odd does that sound? Rose up? Like anyone thought the dead really could get up and walk.

I guess it was possible after all, wasn’t it? Shows how much we knew.

I stood from my pickup, slung my pack over my shoulder, and closed the door, leaving the keys in the ignition. Just in case. I shouldered my pack and walked to the center of the street, rifle in both hands. An old, blue sedan sat off to the left, its wheels up on a curb, its front end crumpled by the light pole it had hit. The left front tire sat at an odd angle, a dead person beneath it. I moved to the front of the vehicle. Another dead man slumped over the steering wheel, his skull ruptured. Hair and bits of tissue clung to the windshield, the glass spider-webbed from where his head struck. Flies buzzed about, zipping through the broken window and lighting on the man’s head and shoulders and probably the rest of him as well. The stench of death hung in the air and reminded me of roadkill after three days in the summer sun: a cloying, heavy odor that turned the stomach and lingered with a reach much further than anything—rotten or pleasant—should.

I let out a long breath. Recognition could sometimes bring you to tears, but not in this case. It only brought back old memories. “I’ll come back for you in a little while, Mr. Martin. Get you out of there, okay?”

He had been my baseball coach in another time, back when it was safe to play games. Back when there was no fear of something dead coming out of the woods or around a corner to rip you apart. From the looks of him, he wouldn’t be getting up and joining the ranks of the undead.

The man underneath the car was a different story. His head twitched a movement that was so insignificant but so startling at the same time. One of his hands moved, then his eyes opened. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still can’t get used to seeing the dead move, get up, and walk around. I certainly can’t get used to seeing them eating people. His mouth opened, and he hissed a deep, throaty sound.

I didn’t recognize him. He could have been a neighbor or a friend or just another dead head that shambled into our little town. It didn’t matter; he was a rotter even if he was a person at one time. I took aim with my rifle then stopped. Instead of shooting him, I brought the heel of my boot down on his forehead.  His head slipped beneath my foot, and he groaned. I brought my heel down again, this time in the center of his face. His nose shattered, and my heel broke through rotten skin. A third time and there was a hollow crunch that made me shiver. My stomach rolled, and for a moment, I thought I would throw up. The man stilled.

I scanned the small neighborhood—an odd cul-de-sac, not quite a square but nowhere near a circle either. The six houses formed a U of small homes and overgrown yards. A few skeletal remains lay about here and there. The one lying in the second yard to my right was a woman at one time, and from the flower print skirt she still had around her decomposing hips, I guessed she was still fairly young, maybe not even thirty yet.

Jeanette entered my thoughts. I tried to shove her back into the deepest corner of my soul. Swallowing hard, I shook my head and hoped she and Bobby were okay, that Jake had managed to get them to a safe zone before the dead managed to swarm our small town. I closed my eyes and saw her, the fear on her face, the look of disbelief as Jake pulled her away by her arms.

“Go!” I yelled.

Go.

I had stayed behind with Leland and Pop and Davey Blaylock. Someone had to fight. The military wasn’t going to be coming to Sipping Creek, South Carolina. Like thousands of little do-nothing towns all across the country, it existed just to exist.

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