The wind slammed the door open. Heat from the fall sun rushed in and sucked all of the air out of the room. The blistering air seared my throat and vanquished the breath from my lungs. Groping on the ground for my gun, I knew what was next. They would scramble through the door looking to feast on the living. My fingernails scraped down the floor, searching for purpose, but my leg remained trapped underneath the debris. Hopelessness swirled in my blood and anger pumped through my heart. The sun pelted through the window and I twisted my body slightly to stop the rays of the sun from searing my eyes. Fascinated with the ceiling that was in a half collapsed state, we heard a symphony of groans and moans outside. Insipid lyrics about a small world made me want to fork something in the eye.
“Kylie?” his voice was a whisper and barely audible amongst the sounds of groans and scraping metal. “Kiley?”
“I’m here, Ethaneal.” His pathetic voice destroyed my pity party. I grasped for anything to help me out. My fingers latched onto something. I looked at it, disgusted, and threw it at the gaping hole in the ceiling. The plastic skeleton hand dangled at the edge waiting for the right moment to fall on me.
“Don’t call me that.” His face was the color of yellowed milk and lips turned a dark blue. A dark, red circle seeped through his shirt.
“Shut up, Ethanael.” His brilliant white teeth showed through his sad smile. Stifling a giggle at our circumstances, I shifted my leg. The sharp edges of pain and madness seeped into my brain and curtailed any maniacal laughter.
“Kiley, have you lost your mind?”
Giggles took over, and after a brief moment of laughter, I looked into Ethaneal’s eyes. “We’re in a fricking fun house. You see the irony in that, don’t you?”
He groaned and closed his eyes. “You always did see the bright side of things.” Waiting for death to appear and eat my body, I recalled the last time I was at this amusement park. My sister and I snuck away from our parents’ watchful eyes. We’d lied to the naïve teen running the rollercoaster about our ages and boarded the serpentine glide.
My sister, Naomi, and I gripped the safety bar. We slowly ascended to the top and watched a ball of light burst through the looming, pregnant clouds. We were on top for only moment but it was the closest feeling I had to God. Then we plunged into shadows of the sunset and darkness. That was the last time I heard my sister laugh.
My sister and I became reluctant warriors in a war between us and the “diseased.” A chemical plant had burst into flames and released a biochemical into the atmosphere. Remnants of friends, family, and neighbors walked among the living with their skin melting into their hands, dragging limbs behind them. They hunted the living to slake their insatiable hunger. Anyone scratched or bitten became instant animals whose only instinct was to gnaw on bloody bones.
I drifted into the depths of memory when our hell began. “Dad, please, stop!” She was covering her ears from the sounds outside the door. He splintered the wood and groaned with each pass of the axe.
“Shhh, Naomi.” Everything became still. Huddled in the Robin’s egg blue bathtub, I moved only slightly to ease a cramp in my leg and stepped on a rubber ducky. A loud quack echoed through the bathroom and the axe tore through the bathroom door.
“Kylie, what do we do?” Tears streamed down her face in panic and fear. The light from the sun fell through the window and streaked upon my toes. “Cover yourself, Naomi.” She buried herself into my shirt. I squeezed my hand into body glove and then punched the window. Glass shattered into pieces and rained down on us. The door crashed opened and my father barreled towards the shower. Naomi jumped through the window. I propelled myself over the ledge and reached for the ground, but the motion of the landing stopped. His hand crushed my ankle. My other foot slammed into his jaw and snapped the bone. My father’s jaw hung off the hinge and from shock, he released my foot.
I landed with a flat thud on my shoulder and winced in pain. My father’s rotted hands reached for me through the window. Black goo dripped down the side of his mouth and globbed on the ground. Skin hung off his bones and exposed rotting muscle beneath. “Run! Naomi, Run!” I grabbed her hand and we high-tailed it towards the shelter of the forest.
Safe among the pines, we caught our breath. Stunned, we stood in the endless forest of trees with nothing but the clothes on our backs. I took out pieces of glass from her curly, black hair. She wiped some blood off my cheek.
“Happy sixteenth birthday, Naomi.” Shock and fear coursed through my body causing me to shake uncontrollably.
Her beautiful, gold eyes widened, “Damn straight! It’s my birthday.” For sixteen, nothing fazed her. “We need to celebrate!”
Those words began our journey. A year later, we’d learned some hard lessons along the way, how to scavenge, steal, and kill anything that remotely made a groaning noise. As I lay among the clown costumes and broken glass, listening to Ethan barely breathe, I realized how soft and unprepared we were for this world-a college student with books and formulas on my mind, and for her, dances and boys.
Why aren’t they here? The setup was perfect; trapped human beings, easy pickings, I figured. They had enough brain cells to know, that part of the fun, was making the kill slow and sweet. Surrounded by inflatable pumpkins, lifeless plastic skeletons, and costumes, I wondered, How in the hell are we going to get out of this. Fatigued, I slipped into memory.
The house appeared empty and abandoned. Naomi looked at my back and her eyes became soft, filled with guilt. “Maybe you should sit this one out, Kylie.”
“Are you kidding, I’m not letting you anywhere near that house by yourself.” I skirted away from her. I wore a halter top that exposed the newly-healed gash in my skin. Nothing could touch it without shooting rays of molten metal across my back.
She clutched her gun, “I can take care of myself.” Her onyx skin contrasted with the white of the rocks.
Peering through binoculars, with one cracked viewpoint, a ragged curtain moved but I couldn’t tell if it was from a breeze. “Damn, we need to get closer.”
“Stay,” and I put a hand on her arm. She stuck out her lip and was about to say something. “Don’t say a word.”
“Look Kylie, I’m sorry about…” She motioned her chin toward my back. “I didn’t see him there, all right? He came out of nowhere.” She squirmed as I looked again in the binoculars.
“I know, Naomi.” It came out a little harsher than I intended. Apparently, I still had some anger issues about one of the diseased taking a knife to my back. “I get it. It’s not your fault that you didn’t check the house, like you said you would, and it happened to be behind the kitchen door.” She cast her eyes down and I went back to the binoculars. “But you have to understand, there’s a bit of a trust issue.”
“I killed him,” she said, proudly. I rolled my eyes; she did kill him. The creature barreled out the door and swung a knife that sliced through my back. I dropped down to my knees, in writhing pain. The zombie fell on top of me and clacked his teeth, trying to devour me. Naomi dragged him off me but the weight of his body impeded her efforts. Blackness encroached on my vision, I thought. I ain’t going out this way, its jaws were snapping and I punched it in the face.
Before I fell into a pit of darkness, I heard a crunching noise and a gurgle of some type. Air filled my lungs and I gulped the oxygen lessening the stinging sensation in my chest. Naomi stood tall above me, her eyes frenzied from the adrenaline rush. Around me were the remnants of rotted flesh and broken bones. Princess Warrior had made her first kill. A skull with an eyeball hanging out of its socket was inches from my hand. As I looked back through the binoculars, a softness abated my anger. She nursed me back to health, through fevered dreams, until I recovered enough to continue our vagabond life.
“You did do that, Naomi, you did kill him.” The curtain moved again, “Well, looks like we’ll have to discover what’s inside that house, the hard way.” She shoved more bullets into her gun and slammed it in her holster. She picked up her newly baptized machete and swung it onto her back.
She put her hand out to me, “You ready?”
I sighed and grabbed hers. “Yeah, let’s go.” Wincing, I left the heat of the sun which eased my weary bones. The clouds gathered above the hills in white cotton balls. We crouched behind some bushes to get a closer look but saw nothing from our hiding place. She gave me a hand signal to move in closer and I acknowledged her with a nod. We crawled on our bellies and listened for any signs of danger. Only the sounds of birds chirping and cricket songs filled the air. Naomi jumped up to kick in the door when, suddenly, it opened and she fell flat on her face from the momentum.
A tall, white dude stood there with his hand on the door knob. He looked down at Naomi, flat on the ground, “You could’ve knocked.”
“We didn’t think we had that luxury.” Naomi was not a happy camper. He put a hand out to help her up and she slapped it away. Recovering her composure, she brushed off her jeans. “How did you know we were coming?”
He opened the door in invitation but we remained in our places. He stared at us, “Fine don’t come in… but I’m letting you know, they’ll be here at dusk.” We turned to look behind us as the sun oozed down behind the mountains. Menacing black clouds replaced the soft, billowy one from earlier. We needed a place to stay for the night. Naomi’s eyes met mine, we understood; trust no one.
“I’m Ethaneal.” We smirked at his name. He gave us a dirty look and then said, “but you can call me Ethan.” The clouds burst with a thunderous roar and rain pelted the roof. The smell of rain permeated the air and the breeze cooled my sweaty skin. He motioned for us to sit on the couch. We opted to stay by the door. “Suit yourself, but it’s going to be a long night.” Wind from an open window drifted in and sent a chill up my spine.
Naomi got to the other side of a bookshelf filled with books and we scooted the miniature library in front of the window. He limped to the kitchen table and laid down his blood-encrusted axe. He grabbed his rifle that was slung across his back and pointed it at us for a moment and then laid it on the table with a thud. “You done,” I asked.
He looked up. “Oh yeah, one more.” He pulled another four inch blade out of his pants and chucked it on the table. He winced as he rested his ankle on a nearby chair.
“This is Naomi and I’m Kylie.” We sat on the couch and had perfect panoramic vision of the door and our new best friend.
“Interesting names.” He ran his fingers along the knife. I kept my gun across my lap with my finger on the trigger.
Fatigue seeped through my bones. “Yeah, well your name isn’t exactly a common one.” Then I thought about that again, “sort of.” He snorted and I relaxed a bit. Exhaustion crept upon Naomi and she had no choice but to succumb. She closed her eyes and I was alone.
“We’re gonna be here a while. So tell me about yourself.” Ethan’s hair was long and dirty but, underneath the filth, was blonde strands like corn silk. He was one of those white boys who burned but never tanned. He pulled a bag of tobacco and a white sheet from his pocket. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at his fingers as they deftly rolled up a cigarette. He offered one to me.
“No thanks, they give you cancer.” My legs twitched and my back burned; I jumped out of the couch to ease the nervousness. Something caught my eye, a woman wearing a bandana with holes covering long, thick, black braids. One tired woman with large, brown, sunken eyes looked back at me. I turned away from my twin in the mirror and paced. Ethan lit up his cigarette and soon the air filled with acrid, gray smoke.
“Gonna die of something,” he remarked. He smoked for a while and remained silent. He killed the peaceful silence by speaking, “It means I get bored easily and like to be creative.”
Shaken out of a haze, “What the hell are you talking about?” The spider that had crawled in my brain left a messy string of webs and thoughts clouding my brain.
“My name, you asked me about my name.” Clearly he was annoyed with me, but I didn’t care. My stomach growled. Something crashed around my feet. I jumped back and cocked my gun at it.
“Relax,” he laughed at me, “It’s just potted meat. The only thing around here I could find.”
“What’s that for?” Past experiences made me leery of strangers offering food.
He took another drag of his cigarette. Moonlight slipped through the holes of the decayed house and turned his smile in a creepy skeleton. “You’re obviously hungry.” A big snore came from my sister as I picked the up the can. It was sealed and I was too tired to open it.
“Why are you being nice to us?” My radar for bat-shit crazy people usually went off but, around him, the alarm was silent.
He crushed his cigarette into the table. “We’re all we got now.” I plopped back on the couch and adjusted my weaponry. My life was in the hands of stranger and a younger sister who almost got me killed last time.
“Yeah, why should we trust you?” Snoring beauty was awake. “We can take care of ourselves,” she was full of piss and vinegar with nothing to back it up.
“Shut up, Naomi,” I hissed through my teeth.
She got up and pulled me into the kitchen, “You trusting him over me?” Her voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard.
“No,” I shifted slightly, my back ached. I needed to sleep. “But we need a break and maybe, for one fricking second, we have one!”
Her eyes burned fire and she snatched my gun, “I’m checking the house.”
Ethan chimed in, “Already did, there’s nothing here.”
She looked at both of us and added, “Yeah, well, that’s not how I play the game,” and she bounded up the stairs.
Ethan drummed his fingers on the table. “So what’s her story?”
I sat down across from him. “She’s pissed. She missed her prom last year.” He didn’t need to hear our story, it didn’t matter. My hands felt empty. They always had something in them, a gun, a knife, something to make me feel protected.
“What’s your story?” I closed my eyes for a just a moment; I wasn’t really interested but wanted to keep him talking. In the morning, Naomi and I would be gone.
“Me, just a kid who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He lifted up his sleeve and there was a nasty looking wound on his muscular arm.
“You’ve been bitten.” Alarmed, I grabbed for my nonexistent gun.
“Calm down.” He stared at me. “One of my so called friends attacked me. Gave me a pretty good gash,” he shifted in his seat and I could see. He was sweating. Infection coursed through his body.
Naomi and I would leave at the instant the rays of the sun hit the floor. I wasn’t sticking around to watch this white boy turn into a stark raving maniac. My eyelids felt like bricks were on top of them. Something clicked. My eyes popped open and I sat straight up. Looking at the barrel of a gun, “I thought we were all we got.” My fingers clenched at the lack of protection and I tried to feel for the knife in the side pocket of my pants. He put his finger to his lips and motioned with his eyes at something behind me. I turned slowly.
His rotted skin stretched over his bones. One eyeball dangled by the optic nerve and hit the decayed skin of his nose as he walked. Dressed in a ragged suit and tie, he had a dried up daisy in his lapel. Black gunk, thick and slimy, poured from his mouth and he hobbled forward until a loud explosion fractured his skull into pieces.
Naomi was at the top of the stairs with a smoking gun. She pointed it at Ethan, “So much for checking the house.”
His voice was low and distinct. “There was no one here when I arrived.” He uncocked his gun. “I checked everything.” His pasty, white face remained rigid as he focused his tiger, green eyes on Naomi.
“So how did he get in?” she yelled as she bounded down the stairs. Her chest was all puffed out like one of those peacocks you see strutting around the zoo and I stifled a laugh. Both of them looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“Sorry.” I bit my tongue to stop laughing.
“What is wrong with you, Kylie?” On the last step, she slipped on some brains and almost toppled over. She recovered quickly and kept her dignity. In a pretend act of kindness, she pulled the shirt from my back and poked at the wound on my back. I slapped her hand away.
“I’m just checking to see if there’s any infection, because there is something definitely wrong with you.”
Done with her examination, all three of us just stared at each other. Breaking up the silent tension, I said, “Here,” and gave her the prize.
“What’s this?” Her face screwed up in a question mark.
“Ethan gave us some food.”
She eyed it carefully and smiled, “I’m no fool; I’m eating.” Forgiveness came cheap with a can of food, apparently. “So, how did you get here?” She smacked her lips like she had just eaten a steak and smiled.
Ethan took a drag of his cigarette, “Some friends and I walked into town.” He turned his head away and adjusted his leg on the table. His ankle was swollen and bruised. Sadly, I knew when it came down to it, Naomi and I could out run him, if need be. I just hoped the need wouldn’t arise.
“Except my friends turned on me for the price of few breadcrumbs. One sliced my arm with a cutlass and sold me to a conductor. It turns out I was going to be part of some thrill game to see if I would survive six of those things.”
Naomi and I shifted on the couch into an uncomfortable silence; we had seen the game.
“How did you-” I swallowed. “How did you survive?”
He took a drink of something in his canister. When he put the drink down, the smell of whiskey permeated the air. He leaned forward and smirked, “I tripped.”
Naomi and I asked in unison, “You tripped?”
“I walked backwards trying to keep them off me.” He continued to tell the story with an edge to his voice; you could tell he was born storyteller. “Then I tripped and fell into a prairie dog hole.” He laughed, shivered, and then took another drink. “My quote friends didn’t check me so well before they forced me into that ring.
I reached into my boot and got my gun. I had six shots and that was exactly the amount of the diseased that were in the ring. Killed them all.” He curved his lips and then took another swig of his medicine. “My friends didn’t so fare so well either.” He stared at us. I got the hint, mess with the white boy and we could be dead.
Naomi and I sat in silence. He lit up another cigarette and shivered for a moment. “I’ll take the first shift.” An uneasy alliance formed between us.
The sun sparked light through the windows and replaced the shadows of the night. Rising up from the couch, I stretched all my aching muscles and popped my neck. Searching for gold, I went into the kitchen. I hadn’t seen that sweet elixir since college, but I remained hopeful. The cabinets were picked clean, “Drat, no coffee.”
Something growled and I figured it was Ethan rising from the dead over there. “Very funny.” I turned around. He swayed and cocked his head. He looked at me like I was an alien from space. The rising sunrays lasered through the window and glinted off the puss oozing out of his face. Black slime poured from his mouth as he raised his hand to touch me. His haunted eyes had the last remnants of humanity in them.
“Kylie!” Both the diseased man and I turned our heads to Ethan’s call. The zombie lunged forward to attack Ethan. Behind me was a butcher block with sheathed knives, I pulled one out and stabbed the zombie in the skull. It stood for a moment dazed, with a butcher knife in its head, and then fell into a puddle.
“Coffee, I was looking for coffee.” Death had come too close. His fevered body embraced me and stilled the chills that flowed through me.
A loud, blood curdling scream came from the living room. We high-tailed it into the living room and stood in shock. Their teeth ripped the flesh from her body. “Naomi!” Ethan and I raised our guns and shot them all.
Embracing her, she gurgled through the blood, “Sun, I want to see the sun.” We brought her outside into the rising sun and sat her up so she could face it. I cried in her jacket. “Naomi, please no. Please, don’t make me do this.”
She smiled and then closed her eyes. I rocked her in my lap. She raised her arm and I thought she would comfort me but she pulled on my hair. She brought my head close to her lips and I smelled the sickly sweet stench of death and her perfume made of roses. She had turned too quickly. Ethan pulled me away before my sister-before that thing had a chance to bite me.
My body was racked with guilt and pain. “Naomi.” She grunted at her name and raised her arm. Her fingers were in the air dangling; I took my mother’s ring as she reached for me. “I’m so sorry.” She looked at me with soulless, vacant eyes and then I put a knife through her skull. “Naomi!” She fell into my arms. Ethan dragged me away from her as I cried in the grass for the last of my family was gone. He lit her body on fire. The wind picked up the flames and ignited the house.
Ethan and I traveled together for over a year and ended up here. Sweat dripped off our bodies as we continued to walk. I yearned for the cool air of the mountains and we would eventually make our way back there. Ethan and I needed some supplies and had to take our chances in the city. We stalked into the amusement park, guns, and knives at the ready. We crept past the serpentine roller coaster and I heard my sister’s contagious laughter echo through the air.
Battered banners of faded pumpkins littered the place and yellowed plastic skeleton bones were scattered through the amusement park. Great, my last day of life could be in Halloween Town. We moved past the merry-go-round with laughing elephants and bouncing horses; chipped paint falling off their withers. The wind whipped through the machines and made eerie ghost sounds of park music. We continued cautiously on, when we heard a knocking noise behind us. We turned, ready for a fight and there was nothing but that knocking noise continued on. We found the source of the noise; it was the wind making a skeleton head snap its jaw. I shot at it and it zoomed off the wall.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? They’ll hear us.”
“Practicing,” I smiled. “Come on, let’s see what we can find.” Laughing, we turned a corner and ran into one of those things bent on eating us. We jumped into a room full of caskets, skeletons, and fake Draculas. Horrified at the sight, we turned to make our escape and ran back into the zombie. I put a bullet in its brain but the sound made the decrepit ceiling fall on us. I screamed out from intensity of the pain that ripped through my leg. Ethan was on the floor with a piece of wood in his side. So this is where we had ended up- the wind banging the door open, hot air sucking the life out of the room, my leg crushed beneath the weight, and my memories of the last time I was here with my sister.
Another zombie skulked in, dressed in a ragged vamp’s costume. Sharp plastic fangs protruded from his lips. How horrible, this man died as a costumed Dracula. Behind the creature was his arm held on by sinew of his muscle. He lingered for a moment. “Hey! You Drac! Come and get me!” The thing moved some debris and released me from my prison. Just a click and then bullet tore through his skull. Dracula toppled over backward. Surveying the source of my pain, a fake Halloween sacrificial knife had stuck in my leg. I pulled it from its fleshy sheathe and blood spurted out.
Ethan choked, “Help me.” I lifted him up and together we walked outside, the sun slowly dipped down behind the mountains. Darkness would prevail upon us and I froze into fear. “Hey, I need to tell you something.” The pallor of his skin turned a greenish-gray and sweat rolled down his sides.
I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, “Shut the hell up; we’re gonna make it.”
“I know where we can be safe for a moment.” The creatures didn’t follow; they were biding their time and waiting for the moment they would eat the flesh upon our bodies and suck the marrow from our bones. We scrambled further. “Here.” We stopped in front the rollercoaster and sank to our knees. This was it, we were spent. He had brought me to a place where I had the best moment of my life. We laid there for a moment, a tear running down my cheek. I cocked my gun and made sure the blade was well within reach. I wasn’t going down without taking some soulless monster with me; hell, I would lead them on the road to heaven. Ethan gathered his strength, stood up, and disappeared into the night. A pool of blood remained in his place. Weakness enveloped my body and I remained in place. My eyes closed and all I could hear was my sister’s laughter mixed with the groans of the dead.
Ethan touched me and I jumped out of my skin, “What?”
“Get in!” He was clutching at his wound, dark, rich blood seeped through his fingers.
“What are you talking about?”
“We’ll be safe, get in!” He swayed slightly. “We don’t have much time, get in.” Reluctantly, I got into the seat of the coaster. Waiting for him to jump in, he cupped my face and kissed me. “I love you.” Ethan seized the rifle from the seat. Then with what little strength he had left, he pushed the seat forward.
“Ethan!” My fingers tried to grasp his shirt. The cart carried me away and he became a speck of dust. Gunshots pierced the silence. Then only the squeaky wheels of the cart remained. The wind whipped my braids around me. For a moment, I saw my sister’s smile and hazel eyes shining before me. Wrapping my arms around me, I recalled the warmth of Ethan’s skin. The cart had gained enough speed to whisk me up hill but halted to a stop. The sun faded and there was nothing but wind and stars to keep me company. Sleep crept upon me and darkness became my blanket.
The sun filtered through clouds. Heat from the sun seared my eyes and I wiped away my tears. Stretching my stiff body, I heard the echoing of something hitting metal. My mother’s ring, which my sister wore for years, slipped onto the floor of the cart. I picked it up and put it back on my ring finger. The rays of the sun bounced off the ring and I slipped into a memory of a warm, peaceful afternoon beside a lazy river. Ethan had slipped the circle of white gold onto my hand and said the words “till death do us part.” Putting my weight forward on the cart, the wheels engaged and I glided into a new day.