Z is for Zombie

by Geron Kees

Chapter 2

Richie was dreaming, and he knew he was dreaming. But he could not seem to stop the dream, or guide it, or do anything but follow through with it, as he had several times before.

He and Jack and Jeremy were in the storeroom of King's Hardware Store, in the small town of Mitersville, eight miles beyond the even smaller town of Hanford. The heavy steel door stood open at their backs as they gazed in wonder at the treasure trove of supplies before them.

"Good thing the owner was a practical man," Jack said, looking again at the ring of keys in his hand. "If the guy had hidden these, or taken them home with him at night, we might never have found them." He turned to look back at the heavy door. "Would have been a real challenge to get that thing open. We'd have had to bring the torch here and cut our way in."

"Seems an awful lot just to guard some kegs of nails and machine screws," Jeremy said, lightly tapping one of the heavy barrels next to him with the toe of his boot.

Jack laughed, and turned to point at a large shelving unit along the back wall. "It's for that stuff, I'm sure."

They walked over, and Richie gaped at the row upon row of ammunition boxes. "Wow. If they have what we use, we'll be good for a long time to come."

"There's thirty-aught-six, there," Jeremy said, pointing. "And a lot of it, too. That will cover the Springfields and the Winchester Seventies. Well, 'cept that one oddball, anyway."

"Popular round," Jack said, nodding. His eyes scanned the rows quickly. "Oh...good. And there's some three-oh-eight, too, for that one oddball Seventy we found." He sighed. "This will be a big help. Now we can use every rifle we have."

Richie patted the end of another box. "Here's forty-fives. A whole lot of boxes of 'em, too. These will work in our pistols, and the Thompsons, too, right? It says ACP on the box."

Jack nodded. "Yeah. Both weapons can use the same round."

"What about all these shotgun shells?" Jeremy asked. There looked to be several shelves of them.

Jack frowned at them. They had a number of shotguns back at the camp, but Jack didn't think much of them for zombie fighting. "They have a shitload of stopping power, but only if you hit your target," he'd once said. "And zombies are scary fast, and I'll be damned if I want one close enough to me to negate the spread of buckshot. At ten yards you get a ten-inch spread, and I saw zombies in the city run right down on guys with pump-action shotguns. Those guys are dead now."

Jack had been adamant. "To kill a zombie you need a rifle, a full-auto model, and a good sized magazine. You basically have to have a weapon that will hack them to pieces long before they get close enough to take it away from you, or at least a weapon that will hold them off until they start to feel the results of all those rounds. Hurt a zombie enough, and he'll run. Otherwise, you can't let them get close to you, or you're gone."

Plus, a shotgun had a lot of recoil, a low capacity magazine, and took forever to reload. Double-aught buck had penetrating power, but even the semi-auto shotguns they had found were slow beside the Thompsons. And because of their recoil, shotguns were a lot for a kid to handle and shoot accurately, and Jack had wanted maximum stopping power, at maximum range. He'd originally been after whatever the sheriff's station might have to offer, thinking they might have at least some M-16s in their arsenal; but once they had stumbled over the cache of Thompson's at some gun collector's farmhouse, he had felt that these weapons would be better for pure stopping power.

"We have more than enough shotgun ammo," Jack decided. "They're good weapons for defense of the camp if there's someone at the front door, but we don't use them for anything else, so I don't think we need more ammo just now. Leave it, okay?" He grinned. "It is nice to know it's here, though."

"Okay." Jeremy nodded. "Anything else we need?"

Jack's eyes traveled over the laden shelves again, and then he took a sudden intake of breath, and pointed. "Holy crap. We can sure use them!"

Richie and Jeremy crowded closer, staring at the stack of round, black objects on one shelf. "What are they?" Jeremy asked.

Jack laughed delightedly. "They're drum magazines for the Thompsons. Hold fifty rounds apiece, instead of the twenty we have in our current stick clips." He frowned. "Makes a Thompson heavy as hell to carry, but also increases its firepower considerably in a fight."

"Why are they here?" Richie wondered aloud.

Jeremy laughed, and poked him. "Old man King was a gun nut. You didn't know?"

Richie shook his head. "I didn't know him."

"My dad knew him. They used to compete at county rifle matches. My dad said Mr. King had more stuff stowed away than the local National Guard armory." He looked at Jack. "Even more stuff than at the farm where we found the Thompsons."

Jack whistled. "We should look for his house, then, definitely." He leaned forward to examine another box. "Hmm. We may have a use for this, too."

Richie peered at it, and then immediately took a surprised step backwards. "That's dynamite!"

Jack nodded, and then laughed when he saw the nervous expressions on the other's faces. "Relax. This is what they call 'military' dynamite. Made from a nitramide instead of nitroglycerine. A lot more stable, and stores a lot longer without weeping." He examined the box again. "By the date on it, it looks like it was bought just before the Changes. So it still should be safe to use."

Richie just shook his head, amazed again at the things that Jack seemed to know about. Jack had never revealed what he had done for a living back in his 'old' life; but that he had an amazing variety of experiences under his belt had become obvious.

"Just light the fuse and toss it?" Jeremy said then, trying to look more comfortable with the idea than he felt. "Be a great zombie-killer."

Jack gave a soft snort. "That only works in Roadrunner cartoons. You need a blasting cap to set off one of these." He turned and scanned the shelves, and then nodded. "Thought so. By law, they can't be stored near the dynamite, and I don't see any here. Be on the lookout for them as we go through the rest of the store."

"How do you set off the blasting caps?" Richie was curious, now that the threat of seemingly imminent explosion had passed.

Jack shrugged. "Just run a few volts of direct current into the wires. I could set one off with the batteries in my pocket flash."

He opened the box and removed two sticks of the explosive, eight inch long cylinders wrapped in yellow paper, each sealed inside a plastic bag, and slid them into the deep side pockets of his old army coat.

"Is that safe?" Richie couldn't help asking.

"We'll find out, I guess," Jack said, grinning. But the twinkle in his eyes said that he would not do anything to endanger them, and Richie just rolled his eyes at the fun the man was having with them.

They brought the truck around to the side door of the store, and patiently transferred all the immediately usable ammunition to it. The stuff was heavy, and there was a lot of it. It took about half an hour before Jack called a halt. "We'll leave the rest for now. It will be as safe here as anywhere, providing we relock the storeroom." He tossed the ring of keys to Richie. "You do that, and then come on into the store. I want to get some other stuff while we're here."

They exited the storeroom, and Richie closed the big door, and threw the bolt and relocked it, while Jeremy and Jack went back into the store proper.

They spent another hour loading supplies into the truck, things like batteries for the flashlights and portable lanterns, drums of camp fuel for the hatchway zombie incinerator, more of the LED lightbulbs used by the camp's lighting system, tools that Jack thought they might need, spools of electrical wire, fasteners like nails and screws, greases and solvents and oil for the truck itself, and anything else they could find that might prove useful.

Jack found the blasting caps for the dynamite, in a locked cabinet behind the cash register. Once again the ring of keys came to the rescue. He removed two of the caps, and placed them in the opposite breast pockets of his coat. At Richie's inquiring look, he nodded. "Okay, this is less safe, but I don't see any other way to transport them. They won't bounce around in my pockets, at least."

Jeremy came to them then, carrying a small crate containing a mix of vegetable seed packets he had pulled out of one of the display cases. "There's someone else here," he whispered.

Jack immediately pulled the Colt automatic pistol from its holster at his belt. "Where?"

Richie gaped a moment, and then pulled his own pistol. They had left the Thompsons in the truck, the weapons too heavy and too bulky to be carrying about as they loaded supplies. Jack normally wouldn't have done it, but it had been a long time since they had felt threatened by the goings-on in the distant cities.

Jeremy shook his head. His eyes were wide, and looked scared, and Richie automatically put out a hand and squeezed his boyfriend's shoulder. "You saw someone?"

"Just the shadow, as they went by the front window. But it was definitely a person."

"A regular person?" Jack asked, pointedly.

Jeremy gasped, the other possibility coming to him for the first time. "I don't know. I only saw the shadow."

"There's no zombies this far from the city," Richie whispered hoarsely. "Never have been."

"Always a first time for everything," Jack said, moving slowly down the aisle to peer at the front window. The others followed, and carefully peeked around the end of the display shelving to look through the big sheet of glass. The parking lot and street were visible beyond, but nothing else.

"I saw someone," Jeremy repeated stubbornly. "There's no missing the shadow of a person."

Jack nodded. "I believe you." He looked over his shoulder at the hallway leading back to the store's rear. "Let's move, as quietly as we can, towards the rear door. If we can get to the truck, I'll feel better. These pistols don't have the wallop of the Thompsons." He swore. "The one time I had to leave them behind, too."

They backed up slowly, and moved quietly down the hallway towards the loading bay at the rear of the store. There was a steel door between them and the outside dock, with a small window next to it of wire-filled security glass.

"Let me take a peek," Jack said, softly. "If it looks clear, we'll move to the side door and get in the truck."

He stooped and edged forward, and slowly raised his head above the window's sill and peered outside.

Something struck the glass a thunderous blow. The noise was incredible, like two cars hitting head-on in traffic. A great circle of shattered glass surrounded by starred lines radiating outward filled the center of the window, only the security wire within keeping it from falling out entirely.

"Shit!" Jack leaped back as another blow struck the window, and then a face loomed beyond, staring in at them.

A face purple and blue in color, like a giant bruise.

There was a roar from outside, the devil's own scream of rage, and two fists came up and pelted the window glass with blows. The glass flew inwards in great chunks, bouncing off their clothing as they scrambled backwards. Jack's arm came up, and the Colt in his hand roared a return challenge as he pulled the trigger as fast as he could. The remaining glass disintegrated and flew outwards, and the face beyond was thrown backwards. Jack moved forward, still firing, until he reached the distorted wire lattice now empty of glass, and dropped his aim and fired at something low outside.

There was another terrifying scream of rage, and both Richie and Jeremy unfroze at that moment and jumped forward, their own pistols at the ready.

The hammer of Jack's pistol fell on an empty chamber, and the man pressed the release and pulled out the spent clip and dropped it, grabbed another from his pocket and calmly slapped it in, all in one smooth motion. He yanked back the slide to chamber a round, and had the pistol again pointed at the shattered window. The motions took, at best, three seconds to accomplish.

It was time enough.

Beyond the window, a figure leaped to its feet and took off, disappearing to their right. Jack's pistol tracked it for the second it took to vanish, and then the man gave off a soft curse. "Dammit. I know I got at least one head-shot. Damn indestructible bastards. I don't know how they do it."

"It took off," Richie whispered, his throat feeling tight with fear. The boy's only experience with zombies had been the stories Jack had told them of his time in the city. To see one in the flesh was terrifying.

"I can't believe those forty-five slugs didn't stop it," Jeremy said, his words coming out in little, frightened huffs of air.

Jack nodded. "You pretty much have to separate the head from the body to stop one. I can't pull the trigger on this Colt fast enough to do that, the way those things move."

Behind them, in the front of the store, there was a tremendous crash as the front window was shattered. Jack turned and jumped for the door into the front of the store and threw it closed. The knob locked from the other side, but there was a bolt on this side, and he no sooner threw it home when something hit the door a tremendous blow. This door was of wood, and it cracked thunderously at the impact, and splinters flew off the inside panel.

Jack looked over his shoulder at them, and for a moment Richie's eyes met his. Richie saw fear and grief in them - fear for their lives. But then...

"Get to the truck!" Jack ordered, spinning around again, and propelling the two boys towards the rear door of the store. They reached it as the other door resounded to yet another terrific blow, and the wood cracked down the center. Jack got the back door open and pushed them through it. "Go! Get to the truck!"

Richie and Jeremy needed no further urging. They ran down the length of raised concrete to where the truck was backed against the dock outside the side door they had used to load supplies. Richie yanked the driver's door open and Jeremy jumped inside and crawled crazily over the big bench seat, making room for the others to follow. Richie jumped after him, and turned to help Jack just in case he needed it...

The man was not there.

In a single instant, Richie's eyes bounced back up the dock to the other door, just as it slammed closed. There was a furious roar from within the hardware store, and another terrible shattering sound, and then the sound of Jack's Colt. Richie gave off a single, incoherent yell as the world slowed down around him. Jack was still inside!

He was still trying to scramble back outside the truck when there was a huge roar, and the far rear door of the store blew outward, taking part of the surrounding wall with it.

The boys were terrified, and stunned. There were more sounds from within the building as part of the roof collapsed, and a huge cloud of dust billowed out through the shattered doorway. And then...nothing.

"It...blew...up!" Jeremy breathed, shock audible in every word.

Richie just stared at the shambles of the rear of the store. Only one thing could have caused that blast. The dynamite Jack had been carrying in his pocket.

The boys slid out of the truck, and ran back to the other door, but could not get inside. The door frame was filled with debris.

"Jack! Jack!" Both boys began calling frantically, pulling at the wood and concrete that filled the doorway. They forgot about the zombie entirely. Their thoughts raged under a dark pall of disbelief and despair, and they yanked at the debris and tossed it aside until their hands were raw and painful.

Ten minutes later they ceased calling, their voices hoarse and failing. They slowed their frantic pace, the reality of the situation finally coming home. Wearing themselves out would not help Jack, if he had somehow survived. They began to dig with a purpose now, hoping against hope, but somehow, already knowing what they would find within --

Richie sat bolt upright, calling Jack's name. There was darkness around him, and silence. For a moment he wasn't sure where he was. He reached out with his arms, trying to find Jack, and to pull him from the store, refusing this time to leave him behind.

He felt someone close, and then arms encircled him.

"It's okay, I'm here."

It was Jeremy's voice, and Richie realized then that he was in bed, at the camp. At home.

"You were dreaming," Jeremy said, hugging him, holding him close. Richie felt warmth near his face, and the other boy nuzzled him gently. "It's okay. You're here, with me."

Richie raised his own arms and hugged the other boy furiously. "We were back at the store in Mitersville," he whispered, shuddering at the memory. "The day we lost Jack..."

Jeremy's arms tightened. "It's done, Richie. Done and gone."

Richie nodded, burying his face in his boyfriend's shoulder.

And then he was aware of others around him, there in the dark. Hands reached out and touched him, laid firmly upon him. At first the touches were like antiseptic to the open wound of his memories, stinging against his raw nerves. But then the pain of remembering eased, and the touches became warm and soothing. Comforting. No one said anything, just touched him, rubbed him, made sure he knew they were there.

Richie's breathing slowed, and the sense of terror ebbed away from him. Soon there was only the warmth of closeness, and his mind ceased to whirl about like a dervish inside his head.

"It's late," came Marnie's voice, soft in the night. "It'll be light in a few hours. We should all get back to sleep. Lots to do today."

Richie nodded. "Yeah. Thanks, guys."

No one else said a word, but Richie was aware of them all going away, back to their own beds.

Jeremy pushed at him, and Richie allowed himself to be laid back against the pillow. The other boy pulled him close then, and kissed him, and nuzzled his face again. "I'll be right here."

Richie returned the kiss. "Jere?"

"Yeah?"

"No one else," Richie said firmly. "It's not going to happen to anyone else, you hear me?"

"Yes. Now go to sleep." The other boy's cheek rubbed against his again, damp with tears. "I love you."

Richie gave out a soft sigh, and nodded. "I love you, too."

Richie closed his eyes, and would have been surprised at how quickly sleep returned to him, had he been even slightly aware when it happened.

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