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Welcome to HELL WEEK y'all. Here is the fifth of my SIX entries for the week laid upon the altar of the mighty Idol gods. As always, may they be exceedingly kind and generous...

“The funny thing about getting to the very top,” he said. “Is that there’s nowhere else to go but down. Nobody ever really thinks about that.”

“What do you mean?”

The man took a heaping spoonful of the cold Spaghetti-O’s out of the can and chewed thoughtfully.

“Think about it,” he said as he chewed. “We got to a point where our civilization was at the very top of things. We’d cured cancer and most all fatal diseases. People were living well past a hundred years old. The world was peaceful and prosperous. Taken as a whole, things were pretty fucking good.”

The girl ate from her can of Ravioli-O’s and fell silent, seeming to be thinking over what he said. Or maybe she was just enjoying the rare treat of food, he couldn’t be sure.

“It’s happened to all of the civilizations throughout history,” he went on. “The Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Mayans… all of them have one thing in common. When they’d reached the apex, they plummeted straight down into shit. And we seem to have gone down the shitter faster and more spectacularly than any of them.”

He looked at the girl and sighed. Though she was bright, she was still only thirteen. She was a sweet kid and probably had no idea what he was talking about.

“Maybe it’s God punishing us.”

A divine bitchslapping. Maybe so. Made as much sense as anything else.

“We should probably finish up here and get moving,” he said. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

The sun was already cresting the horizon and he wanted to get some miles in today. He felt like they’d already walked the width of the country but they were closing in on the goal. The goal being shelter and safety. He ate the last spoonful out of the can and tossed it to the ground, wiping the spoon off on a rag and putting it back in his pack. He watched as the girl did the same. They gathered the rest of their things and shouldered their packs and weapons.

“You ready?”

She nodded and gave him a weak smile. She was tired. He could see the fatigue setting in around her eyes. But so was he. And they couldn’t afford to stop. If they stopped, they were as good as dead. They walked the small trail from the rocks they’d taken shelter in to the deserted highway. He desperately hoped that it would be another uneventful day but had a feeling there was trouble brewing.

“You think there’s going to be trouble today.” The girl said.

“Why would you say that?”

“You’re tense,” she replied with a shrug. “I can see it.”

Definitely a bright girl. “Just keep a sharp eye out today.”

He scanned the land around them, looking for movement in the bushes, flocks of birds taking flight, anything that might tip him off to the fact that they were being stalked. They did that. They’d creep along, unseen and unnoticed until the time was right and then they’d pop up out of nowhere and eat your fucking face off. He’d been traveling with a couple of guys he met up with in eastern Utah and saw it firsthand; saw their bodies being torn apart and consumed. It still made sleeping difficult some nights. Though guilt may have had a part in that. A chill passed through him despite the fact that the heat was rising.

He and the two guys, Ken and Howard, had camped out in Cedar City that night. It was still dark when he woke up but he could see the sky beginning to glow with the soft hues of dawn. Getting up, he walked to a stand of trees to take a leak when he heard the footsteps. Ducking behind a tree, he saw three of them approaching the sleeping forms of Ken and Howard. His heart raced and he’d pissed himself standing there as he watched. He could have, should have, called out to them to warn them of what was descending. But he didn’t. He was terrified of drawing their attention and suffering the same fate as the two soon-to-be dead men. Stifling his own cries, he watched with terror and a grotesque fascination as the “zombies” fall on the two men. When they’d finished and had scrambled off, they’d left nothing behind but two pools of blood and bones that had been picked nearly clean.

“What do you mean?” The girl’s voice jarred him.

“Huh? I didn’t say anything.”

“You did,” she said. “You said there was nothing you could have done anyway.”

“I did?”

The girl nodded and looked at him, curiosity shining in her eyes.

“Nothing,” he said quietly. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

He shifted his pack and they walked on in silence with the sun beating down on them.
The end of the world had started in China. Trying to set the bar in medical research, the Chinese had implemented a series of drugs they claimed enhanced the senses, strength, brain function, the body’s healing process and our stamina. The Chinese scientists claimed that their drugs would almost make us almost super-human. And people by the millions and millions the world over had bought into it.

For a while, the drugs seemed to work. The good life on planet earth seemed to get even better. The trouble was that the Chinese scientists had never properly tested the drugs before taking them to market. Perhaps they never cared to. Profitability was king after all. Eventually, the drugs reversed course inside the body and wreaked havoc on a person’s brain. Instead of being super-human, people became stripped down, they became… animalistic. At first it was a few isolated cases that the authorities wrote off to some unknown disease. But then major cities around the world began reporting packs of these animals roaming the streets, destroying anything they could get their hands on as well as killing and eating anybody in their path.

The media had called them “zombies” when the shit hit the fan and the label stuck. Though they weren’t zombies in the Hollywood sense. These were not reanimated corpses who mindlessly shuffled around trying to eat people’s brains. Being bitten by one didn’t “infect” you. Chances were, if one bit you, you would die because they’d finish fucking eating you. These things were fast and they were smart. They lacked anything that made them “human” including verbal skills. They were simply brutal and efficient predators. When the major cities around the country had fallen into chaos and destruction and the tide of “zombies” couldn’t be stopped, the government and those wealthy enough to afford protected shelter were whisked away to the infamous “secret, undisclosed location.” Some speculated that it was in Colorado Springs, some in the Black Hills of South Dakota, others said it was somewhere in Kansas. But nobody knew for sure and most people were content to band together and fend for themselves. Though he avoided most after running into a few groups of people that had set themselves up as some feudal lord and treated everybody as the subjects of their little fiefdom.

“There’s a store ahead,” the girl said.

He shook all of the thoughts out of his head and looked up. Sure enough. About a hundred yards ahead of them lay the boarded up remnants of a gas station and convenience store.

“Okay, you remember how to use that pistol,” he said. “Just like I showed you, right?”

The girl nodded, clutching the small .38 and pointed the barrel at the ground just like he’d showed her. He never planned on her using it but he knew having a gun gave her some control and made her feel better.

“Good girl.”

They slowly approached the front doors of the gas station. Broken glass littered the ground and holes had been punched into the wood that covered the windows. He strained his ears, listening for the slightest sound. The girl looked at him, questions in her eyes. He motioned for her to get behind him. Lowering the shotgun and keeping it in the ready position, he pulled what was left of the door open and stepped inside. Trash and debris crunched beneath his foot as he held his breath while his eyes adjusted to the darkness inside the store.
And then he heard it.

The sound of heavy, raspy breathing floated to him from out of the darkness.

“Angie, stay back,” he said. “There’s one of them in here.”

With a shriek, it came at him. His vision hadn’t yet fully adjusted but it didn’t matter. In close quarters like these, he stood a better than average chance of winning this battle. He saw its dim outline rapidly approaching him from the gloom. Carefully lining up the shot, he waited until he could see the whites of the zombie’s eyes before pulling the trigger. The shotgun kicked against his shoulder and the shot exploded like a cannon. The blast took it in the chest and threw it backwards, knocking it flat on its back.

“Stay out here for a minute,” he said to the girl.

He walked across the floor to where the thing lay, bleeding, wheezing and snarling. It was clearly in its death throes. This was another point where these “zombies” differed from the Hollywood creation… it didn’t take a headshot to kill them. As he looked at the creature on the ground before him, a wave of pity washed over him. This had once been somebody’s son, brother, husband maybe. Nobody deserved this kind of fate. He lowered the shotgun and pulled the trigger, ending its suffering.

“It’s okay now, Angie,” he called. “You can come in.”

She slowly made her way in, barrel of the gun pointed at the ground, eyes fixed on the corpse in the pile of debris. With wide eyes full of fear, she looked younger than her thirteen years.

“Don’t look at it, Angie,” he said. “It can’t hurt you. Go check the store room and see if there’s any food in there.”

She nodded and walked toward the back while I dug around the front of the store, looking for food. My search yielded an old box of crackers and a couple of candy bars. I slipped the chocolate in my pack. Angie might like the treat.

“Carl, I found Oreos!” Angie squealed from the back room.

Her childlike excitement made him smile. She was a good kid. One that he’d almost left to die.

After the incident with Ken and Howard, he had walked on and tried to forget. Tried to forget what he’d seen. Tried to forget his own cowardice. Taking shelter in an abandoned house in a suburb outside of Phoenix, he’d settled in and gave thought to staying there for a while. The neighborhood was quiet. There were no gun battles, nothing lurking in the dark, waiting to kill him… it was peaceful.

Late that night, he’d laid down on the makeshift bed he’d put together in the living room with the couch cushions and tattered old blankets he’d found. The sound of a girl shrieking split the night air. Peering out of the window, Carl saw her. The girl was running for all she was worth but three of those things were closing in on her.

He didn’t know what to do. The guilt about letting Ken and Howard die were weighing on him. Could he let this girl die such a horrible death? On the other hand, trying to step in might not only get her killed but get himself killed too. And wasn’t survival the name of the game these days?

The girl screamed in the darkness again, her terrified voice echoing throughout the deserted neighborhood.


Carl stepped out on the front porch just as the girl was running by the house. The “zombies” were running after her, laughing like lunatics escaping the asylum.


The three things stopped and turned in his direction, wicked looking smiles on their faces to accompany that eerie laughter. From the corner of his eye, he saw the girl stop and turn toward him as well.

“Run, girl,” he shouted. “Keep running.”

As if by some silent accord, the zombies rushed him. His heart racing, Carl let them get closer and with trembling hands raised his shotgun and pulled the trigger. Pumped. Pulled it again. Pumped. Pulled it a third time. When the last of the booming echoes had faded, two teenaged boys and one teenaged girl lay on the ground, the blood pooling around their still forms. He hadn’t been forced to kill many of the things but every time he did, he couldn’t help but feel guilt. They’d been people just like him once.

“T-thank you.”

Carl spun, raising the shotgun again. The girl that had been running now stood at the foot of the porch looking at him with wide, tear-filled eyes.

“I told you to run.”

“You’re just like the first person I’ve seen in I don’t know how many weeks,”

“Where are your parents?”

The tears that had been standing in her eyes finally fell, silently rolling down her flushed cheeks.


“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Carl turned to go into the house and heard her footsteps on the stairs behind him.

“Where are you headed?”

“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “LA maybe. There’s supposed to be some safe zones there. But who knows? There’s supposed to be more in Oregon and Washington too.”

“C-can I stay with you?”



“Look, kid,” Carl said. “I can barely keep myself alive. More of those things are probably going to show up now that I’ve shot those three. You’re not safe with me. I won’t be responsible for you.”

She took another step up. “I’m safer with you than I am on my own.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way kid—”

“Angie,” she said. “My name is Angie.”

“Fine,” he sighed. “Don’t take this the wrong way Angie but I’m more of a loner. I don’t do well with people. Especially kids. And I sometimes have to move fast.”

“I can keep up,” she begged. “And pull my own weight. Please don’t leave me out here to die.”

Carl paused at the threshold. Guilt was worming its way into his head and into his heart. Try as he might, he could never completely forget the fact that he’d had a daughter once.

“Okay,” Carl said. “You can stay here with me. But just for tonight. Tomorrow we go our separate ways.”

“Okay,” she nodded and said quietly. “Do you happen to have any food?”

They’d been together for more than a month. He could never quite bring himself to send the girl on her way. In a lot of ways, she reminded him of his own daughter. Or maybe he just wanted to badly believe that she did.


Her voice shook him out of his memories. “What?”

“There’s something outside,” she whispered. “I think it’s more of them.”


He stood up and picked his way through all of the trash as quietly as he could. Angie followed him closely. Peering through a crack in the boards on the windows, Carl’s heart raced. Three of them stood on the highway in front of the store, heads raised, sniffing the air like goddamned dogs. Simultaneously, the three turned toward the store. The smell of the blood and gunpowder were still thick in the air inside. It was like a neon fucking light advertising that the buffet was open. He knew where this was going.

“Angie,” he whispered. “Very quietly get to the back of the store.”

“Are the coming?” Her voice trembled.


He heard her soft footsteps as she picked her way to the back of the store. Still sniffing the air, the zombies looked confused for a moment, as if they weren’t sure which direction the scent was coming from.

“Go on,” he whispered. “Keep moving.”

A sharp squeal was quickly followed by the sound of a metal rack toppling over as Angie fell heavily to the ground.

“Shit,” he said again.

Shrieking with triumph, the things headed straight for the door. Carl stepped into the doorway, lowered his shotgun and fired. The first blast took the thing in the chest, pitching it backward onto the pavement. He took the second in the knee, dropping it to the ground in pool of blood and bone shards.

He pulled the trigger the third time and his shotgun jammed.

“Oh fuck.”

The thing had closed to within feet of him as he stumbled backward, dropping the shotgun and reaching for the .45 in his waistband. It filled the doorway, a look of maniacal glee on its face. Carl screamed as he slipped in something wet and went down on his back, his breath leaving his lungs in a whoosh of air, the metal gun biting into his back. He looked at the thing advancing on him slowly. He’d never get the gun out in time. It may as well have been in Colorado for all the good it did him. This was it. His heart thundered as he realized that he was going to die. And Angie with him. He’d failed her every bit as much as he’d failed his own daughter.

“Run Angie,” he called. “Get the hell out of here now!”

The crack of a gun filled the air around him. He watched a blossom of blood spread out on the zombie’s ragged shirt. Carl was as confused as the creature looked. A second crack was followed by a third which was followed by a fourth. Each bullet hit its mark, the last punching a small hole just below the thing’s left eye, dropping it to the ground.
Carl looked over at Angie, smoke still pouring out of the barrel of the gun she held in hands that trembled. Her eyes were as wide as he was sure his own were.

“I-I’ve never killed anything before,” she said quietly as tears welled in her eyes. “But it was going to kill you.”

He stood up slowly and put his hand over hers, lowering the gun.

“You did great, Angie,” he said, lifting her chin to make her look him in the eye. “You did what you had to do and you saved my life. Thank you.”

She embraced him, burying her face in his shirt and sobbed. He stroked her hair and held her tightly. This was the world they lived in. People were no longer at the very top of the food chain and children were forced to kill to survive. It was a sad, fucked up world.
“We should get out of here,” he said. “We still have a long way to go.”

This has been my entry for [ profile] therealljidol Season 8, Topic 36(E): Pinnacle. We're down the Final 8 left standing and things are getting intense! As always, thank you so much for stopping by to give me a read and thank you for all of your support over the course of this season. It really does mean the world to me and I know that I wouldn't be here without you guys. Should we have a poll this week, don't forget to stop on by, read some of the other fantastic pieces and spread some voting-love around! THANK YOU EVERYBODY!
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October 2012

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