Ela Halloween Special #7

Elvis and Tina move to apply their poor first aid skills to the injured party members but just then a cabinet bursts open and a form comes flying out at them.  With a shout, Duke turns and hurls one of the last flaming missiles they have at the wildly failing blur, but Martialla’s hand – quick as a striking Canadian snake – snatches it out of the air.  She yanks out the “wick” as the attacker is revealed to be a screaming man.  Martialla puts her hand out and knocks him down with a stiff arm.  Rather than a ravenous ravenous zombie (the hit sequel to hungry hungry hippos) we’re dealing with a short balding man with a trim salt and pepper beard and glasses in a white coat.  He cowers on the ground and covers his head like in those old duck and cover videos from school.  Which would totally protect you from lava.

“Don’t eat me! Don’t eat me!”

Tina kicks him in the hip awkwardly, hurting her own foot and hopping “Christ! Don’t do that! You nearly gave me a heart attack!  We’ve got enough problems without you jumping out at us, asshole!”

The doctor fearfully peeks around his fingers like a kid watching a horror movie “You’re alive?”

Ela manages to sit up and looks down at him “For the time being.  Thanks to me.”

And then there are seven.  And Dr. Jablonski is a highly valuable edition too, being an ER doctor. He’s able to patch them up well as can be, given the situation, and even better he’s able to shoot them full of all kinds of happy things that make the pain go away.  By the time he’s almost done working, Elvis and Tina are clowning around with the x-ray machine as he’s working on Duke’s arm, shoulder, and ass.  He even packs Ela’s foot in a special organ transplant cooler so that if they get out of there and find a working hospital, there’s a chance that it can be re-attached.  They set out from Stirling Memorial in high spirits (you know, for a zombie death march) but they’re down to their last few cocktails and they have to use them to get clear – the zombies don’t seem to mind the fire sprinklers at all.  Once they get outside they’re weaponless again, aside from the axe and a baseball bat – both of which Ela insists that she carries.

Martialla sputters and points at her footless leg “But, but, you, your . . .”

Ela slaps her sharply “Shut up Martialla, everyone knows about your tilted uterus! I feel fine now, better than fine, I feel great!  And even with one foot off, I’m a better fighter than any of you are.”  She sets the axe down emphatically and leans on it.  “Now, which way do we go from here?”

Tina points north “What about the airport?”

Ela out of reflex starts to slap her and tell her to shut up, but she pulls up and bites her lip “Wait a minute, what did you say?”

“Ponce DeLeon airport is just a few blocks from here.”

Elvis’s voice crackles with hope “Can anyone fly a plane?”

The good doctor raises his hand timidly “I can fly a small prop plane, I don’t have my license yet but I’ve logged a hundred hours or so.”

Tina is so happy she kisses him, much to his startlement.  That’s a word right?  That’s the good news, the bad news is that getting even a few blocks in a zombie-infested hellhole is easier said than done. They try several different roundabout ways to get to the airfields, but they find that there are zombies everywhere – and they’re all hungry. The crew is too weapon-poor and injured-rich to fight their way through, so their only chance is to displace and fallback and try to get there from a different angle. They cut through the Dobb’s Animal Park (ignoring Ela’s screaming about zombie goats) but find their way blocked again.  They’re about to turn back again when Martialla spots something.

Martialla grabs Ela’s shoulder and points “Hey, wait a minute. Check that out.”

“A toy store? What do we want with a fucking toy store?”

“There could be something useful in there, I’m going to check it out.”

Ela snorts “Fine, we’re leaving, I wish I could say that you’ll be missed.  Send us a postcard when you get to hell, okay?”

Duke points the other way across the street “But look over there, True Value hardware, I bet there’s something good in there.  You guys go check that out while Martialla and I go to the toy store.”

Lucien frowns “Why do you want to go to the toy store?”

Duke shrugs “Toy stores are fun.”

Ela covers her face with her hand “Jesus Christ, I’d rather lose both my feet than listen to this crap.”

Despite her annoyance, they split up and go their separate ways.  At the hardware store, Ela, Lucien, Elvis, Tina, and the good doctor add a sledgehammer, a few spades, and a second axe to their arsenal.  As they’re distributing the haul, Tina comes up from behind the counter with a Cheshire-cat like smile on her face.

They all turn to look and she lifts up a chainsaw “I just hit the jackpot! Oh yeah baby yeah!”

Ela slaps her across the face viciously “Put that down before you kill yourself, or even worse someone who matters! A chainsaw is a tool, it isn’t a weapon. Leave it behind!  I command you!”

Tina laughs “You stupid fool, a chainsaw isn’t a weapon? Haven’t you ever heard of a little movie called Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers? Or of a fellow by the name of Leatherface?”

Lucien is deep in thought “Were you in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Ela?”

Ela slaps him and then wheels around to slap Tina again, even harder “No chainsaw! It’s not useful as a weapon, it’s too unwieldy! A chainsaw is not a sword, you can’t swing it at someone and expect that to do anything! Besides, you need fuel for it, jackass!  Come on, let’s go! Leave that thing behind, Tina, or I swear I will bite your nips off.  I mean it!”

Tina looks downtrodden for a second and starts to put the chainsaw down, but then she stops and puts it on the counter instead. She takes a bottle of gasoline she had hidden in her dress somehow (Victoria’s Secret Pocket?) and takes the handkerchief out of it.  With a sublime grin she takes the cap off the chainsaw and pours in the gas.  She carefully screws the cap back on and sneaks out after the rest of the crew – trying to hide the chainsaw behind her back and failing miserably.  Meanwhile across the street in the toy store, Martialla is grabbing all manner of things as Duke is jumping on a pogo-stick and trying to dribble a basketball at the same time.


That’s the noise you might make if a zombie jumped out of one of those big cages for rubber balls and tackled you off your pogo stick – intent on chowing down on your liver like it was a corndog.  Which it might be, who really knows what’s inside a corndog?

Duke desperately shoves the snapping mouth part away from his own face “Martialla, help! Help!”

Martialla comes to the rescue with a ball bat – splattering the zombie’s head all over Duke’s upper body. Duke takes a moment to comment on how funky he feels (Ghostbusters) as Martialla helps him up. They hop on a Razor scooter together and whiz off to meet up with the rest of their friends. When they do, Ela sticks out her foot (the one still attached to her body) and sends them flying head over heels as the scooter comes to an abrupt halt.

“God damn it, this is serious!”

Martialla lays on her stomach, trying to get her wind back “That’s much faster than walking, we should all get them.”

Duke is holding his knee and wincing “And it’s not stupid, that’s a Razor scooter!”

Ela hacks the scooter to bits with her axe “Oh yeah? Well now it’s garbage!  While you idiots were playing grabass at a toy store, we were getting real weapons! Here, take these!” She tosses a spade and the second axe at them.

The doctor whispers to Elvis “Is she always like that?”

Elvis shakes her head “Nah not always, sometimes she can be a real bitch.”

Lucien cocks his head “What’s that noise?”

Duke looks around “I hear it too, what is that?”

It’s a weird combination of a whish-whoosh sound with a rolling kind of sound. They all stand still and listen in confusion and wonder for a moment, but soon enough the mystery of the mysterious sound is revealed to them. The entire DeLeon High School in-line hockey team comes skating around the corner and whirls to a synchronized stop on a dime – pounding their hockey sticks on the ground and dislodging little bits and pieces of gristle and blood onto the pavement.

Martialla gasps “What in the unholy crimson heck is that?!”

Ela hefts her axe “Zombie roller hockey players from hell!  Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit inhaling the fumes from burning brake fluid.”

Zombies on roller blades might sound amusing in theory, but YOU’RE not the one across the street from the putrid animated bodies of the De Leon High School Explorers inline hockey team – staring with their vacant white eyes and seeing their eternal and ungodly hunger for the still-quivering flesh of the living reflected back at you. Martialla, Ela, Duke, Tina, Lucien, Elvis , and some doctor guy are – and they don’t think it’s funny at all.  Okay, okay, full disclosure they DO think it’s a little funny, but chalk that up to stress and exhaustion and the giddiness brought on by several hours’ worth of soul-wrenching terror. Elvis and the doctor have shrunk to the back of the group fearfully as the rest clutch their weapons and wait for the inevitable onslaught – Ela at the fore with her fire axe in one hand and the cooler containing her severed foot in the other. The Explorers, little bits of skin and fat hanging out of their torn and bloody uniforms, are skating around in a classic double figure-eight pattern knocking around a severed head with their hockey sticks.

Ela whispers to herself “What are they waiting for? Why don’t they attack?”

Duke glances around “Maybe they’re waiting for reinforcements or something, are zombies that smart?  Do they plan?   We should attack them before they get here!”

Martialla shakes her head “Wait a minute, who cares why they’re not attacking us, why aren’t WE running away from THEM?”

Everyone looks around at each other for a second and then they take off running, at which point the Explorers finally break formation and start skating after their prey.

The doctor looks back fearfully “They’re gaining on us!”

Ela takes a quick look back “How is that possible?! They’re zombies for the love of god! How can they be gaining on us?  How can they even use skates?  They should be falling down, not catching up to us!”

Just then the lead zombie – whose helmet is cracked and has some brains spilling out – takes a picture perfect Happy Gilmore style slapshot, sending the severed head flying and hitting Martialla in the back of the legs, knocking her down and sending her domino-tumbling into Elvis and Duke, knocking them down as well.

Ela waves her axe “Quick, form a circle so they can’t get at anyone from behind!”

They start to raggedly and uninspiredly spring into action to circle the wagons, but Martialla gets to her feet, dusts herself off, and gestures for them to be still.  She straightens out her bloody Sueno Beach Video Rental shirt reminding us to “Be Kind, Rewind”, words that everyone should remember in these trying modern times.  She reaches into her pockets with a steely look of determination on her face.

Martialla stares down the skating hellions as they hurtle towards them “No need, I’ll take care of this, leave them to me.”

Martialla flicks her hands out in front of her like a magician revealing an empty box where his spangly leotarded assistant once was and sends a barrage of brightly colored marbles flying out of her pockets onto the street in front of the zombie hockey players intent on dismembering and devouring them. Ever try to skate over marbles?  Take it from me, sweet reader, it doesn’t work, as these zombies quickly find out to their dismay.  They fall like drunk penguins – or actually more like zombie hockey players tripping on marbles – and hit the ground hard.  Martialla laughs and pumps a Tiger Woods-esque fist pump in victory.

She raises her arms “Score – Martialla ten, zombies zero!”  She turns to gloat at Ela “See? See? I told you the toy store would be a good idea, but noooo – you can’t listen to anyone else, can you? You’re the big badass leader and you don’t listen to anyone, huh?  Well who was right, Ela? That’s right baby, I was! Me, Martialla.  Martialla was right and youuuuu were. . . YEAAAAAAAAH!”

That’s the noise you might make if a zombie roller hockey player had crawled close enough to grab you from behind by the ankles as you were gloating.  Ela leaps into action, knocking Martialla out of the way with a cooler to the face and then hacking off the zombie’s hands at the wrist. Martialla scrambles back and quickly pries the still grasping hands off her legs, throwing them away with a shudder. Ela looks down at her coolly as the rest of the zombies are still flailing about in the field of marbles and raises an eyebrow.

“Can we go now or did you have more to say?”

Ela Halloween Special #6

On the north side of the street, inside Mickey’s Irish Pub, Duke is pouring out bottles of high proof booze and setting them on a table beside him.  Tina, on the other hand, is sitting on the floor drinking a bottle of overproofed rum as fast as she can, or faster than she can rather since she’s spilling a goodly amount down the front of her Nicole Miller.

Duke frowns down at her and then dumps one of the bottles on Tina’s head “What are you doing?!”

Tina takes the bottle away from her mouth “Martialla told us to empty the bottles out . . .” she pauses to belch soggily “. . . that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Duke smacks her on the top of the head as she starts to drink again “Dump them out, Tina! Dump them out, don’t drink them! Martialla didn’t send us over here to get hammered, she sent us over here to . . . well I don’t actually know why she sent us over here but, YAAAAAAAAAAH!”

That’s the noise you make when a zombie comes bursting out of the bathroom, slips on a pool of sticky warm beer on the floor and as it falls latches its teeth onto your backside like a donkey eating a waffle. Duke screams and flails his arms wildly, staggering around and dragging the zombie behind him like some massive rotting tail.

Tina points and laughs hysterically “The zombie bit your bottom!”

In his wild scrambling about, Duke smashes into tables and chairs, shaking his hips around violently like a cracked out Shakira (the hips don’t lie) but that zombie won’t come loose – it’s attached to Duke’s muscular buttocks like a barnacle to the hull of a ship.  Duke leaps over the bar and finally the zombie comes free – slamming into the bar and tearing off a good chunk of prime rump roast for itself in the process. Tina is laughing so hard she falls over.  Duke comes up from behind the bar with a baseball bat in hand and a look of savage fury on his face. The zombie slowly gets up and Duke swings for the fences – knocking the zombie’s head off clean as a whistle. Duke awkwardly rolls back over the bar and continues to angrily pound on the lifeless torso screaming at it incoherently.

He spins to face the still giggling Tina “What are you laughing at?!”

Duke goes after Tina with the bat, who takes off running, laughing all the way. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, Elvis is nervously filling up gas cans at Pete’s Pump and Pay – his eyes darting back and forth and jumping at every little sound. He almost jumps out of his skin as the door bangs open and Martialla comes walking out of the store with an armload of lighters and handkerchiefs. She’s also got a piece of beef jerky in her mouth and she’s singing softly to herself in Canadian. As she nears Elvis, she spits out the jerked meat, making a face.

“How can you Americans eat crap like this?  It doesn’t even taste like food.” She drops her armload of stuff in Elvis’s lap.  “Here, you carry this stuff, I’ll get the [untranslatable Canadian gibberish].”

Elvis starts to say something but instead screeches and clutches onto Martialla’s leg when he sees a zombie slowly shuffling their way from around the corner of the store. Martialla picks up the pump handle that Elvis dropped to the ground and carefully douses the approaching zombie with unleaded ultra plus gasoline. She drops the nozzle and takes one of the lighters, flicking it on and smiling.

“[untranslatable Canadian gibberish]”

With that dry cool witticism she tosses the lighter onto the zombie and she and Elvis grab their stuff and book. The zombie lights up like a Christmas tree, you know the old kind with candles, still coming after them a few steps before it disintegrates into a flaming mass of lifeless goo.  Martialla and Elvis get back to Ela and Lucien just as Tina and Duke are running from the other way with their arms full of empty bottles – and one full one. Lucien and Ela don’t notice them coming right away because they’re engrossed in singing a wildly off-key duet.

Ela is really belting out “I’m just mad about Saffron.”

Lucien is no less enthusiastic “Saffron’s mad about me.’

“They call me Mello Yellow!”

“Quite right!”

Ela suddenly cuts herself short when she sees the others returning and digs her elbow into Lucien back to shut him up “I told you to stop singing that stupid song – we need to be on the look out here!  How’d you guys make out?”

Martialla looks horrified “[untranslatable Canadian gibberish]! This is not the time for making out!”

Ela frowns “What? No, I meant . . . just forget about it.  What’s the plan?”

The plan is simple enough, and you’ve probably already guessed it yourself being the smart and attractive reader that you are.  They start moving again, slowly and cautiously, filling the empty liquor bottles with gasoline along the way, stuffing the handkerchiefs in the necks of said bottles and distributing them to everyone along with lighters.  They also wolf down a few Twinkies and whatnot that Martialla picked up for a quick burst of sugar energy.

Martialla is waving the full bottle around “I told you to empty them all out, can’t you do anything right?”

Tina snatches the bottle away from her and takes a drink “This one we can empty on the way.”

She drinks again and hands the bottle to Elvis who accepts it gratefully “God knows I could use a drink right now.”

They manage to avoid any major concentrations of zombies as they skulk through the streets, saving their home-made grenades for when they really need them. They can tell they’re getting close to the hospital when they start seeing half-eaten corpses with lab coats and medical scrubs in the streets.  Even closer still and they begin to see people in hospital gowns, some with IVs still trailing behind them, having been run down and devoured partially as they tried to flee.  Stirling Memorial Hospital itself has a jumble of ambulances out front with slaughtered EMTs and emergency patients lying in and around them.  As they arrive, a nurse on the roof is being pursued by a six-pack of zombies and runs out of roof.  As they close in, he leaps to his death rather than be eaten alive.  The place is crawling with zombies – you can see them in every window and door – some chasing still-living victims, others enjoying their grisly feast.

Ela limps along with Martialla holding her up “See? What did I tell you, this place is zombie central.”

Martialla tries to shift Ela away from crushing her neck “Maybe so, but this is the first time we’ve seen anyone else alive.  Doesn’t look like that’s going to last for long, we better get in there and save them.”

Ela snorts “Save them? We’re not here to save anyone other than ourselves, we’re here to get fixed up as fast as possible – get in, get out like robbing a bank. If we happen to save anyone along the way, fine, but we don’t even know if these things are going to work.”

Tina lights one of her improvised fireball devices and hurls it at a group of zombies hunched over ravenously devouring a man with a cast on his arm.  It explodes brightly and incinerates the horrid creatures in seconds.

Martialla tips her head “Now we know.”

Tina grins as she lights another “Cocktails anyone?”

Armed with the flaming power of fire like our primitive ancestors, they head in to the hospital. Our injured friends Ela, Duke, and Lucien try to stay in the middle of the huddle for what little protection that may offer. The Moltov (or is it Molotov?) cocktails work better than they ever dreamed.  In short order Stirling Memorial Hospital is transformed into a veritable zombie barbecue. And what’s better, the sprinklers come on quickly and put out any fires before they set the whole building ablaze, good job, city building code people!  Slaughtering zombies by the gurney-load, they reach the emergency room.  Martialla takes up a guard position at the door as Elvis and Tina do what they can for the injured parties.  Which isn’t much, if we’re being honest.  And I feel that we are.

Ela waves her severed foot in Elvis’s face, spattering blood everywhere “Come on man, just sew it back on already!”

Elvis tries to push it away weakly “Get that thing out of my face!  Do you have any idea how complicated a procedure it is to reattach a foot? That’s major surgery, Ela, it takes hours and hours!  I barely even know first aid!”

Tina comes with a scalpel in hand “I’ll take a whack at it.”

Elvis steps between Ela and Tina “No you won’t.  No one’s going to do it.  None of us are surgeons, trying to just sew her foot back on is only going make things worse for Ela.  What we have to do is stop the bleeding.  Beyond that?” He shrugs helplessly.

Martialla looks back anxiously “Whatever you’re going to do, do it! I can hear them coming.”

Ela takes the handkerchief out of one of the bottles and dumps the high proof booze on her foot-stump “Don’t be ridiculous Martialla, they aren’t coming, the sprinklers drove away any that we didn’t fry. Zombies hate water, why can’t you people get that through your thick skulls, damn it?!”

Spittle flies from Duke’s mouth as he shouts “Stop saying that! You don’t know that!”

Ela winks “Bite me.”

With that, Ela takes her lighter and delicately touches it to her bloody rum-soaked stump like the light kiss of a gossamer moth.  Flames leap up and she wails like a banshee which freaks everyone else out pretty good.  Mostly they scream and run around like chickens with their heads cut off (normal chickens not zombie chickens).  Martialla eventually has the presence of mind to grab a fire blanket out of the wall mount and smother the flames (they have those in hospitals right?  I feel like I saw one once when I was in a hospital).  After a moment Ela weakly raises her head, looking as exhausted and drained as a woman who just gave birth to a really fat baby.

Her voice is a whisper of a whisper “There, the bleeding is stopped, now do what you can do for Lucien and Tweedle-dumb fuck and let’s get the hell out of here.” She laboriously drags the back of her clown-sleeve over her sweaty face. “Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop using bear tranquilizers.”

Ela Halloween Special #5

Tina shoves Ela away from her and Ela comes flying back at Tina with fists clenched ready to slug it out.  Only Martialla and Elvis jumping in between to restrain them and keep them from having it out right then and there.  Ela breaks away from their grasping hands waving her arms (and axe) about angrily.

“What the fuck is wrong with you people?!  Why does everything have to be a fight with you morons!  Why do you have to question everything I say?  I’m trying to save your lives, what don’t you get about that?!”

Ela goes off on them about everything under the sun and all five of them back away in fright.  Not because they’re scared of her, but instead because through the glass they can see a dark shape is getting larger and larger in the display behind her.  They all stare at the rapidly growing shape behind the glass as Ela stomps up and down and curses them out for ever being born.  As she’s reaching the crashing crescendo of her diatribe, Martialla and Elvis turn and run for it as Tina, Lucien, and Duke drop to the floor and take cover.

Ela frowns as they cower and run off respectively “What? What’s wrong with you now?  Are you that afraid of me? Look, I know I’m one scary bitch but show some fucking backbone, you cowards! Yes, I’m the queen badass of the world, but just because . . .”

Before she can finish, the zombie shark slams into the glass at full speed, shattering it and sending thousands of gallons of water crashing out over Ela like a smelly tidal wave.  Just like in Jaws 3D only not super dumb looking.  By all appearances, this adult male tiger shark should be floating upside down at the top of the tank, little bits of flesh hanging off him and his eyes rolled back in their sockets, but he most certainly is not.  He rides the wave of water out of the enclosure like a body surfer, his dead jaws snapping and his double dead eyes rolling wildly like a Magic 8 Ball.

The rush of water knocks everyone for a loop and bowls them over, carrying them every which way (but loose). The massive zombie beast whips its head from side to side biting blindly as Lucien and Duke scramble away as best they can in their injured condition – Martialla and Elvis look on in horror from a catwalk above. Tina, in a mad attempt to avoid the jaws, leaps onto the back of the writhing beast and grabs onto its fin like a cowboy riding a rodeo stallion.

The zombie shark goes absolutely berserk with her on its back, redoubling its thrashing and trying to throw Tina off.  Lucien reaches up with his crutch and Martialla manages to drag both him and Duke up to the safety of the catwalk with Elvis and herself.  With another mighty lunge-flop from the deadite Galeocerdo cuvier, Tina is thrown off its back violently, her hands and forearms ripped to shreds by the sandpaper zombie skin.  Hurled through the air like a discarded yogurt cup, she slams into another tank hard enough to crack the glass.  She lays stunned for a moment as the shark zombie flops towards her like some horrible carnivorous inch worm.  From up above, Martialla and Elvis are screaming for her to get up and run but Tina can only sit there in a daze.

As the awful undead creature is moving closer, the cracks in the tank Tina slammed into slowly spread outward and finally it gives way, Elvis shouting as a second torrent of water sends Tina slip’n’sliding right towards the toothy maw of the undead tiger shark.  But the water also seems to shock her back to her senses, snapping her out of her daze.  She manages to twist away from the gaping maw at the last moment – shooting along the side of the shark like she’s going down Mount Splashmore.  She’s dragged along the shark’s knotty hide but she’s able to scramble to the stairs that lead up to the catwalk as the deadly fish flops around trying to get facing the right direction. The five of them watch in astonishment from above as the shark zombie slowly inches its way towards the stairs and with a mighty lunge throws itself across the bottom steps.

With another lunge, it starts to come up the stairs like a drunken frat boy doing the worm, causing the metal structure to groan as it buckles and strains under its weight.  The beast lunges again and the entire catwalk starts to come free, bolts flying out of the ceiling as the supports break away.  The lurching action sends Elvis tumbling over the side, but Martialla catches him – her arm almost jerking out of the socket under the strain.  Martialla would have fallen over the side too but Tina, Duke, and Lucien grab her and haul them both back onto the dubious safety of the catwalk. The shark lurches up further like a reverse slinky and the catwalk tilts at a forty-five degrees angle towards the shark’s waiting jaws.

As the five of them cling to the catwalk desperately, Elvis’s legs flailing just a foot away from the shark’s deadly rows of teeth, a waterlogged Ela comes back into the picture, grabbing the shark’s tail and yanking it back down to the floor like an old man starting a gas powered lawn mower.  With shocking quickness the zombie shark snaps its tail, flinging her off and smashing her into the wall at high speed.  It flails wildly trying to turn around and take advantage of her stunned condition, finally flicking its tail against the wall and whipsawing it around like a Tokyo Drift.  

Ela is scurrying away like a crab as the zombie shark lunges at her.  She leaps out of the way, sliding across the wet floor and slamming into a wall, feeling a searing pain.  She bounces off the wall and squeaks to a stop on the wet floor, looking down and only seeing her right foot at the end of her shapely toned legs.  The left leg is footless, host only to a bloody stump.  Ela hears screaming, looks up assuming it’s Tina, and after a moment she realizes that it’s her own voice she’s hearing.

Ela nearly blacks out, her vision swimming like a Baywatch lifeguard, but at the edge of her awareness, she sees the zombie shark flopping across the floor headed her way.  Say one thing about zombies, they never stop trying to kill you.  She fights to stay conscious, forcing herself to focus and block out the pain.  Looking on from above, clinging to the catwalk, her companions are shocked to see Ela lurch to her foot and limp not away from, but rather towards the shark!  She mashes her bloody footless stump down onto the end of Martialla’s shovel and pops it up into her hands.  Ela starts hammering on the shark with the shovel and screaming like a mad woman.

“Give me back my foot! Give it to me! It’s mine! It’s my foot! Give it back!”

Her vicious blows mean nothing to the zombie shark as it tries vainly to get around and bite at her. Finally Ela drives the shovel into the shark’s head like she’s digging a hole for a fencepost and the head of the shovel breaks off – leaving Ela holding a jagged wooden stick.  She looks dumbly at the splintered end for a second and then rams it through the shark’s gill slits like she’s making the world’s worst caramel apple.   Which is saying something because they’re all pretty bad.  The zombie shark’s frantic motions slow down, drooping like a toy with a run-down battery. 

After a few seconds its jaws are merely opening and closing slowly on reflex as the smell of flesh fills its nostrils.  Ela limps away and grabs her fire axe – Tina turning her head in horror as Ela starts to hack into the dying (for the second time) creature.  Martialla is the only one who can watch the whole scene unfold as Ela dismembers the thing and then triumphantly pulls her severed foot out of its gullet.  Once she has her hands on the foot she falls to the floor, clutching it to her chest and once again covered with blood and disgusting black scum.

Ela tucks the foot down her clown shirt “Well, I suppose now we’re going to have to head to the hospital after all.” She shakes her head as she uses the axe to lever herself to her foot. “Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop smoking crystal meth.”

As they take to the streets once more, they’ve got big problems. Ela has a belt around her ankle as a tourniquet, trying to reduce the blood flow, she leans heavily on Martialla as she grits her teeth and gamely tries to keep up a good pace.  Between that and Lucien on a makeshift crutch and Duke feeling weak from loss of blood, they’re only a hair’s breadth faster than the zombies slowly chasing them.  Elvis leads the way and Tina is at the rear, walking backwards with the axe in her hand and striking down any zombie that proves to be faster than the rest and gets too close.

Elvis is rubbing his hands together obsessively “This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening . . . “

Ela’s voice is not too pained to sound grim “Yes it is.”

Tina swings the axe and knocks down a zombie at the head of the pack “Shit on me, shit on me, shit on me . . . “

Ela tries to hike herself to stand up straight, choking Martialla in the process “Snap out of it, you morons! None of us are going to make it if two of the three people we have left in good shape wig out, so get a fucking grip! You don’t see anyone else losing it, do you?”

Elvis spins around so fast that he almost falls over “That’s because you’re already crazy!!!  You got your foot bitten off for CHRISTSAKE ! And . . .”

Lucien manages to shove Elvis forward as he hobbles “Keep moving [untranslatable Canadian gibberish]”

Tina hands are shaking violently as she knocks back another faster-than-average zombie “I don’t know how much more of this I can take . . . I don’t know . .  . I can’t . . . I can’t . . .” She backs into Duke and almost knocks him down “. . . THIS IS CRAZY!”

Ela sighs “Look people, all we have to do is get to the hospital, sew my foot back on, pump me and Duke and Lucien full of painkillers and adrenaline and we’ll be good to go. Piece of cake.”

Martialla looks at her “You do know how crazy that sounds right?”

Ela chuckles humorlessly “Crazy? Look around, we’re in a town infested with the walking dead, who are intent on killing us and devouring our flesh.  Given these facts I don’t think crazy has any meaning anymore.”

Martialla nods “Good point.”

Ela talks over whatever Tina and Elvis are trying to say “Okay we’re going to have to pick up the pace here folks, we need to get some distance between ourselves and our friends back there. On the double people, move it, move it, move it!”

They break into the saddest most ragged-ass run you have ever seen outside of a high school gym class, Elvis picking Ela up and Lucien making that crutch fly for all she’s worth. They widen the gap between the pack of zombies behind them and eventually lose them altogether.  But for how long?  Dodging down alleys and cutting through buildings to avoid other zombies, they get to the street that will take them to the Stirling Memorial Hospital.  After only a few blocks through, Martialla calls a halt.

Martialla holds her hand up “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I think I have an idea.” She looks around as if making sure she does have an idea “Yeah, here’s what I want you to do. Tina, you and Duke go over to that bar over there and bring me back as many empty bottles as you can, leave the axe here with Ela.” She waves at the other side of the street “Elvis, you come with me.”

Elvis frowns “What for?”

Martialla half drags him as she heads out “There’s no time to explain, just come on.”

Elvis looks at Tina, who shrugs and then hands the axe to Ela, sitting in the middle of the road with Lucien.  Tina and Duke head for the bar as Elvis hurries up after Martialla.  Lucien and Ela look at each other for a minute and then scoot around back to back, laying the axe to the side where they both keep a hand on it.

Lucien shrugs his shoulders trying to get comfortable, nearly knocking Ela over “What do you think she has in mind?”

Ela takes a deep breath “I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was just a ruse to leave us behind without making a big scene. That’s what I’d do and I taught her everything she knows.”

“Don’t you barely know her?”

Ela sighs “If I could reach, I’d slap you in the face right now.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed you seem to do that a lot.  So we’re going to die huh?”

Ela sighs deeper “Looks like.”

“Huh . . . too bad right?

Ela lets out a long breath “Yep.”

OOC – Happy cyberpunk day

70% of the thousands of hours I’ve spent playing TTRPGs has been on fantasy settings, mostly D&D.  15% has been on sci-fi settings, mostly Star Wars. 

But of the remainder, a good 5% has been spent playing cyberpunk games, mostly Shadowrun.  Superhero retains the #1 spot on my list of genres I wish I played more, but cyberpunk is a strong runner up. 

The first Cyberpunk game I played was called Cyberspace and I was just the right age for its glorious horrible awesomeness.  Up until that point I had mainly just played D&D and Palladium games so even though the system in retrospect was awful, I was enamored with its bonkers skill charts and amusing critical damage tables. 

We didn’t play it much because then (and for a long time) I was the only GM in our group and I had a hard time coming up with cyberpunk adventure ideas.  Fantasy settings are so easy – some goblins are harassing farmers trying to cross a bridge, adventure done!  But it seemed so much harder to come up with cyberpunk ideas at the time.  I realize now it’s not, some cybered up gangers are harassing people trying to get on the train to work, done!  I think part of the problem (besides the fact that I was 12) was that D&D isn’t really presented as an immersive world, in fantasyland you go on adventures and who cares what you’re doing the rest of the time, whereas cyberpunk games have rules for finding an apartment and paying your rent.  It’s a lot to take in when you’re in 6th grade. 

Later one of my friends brought me Cyberpunk 2020 which I found to be wildly inferior to Cyberspace even though it was obviously much better.  Thus began the short lived Cyberspace VS Cyberpunk wars amongst my friends.  In the end, as with most wars, there was no winner – only casualties, as I don’t think (aside from one weekend trip to the lake) we ever played either of them again. 

It was either in HS or shortly afterwards where Shadowrun came into the mix.  I had maybe sort of played a few times before (probably sat around and made a character and never played) but the time I really remember as the “first” was a gonzo campaign where basically all we did was attack Yazuka strongholds and have huge fights.  I remember Age of Apocalypse had just come out so I guess it was ’95, and I was indeed in HS.  Seems like the right time to Shadowrun.

It seemed so much cooler and more interesting than D&D even though that campaign specifically was just a big combat-fest and had far less roleplaying than we usually did playing D&D.  Maybe I just thought it was cool to be playing an RPG with guns. 

Since those days I’ve played in many attempts at Shadowrun games afterwards and a couple that actually had some legs.  They’re some of my favorite gaming experiences, although some of that is less about Shadowrun and more a combination of liking systems where I don’t know everything and can’t metagame, the ruthlessness of the GM which is a nice break from storytelling games sometimes, and the people I was playing with. 

Outside of the RPG realm though I haven’t been nearly as impressed with cyberpunk as a genre.  One of my friends told me that Neuromancer was the best book ever and I found it dull and uninteresting.  It almost destroyed our friendship!  My issues with my friends trying to cram Blade Runner down my throat and my rejection of it are well documented.  I hate anime and everything it stands for so Akira and Ghost in the Shell were right out.  I feel like there’s other fundamentals of the cyberpunk literary world I’m forgetting but whatever they were, I didn’t like them. 

But I’ll always have Shadowrun. 

Ela Halloween Special #4

Meanwhile at the veterinary clinic, Lucien is up and walking around, well hobbling but you know, aided by a makeshift crutch that in its former life was an IV rack for a golden retriever.

Elvis watches with concern “How does that feel?”

Lucien is puttering around at a good pace “I guess I won’t be ballroom dancing any time soon but yeah, this works. I could get used to this – it’s like having three legs.  Which doesn’t sound like much but hey, no one could beat me in Indian wrestling if I was like this all the time right?  Er, Native American wrestling?”

Elvis smiles but before he can say anything, Duke interrupts “Well there you go then, he’s fine. So tell me, does this happen a lot in America, because I don’t remember anyone saying anything to me about zombies here. Is it seasonal or what triggers the zombie bloom? Do they only come out at a certain time of the year? Why doesn’t the government do something about it?”

He breaks off with a scream as a zombie lurches through the window and clamps onto his meaty shoulder with its jagged broken teeth.  The zombie folds him in a deadly embrace and they fall to the ground locked in each other’s arms.  The undead monster biting and clawing like a feral cat being shoved into a gunny sack.  Blood is rocketing up everywhere, like a Johnny Depp Nightmare on Elm Street amount of blood. Lucien goes to help him as best he can, but more zombies are trying to fall in through the shattered window and he grabs a large metal instrument tray, shoving it in front of the broken window and blocking them off as they snarl and snap like rabid wombats. Elvis screams and backs into a corner as Duke tries vainly to fight the creature off.

Lucien puts his shoulder into the metal tray, barely keeping the tide back “For the love of god Elvis, help Duke!”

But Elvis can’t move, he watches on in horror as Duke’s struggles prove fruitless, the horrible undead thing on his back pinning him down. Elvis is unable to act as he sees the zombie swallow pieces of Duke’s arm and shoulder, watching the human meat bulge down its gullet.  Duke is hysterically shouting and Lucien looks on in agony – he can’t move from his spot or more zombies will come pouring in but he’s desperate to help Duke.  Finally Elvis springs into action, grabbing a handful of syringes and jamming them into the zombie’s back – which has about as much effect as a dry spitball.  Elvis frantically looks around the room, finally spying a fire extinguisher.  He grabs it wildly and smashes the zombie on the head again and again in a mindless frenzy.  By the time he realizes what he’s doing, the zombie’s head is nothing more than a grey pile of mush and Duke is covered with nauseating ichor.  Elvis stumbles backwards and numbly drops the fire extinguisher to the floor – staring at his bloody hands.

Duke laboriously rolls the dead (again) body off of him with a loud thump “If that happens again, don’t worry about it Elvis, take your time, there’s no hurry – its only my fucking life at stake!”

Duke lurches to his feet and lends his weight to the metal tray Lucien is leaning against, using his good arm to start wrapping up the mangled one.  He’s just about to ask what they’re going to do when the zombies figure out they can come in from the front door when Tina, Martialla, and Ela return – armed with their trusty axe (which Martialla has commandeered) and shovel.

Ela starts directing traffic “Martialla, go help hold them back.  Tina, continue being useless. Okay, our plan has been altered by circumstances outside of my control.  The new plan is just wander around aimlessly wherever zombies let us go, like teenagers avoiding a mall cop.  If we see any place that might have anything useful along the way, we’ll stop and pick it up. Okay? Okay. Let’s make like a tree and blow this pop stand.”

Tina and Elvis lead the way with Lucien and Duke bringing up the middle. Ela and Martialla hold the tray until the last second and then run after their companions, zombies pouring in after them like a gumballs out of a broken machine as soon as they let go.  In the street, they’re confronted by more zombies coming on at several different vectors. They beat feet the only way open to them and get as much distance as they can between themselves and the ravenous horde behind them.  After a minute, they stop to catch their breath.

Ela clutches at her chest “God almighty I need to do more cardio.  I need to get a Bowflex or something.”

Martialla points “Look, we can cut through the petting zoo there.”

Ela shakes her head “No, I say we head for the aquarium.  I’m not getting nibbled to death by a god damn zombie goat.  The aquarium is the best place for us to be anyway.”

Lucien leans/hops into a better position with his makeshift crutch “Why’s that?”

“Because zombies hate water, they probably won’t go in there.”

Everyone stares at her for a minute and finally Elvis asks “They do?”

Ela heads for the aquarium “Of course, that’s common knowledge.”

Duke shakes his head “You’re thinking of vampires.  And that’s running water.”

Martialla frowns “Didn’t you spray a zombie with your clown bottle and it did nothing?”

Ela glared at her, the effect only made slightly less effective on account of her clown suit “Shut up Martialla!”

Underwater Paradise, once a popular vacation destination, once a source of joy and wonderment, once a celebration of life in all its forms (well not all of them, just the aquatic ones I guess) is now the refuge of desperate people.  People numb from the shock of mind-shattering horror.  The living dead roam the streets of Sueno Beach, tireless in their search for the warm flesh of the living. Driven ever onward, unceasingly, unthinkingly, uncaringly, by their bedeviling hunger for still living.  These people, these survivors, hide out in the lobby of Underwater Paradise, crouched down behind the ticket counter.  They try to stay far away from the half-eaten remains of the hapless ticket-taker – his reward for working late.

Duke and Lucien sit together against the wall, neither of them doing so well – their injuries are starting to catch up with them. Lucien can’t move very quickly with his distorted leg, but he’s better off than Duke, who’s lost a lot of blood and is getting woozy and passouty. Across from them, Tina and Elvis are clinging to each other like scared children, which is exactly what they feel like at this moment. Fear of the dark is an elemental part of the human psyche, a lingering mental resonance from the days when we crowded around a tiny fire in a cave and prayed that whatever was lurking around at the mouth of our home would move on and leave us alone.  Most people banish it from conscious thought during childhood – but Tina and Elvis have learned that it’s never really gone for good, it just lays low and waits for a few bloodthirsty undead horrors to rear its head again.

Lucien is nodding to himself like he’s giving an internal pep talk “We’ll just lay low here a while, just get our strength back and then . . .”  He puts a hand to his stomach. “[untranslatable Canadian gibberish] I’m hungry.”

Duke’s stomach grows loudly “Don’t remind me Lucien, the smell of ice cream coming off you has been driving me nuts.”

Tins snorts “You’re the one dressed like a burrito, pal. I’ve been tempted to knock a zombie down and take a bite out of you a couple of times myself.”  For a long moment no one says anything.  “Do you think this is happening all over the place? I mean what if this isn’t just a Sueno Beach problem? What if this is going on everywhere, all over the world? We might be the only people left on earth.”

Elvis looks at his watch “It’s only been a couple hours.  Even if this is happening all over the world, we can’t be the only people left alive yet.  What about military bases and stuff? And people who are out on the sea in boats, they’d be okay.”

Duke shakes his head “They’d be fine until they got back to land.  Poor sailors, they jump onto the dock expecting to find hookers and booze and instead all they get is some dead guy chewing on their liver. I bet they’ll never see that one coming.  And that international space station, you come back home after months or years in space and instead of a parade, your dead grandma tries to eat you. That’s got to suck.  My question is this, we’ve seen a lot of dead people tonight, a lot, and almost all of them were half-eaten. What’s that about?”

Lucien glances at the fifty percent of a dead body right by them “I guess the zombies like to eat half now and save half for later. Maybe they’re on a diet.”

It’s not much of a joke but everyone cracks up laughing nevertheless.  You have to find your humor where you can when the zombies come right?  What do they call that?  Whistling past the graveyard?  Something like that.  They keep chortling until Ela steps around the corner scaring the hell out of them.

“Shut up all of you, we’re trying to hide here, hiding means being quiet. I checked the whole place out, there’s nary hide nor hair of a zombie.  I told you idiots that this would be the best place to come, zombies hate water, that is a fact.” She waves her axe around for emphasis.  “Do any of you still think I shouldn’t be the leader?  Huh, anyone?” She speaks with smug satisfaction. “I thought not.”

Tina looks up at her from her seat on the floor “If we’re the last people on earth and we need to repopulate, which one would you do it with?  Lucien, or Elvis, or Duke?”

Ela all but spits on the floor “If we had to repopulate the earth and this sorry lot was my only pool to choose from, I’d drive this axe into my skull and spare myself the trouble.  Now come on, let’s get in there where it’s safer and plan our next move.”

Ela leads the way into Underwater Paradise proper, which is empty of both the dead and the living alike.  Not too many people frequent an aquarium in the dead hours of the night, except Troy McClure and he’s both dead and fictional.  As they follow along behind their fearless leader, Lucien and Duke lean on each other and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, or crutch rather than foot as the case may be.  Elvis and Tina on the other hand seem very interested in the massive tanks that surround them on all sides, you know, it being an aquarium and all.  They finally speak up as they reach the center of the aquarium and take seats on benches by informative and brightly lit-up displays.

Elvis looks around “There aren’t any fish in these tanks.”

Tina taps on the glass like an annoying child, in flagrant violation of the “please do not tap on the tanks” sign “Where did the fish all go?”

Ela throws another clown-scowl at them “Who the hell cares?  They were probably smart enough to get out of town.  There’s no zombies here, be grateful for that and keep your mouths shut. Creepy?  We’ve been running through streets covered with blood and brains and innards, pursued by the hungry dead and an empty fish tank freaks you out?”

Duke pipes up “It is kind of spooky.”

Ela turns her withering gaze on him “Nobody asked you, Duke. Here’s our next move, we’re going to wait here and rest for a while and then we’re going out back. They’ve got them tanks back there where they keep injured marine life until it’s rehabilitated and can be released back into the wild. Those pens connect to the ocean and they’ve got a little dock out there with a couple of boats.  We’ll get on a boat and drive out a mile or so away from shore, surrounded by the safety of water on all sides.”

Elvis looks down at the dark hallway nervously “And then what?  We just wait and see what happens?”

Ela scowls at him, which she’s been doing so much her face is going to freeze that way according to my grandma “Do you have a better idea? We’ll be safe out there and right now that’s our priority. Anything else we can deal with as it comes.”

Duke laughs sarcastically “Great plan, we escape the zombies just to starve to death or die of dehydration out on the high seas.  I say before we go out on this three-hour tour we get all the food and water we can, and gasoline too. We might have to drive up the coast or to Cuba.”

Ela waves her axe as she talks again “By all means, be my guest, go out there and pop in at the supermarket for some munchies, hit the gas station, get your car detailed, and while you’re at it make sure to call home and tell momma you’re dead! Hello, mom, it’s me Duke, a zombie killed me because I wouldn’t listen to Ela!  This isn’t a shopping spree buddy, it’s a fucking life or death struggle to survive.”

Lucien cuts them off as they start to scream at each other “Wait just a minute now, let’s talk about this rationally and reasonably and Canadianly, okay? No one needs to go anywhere, we’ve got plenty of water right here.  And the sea is full of fish to eat.”

Ela sneers at the very notion “We’re going and that’s that.”

Tina gets to her feet “You know, just because you think you’re our leader that doesn’t make you the leader.  You don’t get to decide for everyone!”

Ela crowds up on her “You’re right, the fact that I’m going to save your sorry ass doesn’t make me the leader.  But you know what does make me the leader?  Because I’m Ela and you’re some washed up scabby old bitch.”

Ela Halloween Special #3

Luciens howls and scrambles forward as a zombie grabs at him relentlessly.  Crawling, hopping, and staggering after Ela with his bad leg.  He yells curses at her in Canadian for leaving him behind and eventually she stops and waits – slapping him across the face and then helping him to catch up with the others.  A few minutes later they’re together on Main Street Sueno Beach.  A street strewn with poorly parked cars, doors open and clogged with half-devoured bodies. There’s blood, bile, guts, bullets, and octane everywhere. Ela and the gang hunker down behind a mini-van in front of a movie theater – the lobby filled with more gnawed-on bodies. There don’t seem to be any zombies in this area for now, but you can hear them not too far away.

Ela is sweeping her eyes around the area alertly “Okay, here’s the plan, we need weapons, and lots of them. So what we’re going to do is . . .”

Elvis wipes at the blood seeping off Lucien’s gnarled leg with his bee-suit “Weapons? We need to get to Lucien to the hospital. His leg is bleeding badly and I don’t think I can stop it.  We need to fix him up and then we can . . .”

Ela all but spits at him “Are you stupid? What do they have at hospitals? Morgues. And what do they have at morgues?  Dead bodies. And what are zombies?  Your honor, I rest my case.  The hospital is zombie central, that’s the last place we’d want to go.”

Martialla is almost in Ela’s hip pocket she’s so close to her “Besides, all the doctors are probably dead anyway.”

Lucien is streaked with sweat and laboring “I think going to the hospital is good idea, no matter what the risk is.  Not just for [untranslatable Canadian gibberish] but for all of us.  Even if there are no doctors left there’s going to be medical supplies, bandages, painkillers and the like.  I think we’re going to need supplies like that before the night is out one way or the other.  I know I could use some prescription strength shit right now.”

Ela is rummaging around in a blood-spattered sedan “Whatever we do, I say we leave Duke to die as we do it, it’s his fault all these zombies are here anyway.”

Duke’s eyes about bug out of his head “WHAT?!”

“Oh yeah, that’s what happens buddy – you mess with Ela and the whole world goes to hell.”

He throws his arms up helplessly/angrily “How did I ever mess with you?  I never did anything to you, why do you hate me?

Ela slaps him “I said shut up.  Fine, we’ll go to the hospital, but first we need to get some weapons if we’re going to have any chance of making it there.  I’ll head to the police station. Martialla, you head to the army surplus store. John, you filthy trash-eating stink bug, you go to the hardware store. Tina, you’re going to head for the sporting goods place.  Elvis, you stay here with Lucien and watch over him.  Look for weapons that are easy to carry and don’t weigh much.”

Martialla waves her hands like a referee calling off a play “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa there lady.  I am amazed at you, split up?” She laughs incredulously. “Split up?” She laughs again, but it’s kind of fake laughing. “What is this, amateur hour? Splitting up is the worst thing we could possibly do! If we split up, they’ll pick us off one by one – we need to stay together! Above everything else we need to stay together, safety in numbers.”

Duke gets in Ela’s grill “Yeah, what gives you the right to boss everyone around?  Who died and made you pope?”

Ela shoves him back angrily “I’m the only one here who’s fit to lead.  I’m the only one here with the guts to get us out of here alive.  Who do you want to put in charge, you human cockroach?”

Elvis points “What about Lucien?”

Ela scowls “What about him?”

Martialla looks down at her injured friend “Yeah, what do you think Lucien, do you want to be in charge?”

Lucien shifts uncomfortably as all eyes turn to him “I think we should stay together and head for the hospital, if any of those places are on the way, we can stop and see what we can find. But I think either way, weapons aren’t as important as staying on the move, we should get out of here right now.”

Elvis helps pull Lucien to his feet “Great, let’s go.”

Ela, holding a tire iron she scavenged from a car looks like she’s about to say something, but just then zombies come bursting out of the shadows. The smell of human flesh fills their flapping rotten nostrils and they hungrily surge forward as fast as they can.  Ela swings the tire iron and bashes one of the zombies in the noggin – its skull bursting like an over-ripe melon and spraying her with some kind of thick, blackish liquid.

Ela looks at her comprehensively befouled clown shirt with dismay “Gross! Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit drinking.”

In their mad dash to escape, our survivors scramble over cars, slip and slide through bloody pools, dodge half-eaten corpses like they’re running through tires at football practice, and struggle to stay together.  This last part is hard because each and every time they come to a crossway, they all start to head in different directions. It turns out their argument about where to go was completely pointless because they can’t head to the hospital anyway – all they can do is go where the zombies aren’t. They end up in a veterinarian clinic, where Elvis and Duke are doing what they can for Lucien’s masticated leg while Tina looks on, concerned and useless. Ela and Martialla stand outside the front of the building keeping watch.

Lucien is gritting his teeth so hard it seems like they’re going to fly out of his head like Pez “[incomprehensible Canadian gibberish] it burns like the fires of Hades!”

Duke is sewing him up with callous disregard for his discomfort “Don’t be such a baby.”

Elvis looks on apologetically, holding Lucien’s hands for comfort “Sorry, but I don’t know anything about dog tranquilizers, I didn’t want to give you too much.”

Ela pokes her head back in through the door “So what’s the prognosis?” Lucien gives her a thumbs up with an unconvincing grimace.  “Good, finish up.” She jerks her hand at Tina. “Come on, Riverdale, we’re going to take a look around.”  They stride out together and Ela waves at Martialla to move out. “Let’s check this street out and see what’s what.”

Martialla mumbles under her breath “That’s a semantically null sentence.”

Tina looks around as she trails after them “Shouldn’t someone stay here to guard the door?”

Ela scoffs “If a zombie gets inside they’ll notice, they don’t need you to tell them about it.”

Martialla frowns “But the point of keeping a watch is to tell them before the zombies get inside isn’t it?”

Ela raises her hand “Do you want to get smacked?”

Martialla shrugs “I little, I’m not proud of it.”

Tina sighs “Can we just go die?  Getting eaten alive is better than listening to you two flirt.”

They carefully creep around to the nearby buildings – trying to stay hidden while not sure that it makes any difference to stay hidden.  How do zombie senses operate? Do they need to see you?  Any which way, keeping a low profile can’t hurt. They don’t find anything useful right away, aside from a couple of flashlights at Radioshack, but the lawn and garden store has some goodies.  Ela and Martialla are standing in an aisle arguing, as is tradition.

Martialla throws a shovel down angrily with a clang “I told you Ela, get hoes, not shovels!”

Ela purses her lips and puts her hands on her hips “Martialla, I hardly think this is the time for that kind of thing.  I admire your womanly desires, being able to keep up your carnal appetite at a time like this, but it’s not really helpful. Not to mention which, I’m sure all the prostitutes got killed already since they were out on the streets walking around, as is tradition.”

She grabs up a hoe “NOT HOOKERS you dolt!! Hoes!  Like this! You know, the kind you use in the garden?” She swings it through the air, kind of near Ela’s head.  “See that, it’s more effective as a weapon than a shovel, what are you going to do with a shovel?  Dig your own grave?”

She gets to not prove her point immediately, as zombies come busting in the big front window with much shattering of glass and moaning, scaring the holy beejeeses out of the both of them. Martialla attacks with her hoe but it gets stuck in a zombie’s chest – which doesn’t seem to inconvenience it one little bit.  Ela knocks it down with her shovel and then whacks off his head, putting an end to his flesh-eating days.  But there’s a whole heapin’ helpin’ of visceral pain coming in zombie form right behind that one, so they high tail it once more.

Ela shouts at Tina as they run past her “Incoming!”

Tina turns to follow them, but her eyes spot something and she gets a gleeful grin on her face. It’s one of them glass cases with a fire axe inside that boldly declares “Break in Case of Emergency”.  This certainly seems like it qualifies, don’t you think?

Tina smashes the glass with a flower pot and reaches through gingerly “Jackpot.” She seizes the axe like a llama attacking a waffle and turns back to the shambling horde coming up behind her.  “Who wants a piece?  You want a piece?”

Ela and Martialla have exited out the back and are out in the street ten yards or so away from the lawn and garden store, once again arguing.  Although for variety this time, they’re also wrestling over the shovel like two tweens in a jeans commercial.

Ela yanks the shovel her way “No! You are not going to lose our only weapon, Martialla!  Tina is dead! Forget about her! She’d be out here by now if she was going to come out!”

Martialla yanks the shovel back her way “We can’t leave her behind! It’s not right, just let me go back in there and check!”

Ela shakes her head and yanks the shovel back her way “Go back in there if you want, but you’re not going to get this shovel out of my hands! It’s all we have, we can’t risk it on the hopeless notion that Tina might be alive in there still. Face facts, she’s zombie-chow!  Which is more use than she ever was in life, honestly”

Martialla lets go of the shovel and Ela suddenly almost falls over backwards “You are such a coward! You never think about anyone but yourself!”

Before Ela can respond, Tina comes walking up to them with an axe over her shoulder – covered from head to toe with gore and zombie skruge “Come on, we better get back to Lucien and the others.”

Ela Halloween Special #2

Meanwhile not so far away, John “Duke” “Eagle” “Two Nicknames” Wayne is sitting on the edge of the famous Sueno Beach Founders Fountain.  Duke used to work at the video store across the street from Sueno Beach Video Rental, SB Video Premiere Rental, but they were put out of business by Ela’s underhanded tactics and violent smear campaign.  When asked why she hates Duke so much and is always trying to ruin his life, Ela will typically go on an epic, largely nonsensical, profanity-laced tirade that explains nothing.  For Ela when it comes to Duke, there is no line between “perseverance” and “insanity”. 

Which is why instead of renting out copies of Spaceballs, the Duke now hands out menus for Taqueria Viva México Restaurant all day.  Which is why he’s setting on the edge of the fountain rubbing his calves, he’s beat.  Being on your feet and dancing around to attract attention all day is bad enough, but the giant burrito costume is hot as hell in addition.  The poor bastard bakes alive in that foam rubber monstrosity under the hammer falls of the relentless Florida sun.   He shakes his head sadly and thinks back to the good old days.  Duke looks up at the sound of approaching footfalls – someone in heels from the clickity-clacking sound. “Serpent” Tina comes sashaying out of the darkness wearing a stunning green cocktail dress and holding a matching handbag. Her hair is done up in some trendy elaborate cutting edge style and she looks like an actual honest-to-god fancy lady.

Duke tugs at the overly tight crotch of the burrito suit “Well if it isn’t Serpentina, long time no see, how’s the world treating you?”

She starts to answer him, but then stumbles on her heels and pitches forward.  Duke catches her and helps her to take a seat on the edge of the fountain beside him.

She nods to him “Thanks.  Stupid heels, what kind of fucking genius ever thought that would be a good idea?  Let’s make shoes that slant forward and put tiny little stilts on the back – only a man would think of something like that. It’s almost enough to make you want to drag some random guy into the street and shoot them in the face.”

Duke looks down at her legs “They are sexy though.”

Tina slaps him sharply across the face “Shut your mouth, burrito-boy!”

Duke rubs his cheek with a wounded expression “Good to see you haven’t changed, T.  I know that I, Duke, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?”

Tina sighs heavily “I’m sorry Duke, the bodyguarding business so far has sucked worse than the new Adam Sandler movie.  Tonight I had to ‘guard’ that spoiled little asshole at his high school prom! The only reason I was there was to impress all his stupid little friends. I swear to god I’m going to break his fucking arm before this assignment is all over. The only person there my age was some hooker a kid brought as his date – what the hell am I going to talk with her about?”

Duke has a few ideas on that subject, but he wisely keeps them to himself “What kind of school has prom on Halloween?

Tina scowls “I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t prom, maybe it was homecoming or some other shit.” She throws her hands up in exasperation “How the hell am I supposed to know what it was?!  Quit asking stupid questions.”

“My kindergarten teacher told me there are no stupid questions.”

Tina snorts “Yeah, well your kindergarten teacher sounds like a moron. If things don’t get better soon I’m going to quit and come hand out flyers with you in a taco outfit – anything’s better than being some rich little snotty-nosed bastard’s dress-up doll.”

The duo is transmogrified into a quartet when Lucien and Elvis come walking up the dark streets and into the light illuminating the not at all waste of taxpayer money extravagant fountain/statue of the founders of Sueno Beach.  Elvis is wearing a bee costume, that of Sueno Beach Easyriders mascot of “Bee-Z Rider”. Why is a bee the mascot?  Who knows?  What even is an Easyrider?  A motorcycle guy? Lucien is wearing his formal whites, as befits his status as a Good Humor man.

A smile creeps onto Tina’s face at their approach “On the other hand, I suppose it could be worse.”

Elvis laughs weakly, trying and failing to find some humor in his own situation as he drops down next to them by the fountain “The dang game went into three overtimes – I thought it was never going to get over.  And after all that I found out someone broke into my locker and stole my clothes.” He plucks at his bee-suit. “I just thank god it’s Halloween and I don’t look completely stupid walking around like this.”

Lucien grins and says something in Canadian to Tina, they both cast looks in Elvis’s direction and laugh.

Elvis looks at them plaintively “What? What did you say? I like jokes, you can tell me.”

Duke looks up at Lucien “How’s the ice cream business these days?”

The big man shrugs “[Untranslatable Canadian gibberish] you know how it goes. It’s not the greatest [untranslatable Canadian gibberish] in the world, but for sure better than yours, eh? This is kind of like a little reunion we got going here, anyone know what happened to anyone else from the old days?”

Duke bites his lip as he thinks “I seem to remember hearing that most of them fell off a cliff and died on impact, I think I saw something online to that effect.” He frowns and points “And actually, that’s Ela and Martialla right there, running at us with horrified looks on their faces.”

They all look and they see Ela and Martialla come running around the corner like all the forces of hell are snapping at their heels – they’re booking like they’ve never booked before.  Almost as if their lives depended on booking so hard.  Martialla looks like she’s seen a ghost – her face white as a sheet and fearful.  Ela seems concerned for sure, but she doesn’t seem panicked – more like determined.  Ela is somewhat hampered by her one giant clown shoe and so Martialla gets there first – slamming into Lucien’s back and knocking herself on her ass as she bounces off the immovable giant of a man.

Lucien whirls around “[Angry untranslatable Canadian gibberish]”

Martialla grabs at his tree-trunk-like legs frantically “No, no, no, you have to save me, you have to protect me!  You don’t understand, they came through the glass!  And they reached! And the hands and the stink and entrails hanging out! OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD, OMIGOD! We’re all going to die!”

Ela comes skidding to a stop in front of them and yanks Martialla to her feet, slapping her crisply across the face “Get a hold of yourself, woman!”

Duke frowns “What are you talking about?”

Ela scowls at him “I’ll tell you what we’re talking about you ugly piece of garbage , we’re talking about the possible doom not only of Sueno Beach, not only of Florida, not only of the US, not only of . . .”

Lucien gulps as he also points at something “[Untranslatable Canadian gibberish] . . .”

Ela turns and looks “Yeah, that’s what we were talking about.”

On the street from where Martialla and Ela came running, a good thirty or forty shambling mounds of rotting human flesh are staggering towards them – emitting a hungry groaning sound and reaching out imploringly for sweet, sweet flesh.

Martialla joins in the pointing and shrieks like a banshee “ZOM-BIESSSSSSSS!!!”

Ela looks around wildly “Lord sweet pappy Johnson with an erection! They’re all around us!”

Indeed the walking dead are all around them, zombies relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other to move down every street towards the Founder’s Fountain and the town square.  Lucien and Duke move protectively around Martialla, Elvis, and Tina, crowding close to them and all of them fearfully clumped together. Ela hops up onto the fountain’s edge and takes a quick look around before hopping back down.

Ela addresses them like she has a powerpoint and this is the morning meeting “Alright, here’s the situation, we’ve got unholy creatures from beyond the grave closing in on us from all sides. We’ve got no transportation and no way to communicate with anyone. We have to assume that everyone else in town is already dead or has fled the area.  Now what we have to do is . . .”

Martialla jumps in the air like a startled rabbit “Hide! We have to hide! We have to get in one of these buildings and barricade ourselves in! We just have to sit tight until morning and then we . . .”

Ela grabs Martialla by the collar and slaps her several times “Are you crazy?! Didn’t you see Night of the Living Dead?!” She slaps her again and then lets her loose “What we have to do is make a run for it – don’t you remember? The red-haired chick said they should run, everyone else wanted to hole up and wait somewhere. They holed up and everyone died but her – and she made a run for it and lived.  What’s the one thing we know about zombies? Zombies are SLOW!  Ergo logic dictates . . .”

Duke is hiding behind Lucien and peeking out like a gopher “Shouldn’t we get some sheets and boil some water?”

Tina scoffs “That’s for when someone has a heart attack, not zombies.”

Elvis looks confused “I thought that was for when someone goes into labor”

Martialla’s voice is high and panicky “Okay, so what then? We just run out of town and then what? We sleep out in the middle of nowhere?! Great plan, Ela!  Here in town we can find somewhere safe, here we can find food and water and . . .”

Ela backhands her “We don’t have time to discuss this in committee!  The zombies are closing in right fucking now! We’re running and that’s that – you can stay here and die if you want Martialla, but I for one am getting the hell out of here, I choose life!”  She shakes her head sadly.  “Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit smoking.”

Lucien looks around – zombies have them surrounded on all sides about twenty feet away “And how exactly are we going to run at this point? It looks to me like our chance to run has come and gone.”

Tina also looks around, starts to make a move and trips on her heels again and stumbles to the ground with a loud exclamation.  With an angry growl, Ela yanks off one of Tina’s shoes and hurls it with a guttural shriek of rage.  The shoe flies straight and true, the heel burying itself several inches deep in the eye socket of a zombie.  Not only that, but the power of the throw rips its head clean off and sends the aforementioned head spinning through the air, spattering a putrid black mist of blood and other unmentionable fluids in all directions. The zombie body drops like a ton of bricks, and the other zombies nearby immediately jump on him and start feasting.  Ela is surprised for one second, but then she runs like a startled jackrabbit.

She waves for her companions follow her “Come on!  Move it, you dogs!”

Lucien immediately follows after her, the majority of the zombies on that street pre-occupied with eating their fallen brother. The other four follow after a stunned moment of inaction.  Ela agilely leaps over the pile of zombies feasting like a graceful hare and is confronted by two more like a demented jack in the box.  She viciously swings Tina’s other shoe at one of them, the heel punching through its skull and sending it down like a marionette with cut strings.  The other one grabs her and she starts pummeling it with useless punches.  As it bites at her, Lucien flies over the pile and slams into the zombie, knocking it sprawling. The rest catch up and they hurry away.

Ela is gasping for air but manages to speak “Well, we know that high heeled shoes will kill them, but we’re all out of those so we need to know what else works.”

Ela yelps as a crawling zombie seizes her ankle and she takes a bad tumble – Lucien tripping over her as well.  Elvis manages to avoid getting tangled up in the mess as Martialla and Duke go down in the pile as well.  Elvis is immediately confronted by a pack of zombies coming around the corner – a few of them still munching on quivering limbs.  He screams in terror and back-pedals, throwing a piece of his bee costume at them.  Ela pops back to her feet and lets loose with her clown seltzer bottle. Surprisingly, these deadly attacks have little effect. They’re done for it seems, but Lucien comes charging to the rescue – bowling the zombies over like pins. He starts throwing them with mighty sinews and broad manly shoulders, which doesn’t seem to hurt them, but it does keep them off-balance.

Martialla gets to her feet, dusting herself off “Well now we know water doesn’t hurt them.”

Ela scowls at her “Shut up Martialla, you never know until you try.” She addresses the group, oblivious to Lucien struggling with a mob of zombies left and right behind her.  “Now, does anyone have anything else we can use as a weapon?’

Duke checks his pockets “I don’t think so.”

Martialla also checks her pockets “No.”

Ela gives Tina a hard look “Aren’t you a bodyguard?  Don’t you have a gun or something?”

Tina scowls back at her “Does it look like I could hide anything in this get up?”

Elvis points behind Ela where Lucien is struggling with six zombies “Uh, shouldn’t someone be helping Lucien? He looks like he’s getting a little tired.”

Duke points back the other way “Yeah, and we have a lot of zombies coming up from that way too.”

Ela takes off running again “Come on, you idiots!”  They take off running as Lucien is hurling zombies around like rag dolls. “Stop fooling around and come on, Blue!  We have to go!”

Lucien turns to say something to her and a zombie on the ground chomps into his calf like a kid at weight loss camp biting into a Klondike Bar.  Lucien’s eyes bug out and he screams at the top of his lungs, falling to the ground in front of the rampaging zombie horde. Ela quickly runs over and kicks them off, grabbing Lucien and hauling him up to his feet with a massive lunge.  As they run, one zombie catches a fistful of Ela’s hair.  She pulls away, leaving it with just a handful of her lovely auburn strands.  Lucien hobbles along leaning on her heavily – at this speed they aren’t much faster than the zombies.

Lucien gasps in pain “I’m done for Ela, I can’t go on. Leave me, I’ll never make it anyway, save yourself.”

Ela drops him like a bad habit and springs away like a wily alpaca “You got it pal.”

Lucien sighs “I should have seen that coming.”

Ela Halloween Special #1

Sueno Beach, despite its many charms (and it boasts many) has the poor fortune of having been founded on the sacred burial ground of a group of Miccosukee vampire werewolves who were viciously slaughtered during their most magical of rituals by a roving band of Spanish Conquistadores witches. Spanish Conquistadores is redundant you say?  Shows what you know about conquistadores. 

Needless to say (yet here I am saying it) because of this poor location, the charming beach community is super cursed.  Also their symphony is second rate at best. At best.  This story of Sueno Beach begins with a lass named Martialla – ha, you thought it was going to be Ela didn’t you!  Didn’t you?!  A woman of grit and determination like her managed to lock down a plum job at Sueno Beach Video Rental.  In the morning meeting once, Martialla mentioned that maybe they should get a more creative name, but the teenager that runs the place never listens to her.  Why does a video store need a morning meeting?  Good question.

Martialla has had a long day renting people copies of Harry Potter and the Mummy Returns and she’s glad it’s closing time.  She thinks to herself “What kind of video store stays open until midnight anyway? Especially on Halloween. Especially on the anniversary of all those kids being killed and drained of blood by Charlie Sheen” as she starts to close things down. She’s just finished up vacuuming when the bell on the door chimes and she turns her head.  As she does almost every night at closing, Ela has come to visit her good friend Martialla.  As befits a woman of such great talents as she can claim, Ela was able to secure a pretty sweet gig herself as a party clown, which I think we can all agree is much better than the standard non-party clown.  I knew a guy they called Party Clown in college.  He was douche.

Martialla nods to Ela as she’s wrapping up the vacuum cord “Hey buddy, how goes it?”

Ela hops up on the counter and helps herself to some licorice, not real licorice but you know, the good red stuff “I tell you Martialla, people think that clowning is all fun and games, but it’s hard god damn work. The kids are bad enough, little monsters, but it’s the fathers that wear me out.  Why the hell do so many men want to bone a clown?” She shakes her head.  “It’s brutal man.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a balloon octopus and fight off a gross dad at the same time?  Because I do.”   She takes off one of her big shoes to scratch her foot.

Martialla rolls the vacuum into a storage closet “I don’t know what to tell you, I guess men are suckers for a woman in uniform.”  She grabs her jacket from behind the counter.  “We’re out of here, you want to grab some Chinese or something?”

“Yeah” she jerks her head towards the big glass.  “But I think you got some customers first”

Annoyed, Martialla goes over to tap on the closed sign “Can’t you read?  We’re closed, piss off!  You’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to rent Riding in Cars with Boys.”

Outside several dozen people stand by the window.  Well, not BY the window, smushed into the window like toys in a claw game – their hands and faces bumping up against the glass as if they don’t realize it’s there and they don’t know what’s stopping them from moving forward.  Their oily flesh squeaks loudly against the glass as they shuffle back and forth, their hands probing and their cheeks dragging across the glass. Martialla can just barely hear them making a low groaning sound – very subtle – as if they’re in some kind of pain.  It’s too dark to get much of a look at them, but Martialla has a very bad feeling about this.  She backs up a few steps and waves Ela over.

Martialla continues backing up slowly “Uh . . .  do these guys seem alright to you?”

Ela puts her face against the glass and puts her hands up around her eyes to peer out into the night at the people literally inches away from her “Two arms, two legs, one head – everything seems to be in order to me.  Hey, wait a minute, wait a second”. She looks harder.  “I’m not sure, but I think one of these guys out there is wearing suspenders and a belt!” She turns and laughs heartily.  “What a moron!  Wearing a belt and suspenders is wildly redundant!” She glances back “Oh, and one guy has his guts hanging out. There’s a woman missing half her face, a dude with no foot, and I can see that guy’s ribcage.  Now that I mention it, many of them look pretty fucked up in some fashion or another.” She turns back to Martialla again. “But other than that, they all seem normal enough.” She chuckles. “What kind of idiot wears suspenders AND a belt? It’s wholly unnecessary! What will these poor fools think of next? Glasses AND a monocle? That actually sounds pretty cool now that I say it.”

Martialla is still backing up with a horrified look on her face as the glass shatters violently and the people stumble into the store – some of them falling face-first into the ground like inanimate objects, not throwing out their arms or trying to catch or protect themselves in any way.  But they’re all moving sure enough, writhing and grasping and lurching into the store. They’re people – or at least they used to be – all of them with whitish-gray skin in various stages of decomposition. Their groaning gets louder and more urgent as they reach for Ela with fetid, rotting hands tipped with blackened and cracked fingernails.

Ela stumbles backwards into a rack of videos and sends dozens of copies of Monsters Inc. flying in all directions “Sweet sassy molassy!”

Martialla is standing gawking with arms at her sides, shocked into paralysis, as one of the festering corpses on the ground reaches and grabs her by the leg.  Ela manages to beat it off (not like that) with her big shoe and then she scrambles to her feet and runs for it.  One of the hideous things grabs at her, catching the white ruffle of her clown outfit, but it breaks off and Ela runs like a bat out of Hell.

Ela waves frantically at Martialla as she sprints “Go, go, go! Run for your life Martialla, it’s the day of swine and roses!” She blows past the still stunned Martialla.

Martialla finally comes to her senses as the ambulatory cadavers shuffle towards her with their arms outstretched and their disgusting rot-filled mouths hungrily open and spilling maggots like the cookie monster spills cookie crumbs (plentifully if that wasn’t clear).  One of the walking dead reaches out, inches away from touching her with its stinking zombie paw, but she shoves over a rack of new releases that knocks the creature to the ground.  Martialla finally takes off after Ela as the other horrible things crawl over their fallen comrade in their eagerness to get their hands on some warm living flesh. Martialla and Ela haul some major ass out the back door and into the night.

I hate you and I fear you but I hold open the door

Gollum’s horse-deer came sliding to a stop about ten yards away from us.  It didn’t seem to be well suited for riding, it was more like when a little kid rides a dog.  Or when Johnny Depp rides a capybara into the pool at Kiefer Sutherland’s house.  He (the spindly dude not the furry horse) seemed more curious about us than afraid, but he wasn’t going to be coming any closer either.  His clothing looked like it was burlap or canvas or something coarse like that.  His feet were all gnarled and bloated so much I’m not sure you could have gotten a normal shoe or a boot over it – ironically it looked like the “boot” print we found earlier was some kind of sandal that he had attached to his foot like a horseshoe.

He had a pouch/pocket with a tool of some kind sitting in it, I wouldn’t call it a knife, it was more like a sharpened rock.  What it looked like was one of those things you see in a museum in the Neanderthal exhibit, a scraper I guess they call them.  I don’t know if it was intended to be a weapon but he kept his hand close to it most of the time.  Every few moments he touched the “handle” like you see someone patting their wallet to make sure it’s there.   

He wasn’t as hard to understand as the traders but it was still a struggle.  He mumbled, combined, contracted, and truncated words seemingly at random.  I swear that he kept asking us if we were men, which makes absolutely no sense.  Martialla?  Maybe.  If you just caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of your eye she’s mannish enough that you might make that mistake until you looked right at her. Which you wouldn’t because you’d be looking at me.  Because there is no way anyone would ever think I was a dude.  I was number thirty-seven on Maxim’s hot one hundred last year!  I guess everyone on that list is dead so I suppose I’m number one now.  Which is nice for me.   Number one baby!

After that I’m ninety percent sure that he asked us if we were cars.  After a lot of back and forth and pantomime we determined that he does know what a car is, same as us, but it was too hard to figure out what he was trying to ask about them.  We asked if there were still cars or how he knows about them and he looked at us like a dog looks at an answering machine when it hears its master’s voice coming from it.  This communication problem is going to get really old really fast.  The one thing we did understand is when he asked us why we had masks on.  We told him it was because of the air and he sniffed a bit and then shrugged.  I don’t know why exactly, but seeing such a normal human gesture like that almost made me cry.  It was a gesture that wasn’t like we were in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, it was more like I had just asked someone what time the Scorpion King was playing and they didn’t know.   

I asked him about the guy with the potato head that killed the trader and he got all bent out of shape.  I think what he said was that lumpy is one of the invincible and that’s why he (spindly not lumpy) was out there – scouting for his village to see how far Mr. Potatohead and his potatohead friends had come into their valley.  He didn’t seem jazzed about them being so close.  We tried to ascertain what he meant exactly by “invincible” but that was lost in translation.  Or maybe he was just too agitated to pay attention.  He wanted us to come back to his village so we could tell “Kway” what we had seen.   

Following him seemed like a bad idea, but it was also the reason we were out there.  The only choices we have now are likely going to be bad ones.  We agreed to go with him and he turned his animal, which is more the size of a pony than a horse or a deer close up, and we followed.  Its tail wasn’t really like that of a horse or a deer, it was more like a short lion tail – smooth and then a big puff of hair like a horse’s mane at the end.  

Martialla looked over at me “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” 

“Almost never.” 

“Maybe we were asleep for a lot longer than a hundred years.  I mean what the hell is this animal?  It would take millions of years for a new species to evolve!” 

I frowned “Who the hell knows?  Maybe when they blew up the Coca-Cola bottling plant all the chemicals got in the water and that sped up the evolutionary process.  Like what happened to Joker in the Batman.” 

She stared at me “I don’t even know how to respond to that statement.” 

As we trailing along behind him our new friend chattered away over his shoulder, mostly about how he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers and how brave he was for doing so.  Seems like he might be a kid.  It’s hard to tell based on his appearance but he acts like a kid.  Although would you send a kid out to scout for lumpy-headed murderers?  You might if you didn’t like him too much.  We passed through an area of tall grass and I could hear something moving parallel to us.  I caught sight several times of some mean looking dog.  Our guide didn’t seem concerned in the least though, he said that we were too big to be attacked by “daws”.   

As we got closer to the lake, we noticed that the plumes of smoke we had seen from the hills were coming from there too.  Eventually we saw some villages.  And by villages I guess I mean ramshackle collections of huts clustered around very rickety looking docks out into the greasy water.  The huts had some scraps of metal and tattered plastic in them, but they were mostly made up of sticks and mud it seemed like.  I’m not sure what good they would even do.  Being in a mud house during the rain seems worse than just being rained on.

The lake stank like it was a chemical factory or something.  Dead fish or toxic waste, that you expect in a lake smell, but this was like an oil refinery.  I felt like I might puke at any moment – which would really suck when you have a mask on.  Sure, I have no idea what an oil refinery smells like, but this is what I assume it smells like.  From a distance, the water looked murky and gross but up close it looked like a tar pit mixed with vinaigrette mixed with a trout smoothie.   

Our arrival caused quite a stir.  The tiny dirty people poking the water with long sticks all ran out at us like it was a Viking raid.  Our guide, who may have told us his name somewhere in his gibberish, rode forward, presumably to calm them down, and was promptly yanked off his animal and tossed to the ground like a sack of dirt. 

The yanker looked like the only one of the bunch to top five feet and was looking marginally less scrawny, while being no less dirty.  He had a bunch of rags wrapped about his head and his stick looked more like an actual spear instead of just a long pointed pole – clearly a leader.  I can’t articulate the difference between a pointy stick and a spear but you know it when you see it.  He used said spear to poke at our new friend with the non-pointy end and bark at him as he lay on the ground arguing with him. 

Martialla looked over at me “Should we do something?” 

“The bossman is clearly not happy to see us, I feel like intervening would make things worse.”  I looked around at the compost heap of a village “I’m not sure if I should feel relieved or insulted that they don’t want us here.” 

I need you and I want you cause I know you from before

We came to a point where the brush cleared out enough to give us a good view of the surrounding area from on high.  We saw a low sprawling complex that Martialla thought might be the Sierra Army Depot. An army depot seemed to me like the kind of place we would want to check out, but Martialla said that if there was anything there, it would have been looted a long time ago.  She sure has a lot more opinions now than she did back in the real world.  I went along with it, because why not?  There may not have been anything there regardless since Martialla said that she thought that it was a facility where the EPA made sure the government decommissioned military explosives in an ecologically friendly way.  Who knew that was a thing? 

I pointed at a low sludgy-looking body of water in a vaguely ragged W shape “I don’t remember any big lakes around here, have we traveled farther than I think?” 

Martialla shook her head “No we haven’t gone far, but things are bound to be different after a hundred years.  Topography changes a lot more than you think.” 

“It has NOT been a hundred years.” 

She looked over at me “Why do you refuse to believe that?” 

“Mostly because I don’t want it to be true.  But if you want logic, there’s no way that facility could have survived a hundred years without anyone around doing maintenance.  Things don’t last long, as you keep telling me.”  I gestured. “Not even the landscape it seems.” 

“Lasting a long time is kind of what it was designed for.  Plus we don’t know what happened Ela, maybe people were living there until a few years ago.  What do you reckon?  Head for the disturbingly dirty-looking water?  Or that?” She lifted her chin in the direct of a curl of smoke lower down the hills. “Or keep on the trail?” 

“As long as the trail is going vaguely in the same direction as both of them, we might as well stay on it.” 

The trail wound down in a switchback until the vegetation petered out and tipping plants gave way to slipping rocks.  Scree I think they call that.  At that point there was no real trail anymore.  Which left us standing there with no real direction.  We both looked around for a while, I think we were both waiting for the other one to say something.  I was about to suggest turning towards the water (without having a good understanding of where it was) when I spotted movement crashing our way through the brush overland.

There had been a disturbing lack of animal life.  There were a few bugs, but not enough.  Not that I love bugs but you know what I mean.  You walk through the wilderness, tons of bugs should be jumping on you.  I didn’t see or hear a single bird either.  It was unsettling.  As long as there are plants, and there are tons of those, there should be an ecosystem right?  Little critters eating the plants and bigger critters to eat them.  It was a surprising relief just to see something else besides us that was alive (besides plants, I know plants are alive, I’m not an idiot).

I pointed it out to Martialla “Is that a horse?”

She put her hand up to her mask to peer “I’d say a deer maybe, except with no neck.  I think it belongs to someone, whatever it is.”

“Why do you say that?”

“It has cloth on its hooves.”

I squinted through my dusty mask and saw that it did have some kind of coarse sacks on its legs “Oh yeah, why would you do that?  To muffle the noise of hoofbeats?  Is it a stealth horse like a stealth bomber?”

“Uh, I guess if you don’t have horseshoes maybe you’d do that?”

“How do you think they ever came up with horseshoes anyway?  Who figured that it would be fine to put nails in a horse’s foot?  And how did they get that first horse to go along with that program?  How many people were kicked to death before they got that right?”

“They probably tried it with a dead horse first.”

“After beating it?”

Before she could answer (if she was going to) we saw the presumed rider of the beast clamber over a boulder into view.  It moved slowly and spindly-ly like one of those rain forest frogs you see on the TV very slowly walking up and down trees instead of hopping around like a normal frog.  I guess it was a person but it looked more like that Gollum monster from the Lord of the Rings.  Only with clothes on.  And let me tell you, if there was anyone who should have been wearing a shirt in those movies it was Gollum. 

Martialla whispered to me “Now, we don’t want to spook him . . .”

I lifted my mask enough to cup my hands “Hey you!”

He was startled.  To put it mildly.  His reaction was like he had never heard a noise before.  It was like what I imagine someone would do back in the old days of the electric chair when they threw the switch.  After he was done freaking out he jumped on his deer-horse (no saddle) and it looked like he was going to gallop away but instead he came racing at us at what I would call a breakneck speed. 

Martialla sighed “Good job not spooking him.”

“Hey, it worked didn’t it?”

She drew one of the guns “Remains to be seen.”