by Kevin McClintock
First it had been the big
man’s penis. After that, his oversized right ear. Pretty soon, because that maddening ticklish sensation was back again,
it would likely be the index finger from his left hand. So yeah, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to note that poor
Jobe was dying — sooner, sadly, rather than later. And the boy really didn’t seem to mind it that much, all things
considered, since that was the type of guy good ‘ol Jobe was.
See, when he’d lost
his “pee-pee,” as he’d lovingly called it, it hadn’t even phased the big blond brute because, at the
tender age of 34, he’d never used the thing the way God had intended it to be used, and thanks to his rather brutal
looks, likely never would. And his ear wasn’t that big of a deal since Jobe was deaf and dumb to the normal ways of
the world suddenly upended on its ass. As for that index finger, well, he didn’t use those ten gangly things to write
with. And if one couldn’t write — couldn’t even grasp a pencil or pen — than what was the use of it,
or any of them, here in the end?
So no tears stained Jobe’s
two reddish cheeks when his friends blanketed him with their shadows, and told him the bad news with downcast eyes and quivering
lower lips. Jobe just grinned up at their semi-circled faces, slobbering from the corner of his mouth.
As they slowly moved away
from him — a few in the group visibly weeping now — Jobe turned his attention back to his Tonka toys spread out
in front of him, surrounded as he was by the looted, quiet town. He busily cranked up the Tonka crane to help hollow out a
long trench in the gravel. The yellow Tonka dump truck obediently hauled off an oversized mound of spill.
So maybe this was good —
here in the end. Good that poor Jobe never heard the gunshot. Good that he didn’t have to suffer for very long.
Even before the single blast
from the silver Magnum had bounced off a ruined collection of storefront buildings like an overzealous pinball, tall and dark-faced
Doc Smith slowly thumbed off his eyeglasses with a long and drawn out sigh. He forced himself not to stare directly at Jobe’s
body, whose right leg was sporadically twitching like a brained fish at the bottom of a boat. He couldn’t ignore the
thin rope of blood spraying nearly four feet of broken pavement, however — the stuff of which modern nightmares were
Around Doc Smith and his smoking
pistol, the silent weeping had quickly shifted into long and mournful howling, as intense in sound as anxious canines at full
A lone figure broke away from
the group, gingerly stepping over that lone smear of blood. Fingers reached down and closed Jobe’s opened eyes. Next,
those same fingers tenderly brushed aside a lock of unruly blonde hair.
“It will happen,”
the man whispered softly to himself — to the others nearby. He wore the garb of a priest. In his left hand clutched
a worried copy of the Holy Book. Around his neck, glinting sunlight, hung a heavy gold cross.
Doc Smith grunted. Behind
him, the others wailed.
The Reverend reached out and
gripped Jobe’s hand. He then bent his head to pray, under his breath, where only he and the dead could hear.
Comely Susan Beckett, the
27-year-old who had raised Jobe like her own, neither prayed nor avoided gazing at the third bloody eye set dead-center in
the man-child’s forehead. She instead cried onto John MacIntyer’s chest, delicate hands beating against his fuzzy-filmed
back. The man cooed into Susan’s ear, stroking her like a kitten.
The other individuals comprising
their group of eleven continued to stare at the murdered Jobe, to wipe away clean tears, cry into hands, or glare daggers
at the man holding the gun.
And the man holding that pistol,
Doc Smith, flung those deadly scowls right back into their faces. His’ was a cold glower — easily reflecting the
hot and emotionally drenched grimaces hurled at him.
And so they waited.
The wind restlessly billowed
about, a low moaning sound echoing across the empty streets. Bits and pieces of trash rode the invisible waves down side avenues.
In the distance, a dog mournfully howled.
“Why?” Doc Smith
finally snarled, answering the foul looks he was receiving from the others. He locked eyes with Mike, with Rob, with Doug
and Marilyn and John. “Why d’ya look at me like that? Y’ll act as if you’re innocent. As if you’ve
witnessed a murder here today.”
Nobody answered him, except
with those damned darting eyes and nervous, shuffling feet.
Doc Smith shook his head,
spitting out a smelly ball of mucus and tobacco. “Didn’t we all agree on Jobe last night?”
Nobody dared to voice their
opinions. Nonetheless, Doc Smith looked smugly satisfied.
They knew. Some of them may
try desperately to smother the memory of Jobe’s dead body deep down inside them, where things like this hurt the most
but could sometimes be forgotten. But they damn well knew…
… For the vote around
the fire last night had been unanimous.
As Doc Smith glowered, the
Reverend continued to pray softly with a rusty voice badly in need of a whiskey shot. The others milled about in uneven groups,
speaking softly, or weeping, or swaying silently in the cold November drizzle. Their shadows created hopscotch patterns across
the slick pavement, while the rain turned the spilled blood next to Jobe a rusty orange.
In the distance, the lonely
dog howled again, perhaps answering the sudden bark of Doc Smith’s gun. The sound oozed down an unnamed street, which
had once served as the main drag for a town whose name, too, had long been forgotten.
First with surprise, then
slowly with dismay, and finally detonating into growing alarm — the group discovered that Jobe lay unmoving and silent
at the side of the street. That his corpse hadn’t moved a single inch from its bloody sprawl near the two Tonka toys
and gravel pit.
At last, somebody had to speak.
As usual, it was the aggressive Doc Smith taking the inititive.
former police chief barked, easing the gleaming Magnum from his frayed coat. “He hasn’t moved.”
“But he hasn’t.”
The man shrugged.
“You said he would.”
The Reverend shrugged again.
by now,” Doc Smith pressed. “Yet he hasn’t moved — has he?” He looked around at the others.
Nobody said a word.
“So,” Doc Smith
said, confronting the priest once again. “Why hasn’t Jobe moved?”
The Reverend clutched his
gold-plated cross. Then, he strangely shook his head — fourteen curt, violent shakes in all. His hands vibrated from
nervous exertion. “We mustn’t hesitate. It will happen. He wouldn’t lie. He’s incapable of lying!
But we must continue. In order, and without cost. Believe in your God!”
Some individuals in the milling
mob were now quietly sobbing. Others stole sharp glances at the hard-faced Doc Smith, wondering if the terror had finally
come to a halt. Sadly, they saw Doc Smith nodding at the Reverend’s frantic words. Worse, they saw him heft his huge,
heavy pistol. Their hopeful expressions turned woeful in seconds.
Nearby, Marilyn shied away
from the man of law with a short, sharp cry. Regardless, the pistol still found her. It thundered in his fists. The woman
collapsed into a boneless heap, most of her lower jaw erased in a spray of bloody gristle. His shot, unfortunately, wasn’t
a clean one. And poor Marilyn, in the quivering heap that she now was atop the bone-cold pavement of the road, still lived.
And still screamed, somehow — despite missing the lower half of her face. So with a drawn-out sigh, Doc Smith calmly
stood over the woman, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. The rest of the poor woman’s face disintegrated.
Again, there were wails of
horror and revulsion, and too many spilled tears to count. Again the rest of the group huddled together, and shivered from
the numbing frost. There, they chased looks back and forth, between Jobe’s old dead body, and Marilyn’s new one.
And they waited, of course. And waited, for roughly 40 minutes, they waited. And though it had been less than an hour since
Jobe had sat happily with his toys in a puddle of his own spittle, not a single arm had twitched, eye rolled over, or sharp
breath taken. The two corpses were dead to the world, which was the way things were supposed to be.
Except it wasn’t supposed
to be like this. At least, not in the Reverend’s feverish mind. Nonetheless, he was at it again, pacing and fuming,
swining his Bible like a weapon, urging the men and women around him to stick to the plan. To always “stick to the plan!”
Hairy-backed John MacIntyer
now looked shaken — even scared. The night before, the former auto mechanic had been chosen third for today’s
ritual. At the time — warm from the fire, whiskey in his belly and a naked Susan soon straddling his face — nobody
thought this hand-chosen order meant a shitpoke. The Reverend, after all, had been so convincing in his arguments —
so emotional in his beliefs — that they’d all privately figured the only member of their group that would likely
be falling to Doc Smith’s handgun this morning would be poor Jobe. It was unthinkable to think any of the Reverend’s
visions and prophesies could somehow fail.
But they had — at least
for now. And the lottery had taken not just Jobe’s life, but Marilyn’s, as well. And still the Reverend called
for more sacrificial lambs. And still Doc Smith’s gun glinted sickly sunlight, seeking its next victim.
Which is exactly the reason
why John chose that moment to make a run for it. He pushed aside the blubbering Susan with a growled “Bitch!”
and made a long, scrambled dash for a nearby abandoned Shell gas station. He figured he’d stand a better chance there,
where four solid walls would help neutralize the advantages of Doc Smith’s big, barking gun.
And he damn near made it.
Behind him, Doc Smith’s
hand cannon boomed three times. The first bullet missed, pulverizing a section of the station’s brick exterior. The
second blew off the bottom portion of John’s left leg. The third one got him where it counted — just below the
skull. John didn’t scream. Didn’t even cry out. He simply grunted once, softly, and fell sloppily into the muddy
The sound of that third bullet
kissing the back of John’s neck — a hollowed, muffled thwack — sent chills down even Doc Smith’s spine.
Which was a bit surprising, truth be told, since he’d been exposed to such disturbing sounds for most of his adult life,
and had come to love them, like a woman’s sneeze or a bird’s morning call.
Now three bodies dotted the
ground, in various spots and in various poses. Breaths were subsequently held. Snatches of prayers were hungrily seized by
the howling wind and flung haphazardly to the west. Pleas from the lips of those clustered together in a frightened mass urged
God to animate the bodies like the living, so they’d be spared a painful death from Doc Smith’s huge, silver gun.
One of the most urgent voices
thrown into the wind was that of delicate Annessa Fitzgerald. The night before, the 18-year-old had pulled from the black,
felt-tip bag a single, .357 Magnum cartridge. On its silver, shiny hide had been smeared the number ‘4’, signifying
her order in today’s brutal lottery.
said, collapsing onto the pavement. “Oh God please no!”
Doc Smith calmly reloaded
“It has to be done,”
the Reverend spoke to her, like a smug father to a petulant daughter. “Don’t you see? This is God’s will!
He’s foreseen this necessary waste — these noble sacrifices, and He’s—”
The holy man’s spittle-laced
words were sharply cut off by the bang of the gun. A good chunk of Annessa’s heart and left breast splattered the road,
which instantly steamed like fresh road kill.
And for the fourth time that
morning, everything was repeated — the wails, the curses, and the frantic calls for the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and
the Holy Ghost.
Then came the pause —
always the pause.
Then the boom of the
gun — always the angry boom of the gun.
Taylor dropped. Then Rob.
Then Doug. Then Thelma. Then Sharon. And then the others, one by one by one.
Above, a few scattered birds
flew. Around them, flies dropped to feast. And below? Ants were on the determined march.
Doc Smith rocked back and
forth on his feet, though only he and the Reverend remained standing, the latter still clutching his worn Bible close to breast.
“It will happen!”
he pleaded to Doc Smith, his head haloed by foggy clouds. “I was told this! In my dreams!”
Doc Smith stood there, chewing
his tobacco cud. At his sides, bloodied hands clenched, unclenched — clenched again, unclenched.
“You must be believe
me, Smith!” The Reverend’s voice was almost pleading now, each word ending with a panicked, almost hysterically-sounding
curl. “To lie would be to blaspheme the Holy Word!”
Smith just nodded.
“It has to happen.”
Smith slipped a hand inside
“It’s proven through
His Word, goddammit!”
Sickly sunlight splashed off
the shiny Magnum.
“Smith — you believe,
Doc Smith noted the Reverend’s
wild terror, then scratched an itch at the end of his nose with the barrel of his gun.
“God damn you to Hell,
Smith! You’ve seen! Seen with your own eyes the… the acts I’m talking about here! You know that once you
die, you’ll rise again.”
“Yes,” Doc Smith
The Reverend eagerly nodded.
“Yes! Yes! You’ve seen it. You’ve killed them! With your gun. Dozens of ‘em. And you saw me…
trying to do what my brothers have tried and failed to do when faced with the Hellspawn! That… that by crying the words
of the Bible doesn’t… that screaming the words—” Here, the Reverend’s voice suddenly shifted
into a high squeak, cords rippling along his neck and forehead as he thrust out that worn Bible in front of him like a Crusader’s
shield. “Go back to Hell!! This is Holy ground!! In the name of God the father, Jesus the Christ and the
Holy Spirit — be gone with you and all other demons! Demons that come to mock the powers of the Lord Savior! In the
end, it is He who mocks! It is HE who shall govern the Earth! Your kind will be lost to the bottomless
pit! To fall and burn and writhe in fires and the flames for all eternity!”
Doc Smith just stared at him.
Exhausted and spent, the Reverend
slumped. When he next spoke, it was a sagging croak. “So… so why is it—”
Smith finished for him.
The Reverend weakly nodded.
In Smith’s left hand,
the gun flashed. His right hand clenched, then unclenched. He stood there for nearly a minute, doing that — simply clenching
and flashing; unclenching and flashing.
“I don’t know,”
Smith finally growled. “I really don’t. Wish I did, Reverend. Sure as hell wish I did. But it hasn’t happened.”
The Reverend’s cheeks
billowed — breath puffing and fading in the stagnant air.
Smith approached the holy
“Smith?” the Reverend
openly pleaded now. “Smith? What do we do now?”
Doc Smith drawled, spitting a squirt of soggy tobacco grains. “Guess we should stick to the plan, right?”
“Stick to the lottery
“Do as our God has foretold?”
“Wait Smith, wai—”
Doc Smith lifted the pistol
and shot the man in the face.
Once his body has ceased its
various convulsions and voidings, Doc Smith sat down on the curb, near Jobe’s cooled body, and rested his chin on his
arms, which were themselves propped up atop his knees.
Here, he waited for the dead
The sun was waning in the
west before Smith saw Jobe twitch. He watched Jobe’s left leg curl, then uncurl. A hand clench. Then the stomach lurch,
as if regurgitating. Too soon, the man-child’s eyes flicked open.
Even as Jobe struggled to
his feet, Marilyn’s nearly decapitated form jerked, as if connected to juiced electrodes. Arms and legs madly twitched,
flopping atop the road’s pavement.
Doc Smith rose to his feet
and carefully propped a thin sheet of cardboard against a pile of broken bricks, making sure the scribbled message faced outward,
toward Jobe and Marilyn and the others. Next, Smith dropped next to this sign two hunting rifles, four shotguns, and three
Done, he went back to his
warm little spot on the curb, sat, sipped a mouthful of water from a nearly iced-over canteen — and prayed for their
plan to work.
The lucky ones were the poor
bastards evaporated in the nuclear blasts — Doc Smith and the others knew that now. But not at first, not when the nukes
fell around them like a hard rain. It was the poor souls caught gawking up into the skies, gawking until their flesh peeled
away, who stole the hearts of those who struggled during the hellish aftermath.
But not for long.
Soon, those killed in the
blast were considered the lucky ones, because now a good majority of those who escaped the mushroom clouds couldn’t
outrun the poisoned air.
But not for long.
Now, the survivors of both
the falling nukes and the radiation-spiked winds envied these prior victims with heart and soul. Though they’d proven
immune to both blast and radiation, they’d proven very vulnerable to the claws of the animated dead.
Humans had lost this war the
very first seconds the dead decided to pop their ugly heads up from the soil. In a war like this, it was reproduction rates
— and not politics, or popularity polls, or Congressional hearings — that won wars. And humans simply couldn’t
keep up. When a deadhead killed, for example, its victims rose again to kill. When a human died — well, they just stayed
that way, slowly rotting away. So humanity was losing. Or at least losing the war in the “conventional” sense
of the word. Long ago, minds had abandoned fighting them “nose-to-nose” and “toe-to-toe.” It was time
to find new ways to overcome them; by using whatever means humans had at their disposal.
Like Reverend’s benevolent
Hell, many in their group
had called the Reverend nothing short of a religious fanatic. But now, here in the end, Doc Smith only prayed the holy man’s
visions of an army of good and noble undead was true, and not figments of a sick man’s imagination.
Sucking down another mouthful
of water, the man of law carefully watched Jobe growl something unrecognizable into the air. The corpse moved, slow and stiff,
bones sounding like matchsticks scraping together. The thing looked from one dead body to the next. It locked on Marilyn for
a spell, watching coldly as she bonelessly climbed to her feet.
Then Jobe noticed Doc Smith,
squatting as he was at the side of the road. He also drank in the images of the cardboard sign (Go to Eagletail, it instructed,
to make battle with the hundred or so zombies gathered there), as well as the scattering of nearby weapons.
It ignored the sign. Ignored
its words. Even ignored the guns.
It didn’t, however,
ignore Doc Smith.
It lurched forward a few steps
toward Marilyn, as if gaining momentum. It then pivoted and stumbled toward the squatting Smith. Halfway there, Jobe put on
the brakes, turning to glance down at the sign. Nearby, Doc Smith watched those dead brown eyes scan the words, and then the
weapons lying near the dead man’s Keds.
Then Jobe resumed its walk
Despite every fiber of his
body urging him to rise and run, he stayed put — clenching unclenching clenching unclenching as the monster—
Dammit, it’s Jobe! Good
‘ol Jobe!—stumbled to a stop in front of him. Here, Doc Smith shut his eyes, praying silently to himself. His
flesh goosebumped and tingled, as Jobe cloaked him with his looming shadow, temperatures inside it falling by at least a single
degree. Grunted slobber spattered the top of his head, the back of his neck. Still, he kept his eyes tightly shut.
Now Marilyn was up and moving.
Behind her, John — hairy back and soiled hands — stirred on the ground. Soon, the other corpses would imitate
them and their actions.
Sensing a sudden movement,
Doc Smith opened his eyes — and let go his bowels with a wet farting sound. Those sharp claws, black and veined, were
drawing near his exposed throat.
Again, he wanted to flee.
But again, he fought down the urge. This was the test the Reverend had foreseen time and time again in his fever-heated dreams.
This was the test that, like the Biblical Garden of Eden, would decide his fate, as well as the fate of the remaining figments
of a scattered humanity. Could Jobe and the others resist naked temptation — or in this case, an exposed throat?
Head thrown back, the veins
throbbing in clear view — this was key, the Reverend had promised them all in the months preceding their bizzare lottery.
“You must bare your flesh for them, Smith,” he’d told him earlier that morning, before the others had stirred
from their sleeping bags and tents. “When we’re all gone and you’re left alone with your wits! You must
give them temptation! You must be Eden’s snake!”So bravely Doc Smith sat there atop the curb, eyes again
closed, and throat still exposed to Jobe’s probing claws — now just inches away, his distinct adam’s apple
bobbing to and fro as he struggled to wet a parched throat.Please be good please be good please be good please be good…
Doc Smith felt the icy touch
of the claw upon delicate throat, and by then he knew, of course…