When a daddy zombie and a mommy zombie love each other very much…they nibble on each other and then that makes baby zombies.
Okay, so that is not really true. At least not in my DEAD world. For the most part, I stick to the tried and true Romero style. Sure, my universe has a few of its own quirks, but I would say I am mostly traditional. Still, when the characters in my books encounter zombies, every so often, one stands out. One of the zombies in DEAD: Onset (Book 1 of the New DEAD series) actually has a story of his own. I present to you “Paul Stokes is DEAD“.
Paul Stokes pulled into the entrance of his Happy Valley community. He still marveled at what his career afforded. He’d grown up in a modest home, but just over eight years ago, his love for brewing beer changed his life. Nobody had been more surprised than Paul when a major brewery wanted to purchase majority ownership of his small microbrewery.
Overnight, he’d gone from renting a mid-level apartment to owning a home in an exclusive neighborhood on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. He still walked around his home sometimes just touching things and soaking in the wonder.
This must be how it feels to win the lottery, he’d thought on more than one occasion.
He’d also told himself more than once that it was too good to be true. All good things come to an end. Today felt like just that sort of day. As his luxury SUV rolled onto Southeast Scott Park Circle, the changes were immediately apparent.
“Not even the Bradford or Coatney kids are outside,” he mused as he aimed the nose of his vehicle for his driveway.
The first thing he noticed was that his front door was open. Marjorie never left the door open. During the summer, her reason was that it let the air conditioning out as well as allowed flies to migrate inside. During the winter, it let all the warm air outside. Period.
He turned the key and sighed as the vehicle shut off. An eerie silence fell now that not even the gentle purr of a motor gave him a soundtrack for distraction. He’d shut off the radio just a few minutes into his drive home. What he was hearing just did not seem possible.
Unable to delay it any more, Paul opened the door and climbed out. A strange noise drifted on the air to his ears. He looked around. Was somebody hurt? Even worse…was it Marjorie? The sound had come from the direction of the side of his house. He started that way just as another of those peculiar moans came from inside his house.
“Marjorie?” he called, a tingle of fear shooting pulses of uncertain energy up and down his spine.
I am going to wake up and this will all just be a bad dream, he thought as he hurried up the walkway to his front door.
Maybe it was time to take those warnings seriously and head to one of those FEMA shelters that everybody was being directed to. When only two of his thirty-seven employees showed up to work this morning, he’d made the call to send everybody home to “ride this out” until things returned to normal. And they would, of that Paul had no doubt.
“Are you headed to one of the shelters?” his shipping foreman had asked.
“And leave my house?” Paul had scoffed. “I think I can ride it out better there than in some high school gymnasium or sports arena. This isn’t Hurricane Katrina. It’s just some sort of peculiar illness.”
When the report that Japan and most of Asia had gone silent…he’d reconsidered his options. The military was supposedly securing the perimeter around these locations as rumors of groups of these infected or sick individuals were being reported all over the city. For the first time since purchasing this home, he envied the community on the other side of Johnson Creek Boulevard. Their community had a brick wall all the way around it as well as steel gates at the entrances.
Paul had liked the idea of living in a luxurious community with well-to-do neighbors, but a fence and a wall had just seemed too uppity and snobbish for his comfort level. Right now, a gated community sounded like just the thing.
Reaching the door, a smell wafted out of the house that made Paul pause. It was unlike anything he’d ever experienced. That was saying a lot considering some of his early attempts at brewing beer.
“Margie?” Paul called.
Pushing the door open, the smell almost caused him to stagger. Throwing his arm over his mouth and nose, Paul stepped into the entry hall and gave his eyes a moment to readjust to the change in light. Already he knew there was something terribly wrong. The wall of his entry hall had a nasty smear along it that ended just before the stairs going up to the bedrooms. Looking up those stairs, he saw that there were bloody handprints as well as dark stains on the carpet.
A sound made him jump, and it took him a moment to realize that the sound had been a moan that escaped his own lips. In a rush, he bounded up the stairs calling his wife’s name again. He just crested that point where his eyes could see the open bathroom door at the top. That was another indication that something was wrong with his Marjorie. She had a very strict rule about bathroom doors remaining shut.
All of this was just adding to the apprehension and fear that rooted itself in Paul’s mind. He’d insisted that all this nonsense on the television was just a bunch of overblown media madness. Surely it could not be as bad as the reports were saying. It just wasn’t possible.
The boy stood in the doorway to the nursery that the baby would occupy in just five months. It had been decorated the day after the sex of the baby was revealed by the doctor. Paul had wanted to go with yellows, saying that pink was the old-fashioned color given to girls. And just maybe his little girl would be a bit of a tomboy. Marjorie had won that argument just as she had most others.
It was that background of soft pinks and hints of purple pastels that framed Toby Bradford. Only…it just barely resembled Toby. No child could look the way Toby looked at this moment. The blood…so much blood.
The nine-year-old boy was a caricature of Dennis the Menace. His blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes were enhanced by his gap-toothed smile that never seemed to fade. Dennis the Menace was his well-known neighborhood nickname. He wasn’t a bad kid. Just a bit rambunctious.
“Toby?” Paul managed around a mouth that had suddenly gone dry.
As his eyes took in more of the picture, he felt his gorge rise. There was a dark stain just outside the bedroom where Toby now stood staring at him. His head cocked first one way, then the other. The figure on the floor behind Toby was sitting up. That caused something else in the room to move and the sound of something crashing to the floor made Paul jump.
First one, then a second face emerged from the unlit gloom of the pink bedroom. Two of the three Coatney children emerged and stood behind Toby, one at either side. Skye Coatney was the youngest child in the neighborhood and had just started kindergarten this year. Her hair was still in braided ponytails that stuck out from each side of her head like a pair of antennae.
Jenna Coatney’s appearance was what shattered everything for Paul. At nine years old, she was the middle Coatney child. She was also the one who could outshine Toby Bradford in the mischief department. Her Minnie Mouse sweatshirt was in tatters. The once white shirt was now an ugly dark reddish-brown. Her belly was exposed and had been torn open. A ragged strand of intestine dangled from that rip—dark, viscous fluid dripping from it.
The eyes. That is what finally pulled Paul’s focus from assorted injuries suffered by the three children who stood across the room from him. They were coated with a film that was shot full of dark tracers. When the next figure emerged, Paul thought it would be the teenage Coatney boy, Joshua. It wasn’t.
“Margie?” Paul took the last few steps to reach the second floor of his home.
Marjorie Stokes was the stuff of nightmares. Her lower lip had been ripped away, leaving an ugly raw flap of meat dangling from her chin. Her nose was also gone. The right arm looked like it had been dunked in a piranha tank. One section of the forearm was almost stripped clean to the bone. Her throat was an ugly, gaping hole. A little blood trickled from the wound when her head twitched and jerked as she appeared to search and then focus on Paul. Her belly was a mess. It had been ripped open and a dark sac dangled from it, suspended by a fleshy cord that was almost black. Before he could look away, he was certain he saw something move inside that semi-opaque bulb.
“No,” he whimpered.
All the reports came to his mind at once. The news stories about a small town in Kentucky that had been placed under quarantine. Then there were the peculiar attacks happening all over. People swearing that the attackers were the dead returned. Of course, the CDC had instantly discredited and dismissed that notion as nothing more than a juvenile fantasy.
Here it was. Right before his eyes. There was no way possible that any of those children or his beloved Marjorie could be alive. The visible wounds aside, there was enough blood soaked into the carpet that a squishing sound could be heard as Marjorie stepped past the children and began shambling towards him.
He’d reached the top of the stairs and froze as he felt his mind peeling away to its core. Madness was threatening to overwhelm him as the pain that scalded his soul touched every part of his being. He was still standing frozen when Marjorie reached him. She leaned forward as if to embrace him and despite the odd sensation of her cold hands on his arms, he did not move until her teeth clamped down on his left cheek.
Pain broke all the spells that had been preventing Paul from reacting outwardly to this terrible horror. He tried to scream, but the side of his mouth being ripped away caused him to choke on the blood. He gagged as he shoved Marjorie away, and that action seemed to trigger the three children into motion. He backed away and tripped over his own feet, his head smacking hard into the wall and causing his vision to momentarily flash bright and then dim.
Fighting to remain conscious, Paul felt something fall on him. He faded for a moment and snapped back when the pain sent a shockwave through his body. His right arm was agonizing fire from the shoulder to the elbow. He looked down just as Toby bit into his left arm right above the elbow and ripped away a strip of meat that brought Paul fully back to awareness of what was happening. Jenna and Skye had joined in and seemed to jockey for position on his bleeding right arm like a litter of puppies to their mother’s teat. All three children had blood smeared across their faces—his blood.
Using one foot, Paul kicked Toby away first. The boy collided with Marjorie and sent her tumbling backwards. Skye was the smallest, and Paul winced when he shoved her away with ease and the little girl smacked into a table with her face. The crunch could be heard as her nose flattened. Yet, despite that impact, the child did nothing more than roll over and start to her feet again.
Jenna managed another bite as Paul wrestled her off his body. She had slipped across his midsection and was now on his right side. He looked down just as blood bloomed around where her mouth was latched to his bicep.
It was rage, sadness, and pain all rolled together. His scream changed to a roar and he rose, his mind fighting to not topple over the edge of madness and plunge into its crimson embrace.
Skye was closest, and he physically lifted her in the air and hurled her into the pink-themed room that had once been a sign of hope and a future filled with joy. Spinning, he caught Toby as the boy tried to clamp down on his right forearm. There was a tingle of pain, but the boy was not able to gain purchase as Paul heaved his small body into that same room.
Something grabbed his leg and Paul instinctively kicked out. He barely registered that it was the face of his Marjorie that he’d kicked. He might’ve lost his heart if he’d seen her jaw snap to one side and a few teeth break off leaving jagged remnants that snagged at her lips as she moaned in what might’ve been frustration at losing her grip on her prey.
Jenna was on her feet and stumbling for him. Paul moved to one side at the last moment and the child staggered past, unable to stop her momentum. Paul slammed a booted foot into the girl’s back, sending her sprawling into the room with the other two children.
He yanked the door shut, fighting through the pain in his arms from the savage attacks. By now, Marjorie was slowly rising to her feet. He wanted to cry as he saw that the sac dangling from her open wound had burst. A small figure now writhed and spun at the end of that cord.
Staggering back, Paul led the thing that had once been his wife into their bedroom. She followed him, and when she tripped while rounding the corner of their bed, he rolled across the bed, came up on the other side and left the room. He slid down the door and wept.
When the clawing and pounding came from his bedroom as well as where he’d thrown the children, he tried to tell himself that the merciful thing to do would be to put them down. These were not his neighbors’ children nor his wife.
Monsters were real.
Unable to do it, Paul finally got up and made his way to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and gasped. It wasn’t his torn cheek, the blood all over him, or condition of his arms that caused him to stagger back from his own reflection.
They were showing those dark tracers. While not as pronounced, he knew it was the same thing he’d seen in Marjorie and the children. He would become one of…them.
“Like hell,” Paul croaked around a mouth that was swelling on one side to the point where speech was becoming impossible.
He knew what had to be done. At least he knew what he had to do. He also feared that he did not have the resolve to follow through.
Stumbling downstairs, he made his way to the garage. He returned upstairs kicking his shoes off when he reached the top. He would do everything in his power not to back out, but he also needed to hurry. He could feel the infection…taste it in the blood that ran down his throat as he found it increasingly difficult to spit it out.
Grabbing the handle that was mounted to the wall of their large shower, Paul was grateful that this simple safety measure had been installed. He doubted the shower nozzle’s ability to perform the task at hand. This metal handle was supposed to allow a person to step up and into the shower with more stability. Personally, he’d never once touched it, but Marjorie loved it and made a big deal of reminding Paul that it would come in handy once he was old and gray.
Removing his belt, Paul tied it to that vertical metal handle. There was just enough of a loop remaining that he could slip his head through when the time came.
The next bit would be difficult; especially since his vision was beginning to blur. Bending down, he produced one of the zip ties he’d fetched from the garage. They’d been great for securing the Halloween and Christmas decorations. Forcing his feet together as close as they would go, Paul paused as he watched his blood draining all over the basin of his large bathtub. At last, he felt his feet were secured.
His hands kept betraying him as he tried to grip the belt and slip his head through it. The fit was tight until he got it past his chin. Also, he was forced to remain hunched over the entire time. That was edging him towards a blackout. He had enough time to think a blackout might not be so bad when his legs buckled.
Paul slumped to his knees, already unconscious. The noose proved to be unnecessary as the blood loss became too much and he slipped into cardiac arrest. With a few spasms and shudders, Paul Stokes died.
Ten minutes later Paul’s eyes opened.