He sprang towards me swiftly, faster than I could react, bloody razor edged teeth attempt to tear the tender flesh from my bones. Gritty growls of hunger from the infected canine predator, sent chills of fear through me, my first instinct was to freeze but the will for self preservation was stronger.
The large dog was swift, slamming hard into my chest, I immediately began to stab wildly into the decayed body, yet it was to no effect, he was still feral and unrelenting. Somehow I lodged the butcher knife in its rib cage, it wouldn’t budge from in-between the meat and bone, so I had to think quickly or the animal would have its desired meal. A slam of the head, and a sharp well placed kick, sent it recoiling, allowing a moment’s reprieve so my eyes could quickly scan the surrounding area for another weapon.
My only hope would be a heavy casket skillet, that I was able to grab hold of, and swing just in time, to connect with the canines cranium. Leaving the beast no time to recover, I continued to bash it’s head until it was smashed to bits, I held in the bile that threatens to rise in my throat as the legs continue to kick even after the animals final end.
I went sliding to the floor, exhausted from the effort, but rest would have to wait, as another bloodcurdling scream rang out from the front-end of the diner, it was Balthazar clearly in trouble. I dragged myself to my feet, and used a foot to hold down and dislodge the butcher knife I’d surely need from the dead animal’s corpse.
“Tzar, I’m coming, just hold on!” I called out, hoping I still had a cousin left alive to attempt to save.
I ran out of the kitchen to find him holding a snarling woman in a waitress uniform at bay, while the torso of a man in another trucker uniform attack from the floor below, taking ahold of his leg. I snatched the woman off of him just as my cousin was pulled down to the ground, it was then I had noticed his legs were shredded and torn away, leaving the hulking torso of a bulky truck driver thirsting carnisticly for warm flesh and blood. The woman had to have been freshly turned, because she was so strong and tore wildly for my face with her nails, her frothing mouth biting at my hands, that toxic looking black murky substance leaking from her snarling lips. I snatch hold of her hair with one hand and went to attack with the knife, but her flailing arms knocked it away from my grasp, my now free hand, thankfully landed on a metal napkin holder, which I used to smack her backward.
She was barely fazed, quickly getting back on her feet, rising to a crouching stance similar to the infected canine I had battled only minutes before. Waiting patiently for her to pounce, I knew I had only one chance to disable her, so when she lunged for me, I kicked at her head so forcefully it nearly spun her neck a hundred eighty degrees. Several strikes of my heal to her face, were enough to breach the skull and immobilize her, though Tzar seem to still be having a hard time with the trucker. I kicked the knife over to him and he drove the blade through the man’s mouth, far enough to pierce through, out the back of his head.
My cousin lay there a few moments, with the man on top him, as we both try to catch our breath. After rolling out from under the body, I helped him to his feet, but he still needed a few moments to gather himself. I pulled Hunter’s D.E. from the back of my pants, surprised I hadn’t shot myself in the ass, because the revolver didn’t have a safety, Tzar looked at me with high brows and furious wide eyes.
“Bitch! You had a damn gun this whole fucking time and you decide to pull it out now?!”
“I didn’t want to use it, because the sound of gunfire would have attracted more of the infected, trust me, I would have preferred another option to keep my boots clean..” I replied, knocking my left shoe against the footer of the counter, removing skull and brain fragments that were stuck in the tread.
“What-fuckin-ever.. let’s just get the hell outta here.”
“Wait, there are supplies in the back pantry, no way we went through all this to leave empty handed..” I said, motioning for him to follow me to the rear, to where I came from behind the counter. “Plus, you would believe the size of this freaking zombie Kujo I had to fight off for this bounty, I swear he had to be as big as a.. oh, damn.”
I mentally kicked myself for not remembering to lock shut the back door to the diner, because just as I was speaking, in walked three dogs sniffing low to the ground. One was a huge german shepherd missing part of his muzzle and most of his left flank, exposing its rib cage, the other two look like remnants of pit bulls on the losing end of a kennel fight.
The big one was clearly the alpha, and he smelled the sweet scent of their next meal in the air, lifting his head to start growling aggressively in our direction, the black muck of infection dribbling from his snarling bloodied lips. Balthazar and I look at each other slightly panicked, an ‘oh shit’ sentiment could be read in both our eyes. Without any other choice, I raised up the revolver, pulling the trigger as the first leaped to attack.
“You guys okay, I heard gunfire?” Caiden asked, as we lumbered up to the Betty with a pushcart overstocked with supplies, Tzar nursing a slight limp.
“Yea, we good, just a few stragglers we took care of by hand, but the three dogs near the end took more effort, don’t worry about it though, I didn’t waste a single bullet.”
“Three dogs, but four gunshots?” He quizzically replied, while giving hand to help us stock what what we’d found as quickly as possible.
“Don’t blame me for that, Tzar is the one who can’t incapacitate a torso correctly.” I jibed, at my cousins expense, but he didn’t find it funny.
“Sorry I haven’t EVOLVED the predatory capability to kill as effectively as some others, I’m merely just a normal human being..” He snapped, briskly brushing by me with a shoulder check, not finding my ribbing funny at all.
“Wow, what was that all about?” Caiden asked, arching a brow curiously.
“Umm, he’s just in one of his moods, you know how that is..”
“Well let’s hurry this along, I want to get some more mileage on the road before sunset, and I’m worried your scuffle in the diner might have alerted some party crashers.”
He was right of course, cause as we pulled off the lot, several Risen could be seen gathering in the distance at the promising sound of a possible buffet, their haunting moans carrying in the wind behind us. Granny and Patience were pleased with the goodies we had acquired, Tzar already taking it upon himself to get a head start on dinner, steak stir fry and potatoes. The delectable smell trailed behind me as I went to join Caiden in the front cabin, surprising him as I plop down in the passenger seat, to look out the side window at the trees whizzing by.
We both sat in silence, our minds deep in thought, it wasn’t awkward but it wasn’t the comfort I’d find sitting with Hunter sitting behind the wheel, I found myself missing the reassurance of his presence in my personal spaces.
“You aren’t the only one that lost someone, you know..”
“Excuse me?” I replied, turning to find those seafoam hued eyes alternating between me and he road, looking more sympathetic than I’d anticipated so I did my best not to immediately jump down his throat.
“I lost him too.. I know it may not seem like it, but I loved my brother, cared more about him than he ever knew.”
“Well, you sure had a finicky way of showing it to him, was him falling in love with a man too much for the all American boy to handle?”
“Is that what he told you?” He asked incredulously, with confusion written all over his face.
“It was either that or the Streets he claimed.. Hunter only had two love affairs, me and the constant beat of the city that never sleeps.”
“Sure, I didn’t quite favor his criminal transgressions, but that’s cause I always knew he was too smart to play it dirty like that, he could have picked anything and succeeded at the top of the pack.. a street pharmacist was beneath his capabilities, I wanted better for him.”
“He focused all his efforts to make sure you and Zachari had a fighting chance, when all was said and done, there wasn’t many options left for him, so he chose to survive and succeed anyway he could.”
“I guess I can under that.. but that wasn’t our only issue.”
“When our mom died, it destroyed us, Hunter the most.. yeah, we knew live a fast and furious lifestyle but we didn’t know how swift it would catch up with her. Granny was going through one of her earliest spells, but at the time we thought she was just depressed, so Hunter was left to organize the funeral services.”
“He told me your mother died when he had just turned sixteen, he didn’t say all that..”
“I’m not surprised, it was a hard time and her body was barely recognisable due to whatever drugs she was on, it was like looking at the body of a stranger. Then to make matters worse, this man shows up to the burial, and out of nowhere Hunter just starts attacking him like some kind of mad man.. it was insane. After they were broken up and the man was escorted off the premises, he tells me that dude was our estranged Father.” He sounded like he was gritting his teeth as he recanted this story to me, I didn’t blame him given the sore subject matter.
“He’s never even spoke of him before, matter of fact I’d only come across a photo of your mother snooping around when I thought he was cheating on me.. it was the only time I seen a pictorial her, but he spoke of her all the time, why would he never mention your dad?”
“Because three days later, he was found dead..”
“Oh my god.”
“I was so angry at the time, I felt robbed of something I never even had, but Hunter swore he was protecting me.. Him and Zachari were old enough to remember living with them, and it damaged them, he spoke of how the relationship between my mom and dad was violent, even when they were happiest together. It also didn’t help that the man would disappear more often than my mom’s notorious Houdini acts, I don’t know if was drugs or the fights, but the man never stuck around long. He said he was saving me the trouble, the pain and the heart aching abandonment of knowing him, yet still, it didn’t make me resent him any less. So first thing I did out of High School was enlist, because I knew it would piss him off, and it did, he was livid.”
“Was that the last time you spoke? When we arrived at your Grandmother’s place, it seemed like you two didn’t end things on the best note..”
“Every time we’d run into each other things would never end on the best terms, there was always a disagreement that would lead to shouting, that would lead to fighting. Somehow he would always reach out to me wherever I was on tour, to apologize in his own way. On my last stint in Mosul, he sent me a package and a letter.. he spoke of how he was so fucking happy, his life was finally on the upswing, and he was living it up in the big city. The whole thing was one big gloat in my face, especially when he started describing the red hot romance he was having with someone he called Babbitt, and inside was a photo of you two looking so fucking happy, all it did was piss me the hell off.” Caiden’s face had reddened with heat of anger as he recounted these events, Hunter was never good at communicating an apology, it usually came off brash instead of sincere. “I remember throwing the whole thing in the trash, right outside the Embassy, about to return to my post, but something told me that might be the last picture I’d ever have of my brother. All his life, Hunter has been trying to escape us, intent on paving his own path, and I found myself heading back to dig in that trash bin.. not even ten seconds later, there was a huge explosive blast at the entrance of the Embassy building.”
“Yeah man, the forces knocked me fifteen feet from where I was standing, the attack left a hundred and thirty dead and another two hundred injured. I’d lost consciousness for a about two minutes, and woke up hold the burning package tight in my grip.. all that I could salvage was the partially burned photo of you two. The very thing that upset me in the first place, so ironic that going back for it would be what saved my life. I thought I’d be telling Hunter all these things, I thought we would sit down and finally fix our issues, but when I came home.. I found Gran had deteriorated to the point she couldn’t be left alone anymore. I knew I couldn’t count Zachari, so I called Hunter, I figured the two of us could figure it out.. but he told me he was done saving us, he was done putting the pieces back together, he said he had found his happiness and that’s where his energy would be focused. I knew that meant his life with you, I knew it meant I was alone in this, so that was when I told him I better never lay eyes on him again..”
“I’m .. I’m sorry Caiden.”
“For what? You didn’t do anything.. at the time, I blamed him, but right now, I figured what’s the point. At the very least, I can offer my brother forgiveness in death, I loved him that much.”
We sat there in silence for a long while, there was so much pain between these brother’s, it took several moments to process it all. In life, neither of them knew how much the other was hurting, neither knew how that needlessly overshadowed the loved they had for one another. It made me think of my own family, from the conflicting issues with my mom to the easy breezy chemistry with me and my dad, I wanted to worry for them but they had to be long dead and gone, or maybe something worse.. so I tried to think of something else.
It was now dark out and getting late, I could tell Caiden was tired, so I advised we find somewhere to park for the night. He agreed and turned onto an off-road path, driving us as deep into the woods as he could. I got up from my said and bid him good night, patting and rubbing his shoulder as I left him, know allot was on his mine. It made me wonder if Hunter was haunting his dreams as well, because he had visit me damn near every night, and I wish I could say it was a comfort but it only made me feel worse. Still.. I look forward to it, just those few moments with him, even if it was killing me softly on the inside.
I awoke early the next morning, damn near banging my head as I rose, forgetting I’d stuffed my nearly six foot frame into one of the cubbie cabins so Caiden could take the couch, like his brother, he preferred the open space for his long lengthy legs and being that he overworked himself constantly, he needed the rest.
I dragged myself to the kitchen as quietly as I could, heating up some water to make use of the green tea stash I had found on our supply run, I would have kill for a cup of coffee but this would have to do. Being that I didn’t want to wake anyone just yet, I made my way to the front cabin, bringing my beverage, blanket, and a pillow with me so I could relax a bit, before the other could get up.
I wrapped myself up and sipped steadily from the steaming beverage, waiting for the calming effect to kick in to clear my troubled mind, I seem to be groggily trapped in a world wind of thoughts I couldn’t escape. Caiden’s recanting of the troubles between Hunter and himself seem to Erick with me, while I had known of my loves troubled past, this just seem to answer so many questions about him I could never get the answer, and it pained me to think he died with a heavy heart.
— ||> “Eagle do you copy?” <|| —
I almost spilled tea on myself, surprised at the voice coming from the radio, I sat there in a stunned silence, wondering if I had imagined it as I listen for the man to speak again.
— ||> “Eagle do you copy? This is Bloodhound.. <|| —
“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed, excited there were other people out there with us in this, it had been awhile since we’d come across anyone who hadn’t succumb to infection.
“Oh no, bitch.. you in here talking to yourself now?” Balthazar muttered coming up behind me, obviously not hearing what I had, he arched his brow curiously as he wonder what the hell I was doing. “Why are you looking so hard at the Dashboard?”
“The radio.. a man was speaking, sounded like government. He was talking all that Fox Tango mumbo jumbo those military types like to use.”
“You really are losing it, cause we both know that thing hasn’t worked since the New York incident, it even stopped playing the emergency broadcast.”
“Look, just shush, I know what I heard.” I argued, but he just sighed and shook his head at me, yet not even a few seconds later there it was again.
— ||>”Eagle do you copy, this is Bloodhound.. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m going to update the secure line like protocol. We have the ‘Quail and Duck’ in custody, though we’ve suffered three casualties, currently enroute to rendezvous with the others by boat, then we will head to the designated checkpoint. We are dependent on your prompt arrival, as supplies are scarce. <|| —
Tzar and I turn to each other in astonishment with our mouths sitting slack open, this was real, I wasn’t imagining it.
— ||> And FYI, let the record show, this Apocalypse detail was a bum deal.. Bravo team is overdue for a vacation, if that’s even a thing anymore. Over and out. <|| —