Monday, September 17, 2007

Well Laid Plans

By Eric S. Brown

Somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina, the beast stirred inside its cave. Its gleaming red eyes opened casting an eerie glow from their light onto the rocks around it. It had slumbered a long time, decades perhaps. It wasn’t sure but it was awake again once more. Hunger flared and consumed the beast. Crawling out of the cave, it stood up on two feet like a man, stretching to its full eleven foot height. Leathery wings unfurled and spread out to touch the darkness of the night. A cry, not human, not animal, escaped its lips echoing in the hills below as it took flight.

“What the hell was that?” Jarvis asked from where he leaned, half concealed, by a tree on the edge of the roadway.

Nicholas motioned for Jarvis to shut up. The Yankee supply wagon was already close enough for them to see it. It was lightly guarded as they had hoped it would be. There were only three soldiers on foot around it and the driver as it bounced its way towards them along the gravel trail. Things were going perfectly, Nicholas thought, as long as Jarvis kept his damn mouth shut.
Nicholas lifted his rifle and took careful aim at the lead soldier. The weight of the new revolver tucked underneath his belt which he had looted from the corpse of a Yankee officer the day before gave him an added sense of comfort. The wagon’s driver was fat and looked half asleep so he hoped that Jarvis had picked out one of the soldiers as his target as well.

Nicholas’s finger tightened on the trigger of his rifle but then things went to hell in an entirely unexpected way. Something huge and dark dropped out of the sky. It swept the driver up in its massive arms and carried him screaming off into the night.

The Yankee soldiers fired after it, all three of their rifles cracking in vain. The thing was out of range even before they had opened fire. The Yankees stood stunned staring up into the blackness. Then one of them snapped out of it and began to yell at the others to reload. Jarvis’s shot ripped into his forehead. Nicholas blinked, unsure whether to run in case the thing in the sky came back or follow through with his own plan. In the end, Jarvis made the choice for him. The idiot came charging out the woods at the soldiers with his bayonet. Cursing, Nicholas hastily picked a target having lost his aim and fired. He dropped another Yankee with a “gut shot” rather than the clean kill he would’ve preferred. Nicholas yanked his revolver free from his belt and ran out onto the road as Jarvis speared the last Yankee who was still desperately trying to re-load. Jarvis turned his blade inside the man, twisting it deeper to finish him. Nicholas reached the wounded soldier he’d shot and popped off two shots from his revolver into the man at point blank range to make sure the man stayed down and was put out of his misery.

“Yee-hah!” Jarvis yelled holding his bloody rifle high. “We did it!”

Nicholas managed to reach the warhorse attached to the wagon and held them by their reins trying to calm them. Jarvis looked at him with a smile. “We ain’t gonna be hungry again tonight bother.”

As Nicholas opened his mouth to reply and tell Jarvis to get on the damn wagon so they could get the hell out of there, something thudded to the ground in-between where they stood. Nicholas’s eyes grew wide as he saw what it was. It was the driver’s head. The head and face looked as if they had been gnawed on by large teeth. The thing’s flesh was shredded and covered in a glistening red wetness.

Nicholas heard it before he saw it and that was what saved his life. He fell hard to the ground, throwing himself down, as the creature swooped over him. Having missed its target, it veered and rammed into Jarvis. The pair crashed into the side of the wagon so hard the wood splintered and cracked under their weight with Jarvis taking the brunt of the impact. Jarvis’ insides leaked from his silent, open mouth as the creature released its grip on his body and he slid down the side of the wagon. The thing turned to face Nicholas who raised his revolver and put all three of his last rounds into its chest. The thing just stood there and took them without even flinching. It stared at him with eyes that cut into his soul. The revolver slipped from Nicholas’s trembling hand. After what seemed an eternity, it dismissed him as if he were nothing and squatted beside Jarvis’s body, tearing off large chunks of the young man’s flesh with its clawed hands and ramming them between its smacking lips.

Nicholas took a few steps back moving slowly not wanting the thing to change its mind about him and then whirled, running off into the trees. The beast paused in its feeding long enough to laugh and howl as if it were sharing its pleasure with the pale moon above.

Eric S. Brown is the author of the new collection Zombies II: Inhuman. His zombie books include the novels/novellas The Queen, Cobble, and The Wave. Some of his other work includes the collections and chapbooks Dying Days, Madmen's Dreams, Waking Nightmares (where this story first appeared), Zombies: The War Stories, As We All Breakdown, and Viruses and Vamps to name only a few. His short fiction has been published over 300 times in markets ranging from Dark Wisdom to the highly acclaimed Undead anthologies from Permuted Press. He is 32 years old and lives in NC with his wife and son where he continues to write tales of rotting corpses and decaying flesh. Many of his chapbooks are available directly through Naked Snake Press.

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