Mitch watched helplessly as his neighbor was ripped apart by a wild pack of the dead. Nearly out of food, his mother demanded he not leave the house in search of more. Mitch, knowing she was sacrificing her health in favor of his, drugged her, and sneaked out of the house anyway.
After getting to the local grocery store, and filling his bag full of food and supplies for him and his mother, he was knocked unconscious by a strange dark figure, awakening later, how long only God knows. A pudgy man, covered in fresh blood entered the room where Mitch was tied to a steel table, prepping him for something...and so we continue...
Hell Breaks Loose - Episode 3 - "Were you raised in a barn?"
“Please, my mom’s at home, waiting for me. She’s alone...she…she needs me. Please, I have to get home to her,” Mitch said. His voice was weak, timid and empty. He felt warmth building up behind his eyes and held the coming torrent of tears at bay.
The man draped an apron over himself. Blood smears stained the front of it.
“Don’t say that!” the man said, slamming his hands against the ridge of the sink. He planted his hands against it and stretched out his body, dipping his head low, frustrated. “I don’t wanna hear that barrel of shit! It ain’t easy, doin what I gotta, no, sir, but you see...someone has ta'.”
The man appeared on the other side of the table, with a fresh smile. His eyes blinked rapidly, abnormally.
“You can keep the cans, I swear! I’ll never come back!” Mitch shouted. “I promise, I will never come back! You'll never see me again!” Mitch tugged on the twine. “If you just...untie me…please mister...please.”
The man chuckled.
“I’m afraid, it’s not about the cans, kiddo.”
“Untie me!” Mitch begged.
“Please!” Mitch shrieked. “Untie me!” he demanded.
The man wheeled a tray of knives and hooks beside the table.
“It’s about the customers. I gotta give ‘em what they want. And right now…”
The man picked up a meat hook, eyeing it in front of his face. He licked his thumb and forefinger and cleaned off a speck of dried blood.
“They want you.”
Mitch’s throat closed and he couldn’t hold back the torrent anymore.
“What fucking customers!? Have you looked outside? Zombies are eating what’s left of us! You’ve fucking lost it! We’re still alive, you can’t be doing this to people!”
The man belted a jolly laugh.
“A customer is a customer, dead or not!”
Mitch fought with all of his might against the twine bindings, pushing through the pain, again.
“Hey! Cut that shit out!” the man yelled.
“They’re dead…” Mitch sobbed. “They’re all dead…”
“They’re more like…” the man said, tilting his head to find the words he was looking for in his head. “Rabid dogs. And a rabid dogs gotta’ eat too. I’ve been feeding them for so dang long, they always come around at the same time. So, they’re more like…trained rabid dogs,” the man laughed.
The man wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and looked at it.
“We haven’t got a lot of time. So, please stop your fussing and we can get started,” the man said, lifting a butcher knife. The blade’s edge was serrated and worn. Rust had eaten away most of it.
“Help!” Mitch screamed over and over. His vocal chords shredded the inside of his throat. “Mom!” he screamed.
The man cut down the middle of Mitch’s shirt and folded each side over onto the table top.
Mitch sobbed quietly. He’d done everything he could think of.
The man pinched different places on Mitch’s chest with concerned eyes. He placed the butcher knife back and traded it for a smaller, sharper knife. This one was newer, more efficient looking.
“Don’t wanna shred the skin now do we?” he laughed to himself. “I think that’s their favorite part, kinda' like fried chicken, mmhmm.”
Mitch caught it, but the man must not have, the change in the air. The swinging door swiveled only about an inch or so with a suction sound. A door had been opened elsewhere in the store, shifting the pressure of the room..
The man, lost in examination, found a good place on Mitch’s chest to start.
The cold blade, near his belly button, sent goose pimples up Mitch’s flesh. The nape of his neck tightened and he flexed his abs. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Say!” the man stopped and hovered over Mitch’s squished in face. “You’re not Mildred Fuller’s boy are you?”
Mitch released his abs with a huff.
“What?” he said, catching his breath, caught completely off kilter.
“It’s been driving me crazy all night. Thinking you might be, thinking you might not be. Just thought I’d ask before you lose consciousness. You have her blue eyes. She used to come in like clockwork. Said she loved my cold cuts. I can churn out some mean cold cuts.”
“That’s my mom. She’s waiting for me,” Mitch said, sniffling a glob of snot back into his nose. His voice was unsure, like he believed he was in a dream.
“You said that already, kiddo,” the man moved back, near Mitch’s belly button again. “Glad I got that out, woulda driven me mad!” he said with a chuckle.
“Fuck you!” Mitch whispered. He felt light-headed again.
“You know, you’ll thank me when we meet again, in the big blue. You’ll say, thanks Brian for killing me, it was a treat! We’re both in the know, ya know? There ain’t no living through this. Unless you’re a flippin Swede in those underground bunkers, the ones from Dubbya Dubbya two. That’s the only safe place left to make bread, if you’re buyin what I’m sellin.”
Mitch squeezed his eyes shut again, readying himself for the knife to slide into his skin.
“Yup, them Swedes got it right.”
Mitch held his breath and let go of himself. His mind floated away, escaping the unspeakable act about to be committed against his body.
A thud against the butcher window pulled both of their attention.
“No…no…no…no…” Brian said. The joy in his eyes dwindled away. His mouth hung like a wet bath towel.
Mitch opened his eyes and raised his head to look at the butcher window.
A stringy haired man, eyes blood-shot and vacant, dragged his bleeding tongue along the window, leaving a trail of spit and clotted blood behind. His hands pressed firmly, palm open, against the window. A tattered tank top clung to his drooping skin in patches of dried bodily fluids.
Brian stood up straight, eyes as wide as doorknobs.
“We’re not open for another hour!” Brian screamed. His voicebox rattled as he shouted. He dropped the small efficient knife back onto the tray with a clack and grabbed the rusty serrated butcher knife.
Mitch began to kick and punch the air, tugging at the twine. He knew Brian wasn’t going to free him, even in the face of certain death. Brian was gone, fruitier than a bat. Mitch didn’t know what Brian had seen, what he’d been through, and he bet it couldn’t have been any easier than what he’d been through. Or maybe there was nothing at all. His dad used to say that there are some people who are born a little off. Either way, Mitch watched as a living man screamed at a dead one.
“Get out!” Brian screamed.
Mitch maneuvered his teeth close to the twine on his wrist and shifted his body. He got his teeth around a wad of it and bit down. Strings of thread dug between his teeth, flossing and rubbing against his gums. He tasted the salty rust of blood dribble into the back of his throat, but still he chewed and ground it between his chompers.
A snap bounced off his tongue and he felt the tension around his wrist loosen.
Another zombie emerged from the darkness beyond the butcher window. A female. Her hair stood up in glossy spikes. A cavernous, hollow hole stretched into the back of her head where her right eye should have been. A slimy, pink strand of flesh hung from the open sore. She bashed her forehead into the window, splintering it with web-like cracks.
Mitch pulled with all the strength of his jaw, slicing through the twine with his teeth. The remaining strands he didn’t chew through snapped free, releasing his hand.
Brian was fixated on the window and the zombies less than three feet away.
“Don’t move, kiddo'. Be right back for ya',” Brian said to Mitch, keeping his steely vision on the zombies. He disappeared behind the swinging door. The door squawked and slowed itself shut behind him.
Mitch’s mind was numb with focus. He twisted and unwadded the twine around his other hand and his feet. Then the thoughts came back, like a locomotive smashing into his brain.
Mom’s gonna kill me, if these zombies don’t, or this deranged butcher.
He looked at the butcher window. Empty. The quiet darkness of the store beyond still remained, but not the dead. Mitch cringed at the streaks of bodily fluids dripping down the window, left behind from the walking dead.
There was only one way in or out of this tiny room, through the swinging door. Mitch sneaked over to the porthole window and peered inside. The room was nearly pitch black. Tiny slivers of light glimmered from steel shelving units holding dented cardboard boxes. Scattered flies collected around ripped blue cellophane bags poking through the ruffled cardboard box flaps.
As Mitch slid inside, he heard the air shift. Another swinging door, at the end of this room, bobbed with a windy suctioned whoosh.
The stench of stale blood and decay slammed his face and nostrils like a well-placed backhand. He covered his mouth to hold in the puke and felt his way forward.
His hand ran along a cold, metallic shelf, feet shuffling, lead by his wandering hands.
When his eyes finally adjusted to the dark, he realized he was in a long hall, which ran the length of the store. He had come out somewhere in the center. The hall sprawled in opposite directions on each side. Rolling carts lined the far wall directly in front of him, beside the other door. Two long chrome counters hugged the walls on each side.
I must be in the backroom, he thought. He remembered, as a kid, playing in the alley behind the grocery store. He was John Dillinger, his friends the rest of Dillinger’s gang. They tried to break in to…
The backdoor! There’s a backdoor!
Mitch looked through the dark, leaning left then right to see around counters and carts. He turned around, finding nothing in that direction.
Sure enough, a thin line of glowing sunlight outlined the bottom of what could only have been the backdoor, way on the other side of the backroom.
Forget the fumbled shuffling. Mitch started sprinting blindly. The thin line of light bounced up and down, in a perfectly tuned rhythm with his heavy unsure steps.
Tears streamed down his cheeks. His vision grew fuzzy behind a glaze of salty crying. He blubbered as he thought about his mom, wishing he’d just listened to her. His bag of food was the furthest thing from his mind. Standing front and center in his thoughts was home, and the stagnant piss smell. He’d take a yellow smell over rotting meat any day, as long as his mom was there.
Brian backed into the hallway, between Mitch and his freedom, slashing at a group of zombies with his butcher knife. His blade ripped through the throat of one pulling at his apron. It grunted something wet and stumbled backward, shoved to the side by another reaching for Brian’s ears.
Mitch skidded, planting his feet forward to pivot and sprint in the opposite direction but his footing buckled. He shoved his hands out to catch himself as he screamed the first cuss word he could think of. His head was the first to make contact with something other than the floor.
A pair of metal coverings on the wall to his left rattled while his head bounced off, warmth spreading around his temple. His wrist twisted trying to catch himself as his back slapped against the hard concrete floor.
I’m okay. Just stings a little.
He laid there for a moment, waiting for the room to stop spinning, clenching his eyes tight to ease the pain. He felt along the side of his head, fingers dipping into something wet and warm.
Fuck, I’m bleeding.
Mitch sat himself up and his wrist screamed in agony. Pain shot through his forearn, up to his elbow, blinding his eyes with dancing spots and he wasn’t sure, but he thought he yelped.
Brian shrieked and started running toward Mitch, clutching his cheek. Rivers of blood poured through his fingers, intertwining with the folds of his face. A zombie behind him munched on something fatty while he and the rest of them followed.
Mitch looked at the metal coverings his head collided with on the wall beside him. A label above warned against throwing combustibles inside, first in English, then in Spanish.
An incinerator. I can’t outrun them, not now. Not only had Mitch become great at listening, but he’d become adept at hiding as well. I could hide, wait it out.
He looked back at Brian who was closing in and crying, zombies not far behind.
Brian was losing his powerhouse stride. Most of his right side was drenched in blood, more still cascading down his face.
“Don’t run, kiddo! Come here! They’d rather have you than me anyways!” Brian cried. “Young and tough meat!”
Mitch peeled the metal lids apart with a clang and slid inside, right into a mouthful of cardboard ash while hoping zombies didn’t know how to turn on the flames.
Sorry Ma, went to get you food and got roasted instead!
The metal lids stopped short of slamming shut while Mitch crawled through the tiny shaft. He felt a wringing on his left ankle and slid backward, face scraping the floor of the dark tube.
“Gotchya!” Brian laughed. His hands scrambled up Mitch’s leg, pulling him closer and closer. “Bon Appetite!” The chunk missing from his cheek exposed threads of cheek muscles and the back molars of his jaw. The blood oozing from the gnash glistened in the light pushing through the spaces between Brian and the metal lids.
Don’t scream, don’t scream, don’t scream! Those zombies will know someone else is here!
Mitch heard a crunch and a stringy ripping from behind Brian. Brian’s shirt tightened against his chest, pulled from behind. His grip on Mitch’s leg loosened as he shrieked, like when Mitch’s mom had seen that odd looking spider that appeared to have tiny little hands.
Mitch dug the heel of his shoe into Brian’s cheek and his screaming jumped octaves.
“Let go,” Mitch whispered. “Let me the fuck go, you crazy-ass buzzard.”
Mitch stomped his foot into Brian’s face again and again. He gritted his teeth and squeezed his fists, forcing power into his heels. The dried dirt on the bottom of Mitch’s shoes began to cake the exposed muscle of Brian’s cheek.
Brian’s eyes widened and his head slouched. Mitch stopped walking on his face and wondered what Brian was doing. He realized it only after a second, but he was staring into empty eyes. Dead eyes.
Brian’s body retracted, metal lips clanging shut after him. Mitch heard his body flop to the ground. Slaps of flesh and blood spatters echoed from beyond the incinerator doors. He heard chewing, grunts, and organs pulled free of veins and tendrils of tendons with wet snaps. The slops sounded like a group feeding on an endless buffet of corn on the cob.
Mitch held himself and tuned out the zombie’s feasting with his own thoughts. He wept quietly, ignoring the chewing and tearing. Rivers of hatred ran deep, not for Brian, not even for the zombies, but for himself. He wanted to bury his fists into his own face, to knock the wind out of himself. He bunched his fingers and knuckles, readying for a punch, but couldn’t do it. Instead, he squeezed his fists, digging his nails into his palms, working out the hatred through tight agony.
I shouldn’t have left. This will be the last time I leave, I swear, mom.
After a few hours, the gorging stopped, replaced by sloppy footsteps searching for more. Another few hours, the shuffling ceased. The only thing Mitch could hear was his well monitored and controlled breathing.
Can’t breathe too loud, they’ll hear you.
He peeked through a slice of space between the two metal lids.
At the foot of the incinerator, Brian’s leftovers lay in a pool of bloody mush and ivory bones, picked clean. Flies had already called dibs on the lumpy gristle. His apron curled over in crimson folds by his shoes, feet still inside like metal fillers to keep the body of the shoe full.
The backroom stood in harsh silence and the feeling that Mitch wasn’t alone didn’t dissipate until he reached the front door of the grocery store. He felt empty stares from in between products lining the shelves.
He stepped through the automatic doors into the orange glow of the late afternoon. Pockets of plump clouds scattered the sky. A fresh breeze carried a slight undertone of death over Mitch, but it was otherwise cool, which he welcomed after having spent hours in a charred shaft.
Dark ash smudged his hands and clothes.
He thought, for a moment, about going back inside for his bag of food. It was, afterall, the reason he came.
Eff that, Mitch thought before starting into a run.
If going outside was a fool’s game, going out in the daylight was a death wish. But he didn’t care. He had a good pace with no zombies in sight.
When he rounded the corner to his street, he started to cry again. His house just looked so good, so warm despite the boarded up windows.
He couldn’t help but feel that something was off though. His tears went dry, hushed by the same feeling. The feeling didn’t disappear, but rather intensified as he walked up the drive and around the garage. He stopped short of the backdoor, jaw dropped.
A tear of pure awe slipped down his cheek.
“Oh…my…God!” he said aloud.
The backdoor glided back and forth with the whipping breeze, wide open...