Last time on Hell Breaks Loose - 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...for him to be served on a platter to the dead.
A group of zombies found their way into the IGA, attacking the butcher who was ready to serve Mitch up. Mitch escaped after a brief struggle with the butcher, who met his end at the hands of his own customers. Mitch, crying, ran home to find he'd forgotten to lock the backdoor after he'd left the home, leaving his mother in a drugged sleep up in her room...
Moving his way through the house, he found a familiar zombie, standing over the mutilated corpse of his mother. Mitch, sick with rage, fought the zombie, shoving it out the window, splatting it on the sidewalk below. It didn't take long for the horde to smell the spilt blood...for them to find their way into the house, for them to find their way up to the bedroom...with his mother's corpse crawling to him, Mitch has nowhere to run...
Staring into the dead eyes of his hungry mom, horde of zombies writhing in the hall, Mitch leapt from the bedroom window, using a power cable, and ran across the block to a neighbors, hoping to find the keys to his truck. After breaking into the house, the horde still on his heels, Mitch found his neighbor, having hung himself, and the keys in his pocket. Mitch escaped the neighbor's house, just as the horde of undead poured inside, and got into the neighbor's truck, only to find he wasn't alone inside. And so, we continue....
Hell Breaks Loose - Episode 6 - "Burden of This World"
He turned and caught the soft amber eyes of a girl, no more than 8 or 9 years old. Her sandy hair looked freshly flat ironed, though Mitch doubted this was really the case, and hung down just above her shoulders. Her pink Hello Kitty t-shirt shook as she giggled. An angelic smile between her rosy chubby cheeks masked a set of gapped front teeth. She clutched a soiled stuffed bear closely. One of its buttonhole eyes dangled by a piece of thread.
A confused laugh escaped Mitch’s tear soaked lips, and though he didn’t know it, he was smiling. He thought it nice to see that laughter could still bloom even as the dead walked the streets and pounded against doors.
“How did you get in here?”
“Your forehead is red. Did that hurt? Why were you doing that?”
He laughed again. He hadn’t been around kids in a while and almost forgot how they inherently ignore the important questions and ask a million of their own.
“I was…” Mitch stopped. She didn’t need to hear about his mother and all the grisly details that had befallen the last two days. Plus, he didn’t know her. Mitch wasn’t a warm up to strangers kind of guy, even if they were kids. But, he couldn’t help but see something in this girl that induced a sort of spill your guts feeling. After sizing her up, he realized what it was. It was comfort. The dead hadn’t crushed her spirit. She could actually smile. That’s something he hadn’t done in a long time.
“Where’s your family!?” Mitch asked, though he felt he already knew.
“Um…” the little girl said. Her tiny caterpillar eyebrows scrunched inward, bunching the folds of her small forehead. She looked confused, unable to find the words in her limited vocabulary. Words like death and loss surely hadn’t found their niche between imaginary tea parties, cooties, and Disney movies. She stopped short of saying something, sighed, then gave up the search.
“Are they at home?”
The little girl shook her head ‘No’.
“Do you know where home is?”
Mitch looked at her, blankly, for a moment, out of questions.
“They left,” she said, picking at her stuffed animals’ matted and dirtied fur. “They didn’t even say goodbye.”
“So, you’re all alone?” Mitch asked. He felt that irritating lump gnawing at the back of his throat again, choking him with sadness.
The little girl shook her head up and down, focusing on her bear and said, “Yeah.” She looked up at Mitch. “Just me.”
Rickerson’s front door buckled, falling flat like a castle’s drawbridge and the dead flooded the front porch, leaping over the railings and sprinting down the steps, bloodying it with foot and handprints.
“We gotta go! We gotta go now!” Mitch barked. “Looks like you’re not alone for now!” He twisted himself back around in the driver’s seat in a hurry and looked at the dash and the shifter in the center console.
“Fuck! It’s a stick shift!” He turned back around. “I don’t know how to drive stick shift!” he said as if the little girl could help.
The little girl leapt into the passenger’s seat, buckled her seat belt, and gripped the shifter.
“My dad used to drive a truck like this. That’s why I hid in here. I thought it was his. I kinda remember how. I’ll do this. You do that!” she said, pointing at the steering wheel.
A nervous laugh slipped through Mitch’s lips while he started the truck. I’m taking orders from a little girl, he thought. The engine roared to life and dwindled to a vibrating putter and occasional screech.
The little girl jerked the shifter into first. The truck slid forward and stalled, lulling them both forward in their seats.
The undead swarm raced across the front lawn and into the street.
“No! You have to…that thing…” The little girl pointed at Mitch’s feet. “My dad used his foot to tap the one on the left!”
Mitch slid back in his seat to see the floor and pedals.
“What!? What!? I don’t know what you’re pointing at!” he yelled, annoyed and scared to death.
She sat quiet, thinking of the word she was looking for.
“You have to push it when I move this!” she said, shaking the shifter, grinding it into neutral.
A zombie shambled up into the bed of the truck, clanging its feet against the tailgate.
Mitch turned around, eyes widening as he saw the zombie punching the back window. A chunk of glass chipped loose into the zombie’s knuckle.
Where did this girl come from, Mitch thought, gripping the steering wheel for one more go.
“The clutch! That’s what it’s called!” she shouted, clapping her hands. “Ok, you push it down when I move this, and Berry here…” she said, tapping the teddy bear’s head. “Will protect us from the gooey men.”
Mitch twisted the starter again, but this time he depressed the clutch, feeling it disengage, and stuck his tongue through the corner of his lips in concentration. On cue, the little girl threw the shifter into first.
The rest of the undead pack stormed the sides of the truck. Dozens of bleeding hands hastily caressed both the driver’s and passenger’s sides. Glass thuds rattled the inside of the truck’s cab from punches and head butts.
“Now!” she shouted.
Mitch stomped his foot on the gas, rising the black speedometer needle like a boiler’s pressure gauge, ready to explode.
The zombie in the bed of the truck recoiled in surprise, stumbling backward like he was on a reverse treadmill. The backs of its legs clanged against the tailgate, flipping him feet-over-head and out of the truck bed.
The truck tires kicked up loose gravel and grey dirt, spraying the zombies still running up with tiny rock bullets, pelting them to the ground on their asses.
"Again!" she shouted, pointing at the clutch.
On cue, Mitch depressed the clutch, and the girl threw it into second gear.
A zombie that clung for dear life to Mitch’s door handle lost its grip and rolled, face grinding against the pavement.
“Sweet freedom!” Mitch shouted, feeling a bit of relief.
Mitch looked at the little girl who paid close attention to the speedometer.
"Again!" she laughed.
She shifted into third as the needle rounded into higher speeds and Mitch tapped the clutch one more time. He steered the truck down second avenue, passing his house on the left. His mother’s corpse stood, gripping both sides of the open window, watching the truck zoom by with a hungry grin still plastered on her cracked lips. The shards of glass embedded into her scalp twinkled as Mitch rounded the street corner, heading for Main Street. She stuck her head out of the window, following the truck with her eyes until it passed out of view down the connecting street.
Mitch bit his lip, blinking away the tears glazing over his eyes. He wanted desperately to hold it together while his house disappeared behind a giant pine tree in the rear view mirror. Blinking wasn’t working. More tears oozed forth as soon as they could be smeared over his eyes.
He hand rolled his window down, letting his eyes air dry. The aromas of leafy pines and musty corn crops wafted into the cab. He caught the ripeness in the air and could tell they were ready for harvest. Too bad no combines would ever be rustling up dried dust clouds and golden corn husks into the countryside breeze again. He thought about the open country air and wondered if zombies would be crawling around out there.
From Main Street, he could either hop onto the highway or head out into the rural areas, out by the farmlands where your neighbor could be a couple miles away, where your business was your own and that’s how it stayed. There wasn’t enough food out there to keep the dead around, unless they fed on cows and horses too.
Mitch slowed the pickup, nearing the stop sign that guarded Main Street, which ran North and South, right split down the middle of Clifton.
“What are you doing?” the little girl asked, shifting into an Indian style perch on the passenger’s seat, stuffed bear nestled in her lap.
“It’s a stop sign.”
“I know that!”
“Then you know you’re supposed to stop,” Mitch warned.
“I mean, why are you stopping? There’s no one else out on the road.”
Mitch opened his mouth to say something, but sighed instead.
“I suppose you’re right,” Mitch said.
“Plus, look behind us,” the little girl said, peeking around her seat through the back window.
Mitch glanced at the rear view mirror.
A crowd of the undead raced around Mitch’s street corner, rotted flesh crumbling like old parchment, barreling their way down the street toward them, at least a half mile away. More of them were shambling across backyards and from within houses, joining the gathering pack, which now numbered thirty plus.
“They just don’t leave you alone, do they?” Mitch asked rhetorically.
“No, they don’t,” the little girl said. Her tone was riddled with sadness, and for the first time her face wore the burden that this world innately forced upon anyone who wasn’t dead.
She squeezed her legs in tight and wrapped her arms around them, cradling herself. She started bobbing back and forth in her seat.
“You all right?” Mitch asked, expecting a horror story of her own.
“I have to pee,” she said.
Mitch had to hold back a laugh, but it was getting out one way or the other. If it wasn’t coming out of his mouth, it was coming out of his nose.
Mitch first snorted with his nose, splattering snot down his upper lip, then laughed harder and fuller than he could ever remember. He felt his face swell with heat and his chest heave as he howled with delicious chuckles.
“Stop!” the little girl said, fighting a smile. “If you make me laugh, I’ll piss all over the place.”
“Watch your mouth!” Mitch giggled, wiping away tears from his eyes from laughing so hard.
Mitch thought again about the open countryside and the highway, then about the gas station just outside of town.
He figured they’d be in the truck for a while wherever they decided to go, and didn’t want to smell the little girl’s piss anymore than he wanted go back home again. The gas station was a good start, at least.
Out of nowhere, his stomach gurgled and it felt like it was going to start eating itself. Yep, the gas station was a GREAT start. He thought about twinkies, ho-hos, and moon pies, their crinkling wrappers and delicious cream fillings. It was enough to make his taste buds ache.
“I’ll take you somewhere you can go pee. Don’t know about you, but I’m starving. We can grab a bite or two and figure out what’s next.”
“Will the gooey people be there?” she asked.
“It’s far enough out of town that they probably would have left it alone.”
“I know!” the little girl said, popping open the glove compartment. Her hands shuffled deep inside, spilling the truck’s manual and nearly a dozen expired insurance cards. Her tiny fingers came out, holding a 9mm.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Mitch shouted, reaching delicately to take it from her. “This is not a toy. You can’t play with these things. People can get hurt, or worse.”
The little girl sniffled, eyes going shiny with tears.
“I was just gonna give it to you. That’s all,” she said, sniffling again.
“It’s ok, but I think I should be the one to hold onto this,” Mitch said, holstering the gun underneath his jean’s waist line.
The little girl smiled through her sadness.
“We’re stuck with each other, dude,” she said, tiny smile curling around her lips.
“Mitch. You can call me Mitch.”
“My name’s Phoebe!” she said, shaking Mitch’s arm up and down with both of her hands.
“Nice to meet you Phoebe!” Mitch said, chuckling and playing along with her childish formalities.
She stopped and rested her head against Mitch’s shoulder, fingers bundling around his bicep. Her fingers were warm and sweaty. He smiled and nervously reached over with his free hand to pat her head, to comfort her, but he stopped short. Images of his mother rising from her bed, clawing at his pants, aching to tear his throat out bombarded him.
We help others by helping ourselves, she whispered into his mind.
He had the urge to help Phoebe, to survive together. But he thought about how well that turned out for his mother, when he tried helping her. He wondered, with illogical and tainted thoughts, if this little girl was better of by herself.
The gas station was a good place to stock up, also could be a good place to drop someone off, he thought. Plenty of food, plenty of water.
Mitch turned and headed South on Main, toward the gas station just outside of town. Phoebe giggled as Mitch flicked on the turn signal.
“You don’t hafta do that!” She laughed.Mitch guardedly smiled as he drove along...
Don't forget to follow me @andrew8654, for more updates and episodes! Thanks for reading. We'll see you next week for Episode 7 - "20 on pump 6"