I’m still on a revision kick with Two Destroyers and Kingless Country, so here’s chapter one of Game of Life (Which makes a pretty good stand alone short story if I do say so myself).
Some things changed other things got cleaned up. Enjoy.
“And that’s all she wrote!” Harriet spiked her controller and thrust her hands triumphantly skyward. “Another decisive victory.”
Jeff tossed aside his controller, letting out an annoyed sigh. “No need to gloat.”
Harriet hopped onto his lap and planted a kiss on his nose. “Don’t be a spoil-sport. I won fair and square. To the victor goes the gloating rights; to the loser, a trip to the store.”
Jeff sighed and moved a lock of auburn hair from Harriet’s face. “Of course, anything in particular?”
“Ice cream,” she said. “Not picky about the flavor, whatever they stocked up on is fine.”
“Got it.” He leaned forward and kissed her.
She gave him a coy smile. “You’re not trying to distract me are you? Hurry up.” Harriet slipped away from him, stood and stretched.
Jeff couldn’t help but admire her at every opportunity. One glance was enough to recognize her as a survivor. On top of all that, she was just nice to look at. It’d been weeks since she’d made a supply run, mostly because of her gaming superiority, but she hadn’t lost her edge.
He caught a glimpse of pale skin when her hoodie pulled up from her stretch. Her strong built arms offset her naturally soft body—best to call it Rubenesque to avoid the ‘f’ word—but Jeff had no complaints on that end. After all she was well proportioned, to catch the meaning. Jeff had worried she’d get soft from the down time. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Jeff stood and hugged her from behind. “I wasn’t wasting time, just reminding myself how lucky I am to have you.”
“Good. Then I’m changing my order. I want rocky-road. Score that and I’ll give you a special surprise.”
Jeff made a face. “That’s not fair. They’ll have what they have–”
“Think of it as the lottery. Adds to the excitement.” Harriet slipped out of his arms and hurried off out of the living room.
Jeff sighed and stood, taking a quick stop to the bathroom. The sink stopped working weeks ago, so they kept bottles stacked in the now useless shower. He made faces at the spindly guy in the mirror with strawberry blonde hair and beady little brown eyes. Sniffing at the air, he realized it’d been a few days since his last bath, that have to change after the run.
He stretched, paying close attention to limbering up his long legs. Sure, they helped him move quick, but he hated how they made him shorter than Harriet seated. Both of them were pretty short, five feet at best—but survivors tended to be short these days.
After grabbing an earpiece and a backpack, he braved the wasteland that was the living room. Wrappers and cans covered the floor better than the carpet by this point. They hadn’t cleaned in a while, but it had been weeks since the garbage man passed away. “I should set one out anyway.”
He grabbed a trash bag and took a few minutes to fill it to bursting. He tested its weight and girth. This should do nicely. He unlocked all thirteen locks one by one, pulled the three chains and turned the massive deadbolt pull arm.
Jeff took a deep breath, held on the bad tight and found his happy place.
Harriet stepped behind him, giving him a quick endearing hug. “Careful out there. I’ll get the door.”
The door swung open and he ran. A man lumbered in the middle of the lot—The Garbage man, still wearing his dingy overalls. Jeff hurled the bag as hard as he could, toppling the guy and broke past him. Twin screams echoed around him—two he hadn’t seen on the way out. He slid to a stop, pivoted and juked. Two women slapped into each other, hard enough to send the crack of bone through the air.
The garbage man righted himself, tossing away the remnants of the heavy bag and roared. The garbage man and the two women chased, but they’d never catch up.
Jeff kept moving, he had five blocks to cover. He took a high road, clambering up a fire escape to get to the roofs. His neighbors were shitty climbers.
The first store was a dead lead, it wouldn’t be stocked for another month. He peered up at a nearby security camera, giving it a thumbs up. Harriet would be watching. Had he won the game he probably would have had his nose on the monitors watching Harriet make the same run.
He loved watching her run. Yeah, for that reason.
His earpiece crackled to life. “Hey Jeff. You have to take the long way. There’s twelve on the main road.”
“What? That’ll take forever,” Jeff said, “Can’t I just go through? I can take twelve.”
“Hmmm. It would be fun to watch. Tell you what. Double or nothing. If you take that way AND get my rocky road, I’ll make the surprise even better.”
Jeff beamed. It had been a while.
Shuffling and groans snapped him out of his daydream. One of rotters made it up to the roof. He snatched up a lead pipe and swung golf-style right to the jaw. Rotted teeth flew into the air and clattered onto the ground.
“You were thinking about dirty things weren’t you?” Harriet said. “You’re gonna get yourself killed.”
“I feel so loved. I coulda died; you can at least pretend you’d be upset.”
“I’m not upset cause I have faith in you. You’re not going to let a biter get to you. Didn’t you say you were gonna take out twelve?”
“If you’re making promises, I will.”
“Is that ALL you think about?”
“End of the world, Harriet. Not much else to think about. Especially with a girl like you waiting for me back home.”
“Fine. Kill all twelve. I promise.”
“Nice.” Jeff pumped his fist and took a nearby ladder to the street. He cut through a smoldering shell of a building, one recently bombed by the feds. It turned out to be a blessing and one hell of a shortcut. Biters didn’t like the debris, as they fell over trying to pass over it. Jeff kicked up dust as he ran through and it left him coughing. The didn’t give a shit about the dust though, so it was risk and reward.
“Almost there. The entry is clear,” Harriet said.
Jeff stepped out of the dust and fanned it away. Six biters hunched over a dead body eating something or someone. Jeff recognized the running jacket. “Aw fuck, the neighborhood got smaller.”
“It’s in the camera’s blind spot,” Jeff said. “Shannon. At this rate you’ll be the last woman alive.”
“Well at least now I don’t have to worry about to sneaking over there,” Harriet said.
“What? Oh come on you’re like… a million times prettier than her.”
“…now.” Harriet and Jeff broke into laughter. The biters turned and roared at him.
He clenched his hand around the lead pipe. “What? You don’t like laughing? Come get some.”
Four of them sprinted towards him. He lined up the swing and took two out with a clean swipe. The pipe lodged into the building framework, stuck. He dodged the other two and grabbed one, shoving onto an exposed pipe. A sickening slurp filled the air as it plunged deeper into its flesh.
Jeff charged the last two, they turned to intercept him, but he sprung off the charred husk of a desk and kicked on hard in the face. It toppled over, taking out its dinner date with him. Jeff landed, leapt again and curb-stomped its head , splattering it like a rotten melon. He stooped over, took the bowie knife near Shannon’s body and finished off the other.
The remaining biter swiped at him, grazed his clothes, but stumbled.
“Just not your day, zombie-guy.” Jeff drove the blade into the back of his head and backed away.
Shannon lie still, flayed at the stomach by the biters. She’d been dead for hours, judging from the smell. So, I guess she really was immune. What a way to go.
“You ok?” Harriet said.
“I’m good, six down. You said there were twelve right?” Jeff rolled his shoulder.
“Those didn’t count. The twelve I was talking about are just beyond the bar—hold up bonus points if you can grab something from there too.”
“Whatever, they’re a warm up I guess. I doubt they have anything; they only stock bars four times a year.” Jeff cleaned off his knife on the ground and sheathed it. He kicked through some rubble, finding another pipe. He tested it’s weight with a few swings before moving on.
Ten or so biters surrounded the bar. They shuffled around, oblivious to his presence. However, a seven-foot tall figure covered in muscle stared directly at him.
“Fuck… a Wight,” he said. “You didn’t tell me there was a Wight.”
“Didn’t I?” Harriet said. “Too much for you?”
Jeff flexed his fingers around his pipe. The biters were the immediate problem, but an angered ‘Wight’ meant death. He had to either kill it in one swing, or pick off the biters around it. A single drop of blood spilled on a Wight amplified the intensity of biters.
Jeff picked up a rock, rolled it in his fingers and tossed. It bounced lazily off the leg of a biter, drawing nothing more than a lethargic glance.
His earpiece crackled. “You might need to give up on the game, not much in the way of options here.”
“Never, I just need fire. Think the store has propane tanks? Killing a Wight would probably get us an extra drop.”
“At least… but you don’t have any-way to light it. Not like you can just throw a match.”
“I can make a Molotov from the bar.”
“And waste booze?”
“Drinking it is more of a waste,” Jeff said, “You’re a weepy drunk anyway.”
Jeff scurried across the street, kept his head down, and slipped into the bar. Intact beer bottles lined the walls, but the liqueur shelf was picked clean. “Wine Coolers… That’s not gonna help.”
“Bring me one,” Harriet said through the headset.
“Fine.” Jeff pulled his backpack from his shoulders and loaded a few in. Low to the ground, he spotted an unmarked jug. “Holy shit.”
“What? What is it?”
Jeff leaned forward and tugged it away from the counter. He removed a cork and gave it a sniff. “Moonshine. Just what the doctor ordered.”
He scooped up some empty bottles and filled four of them. He used some bar rags as fuses, taking a moment to soak them. He stashed three of them in his backpack and carried the moonshine jug and a molotov out. He hurried out of the bar, but hesitated at the door. The Wight stared at him with dead back eyes and blocked the exit.
“Uh… Harriet, a heads up on the movement would have been nice.” No response. “Harriet?”
Jeff tapped the earpiece, keeping a cautious eye on the Wight. Thankfully, they never attacked unless wounded. Without biters it made it easy.
“Say uh… mind holding this?” Jeff offered the bottle of moonshine to the Wight. It complied quietly, fixing it’s stare on Jeff. He slipped out of the shattered window, and the wight followed.
“Harriet?” He tapped his earpiece and hurried to a brisk walk. “I have a Wight on my ass.”
A chorus of roars echoed around him. A biter charged. He glanced back to the wight, gauged his swing and flattened the charging biter with his pipe. The wight looked on, non-plusssed.
He pushed forward, noting the approaching horde of biters. He shoved one away and hurried to a jog, cutting down an alleyway to funnel them.
“Harriet, I need high ground,” he said into the headset.
All at once, his body felt light and his body jerked backwards. Lean arms picked up like a toddler, out the alleyway and back towards the wight. A lean looking Zombie held him, ignoring his squirming—a Sprinter.
Jeff grunted when his back made hard impact with a wall of muscle. The wind fled from his lungs from the hit. Sprinters didn’t bite, but they played with their victims to drum up their terror. It left the biters to feed on their exhausted bodies.
The sprinter let him go and backed away. It stared at him with its blank pale face. Sprinters always creeped him the hell out, with their Long limbs, no mouth, and large pitch black eyes. The world spun around Jeff, but he could see and hear the biters closing in..
Jeff stood, staggering to put some distance between the wight. The sprinter pushed him back with unnatural power. This one sported a black suit, somewhat tattered but alarmingly tidy.
Great. Of all the ways to go, killed by some undead corporate douchebag.
His senses returned. He had to survive. He still had options.
He swung his pipe at the sprinter. It dodged easily.
A thunderous shot rang out behind the approaching crowd and a biter toppled. The sprinter fled. Jeff scanned the rooftops looking for the shooter. It hit him all at once, and he flipped the frequency switch of his ear-piece. “Harriet?”
“Aw,” she said. “I wanted it to be more of a surprise,“
He kept his pipe ready, glancing back at the hulking wight. The gunfire drove the biters into frenzy and their attention shifted from him. “Where are you?”
“Above. I found this walkway last time I went out.” The sound of a gun reloading rang through the headset. “Sorry for using you as bait.”
Jeff sniffed, a pungent stench of alcohol hung in the air. He just noticed the wight no longer had the bottle of moonshine. Splintered pieces of glass stuck to his tattered clothing and skin. A blob of blood slid down the shard of glass.
“Oh shit, SHIT SHIT SHIT!” Jeff scurried the closest fire escape.
“What is it?”
The wight roared, shaking the air and pierced Jeff to the core.
“The Wights is pissed. Repeat. The Wight is pissed!”
“Fuck. Did I do that?”
“No, well… not exactly.” Jeff said, hurrying up the second flight of stairs. “It’s covered in Moonshine. Just shoot it. Then it should–”
The Fire escape shifted. The wight yanked on it, ripping steel from brick wall.
“I’ll distract it.” Jeff jumped off the fire escape in time to watch it crumple into the alley. He climped up a nearby window frame to the roof. “It’s my fault it got pissed off anyway.”
“Moron! It’s pissed. Getting near it is—“
“Suicide. I get it. Gives you more motivation to be a good shot.” Jeff ran to the edge and leapt. Let’s hope that awning is sturdy.
Jeff clenched his stomach and braced for impact, the awning caught his fall and promptly tore in half. He landed on his feet, stumbling towards the crowd of biters. He decapitated a biter with high swing. They surrounded him, screaming like a pack of hungry wolves. One exploded into a coud of black bloody mist. A meaty fist punched through it like paper.
Yep, the wight’s pissed. He glanced back and noticed a trail of alcohol behind him. The bottles in his bag had been shattered and doused with the potent stink of bootleg hooch and cheap wine coolers.
“I’m about to do something very stupid.” Jeff twisted the pipe to a javelin hold and charged the wight, slipping the bag off his shoulder. “Shoot the bag!”
Jeff leapt, jamming the pipe hard into the wight’s shoulder and abandoned his backpack on it like a crude flag.
“Oh. That bag.” Harriet ssaid. “On it.”
The rifle shot erupted through the air and punched clean through the Nylon. The Wight twisted, the bullet went clear through its left eye.
Jeff winced. “Fuck, no spark. You gotta be kidding me.”
“You can always bang two rocks together near him.”
“Not helping, Harriet.” Jeff turned and ran into a nearby building.
The Wight gave chase, the pipe held the bag in place, flopping and dangling around his neck. strap of the pack dangled around his neck. Moonshine ran down his face and bare chest.
“Probably not the best idea, one more pillar goes down in that building and you got a thousand pounds of rocks coming down on your head.”
“I didn’t notice.” Jeff slipped in easy enough, but the Wight’s girth kept it from getting to him—for now. The wight lashed at the door taking signs the ceiling wouldn’t last were piling up. He had a small window to squeeze through but it wouldn’t buy him much in the way of time.
“Rocks?” Jeff’s eyes widened. He threw scraps of wall at the Wight, pushing its rage further. The rocks piled near him. He dove through the window as the ceiling collapsed. Stone struck stone and the satisfying sound of flame came to life.
He turned and fled It would take time for the flames to kill the Wight, if it killed him at all.
“I’m heading back.” Harriet said, he glanced back and saw her waving from a rooftop.
“I won’t be long. Have that surprise ready for me.”
“No deal, the Wight killed half of em’.”
“Hey.” Jeff slowed to a stop. “That totally counts.”
“Get me my ice cream, then we can talk.” Harriet cut the line.
Jeff growled and flipped the frequency. He jogged into the store.to find a freshly installed keypad. He must have just missed the drop; that meant fresh food. With Sharon dead the selection only got better.
“A-L-I-V-E.” Jeff said the password aloud. The door beeped and allowed access.
Inside the shelves were mostly bare but the fresh supplies stood out like a sore thumb. There was not only food, but Ammo, a radio, and new packs.
He held his breath when he went to the walk-in back freezer. He loaded up some frozen meat supplies first, beef and chicken in particular. He rounded the corner to find five, gallon jugs of ice cream.
Vanilla. Chocolate. Vanilla. Cookies and Cream.
“Rocky FUCKING Road!” Jeff held the ice cream over his head triumphantly. He snuggled against it endearingly. “Who’s getting some today? You sir. Yes you are~.”
He walked out of the cooler and stared down a blank pale face.
The Freezer door slammed behind him, her turned and ran for a weapon. A sprinter me in? Worse, the same one he saw in the plaza. He reached for a steel flashlight but his hand bumped into black fabric.
He looked up and saw the sprinter staring at him. With the same black eyes, the same tidy suit. He turned to run down another aisle and saw another. They stood around him, staring. One sprinters was bad enough, they were zombie magnets. Two in the same place meant a funeral. Three… he didn’t even want to think about it. He turned to leave the store only to blocked by another.
Jeff backpedaled slowly. His thoughts swam and his heart pounded. He bumped into something, turned and yet another stared down at him. This one seemed even taller than the last. He crumpled over and clutched the container of ice-cream like a teddy bear. It was all over. This is where I die.
“Jeff. Jeff!” Harriet’s voice pieced the fog. His eyes snapped open, sweat rolled down his face.
“Jeff.” I can hear you. Talk to me. Are you crying?”
“What? N-no.” Jeff stood slowly. He looked around, and found nothing but supplies. The door leading outside remained closed and quiet and locked.
“Did they have it?”
“What?” Jeff brought a hand to his ear.
“I said… did they have it?” Harriet growled. “The Ice cream.”
Jeff looked down at the cartoon moose on the container of ice cream and read the letters carefully. Rocky Road.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Well get your ass back here. It’s not like we have a working freezer in here.” Harriet voice sounded so clear. He hadn’t dreamt that.
“Yeah.” Jeff quietly loaded up on supplies, left the store and took the long uneventful way back home.
As soon as he stepped through the door, he gave Harriet a strong hug.
Harriet blushed at the sentiment. He had hardly noticed the lingerie she wore, a size too small for her nonetheless. He gave her another squeeze. “I’m glad you’re here with me Harriet, Thanks. And thanks for saving my ass again and again.”
They enjoyed the ice-cream together, full of warm smiles and relished another day survived in the world gone mad. Afterwards, they enjoyed dessert.