The chatter began immediately. Several people stepped into the abandoned store from the rear. Erik put the weapon down and waited to see what was coming up next. His world had dissolved. The other men in front of him were out of sight. He focused on the door beside the old meat counter. The only door from the back room. A loud crash followed by screams of horror. Further commotion rocked the world behind the thin gray door. A man sobbed, the outside door closed and the chatter stopped. The quiet only lasted a moment but it was enough. The old dusty shelves returned. Sean and Andrew stood near him. Weapons were all put away. Jean Claude stood, clutching his shoulder. The Haitian man didn’t need say a thing. He didn’t have too. His face was drenched in anger toward Erik.
Erik looked for only a moment then he returned to the back door. The gray slab of metal and wood swung forward revealing a small girl covered in blood. Following the girl was her young mother and father. The twenty year old father held his wife in his arms. She was hurt blood flowing from a wound in her arm and leg.
“Sara,” Erik whispered as flashes of his daughter floated through his head. The terror in this child’s eyes prodded Erik and he dropped the weapon. Erik ran toward the family grabbing a handful of dusty towels on the way.
“Let’s get you fixed up,” he said as he handed the small girl a towel and did a quick check for wounds.
“Thank God your ok, Sara.”
“My names not Sara,” said the girl.
Erik focused on the mother. “This is not good. She has a major bite wound. You have 24 hours before she passes but we can stop the bleeding for now.”
The father stands silent. His gaze fixed on the gore and dried blood in Erik’s two year old beard.
“Are you going to help me?” Erik asked.
“Sure,” said the father his voice barely audible. “Thank you.”
Erik lead the three to one of the store aisles and instructed him to lay his wife on one of the conveyor belts. Jean Claude, Sean and Andrew joined.
“I can help with this, I was a combat medic in the first War of the States,” Andrew offered.
Erik stepped away and let him work. He watched the man make a make-shift bandage for the leg wound and a compress for the shoulder.
He then found a working flashlight and headed for the back room.
“I will help you,” Jean Claude said from behind him.
“I hope your not looking for an apology,” Erik said as he entered but the tall, dark man had disappeared into the darkness.
Erik searched, the light from his flashlight traced prone figures upon the ground.
“Who’s in here!” Will shouted.
Jean Claude stepped forward with a wounded man in his arms. The wounded man had large bite marks in his shoulder.
“He’s infected,” Erik snapped.
Jean Claude turned and bared his long hollow teeth.
“Oh my god, your a vampire,” Erik began. “I knew you weren’t up here for any good reason. I knew there was something wrong with you!”
“What are you going to do now kill us all?”
A breath of air chilled Erik. Paralyzing him as he stood.
“I’m not killing anyone, even a troubled soul like you. A man so reduced to nothing he can barely stand. I may just save you life one day.”
The .45 went off. The sound stuck to the walls and shook the building. Jean Claude spun, fell and disappeared.
“You have gone to far,” Sean shouted and attempted to advance.
“What? Are you going to shoot me too?”
“I don’t know, did you hit me. Did you do this!” Erik pointed at his head wound with the weapon.
Erik stepped from the counter and toward the two remaining men. The .45 pointed in their direction.
“You’re going to listen to me. Pack your crap and leave.”
“Ok, fine!” Andrew and Sean said in unison.
“Move!” Erik shouted when both men stood motionless.
Both men began to collect what they could, taking time to pick up as many items as they could.
Andrew stood first pointing a pistol then Sean.
“What now!” Sean shouted.
“I can still fire,” Erik replied then stepped forward.
“Back away you suicidal bastard,” Andrew countered and stepped foward.
“Do you know how many we’ve killed? I can put you down easily.”
“And why am I still walking!” Erik took another step.
“I don’t want to kill your dumb ass. Stop moving.”
“Shoot me! Do it!” Erik shouted then repeated it.
Erik positioned the weapon forward. He growled as he began to measure the likelyhood of hitting one of the men.
“The other would likely kill me moments later,” he thought. “I can make this happen.”
He stepped forward and tuned out the shouting. He dropped any hope of life after this encounter. He placed his finger on the trigger when the door in the back of the store exploded open.
Erik sat in a lawn chair he found in the tiny camping section. He could not help but stare at the pale remains of partially severed hands and arms tacked to the plywood windows.
“Imagine, if they were human arms and not the infected. It would be cruel and unusual punishment,” he said.
“They are not human,” Jean Claude replied as he sat beside him in a simular looking chair.
“It was supposed to be a cure for Cancer. It was a mutating cell inhibitor. It was not supposed to create new cells. A new nervous system. It moved so fast. It was spectacular until it took my wife…”
A painful thump and Erik’s world went dark.
Minutes later he woke bloody and leaning against the remains of a shelf full of dusty baseball cards.
Jean Claude and the Baker brothers argued near the end of the checkout lane. Erik stood. Took a breath and then walked left toward a dirty counter that used to be the Service Center. Blood fell from the wound on the right side of Erik’s face.
Erik stepped behind the counter. He searched for the .45 he knew was behind the counter. The dusty handgun sat near a stack of boxes. Erik reached for the weapon as his head throbbed.
“This thing is huge,” he thought as he slid the weapon from the shelf.
“Where did Erik, the Horrible go?”
“I’m not Erik, the Horrible or Erik, the Terrible… I am not an animal,” Erik stood and squeezed the trigger.
“Push the damn boards,” shouted Andrew as all three men fought to secure the broken window. Jean Claude was in the center, Sean on the left and Andrew on the right. Erik stood behind them waiting to hammer the nails back into the store window.
The hands reached into the cracks and grasp at everything. Five meaty fingers grabbed Sean at the elbow and pulled.
“Help me!” He shouted. Erik stepped to Sean’s right and swung the hammer. The small circular hammer sank into the rotten hand severing tendons. The creature grabbed at Sean’s arm the best it could. Its strength sapped but its hunger overwhelming. The fingers of the creature flicked and curled. The first two fingertips poked at Sean’s hand but the last three held onto a meaty section of Sean’s arm. Erik struck the creature again. Thick blackish blood splattered and the hand withdrew. The hand was replaced and it grabbed at the air. Erik took a long nail and slammed it into the palm. He took a second then a third. He grabbed another hand and did the same thing.
Sean stared for a moment then assisted. After 15 minutes they had secured an odd looking wall.
“Good job,” Erik replied and slapped a hand.
“How are we supposed to sleep now with this sick piece of work?” Andrew complained.
“Ha… how’s do you like my ‘hand’y work,” Erik smiled.
Erik listened to the banging on the outside walls. Erik was comfortable with one here and a few others throughout the night but it had increased almost hourly. By 3:00 he could stand it no more. The zombies slapped the glass making the entire window shake. They had secured the windows with pieces of plywood left in the back of the store. “The glass should hold,” he thought. “Why now?”
“The answer is clear,” Erik’s doppleganger appeared in front of him.
“They brought them. The three strangers. Ruined in one day.” The ghostly figure gestured toward the three men lying half asleep.
“What do you want me to do murder them in their sleep?” Erik asked.
“Try it crazy man and I will put you down.” Sean snapped. “What the hell is this constant noise,” he complain.
“I don’t know. It was fine before you got here.”
“What did you want us to do!” Sean shot back. “We didn’t know you were here. We fought zombies and survivors to get here. Do you know I had to push a man into a group of zombies to get out alive.” Sean stood and approached Erik.
Erik stood to confront the man.
“I don’t care what happened to you. I’ve been here two years and no bothers till you showed up.”
Sean shoves Erik. Erik falls into the dusty shelves behind him. He stands and tackles the younger man. Both men fall into the plywood covered front window. The glass shatters and the plywood cracks.
Hands grasp the two men as they fight. The grip strong as they are pulled away from the window.
“You stupid f–ks. Get you asses back here.”
Jean Claude and Sean’s brother Andrew threw the fighters backward as they hurried to secure the window. The monsters outside, attracted by the noise, began to push on the broken plywood. Hands thrust forward from outside. Each one grabbing at the air willing the living to get close.
Erik shook himself awake after the shove and slowly sat up. He looked around and quickly noticed the large glass window at the front of the store had been boarded up.
“What did you do?” Erik spat. “You are taking away all the light.”
“Old man,” Sean began. “I don’t know how you made it this long. This building has a huge glass window and the back door was wide open. The zombies could of walked right in.”
Erik ignored him and stared at the three new survivors. The Baker brothers were dark skinned and muscular. They stood a foot shorter then Erik at 6’2. The third man was 7 foot tall. His skin was black as coal with a yellow, toothy smile.
“Haitian? Why are you so far North?” Erik asked.
“I was an American, born in Cleveland.” Jean Claude responded. “Before the country broke apart.”
“Yeah, that was crazy…” Erik said then quickly added. “So how many did they add this time?”
“Fifty prisoners this time. It wasn’t a pleasant trip here so we would appreciate you drop the crazy loner act and help finish securing this building. There may be more survivors,” Andrew added.
Erik swallowed hard. He didn’t respond.
“I have a bottle of warm Vodka and a couple other bottles behind the service counter, if you want a drink,” Erik offered.
After several drinks and a couple hours the four men were happy with the security of the small grocery store. They settled in to sleep for the night when the banging started.
“Jean Claude,” Sean began, “this dirtbag has been asleep for two days. Who would of thought you could be sleep on a dusty old store conveyer. So glad I didn’t live here. Looks like a shithole.”
“Two days? It’s barely been a day, Sean. Captured, beaten and thrown in a City of Zombies complex. This is the dumbest idea ever. Five years of infected trapped in eight foot walls. Surprised we are still alive. Did you see the evolution of the creatures?
“We are here for the God stone. We tracked that vampire nest from Grand Rapids to here. Our job is only the stone. The infection is not our concern. You understand what the stone does.” replied Jean Claude.
“Oh God no. Vampire. Are you crazy? We are fighting a vampire nest inside a City of Zombies. No wonder you said nothing Jean Claude. I would of told you to…”
“Sean, we need to get that stone,” added Andrew.
Sean pressed his lips together then shoved Erik till he woke.
Several shafts of light approached Erik as he stood behind the steel shelf.
“Sir, don’t be frightened we will not hurt you.” The Frenchman added.
“I’m not frightened you idiot. I don’t want you here in my shelter.” Erik shot back.
“Maybe we should just leave him… no then he would bitch too much. Let’s just kill him.”
“No Sean,” said the Frenchman. “Sir, my name is Jean Claude Anacius, hunter of monsters. My companions Sean and Andrew Baker are also hunters.
Erik’s ankles throbbed. He attempted to lift the plywood trap but the space between him and the wall restricted his movements. Erik watched as the cones of light came closer. The light highlighting an image of Erik within a nearby mirror.
“You know they are after you,” said his doppleganger. They are hunters. They are looking for Erik, the horrible.”
“I did not do what they accused me of,” Erik shouts back. The image disappears.
“Hey, bro… We ain’t judging you,” said Sean, the younger brother. “They got us too. Hell if it was trumped up.”
“Ha…” laughed his brother.
“Just help me,” Erik pleaded.
The trio of flashlights converged on Erik revealing a fifty year old disheveled man. Half of Erik’s face was covered in curly gray and black hair, his head revealed patches of pale baldness.
Presumptive end of Chapter 1