A short story in Our Dead Word

Provincetown

HARBOR BEAM

Publications

They huddled together under the staircase as they held their breath and strained to hear any sound, any noise that might tell them that they had been discovered. Their eyes stared wide into the darkness, each trying desperately to discern any movement in the blackness of the predawn.


Only minutes now remained until the sun rose and their nightmare would begin again. With every creak, with every groan, the windows shuddering within their panes, Jane’s body jerked as she fought to hold in sobs beside him. He held Jane close, his fingers braced firmly over her mouth.

How could the world have turned upside down in a matter of days? A few weeks ago he had been walking in the summer sunshine, enjoying the crowded beaches teeming with people tanning on their brightly colored blankets. Today, he dreaded the burning sunshine only slightly worse than the shadows of night, and the only colors seemed to be shades of gray.

But daydreaming was a luxury they could no longer afford. Racing against the dawn, Simon steadied Jane until her sobs waned with the wind. If they could just reach the door unheard, they might have a chance at escape. The first step would be the hardest, and once they took it, there would be no turning back.

He stood slowly, then helped Jane to stand as well. He handed her the metal fireplace poker as he hefted a Louisville Slugger, careful not to thump it against the wall and make any noise. The bat and poker weren’t much for weapons, but they were all they had. He slowly pushed open the door of the small closet that had been their sanctuary. Thankfully, the hinges were silent as the room slowly revealed itself beyond the opening door.

Carefully, they tiptoed over the old cracked hardwood floor, wincing each time their shoes scraped the uneven boards. One creak could start a war. One misstep could cost them their lives. Freedom was in sight now. He grasped the door handle, pausing to look through the peephole. Suddenly Jane’s body stiffened against him.

He smelled it first; the sickeningly sweet smell of fresh blood with an underpinning of rot. The scent reached his nostrils making him shudder, his skin erupted in goose flesh and cold sweat. From just around the corner within the adjoining room, came the loud stomp of a footstep on the teak floor. It was followed by a dragging sound, stomp, drag, stomp, drag. He turned quickly, stepping in front of Jane. He brought up the baseball bat like Big Papi stepping up to the plate. His heart pounded in his ears, almost drowning out the sound of the thing that was coming, slowly, from the next room. 

Instinct and training kicked in as Simon’s fear fueled him into action. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, turning his cold sweat to burning bloodlust, intent on protecting the one he loved and avenging those they had already lost. Closing in from the distance, he had to squint to see the object of his dread drawing closer. Bracing himself, he raised the bat squaring his shoulders automatically. Some habits never die even during a living nightmare.

     The sickening stench seemed to seep through their pores when suddenly, Jane heard another stomp thump directly behind her. She whipped around and pressed her back into his. With sweat-drenched hands, she clutched the poker, white knuckles gripping tightly to both her weapon and her sanity. Of course, those bastards never attacked alone.

They needed to strike fast, make as little noise as they could, and then get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. The dead always moved towards any unusual sound and she was about to make a serious shit-storm. The lifeless, hulking form of a man emerged from the darkness in front of her. His throat was partially torn open, as if some hellish beast had ripped out the flesh beneath his chin down to his collarbone. His face was sunken in, with eyes bulging beyond boney sockets. But those red creepy eyes found hers and she knew, that even in his empty soul, he saw her. Her blood turned to ice and froze her muscles for an instant, and then she swung the poker with everything she had. The iron hook connected with the side of his head and crushed his skull. For a moment she felt relief as his lifeless body slumped to the ground.

With all her might, Jane pulled the poker out of his bloody head. The force propelled her into Simon causing him to drop his bat and fall onto the undead hulk as they toppled to the ground. Jane rolled over quickly and struggled to stand up as cold hands grasped at her ankles. Face to face with death, Simon dodged bared teeth fighting and chomping at his neck. If he could only stretch an inch farther, he could touch the bat that had rolled just out of reach. She could see that Simon was in trouble and her immediate instinct was to help. The powerful feeling of her first kill awakened a passion within her as she lifted the poker with two clammy yet steady hands. With all her might, Jane put her slight frame in motion, bent down next to the writhing body and thrust the poker through his bulging, pulsating eye.  Grunting, she pulled the poker back out and sent the eyeball flying as his rotten blood sprayed into her face.

No time to stop and catch her breath, Jane took Simon by the hand and pulled him up from the ground. He grabbed his bat and swung the door wide open, not bothering to look out first. Whatever was outside, they would take their chances.

The sun was just rising over distant trees like a spectacular fireball that filled the horizon. On a normal day, people would have been milling about, beginning their morning, but there would never again be normal days. As they both took the steps off the porch two at a time, another freak lumbered forward and made a swipe at Jane. Simon struck its head with the baseball bat and the noise sent shivers down her spine. It sounded like a melon being squashed when the bat made contact with its head, followed by a gush of blood as it collapsed, still withering, onto the ground. They could see their destination, a lifted black hard top CJ7 Jeep which sat on the curb. The dead were coming quickly now, seemingly from every corner, but there were none blocking their path. Simon threw open the driver’s door as Jane leapt in first and slid to the passenger side. Simon followed, started the Jeep, and placed a heavy foot on the gas. Jane turned in her seat to look out the rear window. “You have got to be fucking shitting me,” yelled Jane as she stared in wide-eyed horror into the backseat. A 2-year-old child was strapped in a car seat, teeth gnashing, eyes wild, arms reaching, with a high-pitched screech that would turn even its mother’s blood cold.

Jane whipped around and fastened her seat belt. Maybe she could fool herself into pretending the little beast didn’t exist. Simon sped through the beach city that was once a tourist hotspot. Abandoned cars filled the narrow downtown streets making curbside travel the optimum route. “Can you slow down?” Jane asked with a gasp as they flew down the sidewalk of the main thoroughfare. “You’re cruising through town like we’re characters on Grand Theft Auto!”

  “Fight or flight. I choose flight.” The screeching had subsided from the backseat but now a guttural gnawing sound grew louder. “So, there’s a baby back there?”

  “What’s left of it,” Jane replied with a shudder.

“Why is it making that noise? Is that a baby noise or an undead noise?”

Jane shrugged. “I don’t know, and I don’t care. It’s buckled in back there. Let’s ignore it.”

“Just check on it,” ordered Simon. If there was one lesson he had learned these past few days, it was not to trust anyone or anything. Rolling her eyes, Jane unbuckled her seat belt so she could turn around and take a look. As soon as her eyes locked with the child, the shrill shrieking returned, its arms and legs flailing like a rabid rag doll as it fought to touch Jane. “Oh dear God,” whispered Jane.

“What? Is the little bastard still restrained?”

  “That sound, I can tell you what it is.” Jane held onto her seat tightly as the Jeep zigzagged on and off the sidewalk, through the paths of the parked cars.

“Jane?” Simon demanded. The guttural sound returned now with a renewed ferociousness

“It’s gnawing out of its seat belt.”

Simon glanced in his rear view mirror. Shards of seat belt were piling up in the car seat. In a matter of moments, there would be a bite-sized killer roaming about the Jeep’s cabin. Holding on tightly with both hands, he jerked the wheel to the left, hard. The Jeep swerved through an open intersection and over the nearest curb before catapulting them onto the sand. Simon glanced at Jane. “We have to get this thing out of here, car seat and all.”

They drove down the beach and turned onto the pier, whisking down the tattered wooden slats, blowing through staggering dead beach goers, their bodies projected into the air like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Finally, they came to the deserted end of the pier.

They both jumped out of the Jeep as soon as it came to a stop. As Simon slammed the door behind him, he heard a crunch and saw two small bloody fingers protruding from the door. Jane was at his side quickly and he looked at her and said with a heavy sigh, “Shit, that was close.”

She looked at the struggling child as it tried to pull its fingers from the door and banged frantically at the window with its other hand. “You shut its hand in the door?”

“Yeah, just as it was going for my throat, take that you little rat bastard! Why didn’t you just kill the little fucker when it was in the seat?”

“It’s just a little baby! I don’t know. I just couldn’t do it.”

Simon looked down towards the entrance of the pier. It was maybe 100 yards long and about a dozen undead could be seen approaching the entrance from the beach. They had a little time, but not much. “We need to get rid of it and get moving. Look, keep its attention and I will come at it from the other side. It should be stuck in the door so I’ll be able to get the thing before it can get at me,” he finished as he took the poker from Jane and went around to the passenger side of the Jeep. “Get its attention!”

Jane tapped on the window and said in a sweet voice, “Hi little one, look at me.” The little beast threw itself at the window, vigorously slamming repeatedly against the glass causing Jane to jump back with a start.

Simon quickly opened the passenger door and was about to stab it when it leapt across the Jeep's interior, reaching out to him with fingerless stubs, clawing at the air in front of his eyes. Simon fell back, barely keeping the snapping monster from biting off his nose as he slammed the passenger door shut. Jane opened her door and reached in and grabbed it from behind just as it lunged forward to strike. It turned to Jane, rotating its head exorcist style, and let out an angry snarl, but she moved too swiftly and emerged from the car holding it at arm's length. She ran to the edge of the pier with Simon close behind. She tossed the screaming little demon into the air and Simon kicked it in the ass, sending it into the ocean surf below.

“Thanks,” said Simon as he stood and looked over the pier at the bloody water beneath them. “Next time, just kill it in the car seat.”

“Yeah, next time,” she answered taking his hand in hers.

“Let’s get moving,” he said as he looked down the pier. The undead were closing in on their Jeep.

They hopped through the open doors and sped away down the pier, veering this way and that around the dead as they mindlessly crossed the Jeep’s path. "What should we do now?" asked Jane.

Simon kept one hand on the wheel and with the other rubbed the back of his neck like he always did when he was stressed. A tell that had lost him countless poker games, of course none of that mattered now. "I was thinking. My uncle has a boat docked at the harbor. Maybe we'll get lucky and find him there."

"Is there food on his boat?" asked Jane holding her stomach.

"God I hope so," he answered as he sped down the side roads trying to avoid the more crowded main streets. Simon decided to turn towards the shore and travel by beach. There wasn’t as many undead roaming by the water. Could it be they had a weakness? Or was there just too much tasty fare on the mainland for them to wander to the shoreline. A few miles down the beach, they reached the bay. Rows of yachts, far more expensive than the average home, lined the docks with a few dinghies peppering the population. Simon jerked the Jeep to a stop next to a modest 6-person sleeper.

"Byte Sized Fun." Jane read aloud.  “Cute name for a boat," she smirked. Simon slid out of the Jeep and grabbed their weapons.

"Namesake for how he made his fortune." He handed Jane her weapon of choice and took her hand. They sprinted quietly down to the boat stealing glances over their shoulder.

"Don’t you think it’s weird?" whispered Jane. “We haven't seen a soul dead or alive since we left the pier."

Simon shrugged as he ducked under the thickly braided ropes. He pulled Jane behind him. "Be careful what you wish for." They climbed deftly onto the deck of the boat, taking a moment to survey their surroundings. The sun was high overhead now, its light producing glittering diamonds on the waves. Simon strode to the far end of the boat, lifted the lid of a compartment, and retrieved the hide a key. "Dear Uncle, always so trusting."

"Let me see the key. I have to pee," Jane said, arm outstretched.

"And I'll look for provisions." Simon answered as he strode to the cabin and opened the door. "I’ll take us for a spin around the marina."

Jane popped through the doorway and skittered down the stairs, feeling along the walls looking for a light switch. Finally finding one at the bottom, she flipped the switch illuminating a cozy living area. She rounded the leather couches and a small dining table, making her way down the narrow hallway and into an even narrower bathroom. It had been days since she had a moment to herself, a moment without worrying if she would live or die. After washing her hands, she bent over the sink and splashed cold water on her face. Reaching up to snag a towel off the towel rack, a shiver ran down her spine. Did she just see something move from the corner of her eye? She shook those thoughts from her head and dabbed her face and neck with the soft terry cloth. There it was again, a rustling of the shower curtain 3 or 4 feet away from her. Instinct told her to freeze, but she no longer listened to instinct. Only the proactive lived to see another day. Slowly, she inched toward the curtain, raising her poker progressively higher with each step. Knowing she couldn't wait a second longer, she grasped the plastic curtain and yanked it back, intent on striking first. Before she could move to attack, she saw a disheveled old man cowering in the corner of the shower, his hands raised innocently.

 

The sound of the engine, as the yacht sailed across the harbor, was soothing and seemed to lull Simon's mind, helping him forget for a moment the nightmares of the past weeks. The end had begun in North Korea, a plague invented in a secret military facility near its Southern border. They had dispersed the virus by dropping it from the air over many of the largest cities in both the US and Europe. In a matter of days, people began to die, and then rise up again with a bloodthirsty hunger. The world desperately tried to isolate the effects, but it spread too rapidly. Soon there were two kinds of people, the undead and those immune to the virus, until they were bitten. Once bitten by the undead, most would turn quickly.

Before long, everything he knew collapsed around him. He was one of the fortunate that was immune and he had joined a group of others who were similarly blessed or cursed, depending on how you looked at it. He sometimes wondered who had the better existence. At least the undead were not in constant fear, fleeing from place to place, occasionally making a furtive stand but unable to combat the endless hoard that mindlessly hunted you.

Jane was already traveling with a small group of friends when he joined them. They had instantly been drawn to each other and were off gathering food when their makeshift camp had been found. They had stood watching the attack from the rooftop of a market across the street, helpless to do anything for their comrades. In the end, the overwhelming number of undead that assaulted their home gave them no choice but to make their escape into the night with whatever provisions they could carry.

Simon stretched as he exited the bathroom of the stateroom, a waft of steam following him out from the mist of a hot shower. He wore only a towel around his midsection, modestly covering what a few women had said was his biggest asset. Jane sat on the edge of the bed, in a flannel robe that was two sizes too big, and made her lithe frame look even smaller and frailer.

“That was a long shower,” she said smiling up at him as he moved close to her.

“I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any spots,” he said feeling himself becoming aroused. “It’s been a while since my last shower, there were dirt layers to deal with.”

Jane laughed a sweet, almost nervous laugh. “Are you sure you washed thoroughly?” she asked as she ran her hands up from his firm six pack stomach over his chest. She stood and as she did so the robe fell from her shoulders to the floor, revealing her toned muscles and fair skin. She placed her head in the nape of his neck and kissed his shoulder.

He could smell the fruity scent of shampoo coming from her blonde hair as he buried his face within it. His hands drifted down her back that was incredibly soft under his rough hands. He kissed her ear and she turned her face up to his and their lips met. He tasted the sweet flavor of her tongue as they explored each other’s mouths. He gently pushed her back on the bed and let his hands and lips drift down her body, lingering on her ample breast and erect nipples. He kept slowly drifting down her body, across her firm torso to the soft blonde mound that was a gateway to a more animalistic flavor he sought.

She grabbed his hair with her hands, pulling his face against her as she raised her hips to meet him. She could feel him exploring her, savoring the wetness that she gave him. She felt her muscle tightening, her body answering his passionate nibbling along with the soft thrust of his tongue, until she could feel a wave of pleasure erupt from her, taking over her motions and her mind in a moment of pure bliss.

He was amazed at her passion, and her essence was beyond anything he had experienced. Hot, sweet, and soft all bringing a deep instinctual satisfaction that he wanted more of. He turned so that he lay beside her and could still savor the unique passion that she gave him. She turned him on his back and he felt her hot mouth envelope him, pulling back, tongue caressing him, then enveloping him once again. He could feel himself getting closer to erupting; a feeling he both wanted and wished would hold off longer. Then he felt her muscles quiver and she thrust herself back down on his face, fast and hard. He knew she was about to release her juices to him again. He felt the power of his desire explode even as she took all of him. She arched her back and shuddered as she joined him in delightful ecstasy.

He rolled them over on their sides and he could feel the sweat from her inner thighs against his face. He brought his head out from in between her legs and took a deep breath, taking in the cornucopia of scents and flavors still lingering in the air. He held his breath for a moment. Something seemed odd but he couldn’t put his finger on it. That’s when Jane said, “Is the boat’s engine supposed to be stopped?”

 

Simon glanced over his shoulder at the stairway. Tossing the sheet onto the floor, he jumped out of bed and began looking around the room for his clothes. “Did you see where I put my pants?”

“It’s not your pants I was interested in,” replied Jane rolling over.

  Simon spotted his pants in a heap on the ground and stepped into them quickly. “Looks like grandpa has come to.” He tore up the stairs and threw open the door. “Hello?” said Simon looking around the deck for any sign of life. The boat stood still in the crystal blue water. The day’s heat immediately assaulting him as beads of sweat appeared on the back of his neck. “Listen, I know you’re here. I’m unarmed. I already told you we’re sorry about before…”

“As you should be,” spoke the old man in a deep voice from the lounge chairs behind him. He had volunteered to take the boat out into the harbor while he and Jane cleaned up. The grandfatherly man was tall and alert with a quiet dignity that had put Simon at ease as soon as he saw him.

  “Yes, well times have changed. It’s eat or be eaten around here, and Jane is a force to be reckoned with,” Simon finished walking towards the old man. “It was Mr. Allen wasn’t it?”

The old man offered his hand. “Call me Roy. It’s Roy Allen.” Taking his hand and shaking firmly,

“Yes, I remember,” he answered. “Do you know why the boat stopped?”

“Yes,” said Roy shaking his head, “because I turned if off. You can’t just leave a boat of this size idling. You already wasted about half the tank of gas!”

“And who made you an expert on boats?” asked Jane with a smirk, poking her head through the doorway.

“My father and the Harvard Yacht Club.”

Simon and Jane exchanged glances. “So you’re just living on my uncle’s boat?” asked Simon.

“I’m his steward, or at least, I was. I’m not sure if any of our former occupations apply,” he smiled sadly.

"Have you seen my uncle?”

“Not for five days. I haven’t seen anyone, until this young lady found me.” 

Sheepishly Jane changed the subject. “So what do we do now? We can’t stay here. All there is to eat is a bottle of mustard and a jar of capers.”

  “My dinner, milady.” Roy grinned.

Simon searched through the compartments around the helm, “Without GPS, we’ll need a map.” Roy joined him. “We should have enough gas to get to Cape Cod. If we leave now, we will arrive before sunset.”

Jane sidled in between them at the helm. “And two became three.” Without another word, the engine roared beneath them, propelling them away from the shore.

 

Jane sat on the foredeck enjoying the feel of the wind in her blonde hair as it whipped about her face. She watched as Simon approached with a beer in each hand. It was not her favorite beverage, but it would do in a pinch. She accepted the beer and took a long pull before burping just after she swallowed.  “Excuse me, that wasn’t very lady like,” she laughed covering her mouth.

“I disagree, you are quite the lady,” said Simon as he smiled and tapped his bottle against hers.

Jane felt her cheeks grow warm and she knew she was blushing. She looked over towards the wheelhouse and asked, “Do you trust him?”

“No, but my uncle did, so that’s going to have to be good enough for now.” he finished as he sat beside her. He saw the tip of Cape Cod growing larger in the early afternoon sun. He could barely make out Long Point Light in Provincetown as the boat headed towards the point. “We are going to meet a few people that we shouldn’t trust though.”

“Yeah, like nasty biting toddlers!”

“And worse most likely. Let’s go down below deck, I want to show you something.”

“What, moving boats make you horny?” she asked with a sly grin.

“No, well yes, but that’s not what I want to show you.” He ended as he stood and extended his hand to help her stand on the slightly rolling deck.

She put on her best pout as she took his hand, then smiled wide, which he returned. She could really fall for Simon. Although her choice of possible mates was pretty slim at the moment, she was sure he would have appealed to her just as much even if life was still normal.

They made their way back into the captain’s quarters, where they had shared their first intimate moments, and it seemed to him, that the room still smelled of passion. Simon pulled the mattress from the bed to reveal a cabinet beneath it. He entered several numbers on a digital lock then pulled a recessed handle. Within the sealed cabinet vault were several MP5 assault rifles, six Glock handguns, a pair of machetes and boxes of ammunition.

“Your uncle expecting a war?” asked Jane.

“No, the zombie apocalypse,” answered Simon.

“No shit?”

“No, not really, actually he used to sail around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa from time to time. The pirates are as thick as thieves down there. This was his welcoming committee as he put it. Do you know anything about guns?”

“We can have a contest on who’s the best shot. I bet I win,” she answered.

“Winner gets to be on the bottom,” he responded as he pulled her close with one arm.

“I just might lose after all.”

They spent the next hour going through the weapons, inspecting and cleaning them, then finally loading multiple clips and preparing for God only knew what. By the time they emerged back on deck, the sun was at three quarters in the sky and they looked like they were ready for an all-out assault on Provincetown.

They entered the wheelhouse and Roy had an unlit cigar in his mouth and was steering around the Long Point Light, revealing Provincetown on the other side of the bay. “I see you know about your uncle’s weapon stash. I didn’t have the combination, so I’m glad you did.”

Simon handed him a rifle and a holstered handgun, which Roy strapped on, “I plan on staying here on the boat while you go ashore. I’m a little old for this type of shit, to be honest.”

“Someone should guard the boat anyway, Roy,” said Jane. “We’re just going for food and hopefully won’t be gone too long.”

“This boat is probably the safest place on the planet,” began Simon. “Gas her up if you can.”

“Sure thing, Captain,” answered Roy. “Try not to get yourselves killed.”

They cruised the remainder of the way in silence, each alone in their own thoughts. The boat approached the MacMillan Pier and they could see Pilgrim Monument standing like a Sentinel over the seemingly empty town.

 

Carefully, they crept down from the boat and onto the pier, armed and anxiously waiting for their first attacker. Simon led, his assault rifle poised, as he took quick but quiet steps. Jane trailed behind him checking their surroundings, she had never used a machete before, but she was eager for a chance to try. It was a long way down the pier and onto the beach. The sun that was setting behind them was like a ticking time bomb heralding the coming of their true enemy, night. “Do you think he’ll really wait for us?” asked Jane.

Simon slowed his pace and walked next to Jane on the beach. “Where else does he have to go? Besides, he’s just as hungry as we are.” Simon turned around in a full circle surveying the deserted beach. “Where is everyone?”

   Jane sheathed her machete and tied her long hair back in a high ponytail. “I’ve been wondering the same thing. P Town is a huge tourist spot, not to mention a hub for celebrities in the summertime.”

Simon shook his head picking up the pace. “Even if they all turned, where are they now? They should be out here.” They hadn’t seen anyone besides Roy since they left the beach in Martha’s Vineyard, a fact which was beginning to concern him, now more than ever. They couldn’t be the only survivors. Even after what happened to their last group, he still had faith.

About a mile down the beach, there was a restaurant aptly named Pepe’s Wharf, very popular with tourists and locals alike. With only a few weeks since the outbreak, Simon was crossing his fingers that they would still find food there. The doors of the restaurant were closed, but bloody fingerprints were smeared across the glass panes. He grasped the door handles and shook them firmly, “Locked. Damn it!”

Jane stood on her tiptoes and peered through the windows. Sighing, she asked, “Do you think we’re being punished? You know, for what happened?” She stole a glance at Simon. “Is that how we ended up in this deserted, God forsaken place?” Refusing to take Jane’s bait, Simon stepped back to gain momentum before swinging the butt of his gun through a pane in the front door. Most of the glass spewed inside the eatery with only a few pieces flying their way.

“Geez, Simon,” whispered Jane forcefully. “Do you think you can make a little more fucking noise?”

“Shit, sorry.” He answered as he stepped through the doorway turning on a high-powered light mounted on his MP5. The tables were neatly set with flowered vases containing wilted roses and brown baby’s breath. It was as if the dinner shift was ready to begin serving the nightly special of chowder and lobster. Simon walked over to the bar and tossed Jane a bottle of Bacardi 151. “This stuff will burn your insides.”

“Maybe Roy will like it,” she said as she slid it into the empty backpack she wore.

“OK, but we’re here for food, remember?” Simon looked at the giant lobster tank, “Lobstah’s are dead but we should be able to fish from the boat. I think we’re likely to get pretty sick of seafood. We should gather canned and dry goods.”

“Did you say lobstah?” she laughed. “Maybe get some canned chowdah too!”

“Smartass,” he said laughing. He walked into the kitchen slowly panning the light across the room. Everything was too quiet. Even the air seemed to hang still and stifling in the kitchen since it had been closed from the world for the past weeks. He stopped and focused the light on a pantry to the right. “Jane, watch the door, OK?”

Jane followed him in but kept the door open with her body and pointed her rifle towards the shattered door where they had entered. She did turn off her light and let her night vision adjust to the surroundings. She wasn’t sure if light would attract the undead, but there wasn’t any reason to find out the hard way. She handed Simon her backpack and could hear him placing items in it. “Don’t break Roy’s bottle,” she said in a whisper. A minute later she was strapping on the pack, which felt like it weighed about thirty pounds, when she heard glass crunch in the front lobby. She reached behind and grabbed Simon by the arm.

“How many?” he asked. He quickly extinguished his flashlight to let his eyes adjust to the darkness.

She held up three fingers as she slowly drew the machete. She moved through the kitchen door swiftly, heading straight for the closest figure, and used the machete to slice through its thick neck, expecting to hit bone. The incredibly sharp blade seemed to cut through both flesh and bone like butter, as she decapitated the creature and turned quickly towards the next one. Because of the blade’s position, it was easier to come straight down on the top of its skull, splitting its hideous face in two. She turned towards the third just in time to see Simon, wielding a similar blade, slice and dice his foe.

“We’re in trouble, Jane,” he said as he pointed to the shadows just outside the windows. He took the handgun from its holster aimed and fired, dropping several of the undead outside and shattering most of the glass windows in the process.

“Simon, what the fuck are you doing? Ringing the dinner bell?” she yelled and then fired through the windows taking out several more enemies.

“Inviting them in for a drink,” he yelled back as he turned and threw a chair at the bottles of alcohol behind the bar, smashing as many as he could and turning them into a shower of booze. He grabbed a bottle of 151 and took Jane by the arm even as the first bunch of undead began clamoring into the diner. “There’s a way out through the kitchen to the right. Go!” He took another bottle and smashed the top of it off on the counter. He began to pour it on the floor behind him as he followed Jane towards the back door.

Jane opened the door cautiously, finding the alleyway empty. “Clear,” she called back as she went out the door. She watched as Simon threw a book of lit matches onto the trail of 151, which ignited and began to follow a path into the restaurant. One by one, as the monsters entered the kitchen, the blaze quickly caught their tattered clothes and flesh on fire until they were flaming, animated, burning horrors.

“Stuff will burn your outsides too, I guess,” he said as he hurried Jane down the alley. Suddenly an explosion threw them onto the road as the restaurant went up in a flaming fireball.

“Must have been propane gas in there,” gasped Jane as she dodged a burning piece of wood that landed in front of her. The road they landed on was heading deeper into the island and away from the boat.

 

The explosion illuminated the dark sky, a brilliant projection of intense orange light, making the Cape’s famous sunset a faint memory. Grabbing the backpack from Jane, Simon took her hand and helped her stand up, “Are you OK?” asked Simon.

 “I think so,” answered Jane. “Let’s get the hell out of here!”

 The sky blackened as they traveled farther away from the restaurant until the darkness enveloped them completely. Cold blasts of air chilled the night as it swept down from the ocean causing the trees to rustle as they swayed back and forth.

"Do you think we’re being followed?” whispered Jane. She kept a close tail on Simon who was picking up speed as they distanced themselves from the pyre. No matter how quiet she tried to be, every step, every crunch of a twig beneath her, seemed to herald their arrival.

“I don’t know, and I don’t care as long as we can stay ahead.” The path diverged, one lined with trees, leaves glittering in the moonlight. The other a barren path of twists and turns, as far as their eyes could see.

“Which way do you want to go?” asked Simon. Jane pointed towards the trees with her machete. “Are you sure?” With a nod she picked up her pace until they were quietly jogging down the path. Behind them an owl sang a long “hooot, hooooot,” as if he was announcing their presence. Jane looked over at Simon, and he took her free hand in his.

The path ascended up to a moderate sized swell. They couldn’t see what was in store for them over the peak, but they were hoping it was deserted. They were almost at the top when Simon gasped as he tripped over a small log hidden in the darkness that was lying in the path. He fell hard and the machete flew high into the air shimmering from the glow of the moon. Jane stopped and knelt down to make sure Simon wasn’t hurt. She heard a growl off to her right as two feral wolfdogs emerged from the wooded shadows. They bared their giant teeth. Thick, bloody slobber dripped from gashes in their faces that had once been mouths. As the dogs slowly circled them, Jane noticed their malnourished bodies. You could see the bones move beneath their patchy coats with each determined step they took. “Stay still,” demanded Simon. In one fluid move, he rose to his knees, and fired his rifle at the largest predator, but before he could fire another shot, the second dog leapt over Jane towards Simon. As its paws hit the ground, it cried out in pain, a screeching howl like Jane had never heard before, and plopped onto Simon in a bloody heap.

“Simon!” screamed Jane scrambling to her feet. “Are you OK?” She pulled on the back of the animal as Simon rolled over and heaved it onto the ground.

“What the hell just happened?”

“I’m the girl who just saved your ass.” answered a voice from the void.

Simon stood in front of Jane holding his rifle steady. “Who are you?” He looked from right to left. “Where are you?”

A small, wiry adolescent girl stepped onto the path shining a flashlight onto her face. She had dirty brown hair, matted and disheveled. Her features were sharp and her patience thin. She shined her flashlight into Jane and Simon’s faces, peering at each of them silently. “We’re human,” Jane said reassuringly. “Do you live around here? What’s your name?” Jane asked as she took a step forward, closer to her. The girl took a step back, sizing up her new acquaintances.

Simon let his rifle droop towards the ground in surrender. “Don’t you have a name?”

She cocked her head. “You got food. I got a name.”

Simon unzipped the backpack and threw a can of baked beans at her. “We’ll give you more if you can offer us some shelter. We need to catch our breath and rest for a while.”

She looked back and forth between them before turning on her heel and heading down the path. Jane shrugged at Simon before picking up the machetes. Hoping this was their best option, they hustled to keep up with her quick steps. A few yards further they emerged from the wooded park onto a road lined with sidewalks and trees. A large white building with wood siding and a tall pointed steeple stood just across the street. The girl stopped abruptly, pointing ominously towards the church. “Home, sweet home.”

 

Even in the dimness of the night, Simon could tell the church had been abandoned long before the onset of the plague. Hunks of paint had peeled off the doors and siding, while giant shutters covered the windows. The girl bounded up the steps and tapped three taps on the door, then two more taps, and one last final tap. They heard a lock spring, and the door slowly opened inward on silent well-oiled hinges. The girl entered the church first and moved to the right before she turned around and raised her gun directly at Simon’s chest. As Jane entered, the door shut softly behind her and the lock clicked home.

“Who are they, Elle?” asked a high-pitched voice from the darkness. A boy of perhaps ten moved a couple of steps towards them. He held a small handgun pointed at Jane. “Why are you here?”

“She saved us from the wolfdogs,” said Jane who turned to Elle. “Thank you so much.” She moved to Simon and leaned into him. “I thought they would kill him.”

Simon looked into Jane’s eyes and saw a sparkle, a fire that he had never seen in a woman’s eyes before. Even in this hell on earth, he felt a warm thrill race through his body. He couldn’t help but smile down on her, which she returned. “My name is Simon and this is my sweetheart, Jane. Yes, thank you. We came ashore for supplies then we are heading back to sea. Safer off the coast then on it.”

“Have you seen anyone else alive?” asked the young boy.

Jane got down on one knee, even though the gun he held was now pointed directly at her forehead. “I’m sorry. We haven’t seen anyone alive for days, other than Roy who is waiting for us on the boat. What’s your name?”

“Jeff,” he said, his voice breaking and she could see his eyes welling up with tears. “Can you take us away from here? Please, I don’t want to die,” he finished as the gun slowly dropped to his side.

“Elle, would you two come with us?” Jane asked? The tough young girl seemed to have shrunk in the last few moments, from gun toting street urchin to a frightened little girl. She just nodded. “Should we stay here tonight, Simon?”

“I’d rather not. After that explosion, Roy might think we’re dead and head out without us. Besides, as resilient as these two kids are to have survived this long, I’m not comfortable that the church is secure.”

“We have this place locked down tight,” said Jeff in a defiant tone.

“Good, Jeff, that buys us some time. What do you have here that you’d like to bring with you? We need to travel light.”

“Not much, just maybe a pack of clothes and some ammo,” said Elle.

“Let me help you both while Simon stands guard,” she finished, and then followed the two children to a small room at the back of the church.

Simon looked around and he had to admit, they looked in good shape. He moved along the wall listening for any noise that would seem out of place in a world where nothing was in its place. As he came back to the front of the church, he heard a faint scratching sound coming from the door they had entered through. Then came a growl, guttural and all together evil, sending a chill down his spine and causing him to bring up his gun. He pointed it at the door and backed deeper into the church. Jane and the two kids emerged from the room behind him and he said, “Elle, we need another way out.”

“Follow me,” said Jeff as he turned and scurried toward a small door to the left of the altar. “Where’s your boat?”

“At MacMillan Pier,” said Jane. “To be honest, I’m a little disorientated and not quite sure which way that is.’

Elle stood by Jeff as he quietly unlocked a thick padlocked door. “The steeple points to the north and the shore,” she began in a whisper. “MacMillan Pier is to the right about one o’clock.”

Jane smiled at the kids, though it felt more like a grimace. “You guys are going to love the boat.” She looked up at Simon and whispered. “He better be there.”

Simon just winked at her and led the way out the door. He found the steeple and headed northeast towards MacMillan Pier and Roy, with only one thing in mind, getting away from the nightmare that was Provincetown.

 

They headed back down the tree-lined path, shoulder to shoulder, in a small semi-circle, the moon no longer glittering off the leaves as dawn was approaching. The wind was picking up now, with gusts sending the girls hair swirling about their faces. Jeff, barely keeping his feet under him, sidled up to Simon for support. “We’re racing against the dawn, troops. Let’s keep our formation tight,” whispered Simon firmly. Even though he knew these kids were tough, he was still surprised at their resilience, especially when they came upon the wolfdog’s carcasses. Crows were perched on their ribs picking feverishly at what was left of the decrepit flesh. Never breaking rank, they side stepped the dead animals and ran on. They stopped at the fork in the path to catch their breath.

“We’re going back down the same path, right Simon?” asked Jane. She liked the familiar, even when the memories were just as horrifying as the unknown.

“I think so.”

Elle pointed down the dark and twisty path to the left with her combat knife. “This way is shorter,” she cocked an eyebrow at Simon.

He weighed both options quickly. Despite her age, Elle was an island native. Perhaps she knew best. “Ok, we’ll go left this time.” He met Jane’s eyes. “I’m counting on you, Elle.”

Elle turned down the left hand path and led the way. She traveled quickly and quietly taking each turn in stride. Grass littered the path, in patches, without any particular pattern. No matter how discreet they tried to be, there was no way for four people to move through soundlessly. Jeff had an especially difficult time keeping up and his short stride caused him to stumble the most. Every stub and scuff seemed to reverberate off the silent sentinel like trees that lined the pathway.

Simon felt uneasy. But was it just his imagination? It was hard to tell the difference in this new life, where nightmares were a reality. He turned to Jeff, trying to mask his irritation at the sound of his clumsy foot-fall. “Listen," he began, but stopped when Jeff grabbed his arm, his eyes wide with fear. He whipped around, rifle at the ready.

“Simon, coming from around the stone wall!” Jane yelled pointing behind him with her machete.

Three of the undead had made their way through a broken wooden gate in a low stone wall and were almost on him. Elle’s knife flew through the air like a dart in a parlor game, sinking expertly into the head of the monster nearest him. His rifle took care of the rest, but gunshots were like a cowbell. They needed to move faster than ever. The sound of Jeff running was the least of Simon’s worries now. With the pier in sight, Simon surveyed their surroundings knowing more would be coming for them. He strode quickly through the white sand. Despite the fog, he could just make out the yacht at the pier.

“Jane, look.” She came up beside him. “I told you Roy was as trusty as an old dog.”

With home in sight, Jane and Simon moved faster than Elle and Jeff could keep up, even at their fastest pace. Everywhere they looked the beach was deserted, just as before, except now, the restaurant was a dark frame, embers still glowing and the surrounding beach covered with a layer of ash.

The wind had picked up considerably, the gusts were increasing with every step they took towards the pier. Jane stopped, checking on Jeff and Elle, who seemed to be doing fine. She tried to move but couldn’t pick up her foot. She tried the other one, and it too was held fast. “Simon, something has my feet,” she called out in a panic.

He stopped and turned, “What?”

“I can’t move my feet.”

Simon tried to walk back towards Jane, but he was stuck as well. Suddenly, the wind turned fierce and the ground shook beneath them. Sand started swirling around them, and for the first few seconds, they were all blinded. The air was saturated with sand and ash, but blinking helped their eyes adjust until they could just make out what was happening around them. Dark forms slowly lifted themselves from sandy graves along the shore. Simon had rung the dinner bell, and now, there were four humans on the menu. Two big ones were using Simon and Jane as anchors to help them rise up from below. These freaks were like none they had seen before. They were decayed, charred and blackened, with skin flaking off and falling in the sand. Jane hacked at the one holding her, sending pieces of it flying as she dislodged one foot then the other. “Why are they…”  

“Barbecued?” Simon finished. He pointed to the restaurant. “We threw the party, remember?"

“Simon, we’re surrounded. There are so many of them,” she finished looking over the mass of burnt, decayed forms still rising from the ash. Still more came from where the restaurant once stood, resembling little of what they were in life. Turning in a circle, rifle pointed out resolutely, she could see no way out. “What about Jeff and Elle,” Jane gasped.

Simon said nothing. The dead were closing in, and the only person he cared about right now was Jane. But she was already walking away from him. “Jane,” he yelled after her.

“We have to get to them, Simon. Elle, keep them off of you and Jeff!”

  Cursing loudly, he used his machete to free himself from the beast clutching at his legs. He followed Jane slashing his blade, barely keeping the dead at bay. Elle and Jeff were huddled together, Elle stabbing anything dead within reach, but there were too many coming towards her this time. Jane used her machete like a baseball bat slicing through three of the dead at one time.

“I have your back!” Simon yelled as he fired his rifle to keep the others back. He reached the kids and bent down on one knee. “Get on my back, buddy,” ordered Simon. Jeff leapt on him almost knocking him over, but he was able to right himself and turn towards Jane. “Keep them off of us,” he yelled as Jeff fired a shot into the head of the nearest mutant.

A foursome again, they made their way to the edge of the pier. They were so close now, if they could just get through the wall of dead that stood between them and safety. Simon’s gun was empty and he heard Jeff whisper in his ear, “I’m out of bullets.” Simon and Jane’s eyes met, the hopelessness of their plight apparent to both. The pier exploded behind them, its legs buckled and fell into the water below taking with it the dead that pursued them. Machine gun fire ripped through the predawn air dropping many of the monsters in their path, leaving a clear hole for them to run through. Without pausing to ask how, they took their chances and raced through the opening using the machetes to keep the few remaining dead at bay.

“Roy!” Jane ran into his arms. “You saved us!”

He gave her a squeeze. “At your service,” he said pointing to their boat. “Let’s get the hell outta here!” They sprinted down the concrete pier and jumped onto the deck. Simon pulled Elle and Jeff safely up.

“Take them down to the cabin, Jane.”

Although the five of them were safely on the yacht, they had unwanted company. With every second, more and more of the dead scrambled down the pier and tried to climb up the sides of the hull vying to get on board. "Come on Roy,” yelled Simon, “rev her engines. We need to move!"

Byte Sized Fun sputtered before roaring to life. With Roy at the helm, Simon stood at the stern armed with the machete and slashed away at the slew of zombies that were hanging on for dear death.

                The end