Authors: John Michael Hileman
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Copyright 2014, Amlin Publishing
Kindle Edition 2014
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
John Michael Hileman
The David Chance Series
The End Came with a Kiss
Table of Contents
I walk slowly through the parking garage. Quick movements excite them. And that’s the last thing I want to do. The quarantine wars are over, but the danger is still present. It lingers in the air like a suffocating cloud mingled with the smell of burning rubber and rotting flesh. I no longer have to remind myself that they are dangerous, I saw firsthand what they are capable of. Images flash from my subconscious, keeping me in a defensive posture as I walk.
A woman in a tan business suit is stuffing boxes into the trunk of her Lexus ahead of me on the left. It’s rare to see the dead use cars now because most of the roads are blocked. This one must be using the road I cleared.
As I approach, she stops and turns toward me. The motion puts me even further on edge, but I continue forward. She doesn't appear threatened, her body is only responding to my presence. That's what they do—the dead—everything is sort of an involuntary playback of a motor memory.
The woman is beautiful, like the rest, but her clothing isn't torn or dirty. It’s clean and unwrinkled. She must get home regularly. This is becoming less common. Most of the loopers in my office building stay at work now because either they have no gas, have no car, or their route home is blocked by wreckage. Though their instinct is to resist change with intense violence, they are adapting.
She smiles at me as I pass and, for a brief moment, seems almost alive. But I know there is nothing behind the flawless mask but bioelectric pulleys and gears responding to stored data somewhere in that rotted brain of hers. She must have been outgoing and friendly when she was alive. For that, I return her smile. Though, like her, there is no emotion behind it.
I look at my watch. It’s just after 5:00. I'm running late. I can't bear to see what will happen to my precious Katherine if I'm late again. It only takes twenty minutes to get home now that the roads are mostly empty of traffic, but travel is still tricky.
As I pass the ramp that goes down into the guts of the parking garage, shrill screams snake their way up as from the concrete belly of a giant beast. An ear-splitting screech erupts from somewhere on the floor below. Dread stabs at my heart. The hard floor begins to bob and vibrate as I increase my pace. More screams join the others in a nightmarish wail of agony, growing louder and louder. I'm in a jog now. It no longer matters if I move slow. All hell is about to break loose.
I jog to the corner of the garage, where most of the wall is missing, and look down at the street below. Terror grips my throat as my hand snaps out to steady myself on a broken shard of the concrete wall. They’re coming! Hundreds of them, funneling into the bottom of the parking garage like water from a broken dam. But why?!
I'm trapped! They're coming up the center of the garage. I spin around. Besides the woman I just passed, there are four others on this level, but only one stands between me and my car. He is tall and jet black, wearing a sharp pinstriped suit. Even from several car lengths away, I can see the whites of his eyes growing. The noise is causing his fight-or-flight instinct to kick in. He staggers and a snarl ripples across his handsome features. There is no way I'll get past him, even if I press against the line of cars. He's already in attack mode—and he looks like he can move. If he thinks I'm the threat, I'll be dead in seconds.
He sees me. He’s walking toward me. My heart constricts as I struggle to take in a breath. Out of reflex I start twisting, as if I am searching for the same sound. They are easily fooled but still unpredictable. I mimic the agitated dance I've seen them do. If he thinks I’m one of them he will not attack, but that won't keep me from being trampled by the approaching herd. I guess being trampled is better than being bitten, or being eaten. When this all began I was confident I
be eaten; I had seen a lot of zombie movies. But to my great relief, they don't eat people. They eat regular food—well—not the way we do. They don't care what it is; they’re only going through the motions. I saw one drink rotten milk once, without blinking an eye, after the fridge in the break room lost power for two days. I avoid the break room now.
Before I can get myself into a proper frenzy I notice another distinct sound reverberating off the hard walls. It’s a motorcycle and it's getting louder. Is it coming up the ramp? Is that what the herd is following? I've never seen them chase after a car or motorcycle.
The dark-skinned man jogs to the corner. He is near me now, breathing quickly. Eyes bulging. His head ratchets as he smells the air, torn between his curiosity with me and the screaming sounds of alarm from his fellow loopers. The veins on his muscular neck strain against the skin. Though I am familiar with their behaviors, it makes this moment no less terrifying. There is no telling what he will do. He looks strong. In the time it takes to twitch, he could turn and tear into my flesh. Within a few short seconds of his mindless fury, I would be dead. And who knows what, after that.
My heart feels like it might explode in my chest, my legs struggle to hold my weight. I need to hide. But where? The only thing close enough is the burned-out husk of a four-door sedan crushed against a slab of what used to be the outer wall of the garage. Ten feet from the wall I can see the street below through the gaping holes in the floor. It’s too high to jump, but I might be able to squeeze behind the sedan.
I continue my charade and move toward the rear of the car. By the sound of it, the motorcycle is on its way up the ramp to this floor now. I have only seconds before the beautiful dead start flooding up onto this level, beating everything in their path.
The black man breaks into a sprint toward the ramp. This is my chance! I turn and run toward the back of the car and scramble between the right rear panel and what is left of the concrete garage wall. I'll wait till the motorcycle draws the stampede past. Then I'll be able to get to my car. I look at my watch and curse under my breath. I'll miss my wife if I don't leave immediately!
The wobble in the floor is nauseating. I tuck in further and look out from under the car. A leather-clad rider crests the top of the ramp and goes into a short skid. I can't see the rider's face, but, by the snap of his helmet, it is clear he sees the black man charging. I want to scream, "LOOK OUT!" but can't find my voice.
Smoke blows from the bottom of the rear tire as the rider lunges forward, barely avoiding the tackling man who lands on his belly and slides several feet. The rider twists his wrist again, and the back tire burns against the hard garage floor with another squeal. With a jerk the rider realigns the handlebars and the bike picks up speed.
Dead pour up over the ramp behind him. Men, women and children of all nationalities and ages swarm behind him like bees with legs. He is bringing the swarm straight toward me! As they chase him around the corner, their bodies will smash into the sedan, and I will be crushed! Do I run? No. I have to hold my ground. I get lower and wiggle farther under the sedan. It’s less likely they will crash down on the top of the car. I'm safer underneath.
As I squirm, my eyes are fixed on the approaching rider and the wave of angry dead behind him. Closer and closer he comes, but when he reaches the corner he doesn't turn! He’s heading right toward the gaping hole in the garage. It’s a four story drop! He'll die on impact—assuming he isn't dead already.
The rider jerks his whole body and lays the bike on its side. Sparks fly. Metal screams. I watch in horror as bike and rider slide past the front of the sedan and out the side of the building in a cloud of orange fireflies.
My eyes snap back toward the swarm of dead. They’re not stopping. Their fury is too great. Their compulsion to kill the thing that threatens them is overpowering. Everything is shaking now, and I think I’m going to throw up. I grip my ears and squeeze my eyes shut. Sounds erupt around me. Screeching, thumping, banging. I hear the squelch of the sedan wheels as hundreds of bodies slam against its frame, shoving it, inch by inch toward the hard wall. I see them in my mind's eye, pushing and clawing, surging forward through the hole, streaming mindlessly off the edge, flailing in the air as they sprinkle to the ground with horrible thumps.
The fall won't kill them. Those that can move will continue in their frenzy until they feel safe. That usually lasts a couple of hours. Those that cannot move will wait for their bodies to heal. If bones are broken, they will set them. Their instinct is to be perfect. The serum running through their veins is a powerful healing agent, but bones need to be aligned. This they must do themselves. It’s gruesome to watch.
The shaking comes to a stop, and I venture a peek. There is no movement. Did they all leap? I hear their moaning and wailing in the distance, so I slide forward and peek out further. There’s no one in sight. It's safe. I wiggle more, until my body is out from under the car, and push to my feet.
The front of the sedan is crushed inward and the side looks like someone threw boulders at it. I can't believe I survived that. But there is no time for relief. I’m late, and the road below is now littered with angry loopers. As I turn, a sound catches my attention and I freeze. Did one of the loopers not fall? Is it behind the sedan? If so, I'll never make it to my car before it overtakes me.