I just happened to have a zombie dream last night and woke up to a flash fiction challenge in which I had to start a story with a dead body. I know…zombies are overdone, but I still had fun with it.
Ever smell a dead rat in your walls? Bloating and releasing its gasses, letting off a smell that makes your throat tighten and eyes water. Imagine that smell is all around you, and instead of one dead rat, there’s thousands. Add a little dollar-store perfume, and you’ve got what this was. Flies buzzed in our ears, maggots coating the ground. Couldn’t walk five feet without stepping on something crunchy and mushy at the same time.
Why were the maggots on the ground? Usually they’re stuffed up inside a body, like they want to be candy in a piñata. Thing was, some kid had already swung and hit that piñata sending those penis-shaped bugs flying. And what did the body do?
Ha! I’ll tell you one thing; I had never seen one outside of a funeral home, but I knew it wasn’t supposed to snarl and gnash its teeth when I took out my bat and swung. I all but shit my pants, running like … well is there any more reason to run than when some dead guy is chasin’ you? I don’t think so. And hell if I wanted to find out what happened if I stuck around. Just wished I hadn’t worn flip-flops.
The woods near my grandparent’s place are thick, cracked open with twisted creeks and offshoot streams from the Bogue Chitto River. Half the time you don’t know if you’re runnin’ east or west. I just ran, cutting my feet up on sticker plants and sweet-gum balls. I abandoned my flip-flops in one of those creek beds when my feet sank keep in slimy, thick mud. By the time I reached the edge of the woods, I felt like my one of my lungs had collapsed. I panted, wanted to throw up between gasps for breath.
That tight knot in my stomach had traveled up my chest, burning with every inhale. I stopped, bent over with my hands on my knees, shaking like a Chihuahua. Bile coated the back of my throat. Tasted like rotten apples dipped in pure vanilla extract. My heart beat against my chest as though it wanted to break free, hammering at my ribs with enough force that I could feel it in my shoulders and neck.
I heard the crack of twigs, the rustling of bushes, a grunt and a moan. No time to puke standing still, I just let it go as I took off. Big yellow chunks sliding down my chin and onto my shirt. Might have been a nasty sight, but when you’re running for your life, that doesn’t matter much.
Seeing my grandparent’s house just at the top of the hill gave me the extra boost I needed. My legs kicked against the ground harder and faster than I’d ever imagined possible. Cows lookin’ at me like I was some sort of crazed psycho coming to eat them straight out of the field. They took off, the entire herd trampling their own shit. The pounding of their hooves rumbled in the ground, a sound that reminds me of thunder. I’d heard it before, every Fourth of July. Fireworks would go off and they’d become a rainless storm.
I started to smile, thinkin’ I was about to be across a decent barrier between a dead guy and myself. Barbed wire was wrapped good and tight around its metal posts, just put up last spring. But where was the gate? That gate looked like it was twenty miles in the wrong direction. I growled under my breath, knowin’ I didn’t have the energy to get that far. I’d have to shimmy under the fence and hope I could lay flat enough to avoid the barbs. Already had a big scar, jagged, flat and ugly – had stretched freckles running through it like veins. It went down the top of my arm to my elbow – a reminder that you don’t fight bullies next to a barbed wire fence.
I dropped to my belly and turned my head as I started to wiggle sideways. Dead guy was comin’ at me, gray skin peelin’ back to show off his gooey innards. That’s when I realized I knew the guy. Some asshole in town everyone called Skeeter. He’d gotten ugly in his old age, blond hair turned white, beer gut out like he was pregnant with a keg. Or maybe that was the bloating from bein’ dead. Hell if I knew. I hadn’t seen him in years.
I wiggled faster and winced as one barb dragged across my back. Didn’t matter. No time to matter. Once I was free, I could hear Pawpaw hollerin’ somethin’ to Grandma, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Her shrill voice, you could have heard that from ten miles out.
“Oh Ned, they’re comin’, Ned! What we gonna do?”
I bolted toward the house and saw it, heart sinking with its rhythm knocked out of sync. Looked like half the town had died. Corpses in overalls and flip-flops, big frumpy housecoats, and one was even naked. They surrounded the house.
That’s when I heard it behind me. A groan too close to my ear, that slobbering guttural growl that makes your breath catch in your throat. There was Mr. Fortenberry, once an English teacher at the local school, now a dead guy biting deep into my shoulder.
I never had any idea what came after death. Might have been raised Southern Baptist, but I always thought it was stupid to assume you knew what came next. Truth is, I never go anywhere, ‘cept when some fat, tasty treat crosses my path. It’s borin’ as hell, worse than being a ghost or a vampire. At least then I could float through walls or talk. Nope. Now I just shamble around surrounded by my dead friends, wishin’ this town had more people. Guess we’ll keep walkin’. There’s bound to be someone along the way.