Friday, August 4, 2017

Free Fiction Friday: Being Neighborly

Free Fiction Friday has rolled around again! This is a fun zombie story I wrote that appeared in the Zombies Gone Wild anthology which is no longer in print and the rights have reverted back to yours truly.


Being Neighborly
Copyright 2012 Carey Burns

Maya stood by the back door, chilled by the night wind as she watched the old pickup truck back out of her driveway and down the gravel road. Ever since her husband passed away, all the old farmers felt it was their duty to check up on her. They told her they were just being neighborly when she’d ask them to please leave her be. This time it was old Mr. Cooper telling her to make sure she kept her doors locked. He gave her his phone number so she could put him on speed dial, just in case.

Once inside, she locked the door and glanced at the clock on the microwave, amazed that the old coot stole two hours from her life she’d never get back. A hot shower would soothe her weary soul, and then she’d go to bed.

She kicked off her flip flops and padded barefoot to the bathroom, pulling her t-shirt over her head and wriggling out of her shorts. Within seconds she was naked and in the shower, water streaming down on her head. She washed her hair and lathered up her skin, the rushing water leaving Maya oblivious to the thunderous crash of a meteorite just outside.

In the backyard, a four foot deep crater formed right next to her cats’ graves. Grass at the edge of the hold burned, and the large space rock at the bottom of the crater radiated a bright yellow as it began to cool off.

Maya finished her shower and toweled off, slipping into a white cotton nightgown before making her usual rounds of checking doors and turning off the lights. She settled down to sleep, unaware of the still-burning chunk of space debris just outside her window.

After five o’clock, Maya woke to the yowling of cats outside her bedroom.

She brushed the grit from her tired eyes and listened closely to the low caterwauling. She knew her neighbor Bill had some barn cats, but they never came to her place. She slid out from under the covers and tiptoed to the window, startled to see an orange light shining from a hole in her yard, which illuminated two mangy felines. Soon Maya realized that the grass around the hole was smoldering, and panic prickled her skin. Heart hammering against her ribs, she ran down the hallway and put on her flip flops, then dashed out the back door to see if anything else was on fire and to check if the cats were injured.

They cried, swaying near the crater until they saw Maya. In unison they growled and approached on stiff, creaky legs toward her. 

Eyes wide, she gasped. It was Pip and Spooky—her cats—but they were alive and moving instead of dead and buried. Maya shook her head, unable to comprehend what she was seeing.

“Kitty kitty…” She coaxed them closer. Pip hissed as he lumbered toward her, Spooky right behind him.

“Is that really you, guys?” she whispered, fear and anticipation making her break out into a cold sweat.

The two cats grew closer until she could make out their familiar collars in the morning gloom. Tears streaked Maya’s pink cheeks as she looked from the cats to the crater in amazement.

“This can’t be real.” She reached out a shaking, tentative hand to stroke Pip’s soft yet dirty fur. He felt cold to the touch, and as she moved to pet his head, he released a beastly growl and bit her hand.

“Ouch!” Maya snatched her hand back and sucked at her skin. Blood flowed from the wound. “Bad kitty, don’t bite Momma like that.”

In moments her hand was throbbing. Maya swooned, dropping to her knees on the dew-covered grass. Pip glared at her with milky white eyes. She struggled to get to her feet, but her limbs were numb, and she flopped down on her side.

Pip and Spooky slinked closer, their movements more fluid, until they stood over her, baring their yellowed teeth and hissing.

“No…” Maya whispered as Spooky bit her forearm, tearing loose a chunk of flesh. She barely felt the pain. Pip scratched her calf with his filthy claws. As they feasted on her, a rattling purr filled her ears until she blacked out.



***



The cats fed, their whiskers stained red and their paws slick with blood and dirt. Their hunger sated, they climbed atop Maya’s dead body and nestled down for a nap.

While they slept, Maya’s dead cells reawakened one by one until she opened her heavy eyelids with a violent flutter. She stared up at the stars with glazed eyes, visions of her last moments churning in her brain along with an undeniable urge to feed. She saw the cats on her torso and smelled their rotten scent. She swiped at them with a gnawed hand, ignoring their angry hisses.

Spooky raised a filthy paw to slash at her face but stopped short when Maya growled menacingly. The two felines cowered together near the crater and watched their former mistress scrabble to her feet and take a few precarious steps, her flip flops slapping loudly against her feet with each step.

Something primal and brutal guided Maya, her heavy limbs following the faint scent of her next meal. Memories of her neighbor Bill spurred her on across the yard and onto the gravel road. He was old and wizened, but he would do.



***



Maya stumbled loudly down the road. More than once her foot twisted in the loose gravel, causing her to fall to the ground only to struggle back onto her feet. Finally, after nearly an hour, she closed the quarter-mile span between her house and Bill’s. She stumbled down the lane to his home, opening her mouth as she took in huge gulps of air. She could taste him already.

She was mere steps from the farmhouse when Bill burst through the front door and sprinted toward the injured woman.

“Maya, what happened? Are you alright?” He stood in front of her as she swayed, unsteady on her feet.

Maya stared at him as he reached out to put his arm around her shoulders.

“Come on, you must be in shock.” He led her toward the house, careful not to touch her wounds.

Bill cringed at each slap of her flip flops, her silence making him uncomfortable.

“Here we are. Let’s get you inside and cleaned up, then when you’re ready you can tell me what happened.”

As he reached to open the door, Maya turned her head and sank her teeth into Bill’s throat. Blood sprayed her face as she ripped a slab of warm flesh free. She gobbled it greedily, the hunger hot in her belly.

Bill screamed, pushing at Maya, but her size betrayed her strength, and soon she had him pinned against the door as she clawed and bit him. In minutes he was cowering on the ground, slipping into unconsciousness. The moment Bill’s life left his body Maya smelled the death and spit out the last bite of muscle she’d torn from his shoulder.

The hunger had yet to abate.

A barn cat stared at Maya as she stumbled away from its master. As she drew closer, it hissed, a low growl rattling its chest. Maya licked her bloody fingers and growled. The cat scurried away with a high-pitched meow.

She maintained her rickety pace down the lane and turned left toward old Mr. Cooper’s place.



***



A slight breeze brought the scent of human flesh to Maya’s nostrils. Drool spilled down her chin in a long, shimmering thread.

Just down the road a cloud of dust billowed behind an approaching pickup truck, but she kept her course, her unsteady legs growing stronger by the minute. Soon the truck was slowing to a stop in front of her.

“Maya, is that you?” A rugged-looking man in jeans and a t-shirt opened his door and stared at the blood-covered woman in front of him.

Maya tilted her head. The man’s tan, leathery face was familiar to her. She smelled his sweat, the saltiness of it making her stomach grumble.

He stepped closer and snapped his fingers to get her attention. “Hey, it’s me, Charlie. Maya? Who did this to you?”

Maya smiled, baring her teeth, bits of gore stuck between them. With a low moan she jumped and wrapped her bloodied arms around Charlie’s neck and her gnawed legs around his waist.

He stumbled back against the truck, surprised by her weight and opened his mouth to speak, but Maya was quick and bit into his bottom lip, sucking in his blood.

“You crazy bitch!” He tried to yell something else, but she bit over and over, gorging on the tough skin of his face. He slid down the side of the truck to the ground, hoping to crawl, but consciousness slipped from him before he could make his first move.

Maya glutted on Charlie’s body, feasting quickly before he spoiled. She left him in the road and walked on to Mr. Cooper’s after he did.



***



Back at his doorstep, Bill’s eyes opened with a flash and settled on the old barn cat that watched him from the bushes. He sat up and got to his feet, stumbling as he tried to catch his balance. He remembered Maya attacking him, and he looked around, afraid she’d come at him again, but she was nowhere to be seen. Hunger ate at his stomach, and he caught the scent of food in the air, leading him down the road toward Mr. Cooper’s house.



***



 Maya reached Cooper’s place quicker than she had Bill’s. She heard the old man out in the machine shed hammering away at some piece of metal. She sniffed the air. He was almost spoiled, but she didn’t care; she was still hungry. She crept closer and closer to her prey.

Mr. Cooper saw her reflection in the window above his workbench and turned toward her.

“Why, hello, Maya. What brings you by?”

He studied her bitten, gore-covered body and scowled.

“Now, I can’t say as I didn’t warn you that something like this might happen, you living out here alone like you are. Let’s get you inside and clean you up.” He motioned for her to go to the house and took small, uncertain steps toward her.

Her lips twitched, forming a partial grin.

He walked straight toward her, making the hunt that much easier. Maya opened her arms.

The old man smiled. “There, there. It’ll be alright.”

He moved to embrace her, and she leaned in and crushed his windpipe in one swift bite. Cooper gurgled, fighting for air while Maya held him firm and ate what meager flesh remained on his arms and chest before the sour taste of death made her grimace.

She dropped him on the ground and closed her eyes, her belly full. Maya walked over to the old metal glider swing next to an elm tree and sat down, relaxing until the hunger would return to guide her to her next meal.



***



Bill made his way down the lane and stopped, staring at Charlie’s lifeless body on the road. He took a deep breath and smelled the rancid stench, surprised when Charlie slowly sat up. The two men stared at each other, some primal knowledge of what they were exchanged between them.

Charlie rose on unsound legs and sniffed at the air. He was so hungry. He moaned, his missing lower lip exposing his jaw. Bill responded with a moan of his own. They plodded down the road together. The stink of death hung in the air at Cooper’s farm, but there was something else mixing with it.

Bill lumbered down the driveway and stopped when he saw Maya.

She sat on the swing, a soft squeak from the chains breaking the silence with every motion. They stared at each other until old man Cooper started to flail on the ground like an upended turtle.

Maya stood and groaned at the old man, confused by what he was doing. He managed to flop onto his side and, after much effort, was on his feet.

Cooper remembered the girl attacking him and shrank back, afraid she’d strike again, but when she made no move toward him, he relaxed. He took small, hesitant steps forward. Air rushed through his severed throat as he tried to groan. He, too, was hungry, and the three people before him wouldn’t do.

They weren’t fresh.

Maya tasted the air and turned toward the road again, the faint smell of another meal not far away. She walked slowly, but with purpose, and the men straggled behind her, moaning. Her belly was still full, so she would let them feed. They would need their strength if they were to survive. As she walked along, she heard the sharp trill of the three Olson children laughing, and fresh drool once again oozed down her chin.

She stopped at the next gravel driveway and waited for her companions to catch up. Somehow she knew that the more they fed, the quicker their pace would become, and she wanted them to eat their fill.

The youngest of the Olsons saw them first as they approached the front porch. Her piercing scream hurt Maya’s ears. She growled, wanting to crush the girl’s throat in her jaws, but held back, reserving the kill for one of the men.

Mrs. Olson rushed from the old farmhouse and gasped when she saw her four neighbors.

“What on Earth happened?” she yelled out. “Has there been an accident?”

She rushed toward Mr. Cooper, and when she was within reach, he yanked her closer and bit into her forearm, ripping loose a large piece of flesh and some muscle. Mrs. Olson screamed as Cooper gulped down his purchase and snapped his jaws at her again.

Mrs. Olson turned to run away, but Charlie pounced on her, knocking her to the ground. The children screamed and bolted for safety. Bill managed to snag one of the boys by the arm. The kid pushed at his torso in vain. Bill ripped into the boy’s neck and forced him to the ground.

Maya watched the slaughter and relished the coppery scent of blood in the air. The hunger burned inside her, and she had to push down the urge to chase down the youngest. The girl outran Mr. Cooper, but he did manage to grab the eldest by the ponytail and collapse onto her struggling body. The old man smashed her head against the gravel, struggling to lap up her blood before it soaked into the dust.

As Maya’s companions fed, she tromped past them and listened for the frantic breathing of the little girl. She sniffed the air, taking slow, cat-like steps as she stalked her prey. The smell of sweat and fresh urine met her nose, and she stopped right next to the Olson’s chicken house. Maya spied the gang plank that led up to the coop and smiled. There was only one way in and one way out.

She took her time, creeping out of sight of the small opening in the door where the chickens would come in and out. Maya stood just on the side of the coop and listened to the girl’s excited breathing and the soft, worried clucks of the hens. She licked her lips as one of the wooden floorboards creaked and pounced as soon as the girl poked her head out to see if she was safe. Maya was so quick the girl didn’t even have time to scream.



***



Mrs. Olson slowly rose to her feet, her milky white eyes taking in the grisly scene. She saw Maya feeding and wanted to hurt her, but the feeling floated away as a terrible hunger arose in her belly. She smelled the air and grimaced at the hint of death that came with it. With a moan, she turned her head and stared down the road. The highway was barely half a mile away, and town was just another five miles to the south. With cautious steps, she ambled across the yard toward the road.

Maya watched the woman leave, and when the last of the children clambered to their feet, she set off at a quick pace to catch up with her. The rest of the group followed behind, their hungry moans mingling with the quick slapping of Maya’s flip flops.

In less than two minutes she overtook the newly turned woman and shifted her course to the north in search of a quick meal for the weak family. The strong reek of pig manure masked the scent of life, but Maya smelled it, her senses strong from her many victims’ flesh.

She led them just up the road to the source of the foul smell: The Bennett’s pig farm. Her undead companions caught the scent of life and quickened their pace toward the farm. Maya knew the farm was perfect for the Olsons to feed; the many farm hands and the family of six meant Mrs. Olson and her brood could eat their fill and there would still be one or two left for old Mr. Cooper to regain his strength too.

Maya crossed the driveway and rounded the corner of the large hog barn and grinned when she caught the eye of Mr. Bennett.

The aging farmer studied her, the dried blood on her nightgown a deep brown stain. He set down the slop bucket and hurried toward her, pulling his thick leather work gloves from his hands and stuffing them into his back pocket. “Excuse me. Maya, isn’t it? Is everything alright?”

She stood still and smiled, waiting for him to get just a little bit closer.

Mr. Bennett’s face paled when he saw the wounds on her arms and legs, and when he spied the youngest Olson child’s injuries, he gasped. “What happened? Did anyone call nine-one-one? Let me help you.”

He reached toward the child, who grabbed his arm and pulled him roughly toward her open mouth. His screams roused the farm hands, and soon the rest of the Olsons and the others were gorging on their flesh. The hogs squealed in terror at the sound of the men’s cries, and when Mrs. Bennett stepped out onto the front porch to see what all the ruckus was, Bill sprinted toward her, knocking her back against the door.

Maya watched the carnage with a serene smile. Mr. Cooper had been right: Everyone benefits when concerned neighbors come together in your time of need.


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