HELLO ALL!

I’ve got a something special for you guys (and gals!) this time. Thanks to the urging (read: merciless heckling on the part of my editor Cassandra, I’m giving you a new short story, set in the  “Keep Your Crowbar Handy…” zombie-verse !   

Cass asked me to release what happened  to a certain “feisty  senior” on the morning of the outbreak and I thought it would  be a great idea. Well, that and she  actually threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t write it. When that didn’t work, she played the sympathy card and pouted for a while. When that didn’t work, she did something so dirty, so underhanded,that it shocked me to my very core.

She threatened to hide my Guinness and Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.

I relented at that point.

See? I can be reasonable…

So! Without further adieu, here it is! Enjoy!!!

–Gertrude’s Morning–

 by S.P.Durnin

George tells us we should all start to keep a journal. He insists our observations will be important down the line, once we reach the west. That people will want to know what’s going on in the rest of our country.

So much has happened; it would take me the better part of a year just to write it all down. Half-mad lunatics trying to kill us, those awful things walking around nearly everywhere… The world has become a frightening and quite dangerous place.

We’re all trying to keep each other in good spirits. Allen has shown a real aptitude when it comes to practical jokes. Poor George is missing half an eyebrow, because Allen shaved it off while he was sleeping. It was hilarious.

I am concerned for Jacob. The burden of leading our little group is weighing on him. Laurel and Kat (oddly enough) continue to comfort him as best they can, but he looks tired. The poor boy needs a good night’s sleep, but there always seems to be so much he needs to do. He needs rest, or he’ll burn himself out before we even make it to the Mississippi.

But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. It happens when you’ve seen as many summers as I have.

I should start at the beginning…

*******

Gertrude Jennings had just finished checking her e-bay account when George Foster began beating on her door.

She’d spent the evening finishing a trio of pineapple doilies to fill an order for a woman in Minnesota. While she enjoyed producing them, the crocheting made her hands sore (well, even more sore) and she’d decided to have a nice cup of Plantation Mint tea so she could take her morning pain meds. Gertrude hated living her life between doses. She didn’t need the medication every day, or even every other day just yet, but she soon would. The years were catching up with her.

The aging woman was still mostly able to get around with the help of her cane, but rolling out of bed in the morning was beginning to be a trial. Her knees sure weren’t what they used to be…

Gertrude looked at her husband’s picture on the windowsill beside her and smiled. It had been ten years since David’s passing, but she still felt his presence. The two of them had been married for almost 55 years and had been deliriously in love the whole time. They hadn’t been able to have children though. Something wrong with one of them. They’d never bothered with finding out which. It hadn’t mattered.

“Well dear, what would you like to do today?” She asked shutting down her laptop. Gertie always talked with her husband in the mornings. If anyone from the assorted social service agencies ever found out they’d probably try to stick her in an ‘assisted living facility’, but she wasn’t going to tell anyone about it. Neither would David. She didn’t actually talk to his picture. That would be ridiculous. It was just something to look at while she talked to his spirit or soul or ghost or whatever you chose to call it. Her husband had been a strong willed (if gentle) man and she didn’t believe a little thing like dying from a brain aneurism, would keep him from continued existence in some form.

His picture didn’t respond. “How about a walk to the park? We could stop and get an ice-cream on the way? One of those double-scoop, mint chocolate chip cones? I’ve been craving one all morning.”

Still no response, but Gertrude could imagine her husband’s face creasing with worry.

“It’s not that far to the park. And my legs feel much better today.” Gertie stretched her feet out and away, limbering up the old knee joints.

She mentally saw an amused eyebrow go up.

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you dear.” She stood with a slight effort and moved to the sink, dumping her tea. The grey haired woman shrugged into a sweater and thought of chocolatey-minty goodness. “We’ll take our time. I went to the store with Jacob yesterday afternoon, so there’s nothing important on the schedule today.”

It was then the pounding began.

“Gertie! It’s me! Open the god-damn door!!”

She frowned. George was slightly abrasive at times (that was an understatement), but he’d never actually been rude to her. He knew better.

The gray-haired woman moved from her modest kitchen to the hall leading to her front door. Out of habit, she glanced back over her shoulder to make sure the living room was presentable. She was habitually tidy and it wouldn’t do to have someone come in to witness an explosion of knitting supplies. Satisfied the room was clutter free Gertrude turned back to the door, checking the hall via the peephole prior to unlatching the deadbolt. Granted, that was probably an unnecessary habit. It would take a lot more than your average, motivated hoodlum with a crowbar to gain entry through the doors on the ground floor. Foster was a security enthusiast and the building was very well maintained, but still, it never hurt to check.

George’s face greeted her through the fish-eyed lens, making him look very much like a distorted reflection in a fun-house mirror. She suppressed a giggle and unlocked the door, pulling it open easily on its well-oiled hinges.

The building sup’s appearance was surprising. While Foster wore his ever-present work pants, work boots and tool bag, he was also splattered with something that resembled cranberry pulp. He was sweating profusely. It had soaked much of his grungy, white T-shirt and it gave him more than a slightly off-putting… aroma.

He also held one of the largest, shotguns Gertrude had ever seen.

“Hello George. It’s a bit early for unrestrained mayhem, isn’t it?” She said, as the old soldier stumped inside. Foster had been a Navy lifer. He’d lied about his age, joined up at age 17, learned he liked ‘murderizin’ things an’ destroyin’ people’, and turned it into a career. He’d retired after a (relatively) successful career almost 20 years ago, then purchased both Gertrude’s building and the adjacent warehouse with his many years’ worth of accumulated combat pay. The gruff, aging man was slightly out of breath, visibly stressed and all but drenched in sweat.

“Dammit Gertie, why the hell are you still here??” He demanded.

She raised an eyebrow. “And good morning to you too, George. Where exactly did you expect me to be?”

“Do you have any ideahow bad it is out there now? How bad it’s gonna get?” He was noticeably upset and double checked the locks after shutting her door. “Why the f-”

“Don’t you dare curse at me George!” Gertrude shook a swollen knuckled finger under his nose. “I may be old, but I can still knock out a few of your teeth if you start using that language!”

Foster was staring at her in both disbelief and surprise. “Gertie? Have you been watching what’s been going on on the T.V.? Or had the radio on at all?”

“I don’t own a television. You know that. There’s a reason they were once dubbed ‘idiot boxes’ you know.” Gertrude sniffed. “I never listen to the radio anymore. Unless it’s one of the A.M band talk shows.”

“What about music?” He asked incredulously.

“Oh, I changed over to C.D.’s quite a while ago.” She said, proudly. “I like listening to Harry Connick Jr. while I check my eBay auctions.”

George blinked. “You have an eBay account??”

“Well, of course. How else would I sell sweaters and scarves and things? Did you think I’d just take them up to the Short North Art district or something? Maybe tour the rest homes?” Gertrude laughed heartily. “I’d be laughed right out of the Knit Picks online forums. Did you want some coffee?”

“What?” Foster shook his head. “No! No. We need to get you out of here. I’ll help you put together some sundries and-”

She looked at him thoughtfully. “George? Have you been drinking? Come here; let me smell your breath…”

Foster closed his eyes and she could tell he was counting to ten. She knew because his lips were moving.

“Gertie, tell me you know about them.

She looked at him blankly, wondering if he was having a flashback.

“Oh, dear God…” He said and motioned towards her table.

After holding her chair as she sat, the stocky superintendent plunked down opposite her at the table and sighed. “Alright, what’s this about?” She asked.

“There’s no way ta’ tell you this without sounding like a whack-job, so I’m just gonna come out and say it. You need to come downstairs with me. Now.” He pulled a Cuban cigar from his breast pocket and lit it with a wooden match. That he struck on his cheek.

“Oh. Well, I was on my way down anyway.” Gertrude said. “I thought I’d take a walk to the park and-”

Whatt’re you, nuts??” Foster exclaimed, giving her what was termed ‘The Stink Eye’.

“I don’t think so but, evidently, you do.”

George looked at her like she’d suddenly sprouted a second head. “Well…yeah!”

The aging woman gave him a fond look. “George, let me explain a few things to you. One, I’m eighty-eight years old. Two, I’ve lived in this city all my life and I know how to take care of myself. Three, I want ice cream.”

Foster shook his head as if to clear it. “Gertie, seriously ya’ don’t know wha-”

“Four,” she continued, “I’m going to the park to get some.”

“You need to-”

“Five, if you think you’re going to keep me locked up in here like a soft-brained, idiot cousin, because you and Jacob think the poor, helpless, old lady can’t walk to the park for an ice cream cone without getting mugged, you’re in for both a bad morning and a lot of contusions.” Gertrude reached for her cane.

George reached for the curtain in her living room window.

After eighty-eight summers, Gertrude Jennings had come to believe she’d seen it all. She’d been mistaken.

Her apartment faced the city skyline. She’d loved the view ever since she and her David had first gazed through the windows, just after being married. At the time, she’d believed they’d live in his tiny, little two room off Livingston Avenue in Reynoldsburg and when he’d surprised her with their new residence… Well, suffice it to say it had been a wedding night to remember. But, as warm as that memory would always be, even that couldn’t ward off the chill which shot up her spine when she gazed out at the city.

There were columns of smoke everywhere. So many. More than a few of the buildings downtown were on fire. The top of the LeVeque Tower was especially disturbing, with its upper floors engulfed in flames. It looked like a Gothic, art-deco Tiki torch. If you’d doused it in kerosene, then set it ablaze with an acetylene lighter.

There was an exodus of cars racing past their building. Well, attempting to race, rather. Many were ramming into one another, bending steel and scraping paint and not a one of the vehicles drivers got out to scream, make a fuss or even paused to call the police on a cell phone. People moved quickly on foot away from the city as well. Running and stumbling by, pausing to fight each other every so often. Groups of bloody, sickly looking individuals often clustered around those seeking to flee, assaulting them before dragging them to the ground.

“Dear God!” Gertrude’s eyes widened as she leaned closer to the windowpane. There were smaller groups killing some of those who fled. Ripping their skin asunder and tearing them open like meaty, blood-filled, latex balloons. Blood and worse coated the assailant’s hands, their clothes, even their faces because they…

She watched in horror as the madmen (and women… and even children) attacked, and then began eating their victims. Blood sprayed, bones were clearly visible in the morning sunlight. Great lengthy ropes of intestines and other organs never meant to be seen by the light of day, were pulled to and fro by the insane attackers as they sought to stuff them into their mouths. It was the most terrible thing the aging woman had ever seen. It seemed as if Hell had opened for business in Ohio.

“George, what-… what-…?” She wasn’t able to get the question past her lips.

“Yer not gonna believe it. Hell, I don’t believe it.” He replied, puffing doggedly on the Cuban and sending fragrant smoke up towards her dining room ceiling. “Ya’ need ta’ prepare yerself Gertie.”

“Prepare myself.”

Foster sighed. “They’re zombies.”

Gertrude sat motionless, looking at him blankly. “Zombies…”

“Zombies?” He prompted, wrinkling his nose at a particularly bloody dismemberment in the middle of the street. “Ghouls? Walking Corpses? Flesh-eating monsters? Mobile maggot farms?”

“I know what a zombie is, George. I have seen a horror movie or two in my time.” She said.

The old soldier nodded and put up his hands appealingly. “Okay, okay. Just checkin’. There’s a lot a’ folks freakin’ out right now. Wanted to make sure you weren’t gonna go into shock or somethin’.”

When he put it that way, it didn’t seem unreasonable. The current generation of the human females seemed to be very excitable. Screaming in terror when they should be kicking an attacker in the dangley bits. Worrying about their “biological clocks ticking” because they were too busy with their careers to develop a personality which didn’t involve being 1% somewhat interesting, and 99% bitch. Being more concerned with what showed on their “feed” or “timeline” than actually interacting with living people. That kind of thing.

“What happened? What caused this?” Gertrude asked calmly, even though she felt more than slightly sick at the view past her window.

Foster shook his head. “No idea. The T.V.’s been going nutso tryin’ to figure it out. Terrorist attack was discounted right off the bat. This is happin’ all over the world. Some people are thinkin’ a virus, others are screamin’ about an alien takeover. Then there’s the religious wack-a-doos. They’re all sayin’ Jesus or Iehova or Muhammad or… who the fuck ever, is pissed at mankind, so now we get to ‘pay for our sins’ and all that…”

Gertrude made a rude sound. “What a bunch of hogwash. The almighty is about forgiveness, not vengeance.”

“Hey, preachin’ ta the choir here.” George said. “But ya know, you can’t reason with religious fanatics. That’s why they’re called fanatics.

The two continued watching in varying degrees of horror and disgust as humans (and what used to be human) fought and died in the street.

There were some few brave souls who attempted to help other people escape. A group of police officers stood shoulder to shoulder, walking slowly backwards in the middle of the road. They fired their Smith and Wesson 44586’s steadily as they retreated from the zombies, dropping dozens of the horrors with well-placed head shots. The haggard looking group tried to conserve their limited ammunition but all too soon, each of their weapons fell silent and they were reduced to fighting the creatures with their clubs. One by one, they were overcome. Pulled down by the things who used to be citizens they protected.

None of them ran.

The last to fall was probably fresh out of the academy, no more than twenty-three years old. He was bleeding from half a dozen bites when they took him, still bravely swinging away with his tonfa.

A COTA driver picked up fleeing people where he could, crushing the mobile dead beneath the wheels of his bus and splattering them across its grill. He saved 11 before having to drive on to avoid being overwhelmed.

A cab driver rammed a pair of zombies that had been chasing a single father and his three children. After smearing the creatures over the concrete with his old, bright yellow, ’92’ Taurus, the cabbie skidded to a stop, got the man in his cab along with his frightened kids then burned rubber, heading east.

A truck carrying two construction worker’s screeched to a halt down the street. As they hopped from the cab, one grabbed a sledgehammer from its bed while the other snatched up a six foot pry-bar and they proceeded to batter a group of ghouls trying to gain access to a Smart Car into oblivion. There were three co-eds crammed inside the tiny two-seater, eco friendly vehicle, all terrified out of their minds, all screaming at the top of their (ample) lungs. The large, sun-bronzed men made short work of the shambling things with their tools and quickly convinced the co-ed’s into their truck. The five of them sped away in the roar of the white dually’s Ram-tough, 5.7 liter V8 engine.

Not everyone was a Samaritan. A middle-aged, blonde woman driving a silver Pontiac, with a license plate that read “BTY-QST”, sideswiped another backpack wearing woman on a mountain bike. As the bicyclist went tumbling, the blonde lost control of her Sunfire and rammed into the rear of a Pale Ale delivery truck. The Pontiac ended up half under the truck’s tailgate, bending the car’s frame and wedging the doors in place.

Though a little banged up, along with wearing some fresh road rash, the female rider got painfully to her feet and tottered over to her bike. It was still functional, so she hopped on quickly and began to ride away. The blonde trapped in the Pontiac attempted to crawl from the driver’s side window, but had little success. She screeched for the “bicycle-riding bitch” to help her and the other woman’s mouth set into a hard line. As she pedaled east, the rider threw “the bird” to trapped blonde. Then, she concentrated on putting as much distance between herself and the other woman’s screams as she could. The dead had reached the blonde woman stuck in her Sunfire. Shortly thereafter, BeautyQuest needed a new “Team Coordinator”. But, at least it was quieter.

“Gertie, we need to get downstairs to my office.” Foster said. His cigar had gone out while the two of them had watched the sickening spectacle outside. “I’ve got a panic room.”

The older woman shook her head. “I’d really rather not. All of my belongings are here. Besides, I’m positive whatever secret hideaway you’ve set up smells like gun oil… and old gym socks.”

“You’d be surprised.” He replied smugly.

“I doubt it. Really George, I’ll be fine here.” She pulled the filmy curtains back over the window. “I’m not planning on going out now. I’m sure with all the additional security you’ve added over the years, this building-”

“Nope. Not gonna happen. It doesn’t look like those things register pain. If they noticed someone alive in here, through say the window maybe? They’d just keep poundin’ away on the doors. Eventually, the countermeasures would fail and they’d be inside. These apartment doors I installed are good, but not good enough that they’ll stand up to constant assault.”

“George-”

The sup’s face went hard. “You’re not staying here.”

Gertrude’s face set in determination. “Now see here-”

“Gertie, if I have to carry you down, kicking an’ screaming an’ beating on me with that cane of yours, that’s what I’m gonna do. What’s here in this apartment ain’t worth dyin’ for.” Foster said in voice that was nothing like the look in his eyes. “Get what you need for a few days. Clothes, medicine, whatever it may be, then get yer’ behind out that door and inta’ my panic room before what’s out there makes it in here.

She knew he was right. She’d have to leave her home. And she hated it. “I can’t.”

A disbelieving look passed over George’s features. “I’ve never know you ta’ be afraid a’ nothing.”

“If I leave… it will be forever.” Gertrude explained. “I’ll walk out that door, and I won’t ever be able to come back. You saw what’s happening outside… Do you really think it’s just happening here?”

Foster shook his head slowly.

“So there’s no telling if the government could have the Army or National Guard set it all right again?”

“No guarantees they could, no.” He said. “Honestly? I doubt it.”

“So I could never come back.” Gertrude looked around. There was her husband’s old sweater, on the back of his chair. She’d washed it (by hand) once every couple of months to keep it fresh for the last ten years. Ever since his passing. There was the old percolator they’d purchased on their trip to Spain. They’d toured Cantabria Province, spending a memorable day at the Cave of Altamira and an even more memorable four nights in the town of Santillana del Mar’s most beautiful bed and breakfast. So many things that could never be replaced. Things linked to precious memories.

“I’m sorry, Gert. I’m not leavin’ you here, all alone.” Foster growled. “If you’ll write out a list, I’ll come up and get yer’ things….if ya’ want me too…”

“That would be nice of you.” She said quietly. Then, giving herself a brief shake, she rose, donned her pullover and walked into the kitchen. Gertrude searched the cupboard over her sink briefly and came up with a large, reusable, fabric shopping bag. She opened her medicine drawer next to the stove, quickly took everything inside and packed it. Over the next half-hour, medications, tiny must haves and small nicknacks made their way into her bag.

“George,” she said briskly, “if you would, pull down that photo on the wall behind you and bring it to me?”

The aging soldier did as she requested. “When I come back, I’ll remember to grab yer’ other albums.”

Gertie smiled at him, then gently packed the picture of her and her husband David on their trip to Spain into the bag full of medications. She retrieved her cane from its place beside the table and took a last look around the place she’d expected to spend the final years of her life. David would tell her, It’s only a place to stay, sweetheart. It’s just one of the places we made memories, and those you’ll always carry with you.

But it had been their home…

Wherever you are is my home. She could almost see that amused, half-smile her husband wore when he found something foolish she did adorable.

Gertrude Jennings turned and, saddened but feeling strangely lighter, walked from her apartment.

As the two senior citizens headed for the elevator at the end of the hall, she expressed the desire to go upstairs to collect Jake as well. That earned her a slightly uncomfortable look from the aged soldier.

“Yeah. About Jake…” He began.

*******

The elevator doors cycled open, allowing Gertrude and Foster to exit into the building’s lobby.

As usual, it was spotless. Pristine even, due to all of George’s hard work and the more than capable crew of janitors he’d contracted to come in every other day. He insisted that any public area be neat, tidy and have a “high-fucking-shine to it”. Gertie had known him for long time now (more decades then she liked to think about, really) and knew, being used to a military lifestyle, Foster seemed almost… fussy…about keeping his tenants happy.

They passed close to the secured and gated front entrance, allowing the two of them a (somewhat restricted) view of the street. Indications of disaster were everywhere. There were some abandoned or even destroyed cars beyond the bulletproof glass doors, discarded items from people who had fled from the dead, along with not a small number of bloodstains and bodies. The old woman stopped and gazed outside as they moved towards George’s office.

“It doesn’t seem real, does it?” Gertie asked him, leaning slightly on her cane.

Foster gently set her bag on the polished, hardwood floor and put his hand on the butt of his shotgun. The Spaz hung again over his shoulder on its combat sling, waiting to unleash a little destruction and the man’s fingers itched for the chance to use the weapon. He’d been out of action for far too long. If you didn’t continuously hone your shooting skills, they would eventually degrade until you couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. From inside the barn.

“I’ve seen this in other countries before.” George admitted, carefully looking through the slightly dirty, slightly bloody glass. “Mind you, they were usually scummy, third world shit-holes. Just your basic war zone…”

Gertrude rolled her eyes and continued to gaze at the empty street. There were so many pieces lying around out there. Fingers, feet, entire limbs, half-eaten headless torsos. It reminded her of documentaries she’d seen about the Holocaust on her television, prior to her getting rid of the useless thing.

She leaned close to the bulletproof pane and squinted. “Is that someone out there?”

Foster’s eyes followed to where her slim finger indicated. Sure enough, there was a teenager creeping down the other side of the street. The young man was dressed in jeans, a dark t-shirt, leather work gloves and work boots. A high-school style book bag rode his back and the Ontario machete he carried already had blood coated along its blade. He was moving cautiously, eyes darting over the road before him as he maneuvered around the gory remains of the dead. It was obvious he was frightened, but he still had the presence of mind to use abandoned vehicles and even the alcoves of buildings as cover while he attempted to sneak towards the city’s outskirts.

George removed the gate covering the entrance, leaving it partially to one side as he unlocked the front door. The man had always been a big believer in keeping his building, and its occupants “invasion-proof”. Telescopic surveillance cameras, watching all four sides (and the private, walled parking lot) lined the roof, entry to the lobby could only be gained via inputting a resident’s seven digit code on a keypad beside the door, the lobby entrance (and it’s four, one foot wide window slots facing the street) were both steel reinforced and held 2inch thick, bulletproof, panes as opposed to normal window glass. Basically, he’d all but turned the lobby into a bank vault. Shy of driving a bulldozer through the wall (or hitting it with a wrecking ball) there was no way inside.

The teen had made it almost directly opposite the entrance where they stood, as Gertie stepped back and watched George finally pull the door open. There was an odd odor in the air. It reminded her of the aroma at the meat counter in a supermarket. Like flesh? No. That wasn’t it. It was coppery, like a fresh steak smelled when you unwrapped it. But a rotten one.

“Good lord George…” She said, waving at the air before her face.

He looked at her in confusion.

The older woman continued fanning. “What in Heaven’s name did you have for breakfast? A corpse? That’s really very rude, you know.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked quietly.

Gertrude pinched her nose shut. “You could at least have the decency to warn someone. Goodness that is awful. You do have Febreze or some kind of air freshener in this panic room of yours, don’t you?”

From the expression on his face, George finally realized what she was talking about. Giving a long-put-upon sigh, he shook his head and turned away. Shotgun at the ready, he gave a low whistle.

The teenage boy started at the sound, causing him to jump noticeably. His eyes all but bugged from their sockets (like the coyote in those old-fashioned cartoons, Gertie thought) as he head whipped around. Foster waved at him and motioned for the boy to quickly cross to where he stood. Relief was visible on the young man’s face at the sight of other normal people. Even if said individuals were older and one was carrying an enormous weapon.

The teen moved towards them, keeping low and trying to use the bulk of two wrecked cars to remain hidden. He was on the road’s center-line when he froze in place. Something had obviously tripped the danger sensor in his brain.

“Look out!!” The boy yelled.

From beside the building’s door, a pair of zombies all but fell in on George. The things were beyond hideous. The first used to be a postman, going from the uniform and the mailbag still hanging unnoticed from its single remaining arm. The other had been torn (or gnawed) off at the elbow. The other was a slim female in an “Occupy” something shirt. Gertrude couldn’t tell what the other word had been, because the thing’s entire midsection (what was left of it anyway) was chewed almost beyond recognition and covered in already congealing blood. Both were attacking Foster in the doorway, far too close for comfort and attempting to crowd into the lobby.

George cursed loudly, yelled for Gertrude to lock the door behind him, and used his shotgun to push the creatures back. They seemed to be unnaturally strong, but that was due to lack of any sense of pain. They swiped at him while he heaved them backwards, clawing at the Spaz and trying to get a grip on the old soldier’s clothing.

Gertie was holding the door open; there wasn’t much she could do to help him at the moment. If she attempted to get involved in the trio’s struggle, she’d most likely only get in George’s way and succeed in getting one (or both) of them killed. She wasn’t strong, or fast, but she wasn’t willing to leave him outside fighting the horrors alone either. Which turned out to be a good thing.

A third zombie staggered towards the struggling group from the west, behind Foster. It had once been a short, blonde woman in a garish mid-length skirt and far too much eye makeup. Even prior to being turned into a drooling, slack-jawed, maggot-head, she (in Gertrude’s opinion) had resembled a raccoon and the pattern on the creature’s skirt looked like something a cat had vomited up. It was completely unflattering, too.

While the older woman had watched, the thing focused on the still struggling George and, BeautyQuest lapel pin glinting in the sunlight, made a stumbling bee-line towards his unsuspecting back. The aging soldier was still occupied with the other “zombies” and was really having a hard time both keeping them at bay, while attempting to stay in between them and Gertrude. Something very much like undisguised hunger crossed the dead woman’s face as she plodded at him. Gertie realized that unless she bought him some time, George would be bitten and would become a mindless creature himself.

At least, that’s the way it had worked in all the movies.

The zombie was maybe five steps from George when a voice caused it to turn.

“Pardon me.”

The (once)Team Coordinator turned at the sound and caught the handle of Gertrude’s steel walking stick, right between its eyes.

Something not many people knew; Gertrude Jennings had been an All-American, female baseball player in her youth. She’d had the second highest home run record until that time over the course of her six year career, just prior to the league shutting down for good. The newspapers and game announcers all said that she’d “hit like a Georgia mule”, which one overzealous team owner had learned when he’d attempted to renegotiate her contract. What he’d really wanted was for her to “help him with his pitching”.

She’d broken one of his arms and three of his ribs.

Now while her cane was no Louisville Slugger, Gertrude managed to put a fair amount of English into her hit. The aged woman had drawn wa-a-a-ay back, twisted her torso to her left (luckily, the same way she’d always hit from at home plate) and forcefully launched her swing at the zombie’s face. It was a much larger target than a baseball and she had no problems connecting solidly.

The blow knocked the foul thing “ass over tea kettle”, but didn’t actually kill it. As Gertie recovered, it sat up moaning wetly, spraying bloody spit and dropping pieces of its now crushed sinuses on its skirt. The old woman’s cane blurred out again, catching the creature in its left eye. The orb exploded in a burst of yellowish, nasty-smelling fluid that ran down its face, coating the dead thing’s cheek and lips. It ignored the empty eye-socket and began to rise, albeit a little unsteadily.

After she took a firmer grip, Gertrude proceeded to pound the creature mercilessly. Its jaw broke with her next swing, its left arm at the elbow with the one that followed. She shattered its right collarbone, then broke its right forearm just above the wrist. It continued trying to rise. The rapidly tiring woman took aim carefully and, with a horizontal swing that started in the soles of her feet, smashed the zombie in its right temple.

The thing fell back to the sidewalk. It was crippled, unable to rise, but not finished. The zombie’s fractured and broken arms flopped sickeningly as it attempted to find prey. The corpse’s barely functional brain didn’t realize it was lying on the concrete. It couldn’t see anything, due to Gertrude’s blows demolishing its face. The still moving horror didn’t feel any pain from its broken and smashed limbs, because when all was said and done, it wasn’t alive. Its neural receptors didn’t recognize discomfort. It literally wasn’t able to feel pain. That was only for the living.

Gertie stepped up next to the zombie’s head, took a deep breath, and then pulped its head with an overhand smash. The blow resembled a lumberjack splitting a log with an axe. Just messier.

Leaning heavily on her cane, the panting senior attempted to catch her wind. As her lungs pulled much needed oxygen into her body, she noticed the bottom of her walking stick was dripping blood on the sidewalk. It didn’t sicken her, even as she lifted it to find a gory imprint in the shape of its base on the pavement. It filled her with sorrow. Sorrow at the knowledge that both she (along with the world) had changed forever, and there was no going back for anyone.

Oh hell… George. She turned as quickly as she could (she was almost eighty-nine years old after all) to find the ex-soldier “curb-stomping” the postal worker zombie into the ground.

Foster had finally overcome the hulking thing, after breaking both of its kneecaps with well-placed blows from the butt of his shotgun. His boot, along with the lower part of his pants on the leg he was currently using to “neutralize the threat”, were splattered with the creatures rapidly souring, half-congealed blood. He let loose an ear-blistering string of truly vilecurses, while he continued kicking the unnatural and now unmoving body.

George was able to concentrate upon said gristly activity, because he had help. The teenage boy had bounded forward as the older man struggled with the two zombies to engage the other one; hacking and slashing at it with his machete.

The teen had managed to draw it off and as Gertie watched, he dodged another of its clumsy attacks with ease. Then, spinning to the creature’s right under its grasping arms, he struck its head from its shoulders. The darkened Ontario blade passed cleanly through the zombie’s neck. The head sailed through the air, rolled a good twenty yards through the gutter after bouncing repeatedly along the blacktop and vanished down the nearby storm drain. Not much blood came from the neck stump, because the body had been dead for hours. No heartbeat, plus no circulation, equals no spewing fluids.

“Are you two alright?” The boy asked, wiping his machete on the back of the dead (again) females shirt.

“Why, yes. Why wouldn’t we be?” Gertrude asked calmly, moving to stand beside Foster as he kicked his zombie again and again. She could hear the body’s ribs breaking with the impact of the man’s steel-toed work boots.

The boy gave her a quizzical look and shrugged. “I saw those things from the other side of the street and was going to sneak by them when… um…” The boy glanced in the older man’s direction.

“George.” Foster replied, giving the postal worker’s body a final kick.

Gertie sighed. “Ignore him. We do.”

The boy looked back and forth between them a few times.

“I’m Gertrude, dear. What’s your name?”

“Leo. Leo Salizar ma’am.” He answered.

“Well, under the circumstances, it’s very nice to meet you Leo.” She smiled. “We really appreciate the help.”

“Um… No problem.” He scratched the back of his neck self-consciously. “I’ve dealt with a few of those things today already. Not tons of them, just five or six I wasn’t able to hide from.”

Foster was looking up and down the street, watching alley entrances and side streets intently. “Why don’t we all discuss this inside huh?”

“You’re absolutely right George. Leo, would you help me back in please? My joints aren’t what they used to be.” The older woman wasn’t above playing the sympathy card when the situation called for it.

Leo took her frail looking arm and laughed. “You just kicked the crap out of a zombie didn’t you?”

Gertrude sniffed dismissively as they passed back through the door. “That didn’t involve moving large distances young man. Once you reach my age? The knees and hips will tend to do a bit more complaining than other parts do.”

“Why were ya’ out there on the streets alone? Haven’t ya’ been listening to the news?” George proceeded to lock the vault-strength front door again, then pulled and latched the security gate. Once again his mini fortress was reasonably safe again.

“I just wanted out of the city.” Leo explained, shuffling from foot to foot and looking at his shoes. “My dad hasn’t been home for a few nights, no big surprise there. He was probably off on his most recent binge somewhere, still smelling like cheap whiskey, when those things began to show. They probably already got him…”

The old woman patted his arm. “Well, you’ll just have to stick with us then. I’m sure we’ll figure something out once the others get back.”

As they passed through the gleaming lobby Leo asked, “Others? There are more people here?”

“Well, thanks to someone not actually thinking before acting,” Gertrude gave Foster an obviously upset look. She was quite angry with him for letting Jake and his friends go outside into the apocalypse. As if she didn’t have enough to worry about. “We’re going to have to hope Jake and his friends can make it back. I’m not sure what’s happening in other areas-”

“I told ya’, its gets worse the closer you get to the city.” George growled, locking the deadbolt on his office door. He moved behind the small room’s desk, pulled a fresh Cuban from the top drawer then stepped to one of the Army green filing cabinets lining one wall. “Jake’s smart though. Tough too.”

Looking around the small office, Leo’s expression went from general fear to visible worry. “We’re going to stay here? In the office? I thought you said you guys had somewhere safe..?”

“Relax kid.” Foster chuckled, opening one cabinet’s bottom drawer. “I got it covered.”

Well. Gertrude thought. I wonder what he has up his sleeve this time…

*******

—To be continued in: “Keep Your Crowbar Handy…”—

Coming soon from KnightWatch Press!

Alright everyone, that brings “Gertrude’s Morning” to a close. Hopefully it’s allowed you a bit of a look into the character, while tying up a loose end that had been bugging me for some time.

At this point, I’d like to take a moment to thank one of the coolest people I know, Cassandra Stryffe (mon editeur nocturne!). This was written for her, because Gertrude initially found a special place in Cass’s heart, during the production/editorial process.I hope that she (and all of you) have enjoyed this short story, as you (hopefully!) will KyCH when it’s released as well.

***The second book of the trilogy, “Assuming Room Temperature” is currently in the works.

Until next time: Hold your redhead close, drink your Guinness cold and keep your crowbar handy..!

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Comments
  1. Ron Criss says:

    Love your writing, hope to one day have my work published

    • gaijinpunker says:

      Hey Ron!
      Sorry it took so long to reply! (was literally hip-deep in edits until yesterday!)
      If you have a story bouncing around in your back brain? Submit it. Don’t worry about “critics” (because no one is EVER going to produce a novel that everyone on Planet Earth will like), don’t talk yourself out of it, don’t “wait for a better time”. Even more so than having people love MY work, one of the best things an author can experience is someone telling them that THEY were inspired to write something of their own after reading it.
      Heck! If you have the chance and want to get your feet wet? Zombie Fiend is taking submissions for “cannibal themed” short stories (disturbing, I know. but that makes it fun!) RIGHT NOW! The cut off deadline isn’t until June 29th so there’s still time.
      Hope to be reading your book someday!
      -KyCH 😀

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