Cracking Skulls by Nathan Shephard

A/N This excellent short story about zombies was written by Nathan Shephard who heard about our zombie competition too late, but got inspiration to write anyway. He emailed it to me, and I really had to post it somewhere. It's a tad long, but it's worth it. Hope y'all read and enjoy :D
P.S. a new short story competition is going on, and if you haven't already, read about it in the post below!
Anyway, on with the show!



Click
Bang!
Splosh
Thud – the sound of a lifeless form hitting the ground.
A steady aim and a moment of focus-
Bang!
Another body collapses. But there are more bodies now.
They come and they come- like relentless and determined waves crashing upon a desolate shore, they keep coming. Whether dead or alive, they pile up after each consecutive wave. And you know there’ll be more - always more.
Keep moving – I have to remind myself! It’s kept me alive so far.
Keep moving, cause they’ll keep coming.
Something shoots past my face, thoughtfully caressing my ear as it passes. I reflex as the projectile embeds itself in the cold concrete wall behind me. A reflex that would’ve been far too late if the dart had been accurate.
That was too close.
I’ve had too many close calls like this. The fact that I’m still alive surprises me – I should be dead, like all the rest. There sure as hell has been more than one occasion for that certainty.
Yet here I stand, in defiance or stubborn tenacity – one common trait I share with my enemy.
I turn around to see the serrated barb sticking out of the wall. There’s only one thing that can do that. And I don’t want to stick around to give it another shot.
Time to make myself scarce.
I slip through a narrow passage, just as I hear another dart zip by, putting enough distance between me and that shambling horde. No doubt my activities are bound to attract certain undesirables. You can count on that every time a shot is fired.
The rest are merely distractions; bait to draw out the living - the real monsters are the things that think gunshots are the dinner bell ringing.
I’ve seen my fair share of these monsters; always on the prowl, lurking in the shadows, seeking their next victim to satiate their ravishing hunger. Twisted abominations, a contradiction of life.
I round a corner, panting softly and straining my ears for the sound of pursuing footsteps.
But I hear nothing. Keep going, don’t stop now. I must find a way out of here. This dead edifice, this decaying city and ruined civilization will let me go either way sooner or later. “When” might not be my choice, but “how”...
My hand finds its way into my pocket where my fingers fondle a standard 9mm round and my thoughts drift off to a bleak possibility- but I stop them before they can go any further.
Check my magazine: still got eleven rounds and two full clips. Gotta make them count, don’t know when I’ll come across more munitions.
An object that only becomes a viable weapon once two parts are combined is hardly a reliable one.
But if all else fails, I’ve still got my trusty axe, it never runs out of ammo- a cliché but it’s true. Partially blunted and well loved, it’s got me out of more than one sticky situation. It means getting closer to your foe to strike a blow, sometimes too close for comfort. And it causes a wonderful mess; a splatter and spray of blood usually, but it’s no dinner bell. Although, if you’re not well covered while handing out the chops you could find yourself saturated in ichorous blood; one drop splattered on an open wound or in an eye and you’re in for a protracted, agonizing and measured death.
Blood- avoid it like a plague if you can.
A sound!
They’re coming.
I hastily make my way to the far end of the corridor where it T’s off left and right. I knew coming here would be a risk, but it may still be worth it.
The end of the corridor comes to greet me, I stop to spare a glance behind me; various forms have started to appear and gather at the other end of the corridor.
Damn! I’ve called in the hungry mob with two shots! Bad idea.
Left or right?
The left corridor was dark and silent. There was an unsettling presence about the darkness that convinced me I’d be better off going right; where the eerie glow of the moon shone through the cracked and shattered windowpanes, flooding the corridor with light.
You learn to trust your intuition with decisions like these.
Glass crunches underfoot as I make my way over it. There’s a lifeless body slumped against one of the apartment doors. I’m not sure if it’s officially a corpse yet so I keep my distance as I pass it.
This corridor is long but I can see an open space at the end which should be a foyer with a staircase. I consider the rough map of the building I hastily sketched in my mind and I hoped it hadn’t changed much.
Another body; its organs decorating the floor and splatter of red painted on the wall. It groans and I hear glass shifting beneath it as I stride over it. I imagine it reaching after me.
It’ll never get me though, I’m already gone and as I prepare to round the bend I hug the wall to peer around the corner- a habit you quickly pick up on, it soon becomes mandatory.
My back against the wall, I glance around the corner and-
Shit!
My heart sinks, and for a moment mortal jeopardy petrifies me.
Did it see me?
No – I would’ve known by now.
A sigh of relieve.
It’s just standing there. They do that, it still freaks me out. Some things you just don’t get used to.
You wouldn’t even know they’re there until it’s too late- until you’ve already run into one.
As though cast in stone, they stand idle- but once it has something to kill it becomes fanatically animated. I’ve seen one of them rip a man in half and that was after he managed to spray it with a couple of shotgun shells- the worst thing to run into right now.
Especially if all you have is a 9mm hand gun and a blunted axe.
I’ve never killed one of those things before, it’s the type of brute I try to avoid altogether and hope to never engage. The type, when encountered, presents you with two options; flee or take your slim chances fighting. And unless you’re some kind of badass, the latter isn’t recommended.
“Sentries”, some called them, believed to guard key locations. Rumour has it that they’re blind but if that’s true, it’s never stopped them. And what the hell could it be guarding here?
I hear movement at the other end of the corridor. Swiftly, my hand gropes for the nearest door handle. It opens and I slip in, suddenly relieved but then quickly realising my dreary situation.
Right now, I had a hungry mob steadily closing in on me from one side, and a ruthless killing machine on the other. And by all appearances it seemed as though I was fast becoming trapped.
Trapped- another way to get killed.
I found myself in a room that seemed abandoned and relatively untouched; things were neat and everything seemed in order- a stark contradiction to the matter. As though oblivious to the chaos outside its walls. Even the bed was done- it seemed absurd. It was like this room was altogether forgotten about until now.
I look around for a possible exit. The windows lead to a crumbling ledge outside. It’s an option, but maybe not the best one. The drop is a long one, and I could suffer no broken bones right now. I approach a door which I believe leads to the bathroom.
I open it and suddenly find myself flailing to keep from slipping off an edge. Steadying myself on the door frame, I peer down at my feet; the tips of my boots hang over a massive hole in the floor that seems to drop many levels deep, at least five or six stories. I can’t see the bottom.
The wall to the right doesn’t exist anymore and even the ceiling is missing; as though some kind of wrecking ball ploughed through this part of the building.
That would’ve been a silly way to die. Rushing through doors, I should know better. Silly mistakes get people killed in this urban wasteland, I’ve seen this too.
Pop, pop!
Gunshots! That distinctive sound.
I haven’t heard anyone else shoot anything else in days! And it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere in this building.
Pop, pop-pop!
Again- this time closer.
A bang and a shudder vibrating through the building, dust falls. Sounded like a grenade. Someone is packing heat and attracting a lot of attention.
As though to confirm this I hear the heavy foot falls of the Sentry stir behind me, on the other side of the wall. For a moment I pity the mortal soul down there somewhere, once you attract the attention of a Sentry you better hope you’re packing extra frags.
I hear more gunshots, this time the distinguishing sound of automatic fire, drawing ever nearer.
Nothing I can do to help this person. If anything this will be a good opportunity to give the Sentry a slip… But it seems it hasn’t moved since-
CRASH!
What the hell?!
That sound of concrete cracking, crumbling and splintering behind me, I find myself steadying my balance again. A piece of brick bounces and rolls pass me to leap off the edge and drop down the shaft.
My mind is trying to logically comprehend what just happened, but I know already- I know that the thing just came through the damn wall!
The dust settles to reveal the menacing shape of the Sentry sprawled on the bed, thrashing and kicking up a fuss. It obviously didn’t expect the wall there.
Soon its up though, grunting and hissing through nostrils, shaking off its collision. Its head raises and shifts from side to side, it seems to be peering, straining its senses to pick up on a target. Then it stops, as though something catches its attention.
Its head turns slowly. Slowly towards me, then stops. Has it noticed me?
If it had eyes it would be looking directly at me, but I could still sense a thousand yard stare that cut right through me.
I’m standing stock-still.
Quivering arms raise and I peer down the barrel at the ugly face of my adversary. My finger curling around the trigger.
One chance. That’s probably all I’ll get- one chance to put a bullet through its head. One chance to get it right and put it down for good - with one shot. One chance, one faultless shot.
There’s that moment, when time seems to slow down to extend you the courtesy of contemplating your last few precious moments and accepting your fate. You notice things; things you would never think to consider in these moments. Like how the dust fell as it resettled, like a lazy rain, partially obscuring the menacing, hulking figure before me.
Pop-pop-pop, pop!
The noise echoed up the shaft from a lower level behind me to snap me out of the spellbinding grip of mortal peril, its sound augmented as it bounced off the walls.
The Sentry grunted, then suddenly launched forward – it had a fix on its target. It wasn’t me (thank God), but I now found myself directly in its path (dear God!).
Charging forward, and directly at me.
Instinctively I step aside- it crashes pass me, taking some of the door frame with it, smashing into the wall on the opposite end of the small room, before it falls down the shaft.
Clinging on an edge I watch as it quickly descends; tumbling into the darkness and obscurity below, bouncing off concrete protrusions on its way down.
Good riddance.
I’m tremendously relieved and I can’t help but wonder how I managed to survive that.
This is turning out to be one of those days.
Just keep going! Gotta keep moving- I remind myself.
Stay in one place too long and you’re bound to test your luck. Especially in a place like this; so close to The Fallout Zone.
Darting out the room, my pursuers have closed some distance. Their glee is spine chilling as they notice me- this puts a spring in their shamble and they stumble forward faster.
Pests!
I turn to leave-
But suddenly I’m sprawled on the floor, and for a second I’m dazed and confused, my head swimming.
There’s a numbing buzz filling my skull. Did I hit my head?
My vision clears and I suddenly realise my sidearm has eluded my grip. Lying only meters away I scramble up to retrieve it when a searing pain suddenly grips my arm.
My hand instinctively wraps around the source of pain and I can feel a liquid seep between my fingers. Glancing down I see a laceration.
Shit!
This isn’t good! Panic threatens to overwhelm me but I won’t let it. I scoop my handgun up noticing a barbed spike not too far from it, the blood on it still fresh and I get this feeling it’s my blood.
There’s a strepitous shriek, I turn to see a form rushing through the fleshly obstacles around it. It knocks one down and swipes another aside with its mutated clawed arm, the body flies through the air in two pieces, smacking against the wall with a meaty thud and collapsing in a pile of fetid flesh and blood.
My eyes widen, it’s coming for me. Rushing to meet me on four limbs; its eyes manic and its twisting tongue hanging out the corner of its lipless mouth - a permanent grimace of long pointed teeth. Its tail flickering behind it, another spine emerging from its tip, ready to sling.
I don’t even debate it, my arms are raised and shots are fired. The first few are off the mark, the result of an impulsive reaction. They zip passed my target, the next few shots rip into it- but still it comes, ever more enraged.
Last chance – don’t screw it up, okay.
The following shots sail true- I’m sure of it! But I don’t have time to see them land, I’m darting out the way before it rips into me.
Collapsing to the ground as it crashes into the wall at a tremendous speed, I’m on my feet again as quickly as I can manage, pistol at the ready.
It lies there motionless, the wall cracked by the impact- blood splatters the impact crater on the wall and pools on the floor around it. The massive claw on its arm twitches. The unconventional combination of hot lead and solid masonry must’ve done it!
I spare a disdainful glance at the creature; a “Cutter” they called this one.
The shambling horde approaches and the possibility of additional Cutters roaming the ranks are likely.
I survey my surroundings, pleased to see a staircase at the end of the foyer and quickly make for it while reloading my clip.
I ascend two floors before a sudden pain surges up in my arm and I’m reminded of the tear in my flesh.
It won’t stop bleeding.
Shit! This is bad, this is really bad.
No time to staunch and dress it, don’t lose focus – just keep going dammit!
My legs carry me up another few flights without stopping. The buzz in my head subsides to give way to the nagging concern of the sharp sting in my upper arm.
Ignore it!
I see the sign “Flr 72” on a door. That’s the one! Carefully, I open it. My hand turning the door knob slowly- it opens with a squeak that confounds my efforts to remain inconspicuous.
But only an enigmatic silence and a still darkness come to receive me.
What are the chances of Creeps being this high up in the building?
Slimmer than usual but I haven’t survived this long by taking slim chances.
I sweep the area best I can, my eyes adjusting to the lack of light, proceeding cautiously but steadily. My arm going slightly numb now- the pain becoming less severe.
Soon, I find the apartment I’m looking for – the door is open ajar and I step in.
It doesn’t take long to find what I’m looking for. It was exactly where I expected it to be.
I’m out of the apartment and making my way down the corridor when I have to stop.
Did I hear something?
I wait…
Nothing.
Another couple of paces and I have to stop again. That sound, I heard it again. But now, only reticence.
I continue and then suddenly stop – I definitely hear it this time!
A tapping noise, like the sound of scurrying claws over a solid surface.
Something is following me.
I turn around peering into the darkness, my grip around my pistol tightening. It sounded close. I imagine malevolent eyes glaring at me from the shadows. I can feel goose flesh wrap around me.
I run, as swiftly as my legs can carry me, and I hear the scurrying tap-tap quicken to match my pace behind me. I don’t peer behind me, I don’t slow down even while rounding the corner. The door, I must reach the door. My arm reaches out, my hand curls around the door knob and I slip through, slamming it shut behind me.
A violent impact shakes the door in its frame and I’m thrown back. Quickly I descend the steps, two flights down and I hear the door above me shatter, a splintered shard of wood falls down past me.
Shit! Here it comes!
I just keep running, even when my legs start to burn and my chest tightens, I don’t stop. I don’t know what that thing is but I don’t intend to find out. The knowledge that it stalks its prey is a hint of some intelligence – that’s enough to unnerve me.
Suddenly I can go no further. The flight of stairs simply breaks off, wrecked and crumbling. I have to volt up another flight to reach the nearest door. Struggle to open it, it’s jammed!
Dammit! Try the next one. This time luck!
I find myself in another foyer – and I’m not the only one.
A man stands there in black fatigues – dressed for war.
He holds some kind of automatic rifle in his hands, standing over a corpse of Cutter. Around him bodies lay strewn in pieces.
He turns to face me. A gasmask covers his face and beneath the goggles I sense a cryptic and calculating stare.
Crack!
I’m thrown forward, the door behind me shatters and I hear the clamour of automatic fire followed promptly by a shrieking wale.
I stumble to my feet, look around to see the man thrusting a combat knife through a repulsive looking mutation with multiple limbs and curved talons. He must’ve moved damn fast to cover that distance and get in under it with a knife. He pushes it aside, extracting his blade from its throat, as it slumps to the floor.
I make my getaway while he’s occupied. Speeding off at a run and even as I do I hear the thundering roar of what could only be a Sentry close by. Suddenly a massive form crashes through the windows to my left and sprawls on the floor only a few metres ahead of me.
I come to a grinding halt as it rises, shaking off shards of glass. It bellows and charges at me. Bullets spit past me like streaking lines of yellow light, one coming close enough to my neck that I could feel the heat as it passes.
The bullets ripped into the brute. It clutches its face in agony and I have to dive aside to avoid it ploughing through me.
I hit the ground hard and the Sentry charges past, crashing into the wall beside it as it struggled, disorientated and infuriated. I see the man approach, casually striding up to the creature. He draws a side arm and with one shot ripping through its head, the Sentry drops.
An efficient killer. Is he on my side? We share a common enemy but there’s always this ever present issue of trust amongst other humans where self-preservation is concerned. I’m not waiting to find out, this guy must have a death wish to come into a place like this blasting away. He might as while be banging a gong, inviting every Creep in a 5 mile radius for a feast.
And it doesn’t matter how “hard-core” you are, when the bigger things start showing up, you will die.
“Stay where you are!” I shout, raising my pistol as I get up again.
He stops and raises his gloved hands in an unthreatening gesture.
The first person I’ve come across in days that isn’t already a corpse. But this man was different, well trained, well equipped. Is he the only one here? Why is he here? Where did he come from?
I hear the faint buzzing of a chopper in the distance. Something is definitely going down and I find myself in the middle of it now.
I fire three rounds. They cleave into the wall beside the man, he rolls away to evade, masonic dust sprouting from the walls like blood from a wound.
I make my get away. Sprinting down the corridor. I remember the day this hell visited us- this man reminds me of the people responsible. He appeared to be well sponsored by a resourceful organisation, probably connected to that chopper too. No survivalist looks like that. You know one when you see one, survivalists looked like me; a rag-tag shamble of whatever it takes to stay alive.
I ran over the massacred bodies of the Creeps that stood in the way of some heavy fire power. He obviously came through this way. That may mean my chances of running into something sinister could be abated.
Sure enough, I managed to make my way down to the ground floor without encountering much more than a clumsy “Hobbler” or two, too slow to be a threat.
I had a lingering impression I was being followed at a careful distance, but I’m open to the possibility that this could be the result of a suspicious mind.
Soon I’ll be free of this tower of ghouls.
I step into the main lobby and freeze.
It’s filled with Hobblers – Dammit!
They stumble around mindlessly but with a single purpose, driven by the need to satiate their perpetual craving. And with all the dinner bells ringing from this derelict building, the lure was probably too good to resist.
Now they blocked my only exit out of here.
I take a deep breath – Okay, let’s do this.
I pull the buff over my lower face and bring down the hockey mask strapped to my head, completely concealing my face. I holster my pistol and reach for the axe.
A Hobbler moans with delight as it notices me, suddenly more begin to take note of presence.
Here we go!
Cleaving my way through the shuffling crowd in a spray of red, taking care to make the blows count and allow myself the room I need to manoeuvre, keeping a steady progress as to not get completely surrounded, and not offering the nape of my neck to the nearest freak behind me.
Cracking skulls.
The exit approaches and with one more swing to thwart the last fetid obstacle my way is clear!
I step out into the world and cold night. Ungainly figures are steadily approaching from all angles, stumbling out of alley ways and hobbling down streets.
I’ve made it.
But something isn’t right.
What’s this feeling? This sensation? It’s not elation… It’s something… else.
My upper arm begins to sting again. Suddenly my legs give way and I realise I’m on my knees. The bloody axe slips from my grasp. My vision is swimming, my head filling up with flashing lights and numbing pain. I feel myself sway, my eyes peer up, struggling to keep consciousness but despite myself I slump over to fall upon the cold asphalt. All feeling and sensation swiftly leaving my body as I lay upon the ground in front of the doors to the building ringing the dinner bells.
I can’t move!
I lay there, fading away fast but all I’m thinking of is how close I came - and how I’d end up on tonight’s menu despite this.
But then I hear something.
Is that gunfire? Automatic? Are the delusions setting in? As long as there is no pain. I’m ready to leave this cruel world.
I hear voices in my head as dark figures loom above me, “She’s still alive, call in the Bio-Med, she’ll need the vaccine.”
Then I drift off…

9 comments:

  1. WOW! I really enjoyed reading this! XD
    I am glad you posted it. I hope Nathen is goign to write for the 2nd comp too!
    FTW!

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  2. Thanks Kallista! I've been meaning to!
    But this story has been infected with some sort of malignant virus that's conspiring to rapidly expand and mutate into a detailed plot all on it's own.
    My hand has become the vessel, the pantomime of it's will. Taking up most of my free time...

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    1. I wish my hands could do that :D
      Just let them do their work, please! We'd love to see some more of it! This is amazing, and you are very talented!
      How long have you been writing for? How much longer do I have to work until I'm as good as you? XD

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    2. Wow, thanks I'm really flattered.
      I've been writing now on and off for the past 7 or 8 years.
      Just completed another two parts extending on "Cracking Skulls". If you're interested and you know it, clap your hands, and we may just see the next chapters make an appearance;)

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    3. *claps manically*

      You're welcome :)

      Wow, that's a long time! I only started about a year and a half ago! Are you taking part in this competiton? If so are you excited? ^u^

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    4. Hmmm, I'm not sure yet - all depends on how I manage my time hahaha!
      But I'd love to be more active on this blog by contributing in these kind of ways, so the possibility is still probable. And yea, it's exciting to take part in these kind of things. Gives writers like ourselves an opportunity to share, appreciate, and connect. Response from other writers is also a great motivator!
      Are you entering the competition, DLB? I'd like to read what you write.

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    5. Yeah, I am ^^; I had some trouble writing this time round though, so I hope no one expects it to be as good as my last one... I've even been putting off my editing, I'm just not as excited about my story this time, I guess. So, I'm not very confident about this one, but I wanted to enter anyway ^^ Nevertheless, it will still be fun!

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  3. Well, DLB, every story is a lesson. Good luck!
    Next time you write something, don't plan it - be spontaneous and you'll surprise yourself!

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's happened before! My first contest entry came out of nowhere at 2am on a saturday night, and I loved it XD
      I was thinking too much about this one, I suppose. But oh well, I've now edited it as much as I can be bothered to. We'll see what happens!
      Thank you!

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