by Dr. Agonson
One, two…three, klink. One…two…three, Kla-klink. one…tw-klunk.
“Wha?” The driver turned to face me as if seeing me once more would explain everything. Apparently it didn’t and he flashed another scowl. With that trademark gesture he turned to face the road again, mumbling incoherently.
Since our first encounter he hadn’t displayed any other expressions in his repertoire. Instead he continually pushed this aging skin down, further and further, along the slope of his brow. It had been this way for the past six hours; every time I opened my mouth he looked at me and generated this hideous mask of wrinkles around his eyes and nose waylaying all my attempts to make conversation.
“It’s a truck,” he corrected.
“The truck,” I conceded.
Scowling, he again faced the road. Klink, one…two klink, klunk, kla-klunk kla-klunk kla-klunk. I had to say something, “The klinking frequency has once again accelerated. I have counted three such accelerations since the last turn. The time interval has been diminishing between these accelerations. I fear that an impending…”
A loud boom was suddenly heard.
“I fear that that may happen.”
“No, No!” He began to hit the dashboard fervently, as if through his wrath the engine, and the flames that were now escaping from under the once functional car-truck’s hood, would begin to convert to a more comfortable form of reality than the one presently offered. However, reality seemed as stark as always, and in contrast to our dire straits I found some solace in seeing my driver’s expression shift from its usual disdainful glare. His wrinkles shifted around like changing tides and allowed my eyes to examine his face anew.
Jumping on this chance to study my driver’s face while it was otherwise occupied with surprise and fury, I became aware of a slight scaring around his right eye. I had seen this wound on dozens of patients. It was in the beginning, when sink-or-swim was an unavoidable rule. Many, who had never fired a real gun before, suddenly found themselves fighting for their lives with a scoped riffle. The scope would go up against their eye just waiting for the recoil to tear the skin out from under the eyebrow. I patched quite a few eyes at the beginning. Some lost the eye.
Seeing that little mark was like reading a paragraph of my driver’s life.
While bringing my hands together and resting them on a somewhat extruded belly, I watched the trees outside as their passing slowed and pretended that they would be friendly trees and shade us from the night. But my mind’s wanderings would have to wait. I turned my gaze back to my driver and noticed that tears streamed down his cheeks, rolling over a stone expression of rage. Still, though face unabated, his pounding fists slowed their fevered assault against the dashboard till the realization of futility wrestled him to a draw. Tightly gripping the steering wheel the low growl of an irate dog about to kill something seeped through his clenched jaws and the uncertainty of a spring about to violently uncoil enveloped our little world.
“They’ll be coming soon.” I said, “Let’s go die somewhere else. This car smells bad.” The words, though a pitiless attempt at humor, seemed to snap him out of his wrestling match with the steering wheel and I watched as his shoulders drooped down and his head fell back against the seat cushion.
“Stupid car.” He moaned. “Stupid, stupid, car, I hate this stupid car!”
I reached in the back and pulled out my bag. Then I asked, “Do you still shoot a rifle?”
Startled, he turned and stared at me. “What?”
“Do you still shoot a rifle?”
“Well yes,” he sighed, “I do but…”
For a brief second his gaze drifted toward the back, no, towards the ceiling slightly behind our heads. A slight crevice was there, small and dark, the nature of which was obvious. I shoved my finger into this poorly hidden handle and pulled down. The whole back of the ceiling suddenly descended on a hinge, opening up like a big maw, and there were teeth. Teeth in the apparition of ammo, pistols, rifles, and shotguns!
“I’m a doctor.”
“And apparently you’re a gunrunner, an illegal gunrunner. That’s a huge one-eighty from where you started this nightmare. Did you ever fire a gun before the…”
“NO!” he was beginning to scowl again, I hated that scowl.
“Let’s just, just take what we can and try to get—” I started to say.
“Out of this alive?” he mocked.
A loud and shrieking moan dangled deathly through the night. I looked out; to my left about thirty yards away, silhouetted by the half-moon’s light, stood a figure as haunting as the, no, more haunting than the grave.
I scrambled amongst the weapons, while a cacophony of moans slowly began their invasion of the night. Shells, shotguns, bullets, pistols, and rifles were strapped across shoulders and stuffed into the pockets of two dying men trying to evade the endless night.
As a doctor I initially found the undead an intriguing puzzle. Life always seemed so sacred and frail, so hard to maintain, yet the undead made it seem senseless, ceaseless, and unending. Eventually we came to realize that death had been programmed into our genes, and some sort of external force was turning that off.
I had slung a rifle and a shotgun across my back and holstered an additional pistol. My pockets were stuffed with ammo. Shotgun shells in the right, rifle clips and loose change for the pistol in the left. I reached for the door handle but this caused my companion to utter a cautioned and quick exclamation. I looked over to his freighted face and then past it. Through the window I saw the creature, now only a few yards away, shambling towards our car.
All the fingers were gone from one hand and the other hand’s were black as coal. The lips, like a mummified pharaoh, had curled back and its nose had fallen off. Continually it opened and closed its mouth like a fish biting at buoyant flakes of food.
Through his clenched jaw my driver whispered, “It’s too close; if we open the door now he’ll be on us in seconds.” The panicked crescendo of hysteria crept into his voice and my nerves reeled at the growing danger of his being overheard. Now, close to shouting, his voice rang, “Once he sees us he’ll jump over here before we can…”
“Then shoot him through the window,” I interrupted with a harsh whisper.
His lips curled, “If I miss he’ll come right through whatever’s left of that…”
Quickly I pulled my pistol and put a shot through the driver’s side window transforming the once smooth glass into razor sharp transparent splinters. For a few moments the pieces of window held together in a fragile form of what they once were, and the jutting arms of the fracture concealed whether or not I had hit my target. The gun’s harsh bang was dutifully followed by the gentle cascade of glass, a sound that was both like little bells and a soft trickling of water.
The aim was sure, and the bullet had gone right through the side of its skull. For a moment the thing turned and stared at me. Our eyes locked, and it seemed human again. An expression almost ran across its dried out face. Did the eyebrows just lower a tad? Did the eyelids close? Did a smile permeate what was left of the lips? The eyes opened again—and I may have fooled myself—but I saw what was left of a man now trapped after death in this bloody carnival of a nightmare, thank me. Then it fell over.
“We can now get out of the car,” I said proudly.
My companion was obviously unimpressed by this fact, or more impressed with his head’s proximity to my weapon during the whole affair. His brow was again scrunched down and his eyelids were tightly drawn. His lower lip was pulled low—he could stand to brush his teeth more—and his hands were clasped firmly over his ears. He slumped forward resting his head on the steering wheel.
I nudged him and with a violent twirl he sprung at me a piece of shining steel floating through the air as his arm swung wickedly toward me. Before I blinked a cold knife was at my throat, it was very uncomfortable and as such its eventual deportation was a growing concern of mine.
“Are you insane!?” He raged. “Are you trying to get us Killed?”
I looked him in the eye, “Insanity is letting your fear hinder survival.” He twitched an ear towards me. “Insanity is letting your fear hinder survival!” I said a bit louder. He tried the other ear. I indicated through the broken window a new group of deathly figures stumbling closer. His other hand grabbed my collar and he slowly pulled my head close to his face. There was some scratch on his ear I hadn’t noticed before.
I started again, “Insanity is letting your fear hinder survival, or lowering your number of confederates in this unmatched game. Now, unless we need to break for further discussion of, and indeed trips into, insanity, can we get out of this stinky car?”
For a second he pushed the knife a little closer into my neck, just drawing a sliver of red. Then, with a ruff throw, he flung me back into my seat. He turned his head away from me and just stared out his shattered window. Pulling up the little doohickey to release the lock I raced out my door, just as he muttered “truck,” or, I think it was ‘truck.’ I wondered if the weight of the rifle, shotgun, pistols and affiliated ammo was worth the loss of speed and thereby chance of being overtaken, but then remembered that you can’t outrun the dead. No longer are there the quick and the dead, the quick are the dead, and once one sees you it’ll run faster, for longer, than any normal man until it sees to your disembowelment, or till you shoot it enough times.
Where was I running to? “Which way do we go?” I called back, but there was only silence. I turned around. Standing with head downcast and arms limp, he was barely two steps from the car and was gazing at his knife.
I called again, turning to and fro from one side of the road to the other as the beasts drew nearer, “The closest town, the one we were headed for, what direction?”
“This is a trip into insanity. I mean, we know we’re gonna die, and there’s nothing we can do, and there’s nothing for which to do. Why try?”
“Life?” I retorted.
“Life.” He dismissed. “Do you live in the same world I do and still call what we have life?”
The part of me that could guide stubborn old men to take their pills and help those who had given up try yet another treatment was urging me to show a little bedside manner towards this sad soul. However there was no time for my soft words of encouragement to deal with this man’s deflated will. I had to get to the town—had to survive—and this half-hearted guide was my only chance. Perhaps a more unorthodox type of encouragement was called for. However, before I enacted this encouragement, his mouth opened.
“What does life matter when good can’t even believe the promise that death will eventually catch the wicked, that death is fair? The wicked are made stronger through death and death cruelly cheats us through life. Death, it is all I have now, it was the promise of: peace, justice, mercy, and rest, wasn’t it?” He asked.
“Now’s not the time for philosophy!” I screamed, “I want to LIVE, and I have business in the next town so if you’ll just show me where…”
Lifting his knife up to his chin, “Well we’re going to die anyhow, hang your business.”
Deciding that it was now the time for my preconceived encouragement I lifted my gun up and pointed it toward his head. “If that’s the case I’ll shoot you now, is that what you want? I won’t make you endure this nightmare if it truly is unbearable to you. But I have to bear it. I have to live, so give me a direction. Do I follow the road? If it splits what way do I go?”
Quiet. He was infuriatingly quiet. I checked our flanks; there were now two groups, to the right and to the left of the road, each one containing about three to five members all slowly shambling our way.
Then, in tandem with this horror I heard the dreadful sound of catching breath, a gasp coming from in front of me. It was suddenly that hot summer evening. All the windows had been opened inspiring the drapes into a lively dance and the sun was just falling, turning the world to gold. My last patient that day was a little old lady who made me laugh. The golden light didn’t just happen to fall on her this evening, it was as if a master artist had stopped by and painted his magnum opus and set it before me. Every aged line on her face somehow worked into her smile. Every ray of the sun highlighted her elderly beauty. It seemed the drapes were dancing with the overflowing joy of her little laugh. It had been five days, and if I didn’t tell her the bloody superintendent would. He would say it and leave, cold as stone.
She deserved better, and her smile faded away as my sordid duty tore her frail heart in twain. The drapes kept jumping in the silence and the sun set in a magnificent display of light and shadows. But the beauty was gone. Never again would she tell me of the pride she had in her son when he fell off his bike and jumped right back on. She had told the story as if it were a great epic, her son the enduring warrior who would never give up. And I had to end the story.
I turned to see another lost soul, another man, who could not stand the cruel buffeting of this world. However, the knife lay discarded in the grassy dirt, and like the lowly stalk that the strong winds cannot destroy my companion stood.
“Follow me,” he said.
Listen to my beautiful voice: