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Author Topic: It's Still A Zombie  (Read 75 times)

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Slimebeast

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on: 10:35:30 PM 11/08/19
Well. You're still here after all that, huh?

I guess you've read my account of what it's like, being a deadbagger. It seems like it's been forever since I sat down and wrote about my first job with Final Returns. Thank you for taking an interest in me, even though I'm just one zombie hunter, and we all probably have similar or identical stories to tell.

Thanks for your condolences about Pike. I forwarded them to the guy who runs the Final Returns newsletter. He's working on something for a memorial, since we're coming up on the anniversary of his death. I think it'd be nice to show how many people have heard about him by now.

Putting that aside for now, I wanted to talk about something that keeps coming up. I know a lot of you have a variety of questions. What is rot nose? What happens when you have to remove a zombie from a crime scene? I'll get to all of these questions eventually, but for now I'm just going to go with the biggest one.

"You killed Bigfoot?!"

Again, it wasn't an actual Sasquatch. They don't exist. I don't know how much I can stress this, but... it's always a zombie.

I thought I made that pretty clear, but I'm not exactly the best at this stuff.

I knew something was up when the other guys at Final Returns were snickering behind my back. A call had just come in, and when it's a weird one, they usually try to stick me with it. I guess I have that kind of way about me. "Stick it on him, he LIKES the strange cases."

For the record, I don't really mind them either way. I guess that lack of annoyance gets mistaken for interest.

"Alien?" I asked, knowing full well what was going on.

Trying to guess probably didn't help with the misconception that I was enjoying the routine.

"Try again, Van Helsing." came the typical reply.

Thinking for a moment, I considered the fact St. Patrick's Day had just passed. Maybe someone got dressed up for a parade, drank way too heavily, and smashed their head on the dumpster in an forgotten alleyway.

"Tell me it's not supposed to be a leprechaun."

"Nope."

"Alright, just hit me with it."

Before the answer could come, Richter (one of the newer guys) came bounding into the break room like an ape, grunting and tossing papers. It left the guys in stitches, but the implication just set me on edge.

"Bigfoot." I clucked my tongue and nodded. "Let me guess - we're going hiking."

I'm not a woodsy guy. Never was. Give me four undead Jehovah's Witnesses in some guy's basement any day. It's a secure, easy-to-scope-out location. Hell, they'll probably line up on the stairs for you. If you're good enough, that's one bullet. Out in the brush, though, you could have a crawler by your ankle and never know it.  Hell, you could get mauled by a mountain lion, forget the zombies.

Luckily, the kid they had shadowing me at the time had been a girl scout... or a brownie... or something like that. She was one of those rednecks that lived for the challenge of tracking footprints or pieces of torn clothing. Shit like that. Her name was Stephanie, but everyone called her "Trapper".

When I told her we were going out to White Leaf Forest, her eyes lit up like sevens on a slot machine.

"I've been there. Helen and I camped there last spring!"

"Great," I smirked, "Tell you what... you can take the lead on this one. It'll be a test to see how much you've learned from me so far."

If she knew I was just passing all of the bother onto her, she certainly didn't seem to care. I could almost see her reverting to a more feral state in front of my eyes. She was ready to chase down whatever crossed her path and hit it straight between the eyes with that bright yellow "safety pistol". I'd be lucky to keep up.

It was a long drive out to the boonies. The call had come in from a park ranger. The authorities had been on the scene, but the circumstances called for specialists. It's not a good idea to send K-9 units after something that's going to bite them back.

The entire ride down, Steph was all questions. I tried turning the radio on a couple times, but she turned it back down every time she thought of something new to say.

"So, we're absolutely SURE-"

"Yes."

"But what if-"

"It's a zombie. Trust me."

"I mean, there have always been stories of-"

"Zombie."

The only moment of silence came when we pulled up to the park gates. The whole place had been shut down, naturally, and a group of onlookers had collected in the parking lot. At first, I figured they were just hikers, campers, and weekend BBQers whose plans had been abruptly cancelled. Then, I noticed their accessories.

Guns, all-terrain-vehicles, comically over-loaded packs...

Hunters.

"Oh, great." I sneered, turning to Steph and gesturing toward the crowd, "Your people."

By the time we made our way to the gates and met with a Ranger Stevens, the crowd had grown loud and obnoxious. I guess they figured we had been called in because the "sasquatch" had killed someone. Now it had a taste for human blood, they figured, which made it much more of a threat than before.

"Hey, you're gonna let a couple'a diseased deadbaggers in, but not us?" called out a stout, red-faced man with a beard that could've housed a family of wrens.

"I told you before," the Ranger called back, "There are no cryptids here."

Beard-man turned to one of his buddies and chuckled. "So that's the Government's official statement, huh?"

The crowd booed as the gates were unlocked and we slipped past.

"Thanks for coming." the ranger said, quickly leading us down the path toward a  small cabin.

"I guess word got out." I replied, gesturing back toward the wannabe survivalists pressing their faces to the iron bars that separated them from a stuffed and mounted myth.

"A pair of picnickers saw something in the tree line... like a man, but covered in thick fur." The ranger paused, knowing exactly how outlandish it sounded, "It loped along, bit the head off of a squirrel or chipmunk, and disappeared back into the woods. I wouldn't have believed it, but I saw the evidence it left behind. They called the local news station before anyone else."

"Of course they did." I chuckled.

At that point, I glanced over at Steph for the briefest moment. Her grin was wide, and so were her eyes. I knew I'd be proven right in the end, but for that moment she was a genuine, authentic yeti-stalker.

"How long ago was it sighted, and how far from here was it?" she chirped.

I just hoped it was close enough to get out of the park before night fall. Just because of the mosquitoes, to be honest. Of course, I didn't get my wish and in time I could feel the blisters on my feet rising like bread dough.

Suddenly, Steph shushed us both. Until that point, the ranger and I had been discussing our shared tastes in music and whether or not Victor Victorious was going to reunite for one last tour. She stopped about three feet ahead, after leading us most of the way.

"What's up?" I asked, absently pawing my hip holster and surveying the unremarkable green landscape around me.

Steph didn't answer, instead electing to drop into a crouch-walking position, silly safety-weapon held two-handed at arm's length in front of her. We followed carefully and quietly.

"So your partner is a tracker?" the ranger asked under his breath.

"I think so." I whispered back.

It was a welcomed change from the usual kids they stuck me with. Less than half stayed on for more than two jobs, and none of them pulled their weight. Being able to actually rely on someone who did more than complain and pick their nose was a little too nice. Snapping to my senses, I realized I was the one who wasn't carrying his share this time.

"There." Steph croaked, gun pointed to a crowd of overgrown bushes full of vividly purple flowers.

"Step aside," I ordered as I cautiously moved past her. The idea of losing a mentor AND a student drove an icicle through my chest. One could be forgiven, the other was a career-ender. I guess when you deal so directly with death and danger on a daily basis, self-interest can kind of overtake everything else.

The leaves rustled, and it wasn't the wind.

"Are we shooting it or capturing it?" Steph called after me in a hushed, low voice.

My shoulders slumped and I let out a sigh as I drew my pistol.

"Shoot. We shoot zombies, Stephanie."

"Uh... right." she coughed.

My attention snapped back to the leaf cover again as the branches rustled and parted.

"We are licensed representatives of Final Returns, and we are about to open fire." I shouted, "If you are currently living, notify us now by speaking or raising your hands."

"Holy shit!" came a voice from within the plants.

I lowered my weapon and let out a string of profanities. Steph did the same, but without the colorful outburst.

A man in his 20s crawled out into the open like a snail with an over-stuffed backpack for a shell. He held a shotgun ahead of him as if he was offering it to us as tribute.

"I'm sorry!" he called, "I'm sorry! I just followed everyone else! Don't shoot!"

The ranger was on him quickly, slapping a pair of handcuffs on his wrists.

"What do you mean 'everyone else'?" The ranger demanded. "Who's here?"

The human snail did his best to roll onto his side, mud clinging to his face and 'I BELIEVE' t-shirt.

"Well... okay, don't get mad... but after you three left, some of us MIGHT have hitched a chain up to the gate. Then, someone MIGHT have used their pick-up to pull it down. Not me, though. I just followed."

The impromptu interrogation was cut shout by another call from an unseen location.

"Curtis?"

Following this, the ranger was the one spewing profanities.

"Curtis, where you at? The bigfoot getcha'?" called the disembodied voice in the distance.

Ranger Stevens made his apologies to us, hauled the young man to his feet roughly, and dragged him back down the path we had just traveled. All the while, he spoke frantically into a walkie-talkie.

"What do we do?" Stephanie asked after a dumbfounded moment.

"Hell if I know." I laughed. "We could stay on the trail, but we'll just keep running into trigger-happy yokels with more ammo than brains."

I could see the color draining out of Steph's face. She had been like a kid on Christmas morning, but now the tree had burned down and the family dog got into the presents. Really, her heart was going to be broken one way or another. After all, no matter how much you want to think otherwise, it's still a zombie.

Suddenly, the sound of shots rang out. Not just the crack of a few bullets, but a hail of gunfire befitting a small war. Shotguns, hunting rifles, semi-automatic weapons. There might've been a stick of dynamite, but my memory could be playing tricks on me at this point.

"C'mon!" Steph called out, sprinting toward the obvious danger with the drive of a linebacker going for the star quarterback who just insulted her mother.

I was right, I was lucky to keep up.

Country music filled the air, piped from the speakers of a weathered boombox. A group of about ten hillbillies had gathered in a clearing and were crowded together around something.

"Final Returns!" I called out as we approached, though I had nothing to follow that up with.

"Hey, you're too late." called a toothless, gangly albino with a coonskin cap. "Done got it already!"

The group passed around unintelligible murmurs and guffaws.

"Head shot?" I called back. Steph and I didn't slow down, guns still drawn, as we closed distance with the group.

"Whut?" the albino replied, pronouncing the 'u' very clearly.

"Did you get a head shot?!" I repeated, louder.

The stout man with the beard turned from the group and faced us as we finally arrived to the shitshow. The others followed suit, fixing their dilated pupils on us.

"Boy, you must not hunt. Y'all NEVER shoot a trophy in the head!"

A gutteral, gargling moan rose from the center of the group. For a moment, everyone was frozen, ignorant smiles still smeared across their faces. Every one of us knew what had made the noise... though we would've disagreed on what to call it.

"Damn Hell, it's still alive!"

"Well shoot it AGAIN, Bill!"

"Jesus Christ!"

The words blended together and turned into screams.

The hunters parted quickly as one of their own fell backward, his leg clamped in the teeth of a felled, hairy beast crusted in muck and old animal blood. He shrieked in pain before spasming and passing out on the ground.

Three others pumped bullets into the creature, filling their friend with holes in the process.

"Clearance?" Steph asked, her voice uneasy and sick.

I pulled a couple guys away from the chaos, tried to level my gun, but was bumped by one of them returning to the confused storm of reflective vests and camouflage pants.

"No clearance." I replied.

The albino unloaded a shotgun into beard-man's abdomen, blowing his guts out across a nettle bush. I think he was checking to see if it was loaded. The creature climbed to its unsteady feet, pulling itself up on the albino's clothing. When it reached the top of the human ladder, it took off a large portion of his face.

"C-Clearance?" Steph asked again. She was wide-eyed again, but the grin was gone. She backed away slowly, nearly falling on her ass.

I tried to bring everything into focus.

Beard-man. No insides. Slumped over and not moving.

Immediate threat of turning. Head shot.

Albino. On the ground. Thrashing and screaming. No face.

Immediate threat of turning. Head shot.

Mustachioed flannel-clad guy in glasses. Jaw taken out by a stray bullet. Standing in shock, watching the carnage. Doesn't even know he's bleeding out. Won't make it back to civilization.

Immediate threat of turning. Head shot.

Morbidly obese man in cargo pants and undershirt. Probably dead in a couple years on weight alone. As it stands, covered in zombie bites and various other injuries. Without speedy amputation, will die from infection.

Immediate threat of turning. Head shot.

"We have clearance."

The "sasquatch" hunched itself over the scattered human debris, eating noisily.

Steph didn't say a word.

"What do you see?"

Still nothing.

"Steph, what do you see?"

She shook her head and blinked a few times. Something I'd only ever seen cartoon characters do.

"A gillie suit."

She was right. I motioned for her to holster her weapon and stood over the supposed bigfoot. It was dressed in an outfit of synthetic leaves and vines that would help him blend in with the environment. Now, covered in dirt and black blood, it took on the brown, heavy appearance of fur.

"And the face?"

Steph crouched down again, staring at the thing's decaying, sunken flesh.

"Camo-painted.  He was a survivalist. Maybe... ex-military? Or just a hobbyist?"

Without another word, I fired into its forehead. I don't know if Steph flinched, but I would've.

"What was it?" I watched the body crumple.

Steph was quiet for a moment.

"A zombie."

That brings me to another question people ask a lot. How can you tell when it happens? How do you know the exact moment someone goes from dying... to undead?

I guess the easy answer is that you can't. Not with complete accuracy, that is. If someone's non-verbal, if they don't respond to attempts at reason, and if they appear to be fatally injured... who's to say if they're a zombie or not?

If I had a daughter... or any kid for that matter, I don't think I would want them in this line of work. I think Steph is cut out for it, though. She didn't leave after two jobs, she doesn't complain, and I've never caught her picking her nose.

Being a deadbagger is dirty, unpleasant work, and not just in the physical sense.

It can be hard to know exactly when something is dead. Especially when it's a part of yourself.
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.