Venison Episode 5: Rescue
I had passed out. At least, I was pretty sure I had passed out. My head throbbed like a jackhammer and my ears rang like a tornado siren. Really, my whole body hurt like crazy. I opened my eyes and saw nothing. Had I gone blind? My thoughts were slow and dim, but I tried to piece together what in the world had happened to me. We had shut the alarm off and then found ourselves cornered in the room by a chomp. I went to the next room to find a way out, but Callum stayed behind because—
My breath grew heavy as the weight of realization leveled against me. Where was Callum? He had screamed, the most horrifying sound I’ve heard a person make. I had run to the wall, pounding on it futilely. I hadn’t been sure what that could achieve, but I had known I needed to get in there. What happened next? I heard a roar. A loud, resonant bellow. It couldn’t have come from a chomp.
I remembered Callum screaming. I realized my hands were still throbbing from where I had been pounding on the walls. Something big had been in that other room. And then—nothing. I don’t remember anything else.
I tried to sit up. Nothing. Was I paralyzed? I started to panic. A paraplegic wouldn’t last long in this world. I would rather be dead than helpless bait. At least I wouldn’t have to feel anything, I guess. I tried to wiggle my toes. In medical shows, doctors always ask people to wiggle their toes. It sure felt like I was wiggling my toes. I lifted my leg up—
“Ow!” I banged my knee on something hard. At least I wasn’t paralyzed. I decided to try and lift myself up again. I felt whatever was on top of me give slightly. If I could just push. I gathered as much strength as I could and pushed with everything I had. The debris that pushed down on me finally started to shift. Without warning, the weight completely disappeared and I found myself flinging forward into a pair of hands reaching for me.
I blinked against the harsh light, chasing the blue and green spots around my vision. Where in the world was I? I distantly heard my name being called. I realized I must be dreaming because a girl was calling my name. There were indistinct shapes moving in front of me, but I couldn’t make anything out beyond the light in my eyes.
“Dillon, get that flashlight out of his face, you tool,” the girl’s voice yelled sternly. I knew that voice. It sounded like—
“Screw you, Mallory, jeez.” The flashlight moved out of my face, which I was grateful for, but I still couldn’t see past Technicolor lights dancing around my vision.
“Did you see it?” Mallory asked with an urgency in her voice I wasn’t expecting.
“See… uh… what?” I groaned. My head kind of hurt and everything was still a little fuzzy.
Mallory simply gestured toward a large hole in the wall in front of me. So that’s where all the rubble I was under came from, I guess. “Gray, what happened here?”
I was still trying to piece it together, myself. I told her that I didn’t really remember, and asked her where Callum was. She just shook her head and crawled back through the hole into the other room. The other room where Callum had been. I wish I could remember more. I wish I could remember what happened after he had screamed that terrible scream.
I stood up slowly, trying to make sure I wasn’t too dizzy. Dillon—I guess his name was Dillon—just made some joke about a kegger or something. I decided pretty quickly that I didn’t really like Dillon. I was trying to remember where I had seen him before, somewhere back in Stroud when it struck me. The truck. He was the little dork hanging out of that truck that almost ran us down when we first got to Stroud, which means if he’s here—“
“Lunchmeat!” I groaned inwardly as I turned to see Matt crawling through the hole in front of Mallory. “Hey bro, I feel like we kinda got off on a bad foot, I’m Matt.” He held out his hand to me with a smile that almost looked sincere. I hesitated, and then took his hand and shook it.
“I’m Gray,” I said. “Callum is in here somewhere, and he’s pretty much all I have left, so we need to find him.”
“Easy, bro,” Matt said, holding his hands up. “It’s not like we’re a SWAT team or something here. If that thing was here, and your boy was in there,” he gestured toward the other room, “then I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
Mallory elbowed him in the ribs sharply at that, and gave him a stern look. Dillon decided to chime in, “Matt’s right Mallory. His buddy’s toast.”
Yep. I definitely didn’t like Dillon.
“We’ll look for him,” Mallory said to me, giving a sharp side-eye to Matt. “But we also have to get those radios.”
“Well, okay.” I was trying to convince myself that everything would end up alright. It was a losing battle. I was honestly still trying to work out how I had found myself in the middle of a zombie-infested school in small town, USA, looking for antiquated radios and my only friend left in the world. It didn’t take much thought for me to realize that I couldn’t care less about the stupid radios. “Mallory, how about you and me go look for Callum since you seem to be the only one who cares to find him, and Matt and Darren can go get the radios.” I intentionally got Dillon’s name wrong just to get on his nerves. He didn’t notice, because he was rummaging through a pile of trash by a bookshelf looking for Lord-knows-what.
Mallory started to speak, but Matt cut her off. “Yea, right, I’m not leaving Em to run around this crazy school without me. She’ll come get the radios with me, and you and Dillon can go find whatever’s left of your friend. Got it?”
He turned and pulled her behind him, back through the hole in the wall as if to tell me that it was happening whether I “got it” or not.
“Yes, Funyuns!” Dillon shouted as he pulled a yellow bag out from the trash pile. What was wrong with this kid?
“That’s disgusting. C’mon, they’re going to get the radios, and we’re going to look for Callum. Where should we start?”
“We kept that thing locked up in the gym,” he said, crunching loudly on the crisp onion rings. “That’s probably it’s den, or lair, or something.”
“So what is this thing?” I asked him. “What do you guys keep talking about?”
“Quids are pretty bad, right? I mean, you have to be careful, or they’ll get ya,” he started mouth full of Funyuns. Clearly an aficionado of stating the obvious. “This thing is different though. Whatever it is that turns quids into quids did something different with this. My dad said it was bear or something once.”
“Once? What is it now?”
“Have you ever seen any of those old Godzilla movies or anything? Creature features or whatever? It’s like something from that. Mutated horribly. Imagine like, a bear, but twice the size, and with really tough skin, almost like armor scales. It’s been shot at least a dozen times and it’s still kicking, apparently. We locked it up a couple months ago in the gym hoping to starve it out. Clearly that didn’t work.”
“How’d it happen?” I asked. I was no expert, but I thought I had a pretty good idea about how CWD worked, but I had never heard of this.
“No one knows. Just came out of the woods one day. Terrorized the town. Killed just for fun, wasn’t hungry or nothing.”
Another thought struck me. “We don’t have bears in northeast Oklahoma.”
“Bull, my dad and I caught one on a trail cam not two years ago. Black bear, nothing to get excited about, but they’re here. Keep to themselves.”
“Huh,” I replied, my thoughts trailing off. I wondered if CWD could make people into monsters like it had apparently done with the bear. Or whatever that thing was. I guess in a way, the disease turned people into monsters. It’s hard to think of a better name for people who are driven to the point of cannibal insanity, their minds completely decimated and replaced with pure aggression. Monsters seems an apt title.
I started up the stairs out of the room cautiously. I desperately wanted to avoid bringing any more of those things down on us. Chomps or whatever that bear thing was. I paused at the door and listened to make sure there was nothing on the other side. I jumped at a slam, but my fear quickly turned to anger as I realized it was just Dillon knocking something over on his way to the door. That brat was going to get us both killed. Even so, I knew the help would be nice.
I opened the door and looked both ways. Empty. “Okay, I think we’re clear out there, which way to the gym?”
“What? You mean you want to go after that thing? Are you dense?” Dillon looked at me like I was an idiot, as he ate Funyuns that were at least six months old.
“I don’t care about whatever thing is down there, I just want to find my friend.”
“Yea right, I’m not stupid. Gym’s that way, you can find it.” Dillon nodded to the left, and then started off down to the right where Mallory and Matt had just turned a corner.
I let him take three or four steps and then I racked the slide on my shotgun. He froze. He turned slowly around, one hand still buried in the chip bag the other hand was holding. He stared at me for a long moment before a grin started parting his face. Before long, he was laughing loudly, spitting yellow crumbs everywhere.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” he said, catching his breath. “You’re no killer.”
“You’re probably right,” I answered. I tried to sound intimidating, but I knew I landed somewhere between awkward and boring. “But I don’t really care about you. I just want to find my friend and get out of here. I don’t know anything about this stupid school or this stupid bear-zombie you guys keep talking about. Believe me, I wouldn’t ask unless I really needed it, but will you please help me?”
His smile slowly faded before turning into a scowl. He started walking toward me, and I tensed in response, holding my shotgun firmly. “Beau would be proud,” he scoffed.
“Beau, my Sunday School teacher. He would be proud that I’m helping some dork be a hero.” He didn’t meet my gaze as he strode right past me and stalked down the hall.
I shook the confusion off at his response and hurried to follow him, being as quiet as possible, though he wasn’t as cautious as I thought he should be.
We rounded a couple of corners and I started seeing scratches on the floor and walls. Large scratches. I held my hand up to one large claw mark on the wall about eye level. I stretched my fingers out as much as I could and still couldn’t quite reach the outermost claw marks. The four streaks were cut almost completely through the sheetrock, I guessed. What had I gotten myself into?
Dillon crouched at the next turn, peering around the corner. He looked left and right and seemed dissatisfied with what he saw. For my part, I couldn’t take my eyes off the claw marks dug like fingers in a sandbox. Except this wasn’t sand. And these lines didn’t come from fingertips.
I met Dillon’s gaze and he held a single finger to his lips, gesturing for me to stay quiet. It didn’t take any convincing at all. He edged forward, around the corner, and stalked toward the open doors to the gym. The doors were mangled and dented almost beyond recognition, with large pieces hanging off, warped at odd angles from angry claws digging into the sheet metal.
Dillon snuck ever closer, and I could hear my heartbeat throbbing violently, threatening to burst through my chest. I couldn’t help but follow behind him, there was a tingle on the back of my that set me on edge. I sure wasn’t going to stay and let something eat me from behind.
As I eased around the corner, I could now see into the gym. The large room was fairly dim, despite the short windows lining the top of the walls. It must have been getting late in the day. As we came closer to the entrance, the pungent smell of decay assaulted my nostrils. The sweet and sour smell of rot tested my gag reflex, and I started audibly choking. Dillon shot me a look and I found the courage to stifle the horrible smell and followed him into the room. I wasn’t about to be showed up by this weirdo anyway.
We stepped through the doorway, holding our breath. My pulse throbbed in my neck, thrumming through my ears. Once inside the gym, we scanned the room for any sign of the creature.
My breath caught short and my blood thickened at the sight of the large room.
The wooden floor that at one time had made up a basketball court was pulled up and chewed, with pieces of laminate wood scattered around a rough concrete slab. Wooden bleachers that had lined both sides of the gym were similarly masticated. Whatever wasn’t chewed or clawed to pieces was stained with blood or what appeared to be a dark mold. Pieces of blue painted wood that lay scattered around the gym were the only indication that this room had once housed sporting events for the school.
I took another step behind Dillon into the room and felt a crunch under my foot. I looked down to see the remaining small bones of a hand under my shoe. I felt the bile rising in the back if my throat. Around the room, among the debris, I could now make out the chewed and decaying remains of what I could only hope were chomps this thing had gotten ahold of.ed
Shallow breathing behind me made my skin crawl. I felt the blood leave my face as the dread sank in. This is how I would die. Dillon stood stock still in front of me. It seemed for all his talk and annoying carelessness, Dillon didn’t want to die in here any more than I did.
A flicker of light caught my attention to my left. Was that an open door to the outside? A shadow moved in front of the swath of light projecting across the tattered floor. The breathing behind me intensified. I found myself just as frozen as Dillon, standing there, powerless against the fate I had walked myself into.
The breathing quieted and I thought I heard my name. My name? Callum! I broke from my petrified stupor and turned to find Callum laying against a broken basketball goal, holding his side. I rushed over to him and moved his hand to look at his side. There were blood stains on both sides of his shirt.
“What happened? Can you talk?”
He coughed a little and then tried to sit up. I put a hand on his shoulder to keep him down and tried to get him to talk. He rasped for a few long moments before he moaned and spoke. “That thing, man, what the heck?”
“Did you see it?”
“I didn’t get a great look at it. It bit me here,” he pat his side where the blood seeped through his shirt, “and I passed out. Dumb thing must’ve carried me here. I woke up when I heard footsteps and thought for sure the thing came back for me, but it was you and… who’s that guy?” He looked past me to where Dillon had managed to unfreeze himself and was looking at the outside doors.
“That’s Dillon. Matt’s friend. We met him—“
“At the truck,” Callum finished my sentence. “Now I recognize him. Is he as much of a tool as he looks?”
“Yea, pretty much.”
“I heard that!” Dillon said from over by the outside door.
“Do you think you can sit up?” I asked Callum, looking at his bloody shirt.
“Yea, ow, I think so.”
“Let’s take a look at it and see how bad it is,” I suggested. Callum nodded and pulled his shirt up on one side, wincing as he raised his arm. His wound wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, any wound from a monster zombie bear isn’t exactly welcome event, but as these things go, it wasn’t half bad. I was no doctor, but it looked like he would be alright. None of the five or six holes on his stomach and back seemed too deep.
“Awesome,” Dillon said from over my shoulder. “Look at the blood!”
“What’s wrong with y0u, man?” I pushed him away. “Think you can walk, Cal?” I asked my friend, but he wasn’t responding. He was staring wide-eyed past Dillon and me, his face losing color quickly. I followed his gaze, bracing myself for the worst. He stared toward the outside door. From where we were sitting, we couldn’t see outside; we could only see a stretched square of pale dusk light painted across the floor. In that square of light was a large, irregular shadow.
My heart pounded heavily in my throat. Fleetingly, I decided if chomps and monsters didn’t kill me, my heart-rate jumping all over the place today certainly would. As I watched, the shadow split into two separate shapes, growing larger in the frame. I reached for my gun and realized I had left it in that stupid storage room. Great job, Gray.
I turned my attention to the doorway as the sources of the shadows entered the gym, mind racing with solutions. The idea of sacrificing Dillon to the cause wasn’t beyond me at the moment, but I shook it off.
“Are you guys okay?” A wave of relief coursed through my chilly veins as I realized it was Mallory’s voice calling from the doorway. Matt stepped into the gym behind her and scoffed.
“You guys look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Hey screw you,” Dillon said and jumped up to meet them. “We thought you were that monster, or creature, or whatever it is.”
“We heard it,” Mallory admitted. “Coming from this way, crashing through who-knows-what and making a big racket.”
“Yeah, when we came in here, it was gone. Took those doors down, I guess,” Dillon said, pointing at the doors Mallory and Matt and just entered through. “It was stupid idea to lock that thing in here anyway. Who thought this place would actually hold it?”
“That would be my lunatic step-grandad, Daryl,” Mallory sneered. “I could kill him.”
“So where’d it go?” I asked, still squatting on the floor next to Callum, who had finally started breathing again after the scare.
“I looks like it tore through the track field and headed east, toward the woods over there,” Matt said.
“Good riddance,” I said. “Cal’s hurt, someone help me get him up.”
“Matt, help him,” Mallory said authoritatively.
“Yes, your highness,” Matt said mockingly and walked over to help me stand Callum up. Callum grunted at stretching his side out, but once we got him on our shoulders, he seemed to settle in.
“I guess you got the radios,” I noted as we approached the door. The bulky sets sat up against the building on the sidewalk just outside.
“Yeah, despite Daryl’s insanity, these will actually come in handy,” Mallory said as she and Dillon picked up the gear.
We left through the outside doors and headed to Matt’s truck which was still parked outside. Michael, as I learned the bouncer’s name was, saw us coming and walked over to us ominously.
“What are you doing?” he boomed, towering over us.
“We’re getting out of here, clearly,” Mallory said impatiently.
“Where’d you come from? Did you seal whatever door you came through back up?” Michael asked, trying to be intimidating. It was working for me. “Daryl will have my head if this place is wide open.”
“Yeah, Michael, it’s wide open. You can tell Mason to organize a few extra hands for the watch tonight, k? Now we’re getting out of here.”
Matt and I loaded Callum in the bed of the truck while Dillon and Mallory hopped in the cab. I jumped into the bed with Cal and Matt backed it out of the lot and headed south, back toward The Rock. It wasn’t far, so it only took a minute or two. Matt helped me get Callum out and into the restaurant while Mallory stormed in looking for blood.
“Daryl, what is your problem?”
“What do you mean?” Daryl turned around from his plate at a booth near the back of the restaurant and almost fell out of his chair when he saw us carrying Callum in, blood covering his shirt. We laid him down on a table and I went into the back to find some water for him.
When I came back, Mallory and Daryl were yelling at each other.
“We are better than this!” Mallory was saying. “We’re not savages. We treat people better than as if they were just tools!”
“I look out for me and mine, and right now, everyone in this town is my responsibility,” Daryl shot back.
“Yeah, well now a kid might die because of you, is that your responsibility, too?”
“It’s a scratch. You’re the one who let that thing out,” Daryl said as he paced, slamming his cane angrily on the laminate flooring.
“That thing shouldn’t have been locked up in there anyway. It’s a school, Daryl, not a zoo.”
“Everything was okay until you kids went in there.” Daryl sat down heavily in his chair and tossed his cane aside. “Is it too much to ask that I just take care of my people?”
“You’re the one who sent them in there!” Mallory’s face was red enough to be a bad sunburn. “Let’s start with taking care of all people, not just yours.”
“Tall talk, coming from you,” Daryl jeered. “Fine, just find them a place to stay tonight and we’ll sort this out in the morning.”
“I know where they’re going to stay,” Mallory said, “They can stay with us.”
“Us? What do you mean us?”
“With me and Matt.”
“But you don’t live with Matt, you live at home with me,” Daryl looked from her to Matt.
“Not anymore,” Mallory said, and stepped closer to Matt.
“But, who’s going to look after me? I need you around, you’re my granddaughter,” Daryl said, probably with more vulnerability than he intended.
“Step-granddaughter,” Mallory corrected. Then she looked at me and said, “Come on Gray, let Matt and Dillon grab Callum. I’ll show you where you’re staying.” Without another word, she turned and walked out of The Rock.
My head spun. It had been a long day. This morning, we woke up in the woods without food. Then, just a few hours later, we nearly became food. Now, the sun had begun to set below the tree line and we found ourselves in a small town full of crazy, staying with a girl we just met and her jerk boyfriend. Oh, and her grandpa or step-grandpa or whatever was almost certainly a TV villain of some sort.
I gave the old man one more distrusting glare as we left the restaurant, hoping with everything I could that tomorrow would be better.