Venison Episode 7: Depew, OK
If there’s one thing about Oklahoma that has always amused me, it’s that there’s a small town about every mile on the road, and somehow anyone who grew up here knows where every single one of them are. So, I knew that Depew, Oklahoma was just about fifteen minutes away down Route 66; probably less, the way Matt drove. Matt went to find Dillon while Mason and I loaded the bed of Matt’s truck with empty fuel drums. We were able to cram seven in the bed without much fuss by the time Matt and Dillon returned. Mallory sat in the middle of the front seat, with Dillon next to her, leaving Cal and I to cram into the small back seat behind them. I had a feeling I would have a pretty sore back by the time the day was through.
The drive passed pretty quietly. Of course, Dillon was trying his best to be as annoying as possible, and as usual, succeeding. I was about to ask him to stop chewing his beef jerky so loudly when I realized something. “Crap, I left my shotgun at Matt’s house.”
“Didn’t you leave it in the school?” Callum asked.
“Crap, you’re right.”
“You’re fine, lunchmeat, you won’t need it. We’re just headed up the road to get some gas. We’ll be back home in less than an hour.” Matt looked at me in the rear-view mirror and winked.
“Have you guys ever seen, like, any movie ever?” I asked. “You never say that you won’t need a gun. That’s asking for something to happen.”
“You’re a weirdo,” Cal said with a grin. “And you say I’m the one who’s out of touch.”
“Whatever, man,” I said coolly. “I would still feel more comfortable if I actually had it.”
“Relax, Dillon and I are both packing, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“If you say so.” I gazed out the window as we pulled into Depew. The town looked completely deserted. Trash and dirt covered everything. Weeds and vines marched their way up the sidewalks and buildings, wasting no time in conquering the land they once possessed. “What happened here?”
“Most people got out quick,” Mallory answered. “Headed to the city or Tulsa. Some ended up in Stroud, and the rest got overtaken by the sickness or the infected. Depew fell pretty early so it should be abandoned.”
“Let’s hope so.”
Matt pulled into the gas station and we filed out of the truck. Dillon went straight to the closest pump and pried the cover off. I simply stood for a few moments, mouth agape. Nature had missed nothing in reclaiming the abandoned property. Every surface had some sort of moss, mold, grass, or weed growing on it. The windows in the old station were all busted out and vines crept inside the building. There were very few cars around, and it was quiet enough to hear my blood running through my veins.
“All right,” I heard Dillon say excitedly as gas splashed onto the pavement. They started filling up the drums, one by one. I decided to check out the shop and see if there was anything valuable inside. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the idea of stealing, but I knew there was no one running the store anymore, so I justified it easily enough. I stepped through the door frame and heard the crunch of the glass under my feet. The sound may as well have been cymbals, with how quiet the world slept here.
Most of the foodstuffs were likely spoiled, so I drifted toward the tools and automotive sections. I saw the usual gas station stuff: jumper cables, quarts of oil, batteries, and tape adapters with a headphone cord. I traced my finger absently on a yellow reflector you could stick on the side of a trailer or something, and glanced at a small mirror meant to clip to a car door.
In the reflection, I saw Dillon standing on top of the cab of Matt’s truck, hands on his hips, posed like a superhero or something. What a weird guy. Mallory was laughing at him, though, so he kept going. Matt watched with a goofy grin as he filled the large barrels. I saw something else. Behind the truck, something moved, I turned around to get a better look—
“Find anything good?” Callum said from right next to me.
“Nah,” I said, staring intently out past the truck, trying to mask my alarm at his sudden appearance. Callum followed my gaze.
“Fat chance man, have you seen those muscles?”
“What?” I looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Matt. He’s got like, four inches on you, and way more muscle,” he said simply. “You don’t stand a chance against that.”
“Thanks, jerk.” I rolled my eyes.
“Hey man, I just call it like I see it.”
“Oh okay,” I said sarcastically. “Hey, did you see anything over there? Across the street?”
“Are you talking about your chances with her? Because I think I saw those running at a dead sprint the other way,” Callum joked.
“Real funny. No, seriously, I think I saw something back there.”
“It was probably a squirrel or something,” Cal said dismissively. “You heard them, this whole town is abandoned.”
“Maybe I’m just jumpy.” I studied the tree line across the road. There wasn’t even any wind to shake the branches of the pine and cedar trees I could see. All in all, everything was quiet and serene outside the rundown convenience store. If watching movies or TV had served to teach me anything, it was that attacks always happened when the characters felt safe and occupied. I shook the thought off, telling myself that this was real life. I didn’t want to be that guy. “Yeah, okay, that’s gotta be it. How close are they?”
Callum grabbed a pack of jerky from an end cap. “I think they have a barrel or two left. This stuff never goes bad, right?”
“Yeah, let me know how that goes for you,” I said with a chuckle. I dodged the pack of sunflower seeds he hurled my direction and stepped back through the door frame into the August heat.
“Hey lunchmeat, did they have any fuel stabilizer in there?” Matt asked as he held the nozzle into one of the large drums.
“I didn’t look, why?”
“This stuff has just been sitting down there for awhile,” he said, nodding toward the gas pump. “I wouldn’t want to use it unless we can put some stabilizer in there. I’m sure Mason has some, but it’d be nice to get some more if they have it.”
“I’ll go check, I guess.” I wasn’t really sure what fuel stabilizer looked like, but I wanted to avoid sounding ignorant. I knew fuel went bad, but I didn’t know there was anything you could do about it. Stuff you learn in the apocalypse, I guess. I turned around and trudged back into the store and headed to the automotive section.
I found a few small, white tubes that had the words, “fuel stabilizer” and other jargon related to engine life plastered all over them. I reached my hand out and heard a crunch from deeper inside the store. I froze, hand extended toward the shelf, eyes peeled toward the back of the dim store.
I waited for a few tense moments, but no other sound came, except the rest of our group outside by the truck. I scooped all the bottles into my arms, wanting very much to get out of the store as swiftly as possible. I made it to the end of the aisle and heard another crunch to my right. I steeled myself, hoping and praying that this wasn’t happening to me.
I heard more rustling as I turned toward the sound. I still couldn’t see the source of the noises, but I backed slowly away toward the door, holding my breath.
“Callum, if that’s you, you’re not funny,” I said tentatively, still backing away.
“Seriously dude, come on,” I scolded, my voice turning stern. This type of joke wasn’t funny.
“Say what?” Callum’s voice came from behind me. Outside. Toward the truck. So what was in here?
I continued backing up toward the door. “There’s something—” I found myself flat on my back in an instant, wind knocked out of me. I heard the bottles scattering above my head onto the hot pavement outside. I tripped over the dang door frame. Stupid.
“Bro, you okay?” Callum’s upside down face entered my vision. I tried to choke out an answer, but the air still hadn’t found its way back into my lungs. “C’mon, I’ll help you up. Then we can be even.” He chuckled, and I think I managed a smile. He reached down for my shoulders and screamed as a dark shape plowed into him.
I heard Mallory swear and chaos ensue beyond my vision. Callum screamed, Matt and Dillon yelled at him to move out of the way. Two gunshots rang in the abandoned parking lot, punctuating a nightmare that I couldn’t see, and plunging the lot into silence.
I rolled onto my stomach and saw Callum laying on the ground covered in gore. A chomp, or rather, pieces of a chomp scattered the asphalt around him in a mess of half-decayed human flesh. My friend frantically tried to wipe the blood and tissue off of him, panting and groaning. Behind him, Dillon and Matt exchanged enthusiastic high fives.
“Where’s Mallory?” I asked, realizing my voice had finally returned.
“Guys?” I heard her voice from off to my right. She stood a few feet in front of the truck, staring across the street. I pushed myself up off the pavement as I heard Dillon say something rude under his breath. I followed their gaze. My heart stopped.
Across the street, just in front of the tree line, no fewer than a dozen chomps, stared at us hungrily. My blood thickened to tar as I processed what I was seeing. Twelve zombies, two guns and a million ways this could go wrong.
“In the truck!” Matt yelled and fired a shot toward the group of chomps. The percussive crack ignited the chomps into action as if they were poised at a track meet, just waiting for the gunshot. The snarling and howling chomps fanned out and sprinted directly toward us.
“They’re not supposed to travel in packs!” I said, staring dumbfounded at the approaching mob of terror.
“We can tell them that on our way out of here!” Mallory said and grabbed my arm. I shrieked as she yanked me toward the truck. I bent and pulled Callum up with me. He still shook from the first chomp.
“I’m tired of this crap,” he said more calmly than any of us felt and dove into the back seat of the truck. Dillon had jumped into the bed and was taking shots at the approaching chomps, but not having much luck. I jumped into the backseat of the truck, not believing what my eyes were seeing.
These things were unbelievably fast. They must have been fairly recently infected. One of the chomps was standing at the back of the pack, with long black hair and a long black coat. Even though he looked the part of a chomp, ratty clothes and decaying flesh, he seemed to be directing the rest of the crowd, gesturing toward one side and the other. I couldn’t believe it. The stories were true. As the lead chomp gesticulated, he was growling syllables to the closest chomps. Was he—
“Hold on!” Matt said and slammed his foot on the gas. A quid slammed into the driver’s side door and reached for Matt, who swerved to try and knock the monster off. The chomp’s head exploded as Dillon’s shot found a home, the ugly body sliding down the panel to the asphalt. “Take this!” Matt shoved his gun into the back seat haphazardly.
“Watch where you’re pointing that thing!” I screamed as the barrel came dangerously close to my face. I grabbed it as he swerved the truck again, pointing it toward the back of the building. “Where are you going?” I asked.
“Around the building, that way we can get some space between them. Otherwise, they’ll overwhelm us.”
In a strange way, that actually kind of made sense. Dillon now lay across the barrels, shooting at the chomps who were chasing after us. Before we rounded the corner of the building, I saw the main chomp shout something and give a large hacking gesture. I could have sworn I saw the chomps halt before we disappeared to the other side of the station.
“I think that one in the coat is their leader,” I announced.
“Don’t be ridiculous, they’re animals. They don’t have a leader,” Matt scoffed.
“Animals have alphas, idiot,” Cal said under his breath.
“Maybe he’s right,” Mallory offered. “We’ve heard the stories.”
“Yeah, well the stories are wrong.”
“Let’s just not be stupid about this, okay?” I said. “What’s our plan?”
“Our plan is to wait until they follow us around this side of the building and take off the other way. Then it’s a straight shot to the highway, and we’ll be home in no time.” Matt looked into the rearview mirror at me, daring me to object.
“Hey guys,” Dillon said from the bed. “Here they come.”
Sure enough, a chomp stalked around the corner of the building toward us. Blood and mud caked his face and neck, along with most of his tattered clothes. He was wearing one work boot, his other foot black and bloodied from traipsing around barefoot for Lord knows how long. I could just make out a low growl from outside the truck through the open windows.
“Go time,” Matt said and gunned it. The tires screeched and he fishtailed around a large green dumpster. When the truck finally caught traction, I could feel myself being pushed against the seat. I scooted closer to the window so I could have a shot if need be.
Matt threw the wheel to the right, around the last corner of the building and screamed as we came right around into a wall of chomps.
Matt jerked the wheel to the left, giving me a perfect shot toward the mob. As the truck skidded by, I fired off two quick rounds into the chomps. Blood and bone scattered into the air as the bullets found their home. Dillon fired two shots at the same time, dropping another quid. Then we were on top of them. Flesh and bone and fingers and teeth found their way into the cab as the truck sideswiped the mob of chomps. Matt was still laying on the accelerator, so when the truck finally caught traction, one or two of the quids were sucked under the truck to become speed bumps.
In the back, Dillon screamed for his life, trying to hold on to anything to stay in the bed of the truck. I fired another pair of deafening rounds and squeezed my eyes shut at the blood splattering into my face.
I didn’t see what we hit.
I found myself flattened against the back of Mallory’s seat, her hair smothering my face for the briefest of seconds before I was violently thrown into the door panel. I felt limbs and body parts smash underneath me through the open window as the truck rolled over the teeming mass of chomps. The sounds of screaming monsters blended with the cries of rending metal as I found myself curled up onto the ceiling of the cab, next to a flickering dome light.
From somewhere a million miles away, I heard a horn. I blinked hard and the sound came closer. Through bloodstained vision, I could see the sound was coming from Callum, hanging upside down from the seat. He was the only one with sense enough to actually wear his seat belt.
I shook my head, sending screaming pain through my neck and shoulders, and Callum’s shouts differentiated from the truck horn. Afraid to move, I mentally took stock of my body parts as best I could. Nearly everything hurt like crazy, but as far as I could tell, I had escaped without any broken bones. My face felt wet, warm blood trickled in front of my eyes. My forehead stung as I wiped the blood away, my arm rubbing against a raw cut.
“Cal,” I yelled over the horn. “Callum, it’s okay. You’re okay.”
He stopped screaming and looked up at me with damp eyes. Broken glass had pockmarked his face in a dozen places, but he looked okay. I sat up with an effort, my body aching, disoriented by sitting in an upside-down truck. “I’m going to unbuckle you, okay? You might want to brace yourself. My friend nodded slowly and put his hands on the roof of the cab. With an effort, I got the clasp to release and he dropped unceremoniously to the floor—ceiling—of the cab.
I looked toward the front seat, Matt was crumpled on the dashboard, covered in blood. Or at least, that’s where he would have been if the truck wasn’t upside-down. As it was, he was wedged between the shattered windshield and the dashboard, contorted in odd angles. I assumed the worst until I saw his shallow breaths. That’s a problem we’ll have to figure out. I looked to the passenger seat and found it unoccupied. I swore under my breath. Mallory must’ve been thrown. Oh gosh, what about Dillon? He had been in the bed. I didn’t have much hope for him. This was bad. Really bad.
I heard a rustling outside the truck, somewhere toward the bed. I couldn’t see much past the barrels that were scattered everywhere. As soon as I noticed the barrels, I smelled the fumes of gasoline. It was strong.
“Mallory,” I called, hoping desperately that the rustling belonged to her. A whimper in the overgrowth to my left was the answer. “Mal, is that you?” A single whimper was the only reply I got.
More rustling on the other side of the truck. No, not rustling. It was footsteps. Steps dragging across the rough asphalt. Followed by a menacing growl.
“The gun,” I said to no one in particular. I looked and felt around the cab for it. Nothing. I wasn’t typically one to use swear words, but on days like today, I felt like they were justified. “Cal, I need Matt’s gun, help me find it.”
“There,” he said quickly. I followed his finger out the window nearest him and saw it laying on the pavement about ten yards away.
“Well that—” The square of light I was looking through was suddenly occupied by the snarling face of a particularly ugly chomp. My reflexes kicked in, literally, and I caught the zombie in the face with a boot. Its head snapped back violently, but it just howled and reached into the cab, trying to grab Callum. I kicked and kicked until I heard bones snap under the force of my boot, and then I kicked some more. Finally, the chomp lay still, face mutilated under the barrage of kicks I had delivered.
I pushed Callum through the window and followed shortly after. I ran to the gun and make sure it still had bullets. Somewhere in the back of my mind I rather enjoyed acting like a special teams operative, racking the slide, but a scream from the brush stopped my reverie.
“Mallory!” I ran toward the sound. In the ditch on the other side of the truck, two chomps were wildly grabbing for something I guessed to be Mallory under the tall weeds. I screamed again and they both snapped their heads up to look at me. One of them howled and ran toward me. The other doubled down on Mallory, growling ferociously.
I sighted down the pistol at the chomp running toward me, hand shaking with nerves and adrenaline. I waited until he was close enough that I couldn’t miss and shot him twice in the chest. His momentum carried him forward and he fell onto his stomach and skidded to a stop a few feet from me. I put a round in the back of his head, just for good measure, and ran toward Mallory. The other chomp crouched over her, trying to grab her wildly flailing arms. I kicked him in the side as hard as I could to knock him off of her. It only kind of worked.
His balance faltered, and he looked at me with yellow teeth bared. The distraction gave Mallory enough time to get her feet under him, and she kicked as hard as she could, sending him flying onto his back in the ditch next to her. I didn’t waste any time putting a few rounds into the chomp as Mallory curled up away from the gunshots. After making sure the quid wasn’t going to get back up, I extended a shaking hand toward her and pulled her to her feet.
“Thanks,” she said in an unsteady voice before her eyes drifted to the truck. From here, I could clearly see Matt curled up in a bloody mess between the windshield and the dash. “No!” Mallory howled and ran off toward the truck.
I followed her to the crumpled vehicle, making a mental tally of the chomps that were dead. I wasn’t about to be caught unaware by a chomp coming out of nowhere. I had just killed the two on Mallory, plus the one that almost got Callum in the truck. I couldn’t be sure of how many Dillon pegged—Dillon. Where was he?
I ran around to the back of the truck—nothing but dented barrels and gasoline running in a rivulet into the gutter. He must have been thrown out of the truck bed, but where? I scanned the tall grass looking for any sign of him. There was a dry creek running behind the gas station with a steep bank. I ran toward it and pushed my way through the tall cattail plants, their brown bulbs brushing past my face.
I heard him breathing almost the same instant I saw him curled on a piece of sandstone, his left arm bent at an odd angle.
“Dillon!” I called as I pushed through the brush toward him. He stirred a little but didn’t respond. I slipped a little on the loose rocks as I approached, but managed to keep my balance. I couldn’t help but gasp when I saw him. His face was caked with blood and dirt, from a wound I couldn’t see. His left arm was already turning all sorts of strange colors and swelling noticeably.
His face was clenched in a tight grimace, his teeth bared in a wide, pained smile.
“Hey man, we need to get you up the hill,” I said and reached a hand out to touch his shoulder. He flinched a little at the contact and then winced at the pain it caused. “I’m going to check your legs to see if you can walk, okay?”
His legs looked okay, but I wanted to check them just to be sure. One by one, I grabbed his ankles and pulled his legs straight to make sure they could stretch. He whimpered some, but I knew it was likely from his body shifting under the movement. It took some convincing, but I finally coaxed him to his feet. He seemed like he was holding back tears, and I couldn’t blame him, his arm looked terrible and his face looked worse. We picked our way up the embankment, slowly so we couldn’t fall back and after a few minutes made it back up to the parking lot.
Matt sat on the ground by the truck shaking his head. He looked rough but much better than Dillon. Callum and Mallory were standing over him discussing something. As we got closer I could hear Mallory’s voice drifting our way.
“No, we can’t call for help, do you have a phone that works? Because no one else does anymore.”
“I get that, but maybe we can do a flare or something, you know,” Callum offered.
“A flare? What—Dillon!” Mallory spotted us and met us halfway back to the truck. “This looks bad. This looks really bad.”
“Yeah, you think?” I said sharply. More sharply than I had intended. “We need to get him help.”
“Unfortunately, our options leave us kind of screwed,” Callum said flatly.
“What do you mean?” I asked, easing Dillon to the ground next to Matt.
“He means we’re walking.” Mallory looked pale. We all looked pale.
“Okay, can a couple of us go and a couple of us stay?”
“What if there’s more? You saw what they could do. Gray, they’re smart.” Mallory shifted her weight and eyed me.
“You’re right. I’ve never seen anything like it. How long is the walk?”
“I don’t know, but probably a while. I would guess four, maybe five hours at least. Longer in their condition.” She nodded toward Matt and Dillon. “And I really don’t want to be away from town at night.”
I wasn’t quite sure what time it was. I had left my iPod at the house, but it must have been after noon sometime. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like it at all. “Okay, let’s go.”