“You might have a hard time believing me after spending so much time with me, but I used to read. Not a ton, but I would occasionally pick up a book while my wife and I were out at Barnes and Noble. I liked war stories, or nonfiction, and not really anything else. In a ton of those books there would always be complaints from the narrators, soldiers, or whatever about how important footwear was to everyone. I wonder what they’d think about the drum and what’s happening now,” Shawn said.
They were walking towards a small Super America gas station just off Highway 94 East. They were taking the road into Saint Cloud for both men to try and find their families. Shawn had finally taken off his security uniform. He was wearing a white shirt with his bullet proof vest over it. He was sweating. The sun was steaming the earth like the solitary light in the library after hours. Off the highway, nature had bloomed into a green, omnipresent sheet of overgrown trees, bushes, and grasses.
Another paranormal echo of the drum.
“Why do you think I wouldn’t believe you?” Will said, following Shawn off the road towards an exit ramp rising out of the dead road like a tombstone. Will was pouring sweat himself. His tall body might as be a sprinkler in the dew-wild air. Their car had run out of gas miles back and they had been unsuccessful at siphoning the gas out of another vehicle. They had walked all day to find this store. The drum would start in about four hours. There was a good chance they’d have to hide from the monsters somewhere in the open.
“Most people, or I guess people that knew me, thought I was just some hillbilly who liked to race snowmobiles,” Shawn said.
“Well, those people are probably dead, and who knows if it’ll ever snow again,” Will said, panting like a wrought dog.
Shawn didn’t say anything. He wasn’t necessarily positive about their survival chances in the apocalypse, but he wasn’t necessarily negative about their situation. Whenever he noticed himself getting too dismal about their drum-dictated lives, he would start hypothesizing about the monsters and their instrument. This gave him a little bit of power over their situation.
“I mean, I don’t get it. They cut us up into small pieces. Sometimes, they take the parts away, and sometimes they don’t. Hell, we’ve even watched them still be moving. Yet, they choose which ones to completely mutilate into goddamn hamburger, and which ones not to. I mean, are they that selective? I thought they wanted us all dead,” Shawn said.
Will stopped for a moment. He couldn’t help but think of all the gore he’d witness at the claws of the spiked shapes that stalked them every night. He rubbed his hands on his thighs. He was wearing light-blue jeans, which were marked in dirt and oil, the denim itself had been bruised.
“Why do they choose? I don’t get it. It has to be related to those people we’ve seen. God, they give me the creeps more than anything that has happened, like the living dead are walking the earth. All fleshy and sewn together, like a bored housewife had put them under their needle,” Shawn said.
Will was starting to feel light-headed.
“Okay, okay, I’m good on theories for now,” he said.
“Sorry,” Shawn said. He wasn’t.
The exit ramp had a few patches of trees, which billowed wildly against the humid air. With the plants and lushness having bloomed some hidden energy, there was always the dull ache of leaves bashing against one another in the background. Will had never noticed their roars until the drum happened.
The state of the Super America didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in either man. The windows were gone. The paint was crawled over by vines and flower. A few shattered cars were crushed like bread beneath the toppled blue canopy.
“Should we flip for it,” Shawn said. He pulled out a quarter from his torn pocket.
“Heads,” Will said.
The slice of metal spun in the sun like a dying star. It clanked onto the crushed pavement of the parking lot unceremoniously.
The currency did not know the weight of what it decided.
“Tails,” Shawn said, handing Will the rifle he was carrying.
“Safety’s off,” Shawn said.
“I know,” Will said.
Will hated exploring buildings. The monsters were now present during the day as well. It wasn’t like that at first with the drum. Granted, their behavior in the sunlight was not as terrifying in the night. At night you could only see their golden claws. If you noticed them up close at all you were likely dead. In the day, the whole of their cloaked body was visible. That didn’t stop them from trying to maim you. Also, in the recent months, other things had started to appear in the green-wrenched landscape. They looked like people, from a distance, like any other figure shadowed by sunlight.
Up close, they were not.
They had all the features of a human, but were far from the genuine article. They stood like people, spoke like them even. Shawn and Will had heard them chatting to themselves in few a medical buildings they had explored off the highway. Their bodies were pieces of cleaved apart humans, stitched back together by laces of green from the very jade world Shawn and Will were traveling through. The flesh was bubbled, torn, and blemished like any decayed piece of meat. Hair would be blood-kissed. Eyes would spinning or staring at objects you couldn’t see. A nickname Will had heard from a few other survivors was the “Reanimated,” but he didn’t really like it. The title felt too much like a gross horror movie his dad had nestled in the box of VHS tapes down in their basement.
Will felt something behind him the moment he entered the gas station. All the shelves were empty inside the store. Cans, bags, bottles covered the floor in a mass of crushed plastic and glass. Plants had started to pin the items to floor, like a layer of green paint had been splashed over everything. There were bits of blood nestled into the verdant shards. The smell of rot was so strong, it sat on Will’s chest like a weight. A pair of fluorescent lights dangled from the slashed ceiling like loose eyelashes.
“Will, get down! Someone is in there with you,” Shawn hissed from the parking lot. Will crawled down to his knees and sneaked behind the cobalt blue counter. The door to it was swinging open with a bloody handprint on the doorknob. This wasn’t a surprise. There was gore-art everywhere in this apocalyptic gallery.
The shape was bigger than a normal person. The shoulders, back, and arms were all bulging about in mountains of pasted tissue. There were glimpses of clothing over the red scales, like the thing had wanted to be clothed, but its own existence wouldn’t permit it. It was a Reanimated. Neither Shawn or Will had ever interacted with one, and they didn’t plan on doing it now. The creature was heavy. The store and its loose furnishings shook like Christmas ornaments against its steps. A hiss splattered the air. The air stunk even more. Will crawled to the edge of the counter. Some glass bit his knees as he moved. He wanted to scream, but he’d rather live.
The Reanimated was further into the store now. Will crawled out of the counter towards the crumbled front door. He looked backwards for a simple second. The feet of the Reanimated were turned towards him. They were massive, like the paws of an animal. They had rotted, round toes, which were jutting out in every direction like a cluster of sinewy coral. Will jumped up and ran into the parking lot. Shawn was waiting beyond the cars with his pistol drawn. The Reanimated did not follow. Neither men knew it, but the creature had no interest in them, other than it trying to remember what it was like to be human.
When Will finally sprinted to Shawn, he crumbled to one knee for a hasty breath.
“I know why they don’t need shoes,” he gasped.
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