Machines of the Dead 2, page 7
The undead were the result of an experiment. There was nothing supernatural about them, as Cannibal assumed. They were controlled by nanobots. A bite was not a death sentence as he had thought. Electricity of 50,000 volts or more could cure a person after being bitten. This was a revelation, and something Kyle decided to keep to himself. The information could prove costly to his life. If Cannibal found out, the man might lose it. Go nuts. The guy was on some religious crusade thinking he was going to control the things and rule the world. The men believed him too.
Kyle suddenly felt powerful.
Now, after relaying when the strangers were leaving, Kyle walked gingerly back to the house, wondering how much longer he would have to remain there.
Jack and the others continued down the snow-covered road, the white stuff floating down dreamily. The surrounding forest was still, almost eerily so, especially when compared to the chaos of yesterday. There were no sounds of human life, from cars driving nearby, honking their horns to aircraft from above. No kids playing off in the woods—sledding down a hill, or dogs barking. Simply nothing but the muffled sound of boot hitting snow-laden pavement. But at the same time, Jack couldn’t ask for anything different. He and the others would take this over the chaos any day. The land was beautiful, peaceful. He loved the city, had been there his whole life, unlike Jess who had spent time Upstate. They’d talked about moving there, and now that he thought about it, maybe they should have. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. His heart thumped hard for a moment at the thought of his wife. Damn, he missed her.
“Something up ahead,” Zaun said.
Jack’s pulse quickened. The group crouched, taking defensive positions. He and the others were conditioned to expect the worst.
“Road was clear when we came this way,” Maria said.
They moved forward slowly, Jack watching the right, Zaun the left, Maria straight ahead.
“It’s a damn body,” Maria said.
Jack could only see the back of its head. The long, straggly hair draped outward, making him think it was female, but then he noticed the boots and wasn’t sure. The figure’s stomach rose and fell. The others stayed back a little as Jack went to check on the person.
Up close, he saw that the figure had a beard. “It’s male,” he said, walking around the body. The guy had a deep scar running across his right cheek and a tear tattoo below his right eye. Jack didn’t like this, and immediately thought of the prisoners that had been a problem for Don and his people. But everyone nowadays had tats and he couldn’t be so quick to judge.
He nudged the guy with his boot. Maybe the guy was infected, though he didn’t look emaciated. He glanced back to the others and shrugged.
As Jack turned back around, he saw the man sit up, pull a snub-nosed .38 from his coat, and point it at Jack’s groin. The man laughed, smugly. The crack of a gunshot sounded and the man’s head exploded as the bullet tore through it. Jack looked over and saw Maria staring down the barrel of her M4.
Hooting and hollering erupted from all around. Armed men came from the woods, leaves and forest debris falling off their forms.
Jack spun around to head into the forest behind him, but more men waited there. “Don’t even think about it,” one said, pointing a shotgun his way. He looked over to see Zaun and Maria with their hands in the air.
The man holding the shotgun walked up to Jack and pushed the barrel against Jack’s forehead. The guy glanced at the dead man, then spat on him. “I told that bastard he’d get himself killed. Not to mess with you folks.”
Mess with us? Jack thought, and then he knew, this was planned. There were too many men for this to have been a “troll-under-the-bridge” scenario.
“Time to hand over the weapon,” the man said to Jack. “Don’t you think so?”
Jack handed over the M4, along with the other weapons he had on him.
The man grinned. “Thanks,” he said, then smashed Jack in the head with the butt of his weapon, knocking him out cold.
Jack woke up with a pounding headache. His wrists were cuffed to a steel pipe protruding from the cement wall above his head. He was seated on the floor. His shoulders ached, telling him he must’ve been in this position for a while.
Looking around, he saw that he was in an unfinished basement. Small rectangular windows about six feet from the floor allowed sunlight through. Zaun was to his left, chained up too. Past Zaun was a cage. It went from one side of the basement to the other. A number of women were inside it, maybe ten. Maria was with them, staring out at him.
“Good,” she said, “you’re awake.”
“Jack,” Zaun said, surprised. “Thought we might’ve lost you. Brain damage or something.” He smiled.
“Where the hell are we?” Jack asked, his throat dry.
“They took us to a mansion not far from where we were ambushed. Brought us down here, tied us up and threw Maria in the cage. Been here since.”
“How are you feeling, Jack?” Maria asked.
“Head hurts. A little woozy, but I’ll live.”
Zaun told Jack that they were with the former guests of Sing Sing. A man named Cannibal was in charge. The women were kept in the cages, taken one by one from time to time and never heard from again.
Jack could only imagine what these scum were doing to them. He eyed Maria and started pulling on his restraints. He couldn’t let them have her.
“Don’t bother, man,” Zaun said. “I’ve tried. It’s no use.”
“The girls here think he eats them,” Maria said, as if reading Jack’s thoughts.
“Yeah,” Zaun said, “they think he’s the infamous Cannibal from the news. Remember that guy? He was responsible for all those missing people in Upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Think about it. His name’s Cannibal. People are stored here, well fed, then they leave and never return.”
“Wait a minute,” Jack said. He thought about the name. He remembered the story. He couldn’t remember which prison the guy was kept in, but it had to be him. Or maybe a wannabe. Either way, the situation just got worse.
Damn, he couldn’t believe the crap they got themselves into. All they’d been through and now this. They fought their way out of Hell itself, only to become a meal for some deranged psycho? No way. They had to find a way out, and Jack knew they would. They had to. How was another story.
Over the next few days, Jack and the others did little more than eat, use the bathroom and bathe. One woman had been taken during that time. Sleep was virtually impossible for Jack with his hands tied above his head, but he managed as best he could. At least Maria and the women had mattresses.
A young woman by the name of Jill lost it one day, grabbing the fence and shaking it. She cried to be released; begged to know what was happening to the women.
Maria eventually quieted her down. Hours later, another girl started to flip out, only to be calmed down by Maria too. Jack understood their fear and was amazed at how strong Maria was, but not surprised.
“Damn it!” Maria shouted. “We’ve got to find a way out of here.” She grabbed the fence and shook it with force, the jingle of the links echoing around the room.
“Forget it,” one of the women said. “We’ve tried. They built this thing too well. And if you fight them when they come get you . . . well the last girl to do that wound up losing her head.”
Zaun yanked uselessly on his cuffs, frustrated. “Damn it.”
The door at the top of the stairs opened. Two men came down. One had to be close to 7 feet tall. He had long, stringy hair and a hawk-like beak for a nose. A thick metal loop pierced the flesh between his nostrils. The other man was shorter with acne scars covering most of his face. He had beady eyes, a cleanly-shaven head and stood around 5’8,” but was a ball of bulging muscles.
They approached Jack.
“Boss wants to see you,” the short one said. He pulled a knife from his belt, leaving the B
The man undid the restraints. Jack’s arms screamed in discomfort as they fell to his sides. He felt the blade press harder against his flesh. His hands were then cuffed behind his back, his shoulders aching from the quick change in position. Jack was taken upstairs and down a hallway, then through a living room. The place at one time had been gorgeous. Everything looked expensive. Twenty-foot high pane-glass windows took up a wall, overlooking the valley-forest below. A long sofa and loveseat took up space in the front of the gray, stone fireplace, blazing with flame. But the beer cans, alcohol bottles, cigarette butts and food wrappers decorated the vast room, turning it into a pigsty.
“Maid hasn’t come yet,” the man with the scars said.
The tall man left the room, returning a minute later. “Bring him.”
Jack was shoved forward and back down the hallway he’d come through, winding up in a spacious kitchen.
Pots and pans hung over a center island with a grill. In the far corner was a stove. A huge, chrome-colored pot lay on a burner, the top jostling as something boiled within. A long, black and white marble counter top extended across the far wall. Two sinks rested in front of a bay window; the sink itself piled high with dishes. The ceramic tile floor was marked with boot prints, wrappers and dirt.
Jack was ushered across the kitchen, the smell of bacon in the air, making his mouth water. He exited the kitchen and entered a dining room. A white table-clothed table and ten chairs sat center. Unlit candles in silver sconces were positioned around the room. Windows, much like the ones in the living room, looked out over the forest below and the river a ways away. Sitting alone at the end of the table was a hulk of a man. He had a clean-shaven head, stubble growing along his cheeks and neck. He was holding a large piece of meat, eating it like corn-on-the-cob.
Scars manhandled Jack over to the table, pulled out a chair adjacent to the hulking man, and shoved him into it. Jack’s arms were yanked upwards. Pain radiated from his shoulders to his neck. He heard the cuffs being unlocked and felt the steel leave his flesh. The huge man continued to gnaw at the meat, ignoring Jack, as if it was too delicious to notice anything else.
“Leave us,” he finally said, between swallows.
The two men left the room.
Jack sat in silence, unmoving, as the man continued to eat. He didn’t want to stare directly at the guy. He kept his head down, but glanced up with his eyes. What the hell kind of steak was that? It was very long and lean. The leg of some kind of animal. Then realization dawned as the piece of meat started to look familiar. His brain formulated the image. The meat ended in the shape of what looked like a hand. A human hand. Oh God. The sick fuck was eating human flesh. This was Cannibal.
Jack closed his eyes. He held his breath for a moment, then took a gulp of air in through his mouth, hoping to keep his gord from rising. To lose it now would be costly. He needed to be strong. This man was a monster. Opening his eyes, he waited, pretending what the man was doing didn’t bother him. He knew when the monster was ready to speak, it would.
“You’ve come quite a distance,” Cannibal finally said, placing the arm down. He picked up a cloth napkin and wiped his mouth. “Fought out of the epicenter of this apocalypse. Out of Hell itself.”
Jack was completely caught off guard, and hoped his face didn’t reveal it. How the hell did this thing know anything about him? He very much doubted either Zaun or Maria talked.
“I can only imagine what you went through,” the monster continued. “What you had to endure and how many of my children you killed.”
Jack felt a response on the tip of his tongue, but remained quiet. He had no idea about this man’s children, but the guy was crazy, so he let him talk.
“But it is understood,” the man said. “I’ve had to endure trials myself; including killing my own, but soon enough they shall know their father.”
Jack was dealing with a real nut job. If he wasn’t worried before, he was now.
“You have our weapons,” Jack said, feeling the need to speak. “What more do you want from us?” The answer was obvious and one he didn’t want to think about, but he had to say something.
“Yes,” Cannibal said, looking at Jack. The man’s eyes bore into him, sending a shiver down his spine. “Your weapons shall tip the scales in my favor. Bring me more food, and bring me closer to my destiny. My children. They are lost and without leadership or direction. They have no purpose but to eat. Once I have devoured enough flesh, I shall speak to them and they will hear me. See me as their father, their leader.”
Jack found it almost impossible not to laugh, even being in the middle of a most dire situation. This oaf wasn’t simply crazy, but completely wrong. Should he bother trying to explain the truth about the undead? How they are nothing more than robot-controlled corpses? Yes, he would. The whole thing might just fluster the idiot, and he’d love to see the look of utter shock and disappointment on the man’s face. That’s if the madman believed him. A little chaos was good in situations like the one he was in.
“I think I was brought to you for a reason,” Jack said.
The man’s eyebrows arched. “Really?”
“I know a secret,” Jack continued. “A big secret. But I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
The man steepled his fingers. “Please, tell me.”
“It’s a secret about the undead.” Jack paused. Cannibal’s stare bored in on him.
“It’s true. My friends and I came from the heart of this epidemic. We were in an underground bunker where the ‘plague’ originated.”
The man’s face went slack. He then smiled and said, “I am on my way to—”
“You’re wrong,” Jack blurted, cutting off the man. “There’s nothing supernatural about the undead. They’re animated corpses, controlled by microscopic robots. The fucking military is behind it. The bots were designed to kill and aid our soldiers.”
Jack’s pulse was racing. Something inside of him snapped. He didn’t care what this monster did to him. He wanted to squash the man’s delusional idea on the matter.
Cannibal shot to his feet, the chair crashing to the floor. Jack tensed, waiting for the blow, and whatever else was to come. He grabbed Jack by his collar and picked him up. “I’ve had doubters, liars,” the man said, his fetid breath assaulting Jack like a toxic cloud. “People that don’t understand me or what I am.” He pulled Jack close to his face. “It’s scum like you that need to be removed from this planet.”
Jack knew he’d gone too far. He had maybe a few moments before his life was put to an end. Maybe it was his being weaponless, or the stillness around him, or the fact that Cannibal looked like he could wrestle a Grizzly bear and win. Then again, he’d felt this way many times within the last month. But this time felt different. He imagined he’d be killed, cut up and cooked, winding up in the man’s stomach, then discarded out his backside.
He couldn’t go out like that. He couldn’t go out at all. Not now. He needed to do something. His friends needed him. His sister needed him. This was his chance to escape, maybe his only chance. The big oaf was cocky, and had underestimated Jack when he told his henchmen to uncuff him and leave. They could be right in the other room, stirring whatever was boiling in that pot. Or they could be far away, somewhere deep in the house.
Jack brought his right knee up and into Cannibal’s crotch. The big guy’s grip loosened as he exhaled in pain. Jack landed another blow and was let go. He fell into his chair, leaned back, and kicked the monster in his large head as the man hunched over grabbing his groin. Blood flew from the man’s lips as they split from the impact. Jack reared back both legs, the chair propped against the rear window and kicked out as hard as he could, sending the behemoth tumbling backward.
Jack leaped out of the chair, then h
He dove through the window and onto the deck. Shards of glass sliced his hands as he landed into a roll. He was on his feet in a moment, then ran down the stairs to the backyard, and headed into the woods.
Jack ran as fast as he could, breaking branches off trees and leaving a trail in the snow-covered ground. He winced as a maple poked him in the cheek, then carved a gash across it. Running for his life, he didn’t have time to worry, or the time to dodge everything in his path. If he’d taken his time a little more, he might’ve been able to leave less of a trail, but all he wanted to do was get as far away from that house as possible.
He had hoped no one would pursue him. It seemed like a ridiculous notion, but it helped his mental state as he ran for his life. Then he heard hooting and hollering—and knew he couldn’t slow down.
He trudged on, breathing heavy, but feeling okay. He and Jess had been runners, hitting the streets and Central Park regularly, so he didn’t fear cramping up or growing tired would be an issue. The main problem would be the cold weather. He wore only a long-sleeve button down flannel shirt. The air was cold, the breaths he was taking chilling his lungs. He would sweat soon, and with sweating, came danger. Hypothermia would set in if he didn’t slow down or find shelter soon, and for now he could do neither.
Gunshots rang out, but they sounded far enough behind that he didn’t worry about a bullet catching him in the back. With all the trees about, it would take a close-range slug to find its way into his flesh. He guessed they were shooting for affect, trying to scare him, or maybe they were simply acting like the “cowboys” they were.