Brett Walters had killed his wife in 1992 because the bitch was cheating on him with his cousin Max. Come to think of it, he’d killed Max, too. The lawyers had argued for innocence, but fuck… everyone knew what he’d done. He hadn’t really tried to hide it. In all truth, he was a bit proud of it. No one had deserved to die more than Charlene.
But it had been almost twenty years since he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was tired of prison. Tired of thugs. Tired of gangs. Tired of showering with his cheeks squeezed together and his back to the wall.
He slouched down lower on the thin mattress on his bed and snapped the week-old newspaper he was reading so that it crackled in the air.
Outside his cell, he could hear the din of voices. The men on Cell Block F were on their one-hour a day of recreation and could sit in the commons area and watch TV or play ping pong (no pool, the cue sticks had been used for weapons two years ago and that was that). Brett was in Cell Block G, so they weren’t scheduled for rec for another two hours. Of course, an hour wasn’t even enough time to flip through the channels.
It was bullshit. How was keeping him from watching football going to bring that bitch back?
Suddenly, the din outside his cell changed from a low rumble of talking and laughing to a
cacophony of yelling that almost always meant a fight had broken out.
“Great,” he muttered as he got to his feet and paced to the little window that let him look out into the hallway. He couldn’t see the rec area in the middle of the housing unit, but he could see guards running from one side of the block to the other. And the other inmates in their cells were moving toward their windows and milling around.
“Time to fish,” Brett muttered.
He flipped up the mattress on his bunk and pulled out a tiny sheet of scrap paper. He scrawled a note,
What is it?
He attached the note to a string from his uniform waistband and slipped it under the door. He flipped it back and forth until he felt it get caught by the next inmate. They’d pass it to the next and so on until they reached someone who could actually see the rec area. Then the whole mess would come back with the answer. It might take a while, but the prison gossip mill was usually pretty damn accurate, as long as the guards didn’t intercept and ruin everything.
Tonight they’d likely get lucky, ‘cause right now it seemed like the guards’ hands were full. Brett didn’t see any of them pacing around on the upper level anymore. Which meant whatever was going on down in rec was pretty fucking bad.
After a while, the note swished back outside his door and Brett slipped it into his cell. He unfolded it and wrinkled his brow as he read it. It was hardly legible, but that wasn’t the problem. He’d gotten used to that over the years. Hell, he’d never been so much into school either.
Instead, it was the answer to his question that messed with him.
“Sumthin bad on the tv. G freaked, guards ran off.”
G meant G-block, which he’d already guessed. But why would they freak over something on the TV? And what could he mean by that the guards ran off? How could the guards run off? They never let anyone get out of line for more than a minute. He’d experienced that himself in ’98 during a riot that left him with a scar across his forehead and a pain in his hip that never totally faded.
He pulled his chair over from the desk and set it in front of the door so he could look through his meal slot into the hallway. He gripped his hands in and out of fists at his sides.
Anxiety was an everyday thing in prison. Whether it was a guy freaking out over his first night in the hold to an old timer crying over being sent back out on the street, somebody was always worked up over something. Only this anxiety he felt now wasn’t about some unnamed fear of general prison freak out.
This was something different. This whole thing felt different to him.
He’d never heard so much commotion go on for so long in rec. Normally the guards stopped a fight or even a riot within ten minutes.
Now it was going on half an hour since he first heard a ruckus and the sounds of chaos were only building.
But maybe that was because of what his fishing note said. The guards had abandoned their posts… left. He certainly didn’t see any at their usual stations, leaning against walls and acting like big shots. He hadn’t heard any messages over the P.A. telling everyone they were in lockdown and to assume the position with lights out either. That should have happened already, for sure.
All he heard were screams and cries and chaos. And that was never good.
It was two hours later that Brett jolted awake, his head pressed to his door in the dark.
Fuck, he hadn’t been in total darkness like this in years. Not since before he got arrested. In prison, there was always a light in the hall, in the rec, a flashlight getting flicked through the cell door window or the food slot.
But now the entire floor was encased in pitch black.
He leaned against the door, his breath coming short and panicky. What had woken him? The dark? Or maybe it was the sound.
In the distance, a faint buzz, a click and then a clang. Over and over it repeated, growing louder each time. Like something was coming down the hallway toward him, inching further along every ten seconds.
He didn’t have a weapon. He’d had a shank for a while, but it got confiscated six God damn months ago (and put him in the hole for a month with a write up that would add a month to his sentence… yeah, for a lifer that meant shit). He hadn’t had time to make a new one.
So what did he have? His mattress? His chair made of plastic?
He was fucked if that clanging sound was a threat.
And then, out of nowhere, the buzzing reached him. It echoed in the room, piercing his eardrums before his door swung open.
Brett staggered backward against the back wall of his cell and stared through the dark at the open door. No one was waiting there for him. No guard to usher him somewhere. No warden to scold him.
Just a corridor filled with other men he could hear stumbling from their cells and into a weird version of freedom that was anything but free.
He squared his shoulders, put on his toughest, meanest, hardened-criminal face and stepped into the corridor with the others.
Even though he only interacted with them one hour a day in the rec room or the yard, he knew the men in the cells around him. Most were murderers like him, put into an elevated status thanks to bad behavior since incarceration. They were hard asses, but he’d never had trouble with them beyond the usual petty shit.
Now a dim light flickered in the hall. Some kind of emergency backup system, it looked like, and he stared at his fellow prisoners. They were all standing around, giving each other a good distance and staring at the empty hallway.
Finally, Brett broke the silence.
“What the fuck is going on?” he whispered, as if speaking in a full voice would result in something awful.
For a minute, no one spoke. It kind of made sense, really. They got told what to do and when to do it every day. Maybe no one even remembered how the hell to do things for themselves anymore, even answer a question.
“I saw somethin’ on the TV,” one of the men finally offered. Dixon, Brett thought his name was. A good ol’ boy from the South who’d gotten dinged for a murder during a robbery on a drug-fueled road trip.
“Couldn’t see much through the window, just little bursts of color and motion” he continued, “but whatever it was set off the guys down there. There was guard activity at first, just like you’d think. And then… they ran.”
“So pretty much exactly what was on your note, dumbass?” one of the other guys snapped, a dude who’d killed a friend over who was going to pay a hooker.
The first guy made a move forward, his anger sparked by any kind of aggression. “Fuck you, motherfucker!” they shouted at each other.
Brett sighed. “Damn, man. Don’t you two wanna know what’s going on? We can kill each other later. Especially if there ain’t no guards anymore.”
That silenced the men, though they kept staring at each other with menace.
“I say we go on down, see what’s up in rec,” Brett continued. “Hell, if the guards ran, I want to know how the cell doors opened. And what the fuck is going on.”
The others nodded their agreement, but then they all just stood there. Brett rolled his eyes. No one wanted to go first. First got shanked. Except right now, shanked wasn’t quite the big deal it normally was. Right now he really wanted to know what had made the guards run.
“C’mon then,” he sighed. “I’ll go first.”
They followed him like a herd of violent, tattooed sheep, though the squared off area in front of their cells. There was an open staircase that led down to rec, but the doors to the open area were always locked.
Except as they reached the bottom of the stairs, they found those same doors wide open and streaked with blood in the dim lights of the back-up generator. Bloody handprints, bloody bootprints, blood pools. Dead bodies were strewn about the rec area, both inmate bodies and a couple bodies of guards. The guards had been mutilated beyond recognition and both were missing their pieces.
Brett swore. He’d been hoping if they found guards, they might find guns. Of course, he hadn’t believed it. No one in their right mind wouldn’t strip them of their weapons. Especially considering the carnage all over the rec room.
“Fuck this,” one of the guys in their group muttered. “I don’t want to be in a group, I’m out of here.”
He sprinted through the bloody rec room and to the doors on the opposite side. The doors there were unlocked, too and there was no resistance as he burst out and into a hallway that led to more cellblocks, more inmate areas… but eventually, if you could figure your way through the maze of cellblocks, freedom.
Everyone else shuffled, considering their options. But it was Brett who spoke next.
“So where’s the TV?” he asked.
At best there was a tiny chance the thing was still intact, but if it was and the generator worked on the rec room wall plugs as well as the lights, then maybe they could figure out what was going on.
“Uh, dude,” one of the other guys, a gang banger named Floyd, said. He motioned toward the back wall.
The TV was there, but it wasn’t exactly intact. Someone had slammed it over the head of a guard, leaving it shattered and bloody in the middle of the rec room floor.
“I guess we’re not watching that,” Brett muttered. “I think we oughta try to get into the guard room. They have a TV in there.”
Dixon shook his head. “Fuck that, man! If we have a chance to bust out in the chaos, I’m not going to go running off to find the guards.”
The others in their little band began nodding and Brett could see he was about to be on his own. Which was fine, really. Last thing he wanted was to have to worry about some idiot getting him killed… or killing him. Inmates were way too fucking squirrelly.
“Then go do whatever the fuck you want,” he said bounding through the doors and toward the backstairs that led to the main guard station. He didn’t look back and no one followed him.
Bangs and yells echoed through the hallways, but there weren’t any guards or inmates in the hallway leading to the guard room. The cell doors had already been flung open and beds, broken chairs and papers had been strewn across the floor, soaking up pools of blood and… other liquid Brett couldn’t identify.
He ignored it, mostly because he didn’t want to fall into the same fate as the dead around him, and kept running toward the guard station. It was up two flights of stairs at the end of the hallway and the closer he came to the bullet proof glass-walled room, the harder his heart beat. If the door wasn’t locked and if he could get inside, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get shot in the head by some guard. Or jacked by some freaked out gang member laying in wait, high on whatever meds had surely been stolen from the prison hospital.
But he had no choice. What was happening here… it was more than the usual prison riot. And the only way he’d ever find out the truth was if he could get to one of the TVs.
Even if it was just a riot, then he’d know how long he’d have to hide out before they locked everything back down.
He hesitated with his hand hovering over the handle and stared at the steel door. The card reader the guards had to scan to get inside was smoking. It looked like someone had bashed it with something very heavy. He drew a breath, straightened his shoulders and turned the handle.
Breaking the card reader had opened the room and he threw the door open and stepped to the side as it crashed against the wall behind it.
He held his breath. No one shot at the open door or came hurdling out with a shank in each hand, so that was step one. Slowly, he peered around the door and sucked in a harsh breath.
Whatever had happened in the prison had already come and gone to the guard station. Chairs were throws everywhere, computer monitors crackled and snapped and smoked, but in the corner one of them was still intact and had been tuned to a local television channel.
He shut the door behind him and slid one of the toppled chairs over to jam it under the handle.
“Just in case,” he muttered and then moved across the room toward the television.
The images were of running people, armed police and reporters with panic in their eyes. This prison thing was obviously bigger than he thought. He reached out to turn up the volume, when he felt a tug on his hem of his pant leg.
He staggered back and looked down. A guard lay there, one arm twisted and broken, a leg gushing blood through his beige pants. His face was bruised and cut and there was a blooming hold from a shotgun blast through his chest.
“Fuck!” Brett bellowed and kicked the guard’s twisted hand away from his leg. “What the hell, man?”
He looked for a gun as he backed away. It would truly suck to get shot in the guard room by a man who was basically broken in half.
“Please…” the guard groaned. “They’re here…”
Brett wrinkled his brow. “Who? What?”
“Zombies,” the guard sobbed. He motioned toward the television with his broken fingers. “I didn’t believe it when it came on the TV. But it’s true.”
Brett stared. “You got hit in the head, huh?” he asked. “If you think there are zombies.”
“Turn on the television sound,” the guard wheezed. It sounded like his lung was punctured. That was the least of his problems.
Brett edged past him and flicked the volume button.
“The past six hours have been remarkable, Steven,” the reporter spoke into a microphone. “After an outbreak that started in Seattle last night, the infection has jolted through the Pacific Northwest and reached as far East as Spokane and as far South as Salem, Oregon, where it has even been rumored to be introduced in the maximum security prison there. At this point there has been little comment from the governor’s office, except for an unnamed source who said, and I quote, ‘we have real problems on our hands, we can’t worry about a bunch of felons’. Reporting from Salem, I’m Kendra Woods.”
Brett stared at the screen as it switched to more footage of rampaging people through the streets of Salem and other places across the Northwest.
“It’s a joke,” he muttered.
The guard gurgled from his place on the floor. “It doesn’t feel like a joke to me.”
Brett stared at him. “What happened?” he asked, flipping the volume of the TV down so he wouldn’t miss a word.
“One of the guards,” he explained, coughing up blood. “Told us this story of getting attacked on the way to work. We didn’t think anything of it. Until he freaked out on the inmates in the rec. It was… over before it started. The ones that were attacked changed faster. The ones who weren’t just started rioting. Bunch of the guards ran, just left. But I… I couldn’t leave you all stuck in your cells with those… things out running around.”
“You did the mass unlock,” Brett said in wonder. “You let us out?”
There was a moment’s hesitation before he waved his busted fingers toward the TV. “Look at the screen. It hasn’t even been a day and the fucking world is falling apart. Have you ever watched a zombie movie?”
Brett shrugged. “Some Romero thing in ’85, maybe?”
“Well you should see the new ones. I think that’s what’s coming. And I can’t leave a bunch of people locked in a tomb.” He shuddered. “And since I’m on the way out myself, I guess they can’t fire me for it if I’m wrong.”
He stared at the guard. “Did you… get bitten? That’s how this shit is supposed to be spread, right?”
“Yeah.” The guard shuddered. “I got beaten and shot. By my guys and the inmates. But not bitten. Don’t really matter, though. I’m dying.”
Brett nodded. “I ain’t gonna sugar coat it. You’re totally dying.”
“I don’t mind dying, but I don’t want to get eaten by one of those… things,” the guard continued. “If I… if I tell you where my gun is, do you think you might finish the job?”
Brett stared. Was this a joke? A guard asking him to shoot him? It was like some kind of fucked up version of that Candid Camera show he used to watch with Charlene. Before he strangled her and everything.
“Where’s the gun?” he asked.
The guard pointed to his pocket. “Most everything opens with a passkey, but the weapon closet in here has a real key. In case of a power outage caused by a riot. You’ll find a couple of shotguns and pistols, as well as ammo. Take what you want, but just…” He shook his head and Brett could see the tears in his eyes. “Put one between my eyes.”
Brett swallowed. With Charlene and Max, he had been in what his lawyer tried to call “a fit of passion” during his sentences hearing. Pissed off was what he called it. Blinded by anger when he found them in bed together.
But this was different. This was looking a man, a stranger, in the eye and blowing his brains all over the floor.
“Please,” the guard croaked, as if he could read Brett’s mind and see his hesitation on his face. “Please. You’d be doing me a favor.”
Brett moved to the weapons locker and slipped the blood-streaked key into the lock. In a moment, it was open and revealed six shotguns, three pistols and a huge pile of ammo. He took a shotgun and two boxes of shells and loaded a pistol, then took more of the ammo. He drew a long breath before he turned and looked at the man on the floor.
“What’s your name?” he asked, his voice rough.
The guard stared at him, his face pale, his forehead sweaty and his hands trembling. “Frank. Frank Willis.”
He nodded, raised the pistol and aimed. “G’night Frank.”
The sound exploded in the small room and his ears rang as the smoke spun around his face. He looked down. He had hit the guard right between the eyes. His skull was collapsed and his brains were half out on the floor.
Brett’s stomach rolled and he turned to wretch on the concrete floor. He kept his gaze away from the guard for a few moments as he considered his next step. If Frank was right that the other guards had abandoned their posts and if he had truly managed to open all the doors through the control panel, that meant Brett actually had a chance to get out.
He hadn’t been free in twenty years. He didn’t know where anything was, where anyone was. He didn’t know shit about Twopper or Twipper or whatever it was called, except for what new fish talked about. He didn’t even know if he remembered how to drive stick.
So what would he do?
“Become a new man,” he said as he loaded the shotgun. “Seems like this is the perfect opportunity to become a new man.”
Pre-Order Club Monstrosity (April 30, 2013)
Copyright Jesse Petersen 2012
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