Holland Raine always held her annual Halloween party in August. How that had happened, no one could really remember, not even Holland, but after fifteen years it didn’t really matter. The second Saturday of August, at 7pm sharp, the doorbell would ring and her three bedroom home in California would be filled with witches, devils, sports stars and more, as well as all the ‘slutty’ versions of the same costumes.
She loved it, and had hosted the party without fail, even the year she got divorced, even the year her Dad died. There was something comforting about a party where everyone pretended to be someone else.
August 14 was the current year’s second Saturday and the mood was… weird. After all, there had been something happening in Seattle and down the West Coast for days. An infection.
Okay, some people were saying zombies.
But that was crazy. She’d seen the news reports and all, but come on? Couldn’t that be faked? And it certainly wouldn’t make it to the middle of California, whatever it really was. The National Guard or something would sweep in and that would be that. Even the local news said so.
No reason to cancel the party of the summer, right?
She straightened the bowl of chips in the middle of the banquet table and stirred the dip one last time just as the doorbell rang. At the mirror in the entryway, she paused and took a look at herself. This year she’d gone with Harley Quinn from the Batman series. Not the slutty version, but still cute. She adjusted her jester’s cap and tugged the door open to grin at her first few guests.
“Hey!” she said to the flight attendant (Susan, a friend from work), the Black Swan (Kendra, a neighbor) and a Jack Sparrow-esque pirate (Kendra’s husband, Aaron) waiting for her on the other side.
Soon, they were joined by others. Batmen and vampires, geishas and fairies, also known as neighbors, friends and co-workers. Music echoed in the warm night as people mingled inside and on the back patio by the little pool she hardly ever used thanks to long hours at the hospital where she worked as an administrator.
“Man, you have the best shindigs,” Susan said as she sidled up to her and threw an arm around her shoulder.
Holland laughed at normally laced-up Susan’s exuberance. She always loosened up after a couple of beers, Holland had learned that at their twice-monthly girls nights with friends. Tonight was no exception.
“Thanks, babe,” she said with a squeeze for her friend.
“How many came this year?” Susan asked.
“Let’s see, I think there are about twenty-five. We’re missing a handful still.” Holland shrugged. “You know there are always the stragglers and the ones who RSVP yes and then don’t show.”
“Well, they don’t know what they’re missing,” Susan slurred lightly. “Best party yet.”
Holland shook her head as the doorbell rang inside. “Gotta get that, Suz, be right back.”
Susan waved her off as she weaved toward some other friends from work to talk to them about the “best party yet”. As Holland moved toward the door at a half-jog, her neighbor from three houses down stepped up to the door.
“Getting it, Holland!” he shouted as he turned the knob.
“Thank Chris, be right there,” she said.
He stepped back to reveal someone, who wasn’t entirely clear, dressed in the best zombie costume she’d ever seen. His face was a greyish-green, there was black ooze and bright red blood around his mouth and nose. It was, to be honest, kind of tasteless considering the current events up North, but Holland had always appreciated dark humor.
Apparently so did Chris.
“Wow, great costume!” he said as she made it to his elbow.
“Yeah,” Holland agreed. “The blood is super-realistic.”
The guest didn’t respond, only turned his head with a guttural groan.
Chris laughed. “Aw, shit, he’s totally in character. Must be a method actor, very Robert Downey, Jr. of you, sir.”
Holland tilted her head, confused because their guest didn’t even crack a smile. She sent a side glance toward Chris and leaned forward.
“Yup, you’re pretty dedicated, but who are you? The make-up makes it hard to tell.” The man hadn’t moved in any closer, but the fading summer sunlight and the light from inside the house gave her some chance at gleaning the details.
The make-up was super intricate and now she noticed even more about it. It made it look like his nose was broken and that a section was missing from his cheek. He had dark hair, but she couldn’t tell what color eyes he had since he was wearing black contacts.
“Sheesh, normally everyone just buys a costume from the local Halloween store and calls it good,” she said with a shrug. “I can’t even tell who you are except…”
She trailed off as she stared closer. The partygoer was wearing a t-shirt that said, “There’s Nothing Sweeter Than a Fat Man’s Peeter”. Which was the shirt her neighbor straight behind her always wore. He was rude, gross and all-together NOT invited to her party.
Also, he would never tear up that shirt (which she had always assumed was his prized possession) the way it was. He loved that thing. He wore it all the time.
“Gary?” she asked, leaning closer. “Gary, is that you?”
The person in front of her leaned his head back and instead of answering her, let out a growling, guttural roar that froze her blood.
“Chris, close the door,” she squealed as she staggered away. “Close the door!”
He stared at her. “What are you talking about, Holl-”
He didn’t finish, though. At that moment, her uninvited guest lunged forward and grabbed Chris in a bear hug, then sunk his teeth into the flesh of her friend’s neck.
For a minute, she prayed this was all a piece of performance art. A huge practical joke planned by her friends. But just as quickly, she realized it was most definitely NOT that. Chris howled in a sound of pain so powerful she would never forget it and staggered backward.
His attacker stumbled, but never released the grip of his teeth or arms and the two ended up sprawled in the entryway of her house, the violent psychopath on top of her friend, continuing to rend flesh as Chris desperately tried to fight back.
Without thinking, Holland threw herself at the two men, grabbing for the attacker’s arms as she screamed for help at the top of her lungs in a voice so shrill it almost didn’t sound like her at all.
In a moment, there was a swarm of people to assist, tugging at the amazingly strong attacker and wresting him free of Chris.
“Put it outside,” Holland sobbed as she knelt over her injured friend. “Close the door and lock it.”
“But shouldn’t we call the-” Kevin, her boss who was holding the attacker began.
Holland lifted her face and glared at him. “Put it outside! Hurry before it does any more damage.”
The attacker squirmed, growling and spitting as he tried to bite the others who held him.
“Fuck that!” Kevin yelped as he shoved the stranger out the door and down the stairs. The man didn’t try to break his fall, catch himself on the handrail of her front step, he just staggered and fell onto his face in a splat that should have knocked him unconscious. But as Kevin slammed the door and turned the lock, everyone saw the same thing.
The attacker stood up and immediately turned back toward the door and those within.
“Oh my God,” Holland breathed before she turned her attention back to Chris.
He was missing a chunk from his neck and it was gushing a mixture of blood and some kind of thick, black ooze that had to indicate some kind of deeper injury. She could see veins and tendons through the torn and ragged flesh.
She shivered and pressed her hands to the open wound. “Someone get Susan, hurry,” she said, as calmly as she could.
Someone disappeared outside to get her as the others began to wake up from their shock and try to help with water bottles and towels from the kitchen.
“Chris,” she said softly as she kept the pressure on the wound. “Stay with me, okay? Stay with me.”
Chris didn’t respond, just kept staring straight up at the ceiling. His only movements were the occasional twitch. This was bad.
“Oh shit, this is bad,” Susan said as she appeared through the crowd, repeating Holland’s own thoughts.
Susan was a nurse, so the paleness of her face and the trembling of her hands made Holland even more afraid than she had been. Her friend dropped down and motioned Holland’s hands away to see the wound.
“What happened?” she asked, her buzz gone as she reapplied the pressure to Chris’s neck with both hands. “Someone said he was bitten.”
Holland nodded blankly. “Someone from outside. Like in the news footage from Seattle. The footage we were questioning a day ago.”
Susan didn’t look up, but her lips pinched. “Okay, has someone called 911?”
Kendra raised her cellphone. “I’ve been trying, but it keeps giving a busy signal.”
“Try my house phone,” Holland said.
Kendra’s husband Aaron shook his head. “Tried that too. It’s dead or something”
“Then we need to take him to the hospital in someone’s car,” Holland said, her voice hard with desperation and fear.
Susan started pumping Chris’s chest with two hands and Holland immediately understood what was happening.
“What should I do?” she whispered.
“Keep pressure on the wound,” Susan snapped before she dropped her mouth to Chris’s and blew into his mouth. She repeated the two actions back and forth for a few minutes, then slumped back on her heels with a shake of her head.
“I-he’s gone, I’m sorry.”
Holland pulled her hands back, covered with blood and the black material. She wiped them on her jester costume, but the blood was sticky and more fluff from her costume came off on them than blood came off on her costume.
Someone in the crowd began to cry and Holland blinked at her own tears before she pushed to her feet and paced toward Aaron. “Let me try the phone.”
He handed it over. “It’s not working.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I just want to try.”
She pressed the talk button but there was a dead buzzing on the other end instead of a dial tone.
“Turn on the television,” Susan suggested as she got up. She wiped her forehead and left a bloody streak behind.
In the living room through the double doors on the left side of the entryway, someone did just that. The volume elevated and Holland leaned on the wall as she listened to some reporter from channel JNTV9 (On Your Side for Jerot) talk.
“…outbreak we’ve been reporting on in Seattle the last few days has come here to Jerot, California. Authorities are overwhelmed with reports of…” she hesitated. “Zombies and we’re hearing reports of sporadic phone line problems. Stay in your homes. Authorities will resolve this problem as soon as they can.”
Kendra staggered away from the television. “Like they did in Seattle,” she muttered.
Holland looked up and she and Kendra exchanged a look. “That was Gary who did it,” she said softly.
“From back around the other side of Murray Drive?” Kendra said. “So it’s in the neighborhood.”
“If they’re zombies,” Susan said. “That means that when they die they-”
She didn’t finish because at that moment there was a grunt from lifeless body of their friend and then he bolted straight up into a seated position. Holland skittered away from him into her kitchen, flattening against the island she had put in a year ago when she redesigned the kitchen. Actually, Chris had put it in. And now he turned toward her with dead, black eyes and gushing neck.
“Oh fuck, he’s a zombie!”
All hell broke loose as people started running, some toward the back patio, some out the front. As the door slammed, Holland saw Gary just waiting for the exiting partygoers, slashing at them as they screamed.
“Run, Holland!” Susan ordered as she grabbed Holland’s hand and dragged her out into the backyard. Chris was hot on their heels as the remaining ten or so guests who hadn’t booked it out the front huddled into the fenced off yard.
Holland slammed the French doors and pushed her barbeque in front of it, but Chris flattened himself against the glass, slobbering and clawing.
“Oh shit,” Holland muttered. “Oh shit!” she repeated when he started slamming his hands against the glass. It cracked, then shattered.
“He’s coming out,” Susan shouted. “Everyone grab something to fight with.”
Holland looked around. She had decorated her patio with cute furniture from Target, but it was mostly made of wicker or plastic. She watched as Susan pulled a tiki torch from the grass and flipped it around so that it could be used as a spear.
With a shrug, Holland grabbed a hanging planter from the patio roof. It was heavy and if she got a good swing going, it could make a mace of some kind.
She was about to find out. The final shards of glass shattered and Chris shoved the barbeque out of the way. Holland swung her planter mace and smacked him in the stomach. He staggered back a step, impaling a hand on the broken glass still in the window, but he hardly reacted. He only snarled and eased toward her.
“Aim for the head, dummies, haven’t you ever watched a zombie movie?” Kendra asked as she and Aaron stood side by side. He held a metal door from the fire pit as a shield, while she had the fire poker.
Susan poked at Chris, jabbing at his eyes while Holland swung hard at his head. The plant inside her planter crumbled and sent leaves and dirt all around, but the metal pot found a home, crunching into Chris’s head and collapsing part of it.
He fell to his knees on the patio, his moans turning to whines. With a guttural cry, Susan swept forward to jab her tiki torch into his skull and pin him against the patio.
He reached for them, fingers curling as claws and then was still.
Holland covered her mouth with a gurgle. Working in a hospital, even just as an admim, she’d seen some things. She’d never brutally murdered a zombie friend in her backyard.
“Susan,” she muttered as she turned toward her.
Her friend was laying on her side on the patio, staring at her. She looked sick.
“Are you okay?” Holland asked, reaching for her.
“Don’t touch me,” Susan said, blinking. Her voice was garbled. “I’m infected.”
Holland scooted closer. “What are you talking about? You weren’t bitten.”
“I gave him mouth to mouth.” Susan sighed. “There must have been transfer. I can feel it in my head.”
Holland stared. “You’re a nurse. Is there something you can do?”
“It’s supposed to be zombie-ism, Holl,” Susan said and she laughed in a husky voice that wasn’t her own. “I’m pretty sure there’s no cure, at least not if you believe movies. Now you and the others need to get out of here. Get out of town if it’s here now. Go! And if you stop at my house, I have a couple of guns there. Get them.”
Holland blinked. “You have guns?”
Susan smiled. “Time to go, Holland. Go!”
She said the last word so loudly that Holland jumped. She pushed to her feet and backed away, staring as Susan started to convulse.
“Okay, I can fit four in my SUV,” she said, turning away so she wouldn’t see the end. “Whoever wants to come with me, let’s roll.”
She ran, not even looking behind her to see who came with her. When she burst through her kitchen into the little one-car garage attached, she wasn’t surprised that Kendra and Aaron were on her heels, as well as an admitting secretary from the hospital, Lynda.
“Where are we going to go?” Kendra asked as they all threw themselves into the car.
Holland checked the locks and opened the garage door behind her. She stared in the rearview mirror at the shambling handfuls of people on the street, already turned by whatever virus had caused this outbreak.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “But I have to say I’m kind of pissed that I’ll be going there dressed as a jester doll. Now hang on.”
And she floored it out of the garage and squealed onto the darkening streets.
Pre-Order Club Monstrosity (April 30, 2013)
Copyright Jesse Petersen 2012
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