A family struggles to survive the unthinkable, civilization destroyed, as 90 percent of the population suffers an almost instantaneous change, ravenously turning to consume the remainder of humanity. These are not silly zombies, or cardboard targets, not fun zombies, nor cute zombies, but animated things inspiring creeping flesh and surreality. This is a whole new world for the children, or what remains. This is not a zombie story about zombies having feelings, or fears, or hopes. This is the story about a family clinging to hope while facing the unimaginable made too real.
Virus Z is already here.
It is extremely catching.
Catch the Z.
Savor the young adult terror. The walking dead novel that seems too real, a little too probable, and entirely too personal. These are zombies, done right, the way you've always desired your zombie. Moment by moment, facing a reality too gruesome to acknowledge. Rodolphus makes it all too palpable, a visceral mind-feast, and "Virus Z" is not for the faint of heart, or stomach. The zombie apocalypse is possibly closer than anyone wishes to admit, but everyone acknowledges the deep sense building in their heart of hearts, that the unthinkable is beginning, even now. Virus Z: Beginning of the End, savor the terror. Frightful for the entire family!
Virus Z: Beginning of the End
©Copyright 2011 Rodolphus. Virus Z: Beginning of the End, by Rodolphus. All Rights Reserved by the Author. No part of this book may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited. This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental.
Virus Z: Beginning of the End
and of course
A variety of birds flock along multiple lines of power cables above the beautiful green neighborhood of closely snuggled homes. Ravens perch close to sparrows, and orioles nearly touch wings with starlings. Several murders of crows watch from the branches of many trees. And many stray oddball birds that should not even be here, seagulls, pigeons, a stately hawk—all are grouped much closer together than birds of opposing feathers generally congregate. The birds make no noise. They hardly move. It almost seems that the fowl are intently watching just one of many dramas play out in this small backyard just below them.
A boy is flattened against a brick wall, hardly breathing, let alone moving. He has dived into shrouds of ivy spilling over the brick wall. The boy is pale, and his eyes are huge, and his lips are parted in what first appears a grin, but in reality is a rictus snarl of disbelieving terror.
On the other side of the yard is an old man staring up at the sky. The old man is not looking at the birds, nor does he notice the sun departing the sky, or even the change of color in the oncoming evening.
The boy holds his breath and presses his back as hard as he can against the brick wall, doing his best to merge and become one with the usually comforting warm red brickwork. His Papa always tells him, if there is a bad guy looking for you and he does not see you—does not know you are there—then keep it that way. Be invisible. Be quiet.
Of course, Papa was talking about bad guys, you know, normal bad guys, not what is stumbling around on the other side of the yard.
Dean nearly sprints for the back door, it is only twelve feet away, standing completely ajar, with the inviting safety of the family home right there, just a quick dash, and safety. Dean can slam and bolt the door before the it can react to his movement.
He should not be out here, because the last thing Papa said when the reports began on TV was that he was to stay in the house and he was not to open the door, not for anyone, unless it was Mama, or Branna, or Wooly. But the power had gone off soon after Papa had screeched away on his motorcycle, gone into town to get Mama and Genie and bring them home.
The television had only hinted at what was happening, and most of what the media said, almost everyone assumed was just more inflated hype. Glue more people to the screen, and the sponsors are tickled beyond pink. Keep people scared, and they shall watch.
Dean wanted to know what was happening in the world and there was no TV to watch in the house, no lights, and it was getting just too plain dark in the house to stay there, and so Dean, deprived of his steady media feed, came out here, intending to stay out here in the fenced backyard, for just a few minutes; only when he came out here it was only a moment or two before the thing came staggering into the backyard—oh boy, his bad brother Wooly had left the gate open…again!
Boy was that punk going to get in trouble!
But this is no stray dog or rabid fox. This is something…Dean does not know exactly what it is. He has an idea of who it was, but not what is wrong with the thing, or what it intends to do.
Now Dean cannot move. This isn’t supposed to be happening, it isn’t supposed to be possible, it is like seeing Santa Clause in the middle of your house in the middle of the night; at first you might react with something like glee, but within an instant that glee would stab bitingly into terror, and you’d know with terrible certainty that the glee and the terror were one thing, the same thing.
Because Santa is not real.
At ten years of age, Dean is practically fearless. As for fear, he has none, not for snakes, spiders, things that go bump in the night and the monsters under the bed. Those kinds of fears he conquered years and years ago back when he was a little boy.
But when something like this…thing stumbles into your yard, groaning, grunting, its head twisted to the side and eyes staring sightlessly up at the gray sky, fear becomes something entirely real, something entirely now, livid and present and pressing.
Fear demands flight, running, dashing feet.
Get away, get away, just get away now!
Or, and this is worse, fear demands…fight.
Dean swallows. It feels as if a bird just went down his throat, nearly getting stuck halfway down. And a big bird. A big dead bird.
He glances up at the hundreds of birds—maybe thousands of birds, and they seem to be watching him. They do not even seem to be real, so intently are they focused.
He peeks through the vines hanging from the bricks and sees the thing standing with its back this way, and it looks pretty much like an old man, a skinny old man, in fact Dean is certain that this thing is Mr. Clotch from about five doors down, the guy who always gives Dean and Worthy and Branna a hard, level look when they Razor past his neat lawn, their scooters whirring dangerously close to his perfectly coiffed green grass.
Dean feels fairly certain he cannot fight with Mr. Clotch, not even when he is like this, stumbling around blind and moaning. Because this thing is not Mr. Clotch, and the thing is hardly a man at all, but something that had once been a man and now is just pretending to be a man and is not even very good in its present role.
The boy tenses his legs, ready to run, his hand clutching a bunch of ivy, ready to use the greenery as leverage when he makes his move toward the house.
On your mark, get ready, get set…
He is about twelve feet away from the back door, maybe twenty feet at the most. And the thing is equally about fifteen or so feet away from both Dean and the door.
Dean, the door, and the thing; three points of a deadly triangle.
At school Dean is the fastest runner, he has been for the past three years, but he tends to be faster when he has the chance to spin his wheels a bit, like in the hundred-yard dash, that’s when he is best—the fifty-yard dash does not allow for most of his speed to kick in. And now what is he going to do with twenty feet?
The boy crouches down slowly, in preparation of launching himself toward safety.
“Huh?” the thing croaks; at least it sounds like it said something, formed a word, though huh isn’t much of a word, not even for slang words it isn’t much. But Dean’s ears perk up, because it sounds like the thing that might be Mr. Clotch has suddenly stood a little straighter, said something that is almost a word, and now seems to be turning, slowly, its body twisting unnaturally around, weirdly around as if Mr. Clotch has somehow fused with a snake.
The thing turns around, its feet stumbling to catch up with its twisting body. It now directly faces Dean. He knows it cannot see him, because for one thing it is staring at the sky, and for another thing Dean cannot be seen behind all this hanging ivy on the brick wall. And for another thing, and this last thing is probably the most convincing, the thing right over there has flat, dead, unseeing eyeballs, so there is absolutely no way it can ever see the boy hiding here in the ivy.
Then the thing jerks its body, as if it is throwing its head at Dean, and the neck audibly cracks and the head swings down, drooping, Dean notices, instantly, that the eyes in the things ghastly face are now looking directly at him. Impossible as it seems, the thing stares at Dean where he hides against the brick wall, in all this covering thick ivy.
“Ahhhhh,” it says. “Oooh. Oh.”
This noise sounds very different from all its previous moaning and animal noises. This noise makes all the difference in the world.
This is a noise of discovery.
This is a noise of triumph.
This is a noise of incredible hunger.
Yearning. Terrible lust.
Dean bolts, throwing his body toward the welcoming opening of the house.
At this precise moment the thing that might or might not have been Mr. Clotch comes jerking into life, its body shambling and half falling forward directly toward Dean. Its hands are now up and reaching, pale fingertips hooked into clawlike tools, searching for the boy. Seeking. Snatching.
Dean screams as he feels the things that are supposed to be fingertips brush his shoulder as the momentum of their passing sends them past each other in the center of the triangle. Dean surges and plunges through the doorway into the house and as he spins to slam the door the thing is already there, lurching forward-stumbling after him, just quarter-seconds behind. Previously, the thing moved slowly, but it cannot be all that slow if it is here, now, its arm already entering the house. Dean is the fastest boy in his class and even in terror he cannot out-speed this thing at the door.
The boy slams the door closed but it bangs down on the thing’s arm.
“Get out!” Dean shrieks, throwing all his weight into the door. The steel door bangs again and again on the ball of the thing’s elbow. The boy imagines pinching off the arm in the door jamb, but the writhing appendage seems fairly indestructible, and the lustful fingertips scrabble at the back of the boy’s jean jacket.
“Mmmmmmm!” it croons, its leering face peering in the crack. Its eyes flat and lifeless but somehow seeing the boy. Or at least sensing him. Its teeth begin to snap and grind. Something viscous drips down its jaws, something greenish and dark, drool or blood or mucous or a mixture of all of these.
Or perhaps it is a goo much worse.
The thing half pushes the door open. Dean’s sneakers squeal on the tile floor as he is forced back.
“Get out!” Dean shrieks at the top of his lungs as his body surges again up against the door.
The thing is in mid-turn as it attempts to get its whole torso into the room but the boy’s frantic surge of strength and weight catches it mid-stumble and the thing that might or might not be or once was Mr. Clotch stumbles backward, not much, but just enough that Dean’s surge slams the door.
With military precision Dean snaps the locks on both the doorknob and the deadbolt, his hands not even shaking.
The thing slams against the door from the other side. It seems too hard, this shuddering of the door, as if an elephant is attempting to gain access, bashing its big bloated head against the door.
This thing might bear a passing resemblance to old Mr. Clotch from several doors down, but whatever it is, it is much stronger than ever the old man could have been.
Dean turns and runs deeper into the dark house. All the power went off about half an hour ago and now the sun is low in the sky, with absolute darkness approaching very soon. He has to find a place to hide, but as he dashes into the house a part of his mind addresses him too calmly: it saw you behind the ivy, so don’t try and hide from it, because it will find you.
“I didn’t even cry,” he says out loud, in wonder. The thing of it is, he usually bursts into tears over just about anything, for just about any reason. He can never seem to help it. And now it only took this thought, just this simple thought, and Dean bursts into tears.
It isn’t fair, Papa is supposed to be here, and Wooly and Branna. Only Dean is here, all alone, and a thing is just outside the door, slamming like an elephant against the steel door.
The heavy banging has stopped.
Has the thing gone away?
Or is the door already burst open, the thing now in the house, perhaps just a few feet away, approaching swiftly, bizarre pale fingers extending like claws, even now almost here, just about to catch up with him?
He turns and runs again, through the kitchen and dining room and out into the living room.
The watching birds take flight, as if on cue, and in a seemingly choreographed dance of dodging, spinning bodies, the avian rockets shoot into a chaos of feathers and wind, in every conceivable direction. In a moment, it is as if they had never been there on the wires and in the trees.
For vast distances a great emergency siren blasts over the houses and trees and fills the skies. It is a siren call that slowly rises and falls in pitch, and one that has never been heard before—if anyone is listening, if anyone is alive to hear—but is reminiscent of the old British air raid klaxons from World War II. The emergency siren, or civil defense alarm (if that is indeed what it actually is) operates in seven-second intervals, raising in tone for seven seconds, followed by lowering in tone for seven seconds, with a one-second pause between the loud rising and descending blasts.
For those who actually hear the siren, and wonder at it, none are certain when it began, or can figure how long they have been subsconsciously hearing the siren before consciously acknowledging it. For most, too many other sounds compete for their attention, including public-address speakers, ambulance sirens, police and fire alarms, as well as the screams, and the snarls, and the growing volume of what sounds like millions upon millions of people raising their voices in fantastic groaning.
Twelve-year-old Branna and her very best friend forever (VBFF) Jill stand frozen at the top of the stairs, looking down at Jill’s darkened house below. They feel no sense of guilt at their inaction, nor even a sense of impending peril despite what they have witnessed, if only with their ears.
The noises have finally stopped. First there were the screams, Jill’s mom’s screams, which seemed to go on forever. And then the other noises, which the two girls could never admit the reality of what they had listened to for so many minutes.
Now, at least the sounds of ripping and chewing have ceased.
The two girls grip hands. Each have their free hand over their own mouth. Oddly enough they look like one little girl holding hands with a full-length mirror, or almost like identical twins, not because they look so much alike, but because they stand frozen, locked into the same shocked instance of mortal terror, eyes equally bulging, faces bone pale and ghastly.
They have heard things that little girls in a rational world should never, ever hear.
Occasionally, a small moan is heard from below. The seldom whimper. And it seems there are several different voices making low groaning sounds. Not that Branna and Jill are calculating the number of visitors below, or even thinking at all. They are blank slates, cold, hardly daring to breathe.
Branna moves her hand away from her own mouth and extends a numb finger, which she places vertically across her lips.
Jill’s great staring eyes roll at the movement of Branna’s hand and fasten on the finger across her friend’s lips. Jill nods, her entire being swelling behind her eyes, pale and stunned.
Branna, somehow, begins moving, if only a half-hearted walk. She heads down the stairs.
Jill, savagely, yanks her back.
Their faces are close, foreheads almost touching.
“Where are you going?” Jill whispers, and her breath sounds loud enough to be a scream.
“Let’s get out of here!” Branna whispers in return, eyes to the side of her head, intently watching down the stairs for any sign of movement.
“We have to help my mother,” Jill says, half pleading, eyes welling with tears.
“We have to get out of here,” Branna says, strongly pulling on her friend’s hand and arm.
Jill resists and they stand in a silent tug of war, Branna with one foot on the top step of the stairs, and Jill leaning almost comically backward as she yanks Branna toward the bedrooms. They stand like this in a silent struggle, practically arm wrestling.
Movement, from below.
Branna yelps suddenly and in one fluid motion pops up into the air, flies off the top step, and lands catlike two feet behind Jill in the direction of the back of the house, because shapes are even now emerging in the gloom at the bottom of the stairs. Many wobbling shapes.
Without pause Branna hauls her friend away from the stairs and down the length of the narrow hallway into the nest of bedrooms at the back of the house. Jill does not struggle but is merely dragged docilely along behind her friend. Both of them recognized Jill’s mother, or what was left of her, shambling forward toward the stairs at the rear of a pack of the things. What had been Jill’s mother was now barely ambulatory, but still, the thing came forward minus most of its limbs, but hungry like the rest of the crew, making that terrible keening noise that emerges from the hole that had once been her pretty face.
It is a surreal few moments for Branna, and she is almost not afraid. Because it cannot be real. Her brain is numb. She almost hears Mama say, as she always does, “It is just a movie. Things like that don’t happen in real life. Don’t be afraid.”
The things below shamble and move as if they do not know how to walk or get around things, but as if they are drawn forward by the two breathing bodies above them. Two and three at a time they wedge themselves between the wall and the railing, mindlessly attempting to bull their way up to the second-floor slaughterhouse, tangling themselves up together and bursting out the wooden railing to the side.
It truly seems like another world, just ten to fifteen minutes before, a world where the angst of plastic Barbie and Ken can keep two twelve-year-old girls giggling away the hours.
The terrible groaning and moaning of the things coming up the stairs is almost as horrific as what these things obviously intend to do to the two scrumptious morsels scrambling away from them.
They don’t exist, Branna keeps telling herself, hoping it will come true, that they cannot exit, that there is no way in the world that they can exist, but Branna keeps pulling Jill along behind her.
Wooly scrambles onto a higher branch. The mob of things below him reach and hop. Thankfully, none of them seems capable of climbing a tree. Wooly makes a face, looking at them, because they are the ugliest things he has ever seen. Twice he has vomited up his guts down upon them and, apparently, tossed cookies don’t bother the freaks in the least.
The things won’t go away. They stare up at him and grunt and growl, staggering about, reaching up. Stupid things.
The nine-year-old boy cannot quite decide what to do. When two them nearly caught him, the tree seemed to be the only choice, but now with darkness coming on he does not wish to remain up here surrounded by more and more of the things. The last time he was able to count them, there were twelve monster things, but since then many more have joined the party.
He does not wish to climb any higher, as he is afraid of heights, and he is not the best tree climber in the world, and there is absolutely no way of telling just how much longer this tree is going to be standing here. A whole bunch of times he has nearly slipped and fallen down to the mad monster party below. Oh, if he could only climb the way Dean does. Dean would be swinging from tree to tree making Tarzan yodels, mocking the creatures with his almost supernatural dexterity.
Dean is like a monkey, and Wooly is more like a rumbling tank. At least that is what Papa always says.
The tree shakes and yet again Wooly almost tumbles down ten feet to his horrific, ripping, tearing, and gnawing doom. The things are slow and clumsy, but they are incredibly strong. When two or more attack the tree at once, they actually make the tree shudder and lurch. Already they have splintered and ripped away all the lower branches.
The lowest branch now is about seven feet above the ground, and Wooly’s feet were on it only a few minutes before. Now he is about eighteen feet above the ground and this is a relatively small tree, only about a foot around at its base, with hardly any higher branches thick enough for his weight.
Looking about himself, the boy notices that a slim branch extends relatively near a second-floor window of the Barnes’ house. Normally Wooly would be too terrified to go out on such a slim limb, but right now his fear of heights ranks distinctly and distantly behind his fear of flesh-eating zombies.
Yes, that is what they are. There is no doubt about it. Wooly had always known that monsters were real. He knew grown-ups lied. Wooly had seen so many monsters in his life that these zombies beneath him are hardly a surprise. He had once seen Bigfoot lurking in the trees across the street, late at night, and another time he saw someone floating by the house at night, with great flapping wings.
Now the zombie below are frustrated and ripping at each other. At first Wooly watched the horror-fest below, because it was fascinating. But after he threw up the first time, he will not allow himself to watch them ripping pieces off each other. They are groaning up at him, like they are begging him to jump down on them.
They are making him so angry. He wants to punch them, desperately he wants to fight with them, the ugly things, the stupid things.
The tree shudders and there is a loud crack of wood. Again Wooly nearly loses his perch as his body lurches violently back and forth. The things below seem to understand that they might be able to shake their chew-toy down.
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