The chainsaw felt heavy in her hands, of course it would, it was a nice piece of machinery. She smelled like Vicks. She rubbed the stuff on her chest and under her nose, it helped her asthmatic self breathe, but also masked her natural scent. She huffed in the methanol fumes and started walking towards the courthouse. At 3 AM the building was abandoned, except for some sleepy eyed night watchman, she practically strolled in the front door. It only took two well-placed hits to fell the drowsy guard, she tied him up and put him in a janitorial closet. Her combat boots clicked on the marble stairs and she let the chainsaw drag just enough to make it screech. She felt like all those lunatics in every horror movie she’d ever seen, somehow it made sense, after all that had happened. She propped herself up in the mayor’s chair, it was big and leather, obviously, it was made for a man’s man, someone who went hunting and hung deer heads on his den wall. When he walked into his office 4 hours later, she would be a misplaced sight in that hulking seat, especially with the chainsaw resting on her thighs.
Four days earlier Victoria Cahill might have been mistaken for any other alternative 20 something, working her way through life at the local Goodwill, placing the threadbare jackets on racks and organizing used sports equipment into large piles, next to abandoned VHS tapes and VCRs. Victoria’s peroxide hair with awkward DIY multicolored highlights, was almost as ridiculous as the collection of assorted buttons she’d covered her matte blue work vest in: “I’m with stupid,” “Kiss me I’m pregnant,” “My Cat Eats Balls,”. . . ect. She was as clichéd as the morons she hated. She smoked Camel Crush cigarettes, because she liked a little menthol kick, and she secretly carried her inhaler everywhere with her because she couldn’t actually take in oxygen without wheezing most of the time. But asthma wasn’t bad ass. She was bad ass, in her fucking imagination. Victoria would scan items and look carefully at the assholes in her line, buying second hand massagers or a rare decent piece of vinyl. She would look at them, and think about what the consequences would be if she pulled out the cash drawer and slammed it into their bland faces. There wasn’t even a good reason for wanting to beat the shit out of everyone who came in to browse the discards of the world, she just wanted to do it, just to shake things up. Sometimes when things were slow she’d look at the vintage pornography they had in the curtained back room and masturbate out of boredom. That was life in Sweetwater, TX, something like a Norman Rockwell painting with trailers and rednecks.
Victoria went to work that Tuesday like every other stupid work day, late and half dressed. Her torn, faded black Misfits shirt was holding on by the hinge of a safety pin and her skirt was fastened with the same utensil. She had on a duck taped pair of ratty combat boots and about ten different necklaces, all a lovely contrast to her Goodwill sales vest. She approached the door and pulled to open it, the thing wouldn’t budge. Someone had locked it, or no one had shown up at 7 to unlock it. That was strange in itself, Jim was opening, he loved this job more than jacking off to head shots of Bea Arthur, and he was always early. Victoria pulled out her key and let herself in. The lights were on, but the store was quiet and the hair on Victoria’s arms started to prickle.
“Jim!” she shouted through the racks of merchandise. After several minutes when no one answered her calls, she started heading towards the employee office at the back of the building. A few of the fluorescent lights flickered over the sports equipment, giving off an unsettling strobe affect. It was half past 9 and there was no reason Jim should have turned on the lights but left the store unopened. Victoria caught sight of a bag of rusty golf clubs and quickly selected one with the biggest head. The spastic lights sputtered above her as she lifted the club in a defensive position, ready to swing at anyone or anything who wasn’t Jim. Creeping towards the office, she noticed a series of dark stains flashing in the dimming light. They could have been anything, but she had a nagging feeling that they weren’t just some spilled condiment or beverage. A low moan escaped from the back room making her jump and she could see a shadow tracing the wall of the corridor to her right. It was hunched and moving strangely. Just as she motioned forward to peer more closely at the intruder, her phone started blaring “Guns of Brixton”. The shadow was suddenly upright and moving quickly in her direction. Victoria made a b-line for the exit, clutching the golf club tightly. She nearly swung the thing through the store window, but managed instead to punch out the front door with minimal damage. Once she had sprinted a couple hundred yards away, and was thoroughly suffocating on her own lungs, she finally stopped to whip out her inhaler. The phone started shrieking again, making her wince, she picked it up this time with an annoyed growl.
“Vic!” her boyfriend Max’s voice echoed over the line, which was coated with slight static.
“Max, what the fuck! You know I’m at work right now, er or I’m supposed to be at work.”
“You’re not at work?” he asked in a concerned, insistent voice.
“No, something weird was going on over there. The doors were locked but the lights were on. I couldn’t find Jim, but someone was definitely there. I was about to see who, when you fucking called me and got the dude’s attention. I had to haul ass out of there!”
“Thank god your safe Vic!”
“What’s going on Max?” The words were barely out of her mouth before someone grabbed her shoulder.
Victoria spun on heel, wielding her weapon at something that could not be called a man. His face, or where his face had probably once been was just melted flesh and eye sockets, a gaping nose hole and tearing teeth. The face looked like it was still melting as it bent towards Victoria in slow motion and started chomping and clawing. She hit it over the back of the head, and it fell to the ground and started crawling towards her. She was caught off guard by its appearance, the twisted bubbles of skin, looking like a plastic burn victim of childhood doll torment. But Vic couldn’t stop herself now, she was beating it in the back of the head as it still struggled to move. She realized it was bleeding out the ear holes and that a gray matter started to leak from the top of its skull, she kept pounding though, bringing the club down over and over and over, until there was nothing but mush in the concrete. Victoria stumbled back from the thing, clenching the grip on her tool. She collapsed to her knees and noticed now that there was blood all over her hands and flecked across her face and hair. Scrambling on the pavement, she found the phone she’d dropped when her assailant grabbed her. Max was still shouting on the other line.
“VICTORIA!” he screamed over the receiver.
“Max, I-I-uh-I just killed something, I don’t know someone, I don’t know something. Max, what the FUCK is going on!”
“Oh my god Vicky! I heard something going on in the background, I didn’t know what was happening, are you alright?”
“No, I’m very fucking far from alright Max, what in-the-fucking-hell-fucking-fuck-is-going-on!”
“Where are you, baby?”
“I’m somewhere down the street from the Goodwill, in like a side alley or something. That thing must’ve followed me out of the store . . .”
“Stay where you are, I’m on my way.”
“Max what’s-” Max had already hung up the phone.
Victoria sat in the alley, a few feet away from the mutilated creature she’d just beat the brains out of. She pulled her pale legs close to her chest and felt like this was all wrong, or maybe it was all right. She’d been watching horror movies since she was a kid, she was a professed zombie expert, and she felt like a bad ass in her head, even though she had been puffing on her inhaler like it was a cherried joint. She just killed some kind of minion of the undead, she told herself, it was not a person, it was a science experiment gone wrong. But how? This was fucking fantasy, this did not happen, not to her, not to anyone. This was some fucking Romero shit, and it was going down in Sweetwater, Texas.
Max pulled up in his old red Jeep Grand Cherokee. He opened the passenger side door and she jumped in without so much as a word. They drove in silence for a few minutes before Victoria felt that she was about to explode.
“Max, what the fuck. We’re in like a fucking horror comic. I just brained a zombie, what the hell is happening?”
“It wasn’t a zombie, or I don’t know it wasn’t like a fucking Romero and shit zombie, maybe Return of the Living Dead type zombie. But it’s just something really fucked up.”
“What do you mean ‘it’s just something really fucked up’, what are you talking about, why aren’t you telling me!”
“Look, you know my dad works at the courthouse, with like the mayor and all that shit, right?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Ok well yesterday he comes home all fucking freaked out, grabs my grandpa’s old shotgun, loads it up, tells my mom to bolt the doors, has me and my sister piling food and shit in the basement, and doesn’t say a fucking word about why. This morning he finally cracks, starts talking about some kind of bullshit plan that the mayor had, that’s gone total bat shit FUBAR. He’s basically mumbling incomprehensible gibberish and I had to smack him pretty fucking hard to get him out of it. He told me that there was this vaccination, this test batch, that one of the mayor’s bio scientist friends has come to him with. The mayor is up for re-election, but it’s more than that, they start talking about this thing taking him all the way to the White House, you know some political pull, from a fucking conspiracy movie. They couldn’t get the FDA on board to start testing the vaccine on humans though, so apparently the mayor held a conference yesterday, a conference that he did not attend, and he dosed the whole fucking bunch of people with the shit. That’s all my dad said, but from his reaction something’s gone fucking seriously wrong. The news started reporting strange attacks from ‘deformed individuals’ this morning, right around the time you went to work. That’s why I called you.”
Victoria was quiet, she had thought about all of this before, obviously not in a real life scenario, but to herself in like a horror movie kind of way. She’d always suspected the government would do shit like this to them one day or another, I mean fuck they released influenza on the fucking subway system just to see what would happen. They tested acid on unknowing soldiers to find out the affects. They were a bunch of crack pot giants pulling the wings off of flies and burning ants with a magnifying glass, of course their insects were actually people in a small trailer trash town like this.
“This is fucking insane Max,” she finally said.
“You don’t think I know that, Vic?”
“Is it contagious?”
“Jesus, Victoria, we’re not in a horror movie! How am I supposed to know that?”
“Well you’re dad sure seems to know a lot about this, let’s go ask him,” she answered in a calculated voice.
“My dad?! Vic, what the . . . what the fuck!”
“Max! We’re going to your house!” She jerked the wheel in his hands forcing him to make a right turn on the next street. Max pulled free from her grasp, but kept the car steering towards her ‘requested’ destination.
The house looked deserted, there were boards on the windows, the cars had been moved in front of the garage, forming a blockade, the door was reinforced with a steel cage bolted to the outside.
“Holy fuck, Max,” Victoria whispered. “When did your family go fucking survivalist psycho?”
“I told you, my dad came home yesterday and he just started putting this shit up. I’m not even sure if he slept at all.”
“So this is for real.”
“Yeah, it’s for real.”
Max guided Victoria into the steel cage, which he had to unlock from the inside in order to get to the front entrance. It looked like a shark cage, she didn’t even know where the hell you would find something like this in Sweetwater. Mr. Dixon must have been preparing for something like this for a while. Victoria had no idea what Max’s dad’s job actually was, she remembered he’d been a scientist for a bit when they were little, but now he held some kind of environmental lobbyist position at the courthouse. Assisting counsel with certain ecologically impacting projects, or anything that could potentially influence a biological crisis. It was all Japanese to her. When they walked into the house, the overwhelming smell of gunpowder smacked them in the face. The place appeared abandoned, the furniture had been toppled over to create a make shift barricade between the front door and the back of the house. No sign of life emerged.
“Mom!” Max shouted with a touch of worried inflection. “Brandy!”
No one answered.
“DAD, where are you!?” Max’s voice continued to rise until it was almost a shriek of panic. Victoria took his hand and squeezed. Then Mrs. Dixon emerged, covered in blood, holding a shotgun.
“M-mom,” Max faltered. “Mom, what’s happened, are you alright?” He rushed to her.
“Max!” she sobbed dropping the gun and embracing her son. “Max, your father . . . he attacked us!”
“What?! Where’s dad, mom?”
“He’s in the basement, so is Brandy,” she whispered the last part.
Max ran to the top of the basement stairs and let out an emotion ripping sob, Victoria saw him hit his knees and begin to cry. She looked at Mrs. Dixon, who stared blankly ahead, then turned to face her.
“Victoria,” she said pointedly. “You have blood in your hair. Would you like a towel?”
Victoria stared at the woman who was clearly covered in her husband and daughter’s blood and said,
“Sure, Mrs. Dixon.”
Max came away from the basement, a new look of hardened resolution on his face. He took his mother by the shoulders and shook her hard.
“What happened mom!?” he demanded. She looked at him sternly, then broke down into choking breaths and stifled whimpers.
“Yo-your father, he had become obsessed, turning the house inside out. He wouldn’t tell me everything, but I kept asking. Eventually he told me about the vaccine and the trouble with the people who had escaped from that conference the mayor organized. He told me everything, then he started acting strangely. His, his eyes started to roll back in his head, and he started foaming, you know like rabies foaming? at the mouth. Brandy, she went to help him. She thought he was having a stroke, and I rushed upstairs to call 911. Then I heard her scream.” Mrs. Dixon went quiet, and her eyes started to unfocus again, Max clapped his hands in her face and she looked up at him. “It was terrible Max, your father, he bit Brandy in the throat. He was . . . he was eating her. Then he came at me, but I had grandpa’s shotgun. It only took the one bullet. Pop!” she said. “Right in his face.” She was quiet again, though, Victoria noted a hint of pride evident in Mrs. Dixon for the act of recently killing her husband.
Victoria pulled Max away from his distraught mother, and hugged him close.
“Max, this is serious, we need to get out of here,” she said.
“And go where Vic?”
“We need to contact someone, the CDC or fuck I don’t know, the troops!”
“The fucking troops! Vic are you fucked in the head!?! You watch more horror movies than anyone I know, what happens when they call in the troops, the cavalry?”
“They nuke the town and blame a power plant explosion.”
“But you said, earlier, that we weren’t in a movie, Max. This is real.”
“You know, I don’t think I can handle real just yet, Vic. Horror movie, I can handle horror movie.” She nodded at him, understanding the implication of reality in this situation. Victoria flicked on the TV, Max said there had been news reports going on about the attacks and she wanted to get an update. The screen was static on several local stations, then she picked up a state feed. The well pressed woman seemed non-plussed as she was reading out an update on the terror in Sweetwater:
‘Today in Sweetwater, Texas, local officials have been dealing with a group of people who were unknowingly exposed to a large dose of radioactive material, during a routine geological dig. Apparently 47 individuals came in contact with a Radium mine, causing malformation and bouts of erratic insanity. Those involved began terrorizing the town of Sweetwater Texas earlier this morning, apparently the radiation mutated their brain chemistry causing them to react violently against the townspeople. The Mayor has been covering the unfortunate events over the last hour, he indicated that the incident had been contained and that those 47 in question had been detained. Whether or not they will recover is hazy. Roughly a dozen others were injured by the crazed individuals. The town is now returning to normal and Mayor Rooney is to thank for such quick and decisive actions. Thank you Mayor Rooney, back to you Roger.’
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Victoria spit.
“No,” Max answered. “I don’t think she is.”
“Max, there were people with melted fucking faces walking around trying to eat people!”
“And I think that can all be explained by some sort of geological field trip gone awry.”
“But your . . Dad!”
“Vic! I know! But they’re going to believe what’s easiest to believe!” Mrs. Dixon took Max by the shoulder and her face collided with his throat, tearing heartily through his esophagus and arteries. Max started gurgling blood in an attempt to scream, but Mrs. Dixon had always taken very good care of her teeth and they worked fast to dislodge her son’s neck.
Victoria fell backwards away from the sight of her boyfriend being eaten by his own mother. She was scuttling across the carpet, panting in terror, when her elbow met the twenty-two Mrs. Dixon had been toting earlier. It took Victoria a moment to raise the rifle at Max’s mom and pull out a clean shot, rupturing her cranium, leaving her twitching next to Max’s lifeless body.
“Holy shit,” she muttered, looking at all the blood spreading out before her. How the fuck? Mr. Dixon, he could’ve been exposed to the vaccine at any time, but Mrs. Dixon? how had she become a part of this? How did she turn? How was this spread? Victoria looked at Max, he was dead, as dead as a fucking doornail, then she turned her eyes to Mrs. Dixon. She moved her body over with the shotgun and began to examine her a little more closely. That’s when she found what she was looking for: a large human shaped bite in her arm. This was classic zombie, even if it wasn’t exactly zombie. “I should have fucking known,” she said to herself. “Fucking bites.” She looked at the massacred bodies of her boyfriend and best friend and that of his family. This wasn’t a horror movie, this was a simple fucking case of some douche bag looking to get his slimy fingers into a more influential pie. This whole family had been slaughtered with one man’s insidious actions. It made Victoria very fucking angry. She picked up the shotgun and headed for the shark cage front door.
For the next day Victoria went out at night, hunting the stragglers from the mayor’s experiment. She broke into a local store that carried ammo and hardware, filling a big black bag with some fun tools. She’d never really thought about breaking the law before, not like this, but suddenly nothing seemed to matter the way it used to. She learned that the mayor had put all the ‘exposed’ out of their misery, but he didn’t know what was happening to those poor bastards who’d survived their bites and not reported them. It took her about two nights, but she managed to clean out the town as best as she could figure, ridding it of the last few creatures. Max’s family’s death was blamed on the same radiation bullshit as everything else. It was probably the late night memorials that kept coming on for the ‘victims of the Sweetwater Tragedy’ that finally snapped little Victoria. Or maybe it was braining that first zombie, watching her boyfriend have his throat torn out, or knowing that there was really only one person to blame for everything. Maybe that was why she packed her shit and picked up that big beautiful chainsaw and headed towards the courthouse at 3 AM.
They would say it was a madman, the one who hacked the mayor into neat pieces and stacked him on his own desk. They would say a lot of things, like how the radiation might still be leaking from somewhere, creating maniacs out of regular everyday citizens. The news would cover the event for a while, but no suspect would turn up. The video cameras had all been smashed, the archives destroyed. There was no one with a motive, the cops would insist fervently. Children were kept in at night, and parents spoke in hushed voices about moving to another city. Then they would stop by their local Goodwill and that punk girl who rang up things so slowly would give them a big toothy smile, she never smiled before, but now she did, she smiled like all the chaos that occurred since the incident was just a part of her precious plan. And maybe it was. From now on people moved quickly away from that girl though, because there was something not quite right about her.
By Emily Smith-Miller