Author: Verity Strange PM
In the hills of California, the post-Gold-Rush stupor has been punctuated by the most unlikely of plagues: zombies. Can an eclectic band of misfits survive? Read on for steampunk, action, adventure, and more.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Western - Words: 1,445 - Published: 06-24-12 - id: 3035529
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Through half-awake eyes, Sarah saw a sunrise spurt over the desert hills. But the sudden streaks of red and gold through the cloudless dawn weren't what woke her. Nor did her companion for that night, a balding and portly politician stopped in San Jose by the arduous campaign trail. No, she awoke to an all-too-familiar sound: screams.
That'll be Mama, thought Sarah. At this point into the game, she could almost manage sarcasm. That woman screams worse than a half-eaten sow.Which Mama might well resemble, now. Although Sarah doubted it—it'd take something far more fierce than a diseased corpse to finish off Mama. Maybe several diseased corpses.
The potential lieutenant-governor of California stirred and muttered. "Get'em round the back, Carlos," he grunted, then sprung up sitting. "Dammit. How long?"
Sarah was already out of bed and pulling on her bloomers. "Just began. I reckon we've got thirty seconds." She rifled through her narrow closet.
LG swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He appeared to still be a bit tipsy from the previous night, lurching towards his trunk in a manner not unlike that of the monsters outside the pine door. Sarah sighed and turned back to her wardrobe.
The lock proved too much a challenge to him. "Got a pistol in there."
The woman in the wardrobe laughed darkly. "That's real sweet, Mister Lieutenant-Governor," she said, "but I'll stick with my own arms." She stepped out, now clad in a chemise over the bloomers. In her hands she clutched what an intrepid safari guide or savannah poacher would identify as an elephant hunting rifle.
In three brisk strides, Sarah cut across the room to the door. Mr. LG braced himself against the trunk. His hand scrabbled for the latch. The din outside the room grew louder. Thumps like pans beating out a rug. Were there more of them? Were they increasing in number already? Sarah's iron constitution melted at the edges: it was always so much harder when the head you had to blow off was that of your best friend. Besides, if the collers got anyone in the whorehouse, the victims wouldn't be turned—not just yet. Better pray they had the sense to end themselves quietly and with dignity.
The thumps turned to scratching as the monsters hit the door. In the distance, the screaming had died down a bit, with the occasional terrified shriek penetrating the rest of the ruckus. Sarah pressed herself behind the door, counting softly.
She didn't finish—at that moment, a grey hand burst through the pine door.
"Dammit!" she swore. "Now who's gonna patch up my door?" The town carpenter had had a run-in with the collers last week.
Sarah did not know how much the collers could hear, but the creatures outside the door reacted to her voice. Instead of opening the door like dignified ladies and gentlemen, the beast pounded and smashed the pine door. She never understood how they had such incredible strength—she had smacked walls and coffin lids with all her might, but never made so much as a dent (unless you counted the ones in her bloodied knuckles). But these beasts—which, by every right, should be crumbling to bits—seemed blessed with an unholy strength. The same strength let them bite through bone.
As the first head poked through, Sarah let loose. Her rifle fired. With as much practice as she had, Sarah Freeman was a true shot: her first bullet blew the top right off that creature. Her eyes narrowed as several more spilled out on top of the corpse of their companion.
Five. Two female, three male. All partially intact. She carefully picked off the front two, and had to reload.
As she paused to refill the magazine, a shot burst from the far side of the room. It seemed Mr. Lieutenant Governor had located his pistol. His bullet went wide, grazing a coller on the shoulder and entering the wall a foot above Sarah's head.
"You sit tight there, Mister Lieutenant Governor," she growled. The shock from the near miss had caused her to jump, spilling bullets everywhere. She cursed and scrambled to pick them up.
The collers turned their unseeing eyes to face Sarah. "No," she murmured under her breath. The two males, both former clients, would do well enough. But the female—
Sarah gritted her teeth. She could cry about it later. Right now, there was work to be done. She fired into the open maws before her, blasting each into oblivion. Through the smoky air, she heard another scream.
"Come on," she said. She held out her hand, which the prospective lieutenant-governor took gratefully. The two hopped over the corpses in the doorway and barreled down the hall.
As Sarah had expected, Mama had things under control. More or less. It is hard to call any situation regarding collers as "controlled," but at least nobody was screaming or getting her face pulled off. The madame had a pickax, which she used as both a mace and a pinion. The shredded remains of collers littered the lobby of the whorehouse. The other four girls, Sarah noted thankfully, were intact. No bite marks to be seen. They had linked arms and—Sarah memorized this sight as to laugh about it later—kicked a few of the paunchier beasts into submission. It looked as though Emily had hacked the head off one with a stiletto she kept in her boot.
Sarah clicked the rifle and dispatched the last two struggling collers. Now, it was time for damage control.
"Right," Mama said, brushing bone and sputum off her skirts. "You girls know the drill. Emily, get the mop and bucket. You three, drag the mess out into the streets. Lordy, did they get any of those boys from last night? You better see if they left a number. Check their wallets, too. No, Jolene, let me see the wallets. Sarah, see to your guest, he's looking bored."
Bored? The lieutenant governor looked anything but. Nevertheless, Sarah took him by the arm. It wouldn't be the first time one of them had lost money by a john sneaking out in the middle of a coller raid.
"I hope you enjoyed your stay here, Mr. Lieutenant-Governor," Sarah said. She turned on the charm, hoping that Mr. LG liked his women half-dressed and covered in blood. The gentleman smiled and coughed politely. "A bit of excitement does a man good," he said gallantly. He could be as charismatic as any professional companion. Prostitution and politics: the two oldest professions have quite a bit in common.
Sarah smiled and slipped her hand around his shoulder. As he reached into his pocket for cash, she withdrew her hand. It came back slimy and covered in blood. She glanced at his shoulder and saw the telltale bite-marks.
Quietly, so as not to alarm him, Sarah shifted her weight so the rifle was cocked against her hip. "My goodness, Mr. Lieutenant-Governor, that can't be another one!"
He spun around, clutching the wad of cash. Sarah whipped the rifle upwards and fired a single bullet into his brain.
"Ugh," said Emily, brushing grey matter from her forearm. "I just finished mopping there."
Sarah bent forward and pried the cash from his fingers. "Couldn't be helped."
As she walked towards her room, she passed off the madame's share to Mama. "I'm gonna need that door patched again."
"Hang up those silk curtains," Mama replied. "The boys like those. Desert Tiger. They want something exotic, don't you know."
Sarah picked her way over the wreckage of the door. It was gruesome, but she noticed less and less. Her eyes flicked over the corpses until they came to rest on one: a female, slim, still clad in what must have once been elegant finery. The face was mangled beyond recognition, but Sarah could not forget those undead eyes and their carnivorous stare. They had once been so fair and blue, she thought. The same blue eyes as the girl's brother. Timothy and Kathleen Brown.
Sarah knelt beside the body. She carefully folded the stiffened hands in a posture of repose. Her brother would have wanted as much. Sarah figured she could manage this small gesture to the only lover she ever loved back.
Revenge didn't even cover it. Someday, she hoped, this terrible plague would run its course. Hopefully, it wouldn't consume all of humanity along the way.