“How long are you planning on staying with Carolyn?”
“I don’t know, mom. I don’t have anywhere else to go right now.”
“Well it isn’t good for you to stick around and influence Joey.”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and pressed it against the bed. Two deep breaths. That’s all I needed to calm down. The humid, musty air of the room I’d been staying in filled my lungs. I let the breath out in an even, slow exhale. I held back a cough, fought the urge to slam the phone down and light a cigarette, then brought it back up to my mouth.
“I know, mom. I’m trying to find somewhere else to go.”
“Well, have you visited dad since you got back?”
My right eye twitched. The onslaught of negative questions and comments from my mother always did that to me. On average I could make it through more than three. I wasn’t on my game today.
“I saw him last week.”
“For how long?”
Fuck, did it never end with her? “I was there at least an hour,” I lied. “Maybe an hour and a half.”
She was silent on the other end, then, “Beatrice, I have to go. Something is wrong outside.”
Mom would never cut a conversation short unless something was very, very wrong. “What is it? Do you need me to come over?”
“I need to go. I’m going to call the police. I’ll call you back.”
Click. She was gone.
Downstairs Joey was throwing his coveted tennis ball against the mudroom screen. It made it rattle. The noise irritated me. It dug into my ears, made me want to scream. Accompanied with Carolyn’s occasional, noncommittal shout from the kitchen commanding him to stop…yeah, I was going to lose it.
This was my new prison. Instead of sand and tent walls I got cardboard boxes of Joey’s old stuff piled to the ceiling in the guest bedroom. Instead of a blazing hot sky above me I had blotches of gray clouds and rain.
Carolyn had never cleaned this room. They never needed it. Just a junk room. Every year she boxed up Joey’s old stuff and saved it. What was she holding onto? The idea that Joey’s father would come back and they’d have another kid? That the toys and clothes would go to use again?
Fucking pathetic. Holding onto memories was useless. Weak. I pulled out my zippo and flicked it open. The flame came to life and wavered in my breath. I flipped it open and closed, staring out the window.
This place would blaze up in a heartbeat. All I had to do was toss the lighter into the stack of Joey’s million identical, equally useless crayon drawings and watch it go. It wasn’t just the junk that would go. Those pitiful memories would be gone, too. I’d be releasing Carolyn from whatever prison these objects held her in. When they burned up she’d be free. Joey would be free, too, as he got older. He wouldn’t be tied down to these objects that told him who he was when he was young. What he wanted to be.
Yeah. He’d be free, too.
Footsteps. Someone was coming up the stairs. I swung my legs over the bed. My boots thumped loudly on the scratched, warped oak floor.
“Bea, I’m going to the doctor. Can you watch Joey?”
Carolyn was in the doorway. Her forearm was wrapped in a fresh roll of gauze. Red was already seeping through where the bite was. One of Joey’s friends bit her, but she said it was fine. It’d been hours and it hadn’t stopped bleeding. She held it close to her chest, elevating it. Her skin was pallid.
I offered first aid. She denied it. As far as I was concerned, I was off the hook.
My first impulse was to say no, I won’t watch your brat kid. But to her, the woman who let me stay in her house, I said, “Yeah, of course. When will you be back?”
“An hour, maybe two if it’s busy. Everyone has that flu you know, so it might be bad at the hospital.”
Carolyn knew I hated kids. She blamed it on my inability to have any of my own. That wasn’t true, but no matter what anyone said they’d side with Carolyn on the subject. That tension between us became tangible each time she asked me to watch Joey. We knew what one another was thinking.
At least she thought she did.
“Well he’s playing in the kitchen. I told him not to go in the front yard. Watch for him, though. You know how he is,” she said.
Carolyn turned to leave. She clenched the doorframe as a fit of coughs overtook her. A splatter of blood hit the ground in front of her. I saw, but looked away when she turned to see if I’d caught it.
“See you later,” I said, turning my head to the window. I flicked the lighter on and off.
Joey was a bad kid. Not as bad as I had been growing up. Fights in schools, lying, disobeying his mom. Those were bad things, so Joey was a bad kid in my book. Whenever Carolyn left me to watch him she came home surprised at how well behaved he was.
Why was he so good with me?
He wasn’t. Like I said, he was a bad kid. When Carolyn asked me to watch Joey I didn’t really watch him. We both knew the policy. When mom left and it was just us, he could do whatever he wanted inside as long as there was no evidence afterwards. The only exception was that he couldn’t go in the front yard because he would inevitably leave the door open.
Carolyn was worried he would be kidnapped or run over. I just hated it when the door was left open. It irritated me as much as his tennis-ball-mudroom game did. Something about him making the house insecure irked me. His lack of consideration for anyone else around him.
I was in my cardboard prison cleaning my last prized position—a bead blasted Glock—when I heard nothing. Nothing was a bad sound. When I glanced out the window to check the backyard Joey wasn’t there. I didn’t hear anything. No cars, no kids playing. I reassembled my gun and put it in its lockbox. Carolyn’s rule. No guns around Joey. He’d tell if he saw me.
When I went to the head of the stairs my fists tightened. The front door was wide fucking open. He knew the rules when he was with me and he stuck to them. He knew what happened when he broke them, too.
I took four steps down the stairs when I heard something. Meaty, gristly noises. Popping. At the landing of the stairs to the left was the entryway to the kitchen. That’s where the noise came from. I took the steps slower, getting ready to catch Joey in whatever bad act he was in.
But Joey was dead.
I stood in the entryway of the kitchen. Beheld the sight before me. Mr. Carlson, the next door neighbor, was leaning over Joey. Eating him. The noises were of him ripping parts out of Joey’s chest cavity. Each time he jerked a rib up it popped.
Blood was pooling around Joey. It seeped into the crevices of the tile floor, spider webbing outward. Signs of a struggle, swirls and smears of blood, started at the mudroom and ended at the scene. Mr. Carlson’s body was burned beyond what any human could handle and remain standing. His skin was black and crispy from his head to his toes. Clothing fused with skin.
The scent hit me. Fresh blood. Organs. I was back at the campsite with my dad after he killed a deer, helping him load it into the truck.
Mr. Carlson saw me. He was getting up, his body creaking, pieces of him sloughing off and slapping against the floor. His guttural wheeze and foggy, white eyes made me think one word.
My gut told me to kill Mr. Carlson. I listened. Carolyn’s favorite cast iron frying pan rested on the counter to my left. I grabbed it, hefted it over my head, and with both hands I brought it down onto the monstrosity’s head. The top half of his skull flattened. Viscous chunks of brains squeezed through the fractures in his skull. His eyes popped. His groans stopped. Mr. Carlson dropped to his knees before falling backward onto Joey’s decimated corpse.
I was breathing hard. The frying pan was heavy in my hands. I backed out of the kitchen and shut the front door, locking the deadbolt.
Joey was twitching. He was sitting up. His chest was gaping open, loopy intestines sliding out of his body, slapping onto the kitchen floor as he tried to roll over. A wave of blood came out of his chest. He was up fast.
I gripped the frying pan and brought it towards his head at a side angle. It brought him down, but he was still moving. There was a dent in his face, smashing all his features to one side, but it didn’t hit his brain. I hit him again. Harder. His skull cracked. His neck snapped. The force of my strike knocked him into the dining room table.
I was panting. My chest was tight. I just killed my step-sister’s son. And our neighbor.
I waited for either of them to move. After a minute the silence in the kitchen was interrupted by the sound of a car crash outside and a long scream.
The frying pan was heavy. I set it on the counter and went upstairs for my gun.
Whatever this was, I was going to survive.
No one would get in my way.
I wrote this story last year and decided to clean it up and share with you guys. Blaze deserved some attention, especially since Cyrus has been in the limelight so much. As you remember from The Undead Situation Blaze shared her first zombie experience in the house in Monroe. I wanted to create the story in detail from her perspective. I thought the title “Blaze Wright’s First Kill” was the perfect title since it was her first zombie kill, though I did think it was slightly misleading since she has killed before. Just not zombies.