This was written for the Fall Flash Festival, hosted/judged by Eric Martell and Daniel Swensen. As we self-published authors can do, I’ve also submitted it for consideration for J.A.Mes Press’ Halloween Anthology.
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Dead Leaves, 1000 words, by Marissa Ames
Trees rustled overhead, and dry, papery leaves tumbled over Angie’s face. White-gold sunlight angled beneath the canopy. A chill afternoon wind brought the aroma of dust and impending frost.
Angie rolled her head to the side, collecting autumn leaves in the congealed blood where the bullet had grazed her temple. She groaned at her crippling headache.
Something groaned in response.
Motionless beneath the autumn carpet, Angie glanced around. Heavy feet moved through the leaves with a rhythmic step-shuffle. Her fingers flexed, longing for her Glock. A half-decayed man, with scalp and hair hanging from the right side of his skull, ambled among the twice-dead.
The wind blew through the grove, stripping leaves from her inert body.
The zombie whirled around. Milky eyes fixed on her. Twisting its body until it faced her, it shuffled between leaf-covered mounds of rotting flesh.
Angie held her breath as the zombie swayed above her. It opened its mouth and groaned. Flecks of rotten lip fell off and skittered down the channel between her nose and cheek. Angie gagged and coughed. The zombie flinched, tilted its head, and bent down to observe her. They stared, her blue gaze to his milky white, as she tried to keep from blinking. The zombie stood up straight with a creaking of shrunken tendons. Groaning softly through the hole in its throat, it turned away.
She closed her eyes against the nauseating sunlight as the walking corpse explored the killing field. Shivering within her M65 field jacket, she slowly lifted an arm. In response to the rustle of leaves, the zombie turned again. It groaned in acknowledgement. Angie wiggled her fingers, but the corpse ignored her and continued its exploration.
With her eyes on the zombie, she sat up and pushed the leaves away. It did not respond as she stood, staggering from a sudden rush of vertigo. Angie widened her stance and cupped her hands over her eyes, smearing sticky blood over her face. She pulled her hands back and cursed at the gash across her palm.
She pressed her palm to her mouth, licking the salty, coppery blood away. The flavor soothed her, calmed her headache.
With her lips sealed over the wound, she shuffled between zombie bodies, toward the sunset.
This morning the unit had traveled east from the barn, following the old country road beside the broken-down white slat fence, keeping their guns trained before them. The old maple groves had been a refuge during the summer, unpopulated before the outbreak and free of zombies after. Now the old groves were no safer than the rest of Vermont. Angie’s unit, determined to defend their home, had used the most agile of them as bait. He had ducked between rotting hands before the rest of the unit opened fire on the herd of undead.
Sweat beaded on her forehead and she shivered beneath her jacket. The sun winked between maple trunks as she trudged down the abandoned road. Her old black combat boots plowed through mounds of red and orange, shoving the leaves aside. She pulled her hand away to cough then pressed her lips back against the freshly bleeding gash.
Gray against the flame of autumn, the barn rose higher on the other side of the little hill. She blinked her blurry eyes, watching the wooden shingles bob up, then down, then up higher in rhythm to her rough gait.
Piles of blackened wood lay around the barn, where the unit had burned the twice-dead to avoid contamination. An old Dutch oven sat on a rock beside the dedicated cooking fire. Nobody roamed the yard.
Angie coughed as she pressed on the latch. She rolled her neck back and forth, shivering when the wind dipped its chill fingers into her coat and down her back. Grabbing the handle with two sticky hands, she pulled the barn door open.
Sleeping bags carpeted the middle of the barn, well away from the walls. Angie found Todd’s bag, right beside the 4×4 support beam where he liked to hang his .357. She shrugged out of her jacket and sank to her knees. Pulling back the ripped and patched flap, she slid into the bag and buried her face in the quilting. It smelled like him. Angie shoved the fabric against her nose and inhaled deeply.
The door creaked open, and the last of the day’s light peeked in. Ten living bodies shadowed the entrance. Angie listened for the slick sound of cowboy boots along the barn floor. Todd led the unit into the barn, sliding his .357 from his shoulder as the door creaked shut.
The wooden stock of the gun tapped against the 4×4. Todd’s big, callused hand shifted on the beam as he kicked his boots off. Sliding against the beam, Angie made room for the man had promised to love her forever.
Who had promised to never hurt her.
Todd knelt down, and his hand landed on her feverish arm. He froze. Inhaling a slow, cautious breath, he slid his rough palm against her sweaty skin, stopping at her paracord bracelet he had given her months ago.
He traced the bite mark just below the bracelet, his fingers glancing over the edges of dying flesh. Todd’s hand trembled.
It trembled just as it had this morning, when he had witnessed the bite. When the zombie had grabbed her wrist and sank its teeth into her flesh. His hands trembled so much that the barrel of the .357 jerked wildly as he took aim. Todd’s eyes clenched shut. He pulled the trigger.
The bullet had only grazed her.
Todd now yelled and jerked back, but Angie grabbed his wrist. She held tight with newfound strength and vigor, with muscles not yet decayed, in the most dangerous phase of the transformation. The phase Todd had tried to avoid by shooting her when she was first bitten.
Todd twisted and fought as the unit scrambled about in the darkness.
Gunpowder flashed as her teeth sank into his skin.
Read other stories from this contest here: