The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 5

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(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part FourPart Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Five:…)

In Lovecraft’s work, he writes about ‘that Innsmouth look,’ the appearance people had in a town that had been cross-breeding with undersea monstrosities for generations, giving them a greasy, big-eyed demeanor, slimy and aquatic, and an occasional extra finger.

So let’s say the liquor store was full of people with ‘that Tompkins look.’  Members of the Cannibal Class.  Suits, beards, man-buns, stylized glasses that they probably don’t even need, and hunger, blank indifferent hunger stirring behind their glassy zombie eyes.  Christ, they frighten me.  More than I even frighten myself.

Anna takes point, leading us through the liquor store at a slow, precise pace.  It’s quiet…quiet as the grave, one could say, quiet as the dead themselves whispering through the cemetery grass.  One of the Cannibal Class plucks a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue from a shelf and the ring of its glass against other nearby bottles nearly makes me jump out of my skin.  Anna shoots me a look that I read to be a kind of scolding, a way of letting me know to keep my shit together, and I nod my agreement.  I can’t be like this, in this place.  Scanners outside, zombies within…no, no, this is no place for a civilized man, anymore.

Or maybe this is the next step of civilization.  American Capitalism taken to its own dark extreme.  Maybe I’m the uncivilized man, in this position.  Maybe I’m the backwards man, the artifact of a lost era…

I don’t believe in God, but I pray that this isn’t the case.

We come to a display of scotches.  Five shelves tall, it’s loaded with every overpriced single malt a bespoke-suited monster could want to guzzle down.  I have nothing against scotch, I should mention, only against its price–but this is on a very different level even than what I was used to.  There’s a bottle of Macallan 12 being sold for $166.60.  I won’t afflict your mind by mentioning the price of the Johnny Walker Blue, save to say there are four digits before the decimal.

“Well, this is fucking absurd,” I mutter.

“Shut up,” Anna replies.

“This is highway robbery.  Shouldn’t the scanner-cop-thing be in here arresting these zombies?”

“Shut the hell up!”

“They’re trying to deprive of us good whiskey!  Us and every poor, struggling human like us!  These price-gouging fiends are shaking us down, good working people and artists, keeping our palms spread against the wall, running our damned pockets, and you want me to stay calm!?”

I realize, at that point, that the hungry eyes of the zed populace have all found us and that I have, in fact, drawn a modicum of attention to myself.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned to do in my life, it’s to mortify, terrify, and discomfort droves of people, to afflict the careless masses, to get the mass and herd of mankind to give wide berth.

“‘s the aliens!” I scream, grabbing a bottle of Macallan and waving it around, “the damned aliens shrieking in my head!  I’m mad as a tinfoil hatter!  I’ve blocked out all reception, buzzing homeworld messages lost in space!”  I grab a second bottle, too, because why not?  The zed seem to be parting, their eyes suddenly wary of the shrieking mad homeless man invading their store.  I stagger forward, slurring, and head toward the door, daring the cashiers or customers to stop me in my rabid, mouth-foaming theft.  “Animals!  You’re all animals!  Feasting, fucking, fighting, look at you,” I pause to make eyes at one zed in particular, one who sweats awkwardness and stares at me like I’m a zoo animal out of its cage, “you…” I growl, “you…have got something in your teeth.”

He covers his mouth, pushing his body back against a display of quintuply-filtered, overpriced vodka.

Of course, I should’ve known better than to press my luck.

“Wait!” one zed yells, “I know that guy!  I saw him walk into an apartment earlier!  He’s not really homeless!”

Anna sighs.  “You idiot.”

The sweating zed in front of me shifts.  I watch fear drain from his face, replaced by a smirking confidence.  He  knows, now, that I’m not nearly as crazy as I put off, that I’m not that different from him…closer to the fringes, sure, closer to The Edge, but…not that different…no…not different enough, by far.

I gulp.  “Ms. Bradbury,” I squeak, voice quieter than usual and at a higher pitch, “I believe I may have got us into a situation.”

Her shotgun appears in her hand.  “No shit.”

“My deepest apologies.”

The zed surge forward, hands reaching toward us–Christ, it’s like we’re the last toys on the shelves of a Christmas Eve sale, the way they come at us, like we’re their last hope of pretending intimacy to each other, of acting like they still in some way care.  I clutch my bottles of scotch close and pray for a quick end.  Pray that they break my neck or slit my throat before they start eating.

Anna squeezes the trigger of her gun and sends one of the zombies to the ground, his finely tailored shirt ruined by his own blood.  In an instant, the other zed turn on him, falling on his half-dead form with wide, starving mouths.  Jesus.  These fuckers are eager enough just to eat their own kind.

And the sounds…the sounds!–the greedy smack of bloodied lips and wet squelch of raw feast–I hear them over the dying zed’s screams, so crisp and awful they are to my ears.  The monsters, the goddamned monsters, they’ve forgotten all about us!  They’re so excited to have someone to eat, even one of their own, that they’ve left the two of us standing there, unharmed, while they rip and tear at their own species!

Anna grabs my arm and drags me for the exit, “We’re not off the hook, yet.”

“What?”

“Shit!”

The store owner leaps over the counter and sends us stumbling.  He’s a large, salt-of-the-earth type man, dark hair and sweat-smelling, a long-suffering small business owner.  He should be on our side, dammit, and yet there he is, shoving me into a wall of fine bourbons and pouncing on Anna.  She struggles with her gun, using its long barrel and her own locked elbows to keep his gnashing teeth at bay, inches from her face.  He screams, spitting with every word: “FOOLS!  HELP ME DEAL WITH THESE NONBELIEVERS!” (I’ll cut the caps, of course, but know that they are there, in spirit): “Progressives!  Socialists!  You heard what they said!  They want to lower the prices, leave the businesses gutted!  They’ll raise your taxes, they will!  They’ll raise the minimum wage!  Kill them!”

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thesrhughes

I'm a writer of horror, dark sci-fi, and dark fantasy.