Hard Boiled Brains, Part 2
As I walked down Del Playa heads turned, crossed eyes leering at me as if I was a piece of raw meat. It was an uncomfortable feeling so I double-timed it away from home.
It was actually a very nice night out-- if you forgave the stench of stale beer and the crowds of kids staggering around. They traveled in packs. Some would stumble into others, taking both to the ground, while others tried to simply maneuver the crooked streets on their own. I continued down Del Playa, ignoring the heads as they turned and oblivious to the crowd that slowly followed behind me.
An oncoming personage was now mirroring me-- mocking me, I thought-- and made to cut me off each time I aimed to go around.
Some asshole just looking to pick a fight.
I stopped to glare and he came head on, or as straight as a drunk could manage.
“Listen here, Jack –“
A pair of hands cut me off and darted straight for my neck. I ducked under and brushed him past, then I turned back furious.
“What the hell’s gotten in to you, guy!”
His only response was a slow, guttural groan.
For the first time I noticed the crowd that had gathered behind me, now positioned directly behind my aggressor. Thirty, maybe fifty of them, slowly shuffling right towards me. The whole road was covered.
Then I noticed the roar. It was a subtle but definite drone, like a loud noise coming from far away. Only they were close. Very close. And getting closer.
As they neared I noticed the strange similarities. They all staggered with an awkward gait and looked like they had been to hell and back, but something else aroused a sentiment of distress I had never felt before.
Their shirts were filthy with spilt substances: some yellow with beer, some brown with vomit, but all of them, each and every one of them, splattered a sanguine red.
Good God! I thought. Have they all been feasting on brains tonight?
Two hands clapped down on my right shoulder with a force that nearly crippled me. I struggled free and turned to face the attacker.
My eyes met the savage gaze of a creature bent on one sole purpose. It snarled in rage to reveal rotten molars and the sallow eyes of starvation.
For the first time in my life I stammered, then swallowed the words that had come to a stop in my throat.
On this night in Isla Vista, something was different.
I pushed him off and sprinted past the last houses to April’s, knocking on the front door much more frantically than I was comfortable with. When she answered I cupped my hand over her mouth, pushed her inside and hit the lights.
She shoved me off in a hurry.
“What the hell!”
“Shhhh!” I brought my finger to my lips.
This did not work.
“What the hell are you doing, Jack? What exactly was that all about?”
Again I hushed her, thrusting my arm at the closed blinds.
“Something’s gotten into them!”
“Who? The drunks? Yea, a few too many—“
“No!” I interrupted. “Take a look! You tell me what to call them.”
Placated by her own curiosity, she moved toward the window and lifted the blinds just in time to see the fist fly through and shatter the glass.
She jumped back and landed in my arms. I set her down just as another hand smashed through.
“The party’s down the street, asshole!” she yelled. She rose and was headed for the door when I grabbed her to smother the temper that was rising.
“April, stop!” I insisted. “It’s not what you think. They’re not that drunk. They’re… sick. It’s like some kind of fever!”
Again she shook me off.
“What the hell are you talking about? Did you see that guy? He’s wasted! Smashed my window!”
“He’s not wasted! He’s not…” I struggled for a word. “He’s not using his head right.”
“No shit he’s not! I’m gonna show him how to use it!”
God, I love this girl.
Again she stormed for the door and again I grabbed her. This time I held on.
“I can’t let you do that.”
Another crash and an arm appeared through the blinds. April shrieked. Then another, and another, until five sets of arms were searching the air they couldn’t see for something I knew they could smell. One of them had the light switch and was clicking it on and off.
I looked at her. She looked at me. We ran up the stairs.
* * *
I needed time to think, so I paced around the living room while I listened to the not-so-soothing sound of her panic.
“What do we do, Jack? Where do we go? What’s wrong with those people?”
“This is not the time to ask me questions I don’t have the answer to,” I snapped. I continued to pace, then stopped at the window.
I heard another crash from downstairs. It wouldn’t be long before they were all over this place.
“We have to get out of here,” I said.
“But where can we go?”
“My place.” I tried to sound convincing. “It’s the safest place I can think of.”
It’s the only place I can think of.
“How do we get there?” she asked. “With all of them…” She nodded toward the window.
“We need a distraction.”
I spotted three half-empty bottles of booze on the kitchen counter next to the paper towels.
I grabbed a bottle of vodka, took a long swig, then began to stuff paper towels into it. I pulled the lighter from my pocket and held it next to the fuse.
“We light a few of these,” I said to her.
“Then we run the other way,” she finished.
“Like the hounds of hell are behind us.” I grabbed the second bottle and offered it to her. She took a swig, then another, and handed it back.
“Maybe they are.”
* * *
The second story had a balcony, from which I noticed an SUV parked just underneath that would make a great stepping-stone. It was about a six-foot drop to the roof, then another seven to the cement. But the fall was not what worried me.
The streets had steadily filled with more of them, all down the block toward my place and all down the other direction. A few of the creatures had begun to loot the surrounding houses; one had even dragged a couch to the street and lit it on fire. The roar grew louder.
“We’ll never make it,” she came up behind me and took my arm. “There’s just too many of them.”
“You mean its me and you against the world? I’ll take those odds.”
She smiled. She should have laughed. She was quiet.
She was scared.
And come to think of it, I was too.
“Ready?” I asked. She nodded.
I propped my leg up on the ledge but felt a sudden tug on the back of my shirt. I turned back. She was looking at me with her soft eyes, the vivid flames that usually burned now simmering timidly.
“April,” I assured her. “Trust me.”
She nodded. I hurled myself over the ledge and landed lightly as possible on the roof of the SUV. The small thump of my impact did not garner much attention from the creatures.
The car alarm it set off did.
“Quick,” I urged her. “First, the booze!”
She tossed me the vodka bottles one by one and I set them down behind me. I turned back and opened my arms.
She hesitated. They were closing in.
“Jump!” I urged again.
“There are so many of them,” she gasped.
“We don’t have time!”
With a shriek she leapt from the platform. It took all of my might to catch her and even more if it to let her go once I had her in my arms. Reluctantly I set her down and grabbed the first of the bottles.
She flicked it open and in the trembling light I saw the look on her face. Her smile, that smile that could melt a rock, had been stolen from her. She saw arms desperately clawing at my feet, heard the roar steadily growing.
I dispatched the closest one with a swift kick and turned back toward April.
There was still no smile on her face but something else had returned. A flame once again burned behind her iris, but not one I had seen before. Instead of a fiery red-orange, this flame seemed blueish-white-- fierce, intense, and yet somehow soothing. Trusting.
I brought the bottle closer to the flame and lit the top of the explosive.
“Drink to the dead, all you still alive,” I announced to the mass in the street. “For we shall join them in good time!”
I hurled the bomb toward middle of Del Playa Drive. The flaming bottle sailed over the sidewalk. All heads turned to follow as it soared gallantly through the mist.
With a dull thud the bottle fell to the street without any kind of explosion, bounced around for a moment then rolled toward the sidewalk until it came to a stop at the curb.
In all the excitement I had overlooked one crucial detail.
Damn kids and their cheap plastic booze!
The creatures turned their attention back to us. They looked disappointed, and now even more agitated.
“Now what?” she shrieked.
“What’s Plan B?”
“Uh…” I stalled. “Handle-pulls?”
I took a long pull of the plastic handle, held the lighter in front of my face, and spewed flaming alcohol from my mouth and onto the creature nearest to the car. It backed off in fright and I leapt to the ground.
April followed with the last bottle. I took her by the hand.
“We make a run for it.”
I pushed and shoved to clear a pathway and we sprinted through the swarm. They closed in on us faster than I expected, like a pack of wolves converging on its prey. But the creatures, their minds dulled as they were in their current state, continued to retreat from the flames I shot from my mouth, and we continued down the street, dodging the swerving bodies and ducking out of reach of their desperate grabs.
We came to a clearing underneath the streetlight and suddenly I stopped. April caught up to me.
“Jack, what are you doing?” she asked as she caught her breath.
I looked around Del Playa and saw no other signs of human life, just more brain-dead revelers sauntering in search of one thing. I did not want to think about what that was. I took another swig of vodka.
My throat burned. My legs burned. After everything I’d been through, my body should have been warm to the core. And yet, as I stood there, I felt a chill creep over me.
We were all alone.
I snapped out of it and, eager to change my train of thought, grabbed April and ran some more, until we reached my driveway in a blaze of vodka-soaked glory.
I rushed up the stairs, fidgeted with the lock before it opened, and pushed April inside, bolting the door behind me just as I heard the footsteps on the stairs.