Time for another installment of one-hour flash. For those new to these posts, these are 1,000-word stories I jammed out in an hour for a writing exercise. I go on to publish a lot of these, but the the ones that aren’t quite up to snuff for publication make excellent blog fodder.
Today’s story is a little horror tale called “Road to Ruin.”
“You ever been down this way?” Howard asked and tapped the battered metal sign with his war hammer. It hung from a sagging chain link fence and read “Road Closed.” Beyond, crumbling asphalt peeked through the overgrown weeds and stretched into the distance.
“Nope,” Raphael said. He was familiar with Paradise, officially known as Plague Sector Eight, but he’d only been hunting it a few years. The abandoned, walled city was five-hundred square miles of decaying houses and buildings, weed-choked roads, and hiding places for shamblers. “But we’re close to our quota, so it might be worth a look.”
They’d bagged two shamblers in a nearby shopping mall, but they needed one more to complete their contract. Then they could book it to the west gate, get out, and get paid. Three shamblers meant nine thousand bucks. That would keep them out of the plague sectors for a good month.
Howard nodded. “Pistols or close combat weapons?” He’d been a licensed headhunter only a three weeks, but the former beat cop had a hunter’s instincts, and his size and strength were definite assets when it came to busting shambler skulls.
“Close combat.” Raphael took his flanged mace from his belt. The medieval weapon presented an odd juxtaposition against his modern body armor and other equipment, but the ancient hand weapons were best suited for the work.
They stepped over the barricade and moved down the road, passing the rusted hulks of cars, and the skeletal remains of small houses, their roofs sunken, empty doors and windows promising darkness and death. They didn’t speak as they walked in the fading sunlight. Howard would occasionally point at one of the ruined houses, and Raphael would shake his head. Bigger was the unspoken reply. Houses were death traps, and most headhunters avoided them. Larger buildings, with room to move and swing a weapon were safer.
They walked another mile and a building appeared at the end of the road, a squat cinder-block rectangle more like a fortress than any civilian structure.
“What is that?” Howard asked, keeping his voice low.
“Looks like a barracks.” Raphael was a former Army Ranger, and he knew a military building when he saw one.
“Paradise have any military presence before the outbreak,” Howard asked.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“What’s your call?”
Raphael studied the building. If it was a barracks, there would be plenty of room inside and not many places for shamblers to hide. The door to the building was a metal slab; mostly rust beneath peeling green paint. It looked sturdy, and they might have to force it open, which meant noise and potentially waking the dead within.
Raphael looked up at the sky and grimaced. They had maybe an hour of sunlight, enough time to make a quick kill. He didn’t want to spend the night in the plague sector.
“Let’s go,” Raphael said, making his decision. “I’ll take point.”
Howard nodded and they advanced. They reached the door, and it was held shut by a rusting padlock. Raphael considered his options, then turned to Howard. “See if you can break this thing. One blow.”
At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Howard was a mountainous human being and absurdly strong. He hefted his footman’s war hammer, a four-foot length of ash topped with a spiked head, and brought the weapon whistling down on the padlock. It shattered with a hollow clang and fell to the ground in two pieces.
Raphael pushed the door open, revealing darkness and an appalling animal stench. He recoiled and an unearthly howl rose from the inside of the barracks. His blood went cold. The sound had not come from an animal, and it sure as fuck wasn’t a sound any human could make.
“Shamblers don’t make noise,” Howard said, voicing what Raphael was thinking.
“Run,” Raphael managed to say just before the barracks door burst open and a dark shape came hurtling from the blackness.
Raphael threw himself to the ground and whatever it was passed overhead. He heard the meat and metal sound of Howard’s hammer making contact and then screaming.
Raphael rolled over and pulled his Sig P226, forgetting the mace. This was no time for stealth. Something lithe and bestial crouched on top of Howard. It had knocked him to the ground and raked at his belly like an animal. Howard screamed and tried to push the thing away.
Raphael rose to his feet and brought his pistol up. He pulled the trigger twice, and the gun’s discharge was shockingly loud. The bullets tore into the creature’s body but had little effect other than to draw its attention. Its head snapped around, a head that had maybe once been human, and sulfurous yellow eyes locked on Raphael.
He took a bead on the thing’s head, and then another gunshot sounded, this one deeper and more commanding. A geyser of blood jetted from the top of the creature’s head, and it rolled limply off Howard. The former police officer had managed to get to his Ruger Super Redhawk and there wasn’t much living or dead that could survive a .44 slug at point-blank.
Raphael hurried over to Howard who tried to get up. Loops of intestine hung from the man’s savaged belly, and Raphael pushed him back down. “Don’t; stay put.”
“Raph,” Howard said, blood running down his chin. “I’m fucked.”
Another piercing howl rose from the interior of the barracks, and Raphael shook his head and held his pistol up for Howard to see.
Howard nodded. “Do it. I don’t want to come back.”
Raphael took his friend’s hand, put the barrel of his Sig against Howard’s temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun went off, Howard jerked, then lay still.
A shape appeared in the barracks doorway.
So I kind of cheated with this one. Not that I took more than an hour to write it or that it didn’t fit the prompt. It’s just this story is based on a larger idea I’ve had for a while. I’d even outlined a novel on the basic concept and written the first couple of chapters before I back-burnered it for another project (the novel I’m working on now). These characters aren’t in the outline and the location is different, but it’s the same basic setting. Anyway, this is a vignette rather than a full story, but it might be worth fleshing out into something more substantial. (I know; I always say that, but I mean it this time!)
Want to read more of my one-hour scribbles? Check out these posts.