Chapter 4: Prelude to Massacre

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Courtesy of Kestrel's terminal skid, the trench in the front lawn was of sufficient depth and width as to rent the lawn into two distinct islands of crispy, yellow grass---one on each side of the four-foot chasm. As the astronauts and Spacekid sidled through the smokey aperture in the living room wall and emerged into daylight they found themselves on the same side of the trench as was occupied by the three People, who continued to lurch by the tilted curbside mailbox and whisper amongst themselves. Not that our friends had much of a choice-Kestrel's engines, jutting from the wrecked living room, prevented the team from easily accessing the safer of the two lawn islands. But Rowan wouldn't have changed the situation even if he could.

"Best to deal with them head on," he'd said moments earlier in the hot, smoky living room. The HUD in his helmet told him the temperature in the house had reached 210 degree Fahrenheit. He didn't feel the heat ever since he'd donned his helmet, but he knew his suit would start to take heat-damage as the temperature crept closer to 250, the upper safety limit of his Neoprine-insulated suit. After selecting a large, two-pronged BBQ fork as his weapon of choice, and testing its sharpness against the door of nearby wooden cabinet, he added, "This way they can't surprise us."

"What's the plan?" Rehearsal had asked, practicing a fencing jab and impaling a defenseless portrait on the wall with the iron fireplace poker, his chosen weapon. He'd relinquished the famous butterknife to Citro, who would be bringing up the rear with Spacekid and was temporarily carrying most of the gear. Behind Rehearsal, thick flames flickered generously out of Kestrel's small open access portal. You could actually smell Wescott cooking in there. The cooking flesh, combined with the smell of smoldering wood-the living room walls now rippled in blue curtains of flame-the place had begun to smell like a Boyscout cook-out. Hamburgers for dinner.

"We kill them and eliminate their mobility with the hacksaw," Rowan said, indicating the wobbly hacksaw in Sands' hands and pointing at each of his own legs. "If they're not cadavers, they will be by the time we're done with them." As if to underscore his point, an unearthly moan resounded from inside Kestrel. You could tell the moaner barely had the physical infrastructure anymore to execute the action.

It was Wescott's cadaver wishing them luck.

That had all happened minutes earlier. Now the astronauts and Spacekid fanned cautiously out into the section of front lawn, black smoke pouting generously from the gap through which they'd just emerged. The grass, yellow and dying from the background radiation, crackled beneath their boots upon every careful step. Resorting to an atavistic pack mentality, the three adult males angled their movements so as to keep Citro and Spacekid always behind them.

No, their formation wasn't sexist or kid-ist. It was done for reasons far outweighing chivalry or chauvinism; Rowan would never willingly enter into a physical confrontation without having first carefully weighed the long-term ramifications for his beleaguered group of survivors. He knew that of the five of them, Citro and Spacekid were the most valuable; Citro because she was, potentially, the only sane female left on Earth; and Spacekid because his youthful resilience made it likely that he would be the last of the group to Turn-at some point in the next few years, Spacekid would likely be the last man on Earth. Considering the long-term futility of such precautions, there seemed little point in even making such distinctions, but Rowan had every intention of doing everything he could to keep the human race alive and healthy for as long as possible.

The three men crept closer to the three male People, who swayed drunkenly in place and seemed a bit impressed by the astronauts' direct approach.

"Can you think?" said Rehearsal to the People in the middle, more to distract him than to confirm his present state of cognizance. The astronauts and Spacekid had seen the People in the middle muttering things to his two companions, one of which seemed to be a People too, while the third was clearly nothing more than a corralled cadaver.

"Sure you bet," drawled the People, his milky eyes twinkling with pride. "So's my companions too. Even the one that cain't." The People on his right did something that might have been a nod of agreement. The cadaver, meanwhile, showed no signs of having followed the verbal exchange. In fact, the only reason the cadaver was keeping his place in the huddle was because the leader, every few seconds, lashed out an arm to sort of adjust the cadaver's position.

"Will you let us pass?" said Rowan. Again, not a serious question-just more distraction. The three male astronauts had by now crept to within striking distance. Rehearsal was already sort of lining up his fireplace poker for a fatal stroke to the alpha People's head. He looked like a matador getting ready for the death stroke.

"Nah I won't."

"Aww. You're mean," said Rowan, choosing to focus on the cadaver. Sands set his eyes on the second People.

"Commander," said Citro. "Across the street."

Rowan allowed himself a fleeting peek at the ranch-style house directly across the street. A middle-aged woman with sunken grey features, floppy white bangs, and an enormous gas-bloated pelvis had emerged from the front door bearing a large, fireman's axe sporting clumpy pink stains on its cutting edge. It had been the briefest of glances--Rowan couldn't risk distracting himself from his present task--but your average Space Agency astronaut is able to take in a lot more information with limited sensory input-such a talent is often necessary during dangerous, improvised docking maneuvers in space. So yes, Rowan had seen more than just the woman with the pelvis during that brief glance of his. 

He had also registered, in his extreme peripheral vision, at least five other People emerging from their respective houses on either side of the Pelvis house, each newcomer bearing some kind of melee weapon-it seemed the entire neighborhood was taking interest in the particular domestic disturbance in which Rowan and crew had found themselves. And that wasn't even all Rowan had seen. He'd spotted the vague outlines of dozens of rotten, skeletal cadavers emerging from behind trees, under cars, out of flower beds. Though none of these threats would come any closer to the house than John and the alpha had, there were enough of them to surround the entire property and lay siege until the fire died down. Then they would come.

"Oh god," Rowan muttered under his breath, not intending for the others to hear but forgetting he'd recently activated his helmet's vocal amplifier. "We waited too long."


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