• Jeff Stover

Survival (Short Fiction, Horror - Action)

“We don’t need him, Jerry. Just shoot,” I said. My response was too quick, too insistent. Jerry leaned back from the scope to look at me.

“You don’t need me, either,” he countered. I laughed into his simple steel face of sincerity and quickly deflected.

“Of course I do. I can’t shoot that thing.” I motioned to the iron lance of precision Jerry cradled as he lay on the bed, aimed out of a second-story window.

A grin broke through the steel, and he said, “Sure you can.” Jerry returned his attention to the mass of forms waiting for us at the gate of the suburb. We’d taken refuge in someone’s standard cardboard cutout mansion, not bothering to notice the three dead small children laying in the foyer as we entered. We also ignored what could only be their parents, each laying in the bathroom after braining themselves sometime ago.

None of that mattered now. I...I mean we…would have probably killed all of them if we’d found them successfully holed up on the house. Extra mouths only made survival less certain, so Jerry and I took out any competition we found.

That conduct has kept us alive for a few weeks, but Jake got cut off and was now facing a hoard of the Slicks. He was the other guy with us, soon to be dead.

“Do it,” I said, looking out into the pre-morning gloom. Jerry sighed, but leaned in to his rifle and took aim. I raised a viewfinder I’d found in some other nondescript house.

I could see Jake crouching at the back end of a large truck, facing the gate beyond. We’d come in here, assuming it would a treasure trove of stuff and canned food. We were right, but the same gate that kept the slicks out now kept us locked in. They were all over the surrounding forests and fields, so going over the wall was not an option. Jake had left the gate unlocked, however. The bars reinforced with random wooden boards swung open when the Slicks tested it. They stood just inside the gate now, three of them, all shiny and black and deadly. They were waiting.

A sudden jolt rippled from barrel to man as Jerry fired.

I expected to see Jake’s head explode, but instead one of the Slicks took the round in its middle, a flash of tentacles spreading as it fell.

“What the fuck!” I dropped the range finder, pulled my piece, and held it to Jerry’s head in the blink of an eye. The problem was he was just as fast, his pistol pressed to my ribs as he’d rolled and pulled it like a gunslinger, his high arm off the rifle and now holding my life as ransom for his.

“I can’t do it, Ron. It’s wrong.” His eyes were wet.

I glanced to the window, but held my gun still. “You have to. He got us into this, and he’s going to lead them back to us. You know how this goes, Jerry.” My voice was calmer than it should have been.

Jerry’s gun fell a millimeter, but still aimed at my heart. I could feel him slipping. It was enough.

His head rocked as I fired, a spray of red and viscera decorating the eggshell wall. Limp, his gun fell from my ribs and luckily didn’t fire. I watched him with apathy for a moment, his flesh struggling for a with a breath, a few spasms, but ultimately dying right there before me.

This was Jerry’s fault too. He had allowed Jake to live, to join us a week before. That kid did nothing but eat and scout. He was good at the first, lousy at the second. I’d wanted to kill as soon as I’d met him, but Jerry...he liked him or something.

Jerry. I tried to feel something, looking over at his ruined face. I just couldn’t. Instead, I pulled the gun from his dead grip and pulled the pink and purple sheets from the children’s bed he was laying on, cleaning the scope, barrel, and body of the rifle. The thin fabric littered with princesses and puppies did little accept smear Jerry’s blood over more of the gun.

“Fuck,” I muttered, giving up as I leaned the gun against the wall. I looked again at the gate scene. The two intact Slicks had advanced down the main road, coming my way. Jake was nowhere to be seen.

A quick thought flashed through my mind as I observed the open gate. Two slicks could be handled, but not a hundred. That’s how they worked usually, numbers flooding the fight until it felt like the world had gone black and slick with their horrible frames. They mobbed and ate, leaving nothing at all.

No clothes, no bones, no blood. They consumed their prey completely.

I might be able to slip by the two coming at the house to shut the gate. Jake was out there I assumed. I mean, those two might have erased him, but I doubted it. He was good at “not dying,” strangely.

“Damn it, Jerry.” I gave the man’s corpse one last look. He as a good guy.

But fear and need became my usual fuel, driving me to grab the gun, forget the man, and dash out of the front door of the house. I crouched behind a flagstone retaining wall, looking down the street.

The two Slicks were moving toward the house. They’d sensed the gunshot’s direction, I assumed. Nothing we did was without notice to them. Sound and stealth; there was no way to kill them clandestinely.

Just then Jake rounded the corner to slide in behind me. I almost shot him out of reflex.

“Oh shit!” he said. “Was that Jerry with the kill! Now they’re coming in.”

“Because you left the gate open,” I reminded him. His expression was regret-free.

“Whatever. At least we got some food.” He looked over the wall as I considered executing him there.

Instead, I said “Yeah. We got food.”

The kid dropped down again, his face full of life...excitement. He enjoyed this.

“Where’s Jerry?” he said. I’d laid the rifle down on the ground as soon as Jake had joined me. He didn’t see it.

“He went to the gate, to close it,” I barked, the intention of my comment clear.

Jake finally showed a little panic. “We have to go help him, man!” He jumped up.

I seized his collar as he rose, forcing him down. “Wait.” A new plan formed as I held the kid by the scruff.

He shook me off, recoiling to the wall. “Wait for what?”

I pointed in the direction of the Slicks. “We called them away from you so we could close the gate. I need you to keep them coming while I slip over and help Jerry.”

Jake’s face screwed up as he thought, but finally relaxed. “Okay. I’ll be the decoy. Can I have a gun?”

“No,” I said. “Take a look and tell me where they are.”

The kid complied, quickly, and as he popped up to look, I stashed the rifle by simply dropping it over the wall.

“They’re getting close,” Jake said, back on his knees and out of sight to the street. “What was that?” He looked at the portion of the wall I’d reached over.

I narrowed my brow. “What was what?” I ignored him, taking stock of my ammo situation with a look at my clip and a few pats over my thigh pockets bulging with bullets.

“Nothing.” He looked again to the Slicks. “What the hell do I do when they get here?”

“Just hide,” I said. “I’ll be right back...will most likely kill those two once I have the gate shut. Just stay here, and DON’T go inside the house. We haven’t cleared it.”

The kid swallowed my lie as he looked around, saw a crashed van in the yard, then ran to hide behind it.

Satisfied, my own egress entailed a few surges between the fashionable stone retaining walls that stood at each residence in this suburban hell. If only they’d known, right? I felt glad for the cover. I was also glad these idiots were dead as I made my way down the side street from shadow to shadow.

I passed the usual carnage from the invasion: dead people, dead dogs, and incredibly lush lawns still flourishing, showcased under the golden light of an early morning sun.

The Slicks didn’t give a damn about night or day, by the way. But the daylight was welcome as I ran through a final cul-de-sac, between two houses, and onward to the gate.

I could see Slicks out in the wilds beyond, but no others that had entered. That’s the real problem: they moved steadily, always at the same pace. Not too fast, but not slow. They could be anywhere.

Still, I did what the kid was supposed to do prior and swung the surprising good steel barriers on their hinges and sealed the breach to this little slice of upper-class heaven. The installed chain and bar was all I needed to ensure the gate wouldn’t open, even if the Slicks pushed. They had no problem-solving abilities, in my experiencing, but just oozed into an area and sucked up anyone they could find.

Such a feeling I had – happy, even care free – as I bounced back up the road towards the house I had killed Jerry in. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t even flinch when the bullet hit my right knee, tearing my cap and tendons away, taking me down like 12-point buck.

The kid was smarter than I thought.

I moaned in pain, but that the survivor in me took over as I crawled furiously, dragging my dead leg, the lower half barely attached as it dragged behind. It didn’t matter.

The Slicks were there, already close and moving at their dread-pace. I was hoping they would have killed Jake by now.

But Jake must have found Jerry’s body. He had definitely found his blood-soaked rifle.

I laughed a little as I sat up against the hubcap of a minivan parked in the street. I faced the Slicks as they came, my gun still in my hand as I took aim.

Another rifle round hit me, this one in the shoulder of my aiming arm. The gun fell, I slumped, and blinked to clear the blood from my eyes.

Something in my brain allowed for a bit of introspection, as if I’d known I was dead for weeks before this moment. What did I do wrong, I thought.

I struggled to find the fatal choice I’d made. Was it not killing the kid? Was it killing Jerry? Was it not killing Jerry when I found him, because I liked him a little?

Of course it didn’t matter now.

I screamed as the first slithering tentacle of razors removed my good leg from the hip, ripping neatly as it pulled the limb into some opening of the Slicks that we consider to be a “mouth”. A panting plead I made with some god, somewhere, as more tentacles carved me to pieces, the shuddering, screaming mass that was me finally gone when my head was cleaved in two and eaten quickly.

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