THE FINAL COUNTDOWN 3… HUNTERS By Jeff Dosser

The only truly positive thing you can say about zombies is they’re terrible at hiding, particularly in the woods, constantly thrashing through the underbrush, stomping through leaves. Then, of course, there’s the continual moaning, especially when they smell living flesh.

I recline in my tree perch listening to at least a dozen of the loathsome creatures chase some unfortunate along the old river trail path. To the west, another pack closes in on the commotion. I know they’re after a man and not chasing deer due to the occasional gunshots and echoed curses rattling through the barren winter trees. 

As the chase nears, I rise and nock an arrow. It’s not as if I don’t carry a gun; I do. It’s that I’ve grown quite fond of the bow. I could argue it’s quiet and draws little attention. Both of which are true, but I’m honest enough to admit… I simply enjoy it. Father taught me archery at an early age, and until my early twenties, I shot often. Then life took an unexpected turn, and I grew to scorn my old ways, looked at them as primitive and crude, believing myself a fashionable, modern man with no need for antiquated ways. I lived with that belief for years, traveling from city to city, woman to woman or man to man as the whim took me. Until the zombie apocalypse rolled across the world and suddenly the old ways became new again.

I hear his footfalls first. Moments later, he lumbers into the clearing at the edge of my stand his labored breath a silver fog in the frosty air of an October moon. He wears a thick winter coat and jeans, a powerful man with broad shoulders and ponytail of long brown hair.

He shoulders a rifle and fires until the slide locks back on an empty magazine. With a look of disgust, he tosses the weapon to the ground and pulls a machete from his belt. He drops two of the shambling creatures, falling back to the center of the grassy dell as the remaining ten shamble out of the shadows. That’s when the horde from the west make their unexpected appearance.

There’s no doubt he could best his original attackers, but the addition of thirty more is too much for any man. So he takes the only option left. He runs. Which would have made my task all the more difficult if he hadn’t caught his foot on a hidden root and tumbled headlong into a tree knocking himself senseless. 

If I don’t react, he’ll be bitten, his blood contaminated. I let my arrow fly followed by a second and a third. Leaping from my vantage, I bowl over two of the cumbersome creatures while beheading a third. Then tossing the forlorn traveler across my shoulder, I race into the darkness.

Once certain I’ve lost our pursuit, I lay the unconscious man against the trunk of a tree and collect wood for a fire. It’s not long before I have a cheery blaze along with a simmering pot of coffee. My slumbering guest wakes with a groan, a hand rising to the goose-egg swelling on his forehead.

“Where am I?” He croaks, a hand dropping to his belt. At the discovery of the empty scabbard, his eyes shift to mine. “Where’s my knife?”

“Safe,” I say. “I figure I’ll hold on to your weapons until we have a little chat.” I smile and nod to the fire. “There’s coffee.”

He shakes his head and, with a groan, straightens his back against the tree. “Think I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself,” I say. “But you needn’t worry about being poisoned or drugged.”

I can tell by the glint in his eye that is exactly what worries him. “You’ve been unconscious for the past,” I check my watch. “Fifty minutes? If I were going to do something to you, it’d already be done.”

I hold up my own cup and take a sip. “You don’t run into hot coffee every day.” I pull a metal cup from my pack and toss it next to the fire.

His eyes flick from me to the cup to the coffee before picking it up and pouring himself a cup. Curling his fingers around the mug, he blows across its steamy surface, his eyes never leaving mine.

“So what’s next?” he asks. “You plannin’ on killin’ me?”

“Not just yet.” I smile. “I want to learn a little about you before we proceeded any further in our…relationship.”

A slow smile crosses his face before raising the cup and taking a sip. He cocks a brow and nods. “You’re right. You don’t run into hot coffee every day.”

Returning to his spot against the tree, he kicks out his legs. He’s wearing a pair of worn leather boots with tarnished silver buckles. “So whaddya want ta know?”

“A name for starters.” 

“Names Nick. Nick Brenden. And you?”

“William Montane Marshall. I’d say nice to meet you but under the circumstances…” 

There’s a long pause broken only by the crackle of the fire and a chill wind whispering through the branches.

“So, William Montane Marshall, you always in the habit of rescuing people from hordes ah undead, or was this a one-time occurrence? “ His brows rise in a pained expression as he rubs at his forehead. “Which brings up the question of how ya saved me? There must’a been thirty or forty of them bastards, an’ I didn’t see you nowheres.”

“I was perched in the heavens,” I tell him. I nod to the broad branches above us. “When you went down, I leapt to earth, scooped you up and dashed to safety.”

He stares at me for a long moment. “You…carried me? Out ran a pack of Zs with me tossed over your shoulder?”

“I’m stronger than I look,” I assure him.

He tilts his head and cocks a brow. “Must be.” 

“So, Nick. What did you do,” I wave a hand to take in the surrounding woods and the shadowy silhouettes of skyscrapers beyond. “Before all of this?”

He chuffs out a laugh and takes a sip. “Boy, you weren’t kiddin’ ‘bout the twenty questions.“ He scoots closer to the fire. Sets down the cup and holds his hands out to the flames. “Well, sir. I was a drifter mostly. Travelin’ from town ta town whenever I’d hear ‘bout work.”

I laugh and shake my head. “So the zombie apocalypse hasn’t changed your prospects much, has it, Mr. Brenden?”

He shrugs, “I guess not. I heard there might be work in the area, so here I am.” A smile tugs at the corners of his lips. “And what about you, Will. What did you do…before?”

“Me? Why I was a wealthy playboy,” I tell him. “I owned that second tallest building on your right.” I gesture towards the towering shadows on the horizon.

He laughs, the sound of his mirth swallowed in the darkness.

“No really. I was quite rich. I spent my time partying into the wee hours, sleeping away the days.” I shift my position on the log seat and lean closer. “I even had an emergency bunker in the building’s basement. You know, in case of world catastrophe. I could host a yearlong party for myself and fifty close friends.” I lean away from the fire studying the lines in his whiskered face. “I just never figured on zombies.”

“Not a believer in the supernatural, Will? Werewolves, zombies…vampires.” He emphasized the word ‘vampires’ and bounces his brows comically.

“Ever wonder what would happen ta vampires durin’ a zombie apocalypse?” he asks. 

Sparks tornado into the night as he lifts the unburned end of a branch and pokes at the embers. 

“Like if a vampire was bit by one of them bastards, would it turn em’ into a zombie? Or if a vampire bit a zombie would the zombie become a vampire?”

His face lights with mirth but his eyes remained sharp and bright as steel. “An’ ya know, them vampires would get pretty damn hungry what with their food getting’ turned inta walkin’ sacks ah shit.”

“I truly doubt a vampire would find any sustenance in such vile creatures,” I tell him. “And as to a vampire being bit. We’ll, sir, if a vampire is already dead they can’t very well be transformed into another form of undead, now could they, Mr. Brenden.” I rise from my seat clasping my hands in aggravation. “On one point you are correct. Finding food would indeed become a problem.”

He rummages through his pockets and pulls out a silver flask. “Care for a snort?” The container’s polished surface glints in the fire’s glow.

“No, thank you,” I say waving away his offer. He drains the rest of his coffee and wipes the cup with his shirt before opening the flask and upending the contents into the cup.

“You seem to have given the supernatural a great deal of thought, Mr. Brenden.” 

He sets the cup down and continues poking at the fire. “A fella’s got a lot ah free time out there on his own,” he says. “Plenty ah time ta mull things over.”

“Then you’re a believer in vampires, Mr. Brenden?”

He examines the blackened tip of the pole before jamming it back in the coals. “Vampires are one ah the few things I do believe in, Will. Call me crazy, an’ believe me, plenty ah folk have, but I believe wholeheartedly in those filthy, bloodsucking bastards. Fact is, I think some sort of mutation from those leeches is the cause of this whole damn mess.” He lifts his cup and smiles. “You ask me, the sooner we rid the world ah their filth the better off we’ll be.” 

Hunger and anger boil at this nasty little man’s slanderous words. Insults I’d not heard for centuries burn in my ears. I lick across my fangs in anticipation of a long awaited meal. But I’m not a heartless man. I try to grant my victims one last pleasure before I feed.

“Please, Mr. Brenden,” I tell him. “Drink up. Nowadays you never know when it will be your last.” 

As the cup meets his lips, I smile to reveal my fangs. The confusion or fear I’d witnessed in a thousand faces is missing in him, either too proud or too stupid to realize his fate. Then I spring across the fire and pin him to the ground.

***

The only truely positive thing you can say about vampires is you can always count on their arrogance. Basking in their superiority over us puny mortals, like a fat man basking over a lobster before it’s dropped into the pot.

I reach into my pocket and feel for the flask of holy water I keep there. When my fingers brush against its cool surface I sigh in relief. This guy’s stripped me of everything, I’m glad he’s left me that. 

I drain the rest of my coffee. You might find this hard to believe, but locating holy water in the apocalypse is about as hard as finding an honest priest.

I check for his reflection in the mirrored surface of my flask before upending it into the cup. He’s not there. I set the cup down before I return to sharpening the stake. Then he asks if I believe in vampires. 

Do I believe in vampires? I examine the blackened point on the branch before shoving into the coals. I tell him, straight up, what I think of his kind. I leave out the parts where one of his brothers seduced an’ murdered my wife, left my kids bodies lying in the dirt like a couple empty beers. 

I know I’ve gotten under his skin when he hops off his log, his hands curling into fists at his side. Then he tells me to ‘drink up’ it might be my last. I fill my mouth with holy water as his pale lips split into a toothy grin, the long white of his fangs flashing in the moonlight.

In a heartbeat, he’s across the fire, knocking me to the ground. I don’t struggle, there’s no point. Instead, I let him push me back, let him anticipate his kill.

“You’ve been a refreshing dinner guest, Mr. Brendon,” he whispers, his mouth inches above mine. “It’s been a long while since I’ve met a …true believer.”

His eyes fly wide as I spew the holy water into his face. With a scream of pained surprise, he falls back clawing at his smoldering flesh. He takes three faltering steps before tumbling across the fire and falling to the ground. I seize the smoking brand from the flames, the end sharpened to a blackened point. Then I plunge the stake into his chest, impaling him to the ground.

He clutches at the sizzling chunk of timber vibrating in his chest, the light of his eyes fading. Kneeling down beside him, I tap out a cigarette. I light up. I know from experience he has only moments.

“You know it’s funny, Will.” 

His eyes drift from mine to the stake. 

“There’s one job that hasn’t been impacted by the apocalypse.” I take a puff and blow the smoke into his face. “Vampire slayer.”

*

BIO: Jeff dove into the writing scene last year and has since been picked up by Noir and Horror magazines such Dead LightsYellow Mama, Bewildering Stories, PULP METAL MAGAZINE and Down in the Dirt, as well as the Hindered Souls and upcoming Mother’s Revenge Anthology. He brings his eighteen years of street cop experience to the table when he presents the reader with his perspective of life’s dirty underbelly.

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