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May 17, 2012 / Daniel

The Zombies of Cahnerra District

[1518 words, rated R]

Sherlyn walked quickly down the sidewalk, peeking from her hooded sweatshirt side to side, scanning the area, hands shoved deeply into her pockets. Finding nothing, she looked left, scanned the arc, ducked right down a side alley.

Therrah was there waiting, lit a fresh cigarette off the one she was smoking, handed it to Sherlyn.

She took it and shivered out a drag.

“Nothing?”

“Nope, not a thing. Not even any homeless dudes to roll.”

“We gotta move on. This place is raked clean.”

“It’s harder these days. Everyone’s cashing in with those Reclaimators. Even the gutter crap is getting picked up and sent to Central for breakdown.”

“There’s nowhere left to go, Sher. We’ve swept all the way from Caspaia to Jernigan and back through Nehr.”

“Still leaves Cahnerra.”

“Sher. No. I’m not going to Cahnerra.”

“The Otis’ killed all the zombies, place is clean.”

“Hell it is, Sher! Zombies killed all the Otis’, don’t care what you heard.”

“Therrah, we, have, no, food. Cahnerra. If nothing else, we can eat the rats.”

“Ugh I really don’t want to do that again.”

“How about we just hunt rat and then haul back to a Reclaimator?”

“Such a bad idea.” Therrah pulled the last puff off her very short cigarette and spit on the cherry. She put it in her purse for later; every little thing can cash in at a Reclaimator.

They walked out of the alley, turned toward the direction of Cahnerra District.

“We’re still a good half hour walk, so we’d best get moving if we’re going to eat at all,” Sherlyn grabbed for Therrah’s bag, “Gimmie another, it cuts my appetite.”

They didn’t hear the running footsteps behind them before he plowed between them. Sherlyn fell one way, Therrah the other, neither held Therrah’s bag. The thief had a good head start on them now.

“COME ON!” Sherlyn scrambled to her feet and took chase, Therrah shortly behind.

He was fast, but not trying too hard to lose them, running, checking over his shoulder to judge his lead. He ran straight for the entrance to Cahnerra District, feeling certain they would not call his bluff and would break off before he actually got there. He was wrong.

Sherlyn and Therrah had more at stake than recovering a simple handbag.

He zigzagged around the official barricades and warning placards, jumped and climbed over the boundary fence, dropped to his feet on the other side; down the throat of Cahnerra. His escape slowed a bit as he entered the district, looking around alot more than before; hoping that the stories about zombies would not come shambling into truth, in his path.

“This is it, we go or we don’t,” Sherlyn panted.

“Go, go,” Therrah was spent and hungry, but the unknown outweighed the known nothingness for her.

They boosted and pulled each other out of Nehr and dropped into Cahnerra. They saw the thief just make the corner to the left, a block ahead.

“Go left now, I’ll flank, meet you corner opposite,” Sherlyn, always good at tactics, threw down a plan, and off they went.

Sherlyn’s lungs burned from the jog, her vision was red and crisp, her hunger was catching up to her too, but without the bag, the girls had nothing to work from, no plan, no options. She pushed hard, shoving her feet down and jerking her knees up, going, going, down the alley, after the thief.

Her right eyebrow was cut deeply, and blood pooled under her face when her eyes blinked open again. The weird waking confusion fell back and she remembered running, and getting her left foot tripped by something unnoticed in her path. She heard a grinding noise, like bones grinding on rocks, scraping and clattering. Her left arm was pulled up and away by the wrist, and her body slid across the pavement a few inches, a few inches more, a few more.

She blinked hard and breathed in heavily, trying to gulp in more oxygen to wake herself up.

That grinding, scraping rockbone noise again, “Ahm thorry, ahm tho thorry…”

She was able to twist her neck enough to see the man pulling her along by the wrist. The man’s speech impediment was clearly caused by the outgrowths of bristly bone that covered his face in separate but tight-fitting plates. Two spikey bone plates, one large, and a small one next to it, covered his jaw, and fit against his faceplate mask irregularly, but still allowed for movement. “You have to underthand,” he spat his words laboriously through the growths, “how ah hate haffing to do thisth.”

She took another deep breath and jerked her hand away from his grasp – she was free.

His hands, too, were covered in the bone-like growths, armor plates that were part of his skin, or maybe attached deeper, even to his skeleton beneath. One of his hands had all of its fingers fused in one plate, and that hand was simply hinged at the big knuckles, flipper-like. His other hand had grown to itself and fused differently, having two plates each on a pair of fingers, and the thumb fused without articulation, leaving it like a horn or hand spike.

He was very quick in apprehending her again; surprisingly quick, despite his physical deformities. “No, no, you cannot go. I hate thisth and ahm thorry, but ah have to eat.”

“Thisth isth the quickethst way I know how to do thisth. Pleasth. Forgive meh,” he said. He flipped her to her back by twisting and jerking her arm, and dropped his full body weight onto Sherlyn’s throat with his knee. Her neck crunched, and she slept.

He put a heavy, plate-covered foot onto her ribcage, and pulled her arm with a twist, dislocating it at the shoulder, and tearing it away from her torso. His bristly teeth shredded her bicep muscle quickly, and he ate with a deep relief.

Having been like this for so long, he could hear the buzz in his blood, could hear the machines powering up and humming into action. That buzz was like music, singing to the healing that would soon course through his body.

A second hum would always come, as the side effect. That hum was the chorus of builders, stacking microscopic layers onto the plates of bone that grew from his body, adding new growth like a mollusk adding protective layers to its shell.

He ate to be alive, he ate to quiet the obsession, he ate because there were so few other things he could do. He sobbed between the gnashing bites.

“You. Are the sloppiest feeder I think I’ve ever met.”

He choked for a  moment, then swallowed hard, setting the arm down. “Merreth.”

Merreth stooped down to meet Crennyn’s level. “I really mean it. Look at this,” he gestured at Sherlyn’s body, “what a mess. Pools of blood, chunks of meat; It’s like you’ve never fed before,” he grinned a degrading smile.

“We can’t all be ath amathing ath you, Merreth.”

“Oh, no, no, not a matter of amazing. You just need to come with me, let us take care of you,” Merreth stroked the bare patches of his own skin in circles and patterns in a ritualistic way. He, too, had the bony outgrowths and fitted plates on parts of his body, but they were smooth, sculpted, and they looked very much more deliberate than those that covered Crennyn.

Merreth was, however, not perfect in appearance. Like all the other zombies remaining in Cahnerra, his clothes were tattered and shabby, and it was clear that despite his wielded leadership, few of them were superior to another in any measurable way. They all fought the same addiction, suffered the insufferable growths, and lived the same existence. All of the zombies were infested with the microscopic nanogin machines which were the ultimate original cause of all things that happened in the Cahnerra district.

Merreth stood, and signaled with a hand gesture.

From doorways and corners, and from some of the lower windows, six, eight, twelve… the zombies gathered. In a moment, two dozen were gathered, and piled onto Sherlyn’s body in a frenzy of feeding, flailing, devouring. Rocks were brought, and even the bones were bashed into bits and shared; none went without, and nothing went to waste. They finished, and dispersed again into the ruins of the city. Not so much as a smear of blood remained on the pavement where Sherlyn fell.

The last of the hoard left an arm for Merreth, and smiled at Crennyn through his own spiky faceplates. It was covered in a smooth pale skin, and had a woman’s handbag gripped into its fist. Merreth tore the bag from the fist and tossed it casually aside, gnawing on the limb.

“Crennyn, just think about it. We’re better as one,” Merreth strolled mildly away, chewing.

Crennyn was suddenly sickened, again, at what life had become for him, and smashed his armored hand on the street in frustration.

He sat, staring at Sherlyn’s ring, still on her finger, wondering what that might have meant to her.

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