On the Inside

by Chris Canning
I can't help but groan out loud as I stand there in the middle of the 10 items or less line waiting as the little old lady at the front of the aisle insists on paying for her 15 items with exact change. It wouldn't be so bad but by the look of the bottle cap glasses sitting on the tip of her nose she's been blind since the Trudeau era. The clerk (who is so patient that if possible I would have elected him for sainthood) offers to help her but she angrily slaps his hand away muttering something about all teenagers being thieves these days and continues rummaging through her purse for the ever elusive quarter and three pennies.

I look at my watch as the hands slowly tick away the seconds. Four thirty already, shit the kids will be home from school by now. I start absently tapping my foot as I wait which the old lady must have noticed as she suddenly lets out a 'hump' and finally succeeds in finding the last penny and pays for her purchases. She smiles at the clerk, gives me and the man in front of me an icy glare as she grabs her bags, stuffs them into her cart and is on her way. Thankfully the man in front of me seems to be in as much of a hurry as I am and soon enough I'm at the front of the line.

'It serves you right' I tell myself as the clerk rings the bag of onions, cloves of garlic and Italian bread through. 'That'll teach ya to decide to make spaghetti for dinner on seniors day.' I make a mental note to avoid this particular grocery store on Tuesdays until I am actually a senior myself.

I pay, grab my bags, toss them into the cart and head for the exit. I'm in a hurry, I hate

leaving the kids alone in the house for too long. I just hope Frankie and Bobby have the sense to watch their little sister. I still haven't quite forgiven them for the last time I was late and came home to find Jessie missing. After a two hour long search through the neighborhood and a frantic call to 911; down the stairs comes little Jessie, bleary eyed from falling asleep in her closet. Frankie and Bobby insisted that they forgot that the three of them were playing hide and seek but sometimes I wonder about those boys.

Throwing my purse from my shoulder into the baby seat of the shopping cart I fumble through the massive black hole of a bag for the ever elusive car keys. I'm always telling myself I'm going to get a smaller bag and stop carrying so much stuff but with three kids I just know the moment I take something out of the purse is the moment I'm going to need it. It would be just my luck to leave the needle and thread at home and then need it to sew one of the boys arms back on... Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but not by much.

As I make my way to the car I am so preoccupied with the valiant search for my car keys that the strange man approaching me from behind startles me and causes me to drop my address book and cell phone.

“Oh, you startled me!.” I laugh as I kneel down to pick them up off the ground. “I didn't see you there.”

The man says nothing and as I look up into his face I can't help but let out a shriek.

“I'm so sorry!” I apologize, embarrassed. The man's face looks as if it's covered in sores and burns. It's obvious the poor guy had been in some kind of accident and I feel like a callous

idiot for staring at him but I just can't look away. He just looks back at me, saying nothing.

“Are you alright sir?” I finally manage to ask. “Would you like me to call someone for you? An ambulance?”

He just continues to stare and not say a word but I can hear something resembling gurgling coming from his throat. I look down and notice a pool of blood forming at his feet.

“Oh god.” I gasp. “You're really badly hurt, we need to get you some help.” I make a move to place my hand on his shoulder and that's when he lunges at me.

I scream as I dart out of the mans grasp and make a run back towards the grocery store. “Help me! Oh god Please help me!” I cry over and over. I can feel pain in my right arm and realize that I hadn't jumped out of the maniacs grip quick enough. I allow myself a moments glance and can see where he had ripped into my shirt with his teeth, biting my forearm.

Shaken by the sight of all the blood coming from the wound I stumble and fall hard to the cement. I try desperately to get back to my feet but I just can't make my legs do what I want them to. I start to shake as I realize that the man will be on top of me in seconds and that he is probably going to kill me.

“Oh Walter.” I whisper, realizing that I'll never see my darling husband or wonderful, quirky kids ever again.

It takes a few moments but then it registers that not only am I still alive but that the

maniac should surely have reached me by now. I steal a glance upwards to see a group of strangers beating on the man and chasing him away. It's not until I realize that I am actually safe that I black out.

“... okay, miss?” I open my eyes to see an older gentleman leaning over me. I recognize him as one of the men who had chased the maniac away.

“What?” I ask, still dizzy and confused.

“I asked if you were okay miss. That fella must have scared the living daylights out of you.”

“He did more than that.” I answer, showing the man my bloodied forearm.

“Ouch, that looks nasty.” He whistles as he helps me back to my feet. “Don't you worry none, my wife's already called 911, the police and paramedics should be here shortly. We'll wait with you till they get here.”

“Oh, you don't...” I try to protest but he assures me it's no trouble and helps me to my car so that I can sit down until the paramedics arrive.

While we wait the man, George, introduces himself and begins to tell me what he saw when the man attacked me.

“We didn't see much at first.” He replies. “It wasn't till you screamed out that we realized

something was wrong. We nearly jumped out of our skins when we heard you!” I try to apologize but he just brushes it away with a wave of his hand. “Nothing to be sorry about.” He assures me. “It's a good thing we did hear you, Lord knows what that fella could have done to you otherwise.” I shudder at the thought and if George's moment of silence is any indication I'm not the only one.

He goes on to tell me that after I screamed and made a run for the grocery store the man started after me only he didn't run, he sort of shuffled, growling like some kind of wild animal as he headed towards me. George and his wife weren't the only ones to hear my scream and within seconds he and a group of five other men were between me and my attacker, yelling at him and forcing him out of the parking lot.

“Here they are!” Helen, Georges wife calls out as the police and the paramedics make their way into the parking lot. George and I retell our stories to the police as the paramedics tend to the bite on my arm. The police assure me that they have officers searching the area for the maniac while the paramedics insist that I be taken by ambulance to the hospital 'just in case'. I try to object and tell them that I'm fine but it's no use and as they begin to describe all the things that could happen due to an untreated human bite my resolve is soon broken. I quickly jump into the back of the ambulance after a paramedic is finished describing flesh eating diseases but I don't let them leave before I've called Walter and let him know what's happened. Walter assures me that he'll be out the door to head home and pick up the kids as soon as he hangs up the phone and then I'm on my way to the hospital.

The emergency room is fairly crowded for a Thursday afternoon. The waiting room is filled to capacity and there are people waiting in gurneys in the halls. A nurse comes to help

the paramedics get me out of the ambulance and then takes my information. I assure them that I can walk and that there is no need for a stretcher but they insist that I at least use a wheelchair. I agree and soon find myself lost in the throngs of the sick and injured.

Not too long after my arrival Walter rushes in, the kids in tow.

“God, honey are you alright?” He asks, pushing his way through the waiting room.

“I'm fine.” I assure him. “It's just procedure. The doctors just want to make sure I'm okay before they let me go home. They're just a little busier than usual.”

“I'll say.” Bobby whistles, looking around the room. “When I busted my lip open during soccer practice last month and had to get stitches it was nothing like this.”

“Well, I'll probably be getting a few stitches myself.” I inform them, removing the ice pack the paramedic gave me to reduce the swelling of the bite mark.

“Oh gross!” Frankie shouts under his breath, clearly impressed.

“That's gotta hurt.” Walter agrees.

“It's not rainbows and sunshine.” I confirm, replacing the ice pack with a cringe. “But it's bearable. I just want to get finished up here and go home.”

It takes almost another hour before the doctor can see me and stitch me up. He tells me

that I'm not the first person that's needed treatment for bites and other strange injuries today and that things have been very odd for the last few days. He also tells me there's going to be a full moon tonight and strange things always happen during a full moon and that maybe things just started happening early this time around.

After a few stitches, a prescription for painkillers and antibiotics as well as a stern warning to take it easy for a few days, me and the family are ready to head home. It's already well past seven thirty and the kids, despite being hungry and cranky were pretty well behaved (aside form using bedpans as helmets and chasing around the waiting room) so Walter and I decide to treat them to Burger King. After everything that's gone on tonight my heart just isn't into making spaghetti anyway.

Back home and mid way through my Whopper I start to feel funny. It's hard to explain exactly but my head begins to feel heavy and my mind keeps drifting in and out. I assume it must be due to the pain meds and excuse myself from dinner.

“Are you sure you're going to be okay honey?” Walter asks, rising from the table concerned .

“Sit back down and finish your super, I'm fine.” I assure him. “It's just the painkillers making my head swim. You and the kids finish your dinner, I'm just gonna go upstairs and take a nap. I'll see to this mess later.”

“Why don't you just head off to bed hun? I can take care of this and I'll put the kids to bed too. You need to get some rest, you've had a hell of a day.”

“You know what? I'm gonna take you up on that offer.” I kiss each of the kids goodnight, give Walter a hug and head off to bed.

I feel like having a bath to wash away the grime but to be honest I'm afraid I might fall asleep in the bathtub and drown. I'm surprised at just how tired I really am and it's all I can do to keep my eyes open. I opt for changing the dressings on my wound and slipping into my pajamas. I pull the old dressings off as gently as possible but the bite still stings like hell. I sneak a glance and can't believe just how bad it looks.

“Bastard sure did a number on me.” I cringe as I wash and redress the wound. I then slip into my PJ's and slip under the covers and it doesn't take long before I slip away.

When I awake it takes a while for my vision to return. Everything's blurry and nothing seems to have any shape. My head is still hurting, even worse than it did before and I sit in bed waiting impatiently for my vision to clear so that I can get up and take more painkillers.

Then the realization hits me that I'm already sitting up in bed. Funny, I don't remember sitting after I woke up. If only my damn vision would clear. The doctors didn't tell me the medications would effect my vision. I decide to get out of bed, blurry vision or not and feel my way to the bathroom. That's when I realize that not only can't I see but I can no longer move either.

Try as hard as I might I can't make my arms, legs or even my fingers or toes move. Not even a wiggle. 'Oh god, I'm paralyzed!' I try to cry out but then realize I can no longer talk

either. Confusion is instantly replaced by horror and I can feel warm liquid on my face. Well, at least I can still cry.

Light starts seeping through my blind eyes, startling me until I realize that light means my vision is coming back. My vision returns slowly, like a camera coming into focus and what I see makes me scream in terror... at least it would if I could still scream.

Laying beside me in bed is the dead body of my husband. Sometime while I slept he had been torn to pieces and blood and gore was splattered everywhere. Blood and gore that was once the man I married clings to the bed, the walls and even the drapes. My mind swirls as it absorbs the horror before me. Walter, my loving husband of fourteen years, dead and laying mutilated in our bed. Walter, murdered while I slept beside him and I never even woke. I would sob if I could but I still can't move no matter how hard I try. If I could I would run from here, just grab the children and flee from this nightmare.

Oh god, the kids! Where are the kids? Are they okay? Did they see or hear anything? A million thoughts fly through my head but one thought keeps pushing itself to the forefront of my mind. Over and over I keep asking myself 'where is his head?'

It's not until I manage to catch a glimpse of myself in the dresser mirror that I get my answer. Walter's head sits cradled in my lap, my hands ghoulishly wrapped around it. I, or at least the husk that was once me, is huddled over top of it, devouring it's flesh. I quickly realize that those were not tears that I could feel upon my face but instead the blood of my dead husband, the husband that I had killed sometime while I slept without even realizing and now I was eating his face.

Oh god! Oh dear god how could this be happening? What the hell has happened to me? I feel as if I'm going insane and just maybe I am. Maybe none of this is real. Maybe I'm hallucinating everything. Hallucinations caused by the painkillers, or caused by fever from the bite...

The bite. Oh god, the bite. I've heard of this before. Hell, everyone has heard of this before but it's not real. Zombies are not real. Zombies are creatures from the movies, from old pulp magazines and bad television shows. Zombies are not real. But if zombies aren't real why am I tearing the flesh from my dead husbands bones and eating it?

I can hear the sickening sounds of teeth rendering into flesh and realize that I must have lost my hearing for a time as well. I wish to god I had never gotten it back. After each tear I can hear a sickening slurping noise as if someone was eating soup and I know that it's the sound of Walters flesh slithering down my throat.

There is something else I can hear besides the sounds of my corpse eating the flesh from the bones of my dead husband. It's faint at first and I recognize what it is before my dead ears can register that they've heard anything at all.

'Go away Jessie!' I scream in my head. 'Run before it hears you!' But it's too late. The shell that I once called my body picks up the sound of a small child's frightened whimper. It raises it's head towards the sound and stares blankly at the face of my tiny five year old daughter.

“Mommy, are you and daddy alright?” She asks, scared and confused.

I plead at her with my eyes for her to run but either she doesn't understand or whatever was left inside this husk that was once me has vanished completely. I hear a guttural growl come from my throat as I position myself and then lunge from the bed towards my terrified daughter.

She squeals and runs from the room. 'That's right, baby!' I silently urge her. 'You run to safety, you can do it!'

It takes time for my body to adjust to moving itself without my mind controlling it. It moves as if it were a marionette without a puppet master, clumsy and without purpose and no matter how hard I try I can do nothing to regain control of it.

I have heard of a condition called Locked In Syndrome wherein the sufferer loses all control of their body, so much so that they are often mistaken for dead even though their brains are fully functioning. Is that what this is? Some type of locked in syndrome? Was I infected when that madman bit me? Was he just like I am now, a prisoner inside his own body helpless and terrified?

I can hear the whimpering again and realize in horror that Jessie didn't make a run for it after all. She simply did what any frightened five year old would do, she ran into her bedroom and hid under her bed.

'Please, leave her alone!' I beg my body. 'Oh please, just leave her alone!'

My body staggers clumsily into Jessie's bedroom and grabbing hold of the bed, tosses it aside with a strength it did not possess when I was still in control of it. Jessie screams as the bed goes flying and I scream and beg inside my mind for my body to please, please just stop. I can feel what little is left of my sanity slipping away as I grab hold of my beautiful daughter and slowly, greedily begin to devour her.

The commotion wakes Frankie and Bobby and the two of them rush to Jessie's door to see what's going on. Oh god, please no. Not them too.

“Mom, are you alright?” Bobby asks, trying to hide the fear in his voice. Their view of Jessie is blocked and all the boys can hear is the growling and snarling coming from my lips as I tear another bite of tender flesh from their freshly slaughtered baby sister.

My head slowly rises towards my two sons, my face smeared with the blood of their dead sister and when my eyes catch sight of them a hiss escapes my lips. What's left of Jessie falls to the floor with a sickening thud and Frankie falls to the floor on his hands and knees and vomits. I make a lunge for them but Bobby, my brave, courageous Bobby, is one step ahead of me and pulls his brother out the door to safety.

'That's right boys, run!'

Before I can assure myself that the boys have escaped a scream comes from the hallway.

“Run Frankie, run!” My brave Bobby screams again.

I stumble out into the hallway and there, standing outside our bedroom door is the partially devoured, reanimated corpse of my beloved Walter and held tight in his grasp is the struggling body of our poor brave Bobby.

I know what happened, it's obvious isn't it? My two boys, after escaping from me had been attacked by their father as he stumbled from our bedroom. Their father, whom I had murdered while I slept after becoming this monstrosity of a walking corpse and in doing so turning him into one as well. I turned my husband into a walking corpse and now our dear brave Bobby was in his cold, dead grasp. Our dear brave Bobby, being the protective big brother that he has always been somehow managed to free Frankie, sacrificing himself so that his little brother could escape.

Bobby's screams fill the house as the reanimated corpse of his devoted father tears into his young flesh and begins to devour our first born alive. Poor Walter, he must be like I am, stuck inside his body without any way to control his actions. I'm so sorry Walter, so so sorry.

Small growls come from Jessie's room and my heart breaks for the hundredth time tonight knowing that she too has been reanimated. My poor baby, she must be so afraid locked inside her tiny corpse. I can only hope that she has already been driven mad and that she has no mind left inside her body. The thought of her conscious as she stumbles clumsily towards her brother is more than I can bare. She and I join Walter, devouring what's left of our dear brave Bobby and I pray to whatever god may be listening that there is not enough left of him to come back. Please, please let him stay dead.

Hearing noises coming from down the stairs my body looks around and my mind realizes in horror that Frankie, in his escape, had left the front door wide open. Our corpses seem to instinctively realize that the open door means that we are not trapped inside the house and the three of us mindlessly drop Bobby's corpse to the floor. We stumble our way down the stairs towards the open door below and the unsuspecting world that lies beyond.

Oh dear god, why won't you stop us?

Fin

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