Three-Toed

Three-Toed

by Diego Green

 

Ever since the move, since the complete upheaval of her life, Valerie had encountered the same dream with increasing frequency. Always, in the dream, she would find herself lying face-up in bed, eyes wide-open staring at the black ceiling. It was then that the twinges of distinct and biting pain would begin. Sporadic at first, Valerie felt it start inside her skull, a jagged scraping against bone and brain, moving rapidly down her spine – a crawling sensation, the feeling of something navigating beneath her flesh with tiny piercing pincers.

 

As the sensation passed into her lower back, prodding into kidneys and intestines, Valerie realized that she was completely paralyzed, unable to scream or even move her eyes. Burning hot, the pain moved down into her left leg – more than pain, it was a feeling of a creature burrowing through her body, a thing clawing itself a passage out. It ended in a violent burst of agony, an eruption of warm blood from the sole of her left foot spraying onto sheets.

 

* * *

 

Valerie awakes into late afternoon, her brow and bedspread well-dampened by perspiration. After several minutes of listless haze, Val remembers the significance of the day and the time, sitting up and appreciating the silent house devoid of her working mother and father. She swears aloud as she focuses on the hands of the clock hanging at room’s end – it’s far later than the June sunlight makes it appear. Rushing, Val pulls on clothes from the littered bedroom floor. She is almost out the door when she notices the tiny trail of dark footprints – birdlike, maybe, three taloned toes – running across the hardwood floor, shining in the slanted sun, leading back to the bottom of her bed sheets stained deep orange in dried blood.

Marcus

Marcus

Like jackals, the fleshy ghouls bowed red-faced over the corpses scattered across the stone church steps. From afar, I watched as the sergeant and Reyes approached the bobbing feeders unnoticed, machetes drawn. Though pressed against a brick wall a half block away, a charge of heated terror passed down through body and limb as the ghouls at last became aware of the living meat within their midst, their gore-slathered faces upturning in slow unison to meet the quick silent movements of the two soldiers. The monsters, a half-dozen at quick count, had barely made it to their feet before all were cut down with effortless efficiency – clean slices through the fragile neck followed up with a crushing blow to the disembodied cranium.

Hardly had Reyes and the sergeant begun to wipe the gore from their blades when, from the open towering doors of the church, there came several more ghoulies, fresh and groaning as they shambled down the steps. Shaking, I managed to find the cold metal of the small revolver tucked into the deep pocket of my jumpsuit, fingers slick with sweat – its single bullet in the chamber to be used solely for an emergency only. I watched an unending parade topple over one another to reach the two statue-still soldiers. I watched as Sam, my protector, left my side without a word to rush headlong into the fray, unslinging the rifle from his shoulder in a seamless motion.

Seemingly without fear, the sergeant charged up the steps with her blade raised, fluidly slicing at the leg bones of the descending ghouls as if they were tree branches. Suddenly unbalanced, their bodies fell and crumpled, dripping down to the littered sidewalk. Behind the sergeant, Roberto Reyes looked to be laughing, his head thrown back. In an instant, he leapt towards the nearest upright ghoul, striking the creature’s skull with such force that the head was nearly cleaved in two. Much like a figure out of an epic, Reyes threw himself headlong into the throng of his enemies, collapsing several at once with the sheer weight of his considerable frame.

I jumped as Sam fired the first round from his rifle into the growing crowd streaming out of the church. No longer watching, back against the wall around the corner from the carnage and eyes closed shut, I listened as round after round were discharged in methodical fashion. Still gripping the slippery revolver, I knew with utmost certainty that I had no place in this city and resolved at once to use the opportunity presented to run.

Opening my eyes, however, revealed a once desolate street to be now brimming with shambling, hunger-gripped denizens in all stages of disintegration ranging from the fresh black-bleeding fleshies to the desiccated eyeless mummies. In a panic, I ran back to the middle of the intersection, each street emanating from it containing the same scene of a slowly advancing herd of ghouls alerted and motivated by the booming blasts of gunfire.

“Yo, Marcus!”

Spinning around, I saw the squad standing atop the gore-darkened church steps, surrounded by the mounds of their fallen ghoul adversaries. Reyes was waving me on, big toothy smile on his face. The other two quickly ducked into the darkened interior of the church, closing one of the opened doors. Reyes remained, still calling out to me, waving, laughing, as if I were an old friend late to a bonfire.

As if all of Hell’s unwanted dead were not descending upon us, craving nothing more than to devour us down to the bone.

Flightless

It was something of a bad omen, that flattened skull-crushed squirrel lying in a ring of its own erupted innards. Ella smelled the stench of rot the moment she stepped down from the front porch. Must’ve fallen off a shaky branch from the towering heights of the aged tree, splattering against the dry cracked ground. Solemnly, Ella turned the poor collapsed creature over with the toe of her shoe, partaking in the squirming miracle of newborn maggot life.