It was a small cut, thought Judy as she clamped a hand over her bleeding forearm. A scratch really. Nothing to bother anyone about. She’d been putting groceries onto the belt from her shopping cart and her arm had scraped against the blue plastic that was used to protect the corners of the carriage; or perhaps protect any unlucky automobiles that might find themselves in the path of the cart. At any rate, the damage was done and the blood had come quickly to the surface. Judy clamped her hand over her forearm, just as she’d learned from her brother who’d been in the Boy Scouts. Applying pressure would stop the bleeding.“Oh my! Are you bleeding, dear?” said the helpful cashier. Her name tag read Lucia. Judy wondered idly if that was pronounced as “Loosha” or as “Loo-chi-ah” but only nodded her head by way of reply.
“You ought to be more careful.” Lucia said, pursing her lips. Judy felt a drop of blood run through her hand between her fingers and drip from her fingertip to the floor. It was then that she realized that the blood had been dripping in this fashion and a small pool had begun to gather.
“Oh dear! That’s quite nasty isn’t it?” Lucia said.
“It’s just a tiny cut.” Judy said, though the amount of blood she now saw told her that it must be worse than she thought.
“Stay put, dear. I’ll be right back.” Lucia said.
Judy stood still as she was instructed and followed Lucia with her eyes. The cashier had disappeared into a small office. It was actually more of a cupboard with a makeshift desk. Judy watched as Lucia gathered paper towels, a spray bottle of some blue liquid and a first aid kit. All of these items were innocuous enough but Judy couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that a lot of fuss was being made over a cut that she could tend to as soon as she got home. Still, in a society that was “litigation crazed” she supposed it was in their best interests to make sure a lawsuit wasn’t pending.
It was then that she heard something. It was guttural, low and came from deep in the throat of whatever creature was making it. She looked around her for the source of the sound and immediately wished she hadn’t. The sound came from a person. Deep and somewhere between a groan and a growl. The man that it came from was staring at her arm blankly. Before her eyes she watched the color drain from his eyes until they were glazed and . . . dead. His skin took on a pallor that also gave the appearance of death and he reached out his arms for her arm. With a scream Judy backed away and immediately fell to the ground using the balls of her feet to get what traction she could. It was no longer just one person that was coming toward her, arms outstretched and looking like a corpse. It seemed that everyone nearby had gone insane and was after her.
“HELP!” she screamed, finally turning and getting to her feet. She ran blindly through the small store, each aisly filled with walking corpses that, upon seeing her, moved impossibly fast for being in such a condition. Judy for her part, became an expert at pivoting on her heel and running the other direction. She ran until her lungs felt like they would burst. There seemed no safe haven near her. She zigged and zagged from one aisle to the next and each was filled with empty eyes and the groans of what seemed to be animated corpses. With one aisle left and knowing what she was bound to find there Judy began to panic. Stopping for a moment she leaned on her knees, out of breath.
“What you doin’ girl? You tryin’ to get killed?” came a voice.
“Wha-what?” Judy said. The shock of her situation was now beginning to set in.
“You’re runnin’ around panickin’ like ye are ain’t gonna save yer ass. Now come on in here.”
Judy moved toward the voice, almost as catatonic as the things chasing her. She noticed the arm that was attached to the voice that was now rescuing her was holding open a door that said “employees only.” She continued moving toward it slowly until she was within arm’s reach and the man reached out and in one smooth mothion pulled her inside and shoved her behind him as he shut and latched the door.
-2-It was just a small cut. A scratch. Judy’s mind played it over and over again. Perhaps if she promised not to press charges then this nightmare would end. Perhaps it was, in fact, a nightmare. Nightmares involved a lot of running after all, running away from monsters that seemed to be around every corner no matter how far or how fast you ran. She’d nearly convinced herself that she was dreaming when her arm began to tingle and throb with aching pain. She hadn’t been pinched, but the blood that was still pouring from the wound in time with her racing pulse was enough to convince her that she wasn’t dreaming.
“Damned fool.” her benefactor said, gruffly.
“Eat this.” he said, shoving what looked like a chocolate bar into her face. She took it and nibbled a few bites tentatively. He eased her into a chair and sat her down firmly yet gently.
“Yer in the early stages of shock.” he said and she looked at him dumbly.
“Yer mind caint make sense outta what yer seein’.”
“Who are you?” she managed.
“Name’s Jonny.” he said.
“I seen this down in Charlotte few months back. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Caint kill ‘em ‘cept if you shoot em in the face, crush they skull or bash they brains in.”
“What are they?”
“No idea. Seems like they sorta “wake up when they catch a whiff of blood. That cut there did it. Made ‘em all crazed.” he gestured to her bleeding arm, pulling a first aid kit from under his arm.
“Give that here. You ain’t no use to anyone leaving a trail of blood for ‘em to follow.”
“You saw them before?” Judy asked.
“What did you do?”
“Got the hell outta dodge.” he said, roughly binding her wound with an ace bandage.
“Ran far and fast and never looked back. Ain’t seen nothin’ on the news and ain’t seen nothin’ like it since. Almost convinced myself it ain’t never happen. ‘Til today.” he said.
“So what do we do?”
“I don’t care what you do little girl. Me? I’m doin’ what I did before. Gettin’ the hell outta dodge. Whatever this thing is makes people change when they smell blood and it might be spreading. I ain’t got time to take care of no little girl ain’t got no sense. You’d get me killed.”
Judy looked at him dumbfounded.
“Well you can’t leave me here.”
His shoulders shook with ironic laughter.
“I ain’t beholden to you little girl. Ain’t gonna die for you neither. Now listen up. I’m gonna go for an exit. You want out you follow me and you stay close. When we get out you go your way and I’mma go mine.”
She nodded, her face stricken. She knew he was right about her going into shock. She new that right now the only keeping her going was adrenaline and the sheer will to live. She watched as Jonny packed up the first aid supplies and glanced at her arm. It was no longer bleeding and the throbbing had stopped. He moved to the door and opened it a crack. Judy screamed as a pale hand pounded the door into his face and pushed its way inside.
Jonny cried out and fell beneath the weight of the body that had pushed its way in. It was on him with its hands clutching the side of Jonny’s head and pushing its thumbs into his eyes. There was a loud pop the eyes crushed beneath the pressure and blood and crushed eye matter oozed out from the now empty eye sockets. Jonny’s body had gone limp as he had graciously lost consciousness; though it was a moot point as the creature (it was definitely no longer a person) pulled and twisted and pulled and twisted at his head. With a sickening wetness his head came apart from his shoulders and blood spurted into Judy’s face, covering the front of her body. At that moment she did the instinctual thing, the natural thing, the worst possible thing. She screamed.
-3-The creature looked up at the sound, Jonny’s head still in its hand. Remarkably, it made no move toward her, seeming for the moment to be more interested in the severed head it now possessed. Judy clutched her hand to her mouth and forced herself to stop screaming lest she draw more of the creatures to finish herself off.
“Alright you fucker.” she said.
“What are you gonna do now?”
In reply, the creature brought Jonny’s head to its mouth and pulled off the right ear and began to chew. Judy shuddered as she felt the contents of her stomach churn and rise to the top of her throat. She stared in horror as the creature continued to gnaw at Jonny’s head, pulling and chewing at the flesh until bits of bone were visible beneath.
“Okay Judy, think.” she looked around the room. It was a supply room with boxes stacked floor to ceiling. There was nothing useful for escape that she could see. Between her and the door was a dead body and a creature that clearly had a taste for human flesh. She was grateful to Jonny for bandaging her arm but silently cursed the man for pulling her into a supply room with nothing that could help her.
“Let’s try standing.” she said, moving slowly away from the creature that had discarded Jonny’s head and was now reaching down the cavity of his neck to pull out the innards and eat those as well.
“It looks like I’m safe as long as you have him to munch on.” she said.
Standing now she moved as far away as she could from the creature. Paying no attention to where she was going or any thought to what she would do when she got there, she felt the rising panic of shock threaten to take her again. Her vision blurred and darkened in her periphery as she moved.
“No Judy.” she said to herself.
“You’ve got to stay awake.”
She began to hum a tune to herself, non-descript but familiar nonetheless. She continued moving, smoothly and more quickly. Never taking her eyes off the creature that was now devoring the insides of Jonny’s torso. She jumped, startled as she felt something at her back. She risked a glance over her shoulder and sighed with relief. She couldn’t believe her luck. She’d backed into a large receiving door. She smiled and felt a fresh wave of adrenaline rush through her as her giddy happiness at her possible salvation took her. She looked over at the creature once more. Satisfied that it was still devouring Jonny, she turned her back and began to move more quickly.
She no longer cared about noise or what she was doing. She yanked hard at the bottom of the receiving door and felt it give way. She shoved it upwards and it opened as any garage door would, bouncing on its springs. Luck was still with her; there was no truck parked at the door and open air was before her.
She spared a thought of sympathy for Jonny, her fallen benefactor, but did not wait to give last rites over his body. She jumped down from the loading platform and drew in a deep breath of fresh air. She noticed that there was a hint of decay in the air, almost as if it were autumn and the fallen leaves were beginning to rot.
“Time to go.” she said, glancing down at her feet. Her shoes were not suitable for running and so she took them off, relying on her bare feet to carry her to safety. Now unfettered, she ran without stopping around to the front of the store and straight to her car. Diving inside she locked the doors and turned over the engine. Her breath was coming in great gasps now and there was no question that shock would soon take her. She slammed into gear and sped away from the nightmare grocery store. She thought of poor Jonny and his story of having seen something similar in Charlotte months prior. If the phenomenon was spreading then she would need to get away. Far away. She wouldn’t possibly be able to stay where she was, not knowing that those creatures were nearby, and what they would do.
With each mile she put between her and the grocery store, she began to calm. Her breath evened and finally the tears came. They blurred her vision but she didn’t stop driving. She knew that she dare not. She glanced at her arm, the bandage covering the wound that had started this horror. She forced all the images of the creatures from her mind and thought nothing of blame or fault. After all, it was just a small cut.