Many of them have inquired about the traumatic Detroit experiences alluded to in some of Victor Standish's off-handed remarks.
In honor of WORLD WAR Z,
I will spin a formerly unheard tale of Victor's crucible in Detroit.
When seven years old, Victor was abandoned in a zombie infested Detroit. Thrust in the company of three other youngsters, he attempts to survive the Shamblers (as he calls the zombies.)
Uninfected adults are sometimes even more dangerous than the zombies as the quartet found out with a predatory Marine:
We ducked grunting hordes of Shamblers, heading to the Marine barbeque. It was close a couple of times, but we survived. It just wasn’t much fun.
We had to get off the street. Staying out in the open was nuts, sure to get us killed. With Leroy muttering up a storm, we headed into a block of small businesses.
We approached a bar with its wide front window shattered. Leroy’s eyes brightened. He smiled from ear to ear.
“I get to taste me some whisky.”
Becky frowned, “You pass out, and you’re on your own. We’ll leave your butt.”
He leered at her. “My butt’s too pretty to leave.”
Glasses looked frightened at Becky. I knew it wasn’t Leroy passing out that bothered them. He was dangerous enough for them sober without being drunk. I got sick inside. He looked at me like a tiger would a lame lamb. One day it would come down to a showdown between me and Leroy. I had a pretty good idea who would win. And I wasn’t standing in the winner’s shoes.
I nodded to the deserted bar. “Go ahead. Sneak inside and see if the whisky is worth getting gnawed on.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” glowered Leroy.
“Yeah, I would. You jumping that Marine back there almost got us killed.”
He sneered, “Yeah, but you the hero. You won the day for us.”
“We can’t Conan our way through this mess, Leroy. We have to think our way out of Detroit.”
He laughed softly, “Out of the city? How we gonna do that?”
“That fire station the Marine talked about.”
“Yeah,” snorted Leroy. “What about it?”
“It may still have a gassed-up fire truck.”
He looked skeptical. “And?”
“Your legs are longer than mine.”
He sneered at my crotch. “My everything is longer than yours, punk.”
“That was needless,” I muttered.
Leroy growled, “What you say?”
“The keys for that fire truck will be in that station, and you can drive us out of Detroit – right over any Shamblers who get in our way.”
Becky and Glasses hugged each of my arms. Glasses looked hopeful for the first time in days. Becky whispered in my ear.
“You’re always thinking.”
Leroy glowered at me. “Yeah, you Mr. Hero.”
“No, Leroy. You’ll be the hero when you drive us out of this damn city.”
Leroy looked doubtful at me. “I ain’t never drove no truck before.”
I had a feeling he had never driven anything before, but he was too proud to admit it. “You’ll love it, Leroy.”
“Really, Mr. Hero?”
“Sure. You turn on the key, stomp the gas pedal, steer, and forget about the brakes. Roll over anything that gets in our way.”
He slowly smiled. “Now, that do sound like fun.”
He frowned, “Yeah, but you heard Mr. Man. The Army gonna blow us the hell away if we try to get out of this town.”
I sighed, “At least it will be fast not slowly torn to bloody pieces.”
Leroy grunted, “You got a point there.”
I said, “But we got to get off this street before we’re spotted.”
Glasses clutched my arm tighter and pointed three stores down. “Oh, look, Victor! A pet store.”
Leroy snorted, “What’s got you so worked up, girl?”
Glasses face grew long. “Aunt Ethel bought me a pet hamster when I first came to live with her.”
“So?” snorted Leroy.
“So,” whispered Glasses, hiking her shoulder up as if afraid Leroy would hit her. “Hamsters can go a long time without water. Some hamsters and other animals might still be alive in there.”
Leroy growled, “So?”
Even though she was really smart, Glasses was the weakest inside of the bunch of us. Maybe being smart opened up the world for you in scary ways others couldn’t see. But I could tell she was at the breaking point. She needed something to smile about again. I squeezed her arm gently.
I winked at her. “So we creep inside and free any of the animals who are still left alive.”
Behind Glasses, Becky silently mouthed the words, “Thank you, Victor.”
Leroy spat on the sidewalk. “What good will that do? They still be starving in a week anyhow.”
I said, “But they’ll have a fighting chance.”
He grimaced. “It won’t make no difference.”
I smiled at Glasses. “It will make a difference to them.”
As Glasses beamed, I walked quietly to the pet store. I was all coiled inside. At any moment, I expected a Shambler to lurch around the corner or from behind a deserted car. Leroy scoffed at me as he walked in easy strides beside me.
“I be wrong about you. You’re not Mr. Hero. You Mr. Saint.”
I shook my head. “The only saints are dead.”
His white smile flashed like a knife strike from the darkness. “That be what I mean.”
Mother taught me that were three kinds of darkness: the dying of the light at the end of day; the dying of a life at the end of days; and the constant darkness in a mind hugging hate and bitterness for so long that it dyed the soul. I saw all three kinds of darkness in Leroy’s glittering eyes.
Becky and Glasses stepped to my left as Leroy eyed me warily from my right. “So Mr. Saint you gonna break the front win ---- Holy Shit!”
I followed the direction of his eyes and jumped back both from the idea of shattering the window and the window itself. My mouth suddenly was a desert and my tongue a stone. Six wet-looking snakes slithered all up and down the front of their enclosure whose fourth side was the store’s window.
“Ah, well, the snakes are alive at least.”
“Whoop-dee-doo. I hate snakes!”
Glasses and Becky nodded in agreement with Leroy. I wasn’t planning on asking any snakes to the prom myself. But that the snakes were still alive was a good sign. I headed to the front door and reluctantly pulled the Marine’s knife from the small of my back.
Leroy pulled a twin of that knife from his worn boot. “Mr. Marine had hisself two knifes, one in the top of each boot.”
“Whoop-dee-doo,” I forced a smile back at Leroy. “You let a Shambler get close enough to use that knife, you’re as good as dead anyway.”
Leroy’s smile was colder than any Shambler’s. “Wasn’t thinking about those meat puppets, Mr. Saint.”
Becky and Glasses exchanged worried glances. I just shrugged. If Leroy kept eyeing my back to plant that knife the more likely a Shambler would stumble upon him unawares. Hate was a lot like a snake. If you weren’t careful, it would flip around and bite you.
I forced the knife blade between the bolt and the door jam. I pushed with all my might. The blade snapped at the same time the door pushed inwards. Leroy hooted with glee.
He started to lunge for me. “Now, I the only one with a knif -- Mother Fuc….”
He didn’t get the rest of the word out. A furry ball of snarling incisors leapt for his throat. A Shambler bunny. Damn!
Leroy wildly tried to evade the rabid rabbit. He knocked me through the front window. The snakes hissed loudly and slithered the hell all over me. I admit it. I shrieked like a little girl. But so did Leroy as a half-dozen Shambler Bunnies hopped in rapid jumps for him as he lay squirming on the street.
Glasses ran into the pet store, and I heard the shattering of more glass. I scrambled out of the snake case and promptly fell beside Leroy. A hissing rabbit went for my throat. I managed to catch its throat. It wiggled so furiously I knew I was going to lose hold of the thing at any second.
A tidal wave of snakes suddenly swarmed wiggling over me and up my arms to sink their fangs into the screaming bunny. I screamed right along with it. Damn. Damn!
Glasses wrenched on my arm, heaving me to my feet. “Get up, Victor! Get up! Cold-blooded creatures must not get the disease, only warm-blooded.”
Leroy jumped to his feet, slapping at his shirt front. “Shambler bunnies. What the fu….”
The biggest snake I had ever seen slithered over his feet to swallow a Shambler rabbit in one enormous gulp. For the first time ever, Leroy and I agreed on something. We ran the hell away from there.
We all ran for hours it seemed until pins of fire stabbed at our arms, chests, and legs. Not trusting to another building, we hid in the crook of three collided cars in the middle of a dark street.
Slowly, the hot needles stopped jabbing my arms and legs. Leroy glared at Glasses wordlessly. It was plain he blamed her for the shame of almost being eaten by a Shambler Bunny. I snickered despite my weariness. He told me I was number one with the wrong finger. I winked at Glasses.
“Fast thinking,” I whispered to her as she blushed under the moonlight.
Becky murmured, “Souls.”
“Huh?” I intelligently said.
“Souls,” Becky said, her eyes haunted hollows. “I think it had to do with souls. Snakes don’t have them. The little bunnies did.”
Leroy groaned and balled up to go to sleep. “I gonna pretend I didn’t hear that.”
But I couldn’t get Becky’s words out of my head. I still can’t.