If you haven't caught up, the most compete version of the BROTHERS IN SOLITUDE PROLOGUE is here.
Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo, I'm letting readers follow along as I #closecirlces and finish projects that I've started before getting sidetracked with something new. Please let me know any mistakes, typos, or concerns in the comment sections. Thanks for reading as well as your help.
Thirty or forty creatures shuffled about the Megacenter's main parking lot, ambling without any obvious direction or purpose.
Chad pushed through the scrubby bushes he and Drake hid behind and surveyed the scene with olive green binoculars. Few vehicles remained. Several random carts scattered the parking spaces, the white lines once representing order now sprawled out faded, cracked, and forgotten. Before the world went to shit, the Megacenter was Port Wallace's downtown, the small community's shining gem. Now a tomb, the supermarket served as a beacon for the walking dead.
"Looks like we found where they've been disappearing to." A chill haunted the Florida air, and Chad wished he'd worn his jacket. Why did Drake have to be right again? "Twice as many as the last time we were out this far. How many do you think are inside?"
"I don’t know." Drake adjusted the hunting knife on his belt. "A million?"
Halfway across the lot, one of the things lurched over the door of a car long abandoned, pulling the handle again and again without success.
"What's that rot going to do with a car?" Drake asked. "I've never seen one drive."
"Maybe it used to own it." Chad imagined the decaying corpse parked at the city pier and listening to music. "Maybe it wants to go home."
"I don't think so. They're just stupid, reanimated meat."
Chad suppressed a giggle. "Well, looks like the dummies still know how to shop."
"What could they possibly need in there?"
Chad didn't answer. Drake, too serious for his seventeen years, rarely picked up on subtle jokes. So much had changed in two years. Chad missed his brother's pre-apocalypse silliness.
He tucked his binoculars in his backpack and awaited instructions, like normal. Drake always took command.
"It's a shame we can't get on that roof. I bet we could drop right on top of whatever is worth salvaging in there, skip all the hassles."
"I think we can handle them. They're spread out pretty thin. We can pick them off one by one. Start with the stragglers closest to Front Beach Drive and work our way in."
"No, we need to save our energy. Go hand-to-hand out here, and we'll have nothing left by the time we make it inside."
"Still think we can get in through the far side? Through the tire center?"
Drake nodded and pointed to the building's left-hand corner. Once a lush greenhouse sectioned off with a chain-link fence, a new kind of weed consumed the gardening department, their groans a dreadful concerto coming from behind the tattered white plastic.
"Seems they're bottled up there." Drake's eyes narrowed. "We can keep low behind all these bushes and follow them past that mess in gardening. If they're spread out enough, we'll slip into the automotive entrance."
Chad gave a thumbs up and readied his crossbow. Scavenging the Megacenter would take a great deal of pressure off their resources. Their supplies were running low, and they had picked clean the neighborhood surrounding their home.
The brothers left their bikes and followed the overgrown tree line surrounding the parking lot. Chad minded his footsteps. The dead reacted to sound more than sight or smell. The older ones, the unfortunate souls ripped from their humanity at the plague's onset, were nearly blind. Their red and yellow eyes decayed faster than their saggy, gray flesh, but even blind, the creatures pinpointed prey with frightening accuracy.
The brothers, separated from clawing hands and gnashing jaws by thick, tall bushes, passed the crowd outside the greenhouse with ease. Finding an opening in the plants several feet from the automotive center's entrance, they paused.
The side entrance door hung askew, its hinges broken from swarms of the undead or roaming gangs that looted the area as civilization collapsed.
An oversized lady wearing a light blue bathrobe splotched with old bloodstains wandered from the repair bay. Her gnarled, mud-covered feet waddled over the greasy concrete as she stared off into the clear, azure sky. Two further along in their decomposition staggered closer to the entrance. On the tallest, the sun glinted off an exposed clavicle, bleached white from exposure to the elements.
Chad hoped Drake would call the whole thing off. How many waited inside? The automotive entrance was situated on the opposite side of the building from the food section, past electronics, cleaning supplies, and pet care. The center of the food department housed can goods, but the plan called for staying along the edge of the building and skipping the wide aisles where larger numbers of the things could gather. Their approach would take longer but sounded safer in theory.
As the reality sank in, the less appealing the invasion became.
"What are you thinking, Drake?"
"We can make it. Get the fatty. I'll take out the other two."
"Then we get inside as quick and quiet as possible."
Chad swallowed hard, pushing back the nausea twisting his guts. Instincts begged his legs to run away, but once Drake made up his mind, there was no turning back.
Drake readied the machete that their father used to trim hibiscus plants, his icy, unyielding stare fixed on the two obstructing their path.
Chad aimed the crossbow.
An arrow struck bathrobe's temple. She crumpled with an agonized gasp. The other two shifted their milky gazes towards the brothers.
Drake sprung, swinging at the tall one's neck, severing its head clean off its body. The second grasped at him, its gaping mouth poised for a poisonous bite. After planting the blade deep into its skull, the rancid fiend collapsed and twitched at Drake's feet.
Back at the gardening section, several shuffling corpses remained unaffected by the ambush. The last thing they needed was a swarm trapping inside the store.
Drake waved the machete at the side entrance, sprinting.
Chad retrieved the arrow from bathrobe's head, reloading his weapon without missing a step as Drake disappeared into the building.
Six crows circled overhead, as if waiting for something to die.
Inside, the auto care department still smelled of new tires and burnt motor oil. Drake paused by a drinking fountain nestled between two tire racks. Turning the knob, the fountain yielded no precious liquid.
"What the hell?" Chad kept his voice low.
"I thought since the water still ran at our house, it would work. Probably would have been stale anyways."
"Come on, dude."
Drake turned left at the first row of antifreeze and windshield wiper blades, hugging the back wall as they journeyed deeper into the store. The natural light from the outside waned. Chad, eyes still adjusting, slowed as his vision focused. Broken glass crunched under his sneakers and reverberated through the aisles.
A gurgling groan replied from the darkness.
"Did you hear that?" Drake whispered.
"Forget it, let's hurry. I'm not liking the vibe in here."
Chad silently agreed.
Shadows swallowed them. Drake flicked on a flashlight and kept it pointed low as they passed paint cans and ladders. Chad fumbled around his pocket for a glow stick. An emergency precaution, holding the plastic tube offed a drop of relief.
He hated the dark.
Though embarrassing to admit, if their home still had power, he'd sleep with a nightlight. And should he live another hundred years, he prayed to God that his brother never discovered his fear.
Creeping past a wall of TVs long-starved for electricity, he wished he could watch cartoons again. Nothing beat lounging on the couch and gobbling potato chips—why did those perfect afternoons end?
It wasn't fair.
When they reached the CDs and video games, the stale air soured.
Electronics used to be his favorite department. While Mom shopped for groceries, Chad would play the video games on display. Those random kids he met over the latest arcade delight were probably all dead now. He couldn't even remember any of their names.
Drake stopped and swept the beam.
Still clinging to a shotgun, a man missing half of his face sat with his back against a CD rack. Rusty brown chunks of tissue splattered across the rock and pop CDs—the stiff appeared relatively fresh. Drake traced the body with the flashlight. His exposed legs revealed chunks of missing flesh. Suicide—a pitiful mercy from reanimation.
"If I get bit," Drake said under his breath, "I won't hesitate."
"I'll do it for you."
"I got your back, too."
They pounded fists before pushing on.
Loud groans by the paper towels and toilet bowl cleaner.
Numerous creatures, but on which aisle?
The stench burned Chad's lungs; he stifled a cough.
Drake halted, the machete ready to strike.
Chad, holding his breath, raised the crossbow.
At the corner of dog food and cat litter, a little girl around twelve-years-old grabbed Drake's arm, knocking the machete from his hands. He screamed when the flashlight revealed long-dead skin dangling from her face, exposing a vacant eye socket and unhinged jaw.
Chad didn't shoot.
He couldn't risk hitting Drake.
Hooking the crossbow's prod over his shoulder, he grabbed the little girl by her nappy blonde locks and jerked. Clumps of scalp broke free, leaving Chad with a handful of dry, knotted hair. Drake unsheathed the hunting knife in his belt and rammed the blade's tip into her forehead. Black pus oozed from the wound. Drake tossed aside her carcass—it hit a stack of metal dog bowls, sending them crashing.
"Shit," he said.
"They're coming." The raid failed, Chad's adrenaline surged. "We have to get out of here."
Drake scooped up his machete as a throng surrounded them.
Chad drew his revolver. "Drake, let's go."
He dropped what was once an elderly man with a single headshot. The blast bounced off the walls and the store came alive with un-life.
"Save your bullets."
They ran along the back wall. Almost clear.
At the engine fluids, they rounded the corner with the drinking fountain. Fifteen or twenty staring pairs of red and yellow eyes blocked the tire and lube entrance. Behind them, the groans and growls of the approaching mob grew louder.
Drake dove in, swinging the machete and taking down a rotting woman still in her Megacenter uniform.
"Get down," Chad shouted.
Chad unloaded, opening a wide gap within the infected.
The brothers dashed at the broken door.
Chad shoved a gaunt man in bloodied scrubs into the checkout counter before stepping outside into the warm sunlight. After the building's dark corridors, the blue sky and fresh air a religious experience.They vanished into the bushes and reclaimed their rides, mounting their bikes and peddling as fast as they could to Lister Avenue, to home.
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