It was almost too late this time. Malcolm Ecker’s bowels rumbled painfully, yet he managed to get his pants off before soiling himself. Again. He squatted down, feeling ridiculous in the middle of the snow with his pants down and a deep earthy stench–his own–filled his nostrils as it dispersed into the frosted air.
Malcolm was glad that no one was there to see him, though they’d seen him do much worse. Something snapped in the distant trees: perhaps a broken twig or an animal on a branch. His bowels clenched again and he winced at the movement: distantly wondering if it was the result of his body or fear and not really caring so long as it passed and he could move on. He already felt cold enough out here and the memory of bloated, distended shapes coming through the windows of his old flat came at him …
He bit back a grunt of considerable discomfort, but eventually he felt his bowels–even as irritated by stress as they were–uncoil like a snake. After he cleaned himself, he pushed as much snow on the refuse he created as he could. His ears strained for groans in the distance, but he heard nothing. That didn’t mean anything, however. Some of the things out there didn’t have what one would consider proper mouths anymore or vocal cords.
Malcolm piled as much snow as he could: his hands shaking and clumsy. He knew by now that Rob–the leader of the people who’d found him at his apartment two weeks ago–would have been hissing at him: telling him how incompetent he was. Malcolm had never camped before and if he didn’t know that his wilderness survival skills were lacking, Rob and most of the others took enough time to make that fact very clear to him.
It was just as well too. Malcolm knew that he’d left enough tracks for the others to follow him. But it was night and they wouldn’t waste the energy–flashlight battery or otherwise–to track him yet even when they found the gun missing. Malcolm’s only other consolation, as he pulled up his pants–scrubbed a few times by snow and ice this week or so–was that he was far enough that if something happened to him before he … did what he had to do, he would not get traced back to the camp.
So Malcolm put his heavy mitts back on and narrowly avoided colliding his foot into another partially submerged headstone. A part of him still felt bad about defecating in the large cemetery park they found as their refuge. But then he remembered Sara and her observations about the things: that they had reanimated only after recent death. Therefore during this time, a graveyard was one of the safer places to be. The truly dead would not mind someone of the living needing to relieve their biological need, he figured, and those that weren’t would settle it with him one way or another.
Malcolm thought of them then, though he didn’t really want to, as he came to a stop near a tree. His hands gripped tightly around the Kali sticks he brought with him. His damned Kali sticks. He’d just started training at that dojo before the insanity broke out all over the world. His therapist told him to take up a martial art to deal with his irritable bowel which, up until now, kept him at home or near a toilet for a good portion of his adult life. Some people might have thought that pretty funny, but Malcolm was not one of them. It wasn’t funny to be in discomfort and not be able to deal with the slightest anxiety without a bathroom nearby. It really wasn’t funny when other people thought it so funny that he wanted to avoid them and stay home as much as possible.
That was until his martial arts classes and the clacking of the wooden Kali sticks against each other changed the burning anxiety in his stomach into something calmer, cleaner, and slightly more focused.
Malcolm now stared out at the distant trees and wondered just how memories of his humiliations managed to comfort him against the images of the swollen dead breaking into his apartment. There had been just two of them. It was like they had died from some kind of allergic reaction to distend and swell their body parts so much: which he supposed, in retrospect, they did. He’d just been working on his PhD at the time: a dissertation on role-playing games as a relatively new sub-genre of oral storytelling tradition. The advantage to that was that he’d barely had to leave his apartment as he was funded and submitted most of his work to his Professor online.
Perhaps the other advantage was that he’d had a brief shelter against the creatures as they started to come back to life. He’d known something was wrong. There’d been Internet reports all over the place. He even kept his door locked and barricaded with furniture. Malcolm remembered sitting in that small room with his sticks even as he ran out of food. The plumbing was still working then and he still hadn’t even taken a shower. He’d been too on edge and rightfully paranoid.
When the two creatures found him, he’d barely been upright from lack of food and sleep. Even at the best of times, he lacked upper body strength. The first Kali strike only burst a blood vessel in the creature’s cheek. The second stick attack was a clumsy switch that got grabbed by the other creature. He’d hit the other creature’s face to the side again: but not nearly enough to do that damage that was necessary.
Malcolm’s last thoughts at the time were that there was big difference between fighting these things with dice and trying to feebly hit them with–for all intents and purposes–blunt instruments. Colin, who was an actual martial fighter in the group, told him about this and actually got angry at him when they encountered a group of the things that had moved into the cemetery park. He’d berated him about getting himself killed. Malcolm felt really bad then as Colin and Jen had saved his life from those creatures and since then, Colin had tried to train him to fight as much as possible.
During the two weeks they’d been together, he’d managed to nearly stab himself with the knife and machete that Colin gave him to train with. That was not counting the time he nearly tripped over himself to let Sara and Jen get away from one of the creatures that attacked them here with disturbing frequency. The creature … nearly bit him, just like they did back in his old apartment before Colin and the others made short work of them. The sound of bullets were nothing like the television shows he used to watch. They were loud and piercing and the very sound of them cracked through his very being.
They’d shot the creatures the night they found him too–close-range–and Malcolm could still hear the shots like thunder in his eardrums. He wondered somehow if he’d been made deaf by some of that. Certainly Rob seemed to think so. He always asked Malcolm if he had a hearing problem in addition to incontinence. Rob had led them to the cemetery after raiding Malcolm’s apartment for what little resources there were: which–as Rob said a few times–had been one of Malcolm’s few redeeming features and not much else.
The memories were all jumbling together now, yet it seemed appropriate to Malcolm as he put his Kali sticks down–almost reverently–into the snow: ashamed that someone more worthy hadn’t taken them instead. He reached a hand into his coat pocket. It didn’t take an idiot to figure out that Malcolm wasn’t particularly wanted and that the only reason he was there was out of common human decency: a decency that had a certain patience expiry date. He had already almost gotten them killed a few times trying to raid some nearby variety stores and bungling: making too much noise, or not hitting a creature hard enough with a machete. He didn’t like to think about that blade embedded in that creature’s chest, lost forever as swarms of them began to mass and they had to run.
Malcolm also really didn’t want to think about the incident with the gun … the same gun he held in his hand right now, how he missed the creature with it, how it went past it and .. into Jen’s shoulder instead. After they’d run, after Rob began to beat him, after they hauled him away, Colin had said it was an accident and that he just needed more time to learn. Malcolm didn’t even blame Rob for getting that angry and almost wished Jen hadn’t interceded. He’d never been good at First-Person Shooters, but this had been different and he could have …
Sara kept telling Malcolm–in a cold, detached manner–that if and when civilization needed to be rebuilt, his own skills would come in handy. It was a cold comfort. It was hard to even maintain a tent near a crypt and get food never mind write or record anything. And Malcolm spent a good few years writing about table-top RPGs that he’d barely even played. None of the group were interested in his theories–and he couldn’t tell stories without stuttering and the zombie story he made earned him a punch to the shoulder from Rob.
And the creatures were massing. Some other survivors must have had the same idea they did and carried the infection to the cemetery. After what happened with Jen, few of the party were even talking to him now. Malcolm was smart enough to realize he’d become dead weight.
Malcolm turned the safety of the gun off. Although Colin had failed to teach him how to use a blade or a gun properly, he remembered this much: that and loading it. He looked down at the barrel. There was one bullet in there. The way Malcolm figured it, they would have had to use it on him eventually. There was no way he’d be able to avoid being bitten or scratched forever and he was too much of a coward to let the creatures devour him unarmed and alone. So he felt a little bit better about taking the gun and wasting one bullet. Besides, even if that didn’t happen and he didn’t accidentally kill one of the team, he knew he would easily get sick and use Sara’s medical supplies up, and Rob probably didn’t consider him worth the penicillin.
He was doing them all a favour, he told himself. But in reality, he was doing the favour for himself.
They’d find him here. The creatures didn’t eat the dead and even if another human group found him, the gun would benefit them instead. Anyone would certainly use it better than he had. His only regret, as he put the barrel into his mouth–where even he could not miss this shot–was that Jen would be sad. Although the others hadn’t really hated him, except for her boyfriend Rob, they’d not nearly been as nice or compassionate to him as she had.
Malcolm felt his bowels begin to tighten again. And although he knew that once he did this, he would definitely soil himself, for the first time in his whole life he was okay with that. A smile came onto his face as he pulled the trigger of the gun.