Day 17

The “office” was just a small box of a room, not built into the original construction of the pharmacy but rather a prefabricated addition. It was ugly, too, the walls made up of plywood treated to look like it was made of boards, and the frames being exposed metal. It was a cramped, thin-walled cube slapped into a musty warehouse.

There was no sound as Dani had approached and she had begun to grow nervous. Had the ghoul wandered out into the store, or was it lying in wait? What about the door out to the back alley? Had it pushed its way through, somehow. The lack of knowledge irked her. The lack of control quickly became the worst part of the apocalypse.

She paused at the door of the office. Things were quiet and the inside was darkened. The door was ajar, slightly, and a foul stench wafted out from the crack of the door and the frame. She didn’t approach closer, or dare put her face near enough to look through.

“Is it in there?”

The quiet voice of the teenager behind her made Dani practically jump out of her skin. She whirled around and saw the teen standing here, cringing slightly. Dani furrowed her brow and wildly waved her free hand to shoo the girl away. She acquiesced, her eyes wide.

Dani took a step closer to the door and rest the point of the fireplace poker against it. She gave it a brief shove, but the door didn’t move inward much. Something was blocking it.

Shit. Shit.

She tried again, giving it a harder push, but the resistance was so great the tip of the poker slid across the plywood and hit the frame with a clang. Danny retracted her weapon and took a step back, listening. Something began to move inside and in a moment the door clicked shut.

“Did it just close the door?”

Dani turned back at the girl. She shook her head. “Not on purpose… these things are dumb. Really dumb.”

“So it can’t get out?”

Dani shrugged as she gazed at the office. “Probably not, but I still need to get in there,” she turned back to the teen, “you should keep an eye on your mom for a few minutes. I’ll take care of this.”

The girl trudged away as Dani turned her attention toward the office. The first step was to open the door, but now there was definite shuffling going on behind it. Within an instant, a bloody and rotted hand slapped against the thing pane of glass that served as a window and then the rest of the ghoul rolled into view.

It was thin, most of these things were, and skin hung loosely from its torso. The shirt was once a blood button-up, but now it was mostly dull and grey with deep brown stains down the neck and chest. A moldy green and brown striped tie hung loosely from the creature’s neck. The face, or at least what hadn’t slid off from the skull, had the faintest trace of a mustache and the top of the head had thin patches of hair. On the hip was a walkie-talky in a holster.

The ghoul was far enough from the door she could open it and then step back to regroup. She grabbed the doorknob and gave it a turn, only for it to rattle ineffectively. The office was locked. Of course. What were the options? She watched the ghoul trace her movements at the window. It slapped at the glass which rattled loudly given the quiet of the storeroom. It wasn’t strong glass at all but breaking glass was noisy. She scanned for a key nearby but saw nothing. There was no choice in the matter.

That is when she heard the click of the doorknob.

The ghoul was still at the window, far enough away from opening the door, but somehow the knob had turned. Not missing a moment, Dani kicked the door open. It slammed against the wall and the ghoul, who had been tethered to the knob by a lanyard and keyring, flew back into a filing cabinet and collapsed into a heap. Dani took two huge steps into the darkened office and put all her weight into driving the poker deep into the ghoul’s eye socket. The ghoul flailed a bit as the poker stirred the brain matter within the skull and after a few moments of vigorous stirring, it was now completely still.

Dani dutifully pulled at the poker from inside the skull, but it became wedged on bone, likely the orbital of the skull. She gave it another tug, but still no motion. Annoyed, she placed a foot on the former manager’s chest and grabbed the handle with both hands. After a mental count of three and a deep breath, she pulled with all her might.

The poker ripped free from the skull, arcing a trail of blood. brain and shards of bone in the air as she lost her balance. The poker traveled full speed back behind her and shattered the tiny office’s window. Noisy cracking and splintering echoed in the storeroom. The poker’s hook lodged itself on the frame and rocked violently before clattering on the plywood floor. Dani studied the window, and just beyond she saw the teen who was overlooking the chaos. Gore dripped down the shards of glass that still remained lodged in the window frame.

“Gross,” she said.

Edgar stood near the front of the store staring out at the parking lot. His cart was as full as he could arrange. Anything that seemed edible or not damaged beyond being safe to eat was piled in, There was no ordering to the stacks, and he’d considered going through and making his assemblage less chaotic. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.

Beyond the parking lot, he noticed a gas station kitty-corner from the pharmacy. The place had clearly been hit by people for whatever gas they could find. Was there any more left? he wondered. What had really caught his attention, however, was the sight of a ghoul tangled up in a seatbelt, attempting to escape the opened door of a sedan. The bastard didn’t have enough sense to unbuckle the belt or even twist its own body in such a way that it could free itself. It simply would extend itself and the belt as far as it could go before the belt automatically retracted, pulling it back into the car, violently. Each time a limb or its head would bash against the frame, at least from what Edgar could see from this distance.

Eventually, Edgar figured, the thing would eventually saw itself free from the car from the constant friction of the belt.

“Fuckin’ crazy,” he mumbled.

“What is?”

Jimmy rolled his cart toward the door, not full, but still, a fair amount of medical supplies rattled inside.

“Those things. I’ve been watching this dumb dude across the street trying to get out of a car.”

Jimmy set the cart aside and squinted into the distance. “How the hell are your eyes so good?”

Edgar shrugged. “How are your so goddamn bad.”

“You saw my glasses got smashed, right, asshole?”

Edgar smirked. Jimmy paused a moment, staring into the distance, and then huffed.

“Fuck it. Gonna grab some pairs from the pharmacy, I think there may be a couple left.” He whirled around and made his way from the front entrance, “be back in a minute.”

“Make sure they look good, some nice bifocals, maybe,” Edgar said.

He turned to see Jimmy walking into the darkness, his arms raised above his head, his middle finger higher. His friend vanished into an aisle. Edgar turned back to the entrance and continued to watch the ghoul. It snapped back again, the back of its head smashing into the door frame in what seemed like a black mist. It slumped behind the door for a moment. There was no movement and Edgar wondered if it had finally bashed its own brain in.

A moment later, a familiar figure rose up from behind the door, wriggling, and thrashing. After some struggle it finally untangled itself from the seatbelt, taking strained, wobbling steps from the car door.

“There you go,” Edgar muttered.

The ghoul hit the curb of the gas mart and smashed into a wall, scrunching up like a sack of rotten meat and sliding down the surface.

“Hey, are you Edgar?” asked a whispered voice.

He glanced to his side at a teenage girl, her brown hair was a tangled mess. She looked at him and shrugged. She made her way to one of the shopping carts in the corral and started to pull it loose from the others.

“Dani said you can help carry my mom to the car.”

The Dead Life is a Haunted MTL original fiction series.

About the Author

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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