The sound of the gate, under some form of duress, caught the attention of Dani and Bob. Within an instant, they dashed out of the storage unit and made their way to the entrance of the facility. Just over the top of her Focus, parked flush against the sliding gate, Dani saw two men. Bob’s revolver, one of his many sidearms, was already drawn as they approached the two strangers. Dani drew her pistol.
“What the hell are you two doing?” Bob yelled.
The two men immediately turned their attention to Dani and Bob. They both stepped back, their hands raised. The clatter of bolt cutters hitting the ground filled the air.
“Yo, yo, hold up,” said the red-headed man. He looked to be in his late twenties or so, dressed in baggy clothes and a hoodie. His face was scruffy. He looked worn out.
“Please, you gotta let us in,” said his companion. He looked Latino and was dressed much the same as the red-head. He was twice his friend’s weight. Dani’s dad would have called them gangbangers. She hated the term.
Dani scanned her pistol in their direction. “Why should we let you in?”
The red-head lowered his guard slightly and turned his head to the street behind him, enough to point behind him without taking his eyes off Dani’s gun. “We’re being followed. Got a shitload of those rotten fuckers on us. You gotta let us in.”
Dani looked at Bob and gestured with her own head. Bob reoriented himself to get a peek through the gate to look down the street.
“I don’t see any of ‘em,” he said.
The Latino man furrowed his brow. “Do you think we’re fuckin’ lying? They’re coming, dude. You gotta help us.”
“Shut up,” Dani barked. She turned her ear to listen for sounds. Sure enough, there was a sustained series of low moans in the distance.
“Bob, I think they’re right.”
“Shit. Alright, plan?”
Dani looked at the strangers and lowered her gun. “Alright, listen, we have a side gate. We can’t risk a bunch of them piling up on this gate here. We want you to go around. Got it?”
The red-head nodded. “Yeah, sure, got it. Promise you’ll let us in?”
“Provided you do your part and help us move that group along, sure.”
The men glanced at each other and nodded.
“Bob, right?” asked the bigger man, “right around the corner?”
Bob lowered his revolver. “Yeah, get in your car and get your ass in gear. I’ll be right there to get it open.”
Alerted by the noise, Sandy finally stepped out of the administrative building holding a baseball bat.
“What is going on?”
Dani gestured to the strangers. “These guys – what are your names?”
“Jimmy,” said the red-head.
“Edgar,” said the other.
“- Jimmy and Edgar here, they need our help, we’re gonna have them come in the side gate.”
Sandy looked incredulous. “Why in God’s name would we do that?”
As if fate, the first of the ghouls made its presence known. It stumbled into view on the street and lobbed its body in lurching motions along the pavement.
“Fuck! Bob, get it!” Sandy yelped.
The ghoul cast a pair of glassy eyes at the gate and let out a moan.
Bob snapped at Sandy, “there’s a bunch more coming.”
He turned to Jimmy and Edgar, “We need to move now. Get goin’ boys.”
Edgar grabbed the bolt cutters from the ground. The pair scrambled to their car, a burgundy Cadillac. They practically dove inside and turned the ignition. Dani and Bob moved towards the office and escorted Sandy out of sight of the gate.
Bob turned to Dani. “Kid, you’re faster, I need you to get to the gate, now. Got it?”
Dani nodded and tucked the pistol into the waist of her jeans. She started running to the side gate, sorting through the keyring she pulled from her pocket.
Bob pulled Sandy into the office and pointed her to the stairs.
“I need you to go up there and keep an eye on how many of those things are comin’. We need to keep as quiet as possible, so I want you to write them down on that little whiteboard, you know the one you use for the schedule?”
“Right, I have it.”
“I want you to write the number you see on that board, okay? Show it to me out the window near the bathroom, right? It’ll keep you out of sight.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I think I have a way to direct those things,” he said. “I just need to know how many there are.”
Dani arrived at the gate with the key in hand. She could hear the engine of the car idling on the other side. The gate was reinforced with corrugated metal, but it was still a sliding gate. There was only so much weight it could bear. She worried that they were substituting one weak gate for another.
She slipped the key into the lock and ripped the chain from the assembly. She pulled the gate open for the car to drive in. As the car entered she wondered if it was already a pile of shit before the apocalypse or if the collected grime and gore was most of what she saw. The car drove down a few units and came to a stop as Dani began to slide the gate closed. She nearly shit herself when she heard the raspy moan on the other side of the metal barrier.
She leaned hard against the gate’s end, trying to roll it shut faster but there was no use. The ghoul stumbled into the property. It was a thin man, clothes tattered and stiff and stale. The scent of rot and waste made her gag. She backed off the gate and pried the pistol from her pants as the ghoul turned to her. This was the first ghoul she’d seen up close, within feet, since the day she arrived. She held her pistol up, taking a few steps back to give herself some distance, but all she could see was the face of her neighbor, torn from her memories. She took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, and popped the ghoul in the shoulder. The impact made it stumble slightly, out of sheer force rather than any sense of pain, but it didn’t stop. Dani fired another shot right into the forehead. This time the ghoul fell backward, landing in an awkward crumple. It didn’t get up. Blackened blood and discolored grey matter pooled beneath its shattered skull.
Jimmy and Edgar made their way to the gate. They finished rolling it shut. Gun still in hand, Dani strode over and looped the chain around a couple of times before locking everything down.
The pair stepped away from her, their hands open and raised to show they meant no harm. The red-head, Jimmy, kicked at the ghoul’s tattered hand and looked at Dani.
Thank you for reading the eighth installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.