So here is a 8k word short (yeah yeah, shut up) that I wrote a while ago and have no use for it.
Zombies, of course.
Originally this was an entry for an anthology but it was summarily rejected so you can read it. :)
Happy Friday, everyone!
Stampede of the Dead
Of course the weather had to change from below seasonal and rainy, to sweltering and stagnant just in time for the city’s population to swell with tourists. Lola sighed to herself as she was squeezed in between a morbidly obese woman with offensive body odour, and a young Guido wearing too much cheap cologne and talking loudly on his cell phone. The sudden change in weather had given Lola a migraine and that, combined with the sudden unbearable heat and the rapid influx of tourists clogging the public transit system, made her less than tolerant.
Lola was a young girl, in her mid-twenties with long hair that she kept dyed a permanent shade of fire-engine red. She dressed down, simple clothes that made less of a statement than her hair. The day found her wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, with a pair of black running shoes. She was on her way home from work, having ditched her uniform khakis in her locker before leaving. She made a note to shower as soon as she got home. If she got home. She had left more than two hours previously to try and catch a train to the downtown core, only to be pushed and jostled out of the way by sweaty, screaming tourists on their way to the Stampede grounds.
The City of Calgary took pride in it’s yearly testament to consumerism, touting the Calgary Stampede as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” The Calgary Stampede was a combination of an international rodeo competition, a midway complete with rides of all sorts and carnival games, as well as plenty of bars, musicians and pretty much every other kind of attraction you could think of. Lola was pretty sure that even Cirque du Soliel was attending and performing this year. This year marked the centennial celebration for the Stampede and the show had gotten bigger than ever, bringing in tourists from all over the world to spend their money and swamp the city streets. It was the biggest thing happening in Cow Town, and the biggest attraction in the city. Nothing came close to topping it in all of Alberta, and it garnered international media attention every year.
Lola hated it. She wasn’t one for rides to start with, being afraid of heights and prone to motion sickness didn’t mesh well with fast-moving carnival attractions, and the sheer amount of people who frequented the exhibition every year made her want to scream. She wasn’t about to join the protesters on the other side of the equation though. She did have kind of an affinity for chuck wagon races, and animal deaths in rodeos weren’t as uncommon as the PETA protesters would have you believe. She just didn’t agree with the blatant spending and the emphasis put on over-eating and frivolous behaviour that the Stampede seemed to breed.
Although, Lola did have to admit, that she had fond memories of mini donuts and midway corn dogs from when she was a less-cynical child.
Absently, Lola stared out the grimy window at the passing Calgary cityscape. They were still moving slowly from the deep South, well passed Chinook mall. She frowned and leaned closer to the window, trying to get a better view of what was happening outside.
The train was just one stop away from the Stampede grounds, but there seemed to be a major event happening on the hillside where the Reader Rock Garden was located. A group of ragged people were making their way down the hill, stumbling as they went about whatever it was that they were doing. A different group of protesters was waving signs at passing cars, yelling about animal cruelty and generally hating on the Stampede in general. Lola watched in mute fascination as the raggedy group of stumbling people were suddenly, violently, in the midst of the protesters. A fist fight broke out between the two groups and no one but Lola seemed to notice. Lola’s eyes grew wide with shock as the first spray of visceral red blood flew from one of the protesters’ faces and she nearly screamed.
“Did you see that?” Lola asked the morbidly obese woman standing next to her.
“See what?” The woman grunted.
Lola sighed. “Never mind.”
The C-train trundled onwards, passing the violent protest and leaving it behind in a cloud of dust. Lola strained to catch another glimpse of the violence as the passengers began to disembark from the train to attend the Stampede. She couldn’t see anything through the press of bodies, and the passengers boarding the train to go home from the Stampede didn’t help the matter much. She wondered if maybe she should have called the police to report the fight, but she assumed that there would be some sort of police presence there already. Protests around the Stampede were almost always monitored since there had been so many violent reports surrounding them.
Lola groaned as she was soon pressed between two sweaty musclebound men in wife beaters and chaps and she tried very hard not to throw up as the train took her home. She would be the first to admit that she would be thrilled when the stampede was over and things could return to normal.
* * * * *
The night settled over the city cold and clear, and the Stampede festivities continued on until the wee hours of the night. The lights in the city cast their harsh orange glow across the multifaceted glass and steel of the downtown core. Olympic Plaza was deathly silent except for the constantly running water of the little pool there, and the soft blue glow of the year-round festive lights on the grass illuminated the sleeping transients who had nowhere else to go.
Mingled with the sounds of the city, and the distant sounds of the fairway, a low, steady drumbeat and a song in a foreign language pounded out unabashedly into the night. The words were lost on the people who travelled past without hearing, but the few who did hear them soon grew sleepy. The men and women who slept in the parks at night, and the few who dared to walk alone all swooned under the spell of the drums, collapsing in a heap on the ground as the chant came to an end. The men and women who fell under the spell of the chant remained motionless in the cooling night air, no matter where they fell.
From the shadows in Olympic Plaza, a lone figure appeared, dressed in loose-fitting garb and carrying a hand drum, the figure passed the slumped over transients who had fallen victim to his chant. A tap of his fingers across the skin of the drum made limbs and fingers of the otherwise unmoving figures twitch. Another sound, a jingle of a bell and inhuman groans filled the air. A slow, evil smile crept across the drummer’s face as the fallen people began to get up from their stupor. The thralls moved in unison, slow and steady, falling into a shuffling step behind their new master. Soon, the rag tag group was joined by the raggedy group that had attacked the protesters, and by some bloodied and injured protesters.
The group made their way slowly out of the park, the groaning growing louder as the pack of thralls grew in numbers as the drummer tapped out a marching beat and they all fell in behind him.
The group walked steadily on into the night, disappearing into the shadows between the buildings, the only thing to suggest that they’d been there was the echo of the continuous drumbeat, and the distant moaning of the thralls.
* * * * *
“Another day, another dollar.” Lola sighed.
She stood in her house staring at herself in the bathroom mirror. She frowned and pulled her hair into a ponytail. She was dressed in her usual jeans and T-shirt, though she didn’t have to go to work, she had to make the trek across the city to pick up her paycheck so she could buy groceries. She sighed to herself and nodded at her reflection. At least, Lola decided, she was on her own schedule today, and not one set down by her bosses.
She shut off the light in the bathroom and made her way to the front door. She pulled on her running shoes in silence. The entire house was eerily quiet, her roommates had all since gone to work and she was alone. She smirked and briefly considered not actually going to get her pay. It wasn’t entirely necessary for her to have it at the very moment, and she didn’t really want to deal with public transit again, especially considering that it was the mid-way point of the Stampede and there had been another influx of tourists.
Lola groaned to herself and pulled her bag from the closet, checking the contents, just to make sure she had everything she needed. Cell phone, pocket knife, house keys, headphones, wallet, and a book so that she wasn’t totally bored on the hour and a half trip through the city. Everything was in its place and she slung her messenger bag over her shoulder. She stopped herself and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge before she stepped outside and locked the door.
Lola slipped the headphones over her ears and plugged them into her phone as she began to walk, the soothing sounds of a heavy metal guitar riff filling her ears. A small smile curled the corners of her mouth as she listened to the song and enjoyed the breeze that had appeared from nowhere. She didn’t notice the strange man on the corner, swaying back and forth in the breeze, as though he was listening to his own music. Lola didn’t notice the appearance of two more of the strange people beyond the bus stop, and she certainly didn’t notice when they attacked a third person who got too close.
The bus arrived on time and Lola flashed her bus pass and took her usual seat near the back of the bus, ignoring the pale, sickly people as she passed them. She turned the volume up on her phone to drown out the strange drumming noise she kept hearing, and the sound of the bus engine. She knew it would be a long bus ride into downtown.
Downtown was, as Lola had suspected, a disaster. Traffic was at a standstill and the sidewalks were empty, the majority of the city was either at work, or headed to the Stampede. The bus stopped and didn’t move for more than five minutes. Lola turned her music off and squeezed passed the other passengers towards the driver.
“Hey, I’m feeling a little motion sick,” she lied. “Can I maybe get off the bus here? I’d hate to puke in this sardine tin.”
The bus driver smiled. He was an older man, heavyset, but kind. He was Lola’s favourite driver, though she didn’t know his name. “Sure, thing, hon.” He replied, opening the door. “Feel better, eh?”
Lola offered him a smile and a wave as she hopped off the bus. She walked quickly away towards the downtown core, knowing fully that she still needed to pass through Chinatown to get to the C-train. She slipped her headphones back on and turned the music on again as she hoofed it away from the bus. Lola didn’t hear the screams of the other passengers as one of the sickly-looking ones who had passed out suddenly woke up and tore the bus driver’s throat out in a stream of crimson gore.
The streets were packed with cars, bumper to bumper traffic in Calgary was not uncommon, and it certainly wasn’t unusual to see during the Stampede, but the empty sidewalks made Lola feel a little more nervous than she ought to have been. She clutched her bag tighter as she walked, eyeing the people in their cars suspiciously. Her free hand slipped under the flap of her messenger bag and she fingered the edge of the handle of her pocketknife. She couldn’t help but feel a creeping sense of paranoia wash over her.
Lola pulled the headphones from her ears, wanting to be able to hear what was happening around her. The traffic was at a complete standstill, and yet, there were no horns honking. If there was one thing that Calgarian drivers loved, it was honking their horns at every little inconvenience. Yet, the traffic jam was remarkably silent. Lola’s fingers unconsciously tightened around the grip of her pocketknife as a shiver passed over her spine. Something was very, very wrong.
She picked up her pace, covering the six blocks from where she’d gotten off the bus in a matter of minutes. She didn’t even wait for traffic lights, the streets were gridlocked and unmoving. She wasn’t worried about getting hit by a car in the traffic jam. She approached seventh avenue at a jog, hoping that there would be someone with some answers there.
Lola slowed her pace and stood in mute shock as she approached the corner of center street and seventh avenue.
Normally, seventh avenue was reserved for the C-trains and buses only. Nothing else was allowed to pass on this street, unless it was a law enforcement or maintenance vehicle. Today, though, there was a massive pile up of cars that had been hit by a C-train. Flames licked at the wreckage and Lola took the moment to count six vehicles mangled in front of the train.
There were no emergency vehicles on site, and no one screaming on the train platforms. Lola had to wonder how long the wreckage had been sitting there, burning. In a city of over a million people and with the major influx of visitors, it seemed unreal that no one would be helping, or at least rubbernecking.
Lola stepped gingerly forward towards the wreckage, peering down the avenue cautiously, just in case there were emergency vehicles or another train on the way. When she was sure ethat the coast was clear, she walked towards the wreckage.
“Hello?” Lola called. “Is anyone alive?”
A sudden slam against the C-train windshield made Lola scream. She jumped back and peered up. There was a civilian, obviously someone who wasn’t the driver, trapped inside the cab and pounding on the window.
“I can’t hear you!” Lola shouted.
The person inside the C-train was a young girl, maybe a little younger than Lola, with long, straight black hair and what looked like ten pounds of black eyeliner running down her face. Lola watched as the girl fumbled with the C-train window to open it.
“You’ve gotta help me!” The girl shouted shrilly. “Please! They’re killing each other!”
Lola’s forehead wrinkled. “What?” She shouted back.
“The people! They’re sick! And now they’re killing each other… and… and biting people!”
Lola felt her heart stop and her stomach sink. Killing each other? Biting people? She felt the first twinges of fear touch her and she looked over her shoulder at the traffic jam sprawling out behind her. Gingerly, she stepped a little closer to the wreckage.
“Hey! Kid!” Lola called, trying to force herself to stay calm. “Can you get outta there?”
The girl in the cab shook her head. “I don’t think so!” She sobbed through the window. “There’s only one door and it… it leads back in there with them.” She started to cry again. “Please help me! I don’t wanna die!”
Lola skirted around the edge of the crash site, making sure that she was well out of arm’s reach, just in case. “Okay, okay.” She said slowly. “Try to stay calm.” It was more an instruction for herself than for the girl in the cab. “We’re gonna figure this out, okay?”
The girl in the train nodded and wiped her eyes.
“My name is Lola. What’s yours?”
Lola smiled. “Hi there, Elle. Don’t worry, we’re gonna figure something out, okay?” She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. “How about you tell me what exactly happened?”
Elle sniffled and wiped at the running eye liner on her cheeks. “We were heading back from the Stampede,” she started, a shuddering sob wracking her body as she talked, “and then there were these people who got on the train. They seemed like they were sick or something, they were complaining about a drum that no one else seemed to hear. And then they kind of, I dunno, fell asleep?” Elle wiped her eyes again, smearing her makeup even further. Lola noticed that she talked fast when she wasn’t crying, which was a good sign, she assumed.
“Someone pushed the help button and started telling the driver what was happening. And then the one guy had a convulsion and the next thing we knew they were attacking people! The driver came out to see what was happening, but the people who got bitten started to collapse and shake and then they got up and started biting and like… eating people!” She covered her mouth with her hands as she stared at Lola desperately. “Do you think they have rabies or something?”
“Maybe?” Lola replied, unsure herself. “Did you get bitten or scratched?”
“No.” Elle said.
“Were you alone?” Lola pressed.
“No.” Elle replied. “My friend got bitten…”
Lola nodded and peered around. “These sick people, they were only on the one car?”
“I think so?” Elle said, less confident than she had been before. “I didn’t see anyone else but these two people.”
Lola approached the cab of the train. She wasn’t familiar with the way the C-trains were designed, but there was an obvious ladder built into the side of the cab and what she assumed was an emergency exit.
“Hey, Elle? Can you see any kind of emergency exit lever or something?” Lola asked. “There’s a ladder here. If you can open the window maybe you can get out?”
Elle disappeared from sight for a moment and Lola assumed she was searching.
“I think I found one!” Elle called. She pushed against the window and it popped free.
“Awesome, come on then!” Lola shouted. “And hurry!”
Elle clambered through the window and down the ladder. Lola pressed her hand against the younger girl’s back as she climbed down. As soon as Elle’s feet were on solid ground, she threw her arms around Lola and began to cry.
“Thank you for saving me!” Elle sobbed into Lola’s shirt.
Lola patted the girl’s shoulder. “You’re welcome,” she said, uncomfortably. “Come on, calm down, we gotta find someone to help us. It’s way too quiet for downtown Calgary in the middle of Stampede.”
Elle pulled herself away from Lola and wiped the fresh tears from her face with the sleeve of her black shirt. “Do you think everyone is… like them now?”
Lola laughed abruptly. She looked at Elle, who was genuinely terrified. “Sorry,” Lola said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s no way everyone is sick with whatever this is. I’ll bet most people are hiding, or down at the Stampede and they don’t even know what’s going on.”
Elle nodded. “Yeah, it was pretty busy when I left.”
“Okay, good.” Lola said, hesitantly. “I think maybe we should head back towards the Stampede grounds? Maybe we can find a cop or something? Someone who can help us at least?”
Elle nodded her agreement and fell into step beside Lola. The two girls walked in silence for a long time, passing the rest of seventh avenue without incident.
“Where is everyone?” Lola mumbled, peering around at the empty streets.
A shuffling noise made Lola stop in her tracks. Elle walked into her and swore under her breath.
“Shh.” Lola demanded.
Elle stopped moving. The two girls peered around the deserted street. They were just past Olympic Plaza, standing in front of City Hall, and the sound of the running water echoed against the buildings around them. The shuffling noise sounded again, closer this time and Lola pulled out her knife. She flicked the blade open with her thumb, locking it in place. With her left arm, she pulled Elle closer to her, putting the younger girl behind her, closer to the steps of City Hall as though that would protect her.
“Show yourself!” Lola demanded.
A black-clad figure appeared across the street. Lola stared in disbelief. Obviously it was a man, as was evidence by his goatee. He was dressed in military style black fatigues and carried a gun.
“Are you bitten?” The man in the military costume demanded.
“Are you insane?” Lola countered, pointing at the man with her knife. “Put down the gun, buddy, and then we’ll talk.”
The man in the fatigues grinned and lowered his gun. “So are you?”
“Hell no.” Lola replied with a shake of her head. “Are you?”
The man shook his head. “I’m Reid. What’s your name?”
“Lola.” She said flatly.
Reid held out his hand and Lola hesitantly shook it. “This is Elle.”
Lola shook her head. “Just tryin’ to figure out what’s actually going on.”
“Lola saved me.” Elle chimed in.
Lola shrugged. “You got any answers there, Reid?”
Reid shook his head. “Not really. All we know is that people are sick, attacking other people and then those people get sick and start attacking.”
“Where is everyone?” Lola pressed.
Reid shrugged. “I don’t think anyone has noticed. So far, it’s only been people on the trains coming from Stampede.”
“Rabies, maybe?” Lola asked.
Reid laughed. “I wish it was that simple.” He said with a sigh. “I watched one of my men get attacked. We did everything we could for him, but there’s this fever that gets you. It eats away at you, fast. Then you have a seizure and your heart stops. Next thing you know, your buddy is trying to eat your face off.”
“Sounds like a party.” Lola said bitterly. “And there’s no cops around?”
“The roads are blocked in a ten block radius, starting at the Stampede grounds. Nothing is moving in or out. Cops and ambulances are trying to get through but nothing’s moving.”
“So who are you with?” Elle asked. “Are you like special ops or something?”
Reid smiled again. “You could say that.” He said slowly. “I’m with a group of preppers, we’re uh… we’re called the F.A.Z.R. Um… the First Alert Zombie Response.”
Lola’s mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding me, right?” She asked. “Zombies? Really?”
“I just watched a friend of mine have a heart attack, die and get back up.” Reid replied. “Don’t knock it, sweetheart. I could just leave you and your friend here to fend for yourself, but good luck getting out of the downtown core.”
“Sorry,” Lola said. “It’s just… kind of unbelievable, is all.”
“Yeah, I know.” Reid agreed. “We were just doing a demonstration when all this started happening. That’s the only reason why we were ready like we were.”
“You keep saying ‘we’.” Lola pointed out. “Where’s the rest of your ‘we’?”
Reid shrugged. “Looking for survivors, I think? We lost radio contact about twenty minutes ago and no one has shown up at the rendezvous point.”
“That’s never a good sign.” Lola said.
“Sorry, what do you do?” Reid asked.
“I work at a mall.” Lola replied. “I sell chocolate and kid’s toys.”
“I’m still in high school.” Elle chimed in.
“And yet you carry a knife?” Reid asked Lola, ignoring Elle for the moment.
Lola shrugged and glanced at the Winchester brand folding knife still in her hand. “I used to live in Whitehorn.” She said. “Been mugged once, it’ll never happen again.”
Reid nodded in understanding. “Do you have a plan?”
“We were going to head back towards the Stampede grounds,” Lola explained slowly. “We were looking for cops, Elle was trapped on the C-train up ahead. There was a car pile up over there, then the train rammed it.”
“There’s zombies trapped on the train.” Elle added. “They’re all stuck on the train though.”
Reid nodded. “All right. Let’s go with your plan, maybe we can find some other people.”
“Maybe we’ll get to the bottom of this.” Lola suggested. “Lead the way, Reid.” She suggested, holding out her arm. “You are the one carrying a gun, after all.”
* * * * *
The drums were playing over the loudspeakers now. The entire Stampede park was filled with the pounding and the chanting. The man with the drum laughed to himself as the rhythmic pounding filled the stadiums and washed over the impure, filthy, greedy mortals who flocked to the fairgrounds in droves.
Not everyone would be affected by his magic, but those who were weak-willed and susceptible to the power of suggestion would soon find themselves under his control. His horde was growing by the second. The original transients and their victims were his prized possessions, they’d all earned their stripes, as it were and he wouldn’t let them out of his sight. He knew that they were his first, his strongest, and they wouldn’t be felled easily. He made sure that they stayed close to him as the drums blasted through the air.
He cursed the fact that there had been a few people who had gotten away from him. He had started playing his song near the gates, and those who would be turned had stopped and come to listen, but a few of them had passed by, continuing on their way after listening to only the first part of the chant. He was unable to stop them as they walked away and got on the train. He had never lost anyone like that before, and he wondered what would happen if they weren’t under his direct control when they turned.
It didn’t matter in the long run, really. His people were not in the city.
The Drummer was an old Native man. He was not from any single tribe, he had lived a transient life, passing from reservation to reservation throughout Canada and the greater part of the United States. He had lived the life of a traveller and had learned many things in his years. The most important thing, however, he had learned in the backwater towns and swamps of Louisiana.
In his youth he had fallen in love with Louisiana. The combination of folklore and tradition from all over had lured him away from his people. He had made friends there and he found kindred spirits in the swamps. He had learned to survive in new ways and he learned the ancient arts of the people there.
It was before he felt the call to continue his wandering that he was given the drum and the words to bring the dead back to life. It was in the ancient swamps of Louisiana that he learned the words that would enter a person’s mind and destroy them from within. It was a black and evil spell, a curse and a plague that was not to be used lightly. It was to take the life of all those who would listen and succumb, and to control them. It would create soulless creatures of the spoilt flesh that were under the command of the Drummer, and the Drummer alone. The creatures would spread their sickness by bite and scratch and the Drummer would become the King of the Dead.
The Drummer knew that this was a heavy burden to know. He knew that his soul would not be taken to the heaven of his people. But he also knew that this was the only way to return the land so wrongfully stolen from his true tribe, and the only way to cleanse the world of the filth of consumerism that had plagued it for so long. He knew that his price was heavy, but his intentions were pure and his people would sing his praises for eternity.
The Drummer had created an army of the dead, and he meant to march them through the city of Calgary and then across the plains of Canada until his people were free from the tyranny and oppression they had so long been forced to endure.
The drums continued and those who were meant to serve him continued to fall as the rest of the cattle panicked and tried to flee.
The Drummer stood above everyone else and watched impassively as the dead began to rise.
* * * * *
The screaming could be heard from blocks away, and it only got louder as the little group approached. They were walking towards the Stampede grounds from downtown, following the train tracks and passing the BMO center through the parking lot.
“That doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the midway…” Lola mused.
Elle stopped walking as Lola and Reid made their way closer to the actual grounds. “Guys?”
Reid and Lola turned around. Elle was shaking, holding herself and standing by the entrance of the BMO center. Her face had gone pale and she simply stared at the glass doors. Lola and Reid exchanged looks and slowly made their way back to where Elle was standing. They stopped behind their younger companion and stared into the windows.
There were people trapped inside the building, some were banging on the glass doors, screaming and begging to be let out. Others were building barricades against some unseen foe. A few unlucky souls were clutching at bleeding wounds and rocking back and forth in shock.
“Oh my God…” Lola breathed.
“They’re fish in a barrel.” Elle sobbed. “Can we help them?”
“The door is locked.” Reid said coolly. “And I don’t have the key.”
“We can’t just leave them!” Elle argued. “They’re still alive in there!”
Reid shook his head. “There are wounded people in there. As soon as the fever gets them, it’s gonna turn into a meat grinder. If we let them out now, we’re gonna compromise our own safety.”
Elle spun on Reid, punching him in the chest. “You jerk!” She shouted, stomping her foot. “You talk all big about your ‘phaser’ group of nerds with guns and you’re just going to leave all these people to die? What kind of self-righteous a-hole are you?”
Lola looked at Reid, her eyes wide and pleading. “Can’t you do something?” She begged. “There are people in there who aren’t infected! They’re scared and they’re going to get hurt if we don’t do something!”
Reid looked at the girls he was trying to protect. Two pairs of huge, pleading eyes stared back at him. He sighed and threw his hands up in exasperation. “Fine.”
Reid strode over to the glass doors and drew his handgun. “Get out of the way!” He shouted through the door. The panicking people stopped their desperate banging against the door and backed up, calling to other people inside. Reid took the safety off his handgun and opened fire on the glass of both doors, shattering it in a rain of sparkling shards.
“Okay, get out of here!” Reid shouted. “Stay out of the core and stay away from the Stampede grounds!”
Elle rushed forward. “Hey! Hey! Listen to me!” She shouted, crawling through the broken window. “I know where you need to go! Anyone who is hurt, stay here, and help will be on the way for you! Everyone else, please exit the building through here and make your way over the bridge to the South Village!”
Lola and Reid exchanged impressed glances as Elle took charge of the panicking crowd.
Lola stuck her head through the opening in the doors. “You okay, kid?”
Elle nodded and smiled at Lola. “Yeah, lemme take care of these people. You and Reid go and help the rest of them that are stuck in the Stampede, okay?” She offered a small salute. “I’ll be fine. I’ll make sure the people who are hurt stay here, just in case.”
Lola nodded and got out of the way as Elle began ushering people through the doors. “Be careful, kid!” Lola called as Reid led the way back towards the fair grounds.
* * * * *
Reid and Lola took the back way into the Stampede grounds. They crossed the BMO center parking lot and sneaked in through the chain link fence well beyond the grandstand. The entire are was deserted and the screams of terror from the midway could barely be heard over the sound of the drumming through the loudspeakers.
Lola covered her ears against the pounding noise. “What is that?”
Reid shrugged. “I dunno, but it’s making me feel pretty sick.”
Lola stopped in her tracks. “Sick how?”
Reid shrugged. “Dizzy, and like I just wanna sleep.”
Lola’s eyes darted back and forth in her head as she tried to remember all of the mythology she had learned about as a child. Reid swooned on the spot, shaking his head and trying to clear the drums from his mind when it dawned on her.
“The drums!” Lola shouted. “It’s the drums! And those words…” She furrowed her brow. “Oh my God, it’s voodoo! This is serious black magic right here!”
“What?” Reid asked weakly. “There’s no such thing…”
Lola pulled her headphones from her bag and handed them to Reid. “Put these on! I’ve got loud metal on my iPod, it’ll drown out the drumming!”
“What about you?” Reid asked.
“I’m a metal head, this sort of thing doesn’t affect me!” Lola shouted back with a cocky grin. “Put them on and lead the way. I won’t ask too many questions!”
Reid hesitated but another wave of dizziness nearly knocked him over and he reluctantly accepted the headphones. Lola pressed ‘play’ and soon the drums were drowned out of Reid’s head by louder guitar riffs. He smiled and nodded at Lola and she handed him her iPod. He tucked it away in one of his many pockets and motioned for her to follow him.
The two made their way stealthily across the fairgrounds, heading towards the grandstand where it seemed the drumming was coming from. The horde of zombified Stampede-goers was on the far side, swaying in time to the drumming as a man dressed in ragged aboriginal garb shouted over the drumming that was blasting through the sound system in a language that neither Lola or Reid could understand.
“There’s the culprit.” Lola said quietly, tapping Reid on the shoulder and pointing.
Reid nodded and pointed towards the bleachers. Two more men dressed in similar clothes to him were creeping steadily along getting closer to the Drummer.
Reid lifted one headphone away from his ear so that he could talk to Lola. “Those are my guys.” He said proudly. “Probably Alex and Charlie.” He added with a shrug. “I can see Charlie’s sniper rifle from here.”
Lola arched an eyebrow. “How does this Charlie guy have a sniper rifle?” She asked.
“He’s a cop.” Reid said with a shrug. “I didn’t ask how he got it, I was just impressed that he did.”
“So what’s the plan?” Lola asked.
Reid handed her the radio he carried. “Call ’em up, see if they have a plan.” He instructed, putting the headphone back over his ear to drown out the drumming that was threatening to overcome him.
Lola nodded and pressed the button. “Hello? Alex? Charlie? My name is Lola. If you read me, I’m across the field from you with Reid. We wanna know if you’ve got a plan?” She hesitated for a second before adding, “Over?”
Lola waited for a long moment, watching the black specks that were Charlie and Alex. Nothing but static came through the radio. She was about to speak again when a faint voice crackled through the static.
“Hello, Lola. This is Alex.” The voice was male, raspy and serious-sounding. “Good of you to join the party. We need to get a little closer for Charlie to get the shot. Do you think you and Reid can make a bit of a distraction while we sneak up? Over.”
Lola tapped Reid’s shoulder and he removed the headphones again.
“They want us to distract the guy up there so that they can make the shot.” Lola said.
Reid looked up at where the Drummer was standing. “I think I can do that. Tell them to take out the speakers, that the drumming is causing the sickness though, okay?”
Lola nodded again and reached over to place the headphones back on Reid’s ears with a small smile. “Hey, uh… Alex? Reid says yeah, we’ll go distract the guy, but you need to take out the speakers. The drumming that’s happening is spreading the sickness. Over.”
There was a long pause.
“What?” Alex asked incredulously through the radio.
“It’s voodoo, man.” Lola said quickly as she followed Reid towards the figure on top of the bleachers. “This guy is controlling those… those… Aw, hell, these are zombies we’re dealing with. The voodoo drums are causing anyone susceptible to it to become a thrall. Then they get that fever and die and the drumming and the chanting reanimates them and voila, you have zombies. We need to stop the drumming if we want to stop the zombies. Over.”
Another pause and Lola could see the two figures talking across the way. She wondered just how insane they thought she was.
A crackle sounded through the radio and Alex was back. “Yeah, Charlie agrees with you, so we’re going with your idea. We’ll take out the speakers first, but you still gotta keep the Drummer off our scent while we do this, okay? Over.”
“Thank you!” Lola replied happily. “All right, we’ll go. Please don’t shoot us.” She added. “Over.”
Lola didn’t need to hear it to know that Alex was laughing at her.
She tapped Reid’s shoulder and pointed to the Drummer. She made a walking motion with her fingers, pointed again and made a gun motion towards her own head. Reid nodded, understanding completely what she meant.
The two of them crept up the bleachers towards the Drummer. Reid kept his gun in his hand and Lola palmed her knife, just in case. The horde of zombies was below them and the closer they got to the Drummer, the more prominent the inhuman groaning grew. Reid stopped Lola and they crouched down in the bleachers, peering over the side at the swaying horde below. Many of the zombies were covered in blood and discarded body parts were strewn amongst the feet of the dead.
Lola covered her mouth and tried not to scream. Or puke. Reid patted her shoulder and nodded reassuringly.
Lola took a deep breath and stood, knowing that it was up to her to make the distraction.
“Hey! Tonto!” Lola called, clambering quickly over the bleachers. “The Village People called, said they want their costume back.”
The drumming and chanting stopped and the Drummer turned to face Lola. The first speaker ont he far side of the stadium exploded in a shower of sparks.
“Yeah, that’s right! I’m talking to you.” Lola said, more boldly than she felt.
“You dare to address me in such a way?” The Drummer asked.
“Yeah, I don’t see why I wouldn’t.” Lola said sarcastically as she heard the second speaker explode behind her. “I mean, you come here, murder innocent people and turn them into flesh-eating zombies? And you ruin my day? I don’t see much reason to talk to you with any amount of respect.”
“You are the reason that I come here.” The Drummer replied.
“Me?” Lola asked, incredulously. “Why, sir, I’m flattered.”
“No you specifically. Your people.” The Drummer sneered. “Your all-consuming, all-destroying people. You are the cause of the earth’s suffering. You take and you consume and you never replenish or replace. You just take and destroy. Now, it’s time to take that destruction and turn it upon yourselves!”
Lola started to laugh. “Wait, wait. Is this about First Nation pride?” She asked between laughs. “You’re mad because the White Man has oppressed your people for so long that you think it’s all right to turn half the city into zombies?” Lola covered her face with her hands as she laughed. “Wow, dude. That’s pretty messed up right there.”
The Drummer scowled. “You dare to mock me?” He shouted.
“I dare.” Lola said with a nod. “I dare very much.”
“Then you will suffer with the rest of your people.” The Drummer snarled. He tapped a staccato beat out on his drum and the nearest zombies stirred into motion.
Lola peered over the edge of the bleachers and screamed in horror. The once-stationary zombies had begun to climb over one another, climbing up the scaffolding on the sides of the bleachers. They moved slowly, deliberately, but the swell of the horde meant that the sheer number of flesh-eating creatures would quickly overcome Lola. She backed away from the edge of the bleachers, hoping to buy herself a little more time.
“Wait!” She shouted. “Wait! Please! Dude, I recycle. I take public transit. I work at the mall to pay my bills and I share a house. I’m not the badguy here, I do everything I can!” It was a pathetic attempt to beg for her life. “Why kill everyone like this?”
“It is the only way to cleanse this city of those who destroy and consume.” The Drummer said.
Lola stopped in her tracks, considering it. “I guess you’re right.” She said slowly, changing tactics. “Maybe this is the only way to remove the destruction from society. But what happens when you’ve killed everyone and no one is left but your zombies?”
The Drummer smiled. “I control them. I can destroy them.”
The Drummer pointed to himself. “I have to die.” He said. “But that’s all right. Once the destructive people of this planet are gone, then the new age of civilization can begin! The rightful heirs to this planet will rise and rebuild society from the ashes of the old. The planet will rebuild herself and the world be refreshed!”
Lola screamed as the first undead hands began to appear at the top of the scaffolding. She backed up further. “So you’re saying that if you die, all the zombies die, too?” She pressed on. “That seems a little bit… wasteful, don’t you think?”
“Destruction will bring new life.” The Drummer replied. “And it all begins with the destruction of those who destroy.”
Reid took that opportunity to shoot the first zombie that crested the scaffolding in the face. “Not today, man.” Reid shouted over the music playing in his ears. He fired off two more shots as two more zombies appeared.
“Insolent fool!” The Drummer screeched. He began pounding a new beat on his drum that moved the remaining zombies into action. Soon, a tidal wave of undead bodies began to surge against the bleachers. The hundreds of bodies pressed against the scaffolding and the bleachers began to sway. Reid lost his footing and his gun went skittering away, falling into the horde below.
Lola grabbed onto one of the seats, stopping herself from falling over. Valiantly, she made her way against the swaying, buckling bleachers, crawling towards the drummer as he shouted in his strange language and beat out the rhythm on his drum.
It didn’t take long for Lola to reach him, the Drummer was too preoccupied with controlling his horde to realize how close she had actually gotten. Lola reached out and grabbed the drum, yanking with all her might against the sway of the bleachers. She pulled the drum away from the Drummer and threw it into the horde below.
“Control them now!” She shouted triumphantly.
“No!” The Drummer yelled. He whirled on Lola, his hands reaching, grabbing for her. They found purchase around her throat and Lola felt her windpipe being crushed beneath the Drummer’s apparent inhuman strength.
Lola choked, scratching at the Drummer’s hands, praying to anyone who was listening for a miracle. She could feel her lungs burning as her oxygen was cut off and black spots began to appear in her field of vision.
So this is how it ends… She thought as the fight began to leave her body.
Suddenly, the Drummer’s hands relaxed as a spray of thick red blood and chunky grey matter exploded from the top of his head. A perfect red hole appeared in his forehead, the gooey crimson blood dripped a perfect drop down his forehead and his eyes rolled back in his head.
Lola dropped to her knees, choking and gasping for breath as the Drummer fell backwards. A collective inhuman shriek rose from the hundreds of undead throats as the Drummer’s life was extinguished. The horde collapsed in a heap upon itself, the corpses becoming unmoving dead things once again.
Lola cast a quick glance over her shoulder and saw Charlie waving at her. She waved back in thanks. Cautiously, still winded from being choked, she crawled over the bleachers to find Reid where he’d fallen.
Reid looked up at Lola with a smile. He pulled the headphones off of his head and handed them and the iPod back to Lola. Lola smiled and slipped the device back into her bag. Her fingers found the still-cold bottle of water she’d taken from her fridge when she had left the house that morning. She pulled it out of her bag triumphantly and cracked the lid. She took a long draught of the water and handed it to Reid who sipped it gratefully.
“Thanks.” Reid said between greedy gulps of the water.
“You’re welcome.” Lola said tiredly.
The two survivors sat in silence for a long moment, revelling in the fact that they had just won against a zombie horde in the middle of Calgary. The heat from the sun felt good against Lola’s skin and she had never been happier to be alive.
“Hey, Lola?” Reid asked after a long moment of silence.
“Yeah?” Lola replied quietly.
“You wanna go out for drinks with me after?”
Lola smiled and closed her eyes. “Yes, Reid, I think I would like that very much.”
Reid smiled and closed his eyes. “Cool.”
Lola wasn’t sure how long they had sat there, exhausted and simply enjoying the heat from the mid-afternoon sun. It wasn’t until she could hear Reid moving beside her that she opened her eyes again.
“Reid?” She asked, placing a hand against his arm.
Reid groaned, a guttural, unnatural noise and Lola pulled her hand away quickly.
“No.” Lola whimpered. “No no no no nonononononono!”
She shuffled backwards, too weak and tired to stand. She felt the hot tears welling up in her eyes and Reid turned his face to look at her. His skin had turned into the waxy grey flesh of the dead and he reached out for her, grabbing and biting.
Lola screamed as his teeth found her flesh and she remembered why she hated the Stampede so much.