Ok, this challenge is a doozy. A monster even. Or, a…well you know.
The word limit was raised to 3,333 – if you dared.
The rules/assigned words? None, write what you please – if you double dared. I took the physical challenge.
There was no doubt I wanted to make this epic Zombie Bunny entry. I even thought that I could finish the story in one more big shot. Early drafts got me in that direction, but I figured I could develop the story even deeper with (some) more words. Ok, many.
Make yourself comfy, because at approx. 3,191 words (6 pages), this installment is probably longer than all of the others combined. It may take a while, so if you read it all (even over a couple of days), you’ve flattered me immensely with your dedication.
This is a time when feedback is even more important/appreciated, so hopefully you will enjoy it and let me know what you think.
The story is reaching its climax. A reckoning is at hand. Each character is going to experience a pivotal moment when it all goes down. Let’s start with Allen, who, when we last left him, unceremoniously touched down in hostile bunny territory. It’s now six weeks later…
Allen woke to an incessant beeping in his ears. Though he had spent half the night expecting it, the sound still managed to catch him off- guard. He absently reached to his right trying to smack an alarm clock. However, the sound was coming from his earbud, which was supposed to be turned off. His searching hand wound up giving a slap/caress to a cheek that was becoming more familiar. Allen turned to the shape beside him.
Carly moaned lightly awakened by his smackdown, but as she turned to look at him, a placid affection was her only expression. “No, don’t look at me, if that camera is on,” she mumbled in mock complaint. “The country doesn’t need to see me first thing. Just you.”
“Camera’s over there, lil’ peep. But yeah, gotta gear up in five.” He got up from the bed, groaning slightly, and staggered to his pack. He pulled off the sheet that covered the camera, just in case Connar decided he wanted to film some after-hours footage for the premium subscribers. As it were at that moment, if the camera had been on, Allen would have been giving viewers a full salute.
Clothes that were comparatively clean were pulled on, and Connar’s voice came through the earbud right on cue. “Ok Allen, enough rest. Let the lovely girl sleep a while longer.” Allen actually hated the fact that Connar knew about the relationship, more than viewers knowing. To a man like that, knowledge was power, or worse a bargaining chip.
Allen gave one last look to Carly, the blanket molding her curves as he brought back to mind what was underneath that thin material. He headed to the next room which was small, windowless and sparsely furnished to serve as a private office for him. A laptop sat on the metal desk, the screen flickering on as it booted up automatically. A video camera and lighting setup stood behind the desk facing him; again, as he sat in the green cushioned chair, the equipment lit up and whirred into activity, though it was not recording. Yet.
Connar’s voice now came through the computer’s speakers. “So…how are things, Allen?”
“Not bad.” He hated the small talk. He hated even just having to talk. It was all part of the show.
“Good. Your current stats and standing are displaying now. Congratulations on the 300 kill mark! Of course, none of the others are even close, but there is that one fellow on the fringe who is making a buzz.” Allen sighed. Give people anything that could be remotely competitive, and someone will care a little too much about being the best at it.
Skipping the information in front of him, Allen clicked to the message boards icon. 354 unread messages, all since the previous evening. Marriage proposals, proposals for more short- term interactions (some including Carly), ‘reporters’ from unofficial fan pages, and the usual hate mail. He didn’t need to read them all; most subject lines were a variant of: “Dump Carly and Marry meee!”, “Kill a bunny 4 me!” “10 Questions from the ‘Team Allen’ fanclub!”, “UR sister is hot!” and the ever- scholarly “FUCK YOU, MUDERER!!1” He’d pick a dozen or so at random and answer them live during the morning broadcast. Fan interaction was part of the gimmick. Evening spots were reserved for personal thoughts, opinions and any other bullshit he could think up on the fly.
“We’re live in 60 seconds, assignment uploaded right after.” Connar made it clear that though Allen was there to frag Zombunnies, the overlying priority was to exploit the ratings potential. Allen was at his mercy, since Connar had a dedicated EM satellite trained on Delta Springs that only gave him the information on the bunnies, people and any incidents worth investigating. Intel was given piecemeal and records were deleted automatically after viewing. To his credit, the first assignments played on action (in other words, shock and awe to viewers of constant bunny carnage), so no attention was paid to any kind of plot or caring about what Allen was going through as his exploits played out over the airwaves. Connar somehow found ways to keep him in harm’s way.
Allen knew Richard Connar didn’t trust his reasons for volunteering to drop into a city filled with vicious undead creatures, and hang out with a fringe group that practiced worship of those very animals through rapidly expiring confections and ‘pelts of honor’ just for the warm fuzzy feeling (pun intended). The pursuit of fortune and fame was a good sell, but not completely convincing, considering Allen didn’t ham it up too much. It was just a matter of moving that one chess piece, to show one card, or other cliché that would give his true purposes away. Preparing for that secondary mission was just as important for him, so he would play good soldier and try not to get himself killed. He was treading carefully, literally and figuratively. Each day, do the show, go out and find bunnies, come across other sects, return home, go to service, and recap the day. The last part was a tricky situation; as some of the bunnymen were watching the show.
It was another issue entirely of how the group was being brought into the plan, and being portrayed to the public. Initially they had been a secretive group, but with the lure of any audience that was watching, the Bunnymen were inevitably becoming more open with their ceremonies. Some members were skeptical of the attention, and when speaking with other groups scattered around Delta Springs, Allen began to hear rumors about something called “Warrens”, which were essentially groups of people balanced precariously between fanboys and cultists. The last thing he needed was another Hare Band.
Personally, Allen was gaining a lot of respect within the Bunnymen’s hierarchy. From the time had had arrived, they had taken him in and he had been attending their services, getting to know who everyone was, figuring out what exactly motivated them, and what they actually planned to do with the zombies. Every day he took one or two members out with him; some were good scouts, some were good shooters, and others were scatterbrained enough to be comic relief, even in dangerous situations.
Then one day, about three weeks in, they surprised him with the ultimate symbol of their acceptance. At the end of a ceremony, Echo walked to a row of zombie rabbit pelts that was on display, chose one, and presented it to Allen. He wore it slung over one shoulder, in one part to add a little swagger, and for other reasons that played out just as he had hoped. It was a rare moment that Allen actually heard sincere approval from Connar; apparently it was the highest rated show to that point.
Allen achieved his own high point later that week. After being a little cool towards him the first few weeks, Carly, the woman who had given Emma and himself the good- luck charms when they first met (her official term was PeepKeeper), had warmed up to his attempts to make time and conversation. Things progressed further, and Carly had actually approached him the night after a particularly rough day when they were ambushed, and lost Barry, one of the guys who was handy with the flamethrower. Allen had thought he and Carly were an item, but she didn’t react particularly badly when the group came back without him. Her timing was perfect; as she stood at the doorway to his office and her own new fur slipped from her shoulders, the show ‘ended’ and Allen’s camera shut off for the night. Allen could almost hear the collective groans from several million male viewers around the country. The time since then had been better; a day of hunting, followed by a night that managed to distract him from the day’s activities.
Allen’s daydream was cut short as he noticed the red light above the camera blinking. When it went solid, they were live. Let’s get this shit over with.
Even when things were looking good, it would take just one thing to trip it down a steep hill right into a bad day.
The Sun was shining, there was no stray gunfire going off, no bunnies ambushing from rooftops, no stepping into rabbit holes and having legs gnawed right off. The post- apocalypse might not be so bad today, Allen thought as he walked the streets about a mile north of Bunnymen HQ with Ivan, an even tempered guy in his mid-twenties who was actually a good wingmate; not too gung-ho, nor much of a fanatic to the sect.
Then again, he added grimly, all it takes is one asshole to make it rain crap. And here he comes.
Gary Gray was coming around a corner to their left, as if right on fucking cue, his overstuffed pack rattling behind him, two handguns holstered at his hips. Rather than the town sheriff, there was an ongoing lively and usually hilarious message board debate over whether he was Delta Springs’ official town crier or village idiot. Allen smirked at remembering some of the choice comments.
Ivan groaned audibly; Allen gave a subtle gesture to quiet him. Gary reached the two of them, gave a quick “Hey,” and held out his forearm, which was adorned with terribly rendered depictions of zombie bunnies, and looked more like permanent marker than tattoo ink. Allen hesitated for a moment, then bumped it with his own, while Gary looked into the camera and nodded to the viewers, who were likely groaning collectively as well; ‘Gary episodes’ were particularly loathed, and low- rated. It was more than being a nuisance; with the noise he was making, Allen was surprised that a group of zombies wasn’t trailing behind him.
“Hey Allen, I got the drop on a bunny nest. Found it yesterday while doing my own patrol. Looks like fresh meat too, pretty angry and hungry; my survival skills kept me silent. Want to team up and handle it?”
Shit. This kind of news was bad enough; a new stock of bunnies meant that they weren’t making any fucking headway. So much for 300 kills. That this guy knew about it (before Connar?, Allen wondered) meant he had the edge. He might have to take…
Connar’s voice came over the earbud. “Screw this asshole. I don’t want him, or you, anywhere near that nest.” Allen understood he was usually beholden to take Richard’s advice, especially with Gary.
“Hold on, Gary.” Allen turned and took a half dozen steps away from the man, who moved to follow him anyway (the guy never fucking listened) until Ivan stepped in his way. When he was out of earshot (the shoulder cam could only pick up what Allen said), he touched the earbud. “Ok, what should we do about this?”
“You don’t do anything. You’ve got five minutes to get to the coordinates I gave you.” Hopefully Gary’s new nest was on the other side of town. He turned and walked back to the others.
“Thanks Gary, but we’ve already got a rendezvous point on a suspicious location. Where exactly is yours? We’ll swing by, check it out late…”
“Yeah you’ll do it later, and not fucking tell me, that it?”
“No, we’ll take care of it.” Allen hated having to placate this asshole.
Gary huffed, not caring to hide his annoyance. “You know there’s a lot of glory to go around. You could throw a little of those ratings to the masses, buddy. You’re not the only hunter out here.” Allen’s finger started to itch; he wanted to pull an HSF* on this schmuck, but the deal with Connar might expire with the loss of the ‘good soldier’ idea they had been building.
Gary turned away and started to pace, then stopped and faced Allen again. “Alright, you know what, yeah go there later, I’ll be waiting.” He handed Ivan a piece of paper, then stormed off. Ivan offered the note to Allen.
“Don’t even open it,” the order was whispered. Allen took the paper, pulled out his lighter and touched the flame to the corner of the page.
“What about the nest though, that could cause us some problems,” Allen asked Connar over the comm. “And how did you not kn..”
“They’re just money in the bank.” Allen furrowed his brow, glad that the camera was over his shoulder, never facing him. Thoughts might be private, but expressions could be read.
“What about Gary?”
“Bunnies gotta eat,” Connar replied matter- of- factly. “Now, get moving.”
* * *
When it rains shit, sometimes it pours. Not half a minute after Gary had gone from sight, there was an explosion, the thunderous report echoing around buildings and streets.
Allen and Ivan dropped to half-crouch positions immediately, then crab- walked to the nearest wall for cover. That better not have been Gary; I’m not saving his ass. He was pretty sure though, that it was ahead to the right, the opposite direction. He turned to Ivan. “What the hell was that?”
“Maybe a store, you know, gas leak… or an IED. Nothing too big, but whatever it was, I don’t think it went off without some help.”
“Sounds like it came from ahead.” Ivan nodded in agreement. “I’m thinking 3 blocks or so that way.” He pointed northwest, and a nagging thought came to Allen’s mind, front and center. It was going to be close to the area Connar had ordered him to check out.
They waited a moment, listening for any other sounds that might let them know the situation. Several shots rang out in succession; from the weak reports, two things were clear. First, whatever was going down, bunnies were involved. Second, whoever it was didn’t pack enough firepower. This was not going to end well for someone.
They slowed their walk in the direction Ivan guessed. They would alternate looking around, and checking the sky for any sign of a fire. Sure enough, telltale tendrils of black smoke blew over the rooftops, signaling them. It was 2 blocks further than they thought, but the direction was right. They kept their pace; just because they knew where to go didn’t make it a safer situation. Finally, they turned the corner and had a clear view of the destruction.
There was no question it was an attack. Two vans, soccer mom specials with sliding passenger doors, high gloss red paint and novel length bumper stickers were in the middle of the intersection of Church and Redwood. The tires on both cars were flattened and the lead car’s front section to the driver’s seat was engulfed in flames, the hood detached and crumpled nearby. The rear windows of the second vehicle were smashed in. Allen signaled for Ivan to cover him, and trotting cautiously to the car, half noticing bloody pieces of fur and flesh scattered about, he peeked inside the van. Three bunnies were in there, content to munch on the head of the teenage boy inside for the time being. Allen backed away slowly, but managed to step right onto a shard of glass that cracked under his boot. Without even waiting for the little ears to turn his way, he fired a quick burst into the van and turned. Ivan had his gun trained just over Allen’s shoulder as he returned. “Anything coming?“ he asked his partner.
“No…wait,” Ivan paused and looked off to the side. “Yes, got about a dozen coming.” He shifted his gun to the left as Allen turned and brought his own rifle to bear. A small group of bunnies hopped towards them in a jerky gait from the front door of a corner florist shop. Both men fired and managed to hit several of them while shattering the front windows as well. The bunnies scattered as the shots rang out and glass shards cascaded around them, one in particular not being quick enough to get clear of the sharp fragments. Allen would have liked to have gotten the entire crew, but sometimes they spooked as easy as when they were living. Getting them out of the way was priority.
Ivan tapped a grenade on the side of his pack. “Want to give any still in there a goose?”
“No, they’re gone, but I think they chased someone in there. They might still be alive. Let’s check it out.” Allen was starting to think he should have brought more people along, but Ivan was worth more than one on his own.
“My turn,” Ivan volunteered. Allen knew his motivations were the polar opposite of Gary’s; he balanced duties with whomever else was in the group. Allen got into line five steps behind his partner as he pulled open the door and walked in.
The front display room was dimly lit by a fluorescent bulb running low, as well as the natural light coming in through the empty windowpanes. Stacks of overgrown and browning plants lined the floors. The scent of fresh bouquets was gone, a light rotting odor mixed with the burning scent of gunpowder was in the air. There wasn’t enough space to for any bunnies to hide, so Ivan went straight to the back area where bouquets were arranged.
They could hear a slight moan come from the back room. Ivan peeked around the corner. He relaxed his stance and half turned to Allen, giving the clear sign and lowering his rifle. Allen did the same as they walked into the room.
Sprawled across the dirt and blood stained floor were two more bunnies, dead, and 3 adults. One male, plainly dead, with his face chewed off, fully dressed in denim, a pistol in his cold, dead hand. Two females, one middle aged and heavyset, the other late 30’s with dyed blonde hair and a matching grey yoga shirt & pant outfit. The older woman was the only living one, but she was on her way out too, judging by the chunks the bunnies had taken from her torso. Her shirt was ripped in spots, but Allen still managed to make out the words and picture displayed on the front of the garment; “Team Allen”. The picture was no better, as it was a portrait of him shooting at something (likely bunnies), along with some grossly exaggerated caricatures of the zombunnies superimposed around him.
The zombie plague’s become marketable, he thought. We’ve lost. Game over, man.
“I’m a big fan.” Those words interrupted his thoughts and he focused back on the woman, who was looking at him with her one remaining eye and managing a weak grin. “I’m the head of a ‘team’ chapter. There’s some candied yams back in the truck, it’s a special recipe I made, topped with the purple peeps. I know those are your favorite.”
Allen’s mouth gaped. He had no idea what to say. It didn’t matter, as the woman’s stare was now unblinking.
“You were too late, Allen,” Connar whispered in his ear, “but don’t worry. This is even better. Don’t move…keep the camera on her. Good job.”