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Tales From The Oddside(2)

By:Al Bruno III


The front wheel of thechair hit it at just the right angle, knocking Laura face first ontothe pavement. The impact with the back of the chair knocked the windout of me and I fell -- I wheezed something unintelligible about thebaby. Laura stirred groggily, blood trickling down her forehead.I rolled over and sawzombies, too many to count, bearing down on us. I drew one of thepistols and fired four times, three zombies fell, and one stumbled,th e rest just swarmed over them.Laura was trying to getto her feet, but she was too swollen, too sore to move quicklyenough. Our eyes met. "Save yourself!" she said, "Leaveme!"Save myself? I knewthat alone I could outrun them, she was only slowing me down. And forall I knew she might die anyway giving birth. It wasn't cowardice.Not when she wanted me to do it.The legendarysettlements in the North beckoned me. I stood slowly, felt my legstensing.The zombies were closenow, close enough for me to hear the squelching of their footsteps.Staring into a sea of putrid, black gummed mouths, I made mydecision. I hefted the wheelchair over my head and with an indignantcry hurled it into the thick of them. Some of the zombies toppledlike bowling pins; the others just kept coming.Somehow I lifted her upinto my arms and started running.</ol>


It wasn't long beforemy lungs were on fire and my muscles were screaming in protest. I wasafraid to look back, too afraid to see how close they were. Lauramoaned with fresh contractions.I barreled through thedoor to the Visitor's Aid Station and let Laura slide from my grip.Cold hands lockedaround the back of my neck, dragging me back through the door. Iscreamed and tried to kick free. More hands found me.And I knew that thiswas it. I had failed her, failed my child, failed at everything, as Ialways knew I would.Laura pulled one of thepistols from my waistband and fired over my shoulder. Blinded anddeafened, I fell forward. On her knees, she fired again and again.I can't believe Ialmost abandoned her. Funny thing, I wasn't really aware of how muchshe meant to me until that moment. I think that the real horror ofall this isn't that the dead were coming back to eat the living. Thereal horror is what it's making us become. What we're letting it makeus become.Hours later, barricadedin the Visitor's Aid station, I watch Laura breastfeeding our newbornchild. The zombies are camped right outside, we're both sore beyonddescription, and the only thing more limited than our supply of foodis our supply of bullets. We don't know how in the Hell we're goingto get out of here, and we have no idea what the future might hold.</ol>


But right now thatdoesn't matter.TALES FROM THEODDSIDERough PatchesbyAl Bruno III<I>Thefollowing story was originally published by Eden Studios</I>Something stirredbeneath four and a half feet of mud and snow. A rage so profound thateven the February cold couldn't dim it. Instinctively, she began toclaw her way to the light. It was almost like being born again.</ol>


Of all her littermates,she had been the strongest, the strongest of six. First to find theteat, first to open her eyes, first to notice the tall, pink figuresthat loomed over her mother's pen. Sometimes they would pick her up,their hands soft and subtle, and murmur and coo and tickle. It feltso good she couldn't help wagging her tail; she would lap greedily atfaces and fingertips.In the darkness of hershallow grave, she felt a pang of remorse at the loss of her motherand her brothers and sisters. Even now, she could still remember hermother's scent, the sound of her breathing, the pattern of the spotson her fur. So like hers.Back then, eating toher heart's content and playing with her littermates had been herwhole world. Occasionally, they would leave the pen to run throughthe tall grass, but always under the supervision of one of the TallOnes. Of course, in those days, she'd paid no mind to their maze offences and gates. She had been too busy exploring the sights andscents. She had been so very content then.That contentment hadended when the other Tall Ones came to take her away. At first theyhad intrigued her, with their strange new smells and constantattention. She had particularly enjoyed playing with their child,chasing and being chased. He was so soft and pink and when she lickedhis face he would make a sound that was not quite like squeal and notquite like a growl. When they had put the collar around her neck, shethought nothing of it. She had thought it was another toy like theball or the stick.As the sun had set, shefound herself bundled into a cage -- its bottom was lined withnewspapers and a strange-smelling blanket. Before she could evenutter a yelp of protest, she had found herself in their car. A longsickening ride later, she had found herself at her new home.</ol>


Thoughts of that placestirred her further. Rage goaded her, drove her to begin digging.Dirt and snow filled her mouth, choking her howls. The earth clung toher greedily, sucked at her. She was so tired, she just wanted to liethere and let go -- but she couldn't. They had taken so much fromher. In the end, they had taken everything.Despite her initialfears, she had adapted to her new life quickly. The Tall Ones fitinto roles just like her own kind did. The male was called "Dad"or sometimes "Danny", a female was called "Ma" or"Shirl" and their child, "Billy". Everything hadmany names, even her, sometimes she was "Puppy" or "Doggie"but mostly she was "Patches". It had felt good to have aname, felt good to belong.For a time, she knewnothing but joy. There were always treats and pettings to be had. Shewould lie on Dad's feet as he started mesmerized into his box ofcolored lights. Sometimes she would play in the yard, running fromone end of the fenced perimeter to the other and chasing theoccasional squirrel. She had accompanied Mom on her walks, enjoyingthe feel of the wind and the thick soup of odors it brought to hernose. She would play with the boy until they were both exhausted andthen at night she would sleep under his bed.But sometimes there hadbeen pain. When she had messed on the floor, or chewed on the carpet,the male or the female would rain blows down upon her."No! Bad! Bad!Bad! Bad dog!" they would cry.As the summers passed,she got better and better at following their strange rituals but someof the rituals still didn't make sense. Sometimes they had fed herfrom the table, other times they had swatted at her for begging.Sometimes they allowed her lie on the soft couch, other times theyhad yelled when they found her resting there. Sometimes Mom hit Dad,sometimes Dad hit Mom, and they both hit Billy.</ol>


It was for Billy thatshe'd damned herself. Dad had been in the throws of his strangemadness; the madness that always seemed to be brought on by thestrange smelling water he drank. The boy had tried to run when Dadturned on him. He'd almost made it too. He was young and strong, juston the cusp of his adolescence, but he'd stumbled and fallen. Hisfather was on him, lifting him up by the throat, shaking him likeprey.The boy had been like abrother to her. He had always fed and watered her. Patches hadreacted the only way she knew how -- she had growled a challenge. Shehad bared her teeth and readied herself. A warning nip, she had beensure that was all she would need.The man had droppedBilly and rounded on her with a kick. The kick had caught her in thebelly, knocking the breath from her. She had wobbled on her legstrying to recapture the boldness she'd felt just moments ago. He hadcame at her with his fists, dazzling her with the ferocity of hisblows. For the first time in her life, Patches had thought that shemight die."Fucking dog!Growl at me you cocksucker?""Dad! Leave heralone Dad!"The darkness that hadclaimed her then was much like the darkness she found herself in now.Except that then she'd woken to find herself in the basement, lockedinto the barred cage they'd brought her here in. Through a fog ofpain she had waited.Time had crawled past.The cage had soon become too small for her -- she couldn't stand orturn around, she could only lie there and wait. There had been awindow in the basement. She had watched the grass flutter in thebreeze and had wondered when they would come for her.</ol>


Then the final day hadcome. Pressure had begun to build in her bladder. She knew betterthan to lose control in the house. She had to get outside. She had tolet them know. There was a special whine she had used for just thisoccasion.The whine had broughtDad storming down the steps. He had bellowed and kicked the side ofthe crate again and again, terrifying her."Shut up! Shut up!Shut up! Do you hear me? Shut up!"When he had exhaustedhimself, he had stumbled back up the stairs and slammed the basementdoor shut.A day had passed.Patches had soiled herself three times before Billy and Mom came downto get her. They had cleaned her, cooed softly to her and fed hersome of their food. When they took her outside, Billy had wept to seeher limp.After a few hours ofbliss, they had brought her back down to the basement and put herback into her cage. Thankfully, they had cleaned it first.That became the patternof her life. All day and all night locked into that tiny box. A fewhours of freedom in the afternoon was all she had left. Every night,it seemed the shouting and thudding upstairs became louder.If she made even theslightest noise, Dad would come down to shout and beat her. She couldsense that he was trying to break something within her; the part ofhimself that was already broken.</ol>


Time had passed soslowly in the cage, it was maddening. Occasionally, she had gnawed atthe edges of her prison, hoping to free herself. She had gnawed atthe cold, reflective lattice until her mouth tasted of blood but thedoor never loosened and the walls never gave away. On warm days,Billy would take her for short walks, sometimes she would hope thatthey weren't coming back -- that they would just keep walking andwalking forever.As the days wore intoweeks, she had found her periods of freedom growing shorter. Billyhad been there less and less and Mom had begun to carry the smell ofthe strange water on her was well. The boy had become a man, and hadbegun to walk and sound like his father. A swagger had appeared inhis step that somehow made Patches nervous.With her time in theyard growing less and less, she had become more frantic to enjoy it.She would race wildly in circles; she would entice Mom or Billy toplay with her. They rarely did.As the fall had becomethe winter, they had begun to forget to let her out. As hours hadbecome days, she had began soiling her cage and herself again. WhenMom had found her in this state she would groan and called her a "Baddog." Which didn't seem fair.When Billy had foundher he would whisper "Damnit Patches" and call for Mom. IfDad found her, he would yell and let her out just so he could shoveher nose in the mess she'd made.Finally, she had beganto cower at the sound of someone treading down the basement steps.She had cowered and shook when a hand was raised to her. When Dad sawher do this, he had made a noise that was not quite a bark and notquite a growl.</ol>