Lindy felt the last bit of sanity pushing to leave her mind as she looked down at the plate filled with blue-gray bits and pieces of unidentifiable matter resting on a bed of blood red sauce topping the thick pizza crust. The menu underneath the Plexiglas identified the restaurant as Zombie Pizza. A scream still vibrated in the air. Her scream. Not just one. Trembling, she glanced up at the young man standing in front of her. He moved the plate from her view, quickly snapping it to the side behind a drink sign.
His face was etched in horror. A rumbling around the room made her stomach twist into tight painful knots of terror. Something was definitely wrong in this damn town. She so was going to kill her boss -- if she ever got out of this creepy mountain community. She was starting to have her doubts. What the hell sort of place served something called 'Zombie' Pizza?
"Damn it, Carol Sue, you're fresh meat!" He grabbed her already torn wet shirt and literally yanked her across the countertop while snatching up a large chef knife he'd been using earlier to slice the pizza. The heat lamp was providing Lindy some comfort, even though it was glinting off the silver blade.
"Lindy," she said while quickly brushing the gooey toppings from her shirt.
She had slid over the ugly plate of pizza when he'd reached for her and dragged her off her feet. Her injured right foot had hit the hard edge when he pulled her over to his side of the kitchen. Standing awkwardly, she winced as she tried to put some weight on her ankle. A moan escaped her mouth. An answering moan came from the other customers. Not a one had stopped devouring their food while she screamed.
"Fine, Lindy, stop making those noises. You're in luck cause they all just ate the first pizza. Give them ten minutes and Silvia and Eddie will be nodding off. Tommy and Paula already hit the tables." He whispered while he pointed to the two scruffy folks slumped in the booth closest to them. There were only six people sitting upright at the moment. She now knew the names of four of them -- not that she planned on conversing with any of them. The other four men were hunched over their full plates concentrating on stuffing the slices into their mouths. They all curled their left forearms, guarding their plates as they shoveled the pizza rapidly into their mouths. Food spilled out while they chewed. Nobody seemed to notice the free falling chunks.
Looking at the heat lamp she asked, "Do you have a generator here?"
She had watched the lights go out in the town when she had been at the now-closed hotel. The small nasty man had directed her to the pizza parlor then bolted the hotel door behind her. He never even offered to let her use the phone, the jerk. The flickering candlelit tables should have given her some comfort, but with the occupants of the restaurant, all they served to do was cast eerie shadows in the place. A small fissure of worry ran down her spine as she realized how much she needed to find a working phone.
"Yeah, if I keep the pizza hot they seem to respond better and eat more. Good, there go the Blues Brothers." Thumps greeted those words and Lindy looked over to see the four tattered men were face-planted in their food and not moving.
"Are you kidding me?" Lindy then noticed one of them sporting dark sunglasses. They were now askew as the man was lip deep into the red sauce. His eyes were shut but ringed heavily with black and blue.
"I give them all names. They don't seem to really talk. It's like just a few stray words here and there -- never anything helpful like their names." His voice was soft and she wasn't happy to see his hand wrapped around the knife was trembling slightly.
"Why are they falling asleep?" Lindy was proud she kept her voice even.
"Oh, that. 'Cause I grind up some Ambien and lace the pizzas heavily once they come out of the oven. After a pie or two out go the lights. Then we can all clean up the town and get some sleep." He made it sound like it was a common problem for pizza restaurants.
Looking at the last two patrons slump Lindy asked, "Just some?"
Blushing slightly, "Okay a lot. But I need to figure out something soon because I don't have that much left. Maybe two more nights."
"Sounds like you have some problems. I will send you some more once I hit the city." Lindy glibly promised.
"You aren't going anywhere." He replied his hand still holding onto the knife but now a tad steadier.
"Why the hell not?" She hissed careful not to raise her voice too much. Instinctively she knew waking those folks up would be very bad. Terminally bad was her gut feeling.
"The town is overrun by more than just these. The ones that don't come for pizza are the bad ones. They're on the edge of town and take out anyone who tries to leave." He was serious.
"No way. I drove through here a few hours ago and nobody tried to stop me. Hell, I didn't see anyone." She shook her head while still keeping a careful eye on the blade.
His laughter was broken and hollow.
"Well, you should have kept going. That's how I got here. I drove in and stopped for the night." His face was drawn and haunted. "Shelly didn't survive the night."
"Who's Shelly?" Lindy was confused.
"She was my girlfriend. Now she's one of these creatures. I call them zombies. But I don't know what they really are. I'm Dean, by the way." He fingered the sharp edge of the knife while talking, making Lindy a bit edgy.
"How long have you been here? Why don't you walk out during the day or something?" She thought it was a no-brainer solution.
Again that sick laughter and he said, "You don't think I didn't try? I've been here ... it seems like forever. Probably a month now. I don't know. Hell, I don't care. You are one of the first people I've seen in a week."
"There's some old man over at the hotel. He's human, isn't he?" Lindy hadn't been overly impressed by the guy but he had looked normal by comparison to the snoring bodies tumbled over their food at the tables.
"Grumpy Gus? He won't talk to me anymore. After the night Shelly was snatched, the only thing he said was that I was in charge of feeding them, or he'd feed me to them. He tossed me the key to this place and kicked me out of the hotel. I didn't argue because Shelly was outside somewhere." He looked ill. "I never found her. I keep feeding them and then putting them over in the bus station. I check for new ones and in the past few days less of them have come here. I hope that means someone is killing them or they are just dead. I just pray I can find Shelly and find a way to fix her."
Lindy looked at the bodies and wondered why he didn't just use the knife on them. Something of what she was thinking must have leaked through because Dean stiffened and said, "Oh, hell no. They may be someone's wife or husband and did nothing wrong but walk into this cursed place. Maybe it's like some madness that will run out of their system with time. You know, a disease or illness?"
His face was hopeful. Lindy wasn't so sure.
"Why do you serve them that gross-looking pizza?" She pointed to the nearly empty pan with the odd toppings.
"It's what was here. I used to run a pizza place when I was in high school so I just began to make the dough when I found these bags of meat in the cooler. The only stuff. So I made a few trays of pizza the first night and all these zombies came in and stood in line. They ate everything I made and were really mad when I ran out. I locked myself in the cooler and in the morning they were all gone. They'd trashed the place and there was blood splashed over the prep area. And some parts. They had taken apart one of their own. I tried to get Gus at the hotel to talk to me but he wouldn't open the door. Just told me to do the job right." His face was lined with the pain of his memories.
"Most of the houses were empty, I found out, and I began to take various pills out of the medicine cabinets and crush them. Once I added them to the pizzas they were calmer. I decided the bus station was best place for them. I figured if someone came looking for their missing partners they might be coming by bus. Not that I've seen a bus come here in a while. Weird because some of them matched pictures in the houses I broke into, but not all of them." He paused and shook his head at some other stray thought.
"I still don't get why you don't leave? Or call someone like the National Guard?" Lindy wasn't used to inaction. Dean seemed almost content by his new role in the weird town.
"The phones don't work, and every time I got near the edge of town someone would stumble out of the trees and start towards me. I wasn't risking getting bit like Shelly did. She was foaming at the mouth when she ran from me." He tried to stop shaking unsuccessfully. "Lindy, why the hell did you come to this town?" Dean was horrified at his own memories.
"My car broke down earlier and I walked here during that nasty storm tonight." She said quietly. She did remember feeling like she was being watched when coming into town. She'd put that down to not being familiar with the countryside. And there was the lack of animals and birds pushing at her memory of that hellish walk. But the diner definitely topped her list as the creepiest place she'd ever been inside, and what Dean was telling her wasn't helping her at all.
"Well, we need to get these folks to the bus station and find some more drugs. There were some houses two blocks over I haven't been into yet. Maybe we can find something stronger." He walked back into the kitchen and pulled a large cart from the storage area.
Lindy looked at the bodies and grabbed the cart behind the first one Dean had. She pulled off the bags of flour and tossed them on the floor. Dean looked surprised at her strength and helped her with the last one.
"Are there more of them outside?" She eyed the knives stuck in the block on the prep table for her own use.
"Not this late. Besides, after midnight they seem to disappear until the following night. Well, except for those guardians on the edge of town." Nevertheless Lindy grabbed a chef's knife and held it in her right hand while pushing the cart out into the dining area.
"Let's get a move on and then we can see if there is another way to get out of this town. Where are all the people? It can't be just you and Hotel Gus." Lindy dropped one of the Blues Brothers onto the cart and his head hit with a decidedly ugly thwack sound. Shrugging, she pulled the second one in the booth on top and tried to ignore the odd feeling of their dead weight.
"Lindy, you are the first person I've talked to in over three weeks. I yelled at Gus for a week or so, but he wouldn't open the door. I gave up and started trying to find a working phone when raiding for pills. I sleep during the day mostly. I go and find houses that are abandoned and usually find a spot in the attic or a closet." Dean appeared a bit deranged telling her this, but she kept her mouth shut. She would find a way out of this town one way or another. Hell, she'd let them feed on him while she ran. Once she could run again. Until then she'd just play along and let her ankle heal.
Smiling, she pulled the heavily body-burdened cart towards the door saying, "Okay, show me to the bus station." All she had to do is limp down the road and keep her wits about her. She wasn't going to be anyone's zombie.
Originally appeared 2007-04-02