Authors: Phillip Tomasso
A Vaccination Novel (Book 3)
I hated clowns. Nothing about them worked
for me. They painted expressions onto their faces with gobs of makeup; giant, exaggerated smiles or frowns; tears and eyebrow art. They sported honking Rudolph-red noses, oversized shoes, baggy hula-hooped pants and striped shirts with lapel-pinned flowers that sprayed water. There was also no forgetting the multi-colored afros, or horseshoe-shaped balding patterned wigs. This was funny? No. In fact it was scary; downright creepy and frightening.
Julie hired not one, but
, for Cash’s birthday party. The kid was turning three. What did he know about clowns? Cash wouldn’t even sit on Santa’s lap.
don’t get me started on how horrifying and perpetually wrong it is for a giant fat man with an unkempt beard and red velvet suit to want kids sitting on his knee. To be fair, I might just be referring to department store Santas.
Ah, excuse me? You want my kid to sit on your lap and tell you secrets?
I don’t think so, you fucking pervert!
That’s just me, the kind of dad I was. Call me cheap and overprotective if you’d like. The money spent on clowns, and the time wasted in lines at malls, just didn’t add up to me at times.
“Where’s Cash?” Playing host was always a challenging and daunting task. The backyard was dressed up with colored coiled streamers that ran along branches of the Rose of Sharon that outlined the property, and if you squinted, it might have resembled a festive circus-like environment. Somehow, all I could focus on was the swarms of bees that loved those flowery tree-like bushes. The bees were freaking everywhere. It was impossible to enjoy eating outside with all of those bees. I wanted to rent a pavilion for the party. We still could have decorated, had the clowns and everything else, but we just would have been able to do it without all of the bees. Day after the party, I was taking the Rose of Sharon down. All of them. I kept thinking how nice it would be mowing the lawn and not having to run by the bushes every time just to avoid agitating the stinging insects.
The bouncy house in the center of the yard was like an inflatable red torture chamber. The ten foot high fortress was made up of rows of bulbous tube upon bulbous tube filled with air from a running air pump generator. That generator
hummed, grind and stunk of gasoline. Kids disappeared inside through a Velcro sealed doorway, and we lost them. They were gone. They had vanished into a rubbery castle that shook as if it was in the midst of a constant earthquake. It bounced and bobbed, and threatened to deflate. The entire time sounds of kids screaming went ignored. Parents mingled, scooping out handful after handful of M&Ms, salted peanuts or quickly going stale potato chips from bowls spread out on tables covered in Dollar Store tablecloths that needed to be taped to the underside to keep from blowing away. No one paid any attention to the chaos erupting inside the bouncy house, no one.
“Where is Cash?” I said, again, realizing
that in order to be heard I needed to speak more loudly, and actually make physical contact placing my hands on my wife’s shoulder in order to gain her attention.
Oh, he’s with my mother over in the high-chair,” Julie said, and pointed with a nod of her head and using the tip of her nose like a finger. She carried a tray of fresh cut vegetables with homemade dipping sauce out of the house. It would be feverishly gobbled up. Family and friends were here to celebrate Cash’s birthday, and brought gifts. Their reward for giving up precious time on a Saturday afternoon was being fed. They came hungry, always did. The bowls of junk, the trays of veggies were what made up the hors d’oeuvres. The coolers lining the back of the sun porch were filled with ice, beer and soda pop and would empty soon. It was okay, because we had a backup. We’d resort to two liter bottles stored in the fridge.
“You need any help?” I held the door
open, even after she set the tray down on the closest table, since I knew she would be headed back inside. Serving guests was a chore that never ended. Pasta baked in the oven and salads needed dressing mixed. The kitchen table was in the process of transformation into a grand buffet line.
“We’re set,” she said. Call it old fashioned, but most of the females were inside prepping the main courses for lunch. No one told them they had to do it. I certainly never expected my wife to do the cooking. It’s just the way things unfolded. Possibly, it had something to do with the fact I’ve been known to burn boxed mac and cheese.
I gave her a kiss. She smiled and ducked under my arm and went back into the house.
I spotted my mother-in-law
standing by the highchair. Cash sat with his back toward me, his arms waved about up in the air.
“You know how to throw a party, McKinney.” My brother-in-law clapped me on the back. I could smell beer and M&M’s on his breath, despite the breeze outside.
Couldn’t fault him. It was a party. Beer was free. M&Ms were everywhere. Why not get lit. If it was his party, or anyone else’s, for that matter, I would do the exact same thing.
My mother-in-law’s mouth formed a giant “O” before she covered her face with both hands.
“Mom?” I started toward her, toward my son. Felt it in my stomach; a churning, a flip-flop. Something was wrong.
She stepped away from the highchair, took several steps backwards. I heard Cash cry. Despite the shouts that echoed out from the bouncy house; from the mood music that blared from a radio set in the kitchen window; from the fucking clowns doing lame magic tricks to their screaming-kid audience in front of me, I heard, distinctly, my son crying.
“Mom!” I said.
The first clown stepped in front of me with that goofy and eccentric smile, but I saw his real mouth camouflaged under a stoned application of red lipstick. He wasn’t smiling
. His lips weren’t fooling me. And why did I give a shit that he was pulling yards of scarfs out of his sleeve? Why would anyone be impressed with that? Who the fuck would care?
I pushed him aside. The more steps I took toward my son, it seemed like the further away from him I was. I just couldn’t get there, couldn’t get to him.
The second clown was stooping forward. All I could hear at that moment was the squeaking scrape of balloons being twisted and tied into shapes. A horse, a dog, a crown, a sword. It wasn’t an intentional hip-check, but I did send the clown stumbling forward and face first into a budding bush of Rose of Sharon. I heard the clown scream and watched him scramble backwards as bees stung his face and head. His swatting hands did nothing more than further irritate the bees. I did
laugh when he ran away from the bush into the bouncy house, fell flat on his back and gasped as the breath was knocked from his lungs. It was partly my fault, okay, but let’s be serious, most of the blame for his lack of balance stemmed from his fucking huge Ronald McDonald shoes.
I put out a hand like a silent apology, as if to say,
oh, man, I’m sorry, are you okay,
but I didn’t stop to help him up.
Cash still sat in the highchair, his back to me, my mother-in-law now letting out tiny shrieks. Her mouth was open wide with hands pressed to her cheeks.
I reached him, and removed the tray, lifted him into my arms, and spun around to face my mother-in-law, ready to ask her what the hell her problem was…when I saw Cash’s face.
I’d thought he was covered in blue cake frosting. That couldn’t be it. The cake was still in the house.
We would light candles and sing Happy Birthday after we ate, not before.
Cash’s skin was grey, peeling away
from the bone. His eyes were not brown and bright, but cloudy and colorless. His white baby teeth looked like something inside the mouth of piranha and snapped as if trying to bite a chunk out of my shoulder.
I dropped him. I dropped my son.
He landed on his padded bottom. The diaper absorbed the brunt of the fall. He didn’t cry.
Cash thrust his hands at me, moaned and latched his tiny arms and hands around my leg. I watched in horror as his mouth opened wide and bit down on my jeans.
I felt a scream struggle its way up my throat before it actually exploded like a siren from my mouth. “No!”
“Dad! Daddy!” Charlene, my fourteen year old daughter, said. I recognized her voice. I could not see her. Where was she?
I thrashed side to side, wanting my son off my leg, his teeth out of my clothing and out of my flesh. “No!”
“Chase, it’s a dream. You’re having a nightmare.” A hand on my shoulder, another rubbed my back.
“Julie?” I said.
The hand fell away. I opened my eyes and looked around. It couldn’t have been a dream. Every detail had been so vivid, so real. It wasn’t my wife, Julie, who’d awakened me.
“Allison,” I said. “Honey, I’m sorry.”
Allison was my girlfriend. Julie, she was my
. Calling one the other was never a good idea. The reason and only explanation and possibly only saving grace for why I’d made such a mistake, I’d been asleep. Wasn’t on purpose, or even on accident. It was because I actually thought Allison had been her, had been Julie. But Julie was my ex, and she was dead, and I had been the one that killed her.
“What was the nightmare?” Allison said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” I said, but I wasn’t. My heart beat fast. I took deep breaths and tried to calm and control my breathing. “I…ah…where are we?”
I’d just asked the question, but I also remembered at that same moment. We were inside a Humvee. It came back to me fast, a flood of memories. My brain fought not to get sucked under as wave after wave of images forced themselves into my mind and crashed around loose and free inside my skull like a mental tsunami.
# # #
At a quick glance, you might think the outbreak came out of
nowhere; as if one second, everything was normal and the next zombies were everywhere. The more I think about it, I realize it wasn’t how it actually happened. It had been gradual with the signs all there, just no one piecing any of it together. Even if someone had seen what was going on sooner, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. It couldn’t have.
However, all at
once, it came to a head when an overwhelming, overpowering force of walking dead creatures emerged.
Allison and I worked at 911 as dispat
chers. That day, I was on phones and took an emergency call from a scientist or a doctor, I can’t remember, but he claimed he was partly to blame for the, what would you call it? A problem? An Apocalypse?
The man said that contaminated vials of the swine flu vaccination had been shipped and administered to Americans across the country before the error had been recognized. Inoculated people didn’t catch the flu. Instead, they turned into zombies.
was the only word I could use to describe the completed transformation. Their veins darkened to black and stood out like morbid highlights on pale, pale skin. Eyes lost any vibrancy and color as a milky, cloudy film covered the iris and pupil.
first, I didn’t think a bite could cause another to turn into a zombie. I’d been wrong. Getting bitten by one of those things was bad. Very bad.
Some of the creatures meandere
d toward you, slow as shit and sluggish. It wasn’t a joke. Get surrounded by enough of them, caught off guard, or backed into a corner, and they’d kill you. Eat your flesh and tear into your gut without pause. The others were fast like Kenyans. I’d seen a herd of them chase a man in a mall parking lot, take him down, and rip his flesh to shreds. The threat from either was equal and real.
Allison and I made it out of the 911 facility. I had one goal. I needed to make it across the city and save my kids
. Charlene was fourteen, and Cash, who had been nine. By car, we could have made the journey across fifteen miles in twenty minutes, but the streets were littered with abandoned, disabled and crashed vehicles. Forced to trek the distance on foot, twenty minutes became several days. Zombies were everywhere and we had to find shelter often and for long periods of time to keep from getting devoured. It was during this time that we met up with Josh and Dave Rivera.
Josh died. Zombies never touched him. He’d been shot.
Someone or some group armed with guns shot at us. They never came out from where they were hidden. They never attacked, but they did manage to kill Josh. Dave had been devastated. I couldn’t blame him. His saving grace was Sues Melia. She’d been in a courtyard by a hotel, running from a zombie when we found and saved her. Sues and Dave bonded. They were an odd couple, quiet and reclusive, but it worked for them. Whatever it was, they appeared happy together.
Charlene was a trooper.
Tough as nails. I hated clichés, but there was no other way to describe her. She’d taken on some serious responsibility as a fourteen year old, watching out for her brother and she had learned how to use weapons. Not just use them, but used them effectively.