Marshall dove at the zombie, intending to knock it off his brother. He brought all the force his legs could bear. As he lept, his feet created waves in the white striped asphalt like a bolder being dropped in a smooth lake. The collision with the super zombie should have been enough to kill it. Marshall hit with his shoulder. As his body collided with the zombie, Marshall felt his own collarbone give way.
With a bellow of surprise, he bounced off the super. Moments later, Renee drove her kitchen knife into the zombie’s neck. The blade plunged in to the hilt. She twisted the knife blade a quarter turn inside it’s neck, severing the spinal column, but when she pulled the knife out, the wound sealed immediately. From the way its skilled ripped, it was as if the zombie was made of water.
Marshall was struggling to get up when the zombie threw one punch, hitting Renee in the abdomen. The strength of the blow knocking her back almost to the truck. She hit the gravel shoulder of the road with a grunt, dazed from the force of the punch.
All the while, Max was walking slowly forward with his head tilted to one side. The look of confusion was plain on his face. “Stop hurting my family,” he said softly. As he spoke, a bright blue aura surrounded him, driving away the inky blackness that no one other than he could see or feel.
By now, Marshall had regained his feet and was pulling on his left arm, trying to align the collar bone. He knew if he didn’t, the bones bones would knit together improperly. “Max, get back in the truck,” he yelled.
“I can’t, Uncle Marshall. I have to stop him from hurting my Dad.” Max said, his face looking confused and almost desperate.
“Max, go now.” Marshall’s voice was stern. The older brother was approaching panic as Max continued to walk towards the powerful zombie. He pushed aside the horrible thought that he may lose his brother and his nephew all in one night.
“But Uncle Marshall! I can’t! I really really can’t,” said Max, continuing forward. He knew he was supposed to do what his elders told him, but he also knew his daddy was in trouble. He was just three feet from the zombie, and stopped for a second. ‘Steve. I’m not supposed to hit people. Daddy says ‘we don’t hit’ all the time. But Uncle Marshall and Aunt Renee are hitting him. He’s hurting them. I don’t know what to do.’
‘Max, I’m not sure we should get involved. He has many more E’Clei than we do.’
‘But my dad always says we have to take care of those who are weaker than us.’
‘Not if it gets you killed. We understand you need to help your father, but he would be very cross if you were hurt.’
‘Then I won’t get hurt. Can we just make him nice? Like I did with you?’
‘He is too strong, Max. Please listen to us.’
Max stepped forward and put his hand on the zombie’s shoulder. Blue light shot down into him, freezing him in place, like someone grabbing an electric fence.
Max spoke softly, “Stop hurting my friends.”
“I can not,” said the blonde zombie.
“You have to. You’re not being nice.”
“I’m trying to save your father.”
“Then stop biting him,” Max said, increasing the pressure on the zombie. Max felt the man start push back against him.
“I can not. If I stop, he will die. There are too many E’Clei in him, and you’re putting him in danger by stopping me.”
Marshall and Renee stood watching, afraid to get involved out of fear of hurting Max, or the zombie hurting Max in retaliation. Panic was plain on their faces as Victor began to convulse on the ground. His eyes had rolled back into his head and his body was violently jerking from side to side.
“Max, honey, get away. We need to get to your Dad,” said Renee. She was no longer hiding the terror in her voice now.
“I can’t, Aunt Renee,” Max said. He was desperately trying to work out the right thing to do. His four year old mind wanted to trust everyone, but the zombies actions didn’t mesh with his words. Max had never encountered duplicity before.
‘Steve, I don’t know what to do.’
‘If you won’t run, hit him hard. With everything you have. Think about how much you love your dad and hit him. We can sort this out later.’
Max thought of his favorite memory of his father. He, his mother, and his dad were out on the back deck. Max was riding his tricycle around the huge table pretending to be the ice cream man. He had a small bell on the handlebars and was ringing it as he came around one of the corners and stopped.
“Hello, sir,” Max had happily said. “Would you like some ice cream?”
“Why yes, young man,” his father had said in a funny voice. “Could I trouble you for a strawberry cone?”
Tears streamed down Max’s face, thinking about that time when everything had been right. His mother had been laughing. He fondly remembered the three of them together on the deck on a beautiful summer afternoon. The thoughts of his mother brought an extra powerful surge of emotion to him, as he hauled back and punched Drake in the side of the head. Steve channeled all of Max’s E’Clei into protecting the little boys hand from the force of the impact. Max’s aura solidified around his fist, just as his father had done. The impact of Max’s energy, powered by his feelings of need for his father launched Drake off of his father and into the oncoming lane of traffic. The zombie laid still.
Max wasted no time. ‘Daddy. I punched the bad guy, I’m sorry.’
There was no response from his father. Concerned, Max moved over to his father and rolled him onto his back. Victor’s eyes were closed as Max gently nudged Victor’s shoulder. He still did not answer. With a furrowed brow, Max pushed inside Victor’s head, and saw turmoil. New E’Clei were fighting for control; there were so many. Max started squishing them one at the time, as quickly as he could. Even then, the E’Clei were forming pathways inside Victor’s brain faster than Max could kill them. He could feel them weakening from the poisonous environment, but they were building up quickly. As the E’Clei formed large groups around areas of Victor’s brain, the outside bugs died but their corpses shielded the inner ones.
Max pushed into the center of the largest group and started killing the bugs that were in direct contact with his father’s brain.
“Uncle Marshall,” Max said, strain clear in his tiny voice. “I can’t get them all. I think there are too many.”
Drake groaned from his position on the opposite side of the road, and started to stir. Marshall walked over to the zombie and stomped on his femur, smashing it. He then kicked the blonde zombie’s foot up under his butt, and repeated the same process with the other leg.
The bones in Drakes legs healed quickly, almost as quickly as Marshall was working. His femurs healed together in the shape of the letter W.
“I was trying to help him!” Drake yelled. “He ordered me to bite him. I warned him that this might happen. I was trying to forcibly remove the extra E’Clei, but they’re determined to beat his immune system and bring down the great Victor Tookes.”
“Fix him!” yelled Renee.
“I can’t. I was barely keeping up when you three attacked me. If we hadn’t been so busy trying to keep him alive, we would have killed all of you.”
“Why are you trying to save him,” asked Marshall. “Don’t you want to kill all of us?”
“Victor is our Prime. He created us. He told me to collect all the E’Clei. We were full. There wasn’t any more room in this host to hold any more of us. We came to try and talk him out of the order he implanted in us to kill ourselves. He said he would only remove the order if we gave him the extra E’Clei we carry. Even with our warning, he said he needed the extras to defeat Laura.”
“But Laura’s dead. We watched her burn,” said Renee.
“Almost, but not dead. She will heal eventually and be back.”
“Fuck,” said Marshall.
“Marsh, grab the corpse. I’ll get Victor. We need to get out of the open, and back to where it’s safe. Crookshaks there may come in handy.”
Marshall grabbed the black suited zombie by one arm and dragged him over to the truck like a child carrying a rag doll. With a flip of his arm, he tossed the zombie up over the side into the back of the truck.
While Marshall was dealing with Drake, Renee had grabbed Victor under the shoulders and was dragging him towards the truck. Once Drake was securely nestled in, Marshall lept out of the truck. He met Renee halfway and easily lifted his brother and set him in the back seat of the truck. Max shadowed them all the way back, squishing bugs inside Victor’s brain as quickly as he could.
The trip back to the compound was a panicked one for Renee and Marshall who spoke in hushed whispers all the way back. Max largely ignored then, instead focusing on his father’s predicament. He searched through his father’s mind, looking for anything familiar. He saw a number of memories, and felt the emotions that went along with them. The memory of the first time his father held him made him feel oddly uncomfortable, experiencing his father’s instant love for him from a different perspective. ‘Daddy, are you in there? It’s me, Max. It’s Max-monster.’
He waited while he continued to squish E’Clei with his mind. He dug deeper, looking for some sign of his father, ‘Dad, it’s your boy, Max. Remember me?’
There was no response.
“Uncle Marshall, I can’t find Daddy,” said Max.
“Mommy. I think Daddy needs your help,” said Max.
Victor woke up in a familiar feeling white room. He was in a huge wood bed with crisp white sheets. The edges of the room were barely visible, the fog surrounding him seemed to get thicker the farther away it got from the bed, obscuring any decoration or anything on the walls. The light in the room was soft and diffuse. “The last time I was here you yelled at me,” said Victor. “Could we skip that part this time? I know what I’m doing.”
“Tookes, you have no idea what you’re doing,” said Candi. “But yes, I’ll skip the yelling at you. For now, you need to fight what’s happening to you. The E’Clei are trying to take over your mind. The dose you got from Drake was way too strong, even for you. You’re going to need to look inside your own head, find the parasites and kill them.”
Victor shook his head and asked, “What do you mean look inside my own head?”
“Search your mind, like you did when you first re-programmed Drake,” Candi replied.
“I programmed Drake?”
“Think about his face, Tookes. Imagine it sagging off the bones. He was wearing a blue button up shirt and shredded blue jeans. It’s the zombie you messed with at the airport.”
“When you went into his mind at the airport, you changed him. Do the same for yourself. Find the E’Clei and will them not to exist.”
“I’m not sure I know how i’m supposed to get into my own head.”
“Tookes, you really are dense sometimes. We’re in your head now. Just get up and walk through the door. And hurry, you’re dying. There isn’t much time.”
As Candi spoke, the fog cleared, revealing a heavy brown steel fire door with a shiny brass deadbolt and knob. At head level there was a slide chain, and just under that a flip bar connected to the door frame. The entire door had a steel bar crossing it, connected to steel braces on the wall. Whatever was on the other side of that door was clearly not welcome on this side.