A dark haired Asian girl climbed over some of the rubble that littered the back entrance to the mansion. An aluminum baseball bat strapped across her back. Its hilt perched just over her left shoulder. She held a rifle by it's lower receiver in her left hand, not bothering to carry it at the ready.
"What exactly is it again?" Ashley asked. In the days before this, the mansion had been a tourist attraction in San Jose California. The mansion was a maze of insanity with secret passages and strange architecture. The woman who built it was heir to the Winchester fortune. The rifle that had won the west. She believed that she had to build an insane house to trick and hide from the spirits that had died to her family's creation. The front side of the house had fallen in, the roof caving down blocking entry on that side. The trio had noted that the front door still stood separated from the rest of the dilapidated building. The stained glass panels and dark wood still untouched and unopened as if it just ignored the undead world around it.
"The man who gave us the job said it was a Whip but Nyla wasn't so sure. Remember she argued with him saying Whips rarely hold up in one place for long." Donathan scrambled over the same rubble Ash had just passed over. As the man stepped over the upended chunks of concrete, his long black leather duster parted. Two holsters clung to his hips each with nickel plated pistols tucked in them.
Mason sighed glancing up at the mid-day sun. He reached up to check that the hockey mask was resting in the up position just above his face. The paint was still drying on the new creation. He sighed before lifting the heavy m240 bravo machine gun up into his arms and stepping tall across the concrete. The gun's weight along with his red camo painted Interceptor Body Armor vest made it difficult for him to move as easily as his friends. "Either way it's just one zombie, right? No surprises?" he questioned.
"Right, because there's never any surprises?" Ash replied.
Once they were all inside and staring up a dark hallway, Donathan began the process of draping a mic cord over his neck. When he finished, the square box of an ancient radio mic hung down from one of his shoulders.
Donathan cued up his mic with a chirp, "Nyla can you hear us?"
A flash of static, a slight chirp and Nyla replied with her usual spacey tone, "Roger! We haven't seen anything out here."
Their numbers had grown from three to five when they'd met up with Nyla and Princess Jae in Half Moon Bay. They had fled Half Moon Bay last month and destroyed a vehicle in the process. After a couple of days of searching, the group had managed to find a replacement truck but had been low on coin. Collectively they decided that it would be best if they double back to San Jose to see if there were any hunter jobs available. Jae was older than the rest of them and better at driving so she had opted to stay with the vehicle. Nyla would stay with her, act as operator and over watch from her passenger seat in Jae's truck, surveying the house from afar. Together they'd be creating a mobile command center if something went wrong. Most hunter operations would have them using stealth and sign language. The group had decided it was better to get comms up. There should only be one creature but, Nyla had warned them that Whips were difficult to kill... If they became lost inside of this house, they might need to call for backup. So the radio was the best plan.
A few moments later the trio dragged off their packs and rummaged through them to find red lensed, L shaped military flashlights. Donathan clipped his light to the front fold of his duster. Ashley tucked the clip onto the waistband of her right hip. Mason attached his light to one of the front pouches on his IBA. Afterwards he dragged out another belt of ammunition and draped it across his shoulders. Nyla began feeding them directions through the radio. Leaving their bags by the front door, the group fumbled their way down the dark hallway. Making a right, they traipsed up another hallway, past a stairway that lead up to the ceiling. Eventually, they wound up in a round room that looked like it had several cupboard doors and no other exits.
"Some of those large cupboard doors will open up to walls. One should lead out of the room. Seen anything yet?" Nyla asked excitedly across the radio.
Even in the dim, red lit room Donathan and Mason could see Ashley rolling her eyes over Nyla's elation at the hunt. Her lack of fear and passion for studying the science of the undead always seemed to shock most of the group. Princess Jae never seemed to mind, but she had known her much longer.
"Nothing ye-" A loud hiss from behind had interrupted Donathan. In one fluid motion, the three leaped into action spinning on their heels. Ashley had the rifle at the high ready. Donathan had already drawn both of his pistols and was staring down the sights. Mason fell over in a loud clatter of gear and gunmetal. Somehow he managed to keep his mask on.
An uncomfortable minute ticked by. Mason opted to just remain laying on the floor and dragged his machine gun into position in front of him. Ashley began to whisper only to be shushed by Donathan. Another minute passed. Nothing.
Donathan lowered his pistols, holstered one and looked in Ashley's direction. Shrugging he whispered, "I don't think we-"
A close sinister growl erupted from behind the trio. They spun around again just in time to see a sharp fanged mouth framed by a warped, leathery face in the red light. The face let loose an ear piercing scream. Donathan was raising a pistol at the same time he was cueing up the microphone and saying, "Not a Whip!" The zombie's face and body shattered into black smokey smudges that exploded out from its form across the room. All three friends were standing in the quiet dust filled room, blinking and wondering what happened.
Confusion sprinted across their faces. Each looking from left to right at one another. Another second and Ashley had stepped back from the other two, turning to walk away. Mason matched her movement spinning in the opposite direction. Donathan did the same. A half step later and their clothes had changed. A complete step later the world had changed.
Finally, it was Friday. Mason felt like he'd waited a lifetime and today was the day! Hopefully, they'd arrive on time so that he could relax and enjoy this weekend. If they didn't show up... Well, he didn't want to consider that option.
Mason sighed staring at the numbers on his lcd computer screen with frustration as if they were boring a hole through his eye sockets. The desktop music player was churning out heavy saxophone filled experimental jazz. Looking up past the cuffs of his white button up shirt, he drank in the excitement of Friday in the office. The accounting department desks were all lined up on the far wall of the office, facing his direction, giving the place a crowded feeling. Their actual office was behind the doors and glass windows on the other side of the large room. Corporate had seen fit to move them out here so that the workmen could get a head start on painting their walls before the weekend. Across from Mason's desk, facing directly towards him was Jenson's desk. No matter where Mason moved the keyboard, turned the monitor or shifted in his chair he was always forced to stare at Doug Jenson. The man never loosened his tie. The man never unbuttoned his top button. The man loved numbers more than his wife. His fingers never slowed and he was always overflowing with tired old office clichés. Every manager's wet dream.
Mason was the polar opposite of Doug Jenson. He dreaded trudging into work every morning. He was always thinking about the weekend and for the life of him he could never keep his mind on his ta...
"Three full paint cans of whipped cream white paint. That paint has just enough tint that it looks more pleasing than plain white under fluorescent lighting." Mason had said his thought out loud. He was eyeballing the workmen, their paintbrushes and the cans of paint in the next room. He couldn't hear anything through the glass, but they all looked exhausted. They didn't seem like big fans of painting walls.
Jenson didn't even look up from his screen, "What's that now buddy? I don't want to throw you under the bus to management... but, I am giving a hundred and ten percent today!" His fingers were blurs.
Mason wrinkled his nose and looked back down at the screen. A hand took control of the computer mouse, clicking it in the direction of the music player. Bass filled hip-hop belted a familiar song out of the desk speakers. He made sure to turn it up before looking up to see Doug Jenson's face.
Doug still hadn't peered up from his work but announced, "This sort of music isn't going to help you push the envelope friend. You need high end production tunes." The lack of reaction and clacking of Doug's keyboard frustrated Mason. He let his eyes drift about the room, coming to rest at a desk littered with office supplies. Behind the desk sat a woman with long flowing red hair and large green eyes that matched her fashionable green top and skirt. She smiled from behind her desk and flashed long eyelashes in Mason's direction.
"We should try to be more pro-active in our work here buddy." Jenson added his eyes still lost on his computer screen.
Mason smiled and then looked up and away, then let his eyes drift back towards the woman's desk.
Jenson managed to take his eyes off his computer screen long enough to look back over his shoulder and see what Mason was staring at. After a few seconds, he turned back and asked, "So is today the big day? Are you finally going to make a play at her?"
Fifteen minutes later and Mason was scribbling across the wall. He didn't have to coax the workers at all, he'd just stuck his head in the room and announced, "Break time!" One of them even threw down his brush before walking off. After that Mason picked up the brush, took a can of the white paint and moved further into the room. He found a large static spot of the old blue wall. His hand was a blur, draping paint from the can to the wall until he had a large oval patch of white paint. He'd waited 2 minutes before making his move out of the room and towards that red haired woman's desk. She had smiled slyly as if expecting him long before that. He had frozen in place for a moment, shifting with nervous energy. Then reached down slowly and began scooping black permanent ink markers off of her desk. She had protested his actions, stating that those were her office supplies. Mason hadn't noticed or cared about anything she said as he sprinted back towards the empty room. For some reason, he had known that one light coat of paint on other acrylic could dry in approximately 7 minutes. He had spent the extra minute uncapping pens, lining them up on the carpeted floor in front of him, choosing which pens to use. As his hands grasped the pens and he turned to face the wall his breath grew ragged. His skin tingled. The pens danced across the freshly dried paint, their ink flowing smoothly until finally an image appeared. Mason stepped back to admire his work.
"Hockey mask?" Doug Jenson had been able to tear himself away from his data entry long enough to walk in the room and pass judgement. "And who the hell is the woman with the headset drawn on top of the hockey mask?"
"It's not a drawing, it's a plain hockey mask," Mason replied. "She's a painting on top of it." Sighing, Mason couldn't take his eyes off his work, "I know her somehow."
Doug Jenson had, had enough. "I don't know what's going on here but I'm going to go get upper management." Doug took two steps towards the door. Looking over his shoulder he added, "You are destroying this department's synergy!"
Mason hadn't moved from his spot. Doug Jenson came back in leading a few bald headed men from management. They all swarmed in shouting fury and asking why he had done this. A woman in a sharp business suit came in shortly after that. Her focused voice informed Mason that this sort of behavior was highly inappropriate. It was destroying company property! Another older fellow with a brown business suit and graying hair sauntered in and informed Mason he was fired. The only time Mason looked up was when Doug Jenson had complained to the others that Mason's work, "Is not even ART!"
A bike messenger opened up the glass doors, loped in the room past the chaos and stuck an envelope in Mason's hand. All of management was shouting at this point, demanding Mason clean out his desk. Oblivious to them, Mason signed the messenger's slip. After ripping open the package, he pulled out two bookmarked shaped slips of paper. Mason read out loud the large bold print across the first glossy ticket. "Anthrocon the World's Largest Furry Convention. Admit One: Mason Meeks."
A scream erupted from Mason as he threw down the ticket. Falling back he kicked his feet against the ground, struggling with his sudden loss of balance, trying to scramble away from the paper. "No! It can't be!" Mason's hands were clutching his face. "I CAN'T be!" His hands brushed a hockey mask that was not there before. He pulled it down to hide behind it revealing the image of a smaller version of Mason looking up from the middle of a chess board. The painting of Mason was surrounded by chess pieces. Each with sharp edges and blurry lines. "NOOOOOOOOO!" The world warped around him as his sharpened scream ripped through reality.
"It sucked. I sucked!" Ashley was shouting at her friend, throwing her surfboard down in the sand in frustration.
Jennifer's jaw had dropped. She raised both her hands wide, lowering her shoulders, "What are you TALKING about?! That was an amazing run?"
"The hell it was!" Ashley's fists were clenching. She raised one angry arm towards the ocean, "The waves are garbage today! Not an a-framed wave in sight and it was bullshit that they told me to take off when I did!"
"You stand a good chance at winning!" Jennifer's tone was full of frustration.
Ashley countered with accusation, "No! You stand a good chance of winning!" She left her board on the sand as she stormed away.
"What are you even saying?" Jennifer's tone had become whiny as it faded off into the distance. Ashley crossed the hot sand, past the dividers and began picking her path through the crowd of onlookers. Ashley looked up long enough to see a blond girl with long hair and a white tank top, wearing a headset. The girl mouthed Ashley's name as Ashley strutted past. There was no time for this nonsense.
A tan skinned, dark haired boy with long khaki shorts and no shoes was standing between Ashley and the sandy parking lot. His face had a five o'clock shadow. His abs looked chiseled out of stone by Michelangelo himself. Ashley froze and stood wide eyed for a moment, her breath held as she realized his eyes drifted down and back up across her length. A familiar hip-hop song coasted in off the wind from someone's car radio in the parking lot.
"Great set today!" The boy chimed in with a seasoned long toned voice of a valley guy. Ashley blushed and brushed her hair back behind one of her ears, looking down at the sand.
She managed to take a step forward and sheepishly answered, "Thanks" as her shoulder coasted past the guy.
From behind her the boy flirtingly added, "You looked good out there. Seriously."
Ashley froze mid-step. She could feel the blood rushing through her cheeks. Her hands were warm. It was impossible to tell if that roar was coming from the ocean or the noise echoing through her red, sunburned ears.
In an instant, she had spun around and swung a wide punch at the face of Mr. Chiseled Abs. When her knuckles connected he had squawked a swear word in protest. Stumbling back holding his gushing nose the guy managed to groan out, "Psycho!" before turning to run back towards the beach and away from Ash.
Ashley grinned watched the sand kicked up from his trail as he sprinted off before looking down at her knuckles. Studying them she murmured, "This doesn't feel-"
"It's my turn at bat!" A girl's voice cried out in frustration.
Ashley stood on her tiptoes, peering back and forth across the parking lot, trying to see where the source of the commotion was. She spotted a girl and a boy playing with a bat and ball near the open spaced front entrance of the parking lot. She crossed the parking lot as they settled their squabble and exchanged a pitch and a swing.
"Can I just-?" Ashley motioned for the bat from the girl. The girl looked up at Ashley with a confused look on her face and hefted up the bat. Ashley took the baseball bat by the barrel flipping it up out of her hand. She let it spin a full rotation before reaching forward and snatching it out of the air, gripping the bat by the handle.
The boy watching remarked, "coooOOOool!"
It was cool... It is cool... Actually, Ashley thought.
"This," Ashley loosened and flexed her hand causing the baseball bat's mass to raise and lower, "This is real."
"What's that?" the girl asked, pointing at the street beyond the parking lot.
Ashley looked up and stared in the direction the girl was pointing. The street was clear and barren, only the wind seemed to cross it and yet, something was there. Her eyes couldn't focus on it, but it was there. Part of the street shifted and warped as something lunged at her.
Ping! clank! The sounds of the aluminum bat connecting twice with a mass of flesh rang out across the parking lot. Something stumbled back and away from Ashley as her eyes narrowed and a smile crossed her lips. The world began shaking around her.
Donathan woke up. The summer sun angled in through the arched windows and held bright beams over his blanket and sheets. Bouncing out of bed, Donathan stood in front of his windows in his striped pajamas, staring out at the early morning. No work. No responsibilities. Just a gorgeous day ahead.
After brushing his teeth and showering, Donathan chose a fresh suit from his closet. Dark Italian silk that coasted and drifted across its length. A starched white shirt with an open collar and not a necktie in sight.
Donathan took a bit to eyeball his reflection in the mirror remarking to himself how the suit felt sharp and powerful. When he'd decided his hair was just right he let his vision lower until he found himself shifting aside a stack of mail on his bedside table. An envelope fell from the stack and landed face up on the floor. The letter addressed to him looked formal. The return address listed as, "Gun Enthusiast Quarterly." What a strange piece of mail. Donathan had never held a gun.
He found his wallet and keys, and made his way to his black Jaguar. Inside the leather interior smelled fresh and inviting. The engine revved to life as he angled the vehicle towards 101 South.
He managed to find a parking garage with an open space right up front so he didn't have to hunt. The first restaurant Donathan passed turned out to have an artichoke theme. He doubled back for it and after climbing to the top of the stairs, the host sat Donathan with a gorgeous view overlooking Cannery Row. The meal was immaculate. Fresh artichoke fashioned into a burger, grilled to perfection. The waiter only breezed by the table once to check how everything was. The restaurant was empty and silent.
Back on the street Donathan became conscious of how sober things were. A few minutes and a hill later he found himself inside a dark Irish themed pub. The large man behind the counter was happy to set down his rag and search in the mass of bottles behind him. After a minute, he poured a double scotch into a wide glass with three ice cubes.
As Donathan raised the scotch to his lips a girl cleared her throat off to his left. Sighing Donathan set down the glass and turned in the direction of the woman. Long blonde hair drifted down her shoulders and bright eyes lit up her face. For some reason, she wore a radio headset on her head. She smiled and said, "Dona-"
Donathan cleared his throat to signal his lack of concern for any interruption. Ignoring the woman he turned back to his scotch. Raising the glass high he admired the amber colored liquid as it shifted about the ice cubes. The smell was mellow and didn't bite at the nose. The liquid did bite at his throat though. He felt as if the wind had been kicked out of him on his first mouthful.
After a second double scotch, his head felt light and breezy. The day was warmer and more comfortable. A half hour later he was sitting on a rock, staring down at Whaler's Cove, watching the waves drift in across the sand. Cypress trees were sparsely growing up and out of the beach rock surrounding the inlet.
Donathan sighed and let his gaze rise until he was staring at the ocean's horizon. Clean air filled his lungs and good whiskey filled his head.
His hand snapped down and up, holding a nickel plated pistol forward as he squeezed off a round into the peaceful scene in front of him. Everything jolted and crumbled around him until he was standing back in a room lit up by the dim red hues of military grade flashlights. Mason and Ashley groaned clutching their heads. A rush of footsteps and Donathan drew his second pistol to aim at the doorway while his friends struggled to get their bearings. A head with blond hair and a headset perched on top of it appeared in the room. She held a shotgun at the low ready as she stepped inside.
"Oh!" Nyla sounded surprised and announced into the headset, "Jae I found them! They're fine."
Donathan headset echoed Nyla's voice into the darkened room. He took the cue to tuck his pistols away and began fishing through his chest pockets for his Zippo lighter and a lone cigarette.
"We're not fine," Ashley added motioning to the corpse with a fresh bullet hole. A splatter of necrotic flesh scattered out from it across the floor. "The hell was that?"
The quick sound of metal flicking and the room lit up for a moment as Donathan ignited the cigarette. For a fraction of a second an amber glow flashed across his face meshing with the darkness.
Nyla studied the corpse for a moment and then added with surprise, "A Maelstrom!" Her voice was enthusiastic as always. "I've never- I mean I've only heard of what they can do." She sounded relieved and added, "You're lucky to be alive!"
Through clenched teeth and lips still gripping a cigarette Donathan asked, "Aren't we always?"