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Zomb-ish

Part 1

By J. L. GreenPublished 5 months ago 8 min read
Zomb-ish
Photo by Robin Ooode on Unsplash

I've been many things in life, but this is by far the strangest. It's an odd trinity of good, bad, and unfortunate; I am a weapon, a plague, and a possible cure.

I am immune. Kinda?

~~~~~

My neighbor Cletus is many things, but neighborly ain't one of 'em. Picture a stereotypical backwoods sunburnt redneck with oil-stained coveralls and voila, that's him.

His front yard would look perfect on the cover of hoarder's magazine so I can only imagine what the inside of his run-down shack of a house must look like. He often works on vintage cars at 2 in the morning (hateful cursin' included), he's constantly harassin' us over the "property lines", and he smells like he hasn't showered in a decade. All these things I can ignore. But what I can't ignore is watchin' him mistreat his dog.

Well it's less mistreat in the abusive sort of way, which is what I would expect from him, but more just neglectful. He's only had the poor thing a few months, but it's kept on a chain tether on a pole in the middle of his junkyard year-round with a sad excuse for a doghouse, dry food and water bowls, and barkin' constantly.

I've wanted to call animal control but daddy would whoop me good if I tried; does it matter that I'm 20? No. He'd still get the belt on me.

"You lost your mind, girl? Ain't want no cops of any kind 'round here," he'd say, even though animal control ain't 'the cops'. With reports of neglect, they probably would get the police involved; animal abuse is a crime after all.

Instead I feed and water the poor thing, which Cletus has named Gator or somethin' like that; dudes accent is garbage (even by backwater standards) so it's hard to understand what he's sayin' half the time.

I'll give Gator treats and love as often as I can; sometimes two or three times a day, but at least once in the morning before my classes start. Gator's little stub of a tail goes wild when he spots me comin' over.

More often than not I'll get caught and have to go toe-to-toe with that man when he comes out hollerin' about me "messin' with his stuff".

"You ain't feedin' him so someone has to!" I'd shout.

Cletus spouts something in that intense backwoods twang but then I manage to hear, "Ain't your dog!"

"He won't be yours either if animal control gets wind of how you treat him!"

That usually does it. He likes to pretend that he don't have an unpermitted moonshine still in his garage somewhere, but I know damn well that's why daddy puts up with him.

He'll huff and snort and go full raging bull on me saying "feed the bastard then" before tellin' me to get off his property before he gets the gun.

Try it Cletus. You think I ain't got one too? This pretty dark holster right next to my Bailout knife ain't just for show; she carries my 0.38 caliber. I don't go anywhere without either of them.

~~~~~

Gator's barkin' has gotten worse. I can hear it echoing across the field the minute I step out of my truck. I don't even stop to put my suitcase inside; I go grab some dog food and make my way over to Cletuses shithole.

The closer I get, the more I realize that it's less barkin' and more cryin'; high pitched squealin' and whinin' and desperately gnawin' at his tether but the chain holds strong. His tail still wags when I approach, the speed of it wiggling his entire backend, but his whining's gotten more erratic.

Gator has become gaunt. I was only gone a few days to visit Meemaw, not even as long as I had originally planned, and it looks like he hadn't been fed once in that time (despite daddy sayin' he'd talk to Cletus about it.)

"That's it, that damn hillbilly's done it this time. He ain't feedin' you at all." I won't stand by any more, not with this sweet guy livin' in misery. "C'mon boy."

I work my way over broken TVs and doorless microwaves to the pole holdin' Gator captive, but he nearly topples me over on approach and rains all the licks and snuggles on me.

"You ain't making this easy buddy," I say playfully, scratching behind what's left of his haphazardly docked ears. He still ain't stopped whinin'.

I manage to unhook his tether and urge him to follow me when he freezes; all four legs lock up completely out of nowhere. His eyes have always been the most stunning blue but there is hardly any color in sight ‘cause his pupils have gotten so big.

"What's wrong boy?" I ask, my heart clenchin' fearfully in my chest as I look up. Cletus has made his way out; his screen door is swingin' wide and cock-eyed, hangin' from a single hinge. I roll my eyes and mutter, "Oh great."

He shambles closer and I am struck by how awful he looks. I mean, he don't look right on a good day, but there is somethin' just plain wrong about him today.

His arms are outstretched slightly, his dark eyes set on me without blinkin', and he ain't avoiding any of the obvious junk under his feet, he's just trippin' over it like it ain't there.

"Look Cletus," I start, my fist tightening around Gator's tether, "I don't want to fight but I will if I have to. I am taking the dog."

He says nothin'. A record-breaking first for as long as I've known him.

As the fading sunlight hits his skin I am shocked by the stark-yellow tint to it. He usually has some yellow to 'im, but this is just an insane amount. It can't be healthy.

"Cletus?" I say, confused.

He gets within ten feet of us when Gator raises his hackles and starts an erratic mixture of barkin' and yelpin'; he's pullin' at the tether hard enough that I struggle to keep my grip on it.

Cletus ain't looking at me so much anymore. Naw, his gaze has moved to the dog. Once their eyes meet, Gator whimpers and jerks himself free. The chain pinches and rips away a thin flap of skin from the webbing of my thumb and pointer-finger; the pain is bright, acidic, making it my turn to whimper.

Gator's gone in a flash, absolutely hoofing it away from me, Cletus, the house, everything, with the chain kicking up dirt on his way.

Cletus turns like he's about to follow the dog, and I make the mistake of stepping away, hissin' from the pain as I clutch my bleeding hand. His head whips around until he's lookin' at me again and literal drool comes pourin' out of his mouth.

He comes at me with his teeth bared and gnashin'. I can't say I expected it, 'cause I don't know what the Hell I was expecting, so it took a second to realize that he might be tryin' to bite me.

I grab my Bailer and whip the blade free, takin' a few steps back. I haven't had to use the knife before and a tiny piece of me is thrummin' with excitement even though most of me knows I wouldn't swing if I don't have to. It's just that...this man has been itchin' for a fight for years and I finally get to threaten him back.

"Don't be stupid now Cletus. You know this'll be self-defense."

He says nothin'. It's unnerving.

I rush to side-step him and he catches me with a surprisin' lunge. He don't even try to keep himself balanced; he takes us both down to the dirt with a painful thud. I try to pull myself free of his weight, havin' to use all my might to try to push him aside as he frantically claws at me.

"Cletus, stop it now! The Hell's wrong with you?"

He ain't relentin'. As much as I hadn't intended to actually use the knife, I won't stand for this. I pull my arm back and slash at his; the one reachin' for my face, tryin' to hold my head down. He don't flinch, doesn't even seem to notice it happened as the skin by his armpit splits as easily as the fabric of his shirt.

He's got to be high on something.

A rotten smell fills the area as dark tar-like blood dribbles from his wound. The stink is worse than Old Henry's slaughterhouse in mid-July. It's a thick smell, and it coats the inside of my mouth. I have to physically gulp down air to keep from throwin' up my lunch.

I slash at him again, catchin' his chest; more of that putrid blood comes out like fresh molasses. He don't even glance down; slightly frosted eye stare at me, unblinking. I am well and truly panicking now. I kick and scratch and scream until I am able to get my legs out from under him and scramble onto my hands and knees.

He's caught my ankle in one hand, yankin' me back down, and has sunk his teeth into my calf, tearin' a piece of flesh free before I can process what he's done.

The pain is sudden and blinding, but I don't scream. I can only stare as the muscles pulse, and blood pools into the divot in my leg. My skin hangs loose and tattered, and he uses both hands to shovel what he bit off into his mouth.

It was a piece of my favorite tattoo.

When he lunges again I don't think of fightin' back. I don't think much of anything.

A blur of dark gray comes boundin' by and catches me by surprise. Gator is here, and he's returned the favor before I can blink, taking Cletuses throat in between his jaws and absolutely shreddin' it.

It's a vicious attack but Cletus don't scream. He don't stop. He keeps trying to bite Gator.

I don't know what to do. He'll bleed out at this point if I don't intervene. But...he bit me. Maybe it's for the best if I do nothing.

No. God as my witness, I can't let 'im die without at least tryin' something...I need to tell daddy.

My feet are beneath me and I'm treadin' the familiar path to my own yard and into the garage where daddy is underneath his truck, tinkerin' away.

"Cletus is dead, daddy," I hear myself say. The sound comes out hollow and distant; shocked. Had I not felt the rumblin' of it in my throat I wouldn't know it was me who spoke.

Daddy whips out from underneath the truck in a matter of seconds; he's got a streak of oil on his cheek that almost blends in with his beard, and a wrench held tightly in his good hand.

"The Hell'd you just say?" he asked. His eyes are mean and I flinch away from his potential wrath.

"The dog, it got him. His throat. Tore it open. He bit me."

Daddy's gaze scours until he spots the blood seepin' into the cement of his garage floor. It's all coming from my shoe; so much that it has filled up the sneaker and is now overflowin'.

He's on his feet and comin' my way, shouting, "The dog?"

I nod. "I think he's okay."

He shakes his head and grips my shoulders, givin' me a solid shake.

"No Georgia! Did the dog bite you?"

He hasn't been this mad in a while; not since he had to get a new battery and carburetor for the truck in the same paycheck.

He shakes me again and asks, "Did. That. Dog. Bite you?"

"No," I say, "Cletus did."

Sci Fi

About the Creator

J. L. Green

I've been writing for fun since I was a preteen and haven’t stopped since. I tend to favor the darker/angsty/thriller type of themes. Here’s to hoping readers enjoy my work, and those that don't find something they do.

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    J. L. GreenWritten by J. L. Green

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