Coffee and Bullets
By Wil Forbis
She was enchanting. An absolute vision. I could not take my eyes off the creature sitting before me in a chartreuse evening dress and drinking an espresso. When not grasping her cup, her hands sat on her lap, fingers intertwined. But when she desired a sip, one hand would very deliberately remove itself from the other and gently raise the small ceramic coffee cup to her mouth. Then she would take a very small sip and bring the cup back down. The next time she wanted a taste, the other hand would pick up the cup. I don't know if she did this consciously, but it was always one hand, then the other. Left. Right. Left. Right. How lovely.
But the words she was saying were not lovely. Not at all. After five years---five wonderful years that had seemed so perfect---Linda was ending our relationship. She wasn't satisfied. I couldn't fulfill her emotional needs. She accused me of being cold, distant and having no empathy. It was the same sort of thing I'd heard from women before, either during the thankfully brief marriage of my early twenties or the series of half-baked relationships in the dozen years that had followed. But I honestly thought it would be different when I met Linda. I really thought we had a chance. Yet here I was again listening to a woman accuse me of having no interior life, of being an emotional corpse obsessed only with his job, technology magazines and late night talk shows.
We were sitting at an indoor café, a pseudo-European coffee shop that inhabited the local super mall. How funny... even in a bastion of American consumerism, Linda had managed to find a place with elegance and class. "Savini's" was the name. Despite the fact that its two closet neighbors were a Radio Shack and an Orange Julius, the café seemed like a throwback to a different time and place, somewhere Audrey Hepburn would have waited to meet her beau.
It was past 9 P.M. and the crowd was starting to thin. A few feet over an older man sat with his obese, unattractive daughter. Behind us, at the bar that ran the length of the establishment, an off-duty African American police officer was winding down the day's shift with a soothing mocha. A few other customers milled in and out. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the door leading to the outside of the mall and the near empty parking lot. It was getting late. But I didn't want to leave. I needed to stay and fight for this relationship that had become the most important thing in my life.
"Well?" Linda looked me, expectantly.
"I... uh, I..." I stammered, unsure of what she was asking me.
"Oh, Lord," she said. "This is exactly the problem. I was just asking you what it would take to make you pay attention to me, to give some indication that you acknowledge me, only to find that you've drifted off yet again! What were you thinking of, Campbell? Baseball statistics? The architecture of some new accounting software? The average weight of the newborn sperm whale or any of the other pointless nuggets of trivia you fill your mind with?"
"No." I replied. "That's not it. It's just.. This is a lot to take in."
"Well, whatever you were thinking about," Linda replied. "It certainly wasn't me."
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "I just don't think you're being fair. I do think about you, darling. I love you. I... I just don't know what you want."
"Oh, you've struck gold with that insight, Campbell. What I want is a man who knows what I want! A man who knows what any woman wants! You've seen how Todd and Diane behave. They understand each other. They support each other. That's what I need. That's what you seem so unwilling or incapable of providing to me."
Todd and Diane were a couple we occasionally dined with. The last time we'd seen them Todd was thanking Diane for the pink sweater he wearing like a little cape, arms tied across his chest. I knew the man was dying a slow, painful death.
I wanted to counter what Linda was saying, to tell her I would try to change, to try and make things better. But wasn't that what I had said the last time? I was aware how empty my protests would sound. Instead I sullenly looked around the café. I tried to hone in on the conversation the older man was having with his daughter. I couldn't hear them but it was their body language that intrigued me. They feigned pleasantries though it was obvious that they were uncomfortable in each other's presence. The man reminded me of those middle-aged television football announcers who, despite their wealth, can't hide the coarseness of their inner texture. But his daughter seemed demure, shy, as if she knew better than to attract attention. Perhaps she knew her father was embarrassed of her. He must have been. His barely stifled hedonism implied a man who loved pursuing the physical pleasures, while his daughter clearly made her home in the world of books and the intellect---the only place that would have her. There couldn't have been less alike, but they had to tolerate each other's company to keep up the appearance of family.
Other people's dismal lives couldn't long distract me from the fact that my own was falling apart. Was I really any better off than those two? Soon, like the father, I would be past my prime, having left no substantial mark on the world. And I was becoming more and more like the daughter---someone who faded into the background and made no impression.
The barista, a bubbly coed from the local college before appeared before us. She seemed incapable of standing still and bounced slightly while she spoke. "Would you like anything else? The mall's going to close in fifteen minutes."
I knew that if my conversation with Linda ended here it would be over. I would have lost the most important relationship in my life. "I'll have a refill, " I said, and then looked at Linda. "Anything for you? A muffin?"
"No, thank you," Linda said, with a trace of exasperation. She knew I was just prolonging the inevitable. But then she paused. "No, wait. I'll have a refill of decaf." If she was going to be stuck here, she needed something to focus her nervous mannerisms on.
The barista took our order and bounced off. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a few people milling at the edge of the parking lot outside, as if the last minute rush was about to come in. Teenagers eager to stave off their java cravings before the mall shut down.
Linda spoke. "As per usual whenever we have a serious conversation, Campbell, I've done most of the talking tonight. I'm going to assume by your silence that you agree with this decision. We need to come up with an equitable way of dividing up our shared belongings. I'm aware that I'm prompting this, so the impetus is on me to move out of the apartment. I'll stay with mother for a while and we can sort things out. I..."
And then I heard it. She made a slight gasp and her voice choked up. I looked at her and could tell that the facade had cracked ever so slightly. She had been conducting this negotiation in the most professional manner possible but her stolidity had faltered. Her eyes showed just a trace of moisture.
Ahh, Linda's eyes. They had been what first attracted me to her. Each was slightly different from the other in color. Her left was a greenish grey, the right had more of a bluish tint. She'd explained, almost ashamedly, that it was the result of some sort of recessive gene on her father's side. I'd told that it was nothing to be embarrassed about. It made me feel that I had something truly unique in the world, like a rare jewel.
Then I knew what I had to do. Linda's walls were starting to crumble and I, for once in my life, had to break through mine. The stoicism that had made me such an emotional zombie had to be cast aside. And if I was act, it had to be now. I could see the people in the parking lot lumbering towards the front door and knew that the place would soon be a haven of bantering teenagers. I got off my chair and knelt down before Linda. I took one of her hands in mine.
"Linda Shelly." I began. "Will you mar..."
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. A glass window that had separated the café from the mall pathways shattered. A figure had leapt---or been thrown---through the window, and the result was a showering of glass. We all watched, amazed, as the man who'd gone through the glass fell to the ground and rolled. In the brief seconds the action took, I took note of figures in the mall pathway behind him, presumably his attackers. But like every other store patron, my eyes were fixated on the tumbling individual. Was he all right?
Immediately upon landing and rolling, the man acrobatically up-righted himself. He was stunned, but had clearly survived an experience that most people wouldn't have. Shakily he stood before us. He wore some type of military garb and I assumed him to be from an Army installation that was just outside of town. And then he spoke.
"LISTEN TO ME PEOPLE! YOU ARE IN GREAT DANGER. MY NAME IS CORPORAL GORDON STUART! I HAVE SPENT THE LAST NINE MONTHS GUARDING A SECRET GOVERNMENT EXPERIMENT BEING CONDUCTED AT FORT WEST. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN ATTEMPTING TO CREATE AN ARMY OF UNSTOPPABLE ZOMBIE WARRIORS. WE HAVE SUCCEEDED, BUT THE ZOMBIES HAVE GOTTEN LOOSE. YOU HAVE TO RUN, YOU HAVE TO GET AWAY! THE ZOMBIES ARE LOOSE, THE ZOMBIES... GLEEERRRRKKKKKSK!!!!"
The corporal's body shook as a horribly disfigured fist burst through the front of his chest. He looked down at the fist, in awe of this missile that had attacked him from behind. The fist slowly opened and we were all shocked by what we saw: The corporal's still beating heart!!!
"Fuck...me..." the Army officer said, and slid to the ground.
Behind his body stood the attacker that had so grievously wounded him. It was a greenish, decaying figure, looking like the most disfigured leper imaginable. Its eyes seemed to move independently of each other and the flesh on its face had rotted away so that its teeth and nasal cavity were exposed. It was a zombie all right, straight out of the late night horror flicks. And behind behind it were dozens more. They had been the figures stumbling about in the parking lot.
"OhmiGod, OhmiGod, OhmiGod. This can't be happening," Linda started mumbling.
The older man and his daughter were still seated at their table. As we watched in stunned silence, several of the zombies ambled up to them. The man started speaking. "Look, I don't know who you are. But if you let me go you can do whatever you want to the rest of these people. I'm a rich man. I own a construction business and I can get you whatever you want. Money? Drugs? Broads? I can get it for you. I can make you a very rich... whatever you are."
One of the zombies bent down to take a closer look at the man pleading for his life. A hissing sounded emerged from the creature's throat. Then the beast grabbed the man by the neck. The zombie's mouth opened and its jagged teeth bit into the top of the man's skull. Blood shot out the man's nose and mouth and he made a gurgling sound. Then his eyes rolled upwards. Having opened the man's head like a can of tuna fish, the zombie raised a deteriorating paw and reached into the man's skull. The creature hungrily scooped brain matter into its maw.
As if on cue, the four zombies closest to this feeding demon attacked the nearest live victim, the man's daughter. It was a hideous display - the tearing of limbs, spattering of fluid and soft tissue, and the sickening sounds of agonizing screams mixed with in the crunching of bones. The woman died as she had lived, mired in the feeding process.
"Look, I don't know where you motherfuckers came from, but you're going down hardcore!!!" said a commanding voice behind me. The cop, a muscular athlete in his mid thirties had unholstered his Glock 9 millimeter and was pointing it at the zombie who had performed un-requested open heart surgery on the corporal. BAM! BAM! BAM! The shots jolted the zombie but it did not fall. Instead, an evil smile crossed its face. It picked up a nearby table and, with superhuman ease, tossed it at the police officer. The cop barely escaped the impact by leaping behind the café counter and hitting the ground with a heavy thud.
The zombies attacked en masse. They were suddenly everywhere, pouring through the door and crawling through the glass partitions that had separated the café from the mall's walkways. I picked up a small trash canister and, by swinging wildly, managed to keep the zombies about six feet from from Linda and myself. But I couldn't swing forever. We needed some way to escape.
As I guarded my territory like a feral dog, I could see that other customers weren't doing so well. A teenager wearing baggy pants flailed about haphazardly until a larger zombie picked him by the back of his neck and chomped into his skull. A middle-aged businesswoman near the self-serve coffee tubs rolled on the floor, screaming. She would be fodder for the undead in mere seconds.
Or so I thought. A loud blast filled the room, louder than the previous gunshots. I looked behind me and realized the policeman had risen from behind the café counter armed with a shotgun the store's proprietor must have kept for security reasons. With a well placed shot he'd knocked down the zombie closest to the screaming businesswoman. The zombie fell back, half its mutated face blown off. But it didn't stay down for long; within seconds it was back on its feet with a few of its brothers, eager to claim the delectable cranial morsels in the woman's head.
"Damn," the cop said. "What's it take to take these motherfuckers out?" He pumped off a few more shotgun rounds at the approaching hoard, then dropped the shotgun and released a barrage of bullets from his Glock, emptying the magazine.
Most of the bullets had the predictable effect, knocking the zombies about with their impact, but in no way stopping them. But something I saw gave me hope. One of the bullets hit a canister of self-serve coffee, shattering it. The steaming hot drink spattered on a few zombies nearby and the liquid appeared to eat away at their already decayed flesh, like a caffeinated lava. It was at this point I recalled an article I'd read in a scientific journal that argued were zombies ever created their sole weakness would be the acidic effects of coffee.
"It's the coffee!" I yelled at the cop. "Their flesh can't tolerate the coffee!"
"The coffee?" he replied, incredulously. "Well, shit, we're in the right place. Have a double mocha on me you jive-ass motherfuckers!" With that he picked up a brewing pot of coffee and threw it into the face of an approaching zombie. The creature screamed and ran as its head melted off in steaming, graying chunks.
"Campbell!" I heard Linda's voice call. I had been so caught up in the activities of the police officer that I'd let my guard down and a zombie had managed to grab Linda. I threw the trash canister at Linda's assailant but it merely bounced off ruined flesh. The zombie grabbed Linda's head with both its hands, its toothy maw creaking open. I leapt at both of them but another zombie appeared out of nowhere and picked me out of the air. I tumbled to the ground and the zombie lay atop me, holding me down. Its facial aperture jaw opened and I could tell it wished to feast upon my brains.
Up close, the creature was thoroughly repulsive. Its flesh had a filmy liquid covering it, giving it a rather slimy texture. One eye socket was missing and eyeball and in its place were a series of slithering worms. I struggled to pull the monster off me, but my arms were pinned. The zombie mocked me by running his fetid tongue across my face. But the beast's derision gave me a renewed strength. I strained and managed to roll the creature over so that I was on top of it. Channeling my rage, I head-butted the beast, and its face imploded like an eggshell. The zombie's arms and legs now flailed randomly, like those of a headless cockroach. I turned my attention to the zombie that had my Linda.
He was behind me by a few feet and still had my love's head in between his vice-like hands. He no longer seemed to determined to bite into her head, but seemed more intent to literally break her skull open like a melon. From the look on her face I could tell Linda was in great pain.
"You bastard!" I screamed. "Let her go!"
"Fooolishh hummmannnnn.." The creature hissed. "I am yours to commmmannndd no longer."
"Campbell," Linda called, tears rolling down her face. "Help me... please help me!"
And then it happened. The zombie's powerful musculature paid off and Linda's head gave way. It exploded like a mouse left in the microwave, spattering brains, skull and blood in every direction. I felt a small object bounce of my chest and looked down. It was one of Linda's eyeballs. The greenish one. My favorite one.
The zombie let Linda's now headless body slump to the floor and wiped the goo that had once been her face from his paws. I spotted a nearby broom and knew what to do. Grabbing the broom, I leapt like a crazed jungle savage and oushed my improvised spear directly into the creature's eye socket, through the back of its head and into the wall behind us. The creature was affixed to that wall, half blind, struggling to remove the broom from its ocular socket. "An eye for an eye, you devil," I whispered. I then picked a full coffee cup left by a café patron and slowly poured the drink on the creature's face. The coffee ran down the zombie's body, blackening flesh as it went. The zombie moaned and mewed in agony until the acidic properties of the drink rendered it dead for the second time.
"Good going, man!" I heard a voice call from behind me. "Get your honkey ass over here!" I looked and saw that the police officer was holding his own from behind the counter, using a combination of guns and coffee. Two zombies stood between me and the bar, but the cop cleared the path with some shots from the Glock. I ran over and joined him.
"I'm running out of coffee and bullets," the cop said when I got behind the counter. "We've got to make a break and get out of here."
"I hear you," I agreed. "I'm parked right outside. If we can make it that far, we should be able to get out of here."
"Sound's good," the cop stated. "Say, man, I was sorry to see that happen to your woman. She seemed like a good piece of ass!"
"Thanks," I replied. "Now I just want to make these things pay!"
"Right on!" the cop said, high five-ing me. "Let's kick some zombie ass!"
Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we leapt out from behind the counter. I was armed with the shotgun and a tin of fresh brewed coffee. The cop had one final mag in the Glock and several travel mugs filled with our liquid weapon. We were immediately under attack, but were able to use the firearms to stun the creatures and the coffee to finish them off. As we pressed on towards the door we became more and more spattered with the greenish gunk that sprayed off the zombies as we attacked. But we were making headway. Until...
The officer was right next to me as he emptied the final rounds from his pistol. We made it out the door of Savini's and had to run about twenty feet to the outside entrance of the mall. He ran the distance while I held back a few stragglers who were coming at us. The parking lot lights were now dead, but the cop reached the entrance and peered through the doors into the night. Then he turned to me. "Get back!" he yelled. "The parking lot is filled with them! Thousands of them!"
The glass door he was peering into shattered and a hand reached for his neck. Then more hands, dozens of hands, all clawing at the officer. As I watched, the cop was literally pulled apart in front of me and the hungry zombie hoard starting coming through the entrance.
Suddenly, all the lights in the mall went dim. "They must have knocked the power out," I thought to myself. The zombies around me seemed momentarily disoriented and I used their confusion to slip back into the coffehouse and jump behind the counter. I peered out and watched the beasts collect their witts and begin file forth into the mall. The zombies seemed to no longer have any interest in Savini's; they marched past it, going deeper into the mall in their unholy search for food. If I could wait long enough, maybe I could escape to the parking lot and the safety of my car.
"Mister!" I heard a whisper behind me. I swung about, shotgun first, peering into the dark. A figure came forward and I saw who it was---the bubbly young barista who'd taken my order.
"So," I replied in a hushed tone. "Came back for the tip, did you?"
"I've been hiding," she replied. "As soon as the zombies came in I crawled into one of the cabinets below the counter. Once things seemed quiet I came back out." As she talked, I couldn't help but think that I'd love to be the knight in shining armor to this damsel in distress. She clearly had a brand of womanly charms that could make me forget all about... whatshername.
I explained my plan. "If we can find someplace secure, we should be able to wait 'til these creatures are spread throughout the mall. Then we won't have to fight so many when we make a break for the car. Do you know a good place to hide?"
"The freezer room!" the barista said. "You can lock it from the inside and it's got a huge steel door. Follow me." We grabbed some cups of java and carefully tiptoed our way into the kitchen of Savini's. Near the back was a large door. Even super-powerful zombies would have difficulty tearing it down, if they could even tell we were inside. Quietly, we opened the door and slipped through, shutting and locking it behind us.
With no lights on, it was dark inside. But the absence of power was going to work in our favor---the room was cold, but the temperature was rising every minute. We couldn't last long otherwise.
"Oh boy," the barista said. "Look at my shirt, it's ruined." Indeed, it was covered with a mixture of coffee and zombie guts.
"Yeah," I said. "Maybe you should take it off."
"That's a good idea," she replied, and stripped down to her bra. This may have been a freezer room, but things were starting to heat up!
Suddenly there was a whirring sound. The lights flashed and then came up. We could hear the refrigeration units kick in. "Oh no!" I said. "They figured out how to get the power back on."
"Or the backup generators fired up," the girl replied. "We've got to get out of here."
"But they could be right out there," I warned. "Maybe we should wait a bit in here."
"Screw that," the barista replied. "I'm not waiting for those ugly fuckers to come get me." She unlatched the freezer door and opened it a jar.
"See anything?" I asked in a hoarse whisper while standing behind her.
"No, it's empty. Let's GLLLLEEEAAAARRRRKKKKKK!!!" A thousand putrid hands grabbed at her and a hissing sound filled the air. I fired the shotgun into the crowd of zombie bodies that were surrounding the girl and grabbed at her hand.
"Help me!" she cried. "Help meeeee!"
I was determined not to let go off her arm, and I succeeded. Only, when I tried to pull her back, all I got was her arm---the rest of her was being consumed by the zombie horde. I fired the shotgun and managed to get the beasts away from the door long enough to swing it back shut and put the latch in place. The zombies pounded against it with all their might but clearly the re-enforced steel could sustain even their onslaught.
And that's how I ended up here, writing this night's adventure down on the back of a coffee supply order form. I can still hear the beasts just outside the door, gurgling and mewing, eager for a chance to pop my skull and feast on the glop inside. At this point, it's a waiting game. Perhaps help will come and eradicate the zombie scum and I'll be saved. Or maybe the creatures will eventually break through the door and I'll be finished. Hell, I may just freeze to death in here. Now that the electricity has come back on, it's getting cold.
Darn it, this pen is running out of ink.
The author's body was never recovered. This document is the most detailed description we have of the zombie holocaust of 2017.
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