The International Writers Magazine: Never Get Up Again
Michael Batton Kaput
Price turned over the corpse sprawled on the I-44. The body was a young woman's, slim, white and beautiful. She probably had the face of a prom queen, before her makeover with a .44 Magnum. Her forehead was gone and her eyes were shut tight as if she had expected the shot. She was wearing ruby-red lipstick. Price didn't know why she bothered anymore. He gently touched the place where the bullets had punched daylight into her skull.
“Yep, it's Babbish, alright,” Price said. He pushed his sunglasses up the brim of his nose. They were RayBans, fresh off the shelf, net cost to Price: nothing. “He's not far off. She's still warm.”
Jamie leaned over Price's shoulder and looked at the body. He crossed himself and turned away. “Git away from her,” Jamie said. “She's gonna come back any second now.”
The dead always came back. No matter how things died, they didn't stay dead for long.
Jamie heard the casing click back as Price cocked his Browning. He turned to see his brother standing over the girl with the gun leveled at her body.
The corpse began to violently shudder. It began with the fingertips drumming a tattoo on the blacktop and then spread to the feet, which shook as if the girl were being electrocuted. From there, muscle by muscle, the awful epileptic fit charged up the corpse until what was left of the head bashed up and down on the pavement with a slapping noise.
The girl's eyes shot open. The Browning exploded. So did the rest of her head. The girl shuddered her last and lay still.
After a moment listening to the sound of the gunshot chase its echo into the hills, Jamie said: “It hain't your job to do that.”
Price stuffed the Browning in his waistband. “Maybe not,” he said. “But as long as Babbish keeps killing 'em, I'm gonna kill 'em again.”
Jamie took a swig of water from his canteen. It was midday and hot and the sun beat an unholy tattoo on the stretch of freeway. He offered Price the bottle. Price declined.
“You think we'll get 'im this time?” Jamie asked.
Price pursed his lips and stared down the road ahead. The pavement dissolved into heat shimmer. Like they were walking into dreamland.
“Don' know. Don't know at all.”
Jamie frowned. His brother lapsed into vagaries and stunted silence whenever the question of Babbish came up.
“What do you know then?” he said. He took another gulp of water.
“I know I'm hungry,” Price said. “Let's go eat.”
They came to a rest stop two hours later. It was a strip affair, with a gas station to the left side of the road and a clutch of fast food restaurants all lined up like soldiers on the other. The gas station's windows were blown out and the pumps were fire-blackened. A severed arm still clutched a pump handle. It was wearing a nice watch, Price saw, but he already had one he picked up in Scottsdale that worked just fine still.
Price and Jamie set down the big hiking backpacks they always carried, unslung their shotguns, placed their license plate machetes on the ground and sat.
Jamie shaded his brow with one hand.
“Long John Silvers?”
Price snorted. “You know that fish is all bad by now.”
Jamie scratched at his beard. “Yeah I know. Still, be nice to have some fish though.”
“When we get to the coast.”
“When it's done.” Price said. “McDonald's?”
“Naw, they got those electric grills. I ain't cleaning the place out jus' to eat frozen burgers. Wendy's got gas ranges, though.”
“'K,” Price said, getting to his feet. He knew McDonald's had electric grills, but he also knew that back outside St. Louis Babbish had tried to blow them up in a little Italian restaurant.
“You're thinkin' about him,” Jamie said.
“I'm always thinkin' about him.”
Jamie sighed. “What's there to think about? You and me go to the coast, turn around right now and Babbish won't give it a second thought. Hell, there's still plenty of people for him to go 'round killin' 'sides from us.”
“It ain't right,” Price said.
Jamie gave a frustrated wave at the gas station. “Do you see anything that's right these days?”
“That's why I gotta do it.”
“You do whatever you gotta do.” Jamie hoisted the shotgun. “I'm going to eat.”
When they entered the double-doors of the Wendy's, they left the dispute outside. It was dark inside, but Price could make out a little gift shop off to their left with a chain wrapped around the door. Next to it was a little room with a unisex bathroom sign on the door.
“I'm checking the bathrooms first,” Jamie said. They had forgotten to check the bathrooms in Wichita. It was a bad business. He strode off, shotgun raised.
Price kept his back to the double-doors, gun trained on the service counter in front of him. The restaurant's tables were all dusty and the one nearest him was splattered bright red. He touched his finger to the tabletop then to his lips. Ketchup.
The bathroom door banged open.
“It's all good,” Jamie said.
They covered the dining room like Navy Seals, taking slow, measured steps so if they needed to shoot, the barrel didn't go jittery. They looked behind booths and under tables. Price didn't know how the corpses thought, if they thought at all. The ones he'd seen, they just ran at you. They weren't subtle and they didn't seem smart. You could never be too careful. And he did know that Babbish was both of those things.
After the dining room, they opened the side door behind the counter that led to the kitchen.
“Jesus!” Jamie's shotgun boomed in the little space.
In the middle of the floor, next to an open freezer with hamburgers spilling out, was a dead dog. It was propped up in a sitting position. Between its paws, the skin of its stomach was pulled back and its guts spilled out onto one of the plastic trays they gave you at the counter. Its tongue lolled out of a mouth covered in flies. It had on its head a little paper hat that said Wendy's in playful red cursive script. On the hat was a button that said It's a pleasure to serve you.
Price felt bile rising in his throat. “He was here.”
Jamie grabbed Price by the collar. “Why was he here, huh?” His voice trembled. “Why are we here? All the places he coulda picked, he picks this one! Why?” Jamie shook him. “Is it cause he knew you'd come here? Is it cause he knows you'd walk up and down this damn road poking in at every place lookin' for him?”
Price looked at the floor. “I don't know.”
“'I don't know',” Jamie mimicked. “You know what I know? I know I been following your ass up and down this damn country lookin' for Babbish and followin' a trail of dead bodies that don't stay dead for long. I know I been walking into every rest stop and supermarket and restaurant up this stretch of road looking for the next clue in Babbish's fucked up scavenger hunt and hoping this next surprise don' kill us. We hain't no better than the dead bodies that git up and walk around on a road to nowhere.”
“Somebody's gotta stop him killin',” Price whispered.
“Somebody,” Jamie hissed. “Not us.”
“He chose me,” Price muttered.
Jamie stopped and stared at him. He gave a listless shake of his head.
“He chose you?”
Jamie left Price in the kitchen staring at the dog. Price heard the double-doors squeak outside as Jamie walked out into the street. Price sat on his own for a long time. He sat until the stink of the dead dog and the rotting food on the floor got to him. Then he followed in Jamie's footsteps.
When Price found Jamie's body outside, he didn't raise his gun or speak or tremble. His brother was lying face down with two thin arrows sticking out of his back and one deep in his neck. The blood spread out like an encroaching tide on the pavement.
It was only as it started getting dark that Price sat down in the middle of the street and wept. Then Jamie's legs began to twitch. Price wiped the tears and the spittle off his face with his shirt sleeve. He got to his feet. He dried his hands on his jeans and pulled out the Browning. Jamie shot up and the Browning coughed twice. Price watched his brother sag back to the ground and die a second time.
He stood looking down at Jamie for a long time. Then the crickets in the brush on the side of the road struck up a chirping chorus. There were more of them now, he thought. Probably because there were less people and more things to eat.
Price walked to where he and Jamie had deposited their things. He shouldered his pack and squinted into the dark. It was getting late, and Babbish was further down the road.
© Michael Batton Kaput Decemer 2010