Trestle Press author extraordinaire Mark Cooper is here today with a guest post and new short story...
All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Okay, this whole blog post was originally going to be about Zombies. I love them – I make no bones about that – but to me a zombie story has never been about that shambling horde of reanimated corpses that are lurking just outside your door, waiting to feast upon your flesh. Zombie stories are all about the dysfunctional nature of human relationships; all the little prejudices that people carry around inside their heads are magnified when forced into a survival situation, leading to groups of survivors invariably self-destructing due to their own inadequacies. It’s not the undead you need to fear in a zombie tale; it’s the living.
As I said, that’s what this blog post was going to be about; however it isn’t. I could wax lyrical about the mathematics of death; zombie attack behaviour; the fact that hitting a cow at 60mph is just the same as hitting a brick wall – except the cow ends up inside the car, killing all the occupants in the front seats, but I won’t. That’s for another day and another post – maybe even an essay. I had a change of heart and decided to approach something more frivolous – in fact, I’ve decided it should consist of a new piece of fiction. Well, I say new but it’s actually about 4 years old. I found it when I was looking through my backup hard drive searching for space the other day and I realised that over the last 10 years I’ve written in excess of 400 short stories – to varying degrees of quality – and I forgot how much fun it was to write it. It actually took 86 minutes to write this short – it was a timed challenge that I participated in as a member of a long since defunct Yahoo group.
Anyway, enjoy this little offering in the spirit in which it is presented – something slightly silly that’s to be enjoyed but ultimately forgotten...bit like a Cadbury’s Crème Egg really!
Spirit Lake, Washington State
The camera shook in his hands as he tried desperately to steady himself, not quite believing what he had captured in that small two-inch square viewfinder. About ten feet away from him, in the thick undergrowth of the woods the creature shifted on its haunches. Oblivious to the observer, it continued to pick at the berries on the tree, inspecting them before popping each one into its mouth.
The camera operator shifted forward slightly, trying to improve his view. As he moved forward a twig beneath his feet snapped. The creature – startled by this sudden noise – turned and looked straight at the camera. Its facial features were clear to see even in the early morning light. The wrinkled nose, the leather-like skin and an all too human pair of bright blue eyes looking into the lens.
“Bollocks,” Alan said. “I told you we needed to do a better job on the eyes Keith.”
“Sorry.” The creature replied with an English accent. It raised its hands to its head and pulled the furry covering off, revealing a boyish looking face underneath. “Do you want to try it again?”
“No,” Alan said as he switched the camera off. “Battery needs charging.”
“Okay.” Keith struggled to disentangle himself from the thick undergrowth. “Are you sure these berries are safe to eat?”
Alan stood outside the small wooden shack and watched Keith make his way up from the boat. He watched his friend negotiate the slick stones that doubled up as a path from the river to their accommodation. A rumble of thunder above him prompted his eyes to wander upwards. Multitudes of threatening grey clouds rolled in off the hills.
“Great,” he muttered. “More rain.” He found his attention drawn back to his friend. He couldn’t repress the smile from breaking out across his face as he looked at the collection of large fish Keith held aloft.
“Told you I’d catch something eventually.” Keith declared triumphantly. Alan shook his head.
“Yeah,” Alan replied. “Pity it’s our last day. We’ll never eat all those.” He took another look at the sky above them before opening the door. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
The fire roared. The flames cast everything in the room with a faint red glow. Keith placed his knife and fork on the plate and pushed it to one side. Seconds later, the sudden expulsion of air from his gullet exploded from his mouth.
“Jesus…” Alan said, waving away the imaginary smell with his hand. “That’s disgusting.”
“Excuse me.” Keith said. Both men laughed.
“That one certainly beats the crap out of what we bought at the grocery store.” Alan said as he picked his plate up and got up from the table. Keith nodded and followed his friend into the kitchen. As Alan scraped the fish bones from the plates, Keith opened the refrigerator and pulled out two cans of beer. He opened one and handed it to Alan.
“I propose a toast.” Keith said. “To three weeks of wet, windy weather and the joys of the great outdoors!”
“Cheers!” Alan said as he threw his head back and drank from the can. Keith quickly followed suit, and a second belch escaped his mouth. “You’re an animal, you know that don’t you?”
“Oh yeah!” Keith replied then both men broke into comfortable laughter. “Right, what do you say to polishing off the rest of this weak as piss Yank beer before we hit the sack?”
“Sounds good to me mate.” Alan replied. For the next three hours they sat and talked as they proceeded to slowly churn through the crate of alcohol that sat in the middle of the room. After what seemed like the tenth time of going to the toilet, Keith dropped down into one of the two chairs in the sparsely furnished cabin.
“Do you think anyone is going to buy it?” He asked as he grabbed another can of beer.
“What?” Alan replied in a semi-drunken stupor. “The film?”
“Yeah.” Keith said. Alan shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t see why not. We came out here to make a movie about the bio-diversity of the Pacific Northwest and we just happened to capture something unbelievable on tape.” He mused as he rolled the beer can around in his hands.
“Unbelievable?” Keith almost choked on his beer. “I dressed up in a suit and trudged around in the undergrowth for three days.”
“Well, I’d have liked to have caught the real thing, but that’s got to do I guess.” Alan said. “Mike is going to be pissed when we beat him to that prize money.”
“Which one?” Keith said, alcohol making him pauses slightly before continuing with his sentence. “The fifty grand for some real footage or the ten grand for the best fake?”
“Either is fine by me. I have bills to pay.” Alan said. The sounds of the dogs barking in the distance persisted. “What are dogs doing out here?”
“God knows.” Keith said. “It’s still raining – Jesus, does it always rain here?”
“Nine months of the year my friend.” Alan said. Keith shook his head.
“So it looks like I’m going to have to move the truck otherwise it’s going to get stuck in the morning when we leave.” Keith said as he struggled to his feet. Alan leaned back in the chair.
“Don’t forget it’s an automatic.” He shouted after his friend as he scooped up the keys from the table by the door.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Alan wasn’t sure how long he’s been asleep. He woke with a start as the cacophony of sound assaulting his ears, combined with the sensation of a pair of hands grabbing his shoulders catapulted him from his drunken nap. At first his mind couldn’t make sense of the words Keith was saying to his – his voice was agitated, his eyes wide with a hypnotic mixture of fear and excitement and his skin ashen.
“What? What’s happened?” Alan asked as Keith’s words were flowing over him, his alcohol-fuelled mind unable to process them. “Shit – slow down Keith.” Keith stopped talking, released Alan’s arms and stood back from him. He ran his hand through his hair as he paced back and forth and took deep breathes. Keith stood still and looked at Alan.
“I said I think I’ve just ran over Bigfoot.”
Neither of them said anything. Keith was fidgeting nervously as Alan stared at the sight captured in the headlights of the truck. Even in the rain and the artificial light there was no mistaking what they were looking at. The creature was at least seven feet tall with thick, matted hair covering it.
“What do we do with it?” Keith asked. Alan shook his head.
“I dunno.” He replied. The harsh barking of the dogs was getting closer – and it was accompanied by the distinct sound of human voices. Unfriendly sounding ones as well. “But I think we need to get it indoors before things get ugly out here.”
They hauled the creature into the wooden cabin, several times losing their footing in the unstable mud beneath them as they struggled to manhandle the mythical beast out of the rain.
Once inside, they carefully laid the creature down in the middle of the living room and pushed the chairs aside to give them space to move around the large, hairy body.
“Jeez…it’s heavy.” Keith said as he slumped down in one of the chairs.
“He’s heavy, not it.” Alan replied. Keith looked at him with a puzzled expression on his face. “You had the head end, I had the business end and I saw his undercarriage.”
“Nice.” Keith muttered. “Is he dead?”
“No, no – he’s breathing. Look,” Alan said as he pointed that the chest of the creature. It rose and fell
“Look at the size of it’s, er, his feet!” He exclaimed as they both peered at the gargantuan appendages at the end of the beast’s thick, muscular legs.
“What do you think they are? About a size sixteen or so?” Alan said. Keith shook his head.
“Christ knows, maybe bigger,” he muttered. “I’m sure they’ve got a pair of shoes in his size at Nike though.” Alan scratched his head for a second.
“Hang on, how the hell did you manage to run over a Bigfoot?” he asked. Keith shook his head.
“I dunno.” Keith spoke quietly. “I managed to get the truck out from the back then as I was coming around I started to get stuck in the mud. As I was trying to get free my foot slipped off the brake. The truck lurched forward and hit something.” He paused for a minute. “Next thing I know, I’ve collided with a woolly mammoth.”
“Not mammoth.” The gravely, thick voice made both men stop talking immediately and look at the mythical creature lying on the floor. It was sitting upright and looking at them with deep, soulful eyes. “Biped.”
“Jesus…” Alan whispered.
“Wow,” Keith muttered. “Chewbacca speaks English.”
The teeth cut down into the flesh of the fish effortlessly. Alan and Keith were mesmerised by it as it tore through the meat. The hair that covered most of its body was a grey colour – not black, as they had first thought when they had brought it in from the rain. Keith gingerly reached out his hand and stroked it. It was soft, not coarse, as he’d expected.
“Why Hu-Man touch?” The creature asked as he swallowed the raw fish.
“Why not?” Keith said.
“How…what…why…?” The questions raced through Alan’s head too quickly for him to formulate them correctly. The creature looked at him.
“Hu-Man has, Jokaero have not.” It replied bluntly. “Jokaero come here, take what need, go back through door.”
“Jokaero? Is that your name?” Keith asked. The creature looked at Keith, then at Alan.
“Hu-Man.” He said pointing at the two men. “Jokaero.” It repeated, pointing at himself.
“I get it – collectively they are the Jokaero.” Alan excitedly theorised. He looked at the creature. “I’m Alan. This is Keith. We humans.” He said, and then pointed back at the creature with an expectant look on his face. The creature looked at him.
“Ymarl.” The creature replied and beat his fist against his chest. Suddenly both men recognised what might be a smile break across the grey skinned face of the beast in front of them. Ymarl tore the last bit of meat from the fish and discarded the remnants on the floor next to the others it had devoured.
“Cool – now we know his name.” Keith said. “Big question is what do we do with him?”
“Christ knows.” Alan said to his friend, then returned his attention to the fantastical beast sitting cross-legged less than five feet from them.
An hour later the two men had watched Ymarl eat his way through the remaining fish that Keith had caught earlier that day. As he discarded the last carcass in the fireplace the still night that surrounded the cabin erupted in a blast of feral barking. As startled as both men were, Ymarl suddenly curled up into a foetal position and howled.
“What’s wrong with him?” Keith shouted above the din. Alan shook his head. He quickly moved over to the beast and kneeled down next to him.
“Bark…Hunt…Hurt…” Ymarl’s words suddenly made sense to both men.
“They’re hunting him!” Alan said excitedly. He got up and grabbed the duffel bag from the corner of the room and threw it at Keith. “Quick, put that on! They want something to hunt then we’ll give them something to hunt.”
“What?” Keith couldn’t believe what his friend was suggesting. “Are you shitting me? Have you forgotten they have guns here?”
“Oh come on, stop being such a girl.” Alan replied. “Besides, if this goes according to plan then you won’t actually need to go anywhere once you’ve gotten the suit on.”
“What? You have a plan?” Keith sounded bemused as he pulled the outfit from the bag. “Well it had better bloody work…”
A few minutes later, the sound of the dogs had reached the cabin. Alan opened the door and was met by three pairs of gnashing teeth and several beams of torchlight shining in his face. Alan instinctively raised his hand to protect his eyes.
“It’s the British guy!” one voice called out from the darkness. A man stepped forward onto the porch. Alan recognised him from the nearby town – his name was Henderson or Williamson or something like that, Alan couldn’t recall.
“Hey there,” He said as he approached Alan. “You guys haven’t seen or heard anything strange out here tonight have you?”
“Mister Henderson, is it?” the man nodded. “No, I can’t say that I’ve seen anything odd this evening. What are you folks looking for?” Alan asked. There was a sudden crashing sound of man against furniture from inside the cabin, coupled by a murmured “sorry” from Keith.
“Bigfoot!” a voice called out from behind Henderson, who looked somewhat dismayed that somebody had broken ranks. “They’ve seen it here in the last few days!” Alan looked at them, then laughed.
“Bigfoot? You’re out looking for Bigfoot?” He said between guffaws. “I’m sorry – just stay here for a minute.” Alan turned and disappeared into the cabin, then returned momentarily with a shabby, pathetic looking brown haired figure next to him.
“That’s it! That’s the monster!” another voice called out and was swiftly followed by the firing pins of several weapons being readied. Alan held up his hands to prevent any further action.
“My friends, I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve been chasing shadows.” Alan spoke with authority, projecting his voice as best he could. The creature raised its hands to its head and lifted it from the body – revealing Keith beneath it.
“It’s the other British guy!” the same voice from the back of the group called out. Henderson spun round.
“Myron, will you please shut up!” he barked. He turned around to face Alan.
“My friend and I were producing a little home movie as part of a bet with some co-workers,” Alan said. “So, Keith here has been running around the woods and I’ve been filming him. Sorry.” There were audible moans from the mob, which had already begun to disperse before Alan had finished his explanation. As Henderson walked away he looked at the two Englishmen for a moment. Alan and Keith both smiled at him and waved him goodbye. He shook his head as he resumed his somewhat deflated walk into the wet night.
“Good thinking Batman.” Keith said as they watched them recede from sight. Alan only managed to let out a huge sigh of relief before heading back into the wooden construct.
The first ray of sunshine warmed Keith’s face as he kept scanning the horizon for any signs of life. Once he was certain that there were no lingering groups of psychopathic American hunters he waved his hand to signal the coast was clear. The sight before him as he turned around caused him to stop for a moment and shake his head.
“Ymarl go now.” The gravely voice was quiet. Alan looked up at the Jokaero. They looked into each other’s eyes. Ymarl suddenly reached out and pulled Alan towards him, embracing him. The behemoth hugged him, his muscular, hairy arms wrapping around Alan’s body. Alan tried his best to return the hug, however his arms barely reached around the tree-trunk like torso. “Thank.” He said and then proceeded to do the same with Keith.
“It’s “Thanks”.” Keith joked as Ymarl let him go. “Go on, get off home you big lump before some hick shoots you and puts your head above their fireplace.” Ymarl nodded in agreement. Without another word Ymarl turned and sauntered into the edge of the forest. As the two men watched him gradually disappear from sight they were rewarded with a brilliant white light engulfing Ymarl’s figure. The light flickered, and then dissipated, leaving nothing behind.
“Hey, looks like he was right about being an inter-dimensional explorer then.” Alan replied. Keith shook his head.
“I can’t believe it – we had a real life Bigfoot with us all night,” he mused. “And we’ve got no proof of it whatsoever.” Alan pursed his lips then walked around to the front of the truck.
“I wouldn’t say that the evening was a complete loss.” He said as he plucked a clump of hairs and a small patch of skin from the radiator grill of the vehicle. “I can see the headlines now – I ran over Bigfoot.” Both men smiled.
“So, where next?” Keith asked.
“Not sure.” Alan replied. “I was thinking about the Gobi Desert – I heard they have a pretty mean Death Worm out there that’s alluded photographic documentation.”
“Great.” Keith said as he rubbed his hands together. “I’ll get my shorts then.”
Mark Cooper is a 37 year old civil servant, father of three and life-long lover of the strange and bizarre. When he isn’t trying to understand the greater mysteries of the universe or how to synch his iPod to his laptop he can be found in various comic book stores in the central regions of England spending money his wife doesn’t know about.
He currently has five works in print from Trestle Press publishing; an espionage series entitled How I Met Your Mother available from Amazon & Amazon UK; a zombie fiction entitled Infection and a short vampire tale under the title Blood.