Written by Brittany Martin and edited by Jim Dattilo.
As her father pulled the BMW into the gas station named Marty's, Sifer finally spoke up. "Are you going to admit that you’re lost?"
"What?" Yang turned to Sifer, who is slouching in the front seat. "Me lost? The built-in GPS insists we are in the middle of Boulder and not wherever we are."
"You're acting like an Alfred E. Newman, Mr. Aseph." Melissa, Sifer's dusky, brown-eyed girlfriend, deadpans from the backseat as the whole group cracks up laughing together. "What are we going to do? We can't get cell-phone reception, and the German engineering in your car is ..."
"Seriously, girls," Yang pulls to a stop along the island with three gas pumps sticking out like fingers from a sea of asphalt. "Let me go inside, find out where we are, see if I can buy a map and then we'll get back to the main route."
"Fine." Sifer relented with a small smile at her beloved father. After Mom left, Dad was the only rock of stability Sifer felt she had in her world. Even Melissa had her moods, and at times, Sifer couldn't get through to her girlfriend. As a result, Sifer's relationship with her dad has grown stronger over the last few years.
Yang, a banker by trade, was short with a refined look, sporting sprinkles of gray shot through his midnight black conservative crew cut hair. In his mid-forties, his wiry, fit body still acte and looks like a man fifteen years younger.
Getting out of the driver's side of the car and advancing towards the detached garage, Yang waved to the two left in the car. Blinking to regain focus, Sifer turned to Melissa. "The sign by the highway exit said we were entering Stodgy Farms, and that Chipper Ridge was a mile or so down the highway."
"Yes! Perhaps this Chipper Ridge place will have a MoonDoe coffee-shop or someplace we can get breakfast. I'm starving." Suppressing a yawn, Melissa theatrically rolled her eyes in anticipation. "Places in the middle of Colorado have MoonDoes, right?"
"Who knows?" Sifer shrugged. "I just want to get back to New York, ASAP."
After this declaration, both girls retreated into a shared silence, waiting for Yang to get back.
"Is that a bunch of dead squirrels over there?" Sifer pressed a finger against the window, pointing to a pile of what-looked-like roadkill.
"What?" Melissa scrunched her nose in disgust. "Is there a reason you brought those dead things to my attention?"
"No, not really." Sifer knew this was a rural area of Colorado, but why would anyone pile a bunch of dead squirrels up and leave them in plain sight? "Melissa, something isn't right."
"Don't I know it! We are in the middle of Colorado and not home in New York."
"No, I mean -"
"Whatever, Sifer." Melissa reached forward and gave Sifer a long embrace. "We'll be home soon and out of crazy-land."
The driver-side door of the BMW popped open, and Yang poked his head inside. "Marty, the owner of this gas station informs me that, 'This here is Stodgy Farms and a mile or so up the road is Chipper Ridge where out-of-towners can pick up maps and such like that.'"
"Did you get a map, Mr. Aseph?" Melissa asked just as Sifer was about to point out the pile of dead squirrels to her dad. "With our luck, he's sold out and has been since 2000."
"Damn, you’re good, Melissa." Sifer sarcastically replied, getting distracted. "As Marty said, we can pick up 'maps and such like that' in Chipper Woods or whatever it’s called.’" Ducking under a swipe at the back of her head, Sifer completed her thought. "Well, let's get back on the road and head to Chipper Ridge."
"Agreed." Yang says as he started up the BMW and pull backed onto the road.
Walking down the sidewalk attached to Milford Ave, Melissa felt a cold shiver up her spine. "What do you mean, don't look at those two across the street?"
Sifer, hand-in-hand with Melissa, twirled her girl in for a kiss but whispered into her ear while holding her tightly. "Those aren't cowboys outside that bank."
"I'm serious. They both have some sort of long-arm hidden under those dusters." Snatching a quick look across the street, Sifer continued whispering to Melissa. "When I let you go, I want you to walk inside the Dippin’ Donuts and head to wherever those cops are."
Melissa, tightening in Sifer's grip, hesitated. "Y-you think something bad is happening?"
"Well, I don't know for sure. Better safe than sorry, right?"
"Oh. okay. What are you—“
"I'm going to go back to the car dealership to find dad." Forestalling any further argument, Sifer did a quick three count. "Go on three. One. Two. Three."
Sifer and Melissa parted just as the two non-descript figures in leather overcoats entered the Allied Bank of Chipper Ridge. "Stick close to the cops."
"I will. Hurry back."
With that Sifer took her leave, figuring that the safest place for her girlfriend right now would be near the town's cops. Reviewing her options, getting her family back together is the most important thing on her mind.
Hours later, everything in her life was turned upside-down. Sifer advanced down Milford Avenue, decked out in her practice armor, and holding her polearm in front of her. That half-dead salesman can't be correct. Dad wouldn't sacrifice himself like that. He knows I need him.
Once Sifer made it to the dealership, she found the place looking like a war zone. Dead were entwined together in weird embraces, like they were trying to eat each other, and wounded were barricaded in the various buildings on the car lot wielding makeshift weapons of one nature or another.
No way I’m believing a delirious middle-aged stranger who was suffering from obvious shock.
The salesman recounted a tale of mindless attacks by people so injured he thought they were dead. Their salesman-of-the-month was bitten, and within a half-hour, he had some sort of seizure, rose up, and assaulted Desmond, the day-time manager.
Mindless zombies. Give me a break.
The worst thing about the whole situation was that this guy convinced the rest of them to believe his delusions. And where is her dad? The salesman insisted that he saw Sifer's dad fighting off three of the zombies from a woman and her two kids in the mechanic's bay. He also said no one came out of there after that.
Sifer went to that deserted mechanic's bay and found it empty. Empty of people, empty of zombies. Blood was gummed up all over the pit area. And there was her dad's wallet, fallen into a drum of waste oil in the back. No sign of the woman, children, or her dad.
Going back to the waiting room where the salesman and his group of survivors took shelter, Sifer couldn't get straight answers from anyone. It was then she decided to get her martial arts gear from the trunk of the BMW and prepare herself for whatever might be happening.
Forty-five minutes later, encased in padded armor and a practice helmet, Sifer began the journey back into Chipper Ridge. First, she’d pick up her girlfriend and then she’d find her father.
Dippin’ Donuts was a buzz of activity up the street on her right, a 4x4 pickup truck half in and half out of the store front. Disturbingly, one of the cops Sifer saw that morning was lying on the street before his patrol car. His throat was torn out and a puddle of blood made a bullseye around his corpse.
From across Milford Avenue, the alarm of the bank wailed like a forlorn banshee, and more chaos spun in front of her: people running, cars speeding by, a helicopter flying low over the tops of rowhomes. Whatever happened at the bank, it seems like she was right about the bank robbers.
Approaching her truck, several dead surrounded it, like they were gawking at a shiny new pickup at an auto show. She passed them by, more worried to find her girlfriend than giving into one moment of horror.
"Melissa, you there?" Some sort of commotion echoed from the back of the donut shop. "Melissa?" Stepping into the shop from the opening created by the pickup, Sifer allowed her eyes to adjust. "Melissa! Where are you?"
Like stepping into a slaughter room of a Victorian-age butcher, Sifer saw blood, guts, and body parts strewn around. Bullet holes made a zig-zag in the counter where the image of a jelly donut once stood alone.
"Damn it, Melissa! Where are you?" she yelled.
"Sifer?" A faint query from further in the back of the shop reached Sifer's ears. "I'm just imagining things. I'm walking in a nightmare, and I just want to curl up and die."
"Melissa?!" Sifer, scrambled over the mess of entrails and debris everywhere and reached a broom closet. "Melissa, are you in there?"
"I just want to curl up and die. I don't want to be haunted by Sifer's ghost the rest of my life."
"What are you talking about?"
"Go away!" Melissa screamed as loud as Sifer ever heard her scream. "I'm going to hum to myself and ignore you until you go away and stop haunting me. hummmmm ..."
"Stop that." Looking at the door, Sifer brought her polearm against the cheap brass door knob, sending it rattling along the tile floor. She gripped the hole left by the doorknob and yanked. Somehow, the lock held, forcing her to hammer the door with one end of the staff. "Almost out, Melissa, almost out!"
"Go away, go away, go away stupid ghost of Sifer. Go away. hummmm ...."
The door swung outward. Crouched in the corner, Melissa held an infant, swaddled in a bloody blanket.
"W-what are you holding?"
"It’s a baby, dumb ghost." She rocked the dead infant, and as she leaned forward, Sifer saw its crushed skull. "The lady told me to take care of her baby. That she was bitten and did not want to eat her own child."
Sifer choked back a scream. "The baby is dead, Melissa. Put it down."
"No. You are dead. I am dead. I will not let anything happen to little Sarah, until her mom comes back."
Sifer, wiping a tear from the corner of her right eye, pushed forward. "Let me have the baby, Melissa. I know a song to sing to…it." Quickly grabbing hold of the dead infant, Sifer pulled it from Melissa's arms.
"No!" Swinging wildly, Melissa stood and struck Sifer, who turned to take the hits to her padded shoulder. "Don't take the baby from me! I will not let her die like the rest! She will be safe with me, not you!"
"Stop it, Melissa."
Pushing Melissa away and turning to discard the dead baby, Sifer looked past the counter at the only undisturbed part of the store, a sign asking, “Dippin’ any donuts today?”
Not resisting Sifer's push, Melissa fell to the ground, sobbing, each gut wrenching shudder emanating from deep inside her. "You are throwing away my baby. That is what’s happening."
"No, I'm not Melissa." Quickly hiding the small corpse between the deep fryer and the cold freezer, Sifer turned back to her girlfriend. "I gave her back to her mother. See, they both left."
"No you didn't. I saw you bash her skull and throw her into the deep fryer with all the other babies."
"You were jealous of baby Sarah, so you bashed in her skull and then deep fried her to eat. I saw everything. You are a bad ghost!"
"Alright, enough of this, Melissa." Sifer took hold of Melissa's arm and pulled her upright.
"I don't want to go with you. I want to curl up and die."
"That's not an option. You are getting up and coming with me, or I will hunt down more babies to kill and deep fry."
"Why don't you just kill me instead and let the babies go?"
"Oh, all right. I'll come to wherever you want to take me." In so saying, Melissa gathered herself together and stood off the ground. Wiping her red face with her dirty sleeve, Melissa muttered to herself as Sifer led her out of the donut shop.
"What was that?"
"I said I still want to curl up and die. What’s happening to me, Sif?"
Sifer saw traces of her girlfriend returning, but there was still a way to go. She couldn’t deal with this right now and also search for her father.
"We'll just have to look for dad next then work on getting you right. Don’t worry, Melissa. I’ve got you."