Ghoul:a short story

Sunlight lightly bathed the wreckage of the modern world.

No one living in this decayed carcass of a city knew any official name for it. Then again, the inhabits of this carcass could barely be considered human. Fighting and snarling, foraging for food. Biting and scratching at each other for the slightest fragment of what was considered food. These things had no recollection of what they had once been. They only had a slight notion that they were alive. Alive and hungry for the one thing that they considered food. Human flesh. One creature, mutant or more fittingly ghoul, was weakly battling the rest for the scraps of destroyed human beings. Sick with dehydration, and mad with hunger, they were the same. Unlike his squabbling company, his strength had begun to weaken as he struggled vainly to get to the center of the loose ‘pack’ of ghouls and reach the source of the scraps. Pack is a very loose term to describe a group of these creatures because, unlike say, a pack of wolves, they were disorganized. Driven by instinct together. But when it came to food they turned on each other with bestial murder in their minds. Well, it’s hard to describe a swollen deranged hunk of matter that lay in a ghoul’s head as a ‘mind’ at all. The weak ghoul separated from the mob and dragged itself limply across what was once a busy city street. It lurched on all fours into an alleyway. The ghoul closed his eyes, not to rest, but to do something few ghouls really bother to do: Think. Now these thoughts weren’t philosophical or particularly bright, he was a ghoul after all. He thought of the only pleasant thing he think of: Food. Lying against a dumpster, the ghoul moaned and muttered nonsense as he thought of his running, fearful, two-legged prey. He could see it in that delirious swollen mirror that could be called his minds eye. He could almost smell it. Wait a minute, it wasn’t in his mind! Then he opened his yellow eyes and ducked behind the dumpster, sniffing and snuffling. His illness may have dulled his so called mind but it sure as hell sharpened his senses. Two sets of prey were close by. Well, at least that’s what his nose told him. He couldn’t count at all really. He just knew it. A cold wind blew from east of the dumpster. He didn’t care about the staleness of air. He focused on what was important. He focused on the smell of prey. Should he look around the dumpster? Of course he did. He was hungry. He was always hungry. The ghoul brashly made the inevitable choice to look. To look for the food. The prey.

Across the path of cracked pavement there was something he hadn’t seen in a long time. An automobile, or more appropriately a van. The ghoul didn’t know it as a van at all. Just a noisy hard thing that carried prey. Cocking his head from side to side, the ghoul noticed that the other ghouls smelled prey as well. They too were beginning to slink up on the van on all fours cautiously, like himself. Seeing this reactivated the last emotion a ghoul like him possesses, nearly unstoppable rage. Rage against the other ghouls, rage against the street on which he was crawling. An angry snarl corrupted his dehydrated blood-stained face. He, and all others began to run and. in some cases, they seem to move in unison like a shocked school of sardines. He was bitten and scratched on his way there but he had to get to the van. That horrible van. That deprived him of his prey. He and the others jumped and leapt at that terrible van. Beating it and clawing at it with pale yellow fingernails. Beating its hard shell with their fists.

They all scattered when the gunshot startled them, all except for him. It was then that the ghoul saw more than one live prey poke their heads out of the large holes in the front of the van. If the ghoul had a memory, he would have realized that two of these prey he had smelt before. One with a gritty countenance and the other a meek one. The meek prey retreated. The gritty prey carried the source of the gunshot, a large shotgun, possibly of military issue. But that didn’t concern the ghoul. Instinctively he ducked when he saw the prey begin to reload and aim the weapon at him. The prey fired its gun again only to miss it target. The prey grunted a curse under its breath, pushing its companion away. Its companion was trying to stop him. This was nearly incomprehensible to the ghoul. Then one of the prey opened the van from the inside. Another prey stepped out of the safety of the van and confronted the ghoul with a smile. The prey at hole in the front of the van swore loudly at the smiling prey. The smiley prey which appeared to be much older than the other, raised its hand to quiet its associate.

The ghoul snarled in response to the smiling prey’s gesture. The other prey simply rolled his eyes and with its other hand and fished in its pocket for something. It retrieved what appeared to be a human ear and held it out to the ghoul. The ghoul,unable to comprehend humans kindness, merely got angrier and charged. When the taser met his flesh, the ghoul when numb and everything went black.

#

When the ghoul came to, he found that he was in fact in a cage of iron bars in a completely new environment. The ghoul didn’t know the word for it but he recognized it from some vague memory as a “Lab” prace of his birth. Well at least that’s what he thought. A smiling, elderly prey was there sporting a new slightly more worried grid and the ghoul mashed his teeth in response.

“Good to see you awake my friend,” chuckled the old animal. “I hope I didn’t shock you too much, I don’t think you understand me well but your kind isn’t exactly the nicest lot,”. The old man give a mirthful laugh at this attempt at humor and the laugh echoed throughout the room. Unbeknownst to the school, this was a storage room as well as a laboratory and he vaguely glimpsed the animal get out a plastic bag filled with some kind of food.

“Not the most common of flavors,” commented the prey as he emptied the bag through the bars “but it is necessary to make sure that you like to snack on something else other than me.” The animal laughed again. The ghoul shuffled toward the large pile of the strange smelling meat. Deciding it resembled his regular diet, he he shoved his face in it.

It didn’t matter whether or not itt was his raw. Meat was meat and he had to eat something. As the ghoul guzzled the food a door openned at the far end of the room of the gritty prey that tried to shoot him entered.

“God,” he said recoiling at the sight of the ghoul. “Why on earth are you keeping that alive!” he gasped.

“To domesticate, or at least to find a cure for Randy’s condition” replied the old animal matter-of-factly. The other animal spat in disgust.

“You don’t mean to tell me you’ve named it already?”

“Of course I have”

“Why?” laughed the other animal exasperated “this thing is practically subhuman Carl”

The old animal referred to as ‘Carl’ only smiled wider.

“You’re incorrect,” he said “it was once human, They all were at one time. Before the neurotoxin at least,”

“He’s too far gone Carl,” complained the figure, grim faced and weary. This seemed to be a reoccurring dance of sorts between the two. Carl eased himself to sit on a high backed chair in front of messy desk and continued to smile at the ghoul who he had christened Randy. The ghoul couldn’t fathom any of this at all.

“Randy seems to like ground beef Jeff,” addressing the animal now Jeff.

As the ghoul started to finish the top portion of ground beef , Carl suggested that Jeff bring in the others too if Randy could “Resist temptation” as Carl put it”. Jeff exited the lab without comment.

The two female animals were brought in a few minutes later. They wore yellow clothing with an ugly red spidery symbol and with a single word on it. Randy didn’t snarl but just stared at them blankly. All the animals but the one called Carl appeared repulsed by the sight of him,

“I don’t see the point of why you brought us here Doc “ said one of the females. By his nose he could tell that beneath the suit’s hood, the female was a redhead.

“To see if he resisted temptation E the sight of human flesh “ repeated Carl off-handedly.

“ Clearly your doing the test wrong” said the other female. This time he could tell by the smell of her she that she was a brunette but older than the other female by a couple years. Carl frowned for the first time and faced the three skeptical animals. If the ghouls had a vocabulary, the word ‘human’ had yet to enter it.

“Fine” he said “ I’ll take the risk”. He then proceeded to remove the latex glove from his left hand. The two females gasped.

“What the heck are you doing?”cried Jeff grabbing Carl’s newly exposed wrist.

“Ringing the dinner bell,” he replied

“You’re crazy” said the redhead. The brunette just burst into tears after saying the word “Daddy,”

Carl ignored common sense and stuck his hand between the bars. The ghoul called Randy went on the defense. He bared his sharpened, lopsided teeth and snarled, his face recollecting the mixed feelings of a carnivore who both loved and reviled his diet.

“Pull it out now!” commanded Jeff as he began to raise his weapon. The old man didn’t comply until the ghoul poised himself to strike, in an attempt to bite the hand that had just fed him. Fear flashed on Carl’s face as he removed his hand. Randy’s face slammed against the bars of the cage.

“Experiment number one hundred and one is a failure,” dictated Carl into a tape recorder that he took from his breast pocket, recently captured Neurotoxin infectee responsive to ground beef substitute, but still aggressive when shown human flesh. Must resort to more obscure methods of rehabilitation.” The redhead pursed unamused lips as Carl turned off the tape recorder.

“I think you’re chasing a pipe dream here Doc,” she said seriously.

“Nobody has ever been able to snap one of those ‘ragers’ to their senses.”

Carl looked at her surprised, “That stunt of Randy’s wasn’t out of hunger. It was self=preservation.,” “Protecting itself?” Jeff said sarcastically. He continued, “you actually believe these things can think?” gesturing at the ghoul in the cage. Randy was still fruitlessly clawing at the bars. “Maybe we should start training it on a reward system like a dog?” suggested the brunette with morbid curiosity. Carl snapped his fingers ,”That might actually work!” he cried.

“For god sake Patty, don’t give him any ideas!” said Jeff exasperated.

Randy stopped beating against the bars and confusedly observed for the first time Carl exhibit the human emotion of genuine joy. Carl rummaged through his desk looking for things that no one could guess. He approached the group carrying an old bell that looked like it belonged on the collar of some pampered puppy or kitten and another bag of ground beef. Next to the bars, Carl daintily rang the bell with one hand. The noise annoyed the ghoul and Randy growled deeply. Carl made the noise louder this time. He threw a handful of ground beef into the cage. Then Carl rang the bell. The three other animals left the lab.

Every time Carl rang the bell, he gave the beast more meat. Carl promised himself that he would train Randy if it was the last thing he ever did. Randy was kept in the cage for days but was well fed with beef, This was no substitute, however, for real human flesh, which he longed for every night when the laboratory door was locked. Randy didn’t know it at first but he was beginning to develop Stockholm syndrome. If he could speak he would’ve immediately denied it was an ill conceived lie. He would never became tame, Randy was convinced he needed human meat to live. He waould still hold his stomach and wretch on occasion when he ate too much ground beef, wishing for the real stuff. But after a week of his pent up “Domestication” as Carl liked to call it, he actually willed himself keep it down. He even learned how to do certain favors for Catrl .He could do many more things than eat when the bell was rung by Carl. He could stand up, tap the bars in a pattern(once taught) and even restrain himself from snarling at the occasional scowling face of Jeff. The greatest thing that he learned to do was sleep. The infected, being always hungry never slept. One morning Randy woke to find that the laboratory was deserted. More importantly, he noticed the cage door had been left open. His first gut reaction was to snarl like all ghouls when encountering something new. When he heard the noise beyond the closed door of the lab, Randy, for the first time in a month of captivity, crawled through the opening in the cage. There was banging on the other side of the door and Randy sniffed cautiously to figure out what was on it’s other side. He tried to pick up Carl’s scent of rosewood and rubbing alcohol, or that of Jeff’s beer swigging, sweaty stench or the the homely smell of either of that charming red-haired Rachel brunette friend Patty. Randy did not possess a speaking vocabulary, but after a time in captivity he had learned some rudimentary word with Carl. “Bell” for example, meant food or trick. “Beef” meant reward.

Randy the ghoul curiously cocked his head one side. What was that noise? He thought dimly that Carl would’ve been excited if he knew that this mindless killing machine had a thought. The prey animals, no, that wasn’t the word for them now; it was on the tip of his tongue. Carl had said the word to him many times, “friends.” All of Randy’s friends then burst into the room through the door.

.” They found us!” snarled Jeff viciously “every Rager within 20 mile radius is headed to the house,”

For the first time since Randy had been captured ,Jeff raised his gun aiming at Randy’s head at almost point-blank range.

“It’s that one’s fault, they can smell their chum, Carl.” Carl ran in front of Randy to protect him.

“They smell us ,not Randy here!” he shouted.

“When will you stop calling him that stupid name?” growled Jeff gritting his teeth.

“Really, he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Now why would you hurt him?” Carl pleaded.

“You wouldn’t have said that a month ago!” Jeff shouted back “It’s time to put that Rager down before his friends show up!”

Randy was shaking like a leaf. The gun was still pointed at him. Patty put her arm on Jeff shoulder “please just calm down!” She sobbed “ the gunshot will bring them right to us”

“Not before the smell of his carcass does!” he said, racking the guns slide.

“He’s tame I tell you!” Carl cried revealing the Taser that had put down Randy long ago when he was captured.

“He’s our friend!” he cried, tears were welling in his eyes.

Then the word finally registered in Randy’s brain. For the first time ever, Randy the ghoul spoke to save his life.

“F, f, friend!” He whimpered under his breath.

Jeff was stunned and lowered his weapon in sheer amazement.

“I am a f f friend!” Randy stuttered out the alien words like a foreign tougue twister

“I’ll be damned,” gasped Jeff, almost breathless “The rager can talk!”

All of Randy’s new friends with nervous smiles looked at him. Randy saw something new in their eyes, A new word formed in his brain. Hope. His friends had hope.

#

The brief respite of hope turned to fear when the moaning was heard. Not just a moaning, but a growling, a downright roaring of infected rage coming from the doorway. Swollen, scarred faces where thrust through the doorway as Randy’s former friends made their entrance. They made their entrance like they always did, as a disorganized pack, with nothing but Savage Hunger, insatiable and unstoppable in there deformed brains.The infected snarled as bullets violently ended their miserable famished existences one blast of grey matter at a time. Their demise wasn’t all due to Jeff’s marksmanship Patty the brunette and her associate were slashing and smashing their way through the horde with nothing more than a hack saw and joiner’s mallet braining any ghoul that deserved it. Randy was confused by the carnage, Should he join in? He could smell the fear on his friend Carl who had backed himself into a corner. Randy experienced pity for the first time and leapt with terrific speed in between carl and his rabid horde of his brethren.

“Friend Friend!” he snarled again with all the emotive viciousness he could muster. The ragged invaders were confused. They too had never seen one of their own speak. This gave Carl more time to find a weapon from the old toolbox and to cleave off his attackers’ confused heads.

“Nice distraction Randy!” called Jeff above the deafening noise of the gunshots. There was a sound of glass of a shattering fire alarm emergency station and Randy received his first weapon. A fire ax. His friend Carl brained the infected with a lead pipe which he had found in the toolbox. Daylight waned and the whole horde began to dissipate in typical infected fashion. Randy learned that day that there was one impulse of his kind stronger than hunger: Randy’s face began to itch and he began to scratch away. His hand came away with grimy sludge. Carl and his friends laughed heartily. This confused Randy as he thought, “Why they were laughing.”

They were standing almost up to their knees in corpses. “Welcome to the club Randy, now all you need is a shower, “Carl chucked and showed Randy something made of glass. A mirror It revealed that underneath that layer of dirt and grime covering his face was white skin.

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