Vincent Condella fought to draw ragged breaths into lungs that shuddered in spasmodic waves, each one triggered by the sobs that twisted his face and pushed steady rivulets of tears from the corners of his red-rimmed eyes. He tried to focus on the cool concrete that pressed against his cheek, but it could not drown-out the fear and anxiety that shredded his heart…that pained him through every limb and fiber of his being. He opened his soaked and swollen eyes to glare at the room through his rotated perspective — the ninety-degree shift laying the depressing-looking cots on the wall at the same time it plastered the ceiling with a multitude of crayon drawings; the brightly chaotic figures in their primary-hued glory only made his sobs start anew. Vincent hurt so bad he had to cry out from deep in his stomach, or the loss would kill him.
“Vinny…” He felt a hand on his shoulders, smoothing up and down as their owner spoke platitudes softly in his ears, “Vinny, you’ve got to be strong, man…”
“Oh god, god….” Vincent moaned, and swatted the hand away. He looked at the drawings — a house and dog and a chimney complete with framed doors and grey-squiggle smoke — and began rapping his forehead against the floor.
He heard the others murmuring from the empty doorway; he could see their shadows slipping into the interior of the room. He tried to ignore them…he just wanted to look at the drawings — the happy, happy drawings.
“Just leave him…he needs to process…” A woman.
“He’s been on the floor all day…” A man
“He’s a grown man…let him be.” The woman again.
To Vincent they were nameless; he didn’t care if these were the people he now lived with; he didn’t care if these were the people who now worked at his side, and had done so for three years. All Vincent cared about in this moment was looking at those drawings, and trying to drown himself in sadness.
“We’ve all lost someone…we had to get over it eventually.” This time the man’s voice had an edge to it.
“Lay off,” Now the woman was trying to whisper…Vincent saw the shadow of her hand rising to shield her words, “It was his grandkid for Christ’s sake.” The shadow on the floor-wall shook it’s head.
Vincent felt the muscles in his back ache as a new wave of sobs shook him.
“The kid was a goner…they couldn’t risk everyone by going back looking for him!”
“Do you think that matters to him? Right now?”
“It should…kid…he wouldn’t want his grandfather acting like this.” The emphasis on the last word was laced with a special loathing reserved for the pathetic and weak. Vincent was not deaf to this implication, but it was quickly disregarded in the heat that had begun to boil in his stomach. Where there had been, only a few fleeting moments prior, a depthless void there was a charring, blasting hear. Vincent’s sobs tapered as his temper flared at the man’s words.
“Shhh…he’s getting quiet…” The woman took a step into the room.
“About time,” The furnace in his stomach spouted into his throat, searing it raw. He watched the silhouette of the man reach forward as he passed the woman into the center of the chamber.
The man stooped once more to pat at his shoulder; he was not expecting to open the vent of Vincent’s anger, nor was he prepared for the intensity of the fire he had stoked in the older man. The rage that had washed away the cold sorrow now flashed from his throat in a ragged growl. Vincent reached out a hand that the other man treated for a split-second as an offer of friendship before it closed on his throat.
Vincent raged and spit as he wordlessly screamed. Blood-red, his vision pulsed with his racing heart; he saw the man choking and clutching at the vice-grip of Vincent’s hand on his neck. Vincent felt his feet kicking feebly against his shins as he dragged the man up along the wall. Through that impossible rage he formed the only words he could.
“How…dare you?” He could hear the woman at his back. He could feel her beating at his shoulders to release the worm that wriggled in his fist…slowly turning blue.
“Don’t you…don’t you say a fucking word about him…you don’t…” The phrases were lost again as the fury swept him away. He reached out a second hand to add to the pressure of the first; he relished in the way his victim’s eyes were rolling back in his purple skull, the way his bubbling noises had stopped and white foam was gathering at the corners of his mouth.
A sudden kick threatened to knock Vincent to his knees, but the fire kept him upright. He lashed back with one hand and felt the blow send the woman sprawling. He smiled as the world slipped away save the face of the man in his vice-grip…and the drawings that crumpled behind his head.
A small boy with a smile wider than his head held the stick-figure hand of a grey-haired figure as they walked through a green hillside, complete with trees and clouds overhead. The boy held a lopsided loop of color in on twiggy hand — a frisbee. The child’s coat was bright red…in every drawing that coat shined replendant in dyed wax.
He dropped the unconsious man on the cold ground, and fell back onto his cot, staring at the drawings again. The fire had died, and he suddenly felt numb. A distant noise from somewhere in the airport shook him from his trance long enough to see the bodies on the ground…the bloated face of the man, and the blond-haired woman’s face mirrored in the pool of blood that stretched from the splatter on the wall to the pool that slowly grew beneath her prone form.
He heard a child’s laughter.
Vincent wiped the sick from his lips and rose on unsteady feet. This was not some errant child running through Zyracuse.
“Anthony…my Anthony…” He grabbed a drawing from the wall, and ran from the room. Behind him, the two figures lay unnaturally still on the cold concrete.
The laughter guided him…he heard it through the crashes of crates, the swearing from people lying in his path as he ran; there was no noise that seemed capable of drowning out that perfect, pealing bell-tone of his grandchild.
“I’m comming Anthony!” He cried out, ignoring the faces of those he passed by as they looked at him with curious and fear-tinted expressions. He hands clawed at doorways and shoved bodies aside as he ventured into the evening’s ruddy glow. At some point as he ran toward Anthony’s voice, a pair of uniformed guards blocked his path. Vincent’s chest ached as his panic drove his fist first into one’s face…and then into the other’s.
He ran as they recovered…he ran as fast as aged legs could carry him. He heard it more clear now, that melody of glee that only his Anthony could make. He saw the fence looming ahead, and he heard the shouts of many voices at his back.
He could see the figures shuffling in the distance, their forms just turning dark in the ruddy light of the setting sun. Through the curtain of the undead…Vincent a flash of crimson, accompanied by the laughter of a child.
“Anthony!” He bellowed…his chest aching from the tarmac sprint that had carried him thus far.
“Anthony…it’s me!” He heard laughter in return, and his aching heart soared.
The fence was within reach…the figures in the distance turned white-glazed eyes toward him as they adjusted their broken shuffling to approach the fence. Once more a figure in a red jacket cut through his vision…a split-second of color in a sea of brown and shadows.
The fence would be easy to open from this side…he could do it, “I’m almost there Anthony.” He laughed with the child as he reached out for the heavy lever attached to the metal barrier. The laugher was so loud it was all he heard. The pain in his chest stabbed at his brain.
A sudden blow to his back drove him hard to the concrete — angry hands grabbed at him and dragged him back from the fence. Panic siezed him, “No! Let go! He’s right there!” Tears flowed unchecked once more, “He’s right there for the love of god!” The hands dragged him further from the fence, and Vincent felt his heart racing faster than it ever had before.
A sudden cold shot through his limbs like a supernova thrusting out from his chest. He could taste the tarmac as his face was pressed down, but the pain of his limbs being twisted behind him faded. He vision became wreathed in black as the chill from his heart siezed his limbs and made his breath catch in his throat…he exhaled, and couldn’t draw in the fresh air to replenish his spasming lungs.
Time slowed, and his pain faded to nothing. The black at the edges of his vision slowly closed on the faces that now ringed around him, blurring them beyond recognition. He arced his head back…and beyond the fence he saw a child in a red jacket…frisbee in hand…waiting for him to come and play.
Vincent smiled as he died.
As the handful of guards stood slowly and stepped back from the old man, a shuffling form staggered outside the gate…only half the size of the other ghouls around it. It was fresh zack…and the bloodstains from the bitemark on the child’s shoulder were almost hidden by the bright red of his jacket.
It groaned and, finding no living flesh to consume, turned and dragged itself back into the darkness of the city.