This previously released short story has been featured in installments over the last few weeks in celebration of the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour. The story features characters from my Zombie Lockup Series. Reading this story will not ruin the series for anyone. Check out the newest offering, Caged 3, available on Amazon. Grip the prison bars and enjoy…Caged Barbarians.
Caged Barbarians – Part 3
He tightened the helmet strap beneath his chin and adjusted the visor. Jack felt better protected now that he had “won” the gear, according to Warden Gorgon. He couldn’t help but recall a movie from his teenage years. Jack and his friend, Mikey, had gone to the theater to see Conan the Barbarian. Each time Conan won a pit fight, he was able to add weapons and armor to his battle arsenal. Jack chuckled under his breath. The cage matches he was participating in now were quite similar to the Conan movie. He picked up the baton and rolled it around in his palm. The hickory club would definitely come in handy.
Jack took a deep breath as he heard the mob coming his way. A thundering herd of zombie boots stomped along the cement floor. The echo grew louder as the crowd entered the room. He stared through the iron bars, trying to pick out his new opponent. He knew it would be a tougher fight. Gorgon was humiliated when Jack defeated Crawford. The Warden wouldn’t take another chance. Losing wouldn’t be an option.
The undead mob pressed against the cage, purple and gray arms reached through the bars. If the purpose was to frighten Jack or get inside his mind, then it worked. Jack ignored the pit in his stomach as his eyes searched the throng of tormented faces. The sea of rabid guards parted and a new fighter shuffled toward the cage. Jack’s courage sank once he caught sight of the monster entering the cage.
Jack stared at Swede, or what used to be Swede. His former bunk mate. And one of his best friends in the prison. How could he do this? Gorgon had played his hand well, Jack thought. The Warden figured Jack would struggle to fight his friend, even if he was no longer the same man Jack once knew. And the Warden had guessed right.
Swede towered above Jack from across the cage. The man had been huge and muscular as a human being. With steroids coursing through his system, Swede had become a true beast. Jack wondered why they had outfitted Swede in a prison guard uniform. He figured it was another tactic of mind games, to fight his old friend and see him converted to the other side. Jack felt sorry for Swede. He knew his friend had no control over what the Warden had done to him. Not only was Swede decked out in uniform, he wore a Kevlar vest and helmet too.
The fight started before Jack could finish his thoughts. The cage door slammed shut and Swede charged him with a hobbling limp. Jack tried to use his speed since Swede held the upper hand in size and strength. He dodged the first rush and swung his baton into Swede’s back. It didn’t even faze him. Swede turned to square off again. Jack stared at his eyes. They were black and soulless. He made up his mind to give the creature all he had. The thing that stood before him was no longer Swede. It looked like him, but was now a monstrous rendition of the man he had called a friend.
Jack took the offensive. He sprinted toward Swede. The creature growled, its black tongue trying to sweep the drool from its lips. As he neared Swede, Jack lunged forward as if he were sliding into second base. He angled the baton in order to connect with Swede’s crotch. The club struck the creature’s genitals while it flew over Jack, missing him. Swede crashed into the wall at the back of the cage. Jack rolled over to break his slide. He couldn’t believe what he had seen. The baton strike hadn’t registered any damage. At least, nothing to slow the zombie down. Jack was flustered. If the head and torso are protected, and a solid nut shot didn’t work, then what the hell am I supposed to do? He struggled to answer his own question as Swede charged again.
Jack braced for the impact. He jumped in the air and wrapped his arms and legs around Swede’s enormous body. The pair smashed into the bars. Jack felt lightning bolts shoot up his spine as his back took the brunt of the impact. He held on using a bear hug. He hoped by staying in tight to Swede he might last longer. At least against punches and kicks. But Swede appeared content to just keep smashing Jack’s body into the cage. The undead hands beyond the bars scratched and clawed at him from behind.
He pulled the baton toward himself, hoping to put pressure on the back of Swede’s neck. That portion of the creature’s body was unprotected by helmet or vest. Swede kept slamming him into the cage, continually knocking the wind from his lungs.
“Swede…It’s me…Jack.” The words squeaked out between each crash. It was no use. His old friend showed no recognition of the words or any prior connection. Another tactic confirmed useless. Check. Jack mocked himself.
He drew the baton tighter, pulling it into his own chest through Swede’s neck. The creature’s head bent at a sickening angle. Jack wondered how Swede could breathe when his windpipe was so severely restricted. Then he remembered Swede probably didn’t need to breathe, in the traditional sense. The baton didn’t slow down Swede’s chomping teeth. The jaw worked fervently to gnaw flesh but the angle of Swede’s head prevented a solid bite.
Jack used his legs to dig his heels into Swede’s kidneys. Every few seconds he would slam the heels hard, hoping to loosen Swede’s grip. The creature growled each time, showing its displeasure with Jack’s tactics. The fight had reached a stalemate as both combatants held on to each other. Jack knew he had to end this fight as soon as possible. He was exhausted and struggled to catch his breath. The strength behind his grip had weakened too.
Jack nudged Swede’s visor up with his forehead. The chomping teeth moved closer to his neck. He decided to give the creature a taste of its own medicine. Jack bit down on Swede’s nose. It exploded in a gush of blood inside his mouth. He gave up worrying if he could catch the virus from Swede, because if he didn’t win the fight, his life was over anyway. Swede howled in pain and yanked his head away from Jack’s teeth. The flesh gave way and the nose clipped off in Jack’s mouth. Swede let go of Jack and stumbled backwards, clutching his face. Jack spit the nose out and then spat several more times to rid his mouth of potential pathogens.
While Swede clutched his face, Jack saw the opportunity for action. He rushed at his former friend and swung the baton like he was trying to hit a home run. The club met Swede’s deformed leg with a cracking sound. The previously broken leg gave way as Swede tumbled to the hard cement. Jack pounced on Swede’s chest and poked the end of the baton down hard into Swede’s eye socket. A geyser of vitriolic fluid sprayed to the ceiling, leaving spatter on Jack’s face and chest. Swede screamed a noise that Jack had never heard before. He hoped he would never hear it again. It chilled him to the bone. But he needed to finish the fight.
Jack used the end of the baton like a screwdriver, twisting the club down within the oozing eye socket. It suddenly gave way and the baton sunk into the cranial cavity.
Swede was dead.
Jack kept screwing the baton down even though he knew the fight was over. It took a few seconds for his brain to send the signal to his body which was fully entrenched in battle mode. He didn’t realize he cried as he worked the club. Nor did he hear the deafening silence around him. All the zombie guards froze in place when Jack won.
He leaned down upon the baton and tried to catch his breath. His tears clouded his vision, forcing him to let go of the baton and palm the liquid from his eyes. Jack stood up and stared at all the dead faces. He felt defiant in his victory but halted himself from celebrating. It dawned on him that the Warden might open the gates, allowing the rest of the undead into the battle cage. Or worse, he might force Jack to fight all of them. One at a time.
Jack slumped down to the floor. He removed the helmet and lay back upon the cold floor. The cracks in the ceiling paint reminded him of the zombie flesh. The texture was the same but the gray color was different. Jack hated the color palette within the prison. But today, the grayness was a welcome sight rather than the purpled flesh of the tormentors around him. He cried some more, feeling broken. He had adjusted to prison life over the years and had grown to accept his fate within its walls. Things were different now. And getting worse.
The tears turned to laughter as Jack realized the fight had just begun.
Check out the Zombie Lockup Series on Amazon.