Hope For A Happy Ending
A Zombie Games Short
By Kristen Middleton
“Henry, open the door!” yelled Mary, one of the attendants at the Pine Valley Nursing Home.
“Hold on to your britches!” he answered and then lowered his voice. “Ginny, Barbara Jean - I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to finish this game later. I think we’ve been ousted.”
Ginny threw her cards down on the table. “Oh, phewy. I think I may have gotten a royal flush this time, too. All I needed were two more cards.”
Barbara Jean snorted. “You’ve been saying that all day. The only thing you’ve gotten is down to your brassiere and panties.”
“Ain’t nothing wrong with that,” cackled Henry, as he pushed himself away from the table. “You’re still in mighty fine shape for a woman in her sixties.”
Ginny waved her hand, blushing. “Henry, you know I’m eighty-four, you sweet talkin’ devil, you.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got the figure of a fifty-year old, and these days, fifty is the new forty,” he said, picking her robe off of the floor. As he stood back up, he winced. “Oh, I only wish I could say the same thing about me. This back of mine is giving me a lot of trouble, lately. I may have to ask one of you to give me a massage once I get rid of Mary.”
“Certainly,” said Ginny, smiling up at Henry, who was still a very handsome man at eighty-nine. He kind of reminded her of Clint Eastwood, always wearing a Stetson and a pair of cowboy boots. Of course, with his tall, lanky body, and full set of teeth, he was definitely the best catch at the nursing home.
Barbara Jean smirked. “I’ve heard about you and those massages, Henry. Nancy James told me all about that ‘happy ending’ you were trying to talk her into the last time your back supposedly ‘went out’.”
His watery blue eyes sparkled mischievously. “I don’t rightly recall the ending being happy or what that particularly means, Barbara Jean. Maybe you could explain it later when the two of you return to my room and work out some kinks.”
Barbara Jean rolled her eyes. “Oh, you’re kinky alright-.”
“Henry!” hollered Mary, pounding on the door, much more loudly this time. “Open the damn door. This is serious!”
He sighed. “Oh, hell. Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Ginny, you’d better put some clothes on before Mary somehow pushes that chest away from the door and starts going ninja on us. When she gets riled up, she’s a handful, by golly.”
Barbara Jean, who hadn’t yet lost a hand of poker or an article of clothing, stood up and reached for her cane. “Well, I guess this party is definitely over. Perfect timing, I suppose,” she said looking at her watch. “I think they’re running some old reruns of Matlock on cable, later.”
“Oh, I’ll bring the popcorn to your room and we’ll watch it together,” grinned Ginny, zipping up her housecoat.
“You girls want to help me move that chest out of the way, first?” he asked, walking over to the door. “Before you trade me in for Andy Griffith?”
“Oh, Henry. Andy could never replace you,” said Ginny, eyeing him appraisingly. The man still looked good in Levis. She only wished she would have known him back in the day, when he was still in the rodeo, riding those bulls.
“Speak for yourself,” said Barbara Jean. “Back in the day, nothing beat a bottle of Chardonnay, a Matlock marathon, and my B.O.B.” She sighed. “Boy do I miss those days.”
“What’s that, you say?” asked Henry. “B.O.B?”
Ginny giggled. “She means her 'battery operated boyfriend'.”
His eyebrows shot up. "Is that right?"
“Henry! Please,” yelled Mary, her voice frantic.
“Hold tight,” said Henry as he and Ginny began pushing the chest away from the doorway. Unfortunately, the staff had removed the lock on his door after he’d gotten his hand slapped for a few minor escapades, like the naked pillow party he’d inspired the week before after his grandson’s visit. Tiny had slipped him a bottle of his favorite bourbon. After sharing it with a couple of his friends, both female, they’d all gotten giggly and a little frisky, tossing more than just pillows. Now, the staff made it a habit to check up on him throughout the day. It didn’t stop Henry from doing what he wanted, however. Nothing was going to keep him from enjoying his last days above ground.
Mary burst through the door with a frightened look on her face. She slammed it shut and then motioned towards the oak chest. “Henry, hurry up,” she said. “We’ve got to block this door.”
Henry smiled. “Oh, why didn’t you just say you wanted to join in the fun? Hell, Ginny, take off your robe again. We’ve got us some more hands to play.”
Mary, who Henry swore was the spitting image of Paula Deen before she stopped eating fried foods, shook her head vehemently. “This isn’t a time for jokes, Henry. Something is happening. Something horrible!”
“Calm down,” he said, raising his hands in the air. “Or you’re going to hyperventilate, Mary.”
A loud thud on the outside of the door made her cry out. “Oh my God!” she shrieked. “They’ve gotten to this floor, already! Help me hold them off!”
“What in tarnation is going on? Who has gotten in?” he asked as she put her weight against the door.
“Dead people!” she cried.
“It’s a nursing home,” said Henry. “Obviously, some of us are close to death, but that’s what old age does, Mary. It drains us of our youth and leaves us shells of what we used to be. It’s part of life. Now, you of all people should know that. You’ve been working here long enough.”
“No! I mean zombies. Dead people that shouldn’t be walking!”
Ginny’s face turned white. “What?” she asked, covering her mouth. “What are you talking about?”
Another loud thud made them all jump.
“Help me!” pleaded Mary, as the door handle began to jiggle.
Henry rushed over to help as the door shuddered against Mary’s weight. Leaning against it, they stared at each other in stunned silence until a low, guttural moan broke it.
“Did…did you hear that?” whispered Barbara Jean.
“What?” asked Ginny.
“Turn your hearing-aid up!” hollered Henry.
Something began snarling loudly outside of the door.
“Good going,” said Mary. “They can hear you. They can probably smell you, too.”
Barbara Jean smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I think I may have peed a little. That last growl caught me off guard. Scared the hell out of me, and then some.”
“It’s okay, Barbara Jean,” said Henry. “It happens to the best of us.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Ginny, ringing her hands.
“I know one thing- we can’t let them trap us in this little room. Whoever these people are, they’ll get through, eventually. We’ve got to make a run for it,” answered Henry.
“Are there a lot of them?” asked Barbara Jean.
“Yes,” said Mary. "Too many to count."
“How did this happen?” asked Henry. “Do you know where they came from?”
Mary shook her head. “No. Some soldiers came to the nursing home earlier and said to keep everyone inside. Said there were some riots going on downtown. That’s the last I heard until a group of crazed, dead people wandered into the entrance and began attacking everyone in sight. Biting, scratching… God, it was horrible.”
“You’re sure they’re dead people?” asked Barbara Jean.
“Sure as we’re still alive.”
“Well, what’s happened to the others? Maggie, Jeff, Betty? All of the other residents?” asked Henry.
“Most of them have been sick with the flu,” she said, blinking back tears. “Oh, Henry… I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. I just ran to your room. To make sure you were okay.”
“Thanks Mary,” said Henry, squeezing her shoulder. “You’re a mighty good woman.”
The zombie, or whatever it was on the other side of the door, made a crazed screeching noise and began scratching and clawing at the door. This was followed by growling from a second creature, apparently now joining in the fun.
“Give me your cane, Barbara Jean,” said Henry.
“Because, as soon as we open this door, I’m going to kill me some zombies,” he said grimly. “Just be prepared.”
She snorted. “Right. You’re going to kill someone.”
“I’m serious. We’ve got to get out of here and it’s the only way. Now, give me your cane.”
Barbara Jean sighed and handed it to him. “Fine. Just don’t break it. It’s my favorite.”
“If I break it, I’ll buy you a new one.”
“You break it, you get me your grandson’s autograph,” she smiled. “Love me a picture of Tiny in his speedos.”
“The wrestler?” asked Ginny.
“The one and only,” she replied.
“I think the zombies are gone,” whispered Mary, listening against the door. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Only one way to find out,” replied Henry. “Open the door.”
Mary’s eyes widened. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“We have to make our escape. There’s no other way.”
She bit her lower lip. “Okay. I’ll go first.”
Henry stared at her in surprise. “You?”
“Obviously, I’m the youngest and the most agile.”
His lips tightened. “I may look older than dirt, but there is no way in hell I’m letting you go first. Just cause I’m living in this place doesn’t mean I’m no longer capable of being man. Now, you open that door so that I can get you ladies to safety.”
After a long pause, she relented. “Fine.”
Henry opened the door.
“Oh my God,” gasped Ginny as they stared in terror at the horrifying scene in front of them. Two mottled, disfigured men were lying on top of another resident, chewing on pieces of what was surely, the man’s intestines.
“Is that Ben Smith?” asked Barbara Jean, her voice strangled.
“Looks like it might have been,” mumbled Henry.
The two zombies ignored them and continued to tear into their victim, who stared up at the ceiling, mercifully, with lifeless eyes.
“Let’s go,” said Henry, holding the cane in front of them as they moved away from the gruesome scene.
“Someone’s coming,” whispered Ginny as she pointed down the hallway to something moving in the shadows.
“It’s Lizzy,” sighed Mary in relief.
“It was Lizzy,” mumbled Henry as the woman, now obviously a zombie, shuffled out of the darkness, and towards them with a look of glee. Before she could get too close, Henry raised the cane towards her. “You stop, right there.”
Instead of obeying, Lizzy lurched towards him, her hands outstretched. Before she could reach Henry, who was in the front, he hit her in the stomach with the cane.
“That’s not nice, Henry,” said Barbara Jean, stepping around him. “She was a nice woman.”
“Was, Barbara Jean, was,” sighed Mary.
With a growl, Lizzy lunged at Barbara Jean and they both toppled to the ground.
“No!” screamed Ginny, rushing towards them as Henry and Mary stared in shock. Ginny grabbed Lizzy’s arm but instead of releasing Barbara Jean, the zombie turned around and bit her on the top of her hand, tearing off a chunk of skin. She made a guttural moan and began chewing, a satisfied grin on her face while Ginny howled in pain.
Henry sprang into action, hitting the dead woman in the head as hard as he could with the cane.
Stunned, the zombie fell to the side.
“Ginny? Are you okay?” he asked, pulling her away from the creature.
“It hurts,” she moaned. “Feels like someone threw acid on my hand.”
Lizzy, who’d obviously recovered, let out a screech and crawled towards Barbara Jean, who was still sobbing hysterically, on the floor.
Swearing, Henry raised the cane, hitting the creature on the head several more times, until she finally stopped moving.
“You okay Barbara Jean?” he asked, pulling her up off the ground.
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m fine.”
Mary grabbed Ginny’s hand and examined it. “This looks bad. God, you poor thing! We’d better find you a bandage and some peroxide.”
Ginny tried to swallow, but found it was difficult. Her entire mouth was dry and her tongue felt thick. “I feel so warm and…I just…”
“Watch out!” screamed Barbara Jean, backing away.
The two other zombies, who’d obviously finished feeding on Ben, were already upon them. Before anyone could react, one of the creatures grabbed Barbara Jean, tearing into her cheek with its teeth while the second, reached for Mary, who screamed at the top of her lungs.
“No!” hollered Henry, raising the cane, towards Mary’s attacker. He slammed it into the back of the zombie’s head and it dropped to the floor.
“Oh, no….Barbara Jean!” gasped Mary.
Henry turned back towards the woman, who was already dead from the glazed look in her eyes. The zombie was greedily attacking her bloody neck with vigor, ripping and tearing at her skin with teeth and fingers.
“Lord… have mercy,” choked Mary, backing away.
Horrified, but sensing that Barbara Jean was beyond help, he grabbed Ginny’s good hand. “Come on, Ginny. We have to get out of here.”
Instead of obeying, she fell to her knees. “I…I have to lie down,” she whispered breathlessly.
“No. Get up! I can’t carry you, woman. Not after that hip replacement last year. You’ve got to get up!”
She shook her head. “It’s okay. You know…I’m just going to take a little nap.”
Tears filled Henry’s eyes. “Mary, you have to help me lift her.”
Mary nodded, but before she could move, two more zombies turned down the hallway and began staggering towards them.
“Forget leaving the building. Let’s get her back into my room,” said Henry.
“Yes, quickly,” agreed Mary.
They pulled Ginny up and grabbed her around the waist, when the other zombie, who was snacking on Barbara Jean, decided to intervene. It grabbed Ginny’s housecoat from behind and bit her on the back of the leg.
“Henry!” she cried out, as the zombie ripped a piece of skin from her leg. Blood gushed out of the wound and she fainted in their arms.
“Damn you to hell,” snarled Henry, glaring at the zombie as they tried pulling Ginny out of its reach.
But the zombie wasn’t finished yet. It got on its feet and then lunged towards her, biting Ginny on the back of her neck, its teeth gnashing and tearing at her skin.
Mary screamed in horror and released Ginny, who toppled to the ground.
Henry turned around, raised his boot and kicked the zombie in the pelvis with his boot.
The monster fell backwards, but instead of lying still, it quickly crawled towards Ginny, viciously biting and tearing into an exposed thigh.
“Ginny!” cried Henry.
“Watch out, Henry!” gasped Mary as the two other zombies arrived, joining the one on the ground feeding on Ginny.
Henry, horrified and defeated, turned to Mary. “We have to get to Neil’s room. He has a gun. I almost forgot!”
“He does? How in the hell did he hide it?”
“In his guitar case,” said Henry, grabbing her hand. “I’m surprised nobody noticed when there was never any music coming from his room.”
“This is insane,” moaned Mary, taking on last glance at the two older women who’d been alive and playing strip poker less than five minutes ago.
“Try to focus on getting out of here,” mumbled Henry, wiping a tear from his cheek. “Can’t help them now.”
They raced towards the elevator and found it wasn’t working.
“The electricity must be out in the entire building,” said Mary, pushing the button several times. “I thought it was just a fuse or something.”
“The stairs,” he pointed to the stairwell. “No other choice.”
“At least Neil’s room is on the main floor. Let’s go.”
They went down two flights until they reached the main floor.
“There were several zombies on this floor, the last time I checked,” she whispered as they stood outside of the doorway.
“Let’s hope they’ve scattered.”
Fortunately, there weren’t any zombies when they opened the metal door and glanced down the hallway.
“Let’s go,” said Henry, pulling her out of the stairwell.
They snuck down the hallway and rounded the corner, when Mary sucked in her breath. “Zombie.”
“Oh, hell,” sighed Henry, recognizing the man whose gun they were about to borrow. “It’s Neil.”
They watched as zombie Neil shuffled down the hallway, away from them. When he rounded the other corner, Henry and Mary made a run for it, rushing to his room and slamming the door.
“Dammit,” groaned Henry, limping. “These hips aren’t made for speed anymore, Mary.”
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking concerned.
His eyes twinkled. “Well...nothing a little T.L.C. couldn’t cure. Unfortunately, there’s no time for that. If we make it out of here alive…”
“If we make it out of here alive,” she said. “I’ll massage your hip and even let you cop a feel. This time I won’t even slap your hand away.”
He grinned, remembering the last time he’d tried touching one of her breasts. She’d cussed him out, but there was something in her eyes that told him she’d been a little flattered. Angry, but flattered. “Oh, you’ve just given me something else to live for, by golly. We’re getting out of this place- you can count on it, Mary. I won’t let you down.”
“Good. Now, let’s find a gun and get the hell out of here. I don’t understand why there hasn’t been anyone out here to help us?”
“It’s the zombie apocalypse, Mary. I told you it would happen someday.”
She nodded solemnly. “Yes, you did. As crazy as it sounds, you might not be too far off. I’ve heard rumors….Anyway, I’ve tried calling nine-one-one, and they aren’t even answering. That right there tells me, things are bad all over.”
Henry shuffled over to Neil’s closet and opened it. Finding the guitar case, he pulled it out and set it on the ground. “Well,” he said, opening up the case. “We have a couple things on our side.”
“What?” she asked, kneeling down next to him.
He pulled out the gun. “A loaded rifle,” he said, checking it and nodding. “Some extra bullets… and us still breathing. I call that pretty damn lucky.”
“I never thought I’d be happy to see a gun in a retirement home. But as far as I’m concerned, this is a gift from God.”
He snorted. “Well, I doubt God had anything to do with this, Mary.”
“No, but if you had died and I’d have never known about this gun…”
“Can’t argue with you there. That means I’m the gift, though Mary, not the gun.” He grinned lecherously. “Feel free to unwrap me later, if you’d like.”
She shook her head. “You just never give up, do you?”
His face became serious. “Laughter gives me hope, Mary. If I can still make you laugh, then there’s hope.”
She patted his arm. “I understand. Now, let’s gather some things and then drive to my house.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
She stood up. “Um, Henry?”
“You ever fire a gun before?”
He stood up. “Damn tootin’, I’ve fired a gun! Now, my eyes aren’t what they used to be, but I can still shoot.”
“Okay. I just had to ask.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. And Mary?”
She looked up into his eyes. “Yes, Henry?”
“I want you to know that I appreciate you coming for me. You risked your life to save mine and I’ll be forever grateful.”
“Of course, Henry. I’d do it again. You and I have become really good friends. There is no way I’d leave you behind.”
“Same goes here. Now, let’s saddle up and get out of Dodge. Something tells me we have a dangerous ride ahead of us, Mary. That what we’ve just seen here is nothing compared to what we’re going to be involved with later.”
“You think it’s worse out there? That it’ll be even more dangerous”
“Damn right I do.”
“Then…why are we leaving?”
“We have no other choice,” he replied, staring off into space. “And, something tells me…we’re needed somewhere else. I don’t know how or why, but I feel it in these old, rickety bones.”
He turned back to her. “That reminds me- I need to get something for the trip. Something back in my room.”
“It might be too dangerous, going back up there.”
“I need my pills, Mary. You forget, I’m almost ninety.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “What pills? You’re the only one here not on pills.”
“Just some vitamins, to keep me going strong.”
“Well…okay. If they mean that much to you.”
As they walked towards the doorway, she reached into her pocket. “I almost forgot…I took the bus today, but I found someone’s car keys on the ground when I was running to your room.”
He reached for them. “Oh, Cadillac. Good going.”
“I think they’re Lizzy’s,” she said somberly. “That poor woman.”
He nodded. “Well, she certainly won’t be needing them anymore.”
As they stood next to each other by the doorway, he turned to her and cleared his throat. “It’s just us now, Mary. I can’t promise you that we’ll make it out of here alive, but I can promise that I’ll fight tooth-and-nail to keep you as safe as an old cowboy, like me, can.”
She smiled. “I know, Henry.”
“Do you believe in happy endings, Mary?”
“I’d like to think so.”
“Happy endings come in many shapes and forms. If I die tomorrow, the fact that you came to my room when all of this was happening, that for me isn’t just a happy ending, it’s a chance for me to pay you back.”
“Oh, Henry…you don’t need to pay me back.”
“Believe me, Mary. There isn’t anyone who can give you a happier ending like old Henry can.”
She stared at the shit-eating grin on his face and smiled in disbelief. “You are one sick individual, Henry. Nancy James told me all about your happy endings.”
He winked. “I made you smile, though, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you certainly did.”
“Like I said before, smiles mean hope, Mary. It keeps us all going.”
She touched his cheek. “That it does, Henry. That it does.”
To read more about Henry and Mary, you’ll need to read Zombie Games Two (Running Wild). Book one of Zombie Games- Origins - is always free on most ebook stores.