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Have You Heard The News? (That You're Dead)

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His head hurt. That was the first thought he could remember having. The only thought he could remember having for a very long time. Because it really hurt. His one functional eye took in a hazy sky painted pink with the sunset, the other a mass of swollen agony. He didn't know it was possible to hurt this much. Slowly, like a drop of water sliding down the side of a glass, other thoughts came to him. He hurt, but why did he hurt? Where was he? How did he get here?

Moving, as it turned out, somehow hurt more. A hoarse, gasping growl forced it's way past his teeth as he flipped himself onto his stomach. The still sun-hot asphalt dug into his hands. He couldn't stay here. As much as it hurt there was something telling him to run. Get away. Escape. Fly.

He'd flown before. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop and screaming with the wind on his face. It wasn't true flight, but that's what they'd called it. Him and- There had been others with him when he flew hadn't there? Not always, but usually. He could remember a strong, calloused hand hauling him up over the side of a fence. A laughing woman teasing him about his form. Angry police screaming at them below to stop.

Why couldn't he remember who that was?

He managed to push himself as far as his knees before his arms gave out. They ached nearly as bad as his head. Everything hurt. Even so much as thinking about how much it hurt sent spikes of pain through his limbs. That seemed like a design flaw, IGN score 0/10, pain response is bullshit .

"C'mon get up." He whispered encouragement to himself. "C'mon you gotta get out of here. You got this-" what was his name again?

Stong? He remembered being called Stong. Sitting around a table with people. A lot of people. Six? At least? The clicking of hard plastic dice against each other as they rolled across the cheap Ikea table. Tiny, badly painted figurines on a massive grid of squares. Rusting papers and laughing. They called him Stong then, but they also called him something else. They all had two names at the table. And he'd forgotten every last one of them.

Somehow he felt he should be more worried about it than he was. A name was pretty fucking important.  Could you forget your name from a concussion? He didn't think so but if he forgot his name who knew what else he'd forgotten. Stong then. Stong for now. Until he remembered a better one.

Take two, get up and find out why you're laying in the street Stong. Get your elbows under you. Now your knees. And UP.

He heaved himself up into a hunched stagger, managed two wobbling steps, and his legs gave out. He fell into a crouched position on all fours. It was surprisingly less painful than he expected. Humiliating, sure, but less painful. And if he was being honest he'd take less pain over any shred of dignity he might have still had.

Step one was half a success. He squinted into the growing dark around him. How long had he taken to get up? The sun had fallen behind a ridge of tall buildings and night was quickly approaching. Around him people moved, shuffling mindlessly to and fro in a horde of bodies. Moving around him and keeping a distance from the massive deformed corpse of one of those horrible, oversized steroid monsters to his left.

Oh right.

Zombies.

That would have been important to remember. It would explain the muted sounds of moaning and the stench of blood stuck up his nose. Wait, no, his nose was bleeding. If it was broken again he was going to scream. ... Again? Yeah again felt right.

He would have to get around them. There should be a medkit around in one of the storefronts he could make out across the street. If they hadn't all been plundered. There'd been a pretty beefy medkit where he'd worked. Couldn't remember his name or what his job was but he could remember dropping a lot of fancy medical supplies while hunting for aspirin once upon a hangover. His left eye still refused to open and his right was barely focusing. He needed to do something about that. He couldn't fight off the zombies like this, even if he could find a weapon. If one of the weird mutated ones showed up he was boned.

Stong crawled passed the hoard of the not-quite-dead, the four legged stance he'd adopted feeling surprisingly natural. Either they were very stupid and thought he was a dog or he looked as dead as he felt. He wasn't quite willing to put his money on the first option.

The shop he dragged himself to seemed promising. A little antique/pawn operation from what he could read of the sun faded sign above the door. The windows were large and somehow unbroken, still displaying all assortments of junk. Well, one man's trash is another man's bludgeoning weapon. The door was easily shimmied open, the small bells tinkling quietly enough not to attract any attention.

The interior was cold , at least in comparison to the lingering Georgia late summer heat outside. The industrial size fan, labeled for sale for $300, would keep spinning until the power grid went down no doubt. There was no one else left to turn it off and Stong didn’t feel like electrocuting himself trying to figure it out. Slinking past the fan and into the labyrinth of old TVs, long forgotten memorabilia, and definitely haunted furniture, he searched for an office or some kind of back room. Medical stuff was usually kept in offices, right? Find a medkit. Then maybe a mirror to fix yourself up in. Shouldn’t be too hard.

The back room was a cluttered little space tucked behind a glass case of extremely outdated electronics. How the previous owner had found anything in the mess of paperwork and knick knacks not even God could have known. The windowless room was somehow even colder, Stong found himself shivering despite the hoodie he wore. Or maybe that was just the six thousand tiny porcelain clowns staring at him from every available surface.

The medkit was a simple red cloth bag tucked underneath the desk. Inside wasn't much, a half full box of bandaids, a small roll of gauze, a single packet of burn cream, and a mostly empty bottle of Advil. "Jackpot." Stong downed four pills before stopping to think if it was actually safe to take that many. Oh well, if it isn’t then the zombies aren’t my problem anymore .

He pulled himself up to collapse into the office chair. It wasn't the most comfortable thing but getting off his feet felt almost like heaven. The deep ache pulsing through his tired limbs was already starting to fade. How long had he been running from the zombies before that big fuck had concussed him? This felt too much like the running exhaustion he got the first few times he flew to be blunt force trauma. He wasn't sure why he was so positive about that. Of all the stupid little things that stood out in his scrambled memory why did old pain have to be such a prominent one?

"Can't just sit here." He mumbled, making no move to get up. The scratchy old leather creaked as he leaned his head back. "Gotta… find a mirror. Bandage up." But how exhausting that would be. What little energy he'd managed to wring from the zombie fueled adrenaline spike was quickly fading.

I'm gonna bleed out in some shitty clown room. He thought, desperately willing himself to get up. I don't even get to be killed by the clowns. This sucks.

The bright florescent light above his head flickered and buzzed, wavering in and out of focus as his eyes- eye- filled with tears. It wasn't fair. He couldn't even remember a name to be buried under. Not that people were in the business of burying anyone anymore. He didn't want to be yet another John Doe burned with whatever was left of the city when the zombies finally got cleared out. He couldn't bring himself to move, write some dying letter on the back of an invoice, 'my name might have been stong idk please dont burn me lol'. He wheezed out a laugh. Maybe it'd get a chuckle out of whoever found his corpse. He wished he could bring himself to write it.

---

Stong pulled himself from unconsciousness like a man wading in quicksand would pull a boot free. Waking up, somehow not dead if the throbbing of his head was anything to go by, was as much of a surprise the second time. He was immortal, he reasoned, there was no other option.

No longer feeling like a pile of ground meat with noodles for limbs, he took the chance to stretch. Should he be concerned his joints sounded like firecrackers? Probably not, he was… 25? at least? 30? maybe closer to 35? Ah fuck who cared, he wasn't young and having pop rocks for bones was normal enough. The dried blood crusted on his face was really starting to itch. There was a vending machine out in the store, he'd have to see if it had any bottled water. Or a bathroom, bathroom would be nice too.

His hands ached, like his skin was stretched too tight. The burning you-ran-too-hard-dumbass feeling in his legs refused to let up. But he was up. He was moving. He was still alive. That’s all that matters. The cold in the office had eased a bit, leaving him feeling slightly too warm. He’d live, he was the one running around in winter clothes when fall hadn’t even really started yet. It was comforting and he’d fight anyone who tried to tell him he was wrong for it. A shiver ran down his spine, sending his body aching and his head spinning. The bleeding had stopped, mostly, but he had still managed to lose a lot of it. Evidence of that was painted all over the floor. It was a miracle he’d survived at all.

The store remained as he’d left it, cold, drafty, and packed wall to wall with antique garbage. By what little he could see of outside through the cluttered windows it looked to be night. He’d only been out a few hours. He stalked through the store, balancing on the balls of his feet and holding his hands close to his chest. There didn’t seem to be a bathroom, public or not. There weren’t any mirrors either. But the cash register was old and easily cracked open and the $1.50 water bottles were fully stocked. It felt a bit silly paying for them, but hey, it was easier than trying to break into the machine itself.

It was a simple enough task to find himself a bucket to dump all the water in and a small towel with which to wash. Made him feel like a medieval knight. Wait, no. Stong was a medieval knight. He was his level 6 Teifling Paladin that he played as every other Thursday. Stong was not his name it was his Dungeons and Dragons character. Jesus Christ… Well, there goes that name. Still better than calling himself John or Josh or, uh, Jeffr- Jeffrem? That’d be a cool name but it felt like someone else’s. This felt uncomfortably familiar. He hated that feeling.

Shaking his head, he pushed the thoughts of names and knights to the back of his head. He had to get this taken care of, no more distractions. The blank screen of an old TV would have to do for his reflection. It didn’t give him nearly enough detail but it did give him a vague idea. It- it didn’t look good . The side of his face was a mass of still slowly oozing blood. Cleaning the dried flakes from his nose and mouth and slowly working his way up, it didn’t start looking any better. The agony of touching anywhere near where his eye should have been kept him from investigating too far, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t be salvageable.

“If this doesn’t at least give me a cool scar i’m gonna...” something. He’d do something. Probably break a window or something. Petty vandalism was always the best way to deal with your emotions. For now, he settled with wrapping the gauze around his head to cover the wound.

There was still the matter of the rest of his body. He looked down at the hoodie and sighed. Train now departing for pain station, all aboard! He wished he had a clock, and also knew how long ago he took those pain pills.

Maneuvering his aching body out of the fabric without ripping it was an achievement, but he did it. The thick blue fabric was resilient as all hell. Faded and old, but it stood up to his strangely sharp nails no problem. He wasn’t about to try and force it any time soon, it was his ONLY warm clothes and finding more duct tape to compress another jacket how he liked sounded like hell. On the inside of the collar was thick black sharpie, faded with age but still mostly legible. “B”, a letter that could be either “a” or “e”, two letters that looked like badly written “r”s or “n”s, and spaced out a bit further, a “y”. Berny? Banry? Benry? Benry! That was his name! If it was written in his hoodie it had to be!

Next came the pants, already torn at the knees and cuffs he didn’t bother being quite as gentle. Standing in the store with only his shoes and boxers on wasn’t as weird as he’d first feared, but it was certainly the weirdest thing he could remember doing. Not that that counted for much. Aside from a few dark bruises along his ribs and angry red sores forming where the tape keeping his clothes under control dug in, there wasn’t much damage. Easily covered by bandages or ignored. He was either very lucky or very unlucky and he wasn’t quite sure of which yet.

Benry took his time to redress, his muscles complaining the whole way. There was no way he was going out into the dark just yet and if the zombies hadn’t found him by now there was a good chance he’d be fine in here til morning. He cleared out the cash register and bought all the snacks he could safely shove into the mostly empty medical bag, no use wasting storage, as well as what was going to have to pass for dinner. Twinkies, Doritos, an off brand sleeve of those little doughnuts, and a nice cold can of Mountain Dew. The dinner of champions. There were plenty of old wooden chairs and tables he’d be able to break to get himself a weapon. In the morning he’d grab something nice a pointy and head out. He had to figure out where exactly he was and find some way away from the hoards. They’d stop ignoring him eventually and he had to be ready for that. Get used to bashing in their heads with only one eye to work with. He was gonna live through this.

He had to. There was someone waiting for him. He just knew it.