The Actuals: Book Seven of the Oz Chronicles – Chapter Three


vlcsnap-2013-05-29-17h27m00s83A little skinner dead gore for you on this Friday morn!

Three

I fell asleep in the cupcake shop.  I’m not sure how long I was out, but by the time I woke up, Milly and Mike were long gone.  The lousy monkey left the empty Tupperware container on the floor right next to me.  I could almost see that little primate-punk’s big ugly grin as I kicked the container away and slowly stood up. 

The skinner dead dudes were gone, too.  I left the store feeling confused by what had happened inside.  There were so many questions I didn’t ask. The most important being who the hell was the ‘they’ that sent Milly to find me?  And while I argued with her at the time, she was right, I didn’t have any value at all.  Why they wanted me was a question even I couldn’t answer.  

Beyond the who and the why, I also wondered how she was so normal looking. She didn’t look half-dead or dirty like any of The Actuals.   Plus, she had all her teeth. It made me more than a little bit angry to learn that they’re folks out there that don’t get a tooth plucked from their heads for getting out of line.  Maybe Cutter’s leadership tactics where even more unreasonable than I had already thought them to be.

I rounded the corner two blocks from the Whole Foods and stopped at the sight of two skinner dead tearing into some poor chump on the sidewalk.  Whoever they were stooped over was flopping around like a snake on a hot skillet.  The gurgling sound he made was almost drowned out by the sounds of them chewing away on the bloody goo they were pulling out of his guts.

They hadn’t spotted me, so I backed away as quietly as I could and hid myself behind a package store drop-off box.  It was sickening to listen to the dead dudes chowing down on the poor guy.  I wish I could say it was because I felt bad for him.  I did, kind of.  Mostly I felt like it was a waste that the dead dudes were eating a perfectly good meal instead of me.  

I cowered down behind the drop-box and waited for the skinner dead to get their fill and move on.  A few minutes passed before I heard a sound next to me. I turned and nearly swallowed my tongue when I saw Cutter staring down at me.  He eyes were bloodshot and appeared to be bulging out of their sockets.  His jaw line rippled as he clinched his back teeth together.  Before walking off, he shook his head in disgust.

He moved in front of the drop-box, crouched slightly, extended his arms out, and grinned like a madman.  His right hand was wrapped around his only weapon, a ten-inch hunting knife. 

“Gentlemen,” Cutter said, even though it was impossible to tell if the skinner dead were male or female.  “Do you have a permit to eat in my town?”

I looked at him like he had lost his mind. 

The two skinner dead didn’t hear him.

“Gentlemen, I asked if you have a permit to eat in my town,” he said louder.

One of the skinner dead finally looked in his direction.  It seemed as puzzled as I was by Cutter’s question.  It clicked its teeth together and hissed.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to cease what you’re doing ASAP, and introduce yourself to my weapon of choice for this evening.” 

The other skinner dead turned.  Its ear was still covered in skin and I could see a long fancy earring hanging from it. 

“That’s it.  Come this way.” He stepped over to the drop-box.  “Come over here.  See the coward hiding in the dark like a useless child.”

I grimaced because I had put myself in a no-win situation.  If Cutter killed the skinner dead, I would be next.  If they killed him, they’d be fighting over my liver before I took my last breath.  Running wasn’t an option because I was pretty sure, Cutter was going to win, and he’d just make my death that much more painful. 

I stood with Chewy on my shoulder ready to take a swing.  The thought of bashing Cutter square in the back ran through my mind, but if I didn’t kill him… I didn’t want to even think about what he’d do to me.  So, I did the only thing I could do.  I ran past him and slammed Chewy into the chest of the first skinner dead I came to.  The sound of its ribs breaking on impact bolstered my confidence. 

That confidence was quickly shattered when I couldn’t free the nails from the skinner dead’s torso.  I jerked and pulled on Chewy while the ugly dead dude reached for me and snapped its jaws.  The other one stumbled around and tried to reach for me, too, but thankfully it wasn’t coordinated enough to get around its buddy.

“You want to live, 17, you’ll kill ’em both,” Cutter said.

I gave Chewy another yank and lost my balance when the nails worked their way free.  I managed to keep my feet. 

“Don’t waste your at-bats,” Cutter said as he turned back in the direction he had come.  “Bash the freaks on the head until there’s nothing left but a stump.” He kept walking without ever looking back at me. “Should you prevail, bring me proof of victory.” With that, he turned up a back alley out of sight. 

I didn’t have time to hate him for leaving me to die because one of the skinner dead grabbed Chewy and impaled its hand on the nails.  It took all my strength to keep hold of the bat. 

“Get off!” I screamed. 

The other skinner dead tripped over the feet of its skinless friend and crashed face first to the ground.  When it lifted its head up, a number of teeth remained on the concrete sidewalk. 

I twisted and pulled on Chewy until the skinner dead’s hand ripped in half.  The bat free I swung it wildly and just by luck clobbered the one still standing in the head.  All that managed to do was to get Chewy stuck once again. Only this time I lost my grip when the dead dude jerked its head back.

Before I could reach for my weapon, I heard a thwack and grunt.   The skinner dead on the ground suddenly had an arrow through its cheek.  A screech came from across the street, and I watched wide-eyed as Mike bounded across the paved road.  Before I knew what was happening, the baboon grabbed the shaft of the arrow and twisted with such force I heard the skinner dead’s decaying neck muscles tear. 

Another arrow flew out of the darkness and struck the other skinner dead in the eye.  Milly walked out of the darkness reloading her crossbow.  In a matter of seconds, an arrow was cocked and ready to fire. She placed this one in its knee. 

Mike continued to turn the other dead dude’s head.  I could hear the bones in the neck breaking.

“Cannibal,” Milly said.

I gave her a confused look. 

“I’m going to take the other knee out. Once that thing is on the ground, grab that bat of yours and turn its head until it pops off.”

I didn’t respond.

“You hear me?  I can’t help you if you’re just going stand there like an idiot.”

I forced myself to nod even though I wasn’t exactly sure I could do what she wanted done.

As promised she fired and the arrow actually sliced off the dead dude’s knee cap.  It fell backwards to the ground, and I stomped forward, took a hold of Chewy and jerked.  To my surprise, I was able to raise the bat over my head. Half the skinner dead’s skull was now stuck on the end of my bat. 

“Swing away, cannibal,” Milly said.

I turned her way.

“With the bat, moron.  Hit the skinless dead guy with it.  In the head.”

My mind was completely fogged out.  I heard what she said, but I couldn’t put the actions together in my brain to make it happen. 

She rolled her eyes and took Chewy from me.  The skinner dead’s head was nothing but chunks of crud by the time she was done with it. 

Mike had successfully twisted the other dead dude’s neck to the point that it no longer supported the head set on top of it. 

Milly handed the bat back to me.  “I thought The Actuals were supposed to be bad asses.”

I shrugged.  “Just had an off night.”

She smirked and walked over to the chump the skinner dead had been eating.  “Friend of yours?” she asked.

I joined her and squinted to see through the blood that covered the guy’s face.  Spying his tattoo, I said, “Number 5.”

“You don’t seem too broken up about it.”

“Didn’t know him that well.  Treated highers like crap.”

“Highers?”

I pointed to my forehead.  “Higher numbers.  It’s a seniority thing.” I chuckled. “I guess that makes me twelfth in line now.”   

“In line for what?”

Shaking my head, I said, “Nobody knows.” I turned to the skinner dead. The one with the broken neck crawled around on its hands and knees with its head dangling down, swaying back and forth as it moved around aimlessly.  “I got to get some trophies off those things to bring back to Cutter.”

“Take their hearts,” she said kneeling down next to number 5.

“Hearts? Why?”

“Because I know men like Cutter. He’ll appreciate the symbolism.”

“Symbolism?”

“It means imagery…”

“I know what it means.  I’m not that stupid.  I just don’t know what the hearts are symbolic of.”

“Take him a thumb or an ear, and he’ll toss it aside and forget all about it two seconds later. Take him their tickers, and he’ll never forget you brought him the heart of his enemy.”  She pulled a knife out from her boot.

“What are you doing?”

“Never pass up a good pair of hands.”  She twisted number 5’s wrist and started to remove his left hand.

I watched her for a few seconds before saying, “I have no idea what that means?”

Looking up, she answered, “You will.”

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