Chapter 2: And Hell Followed With Him

For 8-year old Katey Greene, stepping into the Wonderland Plaza was like stepping into Heaven.

Her mouth fell open in silent awe as she took in the indoor amusement park before her: the Space Rider zooming through the air above her, the giant inflatable rabbits swaying back and forth, the toy houses filled with all sorts of children her age running around...it was all absolutely breathtaking to her.

"Daddy, can I go on the Space Rider before Bebop comes on?" she cried out excitedly in spite of the long line before it.

Chuck looked down to his digital watch to see that it was 1:25 in the afternoon. "Uh, I think that clown should be coming on at any minute now."

As if someone had heard him a voice called out over the loudspeakers.

"Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages! May I have your attention please?" a bombastic voice barked, "Bebop the Clown will be performing in exactly five minutes! Five minutes kiddies and grownups! Get yourselves over to the play land if you wish to get yourselves a front row seat for all the fun and excitement about to take place here in Wonderland Plaza!" the unseen announcer said shouting out the plaza's name before the country western 'muzak' resumed.

"Hurry Daddy! He's gonna start any minute now!" Katey excitedly shouted grabbing her father by the wrist and dragging him towards the play land, a wide open space made up of a small 'village' of brightly-colored houses, a windmill, and the enlarged half of a soccer ball, directly beneath the Space Rider, "C'mon! We need to get a front row seat!" she exclaimed pulling him harder and with surprising strength for a girl of her age.

"Oh great," Chuck muttered to himself, feeling the icy ball of dread forming in the base of his stomach, the one he always got whenever he knew he was entering a tense situation.

"Get a grip Chuck! You're doing this for Katey!" the more logical part of his psyche called out to him, "You're doing this for her-"

His train of thought was abruptly derailed as he walked face first into a mountain of muscle.

Chuck grunted loudly and rubbed his now sore nose, halting himself before he could utter the first curse that came to mind when the clearing of a throat came from above him.

When his eyes opened he found himself staring into a wall of plaid outlined by dark brown. He soon took notice of the two beefy arms at the side and his gaze followed upward to a prominent jaw that looked to be carved from granite and then into the dark eyes of an older man who dwarfed him by a sizable margin. Aside from his phobia of clowns, Chuck Greene had always fashioned himself as someone who could hold his own in a fistfight if necessary, yet this guy could probably have him on his back counting the stars in the blink of an eye and he was likely old enough to be his father!

The nameless man stared down upon him for a few quiet, tense seconds before the corner of his lip curled upwards, "Gotta watch where you're going, son."

"Uh yeah, sorry about that," Chuck replied with a heavy sigh.

"You alright there, kid? You're looking about as nervous as a cat in a room full of pit bulls," the man chuckled, trying to alleviate the tension.

"I'm fine. Really," Chuck muttered looking over to his daughter.

The older man was about to speak when an auburn-haired girl around Katey's age ran up and grabbed him by the hand, "Hurry Grandpa! He'll be on any minute now!"

"Well, good day to you," the man spoke before walking away with his granddaughter.

"Over there Daddy!" Katey said pointing towards the giant soccer ball where the other children were congregating around, "C'mon! We need to get a front row seat!" she said, again displaying her surprising strength as she pulled him eagerly towards it and plopping down next to some chubby kid in the middle of finishing an ice pop.

Chuck felt a little embarrassed sitting in front of a gigantic soccer ball surrounded by a bunch of little kids, knowing he would stick out like a sore thumb to the other parents, but again he had to remind himself that he was doing this for his little girl.

He absentmindedly looked to his right and saw the tall older man also present in the play land reclining against one of the small houses, looking over to him with a smile and giving him an assuring nod. In spite of his imposing appearance, the nameless fellow carried a warm, almost fatherly aura about him that seemed to boost the confidence of those around him and it wasn't long before Chuck found himself returning the gesture.

"What's the most some guy with a face covered in grease paint and some big stupid red nose can do to you?" he asked himself, confidence renewed.

The overhead lights dimmed and a drum roll filled the air before the same painfully cheery announcer called out.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, wayfarers and Willamettans alike! It is that time, time to be entertained by that kooky jokester himself...please give a warm round of applause for Bebop the Clown!"

A cheery carnival tune filled the air and a high-pitched voice soon followed, one that sounded like nails scratching against a chalkboard to the ex-motocross racer.

"Hey-Hey-Hey kiddies! It is I...Bebop the Clown!" the voice called out as a multi-colored blur came rolling into view and twirled like a tornado before coming to a halt directly in front of Chuck, causing him to gasp in sudden fright while the children began cheering wildly, his surge of confidence quickly deflated.

"Who's looking to have fun today?" the clown shouted to his audience as he stood upright, a grown man in a blue, yellow and green costume with different patterns that looked like it had been crudely sewn together, big floppy red shoes that left Chuck amazed he was still able to remain upright, and the same bright red afro and matching nose as seen on the flier, topped off by a tiny black top hat.

A slew of high-pitched voices shouting "I am!" and "Me! Me! Me!" nearly deafened the ex-motocross champ and he shut his eyes and clenched his jaw as a strident laughter came from the clown.

"Well then you've come to the right place!" Bebop shouted again before making a loud hiccuping noise, followed by a cluster of bubbles escaping his throat, causing all of the children and even some of the adults to laugh as Chuck looked down at the carpeted floor holding himself closely.

Belting out a loud 'Yee haw!' the glorified man-child again rolled backwards and performed a graceful back flip, landing atop a beach ball and balancing himself on it with the grace of a feline, rolling around the play area and pulling out some hunting knives to juggle, much to the astonishment of those in attendance, many pulling out their camera phones to snap pictures or record the spectacle taking place.

Eventually he made his way over to the nearby stairs and leaped high into the air, making his way over to the nearby cosmetics kiosk and swiping some of the lipstick props and proceeding to juggle three of them at once, making his way over to a little redheaded girl and giving her an opening to catch one of them. As she caught the prop, the clown quickly swiped another out of the air and gently pressed it against her face, leaving a large pink smudge that left her laughing and begging for more.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that kid ends up having nightmares after this," Chuck thought to himself with a loud sigh as the clown drew his head back and began blowing large balloons and sending them flying all over the plaza, drawing cheers and laughter from his audience before crafting a giraffe out of a blue balloon and presenting it to a little boy sitting on a bench with his mother and then presenting the young woman with a heart-shaped balloon.

"You think that's all kiddies? Well you haven't seen nothing yet!" Bebop called out as he rolled along the floor towards a large storage chest covered in goofy designs and reached inside, tossing out a supposedly one-thousand pound barbell, a pogo stick, a live chicken, and a few other miscellaneous items before pulling out two small blue-handled chainsaws, starting them up and then proceeding to juggle them effortlessly, a stunt which left kids gasping in awe and the adults, Chuck included, gripping their seats in suspense.

A collective gasp of horror rang out as the man tossed both chainsaws high into the air, but then their horror would turn to relief as he caught both of them and clapped at his astonishing feat as he took his bow.

"Daddy, this guy's amazing! Thank you so much for bringing me here!" Chuck heard Katey call out next to him and feeling her arms squeezing around him.

"Well I guess things can't be too bad as long as Katey's enjoying herself," he told himself as the clown rolled backwards and began pushing a large red and blue box wrapped up like a Christmas present towards the center of the floor.

XXXXX

"Hey c'mon, we're gonna be late!" Taylor Nightinggale called out waiting impatiently outside the mens' restroom for his best friend.

"Just a second man," Marvin Horner shouted back stumbling out of the stall and hastily making his way towards the nearest sink to wash his hands. That Stromboli he had eaten was already coming back to haunt him and he knew it was surely going to make them late for that double date they had set up with Rachel and her best friend Jolie. He knew without a shadow of a doubt Taylor would never let him hear the end of it if this were to mess up his chances with Rachel, if his best friend allowed him to make it out of this mall alive that is.

"You said that five minutes ago!" Taylor shouted back, waving a hand in front of him to dissipate the rancid odor emitted by his best friend's notoriously weak bowels.

"I'm so gonna take a bat upside his head if he messes this up," the young man thought to himself.

Rachel Decker was an attractive young woman he had harbored a crush on for the past two years, entranced by her the second she walked into his office building for the very first time, and only recently had he finally gathered the courage to ask her out on a date.

Her best friend Jolie Wu was in town visiting from California and she didn't want her to be lonely, so it was at her insistence it became a double date and he decided to bring along his best friend Marvin, hoping to help him get his mind off of things after his breakup with Sylvia.

"Damn it! I should've asked Rufus to come along instead," he thought while mentally kicking himself. He could only look down forlornly at the picture of Rachel on his phone, taken at last year's office holiday party where she is giving a goofy smile to the camera while wearing a pair of foam reindeer antlers and double fisting two whiskey shots..

"Seriously man, I'm coming this time!" Marvin shouted back while sticking his hands beneath the automatic hand dryer, "I'm com-"

A loud drawn out moan stopped the young man dead in his tracks.

"Marv, if you don't get your poky ass out here this instant, I am going to come in there and shove your head in the toilet the same way-" Taylor shouted just before he was cut off.

"Dude, shut up I hear something!" Marvin called back slowly approaching the stall where he swore the moans came from.

"Oh, what the hell is it now?" Taylor snapped finally making his way into the restroom, only to be halted by his friend raising a hand and shushing him.

"Shh! I think somebody's hurt in there," Marv hissed as he slowly crept towards the stall.

Sure enough, the young man spotted a pool of fresh blood slowly creeping out from underneath the door.

"Call 911!" he shouted back to his best friend and made his way over to the door, finding it slightly ajar and pulling it open.

"Don't worry mister, we're-" Marv was saying just before finding himself tackled to the floor, "What the hell?"

He looked up to find a man in soiled, tattered clothing on top of him bleeding from numerous wounds all over his body. Whoever he was he wasn't sick, no...he looked like he was one of the walking dead with his ashen skin, soulless white eyes and the large portion of his cheek that had been torn away, exposing the withering muscle beneath.

Taylor Nightinggale was in the process of reaching for his cell phone just as the mystery man burst from the stall and tackled his best friend to the floor, clamping his jaws down into the man's collarbone and tearing away a large hunk of flesh.

"Get away from him!" Taylor shouted dropping his phone and rushing over to grab the man by his shoulders, gripping him tightly and pulling him off, tossing him to the floor hard enough he could hear the man's skull cracking open.

It was too late. The damage had been done.

"Oh god, Marv!" he said kneeling down beside his fallen friend, "Speak to me damn it!" he said pressing his hands down hard against the man's fresh wounds, every inch of his exposed skin colored crimson by the blood gushing out like a geyser.

Marvin Horner tried to answer him, but all that could come out was a strained, throaty gurgle. The fear in his brown eyes was all his closest friend since childhood needed to tell him that he knew he wasn't going to make it.

"C'mon man, you've gotta pull through this," Taylor Nightinggale shouted to the dying man, his voice cracking and the tears streaming freely down his face. A more logical side to his mind told him that he knew it was hopeless and that his best friend was going to die right here and now, yet the more idealistic side told him that there could be hope, the hope that somebody else would come through, maybe possessing the medical training necessary to save his friend's life.

It had to be a possibility, couldn't it?

A low moan came from behind him, followed by the same kind of rancid odor which wafted off of his best friend's killer, only amplified by a hundred.

He turned around to see another sick-looking man come staggering into the bathroom, his red and black checkered shirt drenched in the blood of a fresh kill, followed by another gray-skinned man in a tattered black tank top and a green beanie resting atop his head, followed by a police officer, yes a police officer of all people, someone who should have been able to help him, someone who should have been there to arrest the bastard who murdered his best friend. Yet here the cop was, among those creepy people, shambling towards him with ravenous intentions.

"No...not like this...not like this..." Taylor muttered to himself backing away from the flood of sickly people piling into the bathroom, drooling over him as if he were a gigantic steak calling out to them.

"No...this is all some really fucked up nightmare," he grumbled, squeezing his eyes shut and hoping that in the next second he would be waking up in his bed, having experienced the kind of bad dream that would have left him bolting up and crying out for his parents like he had as a child.

And then he felt a sharp stinging sensation in his left calf and looked down to see his best friend in the entire world had somehow come back to life just seconds after having his throat torn into and was tearing into his warm flesh as if he were a midnight snack.

"How can that be?" he asked himself while struggling to free himself from his friend's grasp before feeling a cold hand upon his shoulder and looking up to see the plaid-shirted man pulling him closer towards his chipped yellow teeth and those soulless white eyes...

XXXXX

"Don't scratch the bike. Don't touch the tools in any way shape or form. Don't let anybody else back here, not even my manager. Don't forget the ice for my sodas. Don't forget chump, I'm number one!"

The litany of demands ran through Oscar Dingman's head as he stood guard near the trailer emblazoned with the smiling visage of motocross champion Leon Bell in all of his egotistical glory.

"God I'd love to punch that guy in the face so bad," the security guard told himself with a bitter shrug, "I didn't go to the police academy just to babysit some self-important bastard's toys. I wonder what the hell is taking Dale and Julius so long?"

Oscar sighed aloud before pushing the transmit button to his shoulder-mounted radio and speaking, "Hey Dale, Julius, either one of you there? You were supposed to be here ten minutes ago."

There was a brief pause before Julius Reinke replied, "We're here Oscar. Sorry about leaving you hanging like that, but we found some guy passed out over here outside the North Loading Docks. Dale's working on him as we speak. We gotta wait 'til the ambulance gets here."

"Terrific," he grumbled to himself again staring back to Leon Bell's ear-to-ear grin and feeling his skin crawl. Silently, he hoped the guy they found would be alright. He again pressed the transmit button and spoke, "Understood. I'll wait until you guys get here," he sighed, doing nothing to hide his disgust.

"Yeah, I hear you. I'm not looking forward to babysit that punk either. Believe me, I'll be happy when he's gone," Julius replied when he suddenly heard Dale Kerpan's voice calling out in the background.

"Jules, he's waking up over here! GA-AAARRRRGGGHHHHH!"

Oscar jumped as his colleague's blood-curdling shriek sounded from the other end, "Julius, what's going on over there? Julius? Julius! Answer me dammit!"

"That guy's biting Dale!" Julius called back before shouting to the assailant, "Hey you, get off him!"

"Oh shit," Oscar blurted out, his heart pounding in his chest. It would nearly leap out of his chest a second later as a gunshot rang out.

"Julius!" he shouted into the radio, "Julius, what the hell's going on over there?"

"Some really fucked up looking people," his co-worker shouted back, "They're ripping Dale apart!"

Oscar Dingman felt the color draining from his skin and his muscles tighten at the mention of those words, words he never thought he would ever have to hear.

"Oh shit! There's more of them!" Julius Reinke shouted before squeezing off a few gunshots, "What the hell? I'm shooting them, but they're not going down! No! Get away you bastards!"

"Julius, where are you?" Oscar shouted, sweat now cascading down from his forehead.

"Oscar, they're-" Julius Reinke shouted back before some feral snarling sounded followed by the guard's screams.

"Julius!" Oscar shouted into his radio and clicked it repeatedly, but was only met with dead silence. Feeling his heart racing to never before seen heights he switched his radio frequency in an effort to reach out to other guards and staff members.

"Is anybody there? Anybody?" he called out.

Yet again he was met with dead silence.

"What the hell?" he asked aloud, but what was hearing nothing. "How could the radios be out? Dammit!" he cursed bitterly, resisting the urge to throw his radio on the ground.

"Calm down, Oscar. Just take a deep breath and remember what the academy taught you," the security guard told himself, "Assess the situation and take control of it."

The goal was clear, he needed to get over to the North Loading Docks and find out what the hell was going on while getting assistance from anybody else he could.

"Screw this punk. He's on his own," Oscar said abandoning his post and bolting down the driveway towards the Leisure Park entrance.

As he expected the park was sparsely populated for this time of day and the only other inhabitants he noticed were some college-aged kids kicking around a soccer ball, some guy sitting in front of the clock tower with his sketchbook out and another guy lying on a bench near the North Plaza entrance. Thankfully they seemed engrossed in their activities and he was able to move about quickly without arousing any panic.

It was only a matter of seconds before he was approaching the steps leading to the plaza's entrance and was about to begin his ascent when a hollow, drawn out moan sounded from his right.

He looked over to see it was the guy passed out on the bench, a filthy vagrant who had suddenly sprung to life.

"I don't have time for you asshole, now beat it!" Oscar shouted as the man shot his bony fingers out toward him. Not in the mood for putting up with another drunkard he kicked the man backwards as hard as he could, yet the man was back on his feet less than a second later.

"What the hell?" he asked aloud as he got a better look at the man.

This guy wasn't drunk. No, he looked like he was almost dead!

The man's soiled, tattered clothes were caked in dried blood and his skin had taken on an almost ashen color. His eyes were plain white and half the skin had been torn away from his face.

"What the hell are you?" Oscar asked the man as he again lurched for him.

In his shock he had remained rooted to where he stood and the man caught him, clamping a mouth full of jagged yellow teeth down onto his forearm. It felt as if a dozen daggers had been stabbed into his arm at once and he was left screaming in pain.

"Gah! Get off of me you freak!" Oscar screamed as the sick man shook his head back and forth violently. It took a brief, painful struggle before the guard was finally able to punch the man off of him and send him falling backwards into the grass with a chunk of flesh stuck between his teeth.

"Wh-what's going on here?" he blurted out looking down to his mangled forearm and the wicked bite marks left behind. His blood was gushing out at an alarming pace and he clamped his other hand down over the wound in a paltry effort to stop the bleeding.

"Hey, are you alright?" he heard a voice calling out and he turned to see the other inhabitants had taken notice and were gathering at a safe distance to observe the macabre spectacle.

Oscar heard more moans coming from behind him and turned to see the filthy man rising back to his feet, a torrent of bloody chunks falling from his mouth. The same lifeless gaze remained in his eyes, fixated solely on him.

"Get outta here!" he screamed to the onlookers, "Run!"

He had already lost a lot of blood and was in dire need of treatment, yet all he could think of was getting over to Julius. Summoning his strength he braced himself against the railing and pulled himself up the stairs and nearly falling face first to the tile floor as he stepped inside.

The North Plaza was currently in the process of a massive remodeling project with only a handful of stores still open and he looked over to his immediate right where Crislip's Home Saloon stood and inside he saw the bright blue jacket of a mall janitor, a long-time employee he recognized as Gary Peake. Hearing the commotion he looked over and ran towards him when he noticed the blood.

"Whoa buddy, what happened out there?" the janitor asked rushing over to lend him a shoulder.

"No time to explain! I gotta help Julius!" the guard blurted out as he started feeling more and more lightheaded from the blood loss, "He's...in trouble..."

"Not so fast there, partner. We gotta get you some medical attention and fast," Gary replied trying to lead him in the opposite direction as a few onlookers stopped and stared nervously at the bleeding man before them.

"We have to-" Oscar was about to repeat just as the doors shook behind him and he turned to find the sick man throwing himself against the glass, leaving bloody smears as he pounded against it.

"What the hell?" Gary shouted as the frightened customers gasped behind him.

"What is wrong with that guy?" a bespectacled man called out.

"Oh my god! Don't let him get in here!" a woman shouted as her bags full of groceries fell to the floor.

"I don't know...but he looks..." another man was about to speak when the sounds of another struggle came from behind.

"Harold, what are you doing?" a woman shrieked as a bearded man pulled her close attempting to sink his teeth into her neck. Just like the man outside, his skin had an unhealthy grayish tint to it and his eyes lacked any presence of irises.

"Hey, get away from her!" another man shouted running over and grabbing the bearded man by the shoulders, tossing him to the floor and giving him a hard kick to the ribs. "Sick bastard!"

The force of the kick surely should have broken his ribs, yet the man called Harold appeared oblivious to the attack, letting out a guttural snarl and immediately reaching for the man's ankle, yet the man shook himself free and delivered another kick hard enough to snap his neck.

"That sick son of a bitch tried to kill her!" the woman's savior called out as she sobbed in the arms of another woman that had knelt down to console her.

It was all becoming too much of a distraction for Oscar Dingman. He needed to get over and help his friend Julius, but all these distractions were slowing him down.

"Please...I have to help...Julius..." the guard weakly pleaded as his legs turned to rubber and his head suddenly felt like it weighed a ton.

"No, we have to get you some help first," Gary replied looking down to see the sizable pool of blood that had formed beneath them.

"But...Julius...is in...trouble..." Oscar weakly slurred as the world around him started to spin and the heavy feeling in his head drifted away along with all other sense of weight as he collapsed to the floor. Through blurred vision he could make out the janitor shouting something in his face, but his ears could no longer hear.

It was only a matter of seconds before everything went dark.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Thank you and come again," Justin Tetherford spoke with forced enthusiasm as the customer departed. Once she was out of earshot he sighed heavily.

"I fucking hate this place," he thought to himself as he took in his surroundings.

He was 25 years old and had graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in business administration, yet here he was stuck in some dead end cashier job at Seon's Food & Stuff.

The pay sucked, his co-workers barely ever did their jobs and his boss was a psychopath. He had held some shitty jobs in the past, but this place took the cake.

He looked over to his left to see some younger employees slacking off as they did best (whereas if Justin did that he would have been subjected to another one of Steven Chapman's infamous rampages that would have left him temporarily deaf for an hour) and then over to his right where he noticed the alcoholic owner of the Huntin' Shack gun shop making his daily round through the wine section, always a guarantee his boss would make a pretty penny.

"Nothing new," he muttered as he heard footsteps and turned to find a familiar face coming down his aisle and briefly his spirits were lifted.

"Justin, hey man what's up?" Roland Nichol asked placing a few cans and a jug of milk on the moving counter.

"Not much. Just another day in the shithole," Justin replied as he began running the man's groceries through the scanner, making sure he lowered his tone with the last word in case his manager was creeping nearby.

"Heh, you're not the only one feeling shitty," Roland replied showing off the bandage on his neck, "I was hearing getting something for this. Some big hornet stung me this morning and it's been hurting like a bitch. Hope this stuff they gave me works."

"Yikes, get well soon man. Must been a huge damn hornet," Justin replied as he was bagging the last of his friend's groceries.

"It was," Roland replied picking up his bags, "Say, I'm having some of the guys over on Saturday to watch the game. Think you'd like to come over? Get your mind off this place?"

"You know I'm down for anything that takes my mind off this place," Justin shrugged, "Give me a call when you got everything you need. Bring some of those buffalo chicken wings too. Damn those were good."

"I will man. See you then," Roland replied making his way for the exit.

As soon as his friend was gone he heard another object being set down on his counter and turned to find it was a bottle of wine. When he looked up at the next customer his mood rose through the roof.

"Fancy I'd run into you here, tiger," the blonde woman grinned at him.

"Sarah! Boy, am I glad to see you. Suddenly my day isn't so crappy any more," Justin replied with a wide grin.

Sarah Stayer replied with a seductive wink, "What makes you think I could go an entire week without seeing my favorite cashier?" she playfully purred. She knew he wasn't comfortable with telling other people what he did for a living, a 'high school kid's job' as he called it, yet he didn't show any errant hostility when it came from her. He just took it with a grin.

She then looked over his shoulder at the teenage employees slacking off and then back to Justin, whose disgust she was able to sense and leaned closer to him.

"You should take a break," she whispered holding up the wine bottle for emphasis.

Justin was almost taken aback by her words and gulped loudly before darting his head back and forth. "Are you serious?"

Sarah didn't speak and reached over, taking his hand and rubbing it suggestively while looking deep into his eyes. "Do I seem like I'm kidding around? Besides, you've told me how you work with a bunch of slackers. Why not make them do their jobs for once? Huh?"

Justin could feel his hormones taking control and he again looked back to his irresponsible co-workers, remembering all the times they had shafted him in the past. Now Chapman could see them for the slackers they really were when he wasn't there to cover them.

"Why not?" he smirked. "Come on, I know a shortcut to the maintenance tunnels."

"Oh you bad boy, you. I like it," she purred.

Justin made sure the coast was clear before looking back to her with another smirk, "Oh you know it."

Business was slow with the nearest customer heard yammering away on their cell phone a few aisles over and the other attendants were busy doing other things, so he quickly led her over to the double doors that would have taken them into the back hall and from there the door leading to the maintenance tunnels.

It was only a matter of moments before the couple found their way into a shady spot where they were confident they would be alone. Sarah pulled the cork off the wine bottle and took a long chug before offering it to Justin, who followed suit.

"Now, where were we?" she asked pulling him close and proceeding to kiss him passionately. It had been well over a week since they had last engaged in sex and there was all sorts of pent up energy they were needing to release.

"At least there is still one good thing left in this godforsaken shithole," Justin thought to himself as he pulled Sarah closer and their kisses became more forceful. "Justin, your life isn't a total drag."

Before he could reach around to lift Sarah's skirt, they were both startled by the electronic squawking of a nearby car alarm.

"What the hell?" Justin blurted out, royally pissed off at the sudden intrusion and at the same time becoming paranoid, hoping someone hadn't caught on to his spur of the moment tryst.

"Someone's here," Sarah said rushing over and peering around the nearby corner, "Oh my god! Someone's hurt!"

Justin ran over to her and looked into a small parking area where a lone man had stumbled over a parked white sedan, setting off its alarm. Even under the dim lighting they could still make out the blood covering the man and they watched as he vomited out a dark substance before falling over.

"We have to help him," Sarah said running over to check on the man, only to let out an ear-piercing shriek.

"Sarah, what's wrong?" Justin demanded running over and gasping in shock at the large pool of blood behind the sedan and more importantly, the faceless woman lying in the middle of it.

"Justin!" Sarah blurted out clinging onto his arm.

Without a word he took her by the hand and led her in the opposite direction down a dimly-lit tunnel. He had no idea where he would take her, but it would be somewhere far away from here. By now they were too far away from the tunnel entrance to the grocery store and the closest exit was to the food court. It was better than nothing and he jerked his girlfriend in that direction.

"Over here!" he shouted to her as they rounded the corner, only to find themselves standing face to face with a sea of inhumanity.

"Justin!" Sarah screamed as the once docile group of people clogging their would-be path to salvation suddenly sprang to life. Even in their dimly-lit surroundings she was able to make out the blood covering each and every one of them, and even how some of them were still up and moving around despite missing limbs and even one guy who had been split in half, yet his upper torso still crawled after them.

The young man stood quietly until the horde was within arms length before the rancid breath of a tall man missing an arm snapped him out of his trance and he again squeezed Sarah's hand.

"Come on, we have to go!" Justin shouted turning on his heel and preparing to run away, only to step on a wet strand of human intestine and slip, hitting the bloodstained pavement with a hard thud that left his vision spinning and before he could react the throng was on top of him.

"Justin!" Sarah repeated, but her boyfriend had vanished beneath the mass of sickness and all she could hear was the sounds of flesh being ripped from bone and meat being minced. It had only taken mere moments before the 'people' had devoured their meal whole and were now focusing their attention upon her.

"No...no dammit no!" Sarah Stayer whimpered as the sickly people shambled towards her with their arms outstretched.

She was struggling to stay on her feet as they made their shaky strides toward her, their stench alone threatening to overpower her. There had to be some way out of this. She needed to think and fast.

As if someone had heard her prayer, she looked over to her right and found a parked delivery truck with its driver's side door hanging open. It was a start and she ran over to it, slamming the door behind her and finding keys in the ignition. She quickly flipped the ignition, only to me met with the thumping of tires that had been slashed.

She wanted to scream out, but all that escaped was a string of bitter sobs, drowning out the groans of those people as they surrounded the truck and began rocking it violently, the glass beginning to crack under their weight.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Now what could your pal Bebop have brought you today?" the clown laughed aloud, placing his ear against the large gift box acting as if he were trying to listen for what was inside, wanting to build up the anticipation and leave the children clamoring for him to open it, "What could it be? Just what could it be?"

"Do I even want to know?" Chuck Greene muttered to himself shaking his head and rubbing at his left temple as the feeling of dread crept back into his stomach, yet another surprise that was probably going to leave him on the verge of either shitting his pants or having a massive coronary.

"Just what's it going to be?" Bebop repeated to the crowd before again looking towards the giant box, "Maybe we need to have ourselves a little countdown," he said before knocking on its side, "On the count of three, say it with me...One!"

The children and a few of the adults cried out in unison.

"Two!"

Chuck's nerves tensed and he could feel his heart racing.

"Three!"

A loud explosion rang out and the giant box collapsed from all sides, revealing a diminutive blue-haired figure with a 'hat' that looked like a melted ice cream cone, a blue top, purple baggy pants with matching floppy shoes and a pair of stilts that made the man more than seven feet tall.

"Well lookee here kiddies! It's my very own baby brother Stilts the Clown here to join in on all the fun!" Bebop the Clown triumphantly proclaimed.

"Oh great...two of them..." Chuck sighed as the smaller man began tossing ice cream bars to the cheering children.

"Ice cream! Come on out everyone! Get your ice cream!" Stilts the Clown shouted, 'accidentally' bonking his older brother in the back of the head with a large cone that resulted in a bell ringing sound effect that left the children laughing and his redheaded brother pretending to get mad.

The painted brothers then pulled out squirt guns and began spraying each other, catching several of their youthful spectators in the crossfire before Stilts pulled out a banana cream pie and tossed it at his brother, who ducked beneath the projectile sending it splattering into the face of a dark-haired mall employee.

"Oopsy daisy!" Bebop gasped aloud placing a gloved hand over his opened mouth, "Mr. Greg was just in the wrong place at the wrong time kiddies. Here let me help you with that," the clown said reaching into his pocket to pull out a white handkerchief, which was then followed by a red one tied to the end, then a blue one, then a yellow, and a green and an orange, all shades of the rainbow tied together before he finally reached the end and handed the long line of cloth to the mall worker to wipe his face off.

"And now kiddies, Stilts and I are going to need a volunteer for our next trick," Bebop called out, which had the children jumping up and down with their hands extended wanting to be the aforementioned volunteer.

Bebop's painted grin quickly turned downward into a frown as he stared at the children, "Aw, I'm sorry but we're going to need a bigger person for this next trick...someone like YOU!" he called out.

All eyes were drawn towards Chuck and he looked up to notice the clown was pointing directly at him.

The color drained from his face and he could only sit in stunned silence until he felt Katey tugging away at his sleeve.

"Daddy, he wants you!" Katey said eagerly pushing him forth.

"No, sorry I can't do it," Chuck protested, only to be met by the typical 'sad puppy dog' expression from his daughter and a bunch of the little kids starting to boo him over his refusal.

"C'mon Daddy, you can do it!" she said trying to pull him along by the arm.

"Aww c'mon Gramps! You can't be that scared of a little fun now, can you?" Bebop playfully taunted, a motion Stilts seconded with a honking horn, a bit too close to Chuck's left ear to leave it ringing afterward.

The children were goading him on and after one final forceful push from Katey the ex-motocross champion was on his feet and standing alongside the two clowns to the applause of everybody in attendance.

"Hooray! He's decided not to be a Debbie Downer! Let's give our new friend here a warm round of applause!" Bebop called out and Stilts again tooted his horn happily as the children cheered him on.

All suddenly fell silent as another drum roll filled the air and Chuck could once again feel his stomach tighten. However, when the chainsaws began revving behind him he could nearly feel it trying to force its way out through his rectum.

"Alright boys and girls, now it's time for the grand finale!" Bebop managed to shout over the cacophony of spinning blades, "Stilts, please be so kind as to lead our adoring public in the countdown!"

"Countdown to extinction," Chuck told himself as his eyes clenched shut.

"One!"

The revving of the twin chainsaws seemed to amplify in volume, the only thing the ex-motocross champion could hear.

"Two!"

"Oh god...poor Katey's going to be an orphan!"

"Three!"

A blood-curdling shriek filled the air, drowning out the whirr of both chainsaws.

Chuck shot his eyes open to find a woman pinned to the ground, struggling with some sick-looking man before having her throat torn out.

More screams followed and he looked towards the upper mezzanine to find patrons being attacked by more of those sick-looking people.

"Daddy!"

Chuck's attention was brought back towards his little girl, one of those 'people' having made their way into the enclosure and making a play for the frightened children. It was then he got a good look at one of the perpetrators.

It was a lanky man who had been in his early 30's with his once stringy black hair now falling out in large clumps to expose his rotting face underneath, most of the right side torn away while his eyeball hung by a thread. The remaining patches were a sickly gray color that made him look like he had already been buried for many years.

Right now, the mystery man had his sights set on Katey Greene and that was something her doting father would not stand for.

Chuck looked around desperately for something he could use to take the man out, yet in a play area aimed at entertaining small children this would be the absolute last place he could expect to find a shotgun, an assault rifle, anything that goes 'boom,' or even some kind of bladed object he could use to take the man's head off.

Then his foot brushed against something and he looked down to see a soccer ball rolling around aimlessly. With no other alternative it was time for him to remember those skills which had helped his team win their regional championship back in junior high. With the little time he had he lined up his shot, drawing his leg back and kicking the ball as hard as he could, sending it flying into the sickly man's face and sending him falling flat on his back.

"Katey!" he cried running over and scooping the little girl into his arms.

"Daddy, I'm scared!" the child sobbed squeezing him tightly.

Chuck took a deep breath and kissed her on her forehead.

"Don't worry sweetheart. I'm here and I'm not going to let anything happen to you," he told her trying to keep his tone as soothing as possible in spite of all the carnage occurring around them. Truth be told, this was the most frightened he had ever been in his entire life and it took every ounce of his being to hide the quiver wanting to creep its way into his voice. In the end he succeeded and he forced himself to look up.

More of those gray-skinned people piled in at an alarming rate and were tearing into any person unfortunate enough to cross their path. He looked down to see several children had fallen to those freaks, the heartless bastards tearing into them like a five star gourmet.

It was enough to make Chuck sick to his stomach, yet he knew he had to maintain his composure if he wanted to get both himself and his daughter out of this mess alive.

"C'mon Chuck, think damn it!" he told himself looking around for any means of escape.

To his left he spotted a small stairwell leading out of the play area, but his hopes were soon dashed as a woman attempted to flee, tripping and breaking her leg before she was dog piled and torn into by a group of ravenous cannibals.

Chuck cursed silently to himself before he was again cut off by Katey's frightened screams, "Daddy please, I'm scared!"

"There's gotta be a Plan B somewhere, but where is it?" he asked himself frantically looking around until he spotted another entrance to his right that appeared relatively clear of any threats and a surefire way out of the enclosed death trap the play area was turning into.

"Katey, I need you to listen to me. I'm going to get us out of here, but I want you to look at me and only at me," he said looking down to his daughter, "Focus only on me."

With those words he made a mad dash for the stairwell and quickly made his ascension to higher ground, yet found himself surrounded by dead bodies and large pools of blood he knew would make his escape more hazardous.

"Quick! Run to safety!" a security guard shouted to the former motocross racer before raising his gun and firing everything he had into an oncoming horde before they too would overwhelm him and make him their next meal. Not much further away another man had gotten his hands on a baseball bat and was attempting to fight off some of those people before he was tackled from behind and had the back of his neck torn into. Elsewhere a burly man attempted to protect a young woman from two of those monsters, yet found both his arms savagely torn into for his efforts while the woman would run away and disappear into another rotting mass.

They were horrifying sights, yet they made Chuck wonder to himself.

"Who are these people? What is wrong with them? Where did they come from? When did this start? Why is this happening? How did it spread so fast?"

Chuck would be snapped from his train of thought as more of those sick people began taking notice of him and his daughter. He had to get her out of there fast.

He jolted to the left to avoid an overweight man lunging at them and then spun his body to avoid a swipe from some guy in a blooded Hawaiian shirt who somehow managed to hold onto a hunting knife. The evasive maneuver left him in a tight squeeze between a cosmetics kiosk and a small group that had been feasting on an unfortunate soul, only to spring to life as they heard the ex-motocross champion sprinting past.

"Not today!" Chuck shouted to the horde, tightening his grip on his beloved daughter as he ducked low and plowed his way through the mass of rotting flesh, knocking down several of his attackers like bowling pins. He skidded to a sudden halt to avoid a woman who lunged in front of him, only to eat a mouthful of tile for her troubles, and then bringing up his foot to kick away another woman whose intestines had been dangling from a deep rend in her abdomen.

Eventually he found himself approaching a set of double doors leading out, to the 'Food Court' to be exact.

"My only chance," he told himself as he stole another peek around to see more of those 'people' pouring out of the woodwork from all angles.

Making another mad dash he barely managed to avoid another person who had been pushing around a dolly with a gas tank chained to it and then threw himself against the glass surface back first, ignoring the fresh waves of pain as his lower spinal column had connected with the metal push bar. He had a daughter to protect and he couldn't afford to let some small bruise slow him down.

The food court was another wide open space with a Wild Western motif, further emphasized by the cheery cartoon character who greeted patrons with a six-shooter in one hand and a mug full of beer in the other. There was no time to stop and admire the scenery as more of those 'people' were in there and they took notice of their new arrivals and began shuffling in their direction with arms outstretched.

To his left was an entrance to Leisure Park, yet he looked out to see more innocent people being slaughtered left and right by those 'things,' and ahead of him was another set of doors leading to the 'Al Fresca Plaza.'

Again Chuck ran towards the doors and slammed into them back first, knocking a sick person out of the way as he stumbled through and found himself knee deep in more carnage.

He immediately found himself near a large fountain where a young man was in the middle of being pulled from his bicycle and torn into whereas another man in a blue track suit could be seen trying to fight off some of those strange people outside of the Flexin' gym armed with only a barbell, trying in vain to protect some short cowardly bald guy in a forest green jacket, the stocky man fleeing in the opposite direction as his savior was tackled to the cobblestone tarmac and swallowed up by a decaying throng.

The boom of a shotgun blast suddenly filled the air, followed by the panicked screams of two women.

There were other survivors nearby, but he had to wonder if they would be on his side. Hugging his back to a nearby wall he inched towards the corner and looked around to see some man in a red and black tartan shirt armed with a shotgun taking down a pack of those people who had been menacing two women.

"Quick, get over here!" called out a bespectacled mall employee waving the two women forth.

"Hey, there's two more people over there! Quick, over here!" the shotgun-toting man called out waving them forth, just as a man in a blue jacket and black beanie emerged from behind him armed with a lead pipe.

Chuck said nothing and could only hope for the best as he ran towards the survivors, only to again find himself nearly knocked from his feet as another one of those gray-skinned creeps emerged from McHandy's Hardware. Thankfully the pipe-wielding survivor was there to cover him and delivered a home run that splattered the monster's brains all over the nearest window.

With the threat out of the way Chuck bolted inside and safely lowered Katey to her feet before dropping to his knees and taking time to catch his breath.

"Damn it..." he spat struggling not to fall onto his stomach. He was about to utter another string of curses until he remembered his daughter was standing next to him.

"Is this everybody?" he heard another man's voice call out, "Lower the gate!"

Chuck rolled over onto his bottom and watched quietly as the gate lowered, more of those sick people still approaching and clawing away at the glass, wanting to get in and sink their chipped teeth into all the fresh meat inside. The gut wrenching sight could only leave him sitting back and asking himself the same questions as he did earlier.

"Who are these people? What is wrong with them? Where did they come from? When did this start? Why is this happening? How did it spread so fast?"

Author's Note: I apologize for the delay, but once again I found myself sidetracked by other creative ideas and now that I've gotten them out of the way I was able to finally get this done. I'm hopeful that this will be more well thought out than my original and that I can keep it going longer. As always read and review!

This is Metal Harbinger saying SPREAD THE SICKNESS, ONE MIND AT A TIME! \m/