The first powerful, loud bang on the door startled everybody in the room, made their hearts skip, their blood cool, spines tingle, and their breath stay for an instant. It might as well have been a thundering knock on their very souls.
It made Arnold nearly drop his digital video camera, which would have set him back some serious coin.
If the original bang on the door was a statement - a very bold one at that to get everybody's attention - the successive bangs on the door a short moment later was a rant. And it was evident that it was a group of rantees and not just one ranter demanding entrance.
It was, in fact, a mob.
Until then the event had been a civil discussion, with some healthy dissent, on the subject of the Immortality Reform Bill. The keynote speaker at the town hall meeting was a United States representative from Delaware - and an influential figure in the Progressive Party - a person who was himself a hundred and fifty years old - Dr. Barack Fitzgerald. This was a person that Arnold had admired most of his adult life. Dr. Fitzgerald, before the rude interruption, had been talking about a small, but potentially deal-breaking segment of the Immortality Reform bill - the universal immortality coverage. It had been viewed as the cornerstone of the President's proposal but it was mired in myth and misinformation perpetuated by the bill's opposition. Arnold thought it laughable that people were actually believing that part of the bill mandated that anybody over two hundred years old, who would no longer qualify for the government plan, should be ground up and fed to the world's starving nations.
Dr. Fitzgerald had actually been talking about that particular, ridiculous myth, and Arnold had been chuckling to himself about it, when the banging at the large doors in the back began.
"WRRRAAAAAAGGGGGHHH!" came the inhuman but passionate cry from the other side of the door during a brief reprieve from the banging.
"Everybody remain calm!" Dr. Fitzgerald yelled, arms outstretched. "We have adequate security!" Arnold tried to remain calm, but was not succeeding.
Security, as it turns out, was not adequate, as nothing stopped the mob from finally busting down the doors and pouring in. The unfortunate souls sitting in the back didn't have much time to scramble towards the front. Some were grabbed by the putrid, revolting, rotting members of the invading mob. The foul, painful, stomach-wrenching stench that entered with the mob was almost too much to bear.
"ZOMBIES!!" somebody yelled as men began shouting and women began screaming. Arnold was nearest, as it turned out, to the emergency zombie defense system on the wall. He very briefly read the label.
"In case of zombies, break glass."
He grabbed the hammer, broke the glass, and grabbed the double-barrel shotgun from its mounting. The zombie alarms began blaring as he grabbed some shells and started loading it.
"We not here to eat brains!" yelled the zombie in the front of the mob, a large, hulking lump of putrid flesh, who could have been a linebacker on an American football team when he was alive. The sweater and pants he was wearing was slightly less soiled and damaged than the tattered rags adorned on the rest of the mob. He must have been their leader.
Even though his eyes were tearing up from the horrible odor, Arnold looked. The terrified people who had been captured were indeed still alive, their skulls still intact, brains still inside, although their captors drooled on them hungrily. He aimed the shotgun in the general direction of the mob, but didn't fire.
"My name Beck!" the zombie leader continued, maggots dropping from his mouth as he yelled. "We here to have our voices HEARD!! We no like this reform! Nobody listen to us!! We not let into 'town hall meetings!' We ANGRRRRRY!"
"I assure you, we are concerned with what our zombie constituents have to say!" Dr. Fitzgerald said. "But you are generally not allowed into these meetings due to your proclivity about bashing our heads in and eating our brains! Surely you can appreciate our position in this matter!"
"You not appreciate our position on this... this un-eversal immortality... thing!" Beck said, pointing his rotting arm at the Representative. "We no want our tax dollars going to sub... subzid... PAY for... for people's immortality who too lazy to work and afford it their-selves!"
This drew a raucous yell from the rest of Beck's zombie mob behind him.
"As I was saying before you burst in here," Dr. Fitzgerald said, "the public immortality program is just one part of the bill! Even though they've had public immortality plans in Europe now for decades, we realize it might be too radical for America at this time. This bill is mostly about reforming the broken, partially subsidized public immor--!"
"WE WANT BE HEEEEEEEEEERRRRRD!" yelled Beck. "You LIE! You NO HEAR US! WE HAS QUESTIONS! WE WANT ANSWERS!"
The rest of the zombie crowd erupted in yells of agreement.
"We can fucking hear you!!" said a man sitting in the front near Fitzgerald. "How can we not?!"
"SHUT UP!" Beck said. "I EAT YOUR BRAINS LATER!"
"WE... QUESTIONS!" yelled another zombie, his left arm falling off as he did so, as if the loud sound of his voice broke its last fleshy thread.
"Then ask your god damn questions!" yelled another man. This drew several loud agreements from the non-undead attendees. "I mean, you have the floor, ask for fuck's sake!"
There was a brief silence. Arnold aimed the gun nervously from one zombie to another. He very much wanted to begin laying waste to them.
"We..." Beck began. He stopped, as if searching for the next word. "WE HAS QUESTIONS!"
The other zombies reflected Beck's words. Then, some of them began chanting "WE HAS QUESH-TUNS! WE HAS QUESH-TUNS! WE HAS QUESH-TUNS!" while others just yelled "WE!" or "QUESH!" or other random phonemes from the words.
Beck then yelled "IMMORTALITY REFORM HURT SMALL BUSINESSES!" and then his mob repeated him, chanting "IMMORTALITY HURT BUSINESS" several times.
"No, it doesn--!"
Beck cut Dr. Fitzgerald off with "IMMORTALITY REFORM WILL KILL ZOMBIE BABIES!" Then his mob began chanting that over and over.
"Utter NONSENSE!" Dr. Fitzgerald yelled. "You guys don't even HAVE babies!"
"WE! HAS! QUESTIONS!" Beck screamed. The zombie mob began chanting that again.
"Then ASK A QUESTION!" Dr. Fitzgerald yelled as loud as he could, his face turning red with anger.
"OK!" Beck said. He lumbered down the aisle toward the podium and Dr. Fitzgerald. "Question:"
He lumbered a little closer. Arnold pointed the shotgun at him. Beck glared at him with his yellow eyes, but then continued. He stopped a few yards short of the podium.
After about five seconds of silence Dr. Fitzgerald said "Yes..?"
"OUR IMMORTALITY QUALITY!!' Beck yelled. "QUALITY GO DOWN IF COVERAGE UNI... err, uni... PUBLIC!"
Shouts of "That's not a question!" and "You call THAT quality?!" and variations of the two came from the human attendees.
Arnold couldn't take it anymore. "Start asking actual questions before I start blowing heads off!" but he was almost drowned out by yells and shouts from both sides.
As the yelling got louder Dr. Fitzgerald tried to say something about how quality would go up, but it was futile. Arnold aimed the gun right at Beck's head as zombie leader got increasingly agitated.
A blood-curdling scream and a loud crunch silenced the room. Everybody looked towards the back of the room. A zombie with a sheepish look on his putrid face had broken the zombies' promise. Blood and bits of brain hung from his mouth which had come from the poor woman's still head that he was holding in his hands. Her eyes stared out in their last terrified gaze.
"Sorry," he said, chewing, "me get hungry."
"You fucker!" Arnold yelled. He wanted to fire, but he was too far away for a shotgun blast, too many humans in between. Other humans who had handguns stood up and began firing at the zombie, though, blasting off pieces of his face - such as it was - with each shot.
Chaos ensued. All the zombies began attacking and humans began fighting back. Arnold blasted a few nearby zombies, but he looked for Beck in the fray.
He heard loud clicks from the direction of the podium. He looked back to see Dr. Fitzgerald, wearing a very determined look on his face and holding a shotgun of his own.
"I am dropping your immortality coverage!" he yelled as loudly as he could before turning the heads a half-dozen zombies near him into mush.
Finally Arnold spotted Beck flanking Dr. Fitzgerald, who apparently didn't see him. Arnold saw his chance, carefully aimed at Beck, and fired. It was a perfect head shot, and Beck was no more. His hulking body spewed black blood from its mangled neck, then it crashed to the wooden floor below.
Then the local black-clad Zombie Squad, with their helmets, shields and "zombie liquefiers," swarmed the forum. Before long civility was restored as the squad turned the remaining zombies into disgusting pools of goo, but not without numerous human casualties as well.
When everything was calm, Dr. Fitzgerald sought out Arnold. "Thank you, citizen, for saving my life."
"It was nuthin," Arnold said, shrugging. "How are we going to ever have an effective debate on this issue if these mindless zombies keep interrupting these forums with these stupid and just plain wrong ideas about it?"
Dr. Fitzgerald sighed. "The zombies have always been against immortality reform, nothing will ever change that. They don't want to lose their coverage, even as bad and as expensive as it is. They don't have coverage as good as the vampires, and especially those of us, such as myself, who are lucky enough who did not have to sacrifice any humanity to get immortality, but they don't want to lose what they have. It's sad. It could be so much better."
"Wanna grab a beer and discuss it more?" Arnold asked as a janitor shuffled by, mopping up some zombie goo.
"It'd be my pleasure!" Dr. Fitzgerald said, smiling. "I just have to make a pit stop at the local clinic and get a stem cell recharge!"
Then the two left the messy building together.
For Pickman's Nodegel: The 2009 Halloween Horrorquest