Chapter 31: Smoker

Zoey and Francis aimed their guns into the doorway of the safe-house cautiously. Where the hell had the guy inside gone? The biker slowly advanced on the door while Zoey covered him. She was not prepared for when she felt the horribly familiar sensation of something long, slimy and wet wrapping itself around her body.

"HELP!" she cried out.

The others looked in shock to see a long, pink tentacle snaking down from the wooden rafters high above, winding itself around her. Francis squeezed the trigger and a flame exploded from the barrel of his shotgun, the pellets piercing the long appendage above Zoey's head. An inhuman squeal of pain echoed above them, and Louis aimed his M-16 upward.

The light revealed a hideous mutation. A tall, gangly figure stood on a rafter high above them, its upper body hunched over to one side. Its entire skin was a sickly green colour, and large boils covered its hands, and the entire right side of its face. However, the most distinct feature of the creature was its unbelievably long tongue, which draped down all the way down from its mouth and around Zoey.

"Holy shit!" Louis cried, firing a burst up at the figure.

A bullet hit it in the shoulder, causing a spray of dark smoke to erupt from its body with a hiss. With a loud slurping noise, it retracted its tongue back into its mouth and leapt away into the shadowy roof cavity. The force of the unravelling caused Zoey to spin all the way around several times, before finally toppling to the floor.

Francis ran over to help her up. "You alright?"

She jerkily nodded her head. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"What the hell is that thing?" Louis hissed, running over and taking cover next to them in the pews. Hacking coughs echoed throughout the church as the creature moved again.

"I don't know, but we've come across something like it before, back at the floodgates," she murmured, gripping her pistol tightly. "Ugh!" she said in a moment of realisation. "It dragged me away with its tongue! That's disgusting!"

"How do you know it's not the same one from the drains?" Francis asked, aiming his shotgun carefully upward. However, the roof arch was too dark to be able to see where the monster had disappeared to.

Zoey motioned toward the open door of the safe-house. "What do you think happened to the church guy?"

"Wait, do you mean to tell me that he changed into that thing?" Louis exclaimed.

"Well, he did say he'd been bitten."

"But what is it?"

"An ugly, green motherfucker who we're going to kill," Francis growled.

A loud, raspy cough echoed throughout the rafters high above them. Louis angled his flashlight carefully upward, but the "ugly motherfucker" was staying just out of sight.

"At least it's not a mutant octopus," he murmured jokingly, although the situation hardly called for it. "It gave off some smoke when I shot at it. Some sort of defence mechanism, I guess," he said observantly. "And it sounds like it has smoker's cough – on a good day. It's almost like it's begging us to call it a Smoker!"

"Let's name it after we kill it!" Zoey hissed.

"There it is!" Francis yelled, aiming his shotgun upward.

The others looked up to see the creature perched on a wooden rafter right above them. However, before anyone could shoot, its mouth shot open in a wide and horrible expression, revealing a gaping dark hole behind its maw. Its mouth was opened so wide, it looked as though it had dislocated its jaw. With a loud hiss, a dark green cloud of smoke spewed out, enveloping the three survivors. They coughed and wheezed as they inhaled the noxious gases, their vision impaired.

Francis suddenly hollered in distress. "Help! It's got me!"

Zoey charged through the gas toward her friend's voice. She burst out of the cloud of smoke to see Francis being dragged away along the floor by the tongue, which was wrapped around his left ankle.

"Hang on!" she yelled.

Muzzle flashes lit up the interior of the church as she fired her pistol at the fleeting shadow of the so-called "Smoker" in the roof arch. One of her bullets caught it in the leg and it screeched, releasing its grip on Francis as it retracted its tongue.

"I'll tell you what, I really hate this guy," the burly biker growled as he picked himself up off the floor.

Bill heard sustained gunshots below him, but he assumed that the others were simply mopping up any Infected that had managed to break into the church. He viewed the surrounding area through the scope of the sniper rifle, and finally gave off a sigh, satisfied that no more were coming to attack the building.

A series of pistol shots rang out below him.

"What on earth are they shooting at...?"

Louis cried out, firing his M-16 at flashes of movement in the roof cavity. However, the Smoker was using the darkness to its advantage, staying just out of sight.

"Fighting this guy is like shooting at a damn shadow!"

With a sickening THWACK, the long tongue shot out of the darkness above and wrapped itself around his waist. With incredible strength, it hurled him across the room, sending him crashing into the pews.

"Louis!" Zoey cried out.

She and Francis ran over to help him, but the Smoker lashed out its tongue again in an attempt to intercept the both of them. Zoey threw herself over the obstacle, but Francis was painfully knocked over onto his back. He gasped in pain, while the Smoker retracted its tongue with awe-dropping speed.

"Louis, are you okay?" the former college girl called, coming to his side. However, he had been knocked unconscious from the fall.

A yell of distress came from behind. "Zoey! Help – augh!"

She whirled to see that the Smoker had wrapped its tongue in a noose around Francis' neck, and was lifting him into the air, choking him. She fired desperately at the monster, but her pistol was ineffective at this range.

"I'm just borrowing this, Louis," she said, picking up the assault rifle.

She aimed at the Smoker, but her line of fire was obscured by a rafter. She cursed and realigned her aim at the tongue above Francis' head. The church exploded with gunfire as she peppered it with hot lead. The Smoker screeched in anger and used its tongue to hurl Francis at her. He crashed into her and they both tumbled to the ground.

"Ow!" she cried out. "Get the hell off! You're crushing me!"

Francis slowly rolled over. "Give me a sec..."

"Dude, you're like twice my size! Get up!"

"What the hell's goin' on down here?" a gruff voice rang out from across the church.

"Bill, look out!" Zoey yelled. "There's a – "

Before she could finish her sentence, Bill felt a painful slap across his face, sending him sliding across the floor on his side and into a wall.

"What the hell was that?" he cried in shock.

"You just got bitch-slapped by a giant tongue," Francis said, smirking.

"A giant what?" Bill felt something tighten around his ankles. He looked down in shock and saw a long, rubbery appendage wrapped around his legs, seconds before he was being dragged along the floor. "Argh! Get this thing off me!" he yelled.

Zoey took up Louis' assault rifle again and aimed up into the dark roof arch. "Francis, throw some more light up there," she ordered. "Your shotgun's useless at this range. I'll take the shot."

Together, they both aimed their lights, tracing the tongue back to its source.

"There!" she shouted, firing off a burst.

The muzzle flashes illuminated the gangly figure, which quickly turned toward the source of gunfire. It released its grip on Bill to retract its tongue and, with frightening speed, leap into the shadows again. This time, it bounded along the wooden rafters, landing directly above them, and spewed forth another blinding cloud of smoke. Francis put a hand to his mouth, coughing profusely. He heard a loud THUD directly to his right, and swung his shotgun around –

A clawed arm slashed him across the shoulder, and then backhanded him in the face, sending him crashing into a wooden pew behind him. Zoey swung her rifle around nervously, but did not shoot for fear of hitting Francis. All she could see in every direction was the dark, billowing gas.

Suddenly, a hideous face appeared through the smoke, a few inches from hers. It opened its mouth in a shrill scream. Past its gnarled fangs, Zoey could see the phlegm rattling around in its throat.

She raised the rifle – only to have it knocked from her hands, and then smacked across the face in the backswing of the same disarming blow. She stumbled and fell backward, but felt her fall arrested. She realised that the Smoker's tongue had wrapped itself around her chest, and was slowly tightening. She gasped desperately for breath.

A gunshot rang out, followed by a roar of pain. The tongue released her and she fell painfully back to the floor. She was vaguely aware that the smoke cloud had dissipated slightly, allowing Bill to line up his sniper rifle with the back of the creature's head. However, the Smoker's instincts had saved it, moving its head out of the way and letting its shoulder take the bullet instead. It turned to face Bill.

"Come on over here and gimme a big kiss, you limp-dick, ugly-ass son of a bitch," the old man growled.

The Smoker let out another ear-splitting scream and began to leap across the pews toward its prey. The veteran cast aside the sniper rifle in favour of his pistol. However, whenever he fired a shot at the Smoker, it dove to the ground to take cover behind the wooden pews. They continued their standoff in this manner for a few moments, with the infected creature gradually closing the distance.

In a panicked moment, Bill heard a loud slurping noise and glanced down to see the long tongue whip out from under the pews and side-sweep his legs, sending him crashing to the floor. He looked up to see the Smoker leap up onto the back of the wooden bench right above him and bear its teeth in a savage hiss.

An abrupt and heavy staccato of gunfire erupted throughout the church. Several rounds pierced the creature's head and torso, and Zoey lowered the smoking M-16 in satisfaction. The Smoker gave off a final screech of pain, before its entire body imploded. An obscene cloud of dark green smoke billowed out from the corpse, enveloping the entire room.

Bill, Zoey and Francis all coughed and spluttered for a few minutes, and the oppressive gas was enough to wake Louis with a start.

"Everyone alright?" Bill called through the fog. "Make your way over to my voice."

After a while, everyone was reunited, and the gas was beginning to dissipate through the broken windows of the church.

Francis gave a savage kick to the crumpled remains of the Smoker angrily. "Stupid thing."

"Show some respect for the dead, Francis," Bill said sharply. He looked over at Zoey. "Thanks for savin' my ass yet again. That's twice in one night. I reckon I owe you a beer."

Zoey chuckled. "Looking forward to it."

"Don't mean to be party-pooper, but we should get inside the safe-room before we get attacked by something else," Louis cut in.

"Good idea."

The survivors recovered their various weapons and then made their way across the church to the safe-room that they had fought so hard to gain access to.

"After what we went through to get in here, this place had better have some beer," Francis grumbled, closing the red metal door and lowering the bar into place.

Zoey gingerly stepped past the dead body of a young woman lying slumped against one wall, a single bullet-hole in her forehead. She grimaced, and then turned to Louis worriedly. "How's your head?"

"I'm okay," he replied, rubbing a nasty-looking bump. "It's just a bruise."

"Don't pick at it." Bill said gruffly, sitting him down on a wooden stool near the wall. "Do you feel like you're going to vomit?"

Louis shook his head.

"Follow my finger," Bill said, holding up an index finger and moving it back and forth past his eyes. When he told as he was told, the war veteran nodded in satisfaction. "I'm no expert son, but I think you're gonna be okay. It's just a nasty bump on the head."

"No beer," Francis growled angrily from the back of the room. "But there are some bottles of water." He threw a small plastic bottle over to everyone. "Bottoms up."

Zoey looked around the room and saw that it was quite empty, with the stool and a bare wooden table being the only furniture. Aside from the dead body, the only real noteworthy feature of the room was an insane message covering an entire wall.


Bill followed her gaze and shook his head. "Like I said, nuttier than candy-bar shit." He lay down on the floor, propping up his jacket as a pillow. "Alright Francis, it's your turn for the first watch. Everyone else, get some sleep. We'll move out at first light."

The man in question picked up his shotgun and walked over to the wall near the door to get into a comfortable position for his watch, grumbling all the way.

"What about food?" Louis asked.

"We're out," came Bill's simple reply.

The young man's face fell, almost in unison with a loud rumble from his stomach. However, he was elated to see Zoey proffer a small, crumpled bag of peanut M&M's. He greedily grabbed a handful and tossed them in his mouth.

"You, girl, are a lifesaver. I owe you one."

She smiled in response and turned to offer them to the others.