Mortar Attack by Adam Armstrong

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Narrated by Bob Eccles

Mortar Attack
Photograph by Eleanor Bennett

“What’s it like?”

“What is ‘what’ like?”

“Being dead,” she asked him. Her eyes were huge this close; staring into the deep wells, he felt he could see to the bottom of her essence.

“It’s like being alive,” he said, “only stuffy.”


“Yes, like you are surrounded by cotton.”

“Why don’t you stay dead?”

“What do you mean? I am dead.”

“I mean…you’ve been shot several times, stabbed over and over, you were run over those two times, although the second time doesn’t really count, and you still move around.”

“Doesn’t count? That hurt like hell.”


It started so simple. There were so many dramatic things that did not happen: cancer didn’t sink its claws into him, no heart attack struck in a subway terminal or while he was on the john, it wasn’t going through a windshield at sixty miles per hour, or a stray bullet that came crashing through the living room window. None of those things was the culprit; it was a brick. Just a solitary brick.

Dan Wesson was walking back to work after lunch. The weight had piled on holding hands with increasing cholesterol levels and elevating blood pressure. A brisk walk from the diner to the cubical was just what the doctor insisted on over the last few years. Not to waste time, Dan was checking his BlackBerry to see if he had any new messages; he didn’t. He often wondered if, because it was bought used, it just didn’t get any messages, not even junk messages. He wanted to check his cell phone again but he was trying to limit himself to checking it no more than once per hour. Like the BlackBerry, he often thought that buying it used it may be malfunctioning and not ringing or showing any messages.

Something caught his vision and he looked up from his BlackBerry in time to avert a horrible tragedy. Dan had almost walked under scaffolding. As bad as walking under a ladder would be on his luck, he couldn’t imagine how many more years walking under the scaffolding would add to his sentence of perpetual bad luck. Not to mention that he had this walk timed perfectly and he would be late for work if he had to stop and walk backwards through the scaffolding to reverse the bad luck.

His feet turned and brought him around the metal pole jutting up through the concrete. Dan watched his scuffed brown shoes he picked up at the Goodwill for $4.35 hit the pavement as the brick hit him in the head.

The brick was a work of perfection. If the time was taken to actually measure it, you would find that it was a perfect rectangle. Each parallel side was a mirror image of the opposite. It fell with speed and grace turning end over end evenly. The weight was constant from one side to the other. If you could find the exact center you would be able to balance it on your finger with no problem.

The question has to be asked: Where did the brick come from? It is possible that a god of some unknown type could have thrown the brick from the heavens in order to create something new. It is also a possibility that the brick was thrown on another plane of existence and it pierced through in to this reality. Or it may have been too perfect for the building it rested in and was ejected by the less than perfect mortar around it. Most likely a pseudo-mason was on too many drugs and let it slip through his fingers while he laughed at the color of his hard hat. In any case the perfect assassin finished its job.


“So are you a vampire?” she asked him.

He looked down at the swell of her breast as she leaned in closer to him.

He had to think about that one.


Waking up looking at a white shroud that covered his face, Dan’s first thought was that he had joined the legions of the undead known as vampires. Actually his first thought was: ‘Where the hell am I?’ When he realized where he was his thoughts shifted to vampires. All of those years of watching horror movies and reading paperback horror novels were about to pay off. He had shrugged off the stifling confinement of his previous life to become a super being.

He didn’t feel very thirsty though. His head still had faint traces of a headache. His ass hurt real bad too, like a wicked hemorrhoid flare up.

Dan looked around the room trying to take in the world through a new set of eyes. He was sitting on one of three metal tables in a small, badly lit room. It seemed kind of dirty in there for a place where people are cut up, no need to worry about infection he guessed. One wall was covered in small doors. Another wall held double swinging doors with round windows just like in the movies.

As Dan looked at them a man walked through them. The man was about thirtyish and about five-seven. A name tag on the left side of his chest identified him as Joel McMillan, M.E. Joel had a forehead that went up too far into his thinning hair. A beard graced Joel’s face that made Dan believe he was either single and not looking or he had been married for a while judging by how unkempt it was. Joel’s green scrubs were covered in drying blood, not to mention his ungloved hands.

Dan did what he thought he should do; he jumped up off the table and hissed while raising his hands up like claws. Joel didn’t seem paralyzed with fear. He scrunched his eyebrows together and then raised one of them. Either this kind of thing happened here a lot or something about a fat naked man hissing at you wasn’t exactly scary.

As Dan wondered what blood tasted like, Joel shifted something in his hands. Dan looked at it and forgot about being a vampire for a moment. Joel didn’t have a clipboard or a medical instrument. No, he held a new bottle of KY jelly and a strand of condoms.

Anger suggested he say something. “I want to suck you bl–, no, no,” he said. The last thing he wanted to be was that type of vampire, the type that used every cliché in the book. He had to come up with his own unique line. Something that had never been said before. Come on, he could do it. Writers do it every day, or they just steal an idea and change it a little. He could at least do that.

While Dan struggled to come up with a fresh turn of phrase, Joel was making a move. Dan felt a cold burning in his chest. Looking up, he saw a scalpel in Joel’s hand. Looking down, he saw a huge open grin on his chest.

“Ouch,” said Dan, “that really fucking hurts. I mean it man.” He covered over the wound with his hands. He glanced down again and something strange happened. The grin sealed itself shut leaving just a dark trace of where it had been.

He looked up at Joel and said: “Vampires heal quickly.” That, was just awful, but it crept out with some measure of authority.

Dan smacked the scalpel out of Joel’s hand and sent it flying across the room so hard that it stuck in the wall of the refrigerated shelves. Looking at it, he raised his eyebrows. Superhuman strength. All of those books and movies he had read and watched must have been true. When people come back from the dead they are given superhuman strength, and in all of the movies made in the last ten years or so, they automatically know some martial art skills that would work out better as dance moves versus amounting any attack or defense. A thought crept into his mind: Did it make any sense that strength or agility would increase after you are dead? The muscles would not have the blood flow that they had when you were alive and the fibers wouldn’t be able to contract as efficiently, if at all. He pushed the thought aside and closed in on his victim.

His hands shot out and took hold of Joel. Lifting him off of the ground, Dan found that he weighed next to nothing. Joel’s eyes widened and his lips began to quiver. Slithering his arms around Joel’s torso, Dan leaned in for the bite. He ran his tongue over his teeth and stopped. His canines weren’t any longer. One of them was chipped in half from where the brick had hit him. He threw Joel down. What kind of vampire was he supposed to be with chipped teeth?

Next to the examination table there were a few clear plastic bags. Each bag was filled and marked. They contained the life he had had before the brick had changed him. Also they contained the life changer itself. The brick was in one of the bags, the plastic clung to it. It was the first time that he saw it. It was dark, the color of red Georgia earth right after a thunderstorm. He could see its unmarred perfection even through the bag. After he tossed on his clothes he slid the brick into his jacket pocket.

Glancing once more at Joel, he left pulling his sports jacket up like Bela Lugosi used to do as Dracula. Out into the night he limped, the pain in his ass keeping him from running. In to the night he fled, being both a creature of it and a ruler of its domain.

He woke the next day with sunlight filling up the abandoned building he was squatting in. Sunlight was on his foot. He yanked it back into the dark. His foot didn’t smoke or turn to dust, he was glad. It would be much harder to stalk his prey if he had to limp. Plus, he would lose that whole sexy vampire thing if he had one of his legs smoldered off.

For weeks he hid during the days. Sometimes Dan would find himself in a daze and he would wonder right out into the sunlight. Still, nothing happened to him or to his skin. One day he woke in a dumpster and found that he had been sleeping all day on top of a bible that someone had thrown out. He jumped out of the dumpster and ran down the alley and around the corner to the glass shop. When he found a mirror he raised his shirt to see if an imprint of the cross–that was on the front of the bible–was burned onto his flesh. When he saw that there were no markings it dawned on him that he had a reflection.

He began to doubt his vampirism. For starters the brick hit him in the head, it didn’t bite him. Maybe another vampire came along and bit him after he was dead. Yeah, there was some sense to that. He could have been bitten and only half turned into a vampire. What are those called…Dhampir? That would explain why he could withstand sunlight and sleep on bibles. He wondered if that is why he still had no thirst whatsoever.

It was time to test whether or not he really was a vampire.


Dan waited between two cars. He couldn’t quite shake the doubt from his mind. Sure he came back to life after the brick hit him and he healed from the scalpel wound, none of that meant he could survive or come back from this. Apparently it was common because he had heard about it his entire life.

The roars and groans of shifting gears came from down the street. Dan had checked the schedule and cased the road and rate of acceleration. Right on time he walked out in the street and got ran over by a bus.

Only it wasn’t that easy. Dan locked eyes with the driver, a large older man that hunched his bulk over the steering wheel. The driver twisted the wheel hard to the left. The bus began to tilt up off of the ground. The driver twisted the wheel to the right in an effort to correct the tilt. Dan leapt in front of the bus.

Mortar Attack
Photograph by Eleanor Bennett

Considering that the bus had slowed somewhat during the twists and turns, it still hit him with a thunderous impact. Dan’s face met with the windshield hard enough to spiderweb the glass; it didn’t give his face a lift but instead a shift, to the right. The grill of the bus only gave some as his ribs gave all the way puncturing his dormant lungs. Something happened then that he really hadn’t planned for. The bus ran over his legs as it was screeching to a halt. His femurs gave resistance only for a second before shattering under the tons of vehicle on top of them. The pain was so exquisite it pushed his mind past the horror of it to something bordering on divinity.

His mind tried to cope with the pain the only way it knew how, a total blackout. Dan dug in deep fighting back. He had to at least appear to be alive for this plan to work.

Air released as the brakes were thrown on. Clacking and screeching followed as the door was opened. Years passed by in a sea of agony as Dan waited for the bus driver to come down around front to look at him. Finally he heard two small thumps followed by two larger thumps coming down the bus’s steps. Two thin wooden legs came out before two thicker legs of flesh followed. The driver came around the side of the bus. The driver was a man of roughly fifty that suffered from severe curvature of the spine. His upper body was of such massive bulk of muscle, fat, wrinkles, and scars that he needed two canes to support the weight hanging out over nothing. His lined face was topped of by a ball cap that read: ‘World’s Safest Driver.’

“You’ve ruined my record you know,” the driver said. “Twenty-seven years without an accident, and then splat. At least you’ve not a bleeder.”

“Please, help me,” Dan said with a rasp.

“Holy shit! You’re still alive.” The driver leaned one of his elbows on a cane and pulled a cell phone out of his breast pocket. “I hope they have to cut your legs off, you crazy asshole.”


Staring at the ceiling of the ambulance he was trying to remember to breathe and keep his heart beating. The vampires in the books and movies never seemed to feel this much pain. Not only did the bus hurt like hell, the paramedics were none to gentle tossing him in the back of the ambulance. Luck was on his side for a change though. When both of the paramedics were up front his bones began to reform and reset themselves. If one of them were back here they would have heard the cracks and pops and the charade of injury would fade quickly. It was bad enough they were making comments like: “He actually looks better now then when we picked him up.” “His driver’s license is missing but he had twenty-two bucks in his wallet. Don’t worry buddy, there is no way you’ll remember if you had any money in here or not assuming you live through this.” And, “If he dies I don’t think Joel will fuck him; he’s pretty messed up. Something sharp in there might poke old Joel.”

If the test proved he really was a vampire their blood would be the first he drank. Next would be Joel’s. That bus driver could stand to be drained of a few pints too.

Alone. Here he was a near death John Doe and the doctors were too busy to look at him. He didn’t have an insurance card in his wallet either so they pushed him back. Whether he lived or died they weren’t going to get paid so why bother.

The bones had reset enough to support his weight. Throwing off the covers and pulling out the hoses pinned in his body, Dan limped over to the next curtained off area. A young black man was on the hospital stretcher. The young man had bandages covering his torso and head. The bandages seeped red spots that looked like runny Japanese flags. An IV was attached to the boy’s arm and next to it a bag of blood.

Thoroughly confusing thoughts breached the surface of his mind. A strong feeling of sorrow and remorse coursed through his being like a river of barbed wire. He shouldn’t feel so bad about something that should be food. Sorrow was soon crowded out by a feeling of camaraderie. His whole life he had feared black people: either that they would hurt him physically or that he would say or do something to offend them. Looking down at those bleeding wounds he realized how truly alone he was in the world. The feeling of loneliness had always danced just outside the boundaries of his consciousness. It was then that the total weight of solitude fell on him.

Dan pulled the bag of blood off of the IV stand. He pulled out the lines that connected to the young man. Through his tears, he saw the hole and pushed it into his mouth. The blood was thick like molasses that sat out too long but it was bland and salty. It had a hint of taste he had tasted before when he was sanding a rust spot on off of his beater of a car. He breathed in some of the rust dust and that was what this tasted like. He felt it slime its way down into his stomach. There it sat and there it still sits with the other things.


“No,” he told her, “I’m not a vampire.”

She flicked her bleach-blonde bangs out of her eyes and smiled at him. “Are you a zombie or a ghoul? Do you eat brains?”

That brought him to where he had met her.


The news had leached on to his story, he wasn’t sure why. He figured there weren’t any stories on celebrities or children of privilege acting like idiots. Or maybe there were no juicy political stories to bend and slant until they resembled something that was actually entertaining. The news focused on a mad man who thought he was an immortal cannibal, or possibly a zombie. The reporters would leak rumors about brains and flesh that were reportedly stolen from morgues. And one medical examiner, named Joel McMillan, who was beat severely for no apparent reason. His face and his old name would flash on the screen with a phone number of whom to call. They also had a list of things that people claimed to have done to him.

The news stories didn’t stop him. Dan walked the streets, during the days and nights now. The few months he had his condition he had learned to control his metabolism and he no longer needed sleep. He could sleep if he wanted to but it was no longer a requirement.

The crowds during the day, especially on the weekends, reinforced his solitude. These hours he spent in his abandoned warehouse listening to music or reading books both of which he had stolen. He no longer had a need for cell phones or BlackBerries. It was the border that he liked to walk. The rush hours were the best times to think and search, the crowds moved with a strict purpose. The mornings brought out the morning in people as they trudged off to jobs they hated, a fate he escaped along with a need for money. The afternoon to twilight brought a swarm of released tension. He watched them swarm home and tried to learn, he wanted to discover what life could be.

It was at twilight when he saw her. She was short, tiny compared to the other people around her. Her body was plump and covered with smooth curves. Here hair—cut to thousands of different lengths and dyed a rough bleach-blonde—rested above huge dark eyes that were so brown they flirted with black. These things were part of a list and generally useless to him, but they way she moved…she was a disconnected with the world around her as he was.

Their eyes found each other. Her face tensed and then relaxed into a smile. He wondered if she knew what he was.

“That’s him,” a shout came out from the crowd. Dan tore his stare away with regret and tried to trace out who had spoke. Something smashed into his forehead pushing him back on his feet. As he brought his hand up to his head a small piece of metal fell into it. A bullet, crumpled from hitting his skull. It was that damn zombie story on the news; it had every idiot with a gun taking shots at his head. He didn’t know if shots to the head killed zombies but they didn’t always kill humans.

Mortar Attack
Photograph by Eleanor Bennett

Reeling from the shot, Dan looked through the crowd and found her. He felt a purpose for the first time. People looked at him and pointed, wide-eyed. Their eyes grew wider as he began to push through the crowd with his superhuman strength. When he reached her, she held out her hand to be taken away.


“No,” he said. “I’m not a zombie or a ghoul.”

Looking at her now she was more beautiful than hearing the truth from a liar’s lips for the first time. Her large eyes watched him and glanced around the warehouse. If his heart still beat it would have skipped. He hadn’t expected company nor did he have the usual commodities such as food, water, or even a working bathroom. And the smells, having no need for breath he only smelled a fragrance when he wanted to. The building was overcome by smells of decay: rust, mold, rotten wood, and the smells of small animals.

Her face betrayed no sign that she was uncomfortable.

Dan was living in what used to be an office. Using some skills that he picked up in a book, he had tapped the power from the building next door. A few, randomly spread out lights shown down on them.

“Are there others like you?” she asked.

He turned to look in the mirror he had hung on the wall. Not quite full length and cracked near the bottom, the mirror reflected what he had become. He had sped up his metabolism over the weeks to burn off the fat. Losing his softness enhanced the fear he spread. Tiny dark marks covered his face and his body beneath his clothes. Every injury left its mark if ever so faintly. He could get rid of them but he liked to have the reminders.

“No,” he said, “there aren’t any others.”

Looking in the mirror he watched as she walked over and pressed play on the stereo. Nick Cave’s voice came out singing ‘Cannibal’s Hymn’ like a premonition. As he watched her it came to him. He was the only one. He had no race, religion, nationality, people, or family. Spending his life alone he had always waited for something to come to him. Nothing comes to you, you have to go to it. Or create the world that you want.

Picking the brick up off of the desk he turned to her. He raised it above his head. Her eyes traced it and the ends of her lips twisted up ever so slightly. She didn’t flinch or try to run. She stood patiently anticipating the blow.


AUTHOR BIO: Adam Armstrong is a life-long native to Northern Kentucky. He lives with his long-time girlfriend, Melissa, and their two dogs. He has been published several times including short stories, articles, reviews, and interviews. When he is not writing he enjoys exploring the world around him. He occasionally maintains a blog at