Chapter 48: Out of the Mouse Hole.
Since talking to General O’Malley over the radio, the survivors in the bloodied Sheriff’s cruiser were now aware the entire central United States was minutes away from a total solar eclipse. Private Sarah Lockett steered the big white car clumsily over a grassy shoulder. The car eased back onto the road after going around a tangle of wrecked brunt out vehicles. Depressing the gas pedal the car accelerates up the incline towards the farmhouse. They headed full speed to the place where the rest of their group had taken refuge from the undead. Sarah recognizes the pile up of cars they passed. It is the same one they had passed while searching for Chip and Belinda. Lawrence Faulkner’s directions were spot on even though Sara had serious doubts about the man’s mental capabilities. However, he did know his way around his particular slice Nowheresville. As they peer off to their left Ben and Sara notice the smoldering remains of the Clow Oaks subdivision. Every home now reduced to blackened ash and scorch marks. The burnt concrete foundations look like rows of rotted teeth. Ben James smirks “Man you sure know how to drive down property values.” In Sarah’s mind, she recalls tossing a grenade into the bed of White Magic’s pickup truck. Fortunately, for them the ensuing explosion covered their escape from a teaming mob of zombies. To the ebony skinned soldier this full circle of events seemed like a lifetime ago. Private Lockett noticed Ben’s mood improving like a cancer patient told they were in remission. The prospect of seeing his family had seemingly lifted a pal of gloom from over Ben’s head. Soon Ben, his wife and kids would all be reunited. The group would be safe underground when the sun temporarily relinquished its hold on the day. This would give the Trotters an opportunity to unleash their undead fury on unsuspecting survivors of “The Event” a few hours early today.
They stow the battered police car besides the old red barn. Ben and Lawrence begin to drag Willie O from the car’s rear seat. They do so with all the tender care of rodeo clowns wrestling a steer to the ground for applause. They hustle to the front porch tiptoeing up the warped wooden steps. As seemingly, endless minutes drag by those on the front porch shuffle from foot to foot the way children who have to use the bathroom do. Ben and Lawrence support Willie O’s noddle limp body between the two of them. Meanwhile Sara stands cradling the group’s weapons clumsily in her arms. Her head moves side to side as if it were a sprinkler. Scanning for signs of the undead, she feels the anxiety of being out in the open exposed. “Don’t move!” They all spin at the sound of Carson’s voice from besides the porch. “Son of a bitch it’s them!” He exclaims into a small walkie-talkie. Smiles spread across Ben and Sarah’s faces Carson slings his M-4 and hops onto the porch. He steps over the banister face contorted in by a mask of equal parts joy and relief. Sarah leaps into the big soldier’s arms without thinking. “Cody!” She exclaims catching movement from the corner of her eye. “Oh my God!” Carlita rumbles up the front steps in full combat fatigues. She throws herself over Cody and Sarah like a blanket. “Mr. James …” Carson yanks himself away from his unit mates. The brawny young man claps Ben on the back so hard he almost drops Willie. “Damn fine to see you Sir!” Carson stands before Ben both men displaying those awkward movements that men do when gauging weather to hug each other. “Who is this?” Private Medina asks pointing down at Willie. Carson blurts “And this” he says hooking a thumb in Lawrence’s direction. Sara interrupts “introductions later guys we need to get inside now.” Carson looks around in a panic “what we got zombies about?” He pulls his rifle off his shoulder going back to the edge of the porch. There a mile or two in the distance he sees a lone ragged walking corpse. It shuffles aimlessly through the parched barren cornfield its’ feet kicking up tufts of dry soil. “No worse.” Lawrence says sheepishly. “Gone be an E-clipse.” He pronounces the word as if it is two separate words with his “good ole boy” country accent. “Huh?” Private Medina shakes her head. Sarah intercedes “Medina what happens when the sun goes down?” Carson comes back into the conversation. “The Trotters come out and … get …” His words trail off. “All smart and lethal” Private Medina finishes in a low voice. The heavy brown front door of the old farmhouse house suddenly filings open startling everyone. “Ben ….” Anne James sobs diving into her husband’s sturdy arms. He forgets himself and all the last few days of hell as he squeezes her. The sound of Willie O’s head bouncing off the wooden porch makes everyone but the James’ wince. Sara smiles then her instincts kick in. “Carson grab Willie ….” She starts by pushing Sara and Ben in the doorway. “And everybody else get the fuck in now!” Her words shock the group onto action. As the survivors clear the door, it closes with bang. The figure standing peering from a slit between the barn’s doors grins to himself.
Colonel grunted like a bull as he pushed the base of the barn doors open. The burly man takes his time so as not to dislodge any of the pins in the grenades attached to a belt adorning his ample chest. He manages to wiggle himself free dragging his scuffed M-16 behind him. He makes sure to leave the green duffle bag of C-4 behind. Peering up at the sky Colonel is completely unaware of the impending eclipse. He moves low in a cautious combat waddle scurrying over the gravel to the bottom step of the porch. Colonel watches for signs of the undead creeping up on him. Satisfied he climbs the creaky wooden steps with the grace of a wily combat veteran. Drawing a large gleaming military styled gladiolus Colonel presses forward. He tries the doorknob to find it lock but he can feel play in the old weathered wooden door. The blade comes up as the old-timer uses it like a pry bar to pop the decades old lock free. He smiles to himself “over confident fools.” The words rattle around his fractured mind. Muffled voices float up like dust mites in the timeworn house. Sheathing the big knife Colonel crawls into the foyer closing the door softly as he enters. He nudges the battle scared helmet back over his sweat-slicked baldhead. He follows the sounds of laughing scuttling through the dimly lit house. Coming to a worn white door, he peeks through seeing an ancient unpainted wooden staircase descending into the musty darkness. With the barrel of his rifle, Colonel prods the door open. The floor beneath him vibrates as something rattles on metal tracks from the basement. The voices belonging to those he is tracking start fade further in the distance from below. Letting his weapon take point Colonel quickens his pace down the stairs into the fusty basement. The rattling comes again as he whirls about eyes adjusting to the darkness. His mind does not immediately process the fact that the wall across the room in being lowered. Dashing toward the faux wall, he stretches out his damaged hand. Colonel catches the bottom of the wall slamming his shoulder against it. Bracing himself pushing up hard with his thick legs, he catches the person on the other side off guard. As the wall bangs back upwards, Colonel unsheathes his blade thrusting it out in one savage motion. The smooth blade penetrates Private Carlita Medina’s abdomen through her fatigues. Carlita was blindsided by the swift vicious attack caught defenseless. The girl falls backwards to the floor spitting up blood. Carlita’s jet-black hair comes undone from its ponytail splaying wildly around her face. She lays there on the damp earthen floor her life slowly leeching from her body. Colonel steps over her raising a finger to his lips silencing her as a disapproving teacher would. Ahead of him down a short tunnel, light pours from a rusted partially open door. He slides the bloodied knife back into its sheath silently.
Ben’s thick dark arms encircle his brood so fiercely he risks tipping Chip from his wheelchair. “Daddy” Belinda squeals in that way only little girls can. “Dad” Chip speaks softly into his father’s ear. “Without you to carry me I was thinking I would hold everybody back.” Chip relays to him in a childlike wavering tone. Ben pulls his teenage son’s head back from his shoulder pushing the long curly locks of hair out of his eyes “that’s nonsense son.” Ben James allows the tears to cascade freely down his cheeks. “Touching heathens …” A deep male voice calls out over the joyous scene. All heads turn in unison as if they were deer who heard a twig snap somewhere deep in the forest. The survivors cast their gaze upon the broad-shouldered man standing in the doorway. He sports a mismatched assortment of military fatigues covering his decades in the service. “Now before we do anything rash ….” Colonel cautions. His disfigured left hand minus its pinky and ring fingers clutches an olive green hand grenade minus its safety pin. In his right hand, an old yet dependable M-16 waves about. The barrel sweeps back and forth menacingly as he moves. It points in the general direction of the cluster of terrified people just inside the doorway. The smile on his tough face is one of madness as he speaks. “This place is old and I could bring it down with one or two of these.” He jiggles the grenade scanning the room. Ben stands up defensively shielding his family turning to face Colonel. Belinda refuses to release her daddy whom she had feared was gone forever. The tiny sandy haired little girl looks like a cape dangling comically from his back. Anne James gently moves to pry her baby loose from her father. “Mr. James …..” Colonel brings his hand down to the dual rows of hand grenades dangling like lethal Christmas tree ornaments on his torso. “You decide Sir how this will end.” The old jarhead steps further into the room. “Simple all you adults except for the unconscious convict...” he points to Willie O “… and the Olmstead’s Grandson will accompany me back to First New Faith.” With a grand sweep of his hand Colonel continues. “You all and the cripple in addition to the good ole’ boy over here” he says nodding at Lawrence. “You all leave with me and we lock this place up tight.” He rolls his solid shoulders feeling a twinge of pain from his early morning brawl with Private Carson. “Leave ...What ...?” Ben stumbles over the word. He just fought his way back to his family. All the while Ben’s internal mantra “I’ll never leave them again” was playing on repeat in his head.
Private Carson takes an angry half stomp half step forward. “Where is … Medina?” He shouts. Colonel’s cold eyes cut back the way he had come from down the dank tunnel. He had just stepped into the hidden room after leaving the dying girl on the dirt floor. “She’s bleeding to death down the tunnel.” Colonel responds cocking his head with a sneer. Gasps of shock and horror erupt from around the room a sad chorus comprised solely of heartache. “Now….” Colonel begins attempting to bring the survivors focus back to him. His eyes dance over the main threats to him in the room. Ben James is more concerned with his family but Carson he notices. The young buck’s chest heaves with emotions as he clenches his big hands into fist knuckles cracking aloud. The boys is angry and in his rage looks, as though it is about to come untethered. “Now …. Drop all your fucking weapons.” The demented Colonel snarls. “Any funny shit and I toss this grenade into the crowd and step back out the door.” He intentionally lets his gaze fall to the children huddling behind the adults. “Weapons on the floor now” Colonel motions with his rifle. Private Lockett steps forward still wearing the clothes procured from Lawrence’s filthy kitchen. “Are you fucking crazy Colonel?” She screams spittle flying from her lips. “There’s going to be a total eclipse any minute now.” Colonel says nothing instead; he tightens up on the black rifle in his grip. The survivors draw back from the big man in fear. “I won’t ask again.” Colonel takes several deliberate steps forward. “You are a liar!” He spits at Sara. “Now …” He says swallowing hard “You sinners have a debt to pay The Sin Preacher and so do you Judas.” He shouts jabbing a finger in Brother Gustavo’s direction. Ben steps in the man’s path they meet eye to eye like gladiators. “She is dead you lunatic” Ben informs the zealot. “Sara and I saw her and the rest of your cult.” Ben glances back at his family. “The dead got to them …” Ben lowers his voice. “Every last one of them was either dead or undead to be precise. When we went there zombies were flowing out your church like bees from a hive.” Colonel’s smile freezes Ben’s soul causing his testicles to draw up. He speaks aloud with devious twinkle in his eyes. “You think being among the Unclean will stop The Sin Preacher?” He snorts, “It was her plan all along. She will rule this new breed of man. Once she gets into that military base she’ll use the Unclean to bring an end to all man’s sinning.” The dank underground bunker falls silent as a tomb.
Colonel motions towards the open door. With the exception of an unconscious Willie O and White Magic, the adults shuffle from the room. Heading single file down the earthen tunnel Private Sara Lockett begrudgingly takes the lead. Each of them shuffle dejected and weaponless as their feet scrape heavily on the dirt floor. Ben carries Chip in his arms his wife Anne follows closely in the darkness her hand on his back. Colonel stops in the doorway throwing a disgusted glance at White Magic. The young Caucasian with his blond grimy dreadlocks moves between the crazy man and the children. Colonel smiles slyly like a great white watching a seal attempt to stand up to it. “Humphrey” Colonel’s growls in his deep gravelly voice his back turned to the boy calling him by his given name. “For once in your pathetic life do something right.” He says using the hand clutching the grenade point. He locks White Magic in place with a contemptuous stare. “Remember this one thing I gave you a pass because of your grandfather.” Colonel’s hard eyes shift downward and at first White Magic thinks, he is looking at the children. “Carlita!” A shrill agonizing wail echoes from the cramped tunnel. Magic watches, Colonel as he steps over the pile of weapons on the floor slowly realizing the truth. The man had been staring at the dirty bandage on his forearm. That bite that he sustained all those days ago which left him tainted by this new world’s standards. Disappearing through the rusted doorway Colonel’s back is to those staying behind, he leaves Magic with some earnest advice. “You’ve never been to bright boy. So don’t go getting’ no ideas about being a hero.” With that, the vault like door slams shut as it is pushed closed from the other side.
“You motherfucker …” Private Cody Carson’s eyes blaze with a white-hot hate so intense Colonel swears he can see it through the darkness of the tunnel. He watches the strapping soldier’s silhouette. He notices Carson is so tall it is difficult for him to stand up to his full height in the tunnel. Carson moves towards him like a wild animal freed from its cage seeking revenge. Carson’s lips drawn back in a sneer of pure rage “I’m gonna ….” Colonel raises his damaged hand up crisply stopping Carson’s charge. “Boy …” Colonel steps forward. “Do you know what a grenade would do in such close quarters? I assure you the cave in would bury everyone and bring this old house down on top of us.” This sudden declaration stops Carson in his tracks. “Let my thumb come off this lever foolish boy …” Colonel screams. “And we will all find out together!” Carson stands frozen in places the wheels in his head calculating the odds of survival like a savant. “Step away from her now.” Colonel orders the cluster of whimpering survivors kneeling around Private Carlita Medina. When his words go unheeded, the brutish man dramatically lifts the hand bearing the grenade in the air. Ben James stands shifting his paraplegic son his arms. “Ok … ok” Ben pleads grabbing Carson by his belt yanking him backwards tears glistening in his brown eyes. Colonel lowers his arm with a diabolical smile. “Let’s go” Ben chokes up shoving Carson forward they step over Private Medina. Ben pauses briefly stooping down gently taking his sobbing wife by the elbow. He helps her to her feet conscious of the foot she had injured in the van days earlier. One by one, they stand glaring at Colonel before moving in the direction of the stairs. Sara is the last to rise her outdated acid washed jeans and jacket covered in Carlita Medina’s deep crimson blood. “Move …now” Colonel prods standing over the dying soldier. Sara moves begrudgingly not wanting to leave her unit mate, her friend. She feels large hands clasping her shoulders turning her around the same way one pulls a mourner away from an open casket. Finding herself letting go as she crests the first creaky wooden stair, Sara gives in to her emotions letting the tears flow. Standing in the mouth of the tunnel Colonel stares down at the girls laying in a widening puddle of her own blood. His mind betrays him pulling him backwards in time through a vortex of memories. Colonel finds himself staring into the face of a young Vietnamese girl sprawled on the floor of a dirty hut. She too reaches a blood soaked hand up to him weakly. He kicks the girl’s hand away zipping his pants as he steps over her. Looking down back in the here and now of the zombie apocalypse Colonel shakes his head to clear out the unwanted memories. At his feet, Private Medina claws at his pants leg smearing it with blood. “Go ahead and die little girl …” He tells Medina “just be lucky I’m not zipping my pants up” he chuckles. Colonel makes his way up the darkened stairs holding the grenade to his chest like a crucifix.
Colonel catches up to Lawrence who struggles maneuver his girth up the stairs. “Move it chubby.” He tells the portly man who wheezes through gritted teeth. Lawrence recoils feeling the gun’s unforgiving metal barrel is jammed into his meaty back. “Hold tight.” Colonel shouts into Lawrence’s ear just as he fills the doorframe with his bulk. “I want to hear everyone other than this guy is on the porch.” For added emphasis, he drives an elbow into the big man’s back. “If I even think one of you is waiting to ambush me. I will empty my clip into this clod hopper’s back and the make my way back down stairs to the kids.” His threat hangs in the air like lonely dust motes. He listens as the footsteps clap across the warped wooden floor. The group does as Colonel has ordered slowly shuffling out the doorway into the waning daylight. “Is it clear?” Colonel’s raspy thick voice bellows from behind Lawrence. “Umm yes … yes sir it is.” Lawrence responds with the type of calm one can only achieve through the ignorance of one’s own mortality. “Move …” Colonel prods Lawrence Faulkner getting the man moving like an obese human glacier. They move in unison through the dimly lit living room. The old hand keeps his head on a swivel his eyes peering into the darken recesses of the room. Every cautious step the pair takes moves them closer to the open front door. A thin shaft of muted sunlight beckons them forward. “Nice and easy big boy” Colonel cautions as they step onto the porch. The survivors are all standing at the base of the steps Ben James with his son in his arms. A short sigh of relief escapes Colonel’s dry lips while he counts of each of the adults. He follows their gaze upwards not seeing Lawrence who teeters going down taking each step one at a time. “And the Sun became as black as sackcloth.” Brother Gustavo utters craning his long neck skyward shielding his eyes looking about. Orange ribbons of cosmic light dance about the shadowy sky. Everyone is cautious not to look directly at the eclipsed sun. Colonel’s mind is lost in a haze as thick as the dark shadow overtaking the Sun. “Wha …..” He mumbles walking up to the edge of the porch pushing the scuffed helmet back on his head. Sara Lockett breaks from Cody’s soothing embrace spits a cold venomous whisper “We told you dumbass!” Colonel drops his befuddled gaze from the heavens like a man coming down from a euphoric high. He has the look of a man who has suddenly experienced a mind-clearing bout of lucidness. He opens his mouth to speak but his words will never to be spoken the weight of a human body collides with him from behind.
Colonel thrown off balance teeters comically on the top step his arms failing. “Rotter! …” He shrieks like a woman seeing a mouse scurry across the kitchen floor. A pale bloody hand slaps the side of his face. “Let me… help you …. Unzip.” A weak voice strains barely audible in his ear he catches a glimpse of Private Medina’s anguished filled blood smeared face practically glowing with hate. Her hair is a wild nest of dirt and blood caked about her head. Before he can react, the dying soldier on his back yanks down snatching the pins out of several grenades affixed to the rig on his burly chest. “Grenade” screams Private Carson causing the group at the base of the porch to dive for cover. With the last strength, she can muster Private Medina shifts her weight. Melina rides Colonel like a toboggan down to the packed gravel below. The hefty retired soldier lands hard knocking the breath from his lungs and pinning his hands underneath him. The white light that ushers Colonel and Carlita Medina into the afterlife is brilliant enough to make the eclipsed Sun jealous. The explosion is somewhat muffled buy the three hundred plus pounds of human meat atop it. The ground still shakes while chunks of Carlita and Colonel pelt and slap the ground all around the survivors. A distant wail pierces the air. Cody pushes himself off the ground pulling Private Lockett to her feet roughly. “Carlita ...” He whimpers. The crushed white gravel is a decorated Rorschach pattern of varying colors derived from the pulverizing of two human bodies. “Shit” Sara says staring past Carson dismissively. The source of the scream was now evident to Sara. The Rotter from earlier had been wandering the field alone in its solitary unrest charges across the dry loose dirt. The blotting out of the Sun had awakened zombie’s feral lust for warm human flesh. “Ok … ok Shit.” Carson stammers in confusion, he raises his only weapons. Taking a boxer’s stance Carson yells back over his shoulder “get in the house now. I’ll take care of this one.” The zombie closes the distance fast an instable hunger propelling it. The undead man dressed in grimy blue coveralls is missing his right eye. Teeth marks rim the jagged hole where the man’s eye had been. His scream carries across the calm stillness of the interrupted day. Carson draws in a deep breath calming himself. The zombie hits the packed gravel picking up speeding. Carson cocks a punch ready to unleash his soup can sized hand with as much might as he could muster. Private Lockett blindsides the charging ghouls with the butt of Colonel’s M-16. The blow sends the lanky Trotter pinwheeling sideways in a tangle of limbs. She absently wrenches Colonel’s clenched hand from the rifles grip tossing it into the dirt. Moving with a purpose Sara stomps down into the dead man’s chest while flipping the weapon’s safety off. The lone gunshot takes the back of the zombie’s skull off in a shower of red and black. Brain matter splatters the ground with a wet slap. The survivors rise and scamper toward the safety of the house’s basement like mice caught outside of their hole. “Carson let’s go.” Sara yelps checking their surroundings obsessively for more Rotters. The darkness plays tricks on their vision all but Carson who has long had great eyesight. “Carson.” He hears Sara her voice coming from miles away even though she is now at his side. “Car …” Sara’s words fail her as she watches Carson’s face through hazy muted sunlight. He trembles as if being electrocuted the thick muscles that make up his body rippling with fear. His beefy right arm comes up like a child pointing at a caged zoo animal. Sara follows his the line of his finger. In the murky distance, a figure emerges from the tree line. The lone form holds its arms out walking slowly into view mimicking a mock messiah. The Sin Preacher smiles under her blood caked hair sweeping her arms forward as if she were a choir director. Her undead congregation burst from the trees reminiscent of a barbarian horde screaming a chilling battle cry. Zombies of every imaginable shape and size make for the house emboldened by the darkness of the eclipse. “Oh God” Sara prays aloud to herself.
Alright after some technical glitches The Living Dark is back and ready to conclude. We meet back up with our survivors where we left them at White Magic's old farmhouse. An unwanted visit from Colonel seeking revenge is unfortunately timed with a total solar eclipse. It seems as though an even worse fate awaits our survivors as The Sin Preacher reappears as a Rotter bringing her undead congregation with her. We will see how it all plays out in the next chapter of The Living Dark.
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The Living Dark