Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chapter 48: Out of the Mouse Hole


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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Sincerely
The Living Dark

Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 47: Inside Operation Bullfrog


Chapter 47: Inside Operation Bullfrog

 

  “Look Doctor Redstone I see your point but  ...” The athletically built tall woman is acutely aware her words have no effect on the other woman seated at the table. That woman’s scowl alone makes her words feel about as meaningful as a recipe for butternut squash in the winter. She chews on her full lips in frustration at the others woman’s bully tactics. She catches herself staring down at the crease in the pants of her fatigues. They sit in a vast sterile white conference room. The room is identical to any one of a thousand nondescript such rooms in America. The one exception being is this room is part of a fortified installation sitting more than two thousand feet below ground. There is huge computer console against a wall to their left. The massive black screen dominates the room like a gaudy painting. A meek young soldier in fatigues and a black t-shirt sits bolt upright in a chair at the console. There is a wireless microphone perched on his buzz cut head. One a female scientist and the other a career solider the women sit eying each other with the unease of a pair of scavengers coming together over a carcass. At the far end of the table, four men in pristine white lab coats sporting clipboards flank the heavyset woman. “This isn’t a maybe Major Castleberry ….” The brutish woman at the opposite end of speaks with the air of a Wall Street executive. “ …. This isn’t a discussion this is me telling you and you doing it.” The last phrase comes with an open palm slap to the large faux mahogany table at which they sit. Doctor Redstone’s meaty hand moves up to push her thick black glasses back upon the bridge of her nose. “Doctor Redstone …” Major Donna Castleberry puts on her best diplomatic face. This buys her time to stifle the rage bubbling its way up inside her. The pressure increasing with every second she has to speak to this cow of a woman. Her instincts are urging her to stand up vault over the table and clamp her fingers around Dr. Redstone’s doughy neck. Major Castleberry’s emerald green eyes settle on the immense woman packed into the leather office chair.

 

  Major Donna Castleberry was not about to be bullied by some egghead from the CDC. “I assure we will offer you whatever help we can with your research doctor.” She pauses as the two women’s eyes lock somewhere near the center of the table. “One thing I can assure of is this Doctor.” Major Castleberry leans up onto the table feeling her brown hair in its no fuss ponytail tickle the back of her neck. “You are correct this discussion is not up for debate.” She says her breath exiting her lungs with such force her nostrils flare. Doctor Redstone leans back in her chair causing its metal spring to emit an almost helpless groan. “Doctor Redstone under no circumstances will we bring what you call specimens or what we call Rotters, Trotters or zombies into this secured base.” Doctor Redstone’s face is an unmoving mask of angry red blush rising up into her jolly pink cheeks. She maneuvers her meaty frame forward huffing angrily like an antagonized bull elephant. The highly intelligent Virologist despises having to wastes time dealing with soldiers. The Doctor starts to formulate a plan as the idea grows so does the smile on her face. Soon the devilish grin slides across her thin pink lips. “Look honey why don’t you run along and get your handler” the doctor says condescendingly waving a contemptuous hand towards the soldier. The dig clearly meant to antagonize the Major. A chorus of chuckles erupt from the men in white lab coats behind Dr. Redstone. They have the look of a high school chess club in the midst of giggling at a private joke. She uses her near genius level intelligent to turn the tables on the pretty Amazonian Barbie doll across the table. Major Castleberry’s eyes cut briefly to the young soldier sitting at computer console. Castleberry the decorated soldier fights to maintain her composure.

  “Attennnnnnhut” The door to the conference bangs open behind the Major. The anger drains from her face like water flushing down a toilet, as she stands bolt upright. Castleberry steps to the side snapping a crisp salute. “General O’Malley” as disembodied male’s voice shouts out. An old grandfatherly looking man strolls confidently in almost on cue. The General’s facial features are hard like granite. Weathered brown sunken eyes appear alert under pure white eyebrows, which is the only hair on his otherwise clean-shaven face. His fatigues neatly pressed and ornately decorated with patches and ribbons rustle as he strides in. On his feet, a pair of highly polished pair of black combat boots reflect the sterile white light in the room. He returns the salute to Major Castleberry passing the statuesque woman. The old man slips right into the seat his subordinate had previously occupied. “At ease” he says watching the young man take his seat at the monitor with the keen eye of a high school principal. The Major falls into a parade stance her well-toned arms behind her back. The door slams shut behind him “My apologies Dr. Redstone …” General O’Malley clears his throat. “I couldn’t attend your hastily called meeting earlier I was busy.” Across the long, table Dr. Redstone rolls her eyes in contempt adding a snort for good measure. “General O’Malley it’s no wonder your subordinates don’t take my mission seriously.” She huffs “clearly they see you do not place any importance on it.” Dr. Redstone spits. The two ranking members of the factions occupying the bunker square off as they usually do. If one were to remove the zombie threat, bunker, uniforms, lab coats, and place the pair in the kitchen of a rural farmhouse. They would look more like an old married couple. “Doctor I assure you I take your mission seriously.” Helping you research this plague and increase our understanding of what we face is one of my top priorities.” “There is where you are wrong General …,” Dr. Redstone blurts. “It should be your only priority!” General O’Malley’s lips press together in a sneer as he leans back in his chair. He glances up at his second in command. By the tension in her jaw, muscles he can tell the doctor must have been giving her hell. O’Malley feels a slight twinge of guilt at sending Major Castleberry into the lion’s den on his behalf. His thoughts go back to the young Private he’d spoken too over the radio. Then a spike of remorse drives itself into his heart turning it ice cold. Here they were placating this scientist and her desires around curing death. Meanwhile outside the dead were consuming more and more people every day. He had reached his fill of this woman and his orders from the President were clear when he took his post. Operation Bullfrog’s primary objective in the event of a total electrical failure was to help open a line of communication covering the entire continental United States. This Operation would allow for communications with U.S. forces and other humans across the globe. The five Bullfrog units would be strategically deployed Pennsylvania to California. “The Event” as they were calling it had all but crippled the entire global. Anything not running or in their case buried several stories underground was sparred.

 

  “Major Castleberry what was the current topic of conversation with the good doctor before I arrived?” Brigadier General O’Malley speaks running his tongue around the inside of his cheek eagerly waiting his answer. Castleberry responds barking her words aloud. “General Sir Doctor Redstone believes that soldiers here do not take the mission here seriously Sir.” The old man huffs crossing one leg over the other. “General Sir she believes as stated previously the reason soldiers do not take the mission seriously is because the General does not take the mission seriously Sir.” O’Malley turns to his subordinate in mock surprise. “Do tell …..” He muses. “General Sir her words not mine Sir.” Major Castleberry says her face a stone mask of discipline. “General Sir Doctor Redstone also demanded that we bring her team infected specimens from the surface for further study.” Deep down inside the undisciplined part of her soul Major Castleberry was enjoying this. She tells General O’Malley of the doctor’s transgressions with all the glee of a child telling her father about her evil stepmother’s indiscretions. “General O’Malley if you wanted to know what I said you could just as easily ask me.” Dr. Redstone calls from the end of the table. “Oh I’m getting to you Alberta,” he says throwing down a gauntlet with his intentional breech of etiquette by using her first name. “Please tell me what you think our mission is. Share with me why you think the government built this bunker and the Bullfrog unit?” The General speaks with all the grandeur of a condescending host at a family Christmas dinner. The look on Doctor Redstone’s face said it all. She was a seething cauldron of bubbling ire. She had finally met the one man in all of her fifty plus years of life who was immune to her tactics. “My orders were clear our goal is to find a cure for  ...,” “Wrong” O’Malley shouts repeatedly stabbing an accusing gnarled finger in the doctor’s direction. “My mission as ordered by the President of the United States was to ensure the deployment of the communications array atop the Bullfrog unit first.” He sits forward holding the finger aloft as if counting off a list. He now adds a second finger up with the first. “Second we were to assist and or rescue any civilians we could in the event of a national emergency.” The dull sound of the wheels echo off the carpeted floor as General O’Malley pushes the chair back rising to his feet. “They threw you eggheads in from the CDC at the last minute like unwanted houseguests.” He adds coming around his end of the tablet. “Washington was hoping we could cure this thing whatever it is but you can’t cure death can you doctor?” He says passing the kid at the console who squirms in his seat. Doctor Redstone looks thunderstruck for a moment her supreme confidence waivers. She settles back and says, “I wouldn’t know doctor you haven’t given us the opportunity to see what we are up against” with sarcastic a smile. “We don’t even know if we have a national emergency on our hands or not. We sit down her sequestered with only your word as to what is happening top side.” She continues as the officer gingerly closes the distance. “No you don’t doctor I do.” Stopping turning back to face the nervous teenager seated at the console against the wall besides him. “Corporal Jones I want the live feed from the Bullfrog’s drone we launched earlier today?” “Sir yes Sir.” The boy croaks startled into action. His hands be move with a well-practiced grace flowing over the large console before settling onto a large black joystick. Within seconds, he has taken over control of the drone from its autopilot. “Major the lights if you would.” He motions over to his subordinate. She moves over to the light switch with a silent nod. The room goes dark like a movie theater light casts off the massive wall sized monitor bathing the room’s occupants in its glow. “We purposely took the drone up this morning before the solar eclipse.” The gravelly voice calls out from the darkness. “We looked for the nearest major population center as instructed in our immediate vicinity.” He continues after clearing his throat. “Which was Pueblo Colorado forty four miles North, North East of our current location.” Slowly the General’s shadow materializes off to one side of the monitor.

 

  Clouds filter across the screen as the color starts to sharpen and come into focus. The view looks down on what they all now know is Pueblo Colorado. At this height, the lay of the land looks like it does from any transcontinental flight cross the middle of the country. The patchwork quilt of terrain that makes up southern Colorado farmlands and national parks give way to the city of Pueblo. Black smoke wafts up from several dozen unchecked fires partially obscuring the view from the drone’s camera. “We are minus two minutes and counting until the beginning of the eclipse.” He narrates the images before everyone gathered in the room. “Corporal maintain your current holding pattern and I want you to zoom in with the camera. I don’t want any civilians to hear the drone and compromise themselves believing this to be a rescue.” “Sir Yes Sir” Corporal Jones responds. The ground slowly comes into focus the lens of the camera adjusting in slight jerking motions. The air near the ground is clearer. The scene that greets them is a chaotic post-apocalyptic nightmare. Hundreds of figures shuffle aimlessly though wreck-strewn streets. They can see bodies littering the landscape in various states of desecration. Limbs lie torn from sockets scattered about like a demented little girl’s doll massacre. They witness large mobs hunched over shapeless mounds of once human meat. The entire scene before them had the look of a Jackson Pollack painting. The only difference the spatters and spays adorning almost everything in this macabre masterpiece were all a single color blood red. Corporal Jones feels the telltale sensation of a cold sweat dripping from the crown of his head. He absently wipes his clammy palms on his fatigues. He struggled to stench the flow of bile attempting to fight its way up his throat. From somewhere in the room comes an audible gasp “one of her peons no doubt” Castleberry thinks to herself. Although she herself could not blame whichever bespectacled, nerd had made the utterance. Based on what she knew from her discussions with the General. This scene in all of its brutal high definition color surpassed even what her imagination had concocted. She did not know about the others but her thoughts went to her parents. She prayed they had made it to their assigned Bullfrog bunker in rural Pennsylvania. A fact she would not able to confirm until they got their relay up and going. “Notice the large number of Rotters Doctor Redstone.” General O’Malley starts. “Infected General if you please?” The old man glances off in the darkness towards the woman’s voice. “Well I do and please don’t interrupt me again Alberta.” He says turning to the screen. “The limited intelligence we have received in the wake of the first three Bullfrog units’ successful deployments is as follows.” The old man folds his arms across his chest. “For reasons yet unknown these things …. These zombies cluster together.” He points to the screen at a large pack of the dead. They appear like confused humanoid insects meandering through Pueblo’s small downtown district. “Near as we can tell they don’t retain the ability to intentionally organize as a group in their current state. We believe the presence living humans and their individual drive to consume said humans is their driving motivation. This alone we feel allows the individuals to work together for a common goal.” Pausing to crane his neck to take in more of the giant screen General O’Malley continues. “However some of these walking corpses turn feral and display patterns of hyper aggression when the Sun goes down.” The pack of zombies seem to be in a constant motion. They bump into each other changing course only to repeat the same process over again. By his glowing watch face General O’Malley can see the eclipse has begun. “Now Pueblo is just a small city of over a hundred thousand people. Near as we can tell best case estimates have over eighty percent of the population is infected, turned or whatever we are calling it.” Blackness seeps into the picture becoming slowly visible on the outer edge of the camera’s field of vision. “Imagine how bad the destruction is New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles tightly packed metropolises once full of life. They now team with the undead like cockroaches not afraid of the light and emboldened by the night.” The camera grows darker still. “Corporal decease altitude by half” he orders. On screen, the effect is immediate as the unmanned aircraft’s nose begins to dip.   

 

  “Uh General Sir” A nasally male voice chirps from the darkness. “Sir what is the point of all this?” “We need to see their behavior during this rare chance to study them. We will pair what you with what we learn today.” He answers. On screen, the eclipse reaches its brief climactic total stage. In the gloom, they watch as sporadic zombies pulse to life from amid the horde. Like random frenetic kernels of exploding popcorn, they leap up pushing and shoving their slower kin about carelessly. “Now team I give you our enemies secret weapon the Trotter. A zombie menace complete with the powers of speech, coordinated movement, blood lust and most dangerous of all thought. They pursue humans with a relentless energy born from lungs that don’t need oxygen to breath and muscles that don’t fatigue.” The air in the room is suddenly stuffy, as those gathered there stare transfixed at the horror. The camera pans around catching a cluster of Trotters tearing away from the edge of the great teaming mass of zombies. From its perch above the undead, the drone buzzes on unable to render aid in any way. The Rotters turn on decayed limbs slowly stumbling behind the Trotters like nosy little brothers and sisters. Over a dozen of the corpses emboldened by the early gift of fleeting daylight descend upon a tiny red building. “What is that?” the General asks to nobody in particular. “General Sir it appears to be a fire station Sir?” Major Castleberry answers the rhetorical question. Surrounding the red brick building on every side the Trotters begin tearing at barricaded doors and boarded up windows. “Jesus there must be survivors in there.” The General moves to a spot in front of the screen to get a better look. He steals a glance down at his watch. The totality of the eclipse would end in seven minutes they had just passed the halfway point. Soon the dull Rotters join their intelligent kin in the assault on the tiny firehouse. The zombies attack the structure with the ferocity of unbridled feeding frenzy. Until with all the pressure of a dam bursting, the dead exploit a weak point gaining entry through a front window. “Good Lord can we help them?” A voice cries out. Major Castleberry breaks discipline turning her head towards Doctor Redstone’s voice. “The drone is unarmed.” Jones utters in a panic looking up to General O’Malley. On screen, the futility of their compassion plays out in stomach churning horror. Terrified frantic figures appear in various windows on the second floor. The wretched souls toss themselves out of the windows landing in the roiling horde below. They met their demise with gut wrenching silent screaming up turned faces. Putrid hands slowly pull the ensnared humans down devouring them alive in seconds. Zombies topple out the windows like lemmings behind their fleeing victims. The dead crash onto the pavement dragging themselves on decimated limbs towards the slaughter. They all lust for scraps of human meat. The firehouse is vomiting Rotters and Trotters out of the top floor as the dead pour in from the bottom. Without warning, the front door of the fire station explodes outward in a jagged spray of metal and splintered wood. A massive red fire truck with its lights blazing through the gloom plows from the building battering a swath through the walking dead. A few intrepid Rotters cling to the metal battering ram seeking the people inside. The truck makes a wild turn throwing some of the flesh leeches off in the process. The truck and its inhabitants break free of the densest part of the herd. It speeds towards the edge of town without stopping. As suddenly, as it had begun the eclipse’s hold on the town of Pueblo loosens. The Sun pulls itself slowly from behind the moon’s dark cloak. The dead short circuit whatever triggers that had been lighting up their decomposing brains ceasing for the time being. They stare skyward as the darkness fades some of them perplexed by the tiny flying object in the sky. The zombie’s diseased and decaying brains are unable to comprehend the meaning of the drone overhead. “Stay on that truck Corporal that’s an order.” The General screams. Jones nods he is too scared to speak. “Find the Pueblo’s emergency frequency list and try them all until you raise whoever’s in that truck.” He says leaning in so close he can see the red pores on the boy’s clean-shaven face.

 

  “Lights” The General barks blindly. Most of those present squint furiously blinking away the spots before their eyes. “Major Castleberry” General O’Malley does not let up. Major Castleberry falls in before the General her body a rigid statue hands at her side. “How many scientist are there here in my bunker?” He quizzes “General Sir there are Sixty Sir.” O’Malley stares a hole into the doctor now “And how many soldiers are there in my bunker Major?” He stops crossing his arms over his muscular but bony chest once more like a kid daring another to hit him. “General Sir there are twelve hundred twenty soldiers with Operation Bullfrog in this bunker all under your command Sir.” He slowly moves on his heels towards the end of the table. He squats by Dr. Redstone’s chair. “Now doctor tell me again how you don’t think this is a military operation.” He smirks “I want the Bullfrog prepped and ready to move within the hour is that clear Major?” His eyes never leave the bulbous woman at the end of the table. “Sir yes Sir.” Castleberry responds and with a dismissive salute, he sends the soldier on her way to do as he instructed. “Doctor Redstone ….” He speaks wet spittle on his lips. “Alberta you are more concerned about bringing the dead into my bunker than the living.” The scientist and her cadre of yes men look around at each other. A few men vigorously shake their heads “no.” “Think about it all of you do you really want what we just saw down here with you in a locked bunker?” As with most “smart people” General Patrick O’Malley believes they are too smart for their or anyone else’s good. “Get this straight your mission and the mission of your dancing monkeys is to do as I say understand?” He looks around not seeing the response desires. “Okay let me put it this way is anybody ready to go top side and see how long they last?” One-man recoils back into the dry erase board behind them that his glasses topple to the floor. “Good I thought so.” The General gingerly stands up on his aching arthritic knees. “Doctor I made contact with a Private who was with the unit assigned to guard St. George’s the day after the turn. She says she is hold up with a few soldiers from her unit and some civilians.” His voice and tone are softer now. “By God I pray they survived this eclipse nightmare. Because if they did I will be bringing them back here once, we set up that array.” He places a hand on the woman’s thick shoulder. “I need you to stow all you data and samples. Form this point on you and all your people will be on medical detail is that clear?” Alberta Redstone bows her head in understanding and rakes her fingers nervously though her thick black hair. “Yes Patrick it is.” She speaks chest hitching with emotion. She claps her hand over his “For all of our sake Patrick put down anyone that gets bit don’t bring them back here.” She says all the pride gone from her face. “Finally doctor something we can both agree on.” The General exits the room without another word. On his orders, the bunker has become a beehive of activity. All around him, all soldiers hustle about making ready for the rescue mission. For the first time since “the Event,” they will be going topside.
 
 
Well  now we know something more about the folks heading up Operation Bullfrog!
 
 
 
 
Stay tuned for chapter 48 and as usual follow me on Twitter @TheLivingDark
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sincerely
 
 
The Living Dark 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Chapter 46: Double Time


Chapter 46: Double Time

  He pulls his battered body up to the back door of his house. Colonel felt the aches and pains of age on his tweak his bones. More so he felt the pain for the “ass whoopin’” the muscular young soldier has laid on him. His head throbbed the pain emanating from a tender swollen bump between his eyes. The blow to his head had slowed his reaction down to a near zombie like state. Colonel’s mental faculties moved about slowly as if in a thick sea of pudding. He thought to himself that this fact alone had served him well. He had traversed the back roads home after narrowly escaping the slaughter back at the church. A nosy Rotter now appears in his peripheral vision. The woman has had her scalp peeled back like a banana. The loose meaty clump of hair and skin sways across the back of her neck like a ponytail. He thinks he recognizes the ragged woman from the neighborhood. She closes in on him one unsteady step after another her dull cloudy eyes fixing on him. Colonel thinks he may have given himself away. He kept a slow and steady dead like gait as he shuffled home passing clusters of zombies with no problems. However, the sight of his house had invigorated him causing his pace to quicken. He knew any unwanted attention would cause more zombies to congregate around his home thus slowing his plans for revenge. He makes his movement’s quick and precise dropping down seizing a hefty brick in his calloused hand. The bear sized man launches himself at the slack-jawed fetid corpse. With the crunch of fine china, breaking Colonel slams the brick home. Dispatching the zombie with such brute force her moan caught in her throat where it will remain forever silent unable to alert more of her kind. Panting his husky chest heaving the old soldier takes a brief instant to scan the open backyard. With no sign of further Rotter encroachment Colonel rummages a blood cake hand through his pants pocket. He winches from the pain in his groin “damn bitch” he thinks back to the little Hispanic female soldier and the kick she delivered to his nutsack. Once he hooks a finger around the key ring. Colonel nimbly opens the rear door of his humble non-descript house and steps inside.

   Familiar smells greet him some new some decades old. He steps over one-step that he knows will emit annoying creak in one giant stride. He moves through the kitchen, dining room and into the living room. The front of the house is pristine decorated with furniture from the late seventies. The casual observer would have no clue of the cataclysmic events that have befallen the world outside. Still playing the key ring in his hand as he marches down a narrow hallway. The gooey zombie blood drying on his fingers like syrup from some long ago breakfast. Having never married he turns the key in the lock of the only bedroom he’s ever known. Not counting the barracks of untold military bases across the globe, he had called home temporarily. The room in his parents’ home has grown with him over the decades. Today in the midst of everything, he enters a place as familiar to him as his own skin. Now he heads towards a place in this sparsely decorated bedroom that is a little less familiar his closet. Colonel sighs his heartbeats erratically in his chest he unlocks the heavy doorknob. The thick metal door he installed after returning for service in Vietnam groans on it’s hinges. A smile begins at the corners of his mouth Colonel lets his eyes wash over the shrine before him. This had once been a simple closet. Colonel had remodeled the cramped dank space into a vault paying homage to his military service. He feels around in the dark finding the cheap dollar store light he mounted years ago. A tiny round battery operated light buzzes to life casting its weak beam upon several dress uniforms spanning his time in the Marines. Photos cover a black shelf on the rear wall of the closet. Colonel pauses briefly at each one of the half dozen photos. The face of a young burly boy holding an M-60 in the jungles of Vietnam greets him. Moving from top to bottom, he ages forty years in a manner of seconds. There the last picture of him arm in a sling his newly mangled hand wrapped with so much white gauze it resembled a big Q-tip. He recalls The President having to reach up to pin his Purple Heart and Medal of Honor on his chest. Colonel thought he was going to cry right there in front of his parents, the President and the world. His emotional state was not due to his injury. It was due to that I.E.D he spotted as he and his men patrolled that stifling hot wretched town square in Iraq. Without thinking, without fear he tossed the bag containing said device away from his troops mere seconds before it detonated. His actions after losing most of three fingers and the wounds he sustained in ensuing firefight had earned him the Medals. The last medals he knew, he would ever receive as Marine. They forced him to retire. Left with no others options than to drag himself back to this derelict outpost of tobacco chewing humanity. He was about to reach out and caress the sash of medals that twinkled in the dim light like ornaments on a Christmas tree. A new sound found its way to his ears along with an even more familiar smells. “Mom …” he gripes like a teenager demanding privacy.

  Colonel cocks his head ever so slightly. He sees his small mother standing in the doorway to his room. A post she had taken more times than he can remember in her eighty-five plus years of life. A thick white bandage adorns her left forearm, he had field dressed her wound himself. “Bradford Beasley” she kept calling him by his legal name and she was the only human he allowed that privilege. She had done this an attempt to sooth him and forestall the inevitable explosion of his legendary temper. The frail white haired woman who walked with the aid of an old weathered brown cane stood swaying side to side in the doorway. Her cane now absent as her dull milky white orange-flecked eyes settle on his warm flesh. Colonel had found the man who attacked his mother and bit his mother. He staggered about mulling aimlessly at the end of their driveway that day. In fact, the man’s corpse still lay at the end of said driveway. Colonel didn’t know it then but the man whose head he had viciously twisted almost a hundred and eighty degrees on his shoulders was a Rotter. “Momma …” he heard himself croak as the only woman Colonel had ever loved came at him. Her feeble arms were outstretched a string of brackish saliva dangled from her chin. The elderly woman’s false teeth fell clattering comically to the floor with the opening of her mouth. Colonel steps forward pinning his undead mother’s arms to her side. He lifts the small woman up like a baby. In life, he had gotten all of his massive size and girth from his father. With a violent whipping motion he slams his mother’s head into wall sending shard of plaster raining down on them both. The second blow rattles the walls with a wet snapping sound his mother going limp in his embrace. Colonel throws his mother’s body back out the doorway. It lands in a heap resembling dirty laundry and old belched white dough. Colonel turns his attention back to his closet. Suddenly he feels something wet hit the back of his hand. “Blood … she bit me …” his panicked mind, screams.

 Colonel staggers over to the closet jabbing his hand into the light. There on the back of his hand a tiny droplet of clear liquid trails off. Initially Colonel is confused until he reaches up touching his cheek. “A tear …” He mutters to no one. The sudden appearance of humanity and useless emotions within him fills his chest with a burning rage. The mere thought of showing what he considers weakness pushes whatever is left of his soul back into the vault he kept it locked in for so many years. Colonel grabs his sash of medals tossing them to the floor. He does with all the grace of a man throwing change in to a beggar’s cup. The snarls erupting from his mouth would freeze a Rotter in it’s tracks. He grabs both sides of the small black shelf yanking it free. He propels it over his head not even bothering to look where it lands with a crash. There hanging on the wall is his true uniform a dull faded sandy mixture of camouflage patterns. The left side of it tattered and bloodied from the explosion that day so long ago. Above it sits his olive green helmet from yet another conflict still covered in frayed netting. One of the first thing the Marine Corps had ever issued to him. On the wall mounted next to it were weapons that had served with him in combat. A black batter M-16, two .45 caliber pistols, and a long polished bayonet all decorate the closet’s back wall. Beneath that, hanging from a hook is a chest harness with three egg shaped grenades on either side. On the floor is as much ordnance as one could sneak home during forty years of military service. Colonel was ready for war and he had the tools to wage one if he so desired. He would as of yet meet his end on the battlefield. His mind let go of everything except one fact, he knew the rats were hiding at the old Olmsted farm. He would get them out the same way he got “Charlie” to come out of his hidey-holes dug into the soft jungle floor by blowing them apart.

 “Ok ... Ok…” Sara steadies herself as she navigates the police car back down the road towards Lawrence’s house. “We get Lawrence to tell us how to get back to White Magic’s place.” Ben nods leaning forward in his seat willing the car to go faster. His family was safe for now and every minute he has spent apart from them in this hellish reality weighs heavily on him. “Can we just raise them on the radio?” Ben points at the dash mounted unit in the Sheriff’s car. Sara steals a quick glance down hesitantly taking her eyes off the road. “Not sure ….” She says returning her attention to driving around wrecks and avoiding the Rotters now littering the roads. “Flick it on Mr. James and hand me the handheld mic.” She says. Sara notices far more zombies crowding the once wide-open country road than she did on their way to the church. “We brought them out Mr. James.” She points taking the mic as Ben slaps it into her palm. “Yeah I think you’re right.” Ben replies looking at all of the dull creatures shambling after the speeding car. Coming up in the center of the street, they see the biker’s corpse they’d dumped in the road surrounded by zombies. The dead almost appear to be investigating the body their now singular thought process unable to comprehend its sudden appearance. “Let’s just not be here when the sun goes down Sara,” Ben says nervously. “Agreed Mr. James” Sara tells Ben holding the mic up and pressing the lone black button on its side. “Hello is there anybody listening over?” Sara tries the last radio station used by the car’s previous occupant. Static bursts of white noise assaults their ears filling the car causing the pair to recoil. Sara gives Ben the most common military frequency she can think of. She knows that White Magic had a military radio in his bunker. “This is Private First Class Sara Lockett come in farm house over.” She calls into the mic again. She uses her military rank and title just in case. “Watch out!” Ben screams pointing to a large hunting pack of Rotters flanked by burnt out cars on either side. Sara drops the mic clamping both hands on the steering wheel. Sara swings the car onto the sidewalk brutally bowling over a trio of walking corpses. Entrails and blood baptize the car as they narrowly miss the blackened husk of a minivan. “Shit that was close.” Ben sighs. “Here’s Lawrence’s street.” He continues noticing they had indeed brought the dead out with their noisy exit. “Drive on the grass around back.” He instructs Sara as she guides the car around a large house.

 Ahead of them in the distance is Lawrence’s house. Ben glances across the field they had traversed earlier. He can see the river and railroad trestle in the distance. “You stay on that radio I’ll get Lawrence and Willie.” Ben shouts as the car bounces over the uneven earth. The car fishtails to a stop a few feet from the back of the rickety back porch. Ben is out running across the gravel with the big shotgun clutched tightly to his chest. He moves with the focus of a football player who sees only open field and the endzone before him. Ben hits the porch hard twisting the knob he realizes its locked. Gazing back, he sees Sara now standing with the idling car’s door open. She hold the mic in one hand AR-15 in the other the way cops on TV do. She stares back in the direction they had come then she speaks “Umm better make this shit quick!” Ben turns leaning further off the porch coming for them is a phalanx of Rotters. The undead pour around the house at the end of the block like concertgoers pushing towards a stage. “Lawrence ….” Ben screams as he pounds the door feeling it rattle in it’s frame. “Lawrence ….” His blows continue to assault the thin door. It takes less than two minutes for Lawrence Faulkner swing the door open. To Ben however it drags out like an eternity before he sees the man’s flushed and terrified cherub like face. “Lawrence get in the car.” Ben orders. “I … I can’t leave ...” Ben interrupts “I can’t get back to my family unless you tell us how Lawrence.” Ben implores. “Lawrence there are zombies coming for us.” Lawrence steps past Ben grabbing his shovel. “Now Mister James we can handle zombies.” He brushes past Ben “Now how many do we got?” Lawrence says stepping down from the last step. “All of them Lawrence we fucking have all of them.” Ben says with a sarcastic smile from the top step. The shovel drops from Lawrence’s hand and for brief second Ben thinks the man is going to turn and run. “Mr. James go now I got him.” Sara urges Ben on as she grabs Lawrence’s fat elbow escorting him to the back seat of the cruiser.

 Ben bounds up the ladder frantically yelling “Willie!” Cresting the stairs with all the grace of a slapstick comedian Ben scurries over to the prone man. “What …” Willie squeaks out of his dry lips. “Great you’re not dead.” Ben blurts flatly, “We got to go Willie.” Sweat pours from his baldhead in the muggy attic. “Sorry Willie.” Ben tells the man as his sizes his long lanky frame up. “Wha ... whas wrong wit you man.” Willie’s eyes flutter between pain induced grogginess and confusion. Willie O gets his answer in the form of white-hot agony as Ben drops the tactical shotgun on his chest. In seconds, the streetwise criminal blacks out from the pain. Ben drives both hands under the injured convict using a much rougher technique than he did with Chip. A pang of guilt hits his heart as he lifts the man up. Ben feels as though he hasn’t seen his children in forever. His body cannibalizes this feeling of guilt converting it to will power. His legs move him to the small ladder leading out of the attic. The sound of gunfire begins to echo up from outside. Ben decides to take the express route down. The throws himself forward legs outstretched like a man at the mouth of a waterslide. The ride down is painful as his tailbone slaps each wooden plank rattling his teeth. A pile of trash unceremoniously ends his ride abruptly. With his knees, protesting Ben huffs twice rocking himself to a standing position. He stumbles through the trash heaps balancing Willie and the gun on his chest. Ben notices thin tendrils of fresh blood coloring the edges of the bandages on Willie’s lower midsection. Mercifully, Ben makes it to the open backdoor. Immediately a zombie coming up the stairs greets him with a low growl. Instinct drives Ben’s leg out and into the big festering corpses chin. He feels the kick break bone as it lifts the zombie up tossing it backwards down the stairs. Ben doesn’t hesitate leaping down the two remaining stairs as the Rotter and two of his kin wallow about on the ground attempting to stand.

  Sara engages the horde approaching them from the rear. The soldier stands a few feet from the open car door giving herself room to retreat. She drops zombies with short three shot burst only to watch as half a dozen more take their brethren’s place. The air around her fills with blue smoke. She is in her zone placing bullets in eye sockets, foreheads and otherwise decimating facial features of the once living. “Someone was on the radio.” Sara’s eyes never leave her targets as she shouts out. “Com’on!” Lawrence barks waving to Ben his shovel in hand again. Lawrence defends their flank between his house and that of his neighbors. The same narrow space that Ben and Sara had used as an escape route earlier. The chunky man pounds a Rotter comically in the face and in the same motion, he shoves the rounded handle into a dead man’s eye. Ben hunkers low running for the safety of car’s open rear door. He is blindsided by a pair of Rotters. Their probing hands grabbing for open exposed flesh. Ben whirls throwing a smaller child zombie in a Boy Scout uniform into the dirt. Over his shoulder, Ben feels cold undead saliva pelting his neck. Fear digs into his gut as he awaits the inevitable bite. He feels the blade of Lawrence’s shovel breeze by his cheek. “Got’em” Lawrence reassures Ben James grabbing him by the shoulders. Lawrence Faulkner rides Ben and Willie into the back of the car as if he were a Secret Service Agent. “Go!” Ben wheezes from under Lawrence’s bulk. He feels something warm soaking into his shirt struggling to breath. “Come in I say again over.” A man’s voice calls from the radio’s microphone. Suddenly Ben feels as if the weight of the world has lifted off his chest literally. Lawrence sits up stretching for the door. The instant he grips it cold hands grasp his wrist. The car lurches forward chewing up gravel and grass in a cloud. The Rotter’s hands slip harmlessly from Lawrence’s arm as a dead postal worker sinks it’s teeth into thin air.

 Ben rights himself noticing the Rorschach pattern of blood on his white shirt. He winces looking at an unconscious Willie. The blood on Willie is now more evident coating his arms and bandages. Ben sits the man up pulling the shotgun onto his lap. “This is Private Locket over.” They hear Sara from the front of the car. “Was it them?” Ben asks a look of hope flickering in his eyes. “No Mr. James I tried that channel.” The car bounces roughly Sara fights to hold on to the wheel. “Lawrence can you tell us how to get to the …” Sara snaps her fingers caught in a bout of absent-mindedness. “They called it the old Olmstead Farm.” Ben interjects. Lawrence stares ahead still breathing heavily. He rubs his smooth meaty chin. “It’s near a subdivision called Clow Oaks I think.” Ben adds his mind travels back to the sub-division they had more than likely burned to the ground. “Is it atop a hill all out by itself?” Lawrence holds a sausage like finger in the air. “Yes … yes …. Yes” Ben shakes the fat man with gusto. “I know where it is!” Lawrence stares blankly out the window as they crash through a small thicket of trees onto a road. “It’s back the way we just came from.” The hope drains from Ben’s face like air leaving a tire. “I say again this is Sara Locket speaking to whoever answered earlier over.” Sara grips the microphone in one hand and the car’s wheel in the other. “Sara ... Sara.” Lawrence slaps at the mesh cage separating them. “What?” She calls back clearly frustrated. “Gone back down this road I know another field we can cross up the road a bit.” Sara spins the big Crown Victoria about and rockets the other way as instructed. “This is Brigadier General Patrick O’Malley Private Locket over.” The hoarse voice is different from the one she heard at the house. Sara almost drops the mic as she attempts to respond. “General O’Malley Sir exactly where are you stationed at Sir?” Sara is practically shouting the question. “Never mind that Private Locket that’s top secret where are you and where is your unit over?” The grizzled electronically tinged voice responds. Sara licks her lips steering the car down a twisting country road. “Ms. Sara…” Lawrence bangs on the mesh gate from the backseat again. “Gone and cut cross this field here.” The man hooks a big thumb in the general direction of a green flowing pasture stretching towards the horizon. Sara doesn’t protest hoping the cruiser over a slight gulley. The car immediately begins to chew up the soft grass ejecting dual pinwheels of dirt. Sara gives the unknown General on the other end of the radio the information he requested. “General O’Malley Sir I was with the unit assigned to St. George’s.” She breathes deeply fighting for control of the car like trying to ride a bucking horse. “We were under the command of Staff Sargent Glass’ detachment sir.” The radio goes silent as Private Lockett powers the big V8 engine mashing her foot on the gas pedal. “Private Lockett how many are you?” General O’Malley’s voice sounds more urgent. Sara imagines the old General sitting closer to the microphone wherever he is. “Sir there are three of us remaining and a group of civilians Sir.” The General’s voice blares from the microphone. “Private are you outside now?” His voice crackles. “Sir ….. Yes we are Sir over” The confusion more than evident in Sara’s voice. “Private you and your people need to go to ground now over.” Sara feels the mic vibrate in her hand as the General’s words explode into the cabin of the police car. Sara is not sure how to answer which is irrelevant. General O’Malley voice booms out an ominous warning. “In approximately nineteen minutes the entire central United States will experience a total solar eclipse.” Sara’s hand begins to succumb to a low electric tremble. Her blood has gone stone cold suddenly she struggles to breath. “Whys that a problem again?” Lawrence muses a smile of ignorance on his face. Ben grabs his shotgun off his lap swallowing the bile rising in his throat. “Cause I assume the Rotters will flip their switches and go all hyper smart on us.” Lawrence turns to Ben his jaw slack open wide enough to catch stray bugs. “Aww now that aint even fair its day time!” Lawrence protest. Sara’s mind pushes the only word it can find free from her lips. “Fuck …” She trails off staring blankly ahead.





Well it looks like the James family is in for one hell of  a family reunion and they will have more than a few unwanted guests.




Come back the week of July 6th for the next Chapter of The Living Dark





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Sincerely:



The Living Dark 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Chapter 45: Back in the Game


Chapter 45: Back in the Game

 

  Lawrence peeked under the thin bed sheet covering Willie O apprehension clearly etched on his face. The lean man fidgeted in the grip of a restless sleep under the thin veil of cover. Almost the entire right side of his chest covered in white gauze. Lawrence shakes his head unsure of Willie’s true condition. He gently lays the cover across the man’s sweaty chest before standing. Lawrence walks over to meet a now clothed Benjamin James. “Ben he might need more help than I can give’em.” Ben sighs as Sara exits the bathroom. “Lawrence doesn’t think Willie is doing well.” Ben informs her taking in the outfit Lawrence had provided her. She has tied a white t-shirt up in a knot and pair of blue boxers with which she had repeated the knotting process. He thanked the Lord he fit the roomy grey sweat pants better than Sara did. The white shirt he wore and plain white sneakers were at least clean. “Lawrence I don’t know what to say my friend” Ben leaned in. “I need to get back to my family and the church pronto. Willie …. Well he’s not my problem Lawrence.” Lawrence rubs his head reminding Ben of “Curly” from the three Stooges. The wheels in Lawrence’s head seem to turn just a bit slower than they did with an average person. “Ben don’t worry he can stay here with me. If he makes it well Willie can leave when he’s ready.” Lawrence feels beads of sweat popping up across his forehead. His stomach in knots he didn’t usually like company. “Where’s your family and friends Ben … Which church they at?” Ben draws a blank “Ummm.” He looks to Sara confused. “First New ….” Lawrence breaks in. “First New Faith aww hell y’all done run cross The Sin Preacher.” “Yeah that’s her” Ben all but barks. “Well she and her people are crazy as shit house rats’ buuuuut ….” Lawrence smiles rubbing his chin recalling his family’s past with The Sin Preacher. “I’m guessing y’all already know that.” Sara snorts she brings her new found pistol into view. “Well Lawrence tell us how to get there from here.” Lawrence mulls over the questions. “Its bout ten or eleven miles from here you go up the street make a left just head out you’ll see’em signs everywhere.” Ben shakes with rage. “We’ve already wasted two hours or so. Now we’ve got to hustle through ten miles of zombie infested cornfields.” Ben gives Sara the once over. “You don’t even have shoes fuck!” His frustration boiling over Sara makes to grab his arm. “Well now Ben you just need a few things.” Lawrence steps back. “Sara there are bags of new women’s clothes downstairs.” Lawrence turns from the conversation. “My mom she just shopped and shopped. She bought thangs she had no need for; she couldn’t even fit most of it.” They were staring at the darkened ladder that led back down stairs. “Sara …” Lawrence points to the girl. “You still got the keys you took off Sheriff Lee?” Sara nods. “Well then we need to get you some clothes then.” Sara can hear Lawrence Faulkner’s breathing as he pulls them close. “Sheriff’s car is parked up the block. There’s ya guns and ya transportation.” “Does it drive Lawrence?” Ben moves his hand up slowly. “Yes sir her drove down here to check on everyone the day after everything went haywire.” He clears his throat. It took Ben several seconds in the dim light to see the man holding a fat arm aloft for a well-deserved high five.

 

  Several minutes later, the trio is standing on the cramped back porch. Sara and Ben hold battery powered plastic green lanterns. The oil lit lantern with its dancing flame dancing swings in Lawrence’s grip. Light filters through various points in the old rickety house. The lanterns do little more than push the darkness back a few feet. “Ok Lawrence what the hell are we doing here?” Sara ask holding her lantern up. She scans the wall of garbage with a disgusted sneer. “Well now Sara there are bags and bags of clean new clothes piled up’n the kitchen.” Lawrence motions over the mountains of old newspapers and assorted trash. “I don’t know about this, we are really in a hurry my friend.” Ben breaks in waving his lantern around like a magic wand. “I preciate that you want to get to your family Ben but Ms. Sara …” Lawrence turns bashfully pointing to the young woman. “She can’t be much help to you runnin’ round mostly naked.” Ben could see his point. “Plus the more skin she shows the more she risks gettin’ bit by one of them zombies.” Ben gestures with his head massaging his temple. “Lawrence …. What’s …. Fastest … way to do this.” The last words trail from Benjamin’s mouth dripping with anger. “Well now Ben don’t be mad but I’m too big.” Lawrence stutters. “Y’all need to climb up carefully then just stay on top’a dem piles straight through to the kitchen.” Ben places the handle of his lantern between his teeth. Then hefts himself clumsily up the nearest dusty pile of refuse. The house is dank and heating up as the Sun bakes the rancid trash. Ben feels sweat break out all over his dark skin. Sara reluctantly hands her pistol to Lawrence before following Ben up the nearest pile. Ben gingerly makes his way across the trash heaps finding himself in the kitchen. He places each hand testing the trash heaps. The smell if stifling Ben feels woozy as the stench crawls down into his lungs with each breath. He gags causing the lantern to pin wheel from his mouth. Ben reaches for the lantern in a desperate attempt to keep his only source of light. He finds himself tumbling down in an avalanche of rubbish. “Ben!’ Sara shouts from behind him. Ben comes to rest flat on his back suddenly aware of something running across his ankle. “Fuck …” Panicking Ben’s mind races through the possibly. “Rats, spiders, roaches who the hell knows in this dump.” He scampers over seizing the softy glowing light. “Jesus ….” Ben whispers breathlessly his words barely heard as they fall from his trembling lips. He watches as dozens of filthy black rats scatter. The light illuminates a feeble zombie pawing helplessly at the air.

 

  Ben watches the zombie pinned beneath what he thinks is at least a decade’s worth of faded nature magazines. The dead man’s skin is molted and grey there are rat bite marks all over its dead flesh. Something moves near Ben’s other hand. He quickly shines the light down where he is sitting. “Shit!” Ben snatches his hand away seconds before a decaying woman closes her teeth around it. He clamors to his feet in a frenzy. Looking around the kitchen Ben stumbles over to a window ripping down a shade. Light bathes the area in front him. He looks up to Sara trembling. “Lawrence …” She calls the hostility in her words more than evident. “Yes” his voice comes back muffled by the wall-to-wall trash. “When you said your family was gone did you mean they left or that they are dead?” She rolls her eyes awaiting the man’s reply. “Umm well they’re gone cause they’s dead Ms. Sara. They got bit and turned into zombies after they died.” Sara huffs from atop the stack. “Lawrence what happened then?” The silence drags out as Ben presses back against the window. He sucks in stale air in big gulps. “Well I couldn’t put’em down so, I done pushed a bunch of stuff on’em and hid out upstairs. “Ohhhhhh.” Sara screams in anger. “And he didn’t think this was something we might fucking need to know?” She snarls at Ben. “Lawrence how many were there?” Sara shouts back into the darkness. “Three Ms. Sara my ... my mom.” “That’s all I needed Lawrence.” She cuts the man off. “This whole fucking town is nuts.” Sara brings her voice down just enough for Ben to hear. “Ok watch out Mr. James there’s one unaccounted for.” Sara Lockett whips her head around frantically scanning the immediate area. She sees no signs of their missing zombie. Her eyes land on a pile of bright yellow see through plastic bags. “Jackpot” Sara mouths. Ben did not know why he had frozen in place. He felt sweat cascading off his bald head down his back. Ben teetered on a mound of trash seized by vertigo. “Mr. James …. Ben!” Sara leaps down from her perch on the trash mound. Sara takes care to avoid the pawing arms of the two zombies. Their mouths move but no sound escape from their dead compressed lungs. Sara stumbles over to Ben steadying herself by grabbing his beefy forearm. “You ok bug guy?” Sara asks placing a hand on Ben’s chest. “I … I” Ben stammers. “It almost bit me.” Ben pines his eyes watering. Sara hands Ben her lantern as she untucks the shiv from the waistband of her boxers. She takes several unsteady steps over to the first zombie that had laid in wait for them. She plunges the metal into its empty left eye socket with a twisting motion. The undead eyeless man falls still in his trash littered grave. Sara wastes no time stomping over to shriveled dead female corpse. She lay pinned under the weight of garbage up to her neck with one arm exposed. Sara grits her teeth stabbing down hitting the zombie square in the center of its forehead. She leaves the crude weapon stuck in the woman’s forehead. Sara storms over to the pile of tied up bags sitting in what was the ram-shackled house’s kitchen sink. “Mr. James get back to Lawrence and watch your footing.” She calls out. “We’re still missing one.” She wishing the big rats scampering around the floor were their only concern. Sara rips into the first she bag and does not look back.

 

  Sara Lockett stood face to face with Lawrence Falkner twenty minutes later. She was dressed in blue jeans with a matching denim jacket, white shirt, and gym shoes. Sara was closing in on twenty years of age but even she knew one thing. Every piece of clothing she now wore was a throwback relic from the nineties. They itched and smelled like her grandmother’s attic but the beat being naked. “Again I’m sorry.” Lawrence wipes his face nervously. “I could put down a hundred zombies but not my Ma and Pa. Not my family I couldn’t do it.” She had stifled a deep desire to punch fat man. Once both she and Ben had crawled back over the trash to where Lawrence stood. “I understand Lawrence.” Ben looked at Sara hesitantly. Ben looked at the backdoor then back to Lawrence. “Look stay away from that open window Lawrence” Sara speaks up. “We are going to find our people then we’ll come back for you and Willie.” Lawrence raises his lantern letting the light wash over his face. “I appreciate it really I do but I’m home guys.” Ben nods his understanding. He is unwilling to debate the man any further. The only thing Ben James wants is his family and a generous helping of revenge. Sara moves to the backdoor hand on the knob. “Take care my friends” Lawrence smiles holding out a meaty hand. Sarah turns back to the man. “Thank you Lawrence you saved our lives for sure.” She tells him ignoring everything within her. Sara takes Lawrence in a polite embrace much to his surprise. “Yes thank you and we will be back my friend.” Ben shakes Lawrence’s free hand vigorously. “We’ll take care to deal with any zombies hanging around.” Sara releases the embrace. “This way they won’t work their way back to you guys.” She slowly pulls the pistol twisting the doorknob cautiously. “Ok and remember you go round the house’n down the block Sheriff Lee’s car is down the block middle of the street.” Lawrence covers his eyes as the light invades the dark cluttered house. Sara looks about no zombies coming over the field from the river. She also sees none in the immediate area around the back porch. She moves down the small steps blinking as the sun assaults her eyes causing them to water.

 

   The warm fresh air washes over the pair. Ben follows quickly behind her his hands empty. Pivoting his head Ben desperately looks for something he can use as a weapon. “God I don’t like being empty handed.” Ben whispers fiercely the round the house crouching. “It’s ok Mr. James.” Sara says as she scurries forward pistol at her side. “If what Lawrence says is true you should have a weapon pretty soon.” They come to rest on a large tree. “There we go Mr. James past the wreck.” Sara draws Ben’s attention down the block to a white police car. “I don’t see any zombies” She looks both ways up and down the block. “Yet” She adds sarcastically. There are cars by the dozen strewn about the spacious street. They can see a multicar crash that blocked the street between them and the patrol car. “We move low Sara and stay away from the wrecked cars.” Sara nods holding her pistol up at eye level. Together they move hunched over always on the lookout for the undead. “Almost there” Sara calls back to Ben they pick up the pace. Sara pulls the ring of keys from her pocket. “Mr. James I’ll drive and we’ll stop down the road and check the car for weapons.” Ben swings wide around the front of the car. He stares at the mangled cars. Ben’s mind goes to his son Chip. He wonders what he and Belinda must have gone through during their ordeal. He vowed to himself at that moment that he and his family would never be apart again. Sara whips her door open sliding into the car. She takes a split second to pop the lock on Ben’s Side. “Let’s go.” She slams the doors as Ben does the same. Stabbing the key into the ignition and turning it. Every flashing light in the car comes on followed a wailing siren. “Fuck turn it off” Ben panics. Sara slaps at the dashboard hitting the switches marked “siren” and “lights.” “Oh no” Sara cries looking out the car’s windshield. The dead came meandering out of hiding in droves. They came from houses, alleyways, parked cars and the shadows all along the street. A deep moan erupts from the back seat as the pair turn. In the back of the squad car sits a large biker zombie. The dead man with the long blood stringy black hair slams his head into the steel mesh between the front and back seat. “Shit” shouts Sara dropping the pistol to the floor. The dead thing growls again flinging itself forward again. Ben is so distracted he doesn’t see the walking corpses shamble up top his side of the car. The ghouls proceed to pound on the car seeking the soft warm flesh inside. “Sara we need to go now.” Ben recoils back from the window then slumps into the seat. “There’s a damn zombie in the back of the car.” Shouts Sara. She observes a growing mass of zombies slowly surrounding the car. “He’s handcuffed Sara get us the fuck out of here.” Needing no further prodding she throws the cars in reverse taking great care not to lean back against the metal grate. They clip a parked car as they take off down the street. Sara backs over several zombies lumbering up on their rear. With a yank of the car’s steering wheel Sara spins the car around. “Lawrence said end of the street the head left.” Ben reminds he panting as he cast a nervous glance at their snarling passenger.

 

  They rocket down the center of the road. Sara expertly dodges stalled and wrecked cars strewn about the two-lane road. Ten minutes later, they find themselves encircled by empty open fields. “Look” Ben speaks up pointing to a plain white wooden sign. The black script reads “First New Faith 2 miles ahead.” The car skids to a stop sideways as Sara jams the breaks down. She is out of the car before Ben realizes it. Taking two strides Sara grabs the rear driver’s side door snatching it open. The sound of the gunshots startles Ben. The big zombie in the backseat slumps to the floor it’s brains splattered on the window of the opposite door. “That bastard was irritating the shit out of me.” She snaps. Ben takes the keys from the ignition and exits the car in a rush. He heads for the trunk of the long white car. As he opens the trunk, he watches Sara drag the dead body from the back of car. He looks down into the trunk and smiles. Ben takes up a tactical shotgun chambering a round. “Yes Lord thank you.” Sara says now besides him placing the pistol in her waistband. She unclips the AR-15 from inside of the trunk’s lid. “Grab the bands of shells.” Ben is glad to see Sara smiling again as she speaks. He takes the belts of shells as instructed and loops them across his chest. “It’s about noon Ben.” Private Lockett states looking skyward breathing deeply. “Let’s go Sara.” He tosses her the keys. They climb into the car and make their way towards The Sin Preacher’s house.

 

   The roads begin to look somewhat familiar from their drive in what seemed like forever ago. “Now remember Mr. James I get to bash that bitches head in.” Sara chuckles. Ben opens his mouth to speak but his words trail off. They watch the zombie dragging itself clumsily down the center strip of the road. The dead man is huge “as much as I’d love to run it down.” She looks to Ben “I think it will damage the car.” Sara turns the car wide around the burly walking corpse. The dead man stumbled on listlessly moving on heavy booted feet. “What the hell?” Sara can’t believe her eyes as they drive slowly past the big zombie with its head down. “Ben that’s that big old bastard” She points snapping her fingers. “Colonel … that was his name Colonel.” She swallows hard understanding the implications. Blood covers the front of the old soldier’s clothes. His face is an unrecognizable mask of lumps and bruises. The car’s occupants slowly realize the sinister implications of the dead man wandering down the road. “Ben …” She gazes back in the man pained face. “They got in Ben the church got overrun.” Sara feels her heart race her chest begins to burn. Ben’s eyes cloud over with pain. The car lurches forward as Sara mashes the gas pedal to the floor. Ben sits his mouth agape in shock. “Don’t worry Ben.” She calls him by his first name for a change. Sarah uses her free hand to place the two extra clips for the AR-15 into her lap. To her right Ben wrings his hands around the assault shotgun. Sara hopes he doesn’t cause the weapon to discharge in the car. They arrive just on the outskirts of the church property. “I don’t see any other zombies.” Sara takes her hand from the wheel and catches Ben by the arm. The big man stops one foot out the door. “Ben we do this the right way. We take care, we find out what happened to our …” She didn’t expect to choke up. The idea of having lost everyone washed over her unexpectedly. Ben takes Sara’s hand in his. They meet each other’s gaze “We take our time and do this right.” Sara says shaking her head. Sara’s eyes never leaving the white building in the distance sitting encircled behind a high wire fence. Sara takes the lead after thumbing the safety off her weapon. The pistol sits tucked in her pants. “Let’s head around back.” She whispers heading behind a tree. “Ben watch our back for Rotters.” Sara waves a hand dismissively at the dense wooded area. They begin to work a long wide arch around the back of the church. Ben and Sara keep to the tree line using it as cover. “Shit, shoot, damn.” Sara calls out in frustration upon seeing the rear of the property. The carport that they had entered that first day stood wide open. All of the cars once parked in the long barnlike structure were now gone. “That’s our way in.” Ben taps her on the shoulder noting the open doors were in line with the fence. They scamper across the open area Sara keeps her weapon held high. They both draw up against the interior wall of the dark carport. “Door’s open.” Ben motions with his shotgun. A thin shaft of light sneaks its way in via the door. They make their way to the door stealing a quick glance out. The rear of the church property is empty except for an unmoving female zombie. The body lays at the base of a small porch with its head caved in. “Looks clear ….” Sara starts. “Don’t ... don’t” a man’s voice croaks up from the darkness across the carport. They spin in unison bumping the door closed.  

 
“Who’s there?” Sara calls raising her rifle inching towards the voice. “Wait” Ben grabs her shoulder. He fumbles his hand up the weapon’s muzzle. With a snap, he flips on small flashlight affixed to the muzzle of the shotgun. He aims the beam into the darkened corner. There he sees a thick-bodied middle-aged Hispanic man. Ben uses the light on his gun to scan the man. There is a gaping tear along his right forearm. It makes the nasty bite leaking blood from his neck look like a cat scratch. “Who are you?” Ben asks the man whose skin is a sickly greasy yellow hue. “Don’t matter now.” The man struggles to speak holding up his wounded arm. Blood rolls down the man’s arm soaking his shirt. “You’re with that family and the soldiers?” He was having great difficulty breathing. His chest rose and fell unevenly but that didn’t stop Ben from moving over to his side. “Yes we are have you seen them?” Ben asks eagerly. “They … they got out.” He points with a pistol in his other hand. The man’s arm dangles weakly. He looks to Ben like a puppet whose master is tugging his strings ever so slightly. Ben’s eyes light up with hope. “They … uhhh” He contorts in agony before coughing up a wad of deep red blood. The dying man spits clearing his mouth. “They left in … a big ice...” He trails off weakly dropping his head to his chest. “Ice cream truck?” Ben shouts moving closer to the man in the corner. “Slow down Ben be careful.” Sara cautions Ben untucking the pistol bringing it to bear on the man. Ben notices the man’s sickly eyes seem dull and distant unable to focus on any one point. “I …. Was making sure …. Everyone got out.” He struggles to stay conscious. “Heard …. screams from other side of church. There were …..” He swallows pain etched on his face. “Somehow zombies were closed up in there with them.” His voice strained as he forces the words out. “They got to …. Me” The man says forcing himself to laugh. “I held door let …. Others es…. Escape.” Ben stares back at Sara. A look passes between them as they realize this man had been a hero. From the trees, they hear the crunching of leaves. The sound is as loud as a gunshot. “Shit.” Ben snaps his eyes going to back the way they had come. Ben counted at least six corpses making their way slowly towards the open end of the carport. “Ben we …” Mangled arms reach through the open door grabbing Sara’s long hair.

 

  Ben moves without thinking. He plows into the door hearing the crunch of bones as he lays his full weight into the door. Sara fights loose rolling backwards on the ground. She struggles to compose herself slowing her breathing. She sights down the AR-15 firing three quick bursts dropping the Rotters entering the carport’s open end. Undead guttural moans rise up from behind the door Ben struggles to hold. “There are more coming from the woods Ben.” She shouts they both know if they don’t move now they’ll die here. The weight pushing against the door begins to cause Ben’s shoes to slide in the dirt. “Go …” The man croaks from the corner. Sara raises her pistol aiming at the tortured dying man. Ben releases the door sprinting for Sara; he snatches her up causing her shot hit the wall above the man’s head. Ben drops Sara the door behind them slamming open. She takes a quick look at the man in the corner. He lifts the pistol up to his temple just as the first walking corpse drops to it’s knees before him. Ben throws the butt of the big black shotgun forward crushing a zombie’s face. He skirts the wall out of the carport Sara trailing him. Rounding the corner their need for stealth gone they hear one lone gunshot from inside the carport. “We’re the only game in town now Ben.” Sarah says prodding Ben onward. They head left into the sunlight running along the fence. “Ben it’s her ….” Sara’s words trail off. Ben turns back following Sara’s line of sight. He is dumbfounded at the sheer number of undead pouring from the church basement. The Rotters shuffle in formation line ants one after the other drawn to the sounds of the living. Near the front of the crowd almost lost is the Sin Preacher her throat torn out. “You deserved worse bitch!” Sara screams enraged she aims at The Sin Preacher wobbling among the crowd of zombies. The Rotters shuffle in unison heading for the fence. “No time for that now!” Ben grabs Sara pulling her with him as he heads for the Sheriff’s cruiser. The undead seem to come from everywhere now but they have a straight shot to their way out. They cover the distance sprinting the dead hounding them every step of the way. “I got the keys.” Panting Sara shouts opening the driver’s side door hopping in. Ben throws his gun in the car before sliding in. Sara takes a quick peak in the rearview as she starts the car. She knows the Rotters will soon overtake the car from the front. The last thing Sara wanted was to back into a tree and end up lunch for the rampaging rotten horde. “Go .. Go ...” Ben beats on the dashboards. The car lurches backwards out of reach the zombies. “If they are with the ice cream guy, I think they went back to the farm with Magic.” Sara shouts as the car bounces back on to the road. Ben smiles for the first time in recent memory. Sara prods the car down the road heading back the way they had come. The dead burst forth from First New Faith and the surrounding area. The last thought in their diseased putrid brains is the living flesh in the car. They follow on decaying limbs shuffling down the road long after the car disappears from sight. “If I get home, I will make them pay.” He chants to himself in his head repeatedly. Colonel drags his bruised body across a dry field of wild grass. An evil sneer races across his face like a jagged bolt of lightning. With his head down, he slouches past a pack of zombies. He gives them a wide berth not changing his stance so as not to arouse their interest.





  Ben and Sara get back into the game attempting to locate the rest of the group. They make it back to the church only to find things have taken a turn for the worst for the members of The First New Faith Church. Even the Sin Preacher herself has met with a grisly fate.




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