Chapter 18: Homecoming
Anne James rolls her eyes at her husband while she cradles Bianca’s head in her lap. The woman whom she'd just revived using some very rusty CPR skills bark a series of raw coughs that end in harsh wheezing. The woman’s face is a mix of soot streaks and thick white foamy saliva. "Honey focus on helping Chip drive instead of gloating about the zombie apocalypse." Anne chides her husband he turns back to face their son. The boy has the steering wheel in a death grip they haven't reached the end of the block yet and he's already sweating profusely. "Turn left Junior." Ben instructs his eldest child. "Ben baby we have to go by my parents please." Ben does an about face back in time to hear B shout "Granddad!" with glee. "OK Baby doll." He tells her spinning back in his seat. Ben’s breathing trails off his thoughts carry him far from the van to the faces of his relatives. His brother, his sisters and on the list goes people whom he loved and cherished but people he knew he’d never see alive again. He catches the lone tear teetering on his right eyelid where his son can’t see it. Absently he flicks it off his face like a summer bug. Ben is pained by the hurt of his parent’s deaths but glad they aren’t alive to see the world now at the same time.
Ben grows worried as they slowly weave past cars on the deserted street. Up ahead in the distance he can see a cluster of zombies meandering down the street. The zombie at the head of the pack takes the lead a male and he is one of the fast ones. The ghoul sprints down the middle of the street right for the van. It clutches a blood covered stick of some sort in its glove clad hands. "Alright Chip remember what your grandfather told you to do if you’re going to hit a deer.” Ben grabs his seat belt clicking it in securely. "Speed up..." Chip bites down on his bottom lip putting as much pressure as his feeble legs can muster onto the van’s gas peddle. Ben is pulled back into his seat from the sudden acceleration of the vehicle. He watches the figure close the distance quickly as the rest of the crowd lurches towards the van like macabre bobble head dolls. The pack leader is covered in blood running full tilt down the street like they were playing chicken. Ben knew in his mind the lone fleshy zombie would lose meeting the one ton steel van head on. “If all goes well son he should be thrown up and over top.” Ben says placing a steadying hand on the faded blue dashboard. He tugs the revolver free from his waistband holding it firmly in free hand. He’s is so focused on the tanned skinned zombie that he almost misses the fear in its eyes. More dead wander into the picture from every direction they converge drawn out by even the slightest noise. The figure running for their van is afraid “and zombies don’t know fear.” Ben thinks to himself the running figures features become clearer as they come together. A quick look at Chip he sees his boy staring intently out battered windshield. “Jamal?!” Ben whispers the shock sticks the name in his mind and his tongue to the roof of his mouth. He knows the zombie racing towards them, he knows the man.
“Stop!” he screams yanking the steering wheel sharply to the side. The van skids sideways wildly turning completely about coming to an abrupt stop. The white “James and Sons” van clipped the rear of an abandoned car on the side of the road and was now facing the opposite direction. Protest erupt from the vans rear as the women and children are tossed about. “It’s Jamal ….” Ben shouts at his dazed son. “The Mohammed’s son Jamal.” He yells hustling from his seat. The big husky carpenter moves gingerly about the cramped rear of the van hoping over Bianca. As gently as he can Ben lifts B and the infant she is holding up off the rear doors. He places them both firmly into Brandon’s arms. “Get back I don’t know if he is one of them.” Ben commands leveling the pistol he throws one of the rear doors open. “Mr. Benjamin James…” The young Americanized Iranian leaps into the van Ben catches him pinning him to the floor in one smooth motion. Jamal’s bloodied baseball bats skids across the van’s floor. One look out the door spurs Ben into action as a set of ragged finger tips grab the open door. A woman comes moaning through a hole torn in her neck deep crimson blood stains cascade over her once pink nightgown. Ben aims the pistol his hand trembling slightly. Dozens of zombies come into view over the walking corpse’s shoulders. Ben squeezes the trigger while kneeling on a terrified Jamal Mohammed. The slug decimates the woman’s right eye socket burrowing its way through her skull before exploding out the back of her head. The ghoulish woman tips back slowly falling at the feet of the advancing mob of zombies.
“Go Chip Go!” Ben shouts to his son who was turned around facing the chaos. Chip whips about pinning the pedal to the floor as fast and his lame leg will allow. Tires squealing the van blots forward throwing Ben off balance tumbling backwards he’s left dangling from the speeding van. A hand snags his belt yanking him back up Ben and Jamal fall hard against a shelf lined with tools on the van‘s left side. Anne jumps over the writhing men defying gravity she leans out catching the wayward door. Gritting her teeth with effort she pulls the door shut with one hand while holding onto the locked door for support. Ben recovers first spinning off the floor placing his pistol to Jamal Mohammed’s forehead. “Are you bit, are you injured, are you one of them?” He fires off questions to the young man. “Mr. James please.” He yelps panicked unlike his father Jamal has no hint of his native accent. “I ….I… “He begins “I left school as soon as I could I hitched a ride with a friend who had a car that still worked. We managed to make it almost all the way here but last night he changed tried to kill me Sir.” His eyes dart about the cabin. “Sir I just came home to find my parents.” With that last phrase the fight drains from Benjamin James. The young man has lost all the things that Ben still had and held dear family. He lifts his girth off of Jamal pulling him upright. “I’m so sorry Jamal…” Ben slinks back against the wall his wife comes to his side. “There is no need to be sorry Mr. James I understand the things I have seen…..” Jamal says as respectful and courteous as he’d always been but Ben interrupts. “No son….” Ben moves back to the center of the van squatting as he buries his face in his hands. Ben reaches for the young man who he’d known for most of his life. “I’m sorry Jamal your parents…” He fumbles avoiding eye contact. “They … umm they didn’t make it son.” The van rocks as it drives over something Ben sits back against the wall his wife consoling him. Jamal simply sits silent in the middle of the floor he looks about the van in a daze. “I tried son I offered everyone a chance to hunker down in my shelter with us but they refused.” Ben sniffles deeply wiping at his eyes. “Your family Mr. James they are all here?” He asks. Anne looks at each of her children before nodding at Jamal. “My parents they are together wherever their souls have come to rest.” Jamal scurries over to Anne and Ben. “I will stay with you now you are my family now Mr. and Mrs. James. You are all that I know in this world you too Mrs. Fullerton.” He motions to Bianca Fullerton who sways groggily close to the front of the van. Ben extends his hand Jamal takes it gripping it tightly as cracking a thin smile. “Dad … mom” Chip shouts from the van’s driver’s seat. “We are coming up to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” Belinda cheers at the news still holding the baby in her lap offering Brandon a high five. Scampering over to B he gleefully returns the gesture with gusto.
“Stay here everyone.” Ben tells his eager family one would think it was just another Sunday visit to Grand Ma’s and Grand Pa’s. “Jamal can you do me a favor please?” The young man snaps to in agreement. “No problem Mr. James.” He answers moving to the van’s front. “Jamal call me Ben if you don’t mind.” A pang of guilt touches Ben’s heart. Ben understands all to well he’s just informed the young college student of his parents demise and not ten minuets later. He has told Jamal to disregard the respect his parents raised him to have. “Yes sir I can do that.” Jamal tells him smiling broadly feeling comfortable for the first time in days he has a place to belong. “Alright Jamal stay here and grab your bat. If I need back up it’ll up to you trust me I’m counting on you.” Ben scans the street for the moment no dead mill about, but he’s knows they are there in the shadows. He does see about a half a dozen corpses lying around his in-laws front porch. Odder still Ben sees his Father in law relaxed in one of his lawn chairs on the front porch smoking a cigarette. The man looks as if he doesn’t have a care in the world he appears oblivious to the current state of the planet. “He hasn’t smoked in over twenty years.” Ben thinks to himself “Not since he beat back lung cancer in the early nineties.” Benjamin James’ mind is awash with bad thoughts knowing full well this can’t be good. “Chip don’t turn the van off keep it running and in drive with your foot on the brake son.” He pops the door open sliding off the seat finishing his sentence. “Yes dad.” Chip calls to his father but it’s lost with the closing of the door.
Ben watches the lone figure on the porch praying to God the man is alive. With the trauma to come in his kids life Ben didn’t want to start the apocalypse by putting down his wife’s father in front of their children. “Pops?” He shout whispers loud as he dares to his mind muddled in confusion. The old man with the traditional Marine balding buzz cut gives him a pained one handed wave his lit cigarette trailing smoke like a sky writers’ bi-plane. Ben cocks his revolver somewhat relived stepping over a male corpse in a filthy postman’s uniform. The post man lying face up with a bullet hole where it’s nose once was is one several bodies attracting flies in the morning sun. Ben takes the first step tentatively aware this is the most exposed he’s been since the Event. The outside now feels foreign polluted by the dead unsafe for anyone not infected. “Pops what the hell are you doing outside and …” Ben’s words seize in his throat choking him. His Father in Law sits with on hand propped on a weathered banister the other clutched around his blood soaked midsection. To the man’s right a small table with a bloodied pack of Camel cigarettes, a black well kept pistol and thirty ought six rifle with a hunting scope its stock caked in dried blood. “Jesus Pops oh God.” Ben paces the front porch running his hands roughly over his head. Ben chants “OK” over and over again he not sure if his wife can see the distress etched on his face as she has moved to occupy the passenger seat. Her face is contorted with worry he wants to motion to her wishing he could have prepared himself for the shock that met him at on his porch. To late his wife pops the door open dropping one foot to the asphalt below. “Annie May James.” The old man shouts flicking his cigarette butt into the yard. Anne was frozen as any person would be from birth to adulthood having ones parents use the triple name call out was a universal sign to a child of any age that there would be no debate. “Don’t you come up here get back in that van now.” He winces in pain his face pale and ashen. “Ben are my grand babies OK?” He asks his speechless son in law who simply nods “yes.” “Honey daddy loves you now get back in there and take care of those babies.” He tells his only daughter the hurt on her face is evident. As if on cue Belinda pokes her head out of the door slithering her thin body into the seat standing. “Hi Grand Pa!” She yells out as loud as she can her arms wave wildly in the air. “I love you!” She carries on Ben watches his Father in Law this time the pain he feels is different. Bob Lawson returns his grand daughter’s sentiment of love with one of his own. “Grand dad loves you too baby now get back in the van Baby Girl.” Calling her by the pet name he’d adopted for his youngest grand child. He fixes his lovely daughter with a blank stare hoping he can relay to her the love he and his wife have for her. Anne stumbles as she reluctantly ushers B back into the van then climbs in herself.
“Ben son …” Bob speaks without taking his eyes off his daughters face. Ben doesn’t answer he is transfixed at the sight of a man he’d grown to regard as a father in the years since losing his dad. The man’s hand is holding his intestines in a wicked wound covering his stomach from left to right. Bob Lawson has been disemboweled his fingers now mashing in the gelatinous stringy contents of his stomach cavity. He was literally sitting in a pool of blood and his own entrails from his waits down. “Ben.” The old Marine snaps pulling his son in law from his stupor. “Sir?” Was all Ben could croak out of his dry mouth. “Son I am sorry for the way I treated you in the beginning.” The two men face each other on the porch Ben’s makes to protest. Bob Lawson lifts his free hand silencing the protest yet to come. “I was ignorant I saw your color and not your content I saw you taking my only child my baby.” Tears find their way over the rims of Bob’s eyes now. “I hope…. I pray you can find it in your heart to forgive me son. One day some young man will come to you if this world gets right again and he will ask you for Belinda’s hands. Maybe then Benjamin you’ll see a glimpse of what made me so stubborn and mean spirited. For the record mother loved you the first day she met you.” The man chuckles suddenly pressing both hands to his eviscerated midsection as a cough bubbles up bringing blood colored spittle with it. Ben awakes from his confused state realizing he hadn’t seen his beloved mother in law. “Bob I told you we had this discussion years ago I’m fine I got over it figured I had to earn you respect and Anne’s hand.” Ben moves for the front door of the house. “Where’s Mother Lawson Bob?” A sharp bang from inside the house drives him back. Ben turns to his Father in Law weakly searching the man’s face for answers. “Ben son never deprive a man the chance to unburden himself to you when he’s about to meet his maker.” The man looks older somehow maybe it’s the blood loss or maybe it’s the emotional loss. “Yesterday some punk hurt Margaret yesterday when she went to let the cat in.” He swallows hard. “Last night something happened to her son. She came at me I didn’t know what to do I couldn’t bear to hurt her. She chased me about the house all night. She ah….” He looks down resigned to his fate glancing over the near fatal injury. “She got a butcher’s knife and opened me up something fierce. I made it out her just before dawn locked her inside.” Reaching over he attempts to free a cigarette from the crumpled pack. Ben steps up to help Bob grabbing the unfiltered cigarette placing it to the man’s trembling lips. Ben grabs silver Zippo light from the table flicking top back he holds the dancing flame to the cancer stick. Bob Lawson draws in deep relishing his last cigarette as a condemned man. Ben makes to hand the lighter back Bob motions with his hand. “Keep it.” He says absently blowing out smoke.
“Son do you have another gun?” He asks pointing to the small silver revolver long forgotten in Ben’s thick hand. “Just this I didn’t have any extra shells though but we have bats and this mallet that Chip calls lucky.” Ben informs his wounded kin. “Tell you what Ben here take my Forty Five you’ll need it. I’ve kept her clean and oiled since Uncle Sam gave her to me. I got to my guns set them by the door when Margaret was attacked so I managed to grab them and my portable HAM radio as I stumbled out the door.” The man’s eyes flutter Ben can see the man loosing strength as his life drains out across the stained wooded porch. “Take my rifle too there are shells and clips for each under the table with the radio.” Ben leans forward collecting the things as he’d been told Bob grabs his arm as he stands up. “Give me your revolver Ben. I need to do what I couldn’t last night and I won’t need many rounds for that son.” Before Ben knows it he has embraced Bob Lawson his father in law. The men hug on the porch Ben wants to say so much he wants to do more but he knows there is nothing more he can do. Bob Lawson pushes his son in law away. “Now look Ben I talked to some of my HAMMY friends their channels are on a card I wrote in the battery compartment.” Ben nods curtly trying to hold back the tears he longs to shed. He hands his revolver to Bob Lawson. He tosses the rifle over his shoulder then tucks the pistol in his waistband where the revolver had been. Kneeling down picking up the radio and ammo boxes Ben gets an up close view of the man’s injury. He had heard stories from Anne of her father’s legendary toughness. Ben had dismissed that as a daughters aggrandizement of her all powerful “Daddy.” His daughter Belinda clearly suffered from the same heroic delusions as her mother had.
“Ben.” The sound of his name brings Ben back from his reminiscing. “You protect them Ben protect your family …my baby … my grand babies. Don’t live long enough to see those things have at them you hear me boy?” Ben's sighs “Yes sir I swear to you I will.” Ben declares his oath standing before Bob Lawson. “Good now get the hell out of here I have to finish this and we’re drawing a crowd.” The man points out down the block. Where there had been no ghouls before there were dozens encircling the house and moving closer. Ben pulls the pistol free from his waist. “Don’t not shoot unless you have to sound attracts them.” Bob enlightens his son in law. “And Ben go to ground hunker down don’t be out in the open at night. Some of them get smarter, faster, and meaner when the sun goes down.” Ben doesn’t know what to say he is in awe of his wife’s father. Still in this dark hour he call to duty is only out weighed by his selflessness. “I love you Pops.” He says perched at the top stair. “I know son now get them the hell out of here so I can do what I need to do. Tell my babies I love them and tell my Annie her daddy has been proud of her every minuet of everyday of her life.” He drops the remnants of the cigarette in the gooey pool of congealed blood at his feet. Ben vaults from the porch with a purpose, he’s no longer hesitant but embolden with the courage his father in law had bestowed upon him. He knows the old Marine is watching and he doesn’t waiver in an effort to impress Bob Lawson. His only desire is to show the man he will care for his precious cargo and fight back the demons of the new world. He crosses the distance to the van as the passenger door swings open. Jamal comes out bat in hand Ben raises the black pistol to fire as a short male zombie has found it‘s was between him and his family. The young one time college student is faster one blow caves the dead thing’s skull. The walking corpse falls motionless to the ground Ben steps over it never breaking stride. He jumps into the van climbing into the rear leaving the passenger seat empty for Jamal. Ben goes to his wife immediately dropping the weapons without a care He sees the hope fade from her beautiful face the closer he gets. “Go Chip.” Ben calls up from the back after Jamal hops into the passenger’s seat. The van pulls away slowly as Anne unleashes a deafening wail of heartbreak. Ben takes his wife into his arms her body racked with sobs she cries out unintelligible phrases of pain. Brandon and Belinda weeping collapse heavily upon their parents and are pulled into the embrace. Up front Chip drives though the veil of tears blurring his vision. Jamal rubs Chip’s shoulder from his position in next to him. Bianca sits huddled with her girls as the van turns the corner.
On the porch Bob Lawson waits for the van to disappear from sight secure in the knowledge his family is safe. The zombies have reached his yard one viciously mauled policewoman in bumbling up his bottom step. He musters the last of his strength letting his midsection go free with a Herculean effort Bob pushes up from his chair. He wavers in place as his intestines spill out like a bucket of old fish. The dead police officer reaches for him as she steps onto the porch. He puts one round between her eyes sending the zombies tumbling back of the porch into the arms of its kind. He waddles to the front door trailing his own entrails turning the key he left in the knob earlier. Bob Lawson shoves hard knocking back the weight against the door. The man fumbles into his home slamming the door shut he stands in the dark listening for the growls of the thing that had taken resident in his wife’s body. Bob fires one shot in the dark putting her down for good for a moment the house is silent and still the way it used to be. The pounding on the door starts the weary old man slides down the wall slowly plopping on the floor he waits for death to claim him. A tug jiggles a slimy piece of Bob’s guts that have gotten caught in the door after he locked it. The sausage like rope is pulled taught after the first undead walking corpse finds the still warm delicacy. Bob succumbs to gravity as he is pulled sideways laying against the door. From the other side of the tan door zombies fight for scraps of the Bob’s entrails. Wet chewing noises and guttural grunts are the last things Bob Lawson hears in this life.
Tonight we witnessed the James family take a heart breaking detour to the home of Anne's parents. After they have met up with Jamal Mohammed the college aged son of their now deceased neighbors. Bob and Margaret Lawson haven't fared as well as the James family unfortunately. The tragedy of the visit is sure to be the first of many for the family seeking to survive the zombie apocalypse.
We will return after a holiday break the week of January 6th 2013. Plan on coming by for a look see as we catch up with our favorite trio of stranded young soldiers.
The Living Dark would like to wish all of it's friends, family and fans a very Merry Christmas.