Chapter 8: Then the darkness moved
As they both gaze through the crack in the window boards Chip and Ben can see Carl Fullerton moving gingerly towards their house. The lean athletic man stops briefly gazing at his own quite home. He appears confused and unsure of what to do next. He swings around and head for the James house. "What do we do Chip?!" Ben shouts pulling away from the widow catching his son by his grey t shirt. "Uh how do I know dad you’re the parent!" Ben looks about confused before he hastily replies. "but … but you're the expert!" he tells Chip. "Dad how am I an expert on something that doesn't exist?! I am a 17 year old kid deal with it!" Ben is flushed with panic spinning about the room "why in the hell did I listen to you?! Now I am sacred as crap but I don't know what I’m afraid of!" Ben notices perspiration beading up on his dark forehead; he wipes it away with the back of his hand. "Daddy .... just play it cool act normal!" Chip pleads with his father who appears on the verge of a panic attack. "Cool boy you've convinced me that my best friend is coming back here ...."
A quick series of knocks at the door breaks the conversation "... a damn zombie!" He whispers going for the door in an uncoordinated rush. Ben comes around the couch heading for his protected front door he trips over one of the two by fours laying across the threshold. He bumps several pieces of wood sending them flying nosily into the door. Ben catches himself on the door frame "for Christ sake dad!" Chip shouts a hushed whisper. "Boy do not take the Lords name in vain!” his father calls back righting himself before the door. Pumped on adrenaline the carpenter pulls the two support board across the door down by hand flinging the door open wide he's face to face with his neighbor. "Heyyyyyy Carl how you feeling buddy!" he grins awkwardly. "Ben ....." Carl begins "… dude you don't look so good bro." Carl tells him from the front porch. "Why are you sweating like a hog man is everything ok?!" Ben is still sporting a forced grin "Uhhh tired my friend ... that's all I feel like a dead man walking!" Ben laughs aloud beginning to hyperventilate. Chips rolls as close to his father as he can manage then asks "dad are you gonna let Mr. Fullerton in so we can close the door?!" "Yeah ... yeah close the door!" with that Ben whips the door shut without thinking. Carl stands stunned on the front porch as Ben sheepishly opens the front door once more. "So... so Sorry Carl come in man." Ben says flatly. Carl steps in past Ben and moves to a tan love seat near the door plopping down heavily. Carl tilts his head back exhaling a long sigh "man it was a mad house down at St. George's." He speaks to no one in particular as Ben starts to repair the doors braces. Chip produces the mallet from besides his leg and tosses it to his dad. With precision Ben nails the boards back in place as his son wheels in closer to assist him by handing him boards. "Damn I'm starving Carl sits up suddenly!"
Ben throws the wood he's holding to the ground and rushes at Carl Fullerton from behind with the mallet held high ready to strike. Chip glides up in front of his dad catching his elbow. The two almost topple backwards but Ben catches his boy and the chair in time to avoid the spill. Carl turns around to see the two behind him with goofy smiles plastered on their faces. "You guys got any food up here?" Carl asks trailing off staring at the James men suspiciously. Ben pulls his wheelchair bound son upright his grin wavering. "Yeah … yeah Carl ..." he turns back meaning to fixes the remaining board to the doors support bracket. "Anne brought some sandwiches up ....." he speaks between hammer blows. "She made them flesh ...earlier ....." Chip winces at his dad's Freudian slip. "Fresh... she made them fresh a while ago." He chuckles nervously turning from the barricaded door. "Great!" Carl exclaims standing up from the couch. "I haven’t eaten all day seriously … where are they?" Chip points towards the kitchen "in there in the blue cooler Mr. Fullerton." Chip instructs watching Carl Fullerton walk to the kitchen "maybe once I eat we can make that supply run Ben?" Ben looks at his son hunching his shoulder silently only to see his son return the gesture. "Sure yeah Buddy!" he calls as Carl rounds the wall into the kitchen area. Ben Jr. motions for his dad to lean down and Ben obliges. The boy slaps his dad in the back of his head in the same manner one would if they were trying to wake someone sleeping heavily. "Flesh!" the boy shouts in his father’s ear. "Flesh .... she made them flesh! Come on dad really?!" The boy shakes his head in exasperation. "I see why mom doesn't let you play poker with the guys!" Ben looks down at his son attempting to compose himself. Carl comes back from the kitchen with two sandwiches and a bottle of water. "I got two ..." he says holding the white bread bologna sandwiches aloft. "I hope you don't mind." Ben shakes his head implying he doesn't falling in behind Carl. "No sir we don't mind if you eat us!" he shouts with glee. Chip slaps his forehead in frustration tossing his sandy brown hair out of his eyes. "What Carl’s" says chewing looking back at Ben. "I said we don't mind if you eat usssssss.....out of house and home!"
Ben sits down heavily on the love seat. Carl moves all the way into the living room taking a seat on the expensive leather sofa with his back to the crack in Ben and Chip had used to spy on him. Chip rolls in to position across from Carl and his dad. Unknowingly they sit apart from each other in the artificial glow of lantern light. The cone of light touches each of their faces from its perch in the center of the grouping. "What was it like at the hospital Mr. Fullerton?" Chip inquires. Carl is in mid swig after finishing one sandwich he drains the bottle of water. "Chip it was pure unadulterated chaos son.” the man takes a huge bite from his remaining sandwich. "Man I feel so much better now! I was so hungry I was shaking." Carl says absently staring at the sandwich he looks up. "Hey Ben how are Bianca and the girls man?!" asking about his family. Ben bounces up to attention "They're fine Carl. Anne says the girls were playing while she and Bianca talked." Carl nods his approval "so guys check this out." He starts excitedly finishing off his last sandwich bite "So I'm waiting in line to be seen. They have this huge triage area set up outside with generators. The Hospital is running using these huge generators the army has brought in." Chip perks up now "the army is there too Mr. Fullerton?" Carl leans forward and Ben notices he seems livelier and some of his color has returned. "Obviously eating has done him some good." Ben thinks to himself. "Yes sir Chip they have got tanks, helicopters and soldiers everywhere. They have the situation secure and the hospital is running efficiently." Ben raises a calloused finger in the air as if he were in school. Carl slyly arches an eyebrow "yes Ben." "How's your arm?" he blurts. Gone was Carl's bloodied bed sheet wound dressing and in its place tight neat professional pristine while gauze. From elbow to wrist and encompassing his damaged pinkie finger. Carl regards the arm cautiously "they told me to take it easy and gave me some antibiotics. Took a butterfly stitch to close it too and I tell you what. Tomorrow I go jogging I’m taking my gun with me if I see those dumb asses. I'm shooting them!" Carl looks to Ben "Sorry buddy didn't mean to curse in front of Jr. there." He says with a wink to the teenager. Chip blushes ever so slightly his father notices probably at the thought of finally being on an inside joke with grown ups more than anything else. Carl catches a ray of late evening sun cascading into the dimly lit room.
"Fellas look we've talked up so much time maybe its best if we go in the morning to my house and grab what we need. I don't want to leave the house unguarded. I've heard things about what goes on at night now it's not safe to be out I think." Chip leans in "How so Sir?!" Ben can see his son waiting to hear that word. Waiting to hear his friend utter that cliché' Hollywood word "Zombies." "Well Chip ..." he begins "first I've heard that you can now see the Aurora Borealis from like dusk until just before sunrise since the solar flares. Except it a muted cantaloupe orange color but when going outdoors at night now you have to watch yourself." He wipes his mouth absently with his good hand rubbing the saliva on his pants. "A soldier told me that bands of marauders are going about stealing supplies and generally wreaking havoc as they go." Ben snorts "criminals always take advantage of the night. Well need to get downstairs before it gets to dark or somebody sees the light." "Wait!" Carl shouts causing Benjamin James to flinch spasming in his seat kicking the cabinet holding the lantern. The room is cast into a thick blackness "Nobody move I'll get it!" Ben erupts he can be heard scrambling about. Somewhere in the dark a lamp crashes to the floor. "Sorry guys … sorry" Ben utters as the sound of him slapping the floor searching for rogue batteries. Chip is immobilized with fear he doesn't know if he fears Carl Fullerton, his ominous words, or the dark. Chips finds himself with a death grip on the arm rests of wheelchair breath caught in his throat. He wants to call for his dad; he needs the security of the rock that has been there for him through out his life even after "the accident." To hell with being one of the guys Chip opens his mouth intent on calling for his father.
"Mr. Fullerton ...." slips from his lips effortlessly. "Yes Chip." the man answers from the darkness. "Are ..." the boy in the wheelchair swallows. "Are … you ok Sir?" the leather couch squeaks as Carl shifts his weight unseen "Yes Son I ... Just ..... want see the.… Aurora." Another crash from the floor Ben yells "almost got it!" In the dark Chip lowers a trembling hand down releasing his wheelchair brakes. "Sorry Carl!" Ben yelps from the floor "I didn't mean to step on your foot!" Ben stands up "Annnnnd got it!" flicking the switch the lantern pushes the dark back as Ben turns to face Carl. "It's ok Ben." Sitting on the edge of the couch Carl is smiling broadly. His eyes were a dull shade of orange a thick sheen of light orange drool coats his chin. Every vein in his body courses orange infected blood like a polluted river emanating from under the bandages on his arm. His skin begins to sizzle as if cooked by an unseen flame peeling up in flakes before wafting in the stale air to the floor. "Jesus!" Ben cries fumbling backwards. Carl launches at his friend teeth bared. "Come back here!" he snarls. Ben hits the floor the lantern lands painfully in his chest. He sees Carl’s diseased face looming above him beyond the light reach. The sound of ragged breathing is punctuated by Carl screeching "What!" Ben hears an all too familiar sound feet stumbling over the end of Chips metal footrests. Carl falls form the gloom landing on Ben who catches him under the chin with both his paw sized hands. Immediately he feels the intense heat Carl’s body emits singeing his palms. The lantern bobbles between to two as they struggle. "You're lucky that cripple saved you Ben!" Carl screams wrapping his hands around Ben's and pulling them outward. "When I'm done with you he's ...." his words cut off suddenly. Ben felt a blow from the dark and the rush of air accompanying it. Then it came again punctuated with a crunching noise. Carl goes limp and the life behind the orange film in his eyes dies. The body is pulled back into the dark and hits the floor with a meaty thud.
"Dad… Dad! Chip sobs. Ben sits up to respond to his boy his body goes rigid then relaxes. Ben Jr. embraces his father tightly the mallet still in his hand digs painfully into his back but Ben doesn't care. Stroking the head of his crying boy Ben steels himself as a shudder runs up his spine. "S'ok son ... S'ok" he soothes his son whose pretense of adulthood has melted away in a rivulet of tears. Ben struggles to his feet hefting his son up. With his free hand he searches in the dark for the boy’s chair. The only light filtering in in comes from the moon through the crack in the boards. Ben sees movement in the distance on the street. "shhh!" he tells Chip in his arms scanning the street. It was Napoleon walking down his porch and into the street. Ben sees his profile as the stout man stares in the distance at Mohammed’s house across the cul-de-sac. Ben's first thought is for his neighbor’s safety he goes to call for him. "Dad no!" Chip whimpers feeling his father’s chest draw in. Napoleon abruptly turns to face the James house the side of his face away from them comes into view and it’s a shredded bloodied pulp wisps of smoke swirl skyward from his decimated face. Ben swears he and the man have locked eyes. Ben snaps to and stomps a boot down crushing the lantern and snuffing out the light. Chip and Ben bear witness to Napoleon walk then sprint towards their house.
The Living Dark has finally revealed it's dark and insidious nature. After Carl's much heralded return to the James household. The men fore go the plan of retrieving supplies from Carl's house and decide to listen as Carl tells them what he's learned. The sun sets and in the dark all hell breaks loose as the James men have a fight on their hands.
After such a heart pounding Chapter we will take a week off and meet back here the week of October 7th for Chapter 9 of The Living Dark.
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Sincerely: The Living Dark