Chapter 16: Exit Strategy
Sprinting across the smoky basement huffing Ben negotiates the corner behind his workbench bouncing down the tight passageway. The husky man pounds the rusty steel door until he hears the wheels on the door turning from the other side. As the door cracks open a sliver Benjamin James shoves his way in coughing his chest heaving deeply. “Ok we have a problem…” He squeezes out between gasp leaning heavily against the doors other side. Anne brings him a white wash cloth she has soaked with water. “To be honest …” he says in the hazy air as others around him cough and gag periodically. “We have several problems everybody and before I lay out the biggest of them. I need everyone to be quite and understand this we have to leave here today.” He gazes around to see all the panicked faces looking toward him for assurance. The only solstice he has is that his son Chip knows what he is about to say is hideously ugly but true none the less. “Ben is the house on fire?” Anne shouts muffled through her washcloth. “Yes honey it is on fire the attic was burning when I went check the source of the smoke.” Ben stands upright taking his weight off the door. “To be honest when I checked every house on the cul de sac is on fire including you guys house Bianca.” He points at Carl’s wife nursing their baby girl. “We need to get the hell out of the house now Ben.” Anne starts arraigning the frightened children into a single file line like a school teacher.
“Honey listen please.” Ben grabs his woman by her arm the shock in her face more than evident. “We can’t go outside Anne not like we used to honey.” He tells his wife releasing her arm but making sure he still has her full attention. “Benjamin we can’t stay here this shelter isn’t smoke proof. The house is gonna burn down around us.” Ben pulls the cloth from his face. “Anne we have to leave baby but things have change outside it‘s no longer safe. Chip and I think it has to have something to do with that what happened when the power went out and the sky started to glowing orange at night.” Bianca stands moving closer. “Benjamin we can’t leave without Carl he won’t know where to find us.” She says her eyes pleading for his understanding Ben however had to look away. Staring the woman in her sad blue eyes wasn’t on his mind when he and his son narrowly escaped death at their neighbor’s hands by caving his head in. “Uh Bianca I….” He stammers before breaking into a coughing fit as if on cue he needed time to think. “I don’t think Carl is going to make it back.” He mumbles sheepishly face cast down at the floor. “Why Benjamin?” She implores tears starts cascading down her cheeks even as Anne comes to Bianca’s side to console her. “Bianca …..Anne.” Ben places a comforting hand on both women‘s shoulders. “Yesterday morning Chip and I powered up the laptop using the generator. The Internet is mostly offline but there were still some news sites up and we watched a video. It appeared to show a woman attacking someone.” Ben sighs aware he’s taken this story far away from the point and no matter how he tried to avoid saying it eventually they would find out. “Ben the damn house is on fire and we’re in the basement which just happens to be the worst possible place to be.” Anne screams at her husband pulling her washcloth off her face. “Honey I’m sorry this isn’t something I have to do everyday but there are zombie-ish like people wandering about the street. That noise you heard last night was me fighting Nate he had broken though the attic window I had forgotten to secure. This is how the embers from the other house fires got in. I had to bash his head in he was possessed by something Anne. His skin was brackish and peeling as it oozed he wanted to kill us said he always hated me, you, our marriage and our kids.” Ben felt like he had just farted during a wedding now that it was out and the awkward moment had past all he felt was relief.
The women stare at him in disbelief. “Mom …Mrs. Fullerton.” A soft voice masculine arises from behind in the haze. Anne’s mouth hangs wide as she turns to see Chip licking his lips his hands placed on his lap. “As bad as it sounds Mom Mr. Archer was changed he climbed the side of our house and Dad hid me under the sink and he killed him last night. Dad’s not crazy ….. Well that crazy Mom. Please you have to believe us there is something bad happening and it’s definitely tied to the power going out.” The boy sits silently before coughing from a tickle in his throat little Dakota runs into her mother’s thigh weeping. “I have no idea what to say I really don‘t.” Anne pulls her babies to her picking Belinda up hugging Brandon against her leg. “Ben I don‘t know what to believe but so for you haven‘t lied to me yet. So tell us what to do as long as we are safe the rest we can deal with ….. I hope.” Ben leans in kissing his wife on her forehead tasting a slight tinge of salt. “We have to go guys the van still works probably because it wasn’t running at the time of the Event I assume.” Ben scans the shelter “Gather up all the supplies we have down here. Brandon and I will run them up to the van. We will get Chip’s chair from the living room too.” Ben instructs those gathered below ground in his burning home. “There isn’t much room in the back of the van so we take food, water and weapons only. Anne do we have anything else for the baby diapers formula?” Ben asks his wife who takes a moment to answer. “Yeah honey I think we do upstairs.” She tells her husband. “Ok on the way out grab what you can honey.” Ben makes to walk away then Bianca stops him. “Ben can we head by St. George’s please to see if we can find Carl?” He places one of his large hands on her nodding his head “yes” vigorously. “Chip you’re driving son.” Ben calls out even though Chip was “legally paralyzed” from the waist down he could still move his legs. He didn’t posses enough lower body strength to stand but he could move his legs enough to drive short distances. “Alright dad.” Ben lifts the boy up placing him on his back. “Get ready I’m taking Chip upstairs and you all need to be ready when I get back honey.”
Ben and Chip leave the shelter heading up to the garage. Once back in the kitchen Ben rounds the corner passing the base of the stairs the smoke was acrid dense and thick pouring down the carpeted stairs almost like water. The orange glow dancing through the smoke like a bad seventies disco in the sparsely lit house where light filters in between boarded windows. Ben bearing Chip scampers along the wall finding the door to the garage in the darkened house. Opening the garage door Ben watches the smoke as it is sucked into the garage and under the white rolling garage doors. He grabs the keys from a peg board sliding along the white windowless van. Ben smoothly turns the keys jingling softly in the door. In the cramped tool packed garage the door bumps into a second workbench. He hefts his son into the drivers’ seat handing him the keys. “Do not start it wait until we are all in get yourself situated son can you do this?” Chip adjusts his side view mirror. “Yeah dad I got this.” Chip smiles broadly. Ben goes to leave but stops frozen at the sight at the base of the garage door. Shadows cross back and forth eclipsing the shining rays of sunlight with shambling forms. Ben’s mind grinds to a halt “don’t separate don’t split up” rattles around in his brain. He moves his thick legs through the smoke streaming over the concrete floor kicking up grey wisps as he goes. “Son take this.” Ben locks eyes with his son producing the small silver revolver from his waistband. This left Ben with the lucky mallet as his only weapon riding up in the small of his back. “Roll the windows up lock the van and don’t unlock anything until you see us at your window.” The boy swallows hard under the pressure of things to come he doesn’t debate or make a smartass comment to hide his nerves. Chip takes the gun and the weight of his father’s trust. “Yes dad I won‘t.” he whispers slamming the door locking it immediately. Ben moves back through his dark burning homestead passing the staircase he can hear the flames roaring as they consume his home. Taking a few seconds Ben jumps into the front room picking up Chip’s overturned wheelchair his eyes stinging from the smoke. Running he takes the chair back to the garage bumping alongside the van he raps a knuckle on the window starling Chip. On instinct the boy raises the pistol pointing it at the window. “Wooooooo” Ben ducks stumbling backwards hands held out defensively. “Sorry dad sorry!” Chip stutters. “Unlock the back door I’ll toss you chair in.” Chip nods once Ben hears the lock pop as he hustles the chair to the rear of the white paneled van embossed with his name. Grabbing the handle he yanks the door open. Ben lobs the lightweight chair in the pathway between tool racks. “I’ll be right back son lock up tight.” Ben slams the door vaulting out of the garage back into the house he run wheezing at glistening stream of saliva coating his chin.
He stumbles bounding down the creaky wooden stairs meeting his wife leading the group u to meet him. “Honey you need to grab the supplies I bagged them up for you.” She rasps surrounded by a chorus of coughs and gags. He signals his agreement with a head nod pulling his shirt over his mouth and nose. “Be careful babe…” He shouts though his soot streaked tee shirt. “Junior has my gun go up and tap on his window then get in back I’ll sit next to him.” It was Anne’s turn to bob her head that she understood they pass each other then Ben is greeted by a conga line of red rim eyed children. Bianca brings up the rear her baby crying underneath a white towel. Wasting no time Ben heads for the shelter “Bianca honey the baby supplies are in the cabinet in the kitchen.” He hears Anne shout down to Bianca. Trotting as fast his exhausted legs will carry him Ben finagles his way down the pathway and into the shelter. There in a neat pile in the middle of the pitch black tiny room is a pile of duffel bags. Ben drops to one knee pulling bag after haphazardly packed bag over his shoulder the lifting the last two up. Ben stands then leaves the room without closing the door he bangs down the pathway he struggles out into the basement. Passing the workbench littered with various electronics charging from a battery pack. As soon as one booted foot touches the bottom high pitched screams from upstairs start.
Better late than never we find the James clan coming to tems with fleeing thier burning house. Ben has to come clean with his wife and Bianca Fullterton about the undead in their midst. A new problem confronts Benjamin James as Bianca wants to visit St. George's hospital to look for her husband who is laying dead in the living room. All that takes a backseat as he hears screams from upstairs.
Come back to find out what happensin the next chapter of The Living Dark.
The Living Dark