Chapter 15: The best laid plans
“And where’s Chips Chair Benjamin?” Anne James scolds her husband in the darkened space. Silently Ben James grits his teeth, he despises lying to his wife he really did but for now he has no choice. “Hey honey.” The big man whispers praying his son would keep quite while he spoke to his wife. For a man lying to his wife was a sacred art form that took time to cultivate. Either he lied to cover something up or lied to withhold information. Ben knew this was the latter he just didn’t have the energy to tell his wife the zombie apocalypse was upon them, he’d killed two of their long time neighbors and half the neighborhood was in flames. “The racket you heard was Junior and I sealing up the attic window.” He felt calmer as his paralyzed son sat quietly in his grip. “We went up stairs and as I climbed up in the attic I missed a rung on the ladder and took a spill. I knew I should’ve fixed that sooner honey sorry I put it off.” He heard her come closer “Well are you ok baby?” He breathes a sigh of relief Anne was buying his falsity in its entirety. “Yeah I’m fine baby doll I just scratched myself a couple of times but I’m fine.” He could finally feel her right in front of him her outline barely visible in the inky darkness. “Chip you ok Honey?” Anne James asks her eldest child in her typical over protective manner. Due to Chip’s “handicap” he usually receives the dotting one would reserve for a four year old from his mother. “Yeah mom I’m fine dad’s the klutz.” Chip felt his mother running her fingers through his sand color locks of hair. “Anne Carl never came back today I’m worried.” Ben lies with ease nothing in his voice would tell you that les than an hour ago Ben saw his son cave Carl’s head in. “Oh no.” Anne gasps with genuine concern. “What will we tell Bianca?” She asks her husband. “I don’t know Anne maybe make up something about the line at the hospital was long or something like that. You were a nurse throw in something about a national emergency.” He says in exasperation. “You know I’m not good a fibbing babe I’m gonna need your help here.” He hears his wife suck in a deep breath. “Babe just follow my lead ok?” Anne says he hears her turn in the tight space moving for the shelter door. Ben follows her through the door seeing everyone in the group gathered around a lantern.
Ben closes the door as softly as he could the squeak was gone. He guessed Anne had used the lubricating oil as he’d instructed her to. The kids are all laughing and giggling Bianca looks up locking eyes with him. The disappointment in Bianca’s face was immediately obvious. Lying to his wife when couldn’t see her face was difficult but this would be near impossible for Ben. “Bianca honey Carl didn’t make it back today.” Anne sits down next to the distraught woman clutching the cooing infant taking the lead. “God bless her” Ben thought of his loving wife. He takes the chance to set Chip down with the rest of the kids around the lantern. Squatting slightly he allows Chip to do the rest as he stands pulling away from Chip the boy grabs his hand squeezing it between both of his. Ben drops his gaze on his sons face to boy who favors his mother gives him a slight nod. “There was probably on heck of a line at the St. George’s today Bianca.” Anne strokes the weeping woman’s arm softly occasionally caressing the baby’s head. Ben comes over kneeling into a cross legged sitting position. Bianca’s face frowns through her tears when she sees Ben’s stained shirt. “Ben how did you get that blood on your shirt.” The woman asks adjusting the baby in her arms. Ben starts fumbling like Ralph Cramden from the Honeymooners. Chip’s head pops up from across the safe room at the sound of the stammering quickly the boy realizes his father is in need of a wingman again. “He fell from the attic ladder Mrs. Fullerton.” Chip calls from across the tiny shelter. Ben had forgotten to check if there might be evidence on his persons from his undead killing spree. Benjamin James knew stereotypes be damned he was not cut out for a life of crime. “Yeah damn rung gave way.” He laughs awkwardly the woman wipes tears from her eyes with her free hand. “Look Bianca I will go back up and check in a few hours even while you guys are sleeping ok?” He was prepared to play the ruse out until such times as he was forced to reveal the truth.
Before he knew it Benjamin James’ baby girl had come over and sat in his lap. “Hey B.” He grins kissing his daughter on her ample cheeks as she giggles. “Daddy tell us a story pleaaaaase.” She asks drawing out the word as she often did when it was time to sucker her daddy in with her charms. He felt arms around his neck this time there were Brandon’s. “Come on dad please pretty please.” The children had obviously planned this mission very carefully. “Okay alright.” Ben had no real choice but to relent but he did so with a smile. He rose carrying his daughter in his arms and his younger son dangling from his back. Around the lantern they all gather their eyes heavy with the odd yawn here and there. Ben looked in the eyes of Dakota Fullerton he’d forgotten that she was there. He felt guilt invade his psyche staring in the blue eyes of the little girl who was now fatherless thanks to this global catastrophe. Locking eyes with a child after you had dispatched their father took a stronger man than him. He launches into a story for the children and soon they were all asleep. Ben moves his youngest from his lap placing her snuggly inside her sleeping bag. Anne is in the corner dozing with Bianca and the baby Ben shudders at the thought of what this world has become and what he was in store for. He never seriously thought he was building a shelter to survive the damn apocalypse a tornado maybe but not hordes of the undead. “Gonna stay low and unseen and we will make it through this.” He thinks to himself feeling his eyelids slipping over his eyes. After making sure the door is locked Ben eases his husky frame down onto the cold cement floor before he knows it he’s snoring softly sound asleep.
Ben is dozing peacefully when he gets a tickle in the back of his throat. He coughs attempting to clear his throat as he rolls over hoping he can find sleep once more. Between sleep and consciousness Ben becomes aware of a symphony of coughs all about him. He sits bolt upright eyes open his sense of smell sorting out the underlying danger. A thin haze of smoke hangs about the room. Swirling smoke veils the top of the shelter “Wake up.” Ben shouts coming to his feet he moves about the room “Wake up wake up wake up.” He chants in fear his heart thudding in his chest the tickle in his throat a full blow cough now. “Anne.” He calls to his wife “Honey get up get the kids we got a problem.” The rest of the people in small cell like structure start to rouse as Ben now shaking his wife awake. “Anne get up get the kids and Bianca.” His wife sluggishly wakes from her suffocating slumber. “Wha … honey what?” She moans her eyes opening wider as she sees the smoky air hanging about the ceiling. “Anne get everybody ready we may have to leave.” He tells his wife in a panic Ben checks for his revolver in his waistband pulling it free. “Ben…” Anne choughs her throat feels gritty as she rouses the kids she calls out. “What’s wrong where is this smoke coming from?” She inquires helping Chip up to the sit on the tiny table in the room. “I don’t know Mohammed’s house may have been on fire and I think Nate’s was too.” He tells his wife but in his mind hear fears more of those things. Those monsters his friends have become ganging up realizing there were still living people in the roughly boarded up house and setting it ablaze. “Anne get our things together we might have to leave.” Ben begins the process of opening the thick rusted door. “Brandon son close it and lock it tight until I come back.” Ben turns exiting the door he takes one last look at his son the boys eyes are red rimmed and watering from the smoke.
Ben rushes through the tiny passage way “God please don’t let there be any of them in the house.” He runs across the dark basement leaping onto the bottom stair. He rethinks his haste taking out the small silver gun he creeps up the stairs trying to make as little noise as possible. The smoke gets thicker as he climbs to the top of the staircase. Ben turns the knob quietly releasing door letting swing open. Ben moves through the threshold hunched low and is greeted by flickering orange light. Spinning his head around Ben looks for the source of the light through the dense smoke. In the front of the house Ben watches the orange light dance into his home cutting through the smoke from the crack between the boards on the front windows. He walks cautiously pistol leading the way past the kitchen into the front room. He moves for the window then realizing his neighbor’s corpses are still in the room. Ben is hesitant to turn his back to the bodies for fear they may have been playing possum after having their skulls crushed. He crab walks gracefully keeping an eye on the bodies in the haze. With a booted foot he unleashes a savage kick to Nate’s pulverized head. Satisfied he moves on to Carl and stomps the back of his neck with as much force as he can muster. He now feels confident enough to head for the window. Kneeling on the couch Ben places his face against the boards. He sees the cull-de sac he’d nurtured his family on in flames. Nate’s house is engulfed the fire has greedily consumed it then catching the empty house next door to the left and on the right flaming embers have ignited the roof of Mohammed’s house and the house to the right of his own house. They are literally pinned in by the inferno ragging outside.
More disturbing was the figures milling about in the early morning sunlight. Ben is riveted to the scene before him one person shuffles from the front of Napoleon’s house on fire. The person appears oblivious to the flames consuming their flesh. Ben’s neighborhood has turned into hell as far as he can tell. He has no idea who these people are they don’t behave like the blood thirsty savages that Nat and Carl had become but they did not appear well either. “Zombies…” Ben whispers to himself vaulting off the couch scurrying for his basement and his family. He was taken back to the video he and Chip watched with the shambling shadows behind figure running and jumping the camera. They could wait the smoke of if they needed to but being outside in a zombie infested city with two women, a paralyzed teen, three kids and an infant was suicide. Instead of heading down the stairs and locking themselves uptight. Ben catches a glance at the staircase where he’d ambushed Nate. The orange flicker he’d seen early was glowing in an area where the light from the front room could not have been. Walking to the base of the stairs Ben’s heart skips a beat the hallway upstairs was aglow with that same evil orange light. He makes his way up the stairs the smoke becoming thicker as he crest the last stair he could see the source of the light cascading down from the attic where Nate had crashed down from the attic. Pulling his shirt up over his nose Ben climbs the broken collapsible attic ladder. Peaking into the unfinished attic his face is met by intense heat. Ben is greeted by flames scaling the wall around the window Nate had shattered to gain access to gain entry into the James house. Roaring flames pop and crackle as it devours the exposed pink insulation about the attic. “Oh God no.” Ben wheezes dropping back down into the house and racing back down to the shelter.
We have now come almost full circle in The Living Dark universe. We find ourselves back at the James household where Ben is trying to explain to his wife why thier neighbor hasn't returned from a trip to the hosppital. Something else is now amiss it appears as thought thier safe house might not be as safe anymore.
Come back the week of December 2nd to find out what happens next in The Living Dark
The Living Dark