Chapter 25: Divided and Conquered
"What?!" Ben screams in a panic nearly dropping Anne in the process. "Shh keep it down." The young man holding the Uzi like a cliché' Hollywood thug chides. "Keep it down?!" “My Lord Chip ... Belinda are out there alone.” Anne whines. Locket is at their side with a look of concern. "Mr. and Mrs. James what seems to be the problem?” She asks cautiously eyeballing the boy with the dirty dreads. His right arm is heavily bandaged with dirty white gauze from bicep to forearm. Locket takes note this part of the development does not please her. Ben moves into the house's spacious living room then he's struck by a breath taking foul odor. Scanning the room he sees everyone else has something pulled up over their noses. Ben finds a clean looking couch where he places Anne. "It's Chip and B they're lost that road goes down into a sub division not up to the front of the house as we thought. We've gotta go Carson, Locket, Jamal come on!" Ben whirls back to the front door the boy now blocks their way as he stands guard in the tiny foyer. "Hold on sir we don't have time for this." The Rasta kid cautions the group. "Don't have time? What the hell do you mean kid get out of my way." Ben bull stomps forward as the young man raises his Uzi. "Dude stop everybody drop y’alls guns on the floor now.” He waves his gun about the room tilted sideways the way the movies had shown him was "cool" his hand clearly shaking. "Hey you people are crazy we can't be up here." He shouts peering back at the barred front door. "Look I swear I will help you find your kids in the morning as soon as the sun comes up." Anne clutches her terrified son all the while watching as her husbands face contorts in anger. "Look boy I don't know what your issue is but you're going to have to kill me to keep me in this house.” Ben blurts seething with rage he reaches for the pistol in his waistband. His hand comes back empty realizing he gave his to pistol to Chip. "I could kill you man I could do it right now bro or you could go out this door and grab the wrong zombies attention. Then you'll be killing us all so your kids versus everybody here man you decide."
The nervous boy brushes twisted matted dreadlocks out of his face. "Look dude you look like you reaching fo your piece and it aint there. Did you give it to one of your kids? Think did you hear any shots before you came in I didn't?" Ben thought back he hadn't heard any shots. "Yeah I gave it to my son and I didn't hear any shots but forgive me. Let's make it clear I don't want to leave my wheelchair bound son and my eight year old daughter outside with the undead overnight." The dazed young man steps in from the foyer cautiously. "Look Mister I pray your son is resourceful. There are plenty of places they can hideout until morning down there in Clow Oaks. Most of them houses were foreclosed on to begin with so there weren't many folks living down there." Locket slides in from the side but the kid whirls pointing the semi automatic pistol at her. "Easy now..." Locket holds her hands out stepping back. "What did you mean when you said 'grab the wrong zombies attention' a few minuets ago and what is that ungodly smell?" Taking a few seconds to steal a glance back outside the he comes into the living room. "Look I can explain everything but we have to get down stairs guys." He says Ben glares at the boy with disgust. "I'm not leaving nor am I going down stairs and locking myself away with someone whose been bitten. I know what will happen tonight as soon as the Sun sets you're going to come back as one of those smart zombie things. As far as I am concerned son you're a dead man. So weather I kill you now to get to my son or you drop dead in a few hours it doesn’t matter to me.” Apprehension ripples through those gathered in the living room. Fear that this stand off will end badly seems to linger about the room like that ungodly foul odor. The dreadlocked young man pauses before cocking the slide menacingly on the sub machine pistol. "Give me five minuets in my cellar .... Umm I didn't catch your name before you threatened to kill me Sir." Ben's jaws clench bulging up and down "Benjamin James" he squeezes out. "Well Mr. James people around these parts call me White Magic." The entire room full of survivors stops in one motion most have that confused tilted head look a dog gives off when a passing mirror. "If you kind folks will hustle down this here hallway I will enlightened you once we get downstairs." He motions with the gun still aimed at Ben and no one moves. "Ben..." Anne calls hobbling up from the couch. Ben runs over and catches her just as she tumbles forward he lifts her up into his arms once more. "Look give him five minutes honey because he seems pretty unreasonable now and none of us has guns at this point." Ben nods his thick head the tears welling up in corners of her eyes softens his heart. Ben looks to those gathered around waiting for him to speak. "Alright guys we give Vanilla Ice here five minuets then if he's not making sense we snap his scrawny neck and go get my kids."
Ben lets his words hang in the air before starting down the hallway as instructed. "Brandon come on son." He calls the boy who is still seated on the couch. Slowly the survivors begin to move Jamal, Bianca and the kids move in step behind the James'. They head down the dark rickety hallway the old cherry wooden floorboards creaking underfoot. The house is well built but very old underneath the dreadful odor that dusty old people smell lingers about the house. "Now hook a left go down them stairs then hang a right at the bottom." White Magic's voice calls from the rear of the line. Moving as instructed the group descends into a dank musty knick knack filled basement. Spider webs cling to old discolored wooden joist. Down here in this cluttered storage area Ben is struck at the disorganization. His basement by comparison had been an immaculate extension of his house. From above them the sound of the man bolting the door at the top of the stairs shut. “Everybody get in a group away from the base of the stairs.” White Magic calls as he glides down the stairs still wearing sunglasses in the nearly pitch black basement. “Look we said we’d listen to you Vanilla Ice so there’s no need to keep threatening us.” Ben says moving with his people into a tight group away from the bottom off the stairs. “That’s another thing old dude who the fuck is Vanilla Ice man. You keep saying that like its funny or something.” White Magic says rounding the base of the stairs. Ben comes to the self realization that other he, Anne and Bianca nobody else probably was old enough to remember Vanilla Ice. “Look it up when you get the chance. I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening.” Ben tells the boy shuffling Anne in his arms. “Hummm I’ll do that brother and for your sake it’d better be amusing or some shit like that.” With that the lanky young man whips his dreaded up hair from his eyes. His hands search the top of the earthen wall that runs flush along the staircase. There’s a soft click White Magic leans all of his weight against the wall. With a bump a six foot slab of wall ratchets in about a foot bringing a soft shaft of light into the basement. With practiced ease he rolls the wall section upward heavily favoring his wounded right arm. “Welcome to my home away from hell.” White Magic smiles motioning down the dirt walled dimly lit tunnel. “Com’on in everybody just head through the door at the end of the tunnel. The passageway is very old reeking of wet earthy mildew. Ben thinks as he takes the first cautious steps on the packed dirt. He has to turn sideways in order to fit and not bump Anne’s poor foot. “Hey before y’alls ask this wasn’t no stop on the Underground Railroad or nuttin.” Their host chuckles behind them. “Ben …” He hears Bianca’s soft voice whisper to from immediately behind him. “This doesn’t feel right.” Her words surround him in the dusty air. “You don’t have to tell me …” He responds “None of this feels right Bianca.” Ben stops at a thick rusted door using his booted foot he attempts in vain to move the heavy door. Turning his back to the steel door he presses his full weight against it. The door groans on its antique hinges a crack opens the tunnel is awash in a bright fluorescent light. Ben is dumbfounded by the sight that greets him.
Ben is blinded momentarily by the intense white light washing over him he turns sideways to avoid bumping any part of Anne on the rusty door. "What the Hell" Ben gasps at the sight before him. Stopping in place Ben looks over rows and rows of healthy green plants running the distance of the twenty foot long bunker. Lengths of tube weave in and around the plant tanks like a clear boa constrictor pumping water into the hydrophobic plant system. The two most prominent sounds in the underground den are that of bubbling of water and the hum of electrical motors running. From behind Ben feels Brandon push forward. "Daaaad..." the boy whines. “Oh I’m sorry son.” Ben walks deeper into the room allowing the others to pile in behind him. "Welcome to my farm ...." White Magic pronounces strolling into the room like a game show host his arms spread wide. Locket is a blur snapping the gun from the boy limp grip while throwing an elbow to the side of his head finishing him with a leg sweep. White Magic’s designer sunglasses go flying across the floor. He’s on the ancient weathered cement floor for at least fifteen seconds before his drug addled mind realizes it. "Sit still Mr. Magic I'd take great pleasure in shooting you right about now." Sara Locket says crunching a boot down on White Magic wrist. Ben is literally stunned by the speed and ferocity the girl used to put the armed man on his back. "Mr. Magic I like that." White Magic mumbles from the floor rubbing the side of his slowly swelling head. "Hold on Locket." Ben blurts his head moving as he scans the room. He finds a set of three new clean wooden creates against the wall. “Let him have his say Locket so we can get back down here once we leave.” Ben tells the soldier as he places Anne down on a create Brandon moving through the crowd to his mother's lap. "Fair enough Jamal ..... Carson double time it back upstairs and secure all of our weapons.” Locket doesn't look up as the two men take off at a sprint back down the dirt tunnel. "Tell'em to pull that metal bar at the bottom' o the door I aint lock it." White Magic offers up as he attempts to sit up but Private Locket doesn't take her weight off White Magic’s hand. "Owwwww owwww ouch!" the young man shouts in protest dreads covering his face. Down the tunnel they hear the noise of the door being raised. "Come'on chick I wasn't gone hurt none y'all. I just don't wanna turn to one of the damn things." Locket steps back off White Magic's hand but keeps the gun leveled at his forehead." Ben comes through the crowd to get closer to the young man who seems to fade in and out of his street tough persona. "You've been bit fool there's nothing you can do to stop that now." He tells White Magic looking around. "What the hell is this place? Is this stuff edible?" Ben asks. "Man I was bit more day ago when this crap all started. My gran pa and his boys tired to throwin up a road block to prevent outsiders getting into town. I'm sure y'all done past it on the way in I hear it was a bloodbath. He came home that night and tore off on me and my gran ma as soon as the Sun set she aint makes it though. That‘s that shit y‘all done smelt upstairs my gran ma and grand pa! Them dead things they hate the smell of their kin rotting. It‘s like a signal that there‘s nuttin alive in here." Locket and Ben cast quick glances at one another. "Are you saying you survived through the night after you were bitten kid?" Ben rubs his chin feeling Bianca's eyes crawl up his back. In his mind he believes for a brief second he killed an innocent man when he and Chip had dispatched her husband Carl that first night after The Event.
“Yeah I survived wasn’t nuttin but luck though dog I tell you.” White Magic pulls himself up off the floor slowly leaning his weight on one of the greenhouse tables. “Relax Whitey …” Locket scoffs never taking her eyes of their host. “Welcome to the U.S. headquarters of White Magic Holistic Pharmaceuticals.” He says waving his arms about as if he’s giving a tour. “I’m a freelance supplier of fine recreational and medical marijuana. I popped a few caps in my grans then I retreated down here after getting’ bit by my gran pa.” “How do you still have power down here? “ Private Medina asks softly from besides Anne James. “Oh we got solar panels on the roof of the house sweetheart. Plus there’s a wind turbine on the back of our property. Growin’ weed takes a shitload of power and if you wants to keep yo local power utility company from tricking you out to Johnny Law. You have to produce your own power. It didn’t take me long to convince my gran pa that it would save him money. Who knew I was actually prepping for the zombies apocalypse. “ He chuckles to himself just then heavy footsteps drum down the tunnel accompanied by huffing as Jamal and Private Carson come into view. “Hey close that damn door are you boys crazy!” White Magic screams retreating further back into his shelter. Locket keeps pace with him refusing to lower the Uzi she has aimed White Magic. “No!” Ben calls out “You tell me what you know and then I can rally my people to go get my kids.” White Magic looks pained as he paces the rear of the long room squeezing his heavily bandage right forearm. “Look Sir the truth is as simple as it is ugly.” White Magic begins to speak with no trace of an accent or broken English. His eyes dart about like a cornered animal brimming with fear. As a second thought he takes a long neatly rolled joint from an ashtray sitting on a small desk. The tiny small brown desk appears to be the kind an elementary school teacher would sit behind. It is covered with scales, small plastic baggies, a dusty laptop and two radios. The first was an ancient black box with a silver microphone literally straight out of RadioShack’s 1982 fall circular. The other radio was a ruggedized military styled hand held model. “Do you mind?!” Bianca shouts pulling a cover over baby Cammy who immediately starts fussing under the cover. “Oh sorry Ma’am force of habit I’m not used to company down here.” White Magic says tamping out the joint then flipping his dreads up over his head. “Uh… Sir the only reason I’m still alive is because of these ultraviolet light down here.” Everyone looks about the room noticing the huge floodlights two per yellow stand dotting the room every few feet. They appeared better suited for nighttime crime scene work than home use and were no doubt part of the reason the room was rather warm. “It seems that I learned this by mistake once I came down here. I dialed up some of my friends on my HAM radio here. Started telling everyone I could that if you get bit and survive get under some ultraviolet lights before nightfall.” He pats the black box like it’s a dog. “So my grandfather was bitten during the day and he survived until night so he became one of those smart one once the sun went down. According to what info I have learned from what’s left of the web and the chatter on the HAM radio. That means if I would have died while the sun was up the next day I would have returned as one of those rotters.” White Magic mimics quotations signs in the air before continuing. “You know the dumb zombies shuffling around out there now but if I had survived to until nightfall then I would have returned as one of those trotters.” He makes his satirical quotation marks once more. “You know one of the smart ones who run around tearing everything up all night and then go dull again when the sunrises the next day.”
Subconsciously Ben looks for Chip in the room the way a person who hears news looks for a kindred spirit who can back them up. Ben kneads his sweaty palms together gritting his teeth this isn’t good news either. “Mr. James do you believe in God?” White Magic asks. Ben glances over at Anne who is sitting forward on the crate. “Yes I do why do you ask?” White Magic straightens up in his rusty metal folding chair. “I suggest you pray to God then sir. Beg him to help your kids to find somewhere safe and quite they can hold up until morning it’s their only chance. If you go up there now Mr. James you will bring hell down upon us. Those trotters will bear down on this house and your people the noise they create will draw rotters from every direction. Also by now any of the smart zombies you encountered today will be hot on your trail as soon as the sun sets. I have heard stories from the folks on my radio here. Hell last night I got to listen to one guy and his family get torn apart because they went to get the dog after it got out. A trotter zombie saw them and that was all it took.” White Magic swallows hard wiping his mouth looking down into the ashtray. “After ….. “he stops to compose himself. “After they finished the family off one of those abominations got on the radio. It started trying to get others to tell it where they were promising to make it easier on them. When no one took its offer the bastard sat there with the microphone open chewing on this guy who we’d just been talking to. All you heard was screams of agony followed by moans, laughter and chewing. I threw up over here by my chair and turned off the radio.” Every face stared at White Magic who suddenly looked spent. He stands slowly wobbling from the blow to his head holding the corner of the desk. Sara Locket doesn‘t back up staring intently she stands near the corner of White Magic’s desk. She is patiently waiting for the wounded man to make the wrong move. The barrel of the gun is less than six inches from White Magic‘s dreadlock covered head.
“My real name is Humphrey Eugene Olmsted ladies and gentlemen and I offer you your two choices Mr. James.” He raises one finger sitting on the desks edge. “One shut that door before one of those things crawls in the house and sniffs us out. Pray for your children Mr. and Mrs. James. First thing in the morning I will help you go look for them.” The second option is less desirable wiggling two fingers. “You and your people go looking for your son and daughter. You get everyone killed and those of us left are almost defenseless against the trotters. So again it’s the two of them versus all of us you decide Mr. James.” Anne gasps aloud falling to the floor wailing out for her babies. Ben moves to her as fast as his feet will carry him to his wife’s side. This time the tears in her eyes match his. Locket steps back a few feet dropping the gun to her side sighing. She didn’t know if Mr. James still planned on going out but she did know that a suicide mission wasn’t on the radar for her tonight. She feels the James’ heartbreak as she attempts to suppress her own emotions. “Cl….” Her voice betrays her Private Locket turns to wipe her eyes discreetly she catches Private Carson staring at her his mouth hangs open like a flytrap. “Close’em…” she utters moving back up to the front of the bunker with her people. The squeaking of the outer wall latching only brings heightened screams from Anne. Carson and Jamal slide in the room pulling the rusty door shut on its aged hinges twisting the massive locking bolt into place. She doesn’t know if Carson is crying or not but it is clear Jamal had tears running freely down both cheeks.
Well it seems like the new addition to our group of survivor Mr. White Magic has a boatload of useful information for the group. Before letting Ben run off after Chip and Belinda he explained to the survivors how he came to be injured and what might happen if they choose to attempt a rescue mission at night. The group now has a better idea of what they are dealing with when it comes to the new breed of zombies they face. The "Rotters and Trotters" as White Magic calls them operate by different rules. Now the real dilemma face the James Clan is finding out if Chip and Belinda can survive the night. This too is the real dilemma for you readers as well.
We will take our first break of 2013 so tune back in the week of March 10th for Chapter 26 and we can all find out what become of Chip and Belinda together.
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