Chapter 31: I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream
Gustavo draws in deep refreshing breaths of air. He tugs one of the wrought iron spears free of the sheath mounted next to the covered window. Brother Gustavo hooks one of his fingers into the loop bent into the end of the implement. He takes a knee staring out the mesh covered window. The zombie horde is vast its numbers are far greater than he’d imagined. This was not what he envisioned when he first agreed to do The Sin Preacher’s bidding. Gustavo felt confident in the woman’s presence. She was bold in her servitude of the Lord and it was contagious. Those infected with false life shuffle closer. He was close enough to hear the moans rising up from their foul mouths. The tall rail thin man was feeling an unwanted sensation creep up from his stomach. “Fear has found me.” Gustavo thinks from his kneeling position. He has no real way of knowing if the ice cream truck will hold up to the onslaught he’d driven into the midst of. Like one of those idiotic storm chasers on the television Gustavo had the feeling his quarry could turn on him. Unlike a tornado death at the hands of the undead would not be quick. His death would be agonizing and prolonged. “Forgive me Father I have faltered.” Gustavo mumbles under his breath. The first growling corpse begins to jam its gnarled fingers through the mesh covering the window. “I must find my strength from your words.” Gustavo turns his head up to the Heavens closing his eyes. The lone man in the grotesquely modified ice cream truck now encircled by zombies recites a passage from the Bible to comfort himself. The dead no longer moan sheepishly having caught the sight of flesh. The zombies jostle about both sides of the truck snarling. Their behavior oddly enough fell in line with what Gustavo was used to from the counties unruly young folks. “Ezekiel chapter 34 verse 8.” His voice cracks. “As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became meat to every beast of the field,” He shakes as the words renew his faith his conviction. “Because there was no shepherds, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock.” Gustavo’s glossy wet almost sickly eyes spring open. He is staring at the roof of the truck forcing his breathes through gritted teeth. He brings his head down slowly looking over the crowd outside the window. There were bumps and bangs from every side of the truck’s metal body. Neither the sounds of the undead nor the mechanical wail of “pop goes the weasel” could break his focus now.
He came to see the face closest to his a man dressed in boxers wearing an open gore covered bath rode. The man’s face bore the unholy signs of being eaten. His nose had been torn literally off his face. “Thy will be done.” Gustavo calls out loud. The lanky ice cream man crouches down even more until he and the zombie are at eye level. There was nothing else in the world except him and the walking dead man. Gustavo stares in the milky white eyes of the agitated zombie. He asks himself “what must it feel like to be raptured?” To have one’s soul fly freely among the clouds ascending to the throne of the Almighty God. The frantic zombie gnashes its teeth against the mesh. Gustavo watches intrigued as the dead man’s teeth begin to shatter and splinter on the metal. It didn’t matter he inches closer his long beak like nose almost touching the mesh. Satisfied Gustavo brings up his spear aiming it though one of the many diamond shape holes in the mesh. He lines it up to the corpse he’d just been locked in a gaze with. He diligently aims for the dead man’s eye socket. Gustavo drives the spear forward popping the fetid eyeball quickly he spins the rod with his finger. The zombie’s frontal lobe is scrambled instantly Gustavo yanks the spear back as the zombie drops from sight. Before the corpse could hit the ground the others surge forward to take its place. Eyes now locked on a new undead a grin crosses his face. The next soul has presented itself to him he begins the hypnotic stare down with a fat dead woman in a tacky blue jogging sit. Gustavo becomes lost in her jellied eyes like he was trying to climb from the back seat to the front of a driverless car. The woman sways from side to side gently her dead movements less feral than those around her. The dead woman’s attempts to get at Gustavo are clumsy like her kin. Her actions however appear calculated and measured to a certain degree. Gustavo drags his tongue fiendishly across his sterling white teeth. “But blessed are your eyes, for they see.” He speaks softly almost a whisper to a lover. “Matthew Chapter 13 verse 16.” His grip on the improvised thrusting spear relaxes. Gustavo had fervently absorbed the words of the Bible all his life. From childhood to adulthood he would become lost in the pages of God’s holy Bible. As he sat in school other children about him learning to plot their course in life. Gus as he was known then reflected on his most favored passages. He read and absorbed the word from cover to cover. His parents paid their odd child no mind they simply indulged him. When teachers told Gustavo’s parents their son had “difficulty comprehending.” They took it to mean the boy was “slow” but that eventually he would understand. Gustavo’s hands tensed as he disengaged his hypnotic attachment to the undead woman. He blinks as he swivels his head on his shoulders like a snake charmer laying eyes on the next zombie pressing against the cage.
Gustavo looses himself in his work as the hours of the day melt away. He goes on methodically purging the soulless bodies marching about the fields. One by one as Brother Gustavo stares deeply in each zombies eyes in an effort to prove his theory. He wasn’t doing this out of malice he was doing the Lord’s bidding destroying the hollow undead husks. He had to relocate the monstrous ice cream truck over a dozen separate times. The bodies of the now truly dead littered the back roads of the small rural farming towns in thick festering piles. Brother Gustavo knows there are now exactly thirty two shuffling corpses eagerly bumbling after the bloodstained truck. He craves a smoke with every fiber of his being as he navigates the truck back in the direction of Clow Oaks. Gustavo reaches over to his truck’s dashboard flipping off the switch activating “Pop goes the Weasel.” The dead would follow him anywhere he was now a shepherd tending to a flock that would greedily adhere to any trail he blazed. As long as he uses his flesh for bait they were blind to the obstacles and subjugated to his will. He gave the truck gas causing the cluster of corpses to fall further behind cresting a ridge Gustavo could see the burning sub division. The raging fire had consumed more than half the homes that once dotted the landscape. There were almost no dead he could see from this distance. The fire still danced over some of the houses. Gustavo came across a small foot bridge next to a flowing stream. “This is the perfect place for a quick puff.” He muses shutting down the engine. Gustavo moves through the truck looking at the blood and pieces of flesh strewn about the floor. He knows the truck would have to be cleaned before he turned in for the night. He removes a revolver from its hook on the wall squeezing it tightly in one hand for comfort. Unlocking the rear doors Gustavo check’s his rear flanks for the unclean. There are none so he plops down on the resting his feet on the bumper sitting in the open doors. His gaze settles on the calm peaceful calendar like scene. The wooden bridge and clear flowing water put his mind at peace. Gustavo saw God’s hand in everything in life none more so than in breath taking beauty of nature. Pulling the pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket he shakes one loose. Balancing the white tube of hand rolled tobacco between his lips Gustavo flicks his lighter sparking up a flame. “Heaven my Lord yes … this is simply heavenly.” He says taking in his first drag of cancerous smoke. There he sits cigarette in his left hand gun tapping his knee in his right. His perpetually one step off mind allows him to enjoy this peaceful moment even as an extinction level pandemic rages on across the globe. The sound of water splashing snaps Gustavo back from his meditation. In the distance a water logged corpse has pulled itself up from under the bridge.
The dead man staggers towards him as he continues to enjoy his smoke break. He levels the revolver at the hunched over figure lumbering in his general direction. Gustavo thumbs back the weapons hammer sighting the dead man allowing him to come closer. The corpse looks left then right scanning the area cautiously startling the lanky man. “The soulless don’t do that?” He asks himself. Instead of waiting for an answer Gustavo cocks the revolver hammer down and calls out. “My Brother are you dead or are you alive?” The man jumps somewhat then speeds up his approach. Gustavo can see why coming over the hill below are his followers. “Nah man I aint dead.” The shivering man with the matted dreadlocks shouts. “I just needs some help dog I gots at get back to my place is all.” Gustavo is taken aback by the man speaking through chattering teeth. He speaks like he’s in a movie “I been stuck in that cold ass water all day bro.” The man says coming closer Gustavo stands bent over slightly in the doorway. He detested profanity the way The Sin Preacher despised smoking. “Hey man my name is White Magic and I would show appreciate it if you let me in yo sweet ride and gave me a lift.” The man whom he could see standing below him was much more a boy. White Magic’s eyes nervously dart back in the direction of the approaching zombies. Gustavo’s gaze carries up from the man tap dancing like a child about to wet themselves to the marching dead. “Listen to me my friend and listen well.” Gustavo kneels down flicking his cigarette butt away. He is keenly aware that the work The Sin Preacher has set him to do is priority number one. She won’t like him having to comeback and drop off this survivor in the midst of his preordained task. “And the King will answer” Gustavo looks the soaked shivering man in his eyes as he speaks. “And say to them assuredly I say to you inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. Matthew chapter twenty five verse forty.” The man flip s his hair back over his head his face showing fear and a hint of confusion. Gustavo knows the nature of man is to do anything to save himself. It is then the man clasps a hand onto the bumper in an effort to pull himself up to safety. There is a length of soggy white gauze hanging around his wrist. Gustavo grows concerned halfway up the man’s arm is a nasty wound. It’s shaped like a human mouth black flesh outlines where the teeth would’ve made contact. Stepping down Gustavo places his huge foot painfully on top of White Magic’s fingers. Magic cries out in pain as the undead are close enough to hear. Magic looks back in a panic “Come on man please.” He pleads. Gustavo doesn’t budge. He lays out the way things will be with White Magic. “Listen boy I have work to do ... do you understand? You will not interfere with my work nor will you deter me understand? You will hold your profane tongue on this vessel and in my presence.” A low howl erupts from behind them. “Yes …. Yes …please.” Magic pleads squirming under Gustavo’s now blood covered shoe. “I only help you as it is God will that I do for you not my own.” Gustavo lifts his foot grabbing the thin young man by his wet collar. White Magic is yanked into the truck as dead fingers catch the bottom of his shoe. He snatches his foot free of the feeble hands scampering further into the truck panting.
Gustavo walks to White Magic standing over him pointing down a condemning finger inches from his nose. “I say to you heed my words. Deliver me from the workers of iniquity, and save me from bloody men. For, lo they ….” The ice cream man stabs a finger back at the living corpses clamoring at the open door. “ …. Lie in wait for my soul: the mighty are gathered against me; …..” Gustavo shouts drowning out the zombies. “Not for my transgression, nor for my sin, O Lord.” The finger becomes a helping hand spread wide offered to White Magic. “Psalms Chapter fifty nine versus two and three my name is Brother Gustavo.” Magic takes the man’s hand and is lifted to his feet coming up eye level to the man’s breast bone. They stand before each other White Magic is laughing awkwardly. “Thanks a lot Lurch.” White Magic insults the man who‘d just saved his life. “I‘ve been in that river all day freezing man.” Gustavo sizes the young frumpy looking stoner up. “How‘d you get there?” He asks. Magic stands up off the side of the truck. “Some people came to my house yesterday. So I lets them in and it turns out they was missing like two o they kids. This morning we left some of them at my crib and went looking for them big man and we found them. There was a little girl and a muscular dude in a wheelchair.” Brother Gustavo’s ears perk up. “A kid in wheelchair and a little girl you say?” He pokes a finger in Magic chest. “Their father was he a husky large black gentleman and did they have some soldiers with them?” Magic frowns at his savior “yeah how’d you know?” Brother Gustavo grins. “My Pastor found them and took them to our church over in the next county.” White Magic rolls his eyes. “Well I‘m all warm and fuzzy to know they‘s safe and all specially after the blew up my ride back. The rest of their group‘s at my house waitin‘.” Gustavo pulls his golden cross from under his shirt gently he kisses it. ”Where abouts do you live my young brother?” Gustavo knows the Sin Preacher will be pleased if he completes his mission and reunites the family as well. “I stay a few miles up the way off of Bereman Road.” Magic hooks a thumb over his shoulder. “The Olmsted Farm?” Gustavo knows the area. “Yeah Lurch the Olmsteads are my granparents yo. They hiding out upstairs in my place.” Gustavo steps back clapping his hands together. “This is God’s will my fiend don’t you see? I can take you there and we can all make it back to the Church before dusk Amen!” He’d still be able to finish his work and save the day Gustavo bubbles with joy. “Yeah Yeah I get it bro …” He looks down to his left at the zombies. “You got yo’self a mean zombie killing ice cream truck for Jesus.” Magic’s attention is in the wrong place he doesn’t see the anger storm across Gustavo’s pockmarked face.
The large man’s solid fist catches Magic squarely across the right cheek. The pain hits Magic as suddenly as he collides with the stainless steel floor. Magic’s world is hazy his vision cloudy like water in a dirty fish tank. Brother Gustavo stands over him dropping the heavy silver revolver absently to the floor. “Why do this man thus speak such blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God?” Gustavo drops down on White Magic straddling his chest. “Mark Chapter two verse seven.” Gustavo unleashes a second punishing blow to Magic’s unprotected face. The blow is followed by two more in rapid succession. Gustavo is seething with rage his paper hat wafts down from atop his meticulously combed hair. Gustavo wraps both of his cold clammy hands around Magic’s neck. He begins to slowly choke the life from the foul mouth boy. He draws his face down to Magic’s. “You ….. Will ….. Not …. Blaspheme.” He slams White Magic’s head against the floor before standing winded. Magic if left writhing in agony on the floor his face battered and bloodied. Gustavo is not finished he reaches for Magic tugging him by his shirt. Magic is dropped inches from the open doors coughing up blood. Gustavo places his foot on the boy’s chest pinning him to the floor. The dead go wild with anticipation. One corpse standing on its toes manages to grab a hold of a stray blond dreadlock. The zombie rips the hair free taking a small piece of scalp with it. Greedily the big undead soldier devours the piece of bleeding scalp flesh hair and all. “Do I make myself clear fool?” Gustavo asks impatiently flipping his thick greasy black hair up. He runs his fingers through his locks attempting to regain his lost composure. “Yes” Magic wheezes out barely audible. Gustavo leans over pulling both doors close from the top. The doors with their steel edges cleanly sever the zombie soldiers arm above the elbow. Ending the undead’s attempt to seek another morsel of flesh. Gustavo steps over White Magic as an after thought. He looks down at the boy in disgust “What is your name boy? Your given name not this foolishness you go by disrespecting yourself and those who have raised you.” White Magic chooses not to answer the man who’d just thrashed him spitting a wad of blood on the floor. Brother Gustavo pivots a foot bringing it down onto Magic’s hand. The crunch of bone lifts up from the truck’s rear. “Humphrey ……. Humphrey.” Magic screams in agony. Gustavo uncoils a kick to Magic’s unprotected gut. “From this point on in my presence, in the presence of everyone and in the presence of God you will answer to your given name. You will be known once again as Humphrey.” Gustavo strides boldly back to the driver’s seat. He doesn’t even cast a glance back at the heap on the floor. He shows no fear sitting down and starting the truck up. Even as the boy lies mere inches from a wall lined with guns. For Brother Gustavo knows his life is in God’s hands not the insignificant whelp he punished for his blasphemous tongue. Gustavo sets the truck in motion taking a note of where he was geographically.
Giving Clow Oaks a wide birth Gustavo navigates the off road equipped ice cream truck. He churns up dirt as he tears across overgrown farm fields making his own path to the Olmsted Farm. They approach from the rear pulling up alongside the quiet house. There are no perusing zombies in sight but Gustavo knows they are around a permanent fixture in this new world. Gustavo can see a battered white paneled van stopped out on the road “James and Sons Construction.” Looks like the James family had done there fair share of surviving based on the condition of the van. “What a blessing …” Gustavo murmurs softly. “This man has managed to keep his family intact through the chaos of the end times.” He leaves the truck idling next to the front porch of the big house. Gustavo makes his way back to the rear doors once more. White Magic flinches as he reaches down to scoop up the revolver on the floor. Gustavo ignores his passenger on the floor. Opening the door gazing up at the Sun he guesses the hour to be early afternoon. He lowers down the ladder then climbs down “Come now Brother Humphrey.” White Magic looks at the man standing on the ground through his bloodshot right eye. White Magic’s left eye has doubled in size and almost swollen shut. He sees his hand extended once again offering him assistance. The streaks of blood on the man’s powerful but skinny hands belong to him recall. In spite of himself he takes the man’s hand. Gustavo drags White Magic forward carefully lifting him of the truck. He sets the injured young man down and scans the area. No problems appear to be of an immediate threat to them. “I want you to understand something Brother Humphrey.” Gustavo keeps his hands on White Magic to steady him. “What happened between us was not personal my brother. Nor is the fact that I will not be taking you back with us.” Magic looks shocked. “The wound on your arm marks you as unclean my friend.” Brother Gustavo points to the bite on White Magic’s forearm. White Magic does not protest he had no plans of leaving with this lunatic anyway. Gustavo pulls Magic in close hugging him tightly. “I forgive you Brother Humphrey and I will pray for your soul. Now make haste and bring the remainder of the James family unto me. For Brother Humphrey I have much work to do before the Sun sets this day.” Gustavo releases Magic from his embrace. He watches the beaten young man sway on his feet. Soon White Magic finds the strength to walk. He staggers up the porch leaning heavily upon the weathered banister. “Remember God Loves you Brother Humphrey.” Gustavo calls up from the besides the truck as White Magic staggers into the house.
Weeeeee're baaaaack! Well it seems out good buddy White Magic has resurfaced. He's run into no other than Brother Gustavo the demented ice cream man. From all appearances it didn't work our for good ole White Magic as well as it could have. What happens now that Brother Gustavo has escorted White Magic home to retrieve the rest of the survivors from the James group?
We return next week the week of May 12th for a Mother's Day Chapter of The Living Dark. See you then.
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