Chapter 38: Unfamiliar Territory
Private Carson walks gingerly through the lush green grass. He watches Chip prod his wheelchair onward hot on the heels of the man everyone called “Brother Gustavo.” Carson’s heart told him to offer to push the boy in his wheelchair. His mind however vigorously objected even though he thought Chip’s arms had to feel like rubber bands by now. Private Carson had just witnessed Chip power his chair up a short flight of stairs backwards refusing any and all offers of assistance. Brother Gustavo slows down then stops turning to face the duo. “I want to thank you for agreeing to help me with this arduous task.” Carson scans the area after all he has seen over the last few days he does not like being out in the open. He feels like a gazelle sticking its tongue out at an unseen lion hiding amongst the tall African grass. Brother Gustavo runs his bony fingers through his mane of black hair. “When I see young men like you I am overjoyed. For the world is yours you are both bold and dutiful.” Now Gustavo takes his time basking in the late summer sun without a care in the world. “You have forsaken self for the protection of you village, your family to paraphrase.” Chip finds himself stopped in the grass next to Carson. Brother Gustavo comes back to them kneeling before Chip. The odd man addresses the young men before him. He shifts his eye contact like a coach in a huddle. “The glory of young men is in their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head. As found in Proverbs chapter twenty verse twenty nine. Those fools in there are self-righteous, self-serving hypocrites grey heads or not.” He chuckles standing up moving for the shed once more. Chip hesitates unsure if the man is delusional or if he is truly that capable of looking past his disability. “You handle yourself and your wheelchair very well young man.” Brother Gustavo says without turning back to face the young men who volunteered for duty with him. He is oblivious to his tactless words but Chip seems to pay them no mind anyway. Only Private Carson is left in an awkward stupor wanting to change the subject. “Well you know …” Chip huffs as they near the shed housing the gigantic metallic beast. “I have to make up for my legs somehow. I have fallen enough times to know that every time you fall there won’t be someone there willing to pick you up.” Brother Gustavo pauses as he unlocks the barn door. “I like that young Benjamin Junior.” He continues pulling the door opens for them to pass through. “Like the Bible says ‘God helps those who help themselves.’” He disappears into the darkened recesses alongside the monstrous ice cream truck. “Hey Army guy close the door.” Gustavo calls out from the front of the cramped shed. Chip spins his wheelchair around popping a wheelie. He backs over the door’s track crossing the unlit shed’s threshold. Carson does as instructed while Chip waits staring up at the rear of the huge truck. No sooner than the door closes to the shed than the hastily strung light bulbs flicker to life.
Brother Gustavo flings the trucks backdoor wide. “Alright young brothers….” He calls out grunting as he tosses down a metal ladder. “Come on up.” With that Brother Gustavo vanishes again. Chips looks at the ladder catching Cody Carson’s gaze in the process. “No need for the pity party Carson.” Chip tells the tall soldier cradling the machine gun. Chip wheels in close to the truck’s massive chrome rear bumper. He plants a hand down firmly then rocks forward pushing up on one of his muscular arms. Chip flings his free hand up and over catching the side of the door frame. Chip finds himself staring down at Carson “hey bro you wanna toss that up to me?” He asks flipping his curly shoulder length dusty hair back over his head with a gloved hand. Carson smiles grabbing the pistol from the wheelchair along with “The Lucky Mallet.” He hands Chip up the hammer and the pistol watching him jam the revolver deep into his pants pocket. Private Carson slings his weapon over his back collapsing the sleek worn wheelchair. He lifts it with one hand presenting it to Chip. Carson ascends the ladder as if he were a tightrope walker as he nears the top a hand covered by a black glove appears. Carson reaches forward taking Chip’s offer of assistance. “Thanks Chip ….. “ He says slightly winded. Carson is amazed Chip is already in his wheelchair sporting a sideways grin. “No problem Carson but don’t make a habit of it. I already have to drag my ass around I’m not going to drag yours too.” Carson and Chip share a moment of understanding. They are both separated by only a few years in but worlds apart by circumstances. “I’m gonna close us up before Captain Freaky snaps out bro.” Carson leans out the door and tugs at the aluminum ladder. Chips wheels up to the front of the vehicle. “Carson is closing us up back there so what’s the plan Mr. Gustavo?” Gustavo glances over his shoulder. “Let’s wait for the Private this way we’ll all be clear.” Chip hunches his shoulders “Okay.” “Oh by the way Mr. Gustavo.” Chip taps the back of the black leather seat. “Just so you know that thing you said earlier about ‘God helping those who help themselves’ it’s not in the Bible.” Brother Gustavo bolts to his feet rounding the driver’s seat. “What?!” He shouts his teeth bared into a sneer. Private Carson has moved in behind Chip with his right hand placed on the butt of his sidearm. Brother Gustavo takes notice of Carson but keeps his focus on the boy in the wheelchair who doesn’t flinch. “Umm yeah Mr. Gustavo that’s not in the Bible.” Chip smirks locking the wheels on his chair. “Benjamin Franklin said that Sir.” Brother Gustavo stops rubbing his temple. “Son I am afraid that’s just not true.” His face has gone from anger to a weary sort of confused. “Well you’re the expert then quote me the scripture.” Chip challenges the man defiantly. “Uh …. Ummm.” Brother Gustavo stammers placing a hand on the seat he’d risen from. “I think he got you Mr. Gustavo Sir.” Carson speaks up his arms crossed over his wide chest. “So perhaps we can move past this and you tell us what we are doing out here among the dead.” Gustavo slumps backwards into his seat. “The Sin Preacher always says ‘God helps those’ …..” He trails off staring out the truck’s front window at the rolling doors. “Hey Mr. Gustavo with all due respect Sir. You remind me of that guy with the hunched back in that movie my parents made my little sister stop watching.” Chip snaps his fingers in the air trying to kick his memory into gear. Carson slaps his forehead. “The Hunchback of something French …. I can’t remember.” “Yeah … yeah.” Chip exclaims. “That’s the one Mr. Gustavo. It’s like you’ve been locked in like a tower or something never thinking for yourself Sir just doing what you’re told.” Chip leans up clapping Gustavo on his shoulder. “Don’t worry Sir you’re with me and Carson now we’ll straighten you out.” They laugh aloud all except Gustavo that is. He grips the steering wheel his knuckles cracking audibly. “Who told you that?” He grumbles through gritted teeth. The laughter stops as quickly as it had begun. “I’m sorry Mr. Gustavo really I am.” Chip blurts blush rising up into his cheeks. “We didn’t mean no harm Sir just trying break the ice and let you know the truth sir.” Gustavo turns his eyes narrow still holding the wheel. “I said who told you that boy?!” He barks and this time Carson does draw his sidearm. Carson squares the pistol’s sights right on the man’s forehead. “Mhh …my … my mom Mr. Gustavo Sir.” The boy swallows hard. Gustavo fixes his gaze back out the window. “Let’s go we have Unclean to dispose of.” With that he reaches a spidery hand up to the visor depressing the button on the door opener. Sunlight floods the shed as Brother Gustavo fires up the engine its angry growl mimicking the one in his soul.
Gustavo guides his automotive abomination over the soft grassy hills surrounding the church. He navigates the ice cream truck with a purpose which Carson takes notice of. Carson takes the opportunity to holster his pistol. He looks out of both sides of the truck never loosening his grip on the handrail overhead. “Again Brother Gustavo what are we doing?” Carson hopes the man will tune back in as he has seen Gustavo’s lips moving since he rolled them out the opened the shed door. The man in the ice cream uniform has clearly been holding a deep and meaningful conversation with himself. “Have you ever noticed how we are relatively free of the Unclean?” Carson mulls over the question. “Yeah I was wondering where all the Rotters and Trotters were.” Gustavo cocks his head to side the way a confused dog does. “I don’t understand Son … Rotters … Trotters?” Carson shouts over the big rig’s engine. “Yeah that’s what we named them. The Rotter’s are the slow dumb ones and the Trotters are the fast smart ones. Unfortunately you won’t know which is really which until after dark.” Brother Gustavo shakes his head in disbelief. “You still believe these are your so called zombies and this is all some cliché’ by the book Hollywood apocalypse?” Gustavo stops talking craning his head forward as if searching for a landmark. He turns the truck hard and heads for a dense cluster of trees. “Well it’s not and I will prove it.” He says slowing the ice cream truck down as he passes into the tree line. “The reason you don’t see that many Unclean.” He emphasizes the word “unclean” as if to prove a point. “It’s simple Mir ….” Brother Gustavo catches himself. He swallows the woman’s name looking around. “I …. I mean The Sin Preacher.” He looks back sheepishly. “She came up with a plan to keep them focused away from us. And thank God she did because it works like a charm.” He motions for them to look out the window shutting down the truck’s engine.
Chip and Cody Carson follow Gustavo’s finger. They simultaneously lean in the direction of the scene and then they recoil in unison. There half a mile in the distance a rabid pack of zombies paw feverishly at a hunk of discolored meat strung up from a tree. The meat hangs just out of reach of the dim witted Rotter’s festering in the sun. “What the hell?” Comes the only statement Private Carson can muster. “There must be like fifty of’em.” Chip utters in disbelief. “Yeah Sin Preacher says we should hang this bait out overnight.” Gustavo pushes past the boys gawking at the undead meandering aimlessly in the distance. “Sometimes the smart ones … um ‘Trotters’ you called them.” Mockingly he makes air quotations with his fingers. “They get the meat down and have at it.” He shakes his head pulling on a pair of black rubber gloves. “It serves its purpose they usually congregate in the area where they find our bait and leave us alone at the church.” Chip unlocks the wheels and twirls about in his chair. He ducks his head under Carson’s bulky body eyes wide. “So now what Mr. Gustavo.” He begins to babble. “That’s a hungry horde of zombies waiting on us to make the wrong move.” Gustavo stops mid squat before one of the long white ice cream freezers. “Well son I restring the trap for tonight using the tree we’re parked next to.” He flips the freezers lid up holding it in place with one hand. In the freezer Chip can see rows of neatly packed meat. Brother Gustavo takes his time with the look of a man selecting a choice cut for his evening supper. He taps his chin almost comically. Chip’s face is pale he can feel his mouth moving yet he knows he isn’t speaking. He does the only thing the can throwing a feeble punch at Carson’s beefy thigh. “Owwwwch!” Carson protest like a child rubbing the spot where Chip’s blow landed. “Hey man why’d …. “ Chip arm is out stretched his finger shaking in the air. Private Carson’s words fail him as he peers into the freezer of human meat. Mixed in among the chucks of mystery meat are clearly identifiable pieces of dead humans in a wide range of skin tones. Gustavo tugs a frozen short pink hairy leg free. “This will do nicely.” He says turning about ignoring the pair. Gustavo takes a long stride to the rear of the truck removing a folding painter’s ladder with his empty hand. He brings the ladder back to the center of the truck planting it on the floor. He kicks the legs open like a cops forcing a suspect to spread their legs. Scaling the ladder the ice cream man starts whistling softly. Gustavo flips open a chrome hatch in the roof and climbs through leg in hand.
“Holy shit bro we gotta do something that motherfucker is crazy!” Carson means to whisper this revelation but he blurts it out instead. “Well Cody you have two guns man use’em when he comes back in.” Chip pleads with the soldier. “You have a gun too bro you do something.” Carson runs his fingers nervously through his blond crew cut. “Fine let the kid in the wheelchair do it.” Chip says throwing his arms in the air. “Wait Chip you ‘Mr. Independent I did all that on my own blah … blah.’ You seriously want to play the handicapped card now.” Carson stomps a large booted foot in frustration. Carson stops in the middle of his tantrum gripped by an idea. He pulls his sidearm from its holster. “Chip get in the driver’s seat and drive. We’ll just leave his nutty ass hanging.” Chip laughs apprehensively. “Yeah we’ll leave him for bait!” Chip wheels about as fast as he can but before he can hop into the driver’s seat Brother Gustavo drops down through the hatch. Cody struggles to untangle himself from his automatic rifle in the tight space. “Stay back!” Private Carson shouts bringing the weapon to bear. Brother Gustavo brushes the weapon’s barrel aside paying the panting young man no mind. He maneuvers past Chip plopping down is his familiar worn seat. Snatching the gloves off once again he whistles a melodic tune that Chip seems to remember from his childhood. Brother Gustavo slides his hand across his homemade panel flipping the switch to deploy the truck’s roof mounted hydraulic legs. “Hey man what the hell are you doing?” Carson shouts still waving his rifle about the cabin. He can see some of the dead at the outer edge of the crowd turn towards the noise. “Those things are going to notice us.” He says voice cracking with fear. He steals a glance down at Chip who is still looking down into the freezer of human sushi. “Well young Private that’s exactly what I want.” Gustavo says turning in the seat as if he were a tour guide. He doesn’t break eye contact as his hand slaps the switch that starts the music. “Pop Goes the Weasel” Blares from the mounted speakers as the plastic ice cream cone spins atop the roof. The herd of zombies come about almost in unison. They make their way to the ice cream truck in en mass on damaged unsure limbs. The moans of the walking corpses soon drown out the melodic jingle overhead.
“Dude …dude what the fuck?” Carson stammers backing up slamming the lid on the freezer full of body parts. This breaks Chip’s trance in time enough for him to bear witness to the undead onslaught closing in on them. Brother Gustavo stands to his feet hunching over just slightly. “Young Mr. Carson I will forgive your foul tongue but once. I assure you if you continue to use such ungodly language I will be forced to take action against you.” Carson looks genuinely dumbfounded. “You lured us out here with chopped up body parts man and then you ring the dinner bell for every Rotter within miles of us.” Carson drags Chip’s wheelchair along with him in it backwards putting space between them and the madman. The black rubber wheels bounce across the polished metal floor as the wheel locks are still secured. “You think my profanity is the biggest issue?” Carson looks around afraid to get close to either of the grated open windows. The corpses have them encircled as dozens of prying mangled finger attempt to snatch the welded gates down. At the sight of the live humans the zombies switch seamlessly from confused moans to lustful wails. “Look boys I didn’t lure you out here I really need your help to kill these Unclean. Yes I admit I have a freezer full of human body parts and meat.” Brother Gustavo holds his hands up in surrender to ease Carson’s fears. “Look if someone comes to the church who has been bitten or as was the case if one of our members gets bit. We will put them down out of mercy and compassion.” Chip watches the man’s hard eyes soften. “I pray you never have to witness someone who has been wounded by the Unclean succumb to their affliction. It is an agonizingly horrible way to die.” Gustavo steeples his long fingers together as if he’s praying. “Once we put the person out of their misery. Pastor says we should put what we have to good use. You know waste not want not like the good book says. I dispose of the bodies and harvest the remains to help preserve the church.” Chip slowly raises his hand but he doesn’t wait to be called on. He looks anxiously at the zombies as they claw about the widows seeking an in. The beating of nearly a hundred undead hands almost make the conversation impossible to be spoken. “Uh yeah not to be a smart ….. “ Ben Junior reconsiders his words as he shouts. “Not to be a smart butt Mr. Gustavo but Benjamin Franklin said ‘waste not want not’ too.” Chip looks back at Carson swallowing a knot in his throat. He decides to poke the bear again. “Mr. Gustavo are you sure you’re not worshiping Benjamin Franklin at First New Faith?” The man’s eyes narrow into slits. “Boy I will not have my faith trifled with nor will I ever be made out to be feeble minded again in this life.”
Gustavo moves like a snake in a flash he is holding one of the wrought iron skews. “Young Mr. James I hope for your sake what you say is true. When we return to First New Faith your mother and I shall have a word with the Sin Preacher.” “Fine Mr. Gustavo can we leave now please?” Chip speaks up almost begging. “I will make believers out of you yet.” He points with the barbed end of the twisted metal. Brother Gustavo gets down his face just out of the flayed fingers reach. His eyes fall on the Unclean before him dull milky orange eye after dull milky eye until he finds one with a spark. “Ah ha there you are.” Gustavo summons the boys closer. “First of all I assure you our mission today is to dispose of all of the Unclean we find gentlemen. When they are this close to the church we can’t risk them seeing us today and then leading an attack against us tonight.” Carson’s weapon falls to his side he gasps. “White Magic said some of them are smart at night and they can hold onto memories from the days before.” Gustavo flips the handcrafted miniature spear to Carson. “Indeed young Private Carson he was correct.” Gustavo ushers him down closer. “You look in their eyes to see the spark of a trapped soul inside.” He instructs Carson. “This is how I know these poor men and women have been stuck in limbo trapped in these festering diseased shells since the Rapture. At least these few are not the zombies you speak of.” Carson looks back with apprehension at Chip who seems to be prodding him on with his eyes. Carson places his face down the odor of the undead is almost unbearable. He can see this man in some sort of police or prison guard uniform. The name “Hobart” is stitched over his left breast pocket. All the snarling zombies have taken a backseat to this one as Carson gazes into its eyes. Suddenly the eyes blink focusing on his like a camera snapping a picture Carson thinks. “Shit …” He yelps scurrying back into Chip’s chair Carson drops the skewer. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Gustavo says coming to stand over the boys. “And that I know for a fact is in the Bible young Mr. James.” He adds for once not following through with a chapter or verse. He grabs the fallen spear going back to the ghoul with the troublesome eyes. Gustavo places his index finger in the metal ring at the end hold the spear at its midpoint. “Even though he is aware my young friends.” Gustavo speaks back at Chip and Carson. “Like the moth to the proverbial flame he cannot ignore our warm flesh.” Gustavo stabs out between the grate puncturing the Unclean’s eye socket with the quick twist of a man doing a yo-yo trick. He spins the barbed end of the spear pulverizing the zombie’s frontal lobe. The zombie known as “Hobart” drops lifelessly to the woodland floor to be trampled under the frenzied feet of his kin. “Now boys we are burning daylight grab a spear and pick a spot.” Gustavo orders his helpers to work. “We have three more traps around the church to clear before sundown.” Chip and Carson hunch their shoulders the way teenage boys do and set about their assigned task. Several hours later the truck roars its way back to the First New Faith church. All in toll having disposed over well over two hundred Unclean. All three occupants sit quietly lost in weary thought. Blood and gore splattered over their clothes and coating the inside of the once clean cabin. Brother Gustavo thinks all the other chores can wait. He won’t even clean the truck off until morning. As they back into the shed all he can think about is having The Sin Preacher and Mrs. James sort some things out for him.
We have returned to our main story arc tonight. We have found Brother Gustavo, Chip and Private Cody Carson on clean up duty so to speak. They have spent day outside of the church and have no idea of what awaits them upon their return.
Come join us the week of September the 1st and we will all find out together what has transpired inside First New Faith since we last saw the James clan.
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