Chapter 23: Welcome to Clow Falls
"Holy smokes." Carson yelps as Ben turns back to his son he and Locket move to aid Medina. "Look son this is going to be tough on us all. So learn when to say when and rest when you can no one is going to think less of you ok?" Ben says softly Chip looks over at his dad briefly with crumbs clinging to his lips and the fine black hairs sprouting above his top lip. Ben is pushed back into his mind seeing the face of the toddler terrorizing the back of his television cabinet from his walker wheeling freely through the house. In spite of himself Ben reaches up and strokes Chips smooth cheek with the back of his first two fingers. Something simple that had always brought him joy and made his kids smile this time was no different. "Dad you said this was up to us to protect our family you said 'we'." Chip reminds his father. "I'm not going to let you carry me or this burden alone dad." Ben stands hunched over patting his son on the back. "I know you won't son." He stops almost forgetting Jamal. "How are you doing Jamal? I'm so sorry about you're parent’s son." Jamal smiles broadly back up at Benjamin James. "I'm fine sir and I'm sorry for what happened earlier." "No problem son it's ok ultimately you did the right thing." Ben moves back into the bay of the van where Locket and Carson gently hoist their unit mate up to a seated position. "Medina how are you feeling girl?” Locket quizzes snapping her fingers in front of the woozy girl’s face "Like shit." The girl croaks out as she attempts to reach up to her forehead. "Umm you might not want to do that." Carson cautions her. "Your forehead and the APC's windshield had a little fight and your forehead lost." He tells her jokingly. "Yeah Carson stitched you up Medina so you can take that nice scare up with him and his attorney." Locket jumps into the conversation. "Huh wha?" She speaks just above a whisper. "My head is killing me." Medina wheezes swooning even from a seated position they brace her up. "Ben hand me that blue bag over there quick.” Anne calls out startling her husband. Ben grabs the bag handing it to his wife who sets about rifling through the bag turning over pill bottle after pill bottle. "Got it!" She shouts holding a faded pill bottle up "Vicodin." She looks at Carson "catch." Anne tells the boy before tossing him the pill bottle followed quickly by a small plastic bottle of water. "Thank you Ma'am." He responds popping the top off he notices the faded name on the label "Benjamin James Jr." "Here take these Medina it will help." Carson holds the pills out and Medina with much effort cracks her mouth open slightly. Carson places the pills on her palate then brings the water to her lips. "Take your time Carlita." Locket delicately instructs the injured soldier in her charge. She tilts her head back agony is etched on her face as her fellow soldiers support Medina's head. The girl blinks her brown eyes looking out see those around her for the first time. "Where are we and who are they?" She asks attempting to turn to face Locket. "Well Medina I'm going to give you diet version of our current situation." Locket kneels in Medina face together full attention. "After you backed out we had to dispatch one of those talking zombie things because he was hitting on Carson and trying to get into the APC." Carson goes beet red from the neck up drawing in a breath to protest Locket stifles him with a raised finger. "We took care of you after that and slept in the APC for the night. Then we left the APC looking for another mode of transportation Carson carried you and your weapon. Shortly thereafter we came upon these fine folks driving in our general direction headed for a bridge loaded with zombies." She looks back at Benjamin James "They were kind enough to stop as we held the dead at bay." Locket turns back to Medina. "We climbed aboard they drove and we are in route to a small town named Clow something or other. Hopping this place isn't as dead as every place else got it?" Medina looks confused leaning over to face Carson. "You really get hit on by a zombie?" She asks dazed. "Um yeah sorta like that yeah." Carson continues to blush furiously.
"Mr. James we are passing a sign welcoming us to Clow Falls and our fuel shortage is coming into play again." Jamal shouts back." Unlike their claustrophobic confines from earlier this road is wide open on both sides. The wheat having long since been harvested from the van's windshield the view was unimpeded for miles with the occasional thicket of trees dotting the landscape. "We have a problem dad." Chip reports to his father who is coming up from the back. "Jeez can we just catch one break today?" Ben mumbles to himself peering straight ahead he gets his answer in silent horror. They approach a barricade blocking the road. "So the answer to your question dad is no." Chips says aloud glancing down at the gas needle. They hear the familiar chime of the “low fuel” light sound off like a gong in the enclosed vehicle. Two large pieces of farm equipment block the road leaning against where the two come together nose to nose sits a very large piece of plywood. Spray painted on the clean plywood is an ominous message in hastily scrawled red letters. "Keep Out Clow Falls Safe Zone All Non Residents Will Be Shot On Sight!" The irony was not lost on Ben "Safe zone" he huffs in disgust. Then Chips halts the van's progress about fifty feet from a scene that had all the appearances of a traditional zombie massacre. Dried blood coats the road in huge maroon stains. Chunks of unidentifiable meant dot the roadway scattered into the mix are various gore caked guns mostly shotguns with a few hunting rifles sprinkled in. Tattered clothing and other assortments of humanity one would find after searching your average group of people. Ben's greatest concern is neither the stains nor the line of pickup trucks behind the massive farm equipment. It is the cause of the massacre zombies linger in the road shuffling about aimlessly. Some still one their knees fighting over the last remaining scraps of the poor souls they'd preyed up. "Jesus." Locket says her eyes cast down over the scene before them. "We've got to find a place to hunker down for the night. We can’t cruise the streets in this meat wagon ringing the dinner bell. I say we have two hours at best." Locket's comment is geared toward the impending sunset. "I say we have less time than that." Chip responds looking back to the attractive girl in the fatigues. His comment was aimed squarely at the dead who had finally taken notice of the idling white van. "Hold on back there and be ready to move gather everything up!" Ben hollers turning back to Chip. Ben taps Chips on the arm vigorously. "Over there son quick drive us into the gully.” Ben points down into the culvert running alongside the road. He was more focused on Chip navigating the gully than the zombies waving haplessly as they skidded past on the soft grass.
Driving in a culvert while popularized by Hollywood was a dangerous proposition at best. "Don't mash the gas son you'll fishtail us." Chip isn't breathing as he answers "Yes Dad." "You can't stop either or we'll get stuck." Ben stares ahead. "Yes Dad" Chip replies as they pass the blockade the dead come pouring down from behind the huge tractors. Zombies tumble down the embankment into the gully perusing the van. "I counted maybe twenty or so when we were up top." Locket says holding onto Jamal's seat. "I'm guessing we are we now have between fifty or sixty hostiles Mr. James." She reports scanning the walls of the gully soon the dead ahead of them rain down on the van's roof. Each boom eliciting screams from behind them in the van. "What's you plan Mr. James." Locket asks attempting to get on the same page. "I'm done with plans Locket." He responds without looking at the soldier. "I'm more into consequences now. I don't have time to formulate a plan." Ben finishes up as the bombardment continues. He looks up to his left to see they are past the blockade and the rows of pickup trucks. The dead are quickly filling the culvert in front of them. "Son you need to take this gradual incline back up to the road.” Ben points off to his left up the slope and his son executes on his request immediately. The van using it’s momentum to take the incline mowing down zombies as it goes. Ben watches his son’s driving which is better than he ever thought he could have "handicapped” or not. If he'd known Chip would be the official driver of the zombie apocalypse Ben believes he would've spent more time teaching him. The van crests the incline bouncing heavily back onto the asphalt road. Ben scans the area of flat farmland. Locket hustles through the van to the rear door she grabs the shelf for support and cracks the door open. "Ok we're not done with this yet." She yells back up to the front watching the able bodied zombies in the distance pour around the blockade coming up from both sides of the gully. "They're not giving up that easy and there‘s more of them now." She slams the doors shut and scampers back to the front. Coming up Ben observes a dense thicket of trees to their left and a road running parallel to the tree line. "Turn here Chip we can use the tree line for cover." Ben searches the farmland looking for shelter but Jamal spots it first. "Look a house." Jamal points out the window. Several miles in the distance is a large old home more than likely the farmer who owns the land they've found themselves on. “A big old farm house in the middle of nowhere.” Jamal snorts “Why that’s not cliche at all for people running from zombies is it?” Locket’s mouth turns up at the corners into thin smile "Mr. James we are going to run pass the house and have to come up on it's driveway from the front.” Locket sizes up their prospects. "If we can get to that house and hide the van before the first zombies rounds that corner. Then we have an excellent chance of throwing them off our scent." "Agreed" Ben blurts as they race up next to the house the brilliant orange sun hangs low in the late day sky.
Our survivors have made it to the outskirts of Clow Falls. Their first impressions so far haven't been good and they have picked up a welcoming party. To bad for them it's in the form of a horde of the undead and the vans fuel situation has come back into play. What's next for our survivors as they attempt to outrun the dead and the sunset?
Come back the week of February 10th for the next chapter of The Living Dark.
Follow us on Twitter @TheLivingDark