Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chapter 42: Breaking Point

Chapter 42: Breaking Point

  Anne sits with her back against a warped wall covered in gaudy brown wallpaper. She is lost in a well of emotions. Hugging Belinda tightly to her chest as the girl sniffles. Brandon clutches his mother’s arm as they sit tightly packed in a room full of strangers. To her left Bianca Fullerton rocks back and forth. The woman chants “my baby” in a monotone chorus repeatedly. Her left eye is nearly swollen shut. Sitting at her side Dakota dozes all but ignored. Private Medina is perched in an old folding chair facing both women her back to the door. A few hours having passed since being locked up by the men of the church. They find themselves in the room on the opposite side of the church’s basement. Almost as soon as Ben and Sara had turned the corner heading into the Sin Preacher’s office. Several of the men from the church had barged in room. They seized the group’s weapons at gunpoint. The muscular older man they all called Colonel. Demanded Bianca surrender her now “fatherless” infant child. Jamal courageously came to Bianca’s defense. He was no match for the retired man of war. Colonel beat Jamal unconscious then ordered his minions to drag Jamal’s limp body out of the room. For what it was worth Bianca Fullerton resisted the maniacal man who demanded her baby. In one motion, he yanked the wailing baby from her mother’s out stretched arms. Grinning he dropped Bianca mid charge with a savage punch. The kind of sucker punch reserved for a bar room brawl. “Mrs. James ….” Medina speaks softly so as not to be heard over the undercurrent of background chatter buzzing about the room. “Mrs. James we have to do something.” Medina’s brown eyes fall upon the older woman. “Look it’s just us now and if we want to survive ladies we’re going to have to fight.” Anne meets Medina’s gaze her eyes narrowing. Anne’s eyes break away and probe the room around her. She sees several men of varying sizes and age. They sit scattered around the tightly packed room. The stench of unwashed humanity clogs the air around them. “We can’t do this alone Carlita.” Anne cautions the girl standing to her feet. “Mommy don’t go.” Belinda protests as her mother gently sets her down next to her brother. “I won’t honey trust me we need to help save daddy and everyone else.” Private Medina catches her by the arm. “Mrs. James the more people we talk to about escaping. The more likely we are to lose the element of surprise.” Anne wipes her tired eyes summoning up all the courage she can muster. “Mrs. James … Anne.” Carlita rises from the chair. Her first impulse to speak out quickly is overridden a surprised expression that cascades over her face. She feels a heavy familiar weight in her uniform pants leg pocket. Medina pats her pocket down like a kid searching for lost candy. The look on her face quickly flashes from excitement to day after Christmas disappointment. “Fuck.” She moans in exasperation. “I thought they forgot one of my weapons.” With that, Medina produces the handheld radio Anne’s father had given Ben. From the front of the cramped room, they can hear the jingle of keys muffled by the wooden door. Medina tosses the radio to Brandon. “Hide it lil man.”


  Medina creeps across the room as its other occupants draw back from the door. She crouches behind the door as she hears a key slide into the lock and turn. Private Medina steps up so as not to been seen through the gap between the door and its rusty hinges. She watches as a man walks in the room he is short and old with white hair his legs are so bowed its comical. Before the man, trailing him comes fully into view she swings upward connecting solidly with his jaw. As an afterthought, Private Medina delivers a solid kick to the old man’s back. He goes sprawling out across the dusty floor. She squares her shoulders fist up ready for the next person in line. Carlita is now face to battered face with Private Carson. She is less concerned with the half dozen men corralling the young bull of a soldier. The pistol parting the crowd floating in the grip of an unseen gunman is a bit more urgent of a matter “Move …” An all too familiar voice calls from the back of the packed staircase. The men part like the Red Sea as Colonel emerges from the darkened stairwell. Coming into the room, he casually steps over the man on the floor rubbing his chin. “Jesus Jon get up  ...” The lumbering man commands looking down. His gun aimed at the center of Carlita’s head. “And help Charlie up God knows he can’t get up on his own.” He says casting a dismissive glance at Charlie while rubbing his forehead. Medina is terrified watching the man knead the meat on his head with his mangled fingers. “I don’t know who I should hit you jackasses or her?” Colonel studies the young girl. “Stand down soldier.” He says lowering the pistol his eyes narrowing. “Aren’t any of you going to help her?” Anne screams beckoning the men around her to action. None of them moves some drop their heads in shame. “Hey were you with that big black guy and a female soldier?” A chunky Hispanic man calls out. “They paraded through here yesterday.” “Yes that was my husband.” Anne responds unsure of the man’s point. “I didn’t see any of you worrying about us. Not while you sat over there eating and enjoying yourselves.” The man stands defiantly rubbing his fingers though his thick bristly black facial hair. “You lost something …. Somebody lady is that it?” He says timidly looking around the room. “Well get in line what makes you so fucking special.” The man’s chest heaves up as he steadies himself. “I had to give up no to sacrifice my Abuela. That’s the price of life in this new age,” He says wiping a tear from his cheek. “Look outside see the alternative lady? Welcome to our hell.” Anne James is aware her legs are hinting at their impending failure. She steadies herself it is her turn to look down at the floor. Colonel looks about the room his smile spreading. Within seconds, his throws his head back in uproarious laughter. His underlings all join in filling the room with a sickening oily sound. Unlike the men in the room, Medina jumps at the chance. A swift kick to Colonel’s wrist sends his gun clattering to the floor. She swings for the man’s head only to have the blow blocked. The ruthless Colonel clamps down on her arm like a vise. He drives a calloused fist into Medina’s stomach. As the girl crumples, he hefts her up in an arc. Colonel takes two giant strides crossing the room. He slams Medina into the drywall above Brandon and Belinda’s heads. He turns away leaving her body embedded in the wall floating several feet off the floor. Colonel takes a second to rub his still aching side where Lockett had kicked him earlier. Carson bucks under the weight of the men holding him. “Careful boy I won’t go so easy on you.” Carson bites his lip in anger. “You’re a big man when it comes to fighting women.” Private Carson shouts angrily. Gravity takes hold of Medina tugging her from the cracking wall. She falls forward landing on the kids trailing dust and shards of plaster. Anne moves to her children. Colonel catches her by the arm. “Take a look bitch.” He whispers pulling her closely. “Understand what you’re up against.” He says, “Look at that gun on the floor.” Anne shoots a quick glance down at the pistol. “Let me see if one of you men is man enough to pick that gun. I’ll let you and yours go free.” He announces to the men around him seated on the floor. No man in the room even looks at the gun. Most of them actually attempt to appear as distracted as possible. “See that Mrs. James …..” Colonel shakes Anne to emphasize his words. “No one wants freedom anymore. They want protection and we give it to them with a healthy dose of God’s word.” Anne snatches herself away from her captor. “Say what you will Colonel.” Anne straightens looking Colonel in the face. “But there is nothing Godly going on in this false temple.” “Charlie pick up my damn gun.” Colonel barks his order. He turns to the crowd of men behind him. “Jon grab that trouble making heathen.” He points to Medina squirming on the floor. “The rest of you anybody no holding somebody grab a kid and the chick with the shiner.” Colonel pulls Anne roughly down a long dim hall lined with people on either side. Ahead of them is an open door. Without a word, he shoves Anne into the room. She lands painfully on her tender foot. Anne comes to rest on a small table similar to kind found in almost any kindergarten classroom. “Everybody get out now!” Colonel screams a vein rockets up the side of his neck pulsating as it goes. Women screech a few children whimper as people scatter from the room like vermin in the light. They run head long into the troop barreling in behind Colonel. He stares at the remaining people gathering their meager belongings before fleeing in terror. Men begin to drop bodies all around her. The group holding Carson does not release their hold on the young man. They wrestle him into the center of the room. Anne watches them go her attention focused on Carson. She does not see BC deposit Chip on the floor. “Chip honey ….” Anne cries crawling over to her son. BC stalks over to Chip placing a booted foot on the boy’s hand. “Not so tough without your wheelchair are ya boy?” He laughs his meaty face jiggling. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard anybody say hick.” Chip responds with a smile. BC presses his heavy foot down causing Chip to wince. “You leave my Chippy alone!” Belinda yells with all the force her little lungs can muster. She is on her feet moving around overturned chair. BC watches the child come at him in a huff. “Little girl…” BC begins to say grinning. Belinda’s tiny hand delivers a solid blow to his testicles. He topples backwards clutching his nuts. Belinda falls down into her brother’s arms tears in her light brown eyes. She examines her big brother’s hand. “Oh God I’m surrounded by idiots.” Colonel shouts in exasperation. “If I had to go into combat with you shit kickers and clod hoppers. I’d kill you myself.” He glares at the men holding Carson. He studies the boy as if he were a wild animal they were preparing to release back into its native habitat. Colonel storms over to Charlie tugging his pistol from the man’s waistband. “You will be locked in this room.” He tells the James Clan. “There will be two armed me posted outside the door all night.” Colonel sizes up the men around him. He sees two younger church members strapping husky young men in their mid-twenties. “You two boys have just been voluntold.” He motions to the pair. “Do you each have a weapon?” “Yes Colonel.” The taller of the two men answers producing a revolver from his back. His new partner hunches his shoulders. “We’ll get you a weapon son.” Colonel tells the other man he assigned to guard the room. “Listen up if this door knob so much as jiggles. One of these boys will come get me. Then I will toss one of you outside at sunset.” He cocks the slide back on the pistol. “Now test me if you want.” Colonel points the gun menacingly in Private Carson’s direction. “Listen up young buck.” He offers up eyeing the boy up and down sizing up the threat. “My people are going to let you go and we are going to exit this room.” He turns the gun down on the women and children on the floor. “If you move from that spot I’m going to empty my clip into you little family circle here understand?” Carson simply shakes his head reluctantly acknowledging his agreement. “Now BC get your ass up man and can we please manage to get out of here without another one of you. Either getting hit with a hammer, beat up by a cripple, knocked out by a woman, or kicked in the ballsack by a first grader?” BC gets up and scurries past Colonel a hand gingerly cupping his crotch. The big man backs out of the room pistol held high smiling. The door closes with a clap. The sound of a deadbolt lock deploying echoes across the tiny classroom. “Here’s a pistol.” They hear mumbled through the thin wooden door.


  The hours pass by quietly as the group settles into a general state of hopelessness. Chip and Private Carson told their tale of how the men had ambushed them. Carson explained that the men were acting on direct orders of The Sin Preacher. He even gleefully shares how Chip had fought back against injuring Silas Proctor. His face beams with the wide-eyed pride of a proud big brother. Anne puts on as brave of a face as she can. Her heart aches for Ben. She misses her husband and cannot imagine leading the family though this apocalyptic nightmare without him. Before they know it the beat up church speakers overhead burst to life. Anne cannot help the gut wrenching moan that escapes from her throat. Chip crawls over to his mother taking her in his arms. “Mom … Mom.” The handicapped teen pleads. Chip’s eyes begin welling up with sorrowful tears. Anne gives into her son’s unyielding hug. Benjamin James junior tugs his little brother and sister embrace. The Sin Preacher begins her nightly sermon. Unknown to the group gather below. The sermon tonight had a pair of very special guest. Everyone in the room that had come together over the last few days knows the sun has set. It was Anne’s turn to wail inconsolably. “Ben …” she cries out. Thirty minutes later sleep finally pulls Anne James from her heartbroken delirium.


   “What’s that?” Brandon shakes his mother awake in the middle of the night. Anne is groggy her eyes blurred and puffy from crying. “I heard something mom.” Brandon insist. “Me too.” Carson whispers before kneeling down next to the family on the floor. “Did it come from the door?” Anne inquires her voice is low but filled with alarm. Carson shakes his head “no” vigorously. More of the group about the room stir awake. Overhead The Sin Preacher prattles on her devout words flow forth in a torrent. “Was it thunder?” Brandon asks to no one in general. Carson holds up a finger to his lips to silence around him. “Carson …” Chip calls quietly. Without his chair, Chip has to salamander crawl over to Private Carson. “It came from back there.” He gestures with a gloved hand to the rear of the classroom. There is a set of canary yellow closet doors built into the wall. The doors have paintings of rainbows and caricatures of Jesus. The room and its décor would fit into almost any church basement in America. Carson nods towards Chip. Carson stands pointing down at Chip. “Are you with me bro?” He asks his eyes never leave the doors. “Yeah man I’m right behind you.” Chip motions for his family to retreat further back towards the door. “Carson you go high and I’ll go low” Comments Chip. Carson stops in his tracks looking down at Chip a smirk on his face. Chip holds up a hand he beckons Carson down to his level. “Look I don’t have my chair so I’m of little use bro.” “Bullshit …” Carson interrupts Chip’s pity party. “I got something for you though.” Chip says fishing through his pants pocket. He comes up with the pistol his father had given him. “Nobody thought to pat down the cripple kid I guess.” A wide smile grows on Chip’s face. He props himself up like a tripod aiming high at the closet door. “I don’t have my Lucky Mallet Carson but I got your back.” Chip brushes his sandy colored hair from his face.    


  The door slides open revealing a deep back void. Brother Gustavo appears from the inky blackness. The tall lanky man stands upright. Brother Gustavo’s eyes are appear to bug out almost completely from his head. They appear red and he looks exhausted. His neat black pompadour is now a tangled bird’s nest of hair. Cobwebs cling to his hair billowing in the breeze as he walks. His skin is so pale he looks ill. Gustavo’s pristine white uniform is rumpled and filthy. Private Carson braces himself in a boxer’s stance. Gustavo moves past him with nary a glance. Carson believes for the briefest that second the ice cream man is one of those “smart” zombies. If the man sees Chip on the floor nervously pointing the revolver up at him, he does not show it. He brushes past the handicapped teen knocking the gun from his grasp. “Forgive me I know it’s late.” He implores Brother Gustavo’s cool easy demeanor is now a distant memory. “Mrs. James can I please have a word with you?” He asks his voice gravely whisper. Anne cannot hide the fact that she clearly taken aback briefly scanning the room. “Uh Brother Gustavo please I have had a hard day.” Anne gives back a slight hint of frustration in her voice. “Your pastor took my husband and Sara away.” Brother Gustavo nods his head in understanding. “I know Ma’am … I know.”  Brother Gustavo’s head hangs so long his chin touches his chest. He falls to his knees before Anne startling her and the children. “Please …. Please Mrs. James.” He begins to beg desperately. His steeples his long fingers together tears welling up in his eyes. “I can help you Mrs. James please.” He reaches for her hands trembling. “If you help me I will try to get you and your people out of here.” Anne cannot help herself she takes the man’s unsteady hands in hers. “OK … ok…” She murmurs looking back at the door. A loud crack of thunder causes the children to jump. She wonders about the two guards on the other side. “Will you help us escape and help me find my husband and Sara?” “Yes …” He whines leaning forward placing his head on her hands. “But you must help me first Mrs. James please.” Brother Gustavo sobs heavily once. “Ok  ... ok alright. What do you need Brother Gustavo?” He looks up from her hand a faint smile in his wet tired eyes. He awkwardly scoots on his knees like a child closer to Anne. “Please tell me who said ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”


 Anne’s face contorts in confusion. The feeling grows two fold as she peers back at her son. A thin impish smile crosses Chip’s lips. “I … don’t understand Brother Gustavo.” She answers breathlessly. “Who said it!” he barks tightening his grip on Anne’s hand. “You’re hurting me.” Anne struggles to break free. Chip and Carson close in from behind Gustavo. “You’re boy …..” Gustavo spins releasing Anne’s hand. He points an accusatory finger at Chip that seems to freeze him in place. “He told me that it was not in the Bible and that Benjamin Franklin said it.” Anne slowly stands feeling a dull ache in her foot. “Well he was right Brother Gustavo Benjamin Franklin did say that and it’s not in the bible.” Anne intentionally steps away from the children and Bianca Fullerton. She is back peddling towards Chip and Carson. Brother Gustavo covers his face with his hands. Soon the room fills with the soft unmistakable sounds of Brother Gustavo weeping. Anne stops and reverses direction she moves for Brother Gustavo. Chip tugs on her legs Anne looks down to see her son shaking his head boldly. She gently pulls her leg from her son kneeling down. “He’s hurting honey.” Anne takes her son’s chin. “We need him as much as he needs us.” Anne kisses Chip’s forehead causing him to blush furiously. “Brother … Gustavo.” Anne calls to the man as he sits prostrate on the floor. “Why does what Ben Franklin said trouble you so.” Anne comes to his side placing a caring arm around his shoulder. “It’s not what he said.” Brother Gustavo says through sniffles. “It is what it means to me Mrs. James.” Brother Gustavo speaks as he slowly pulls hands away from his face. He looks into Anne’s eyes. “I know that what you say is right. If you take it with everything I’ve seen and what I know to be true.” He absently wipes the back of his hand across his nose. “I have been used, I am still a sinner, and just as damaged as I ever was.” It slowly dawns on Anne what Brother Gustavo is saying. “Look Gustavo I don’t know what The Sin Preacher promised you but she can’t make you whole.” More thunder crackles from the wailing storm shaking the church. Anne leans in close. “It’s time for you to be your own man. You have to stop looking for a man or in your case a woman to provide you all the answers.” Gustavo uses his sleeves to dry his eyes like a kid. “Romans Chapter three verse twenty three.” Brother Gustavo pushes his lanky body off the floor. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” He runs his fingers through his hair. Brother Gustavo stands shivering peering up at the celling. “Gustavo you need to do more than quote the Bible.” Anne cautions Gustavo. “Do you understand what that means?” She inquires. “Yes Mrs. James I do.” He brushes his uniform attempting in vain to restore it. “What about my husband and Sara Brother Gustavo?” Anne guides the conversation by to her direct need. “Can you help them too?” “No Mrs. James the Sin Preacher cast them both out tonight.” He replies staring blankly ahead.
    “Daddy …. Daddy … Daddy!” Belinda cries out. Chip “shushes” his sister. Anne cannot believe what she has heard. “Hey shut the hell up in there!” A voice shouts from the other side of the door. Brother Gustavo seems startled by at sound of the man’s voice. In two huge steps, he leaps behind a tattered grey couch. The door opens “Keep quite in here or else.” One of the men orders peeking his head into the room. “She had a nightmare.” Chip fumbles rocking his baby sister in his lap. He keeps his gloved hand positioned near B’s mouth just in case. “Well keep her quite or else I’m going to get Colonel.” He chuckles nudging his partner. As the door closes, no one in the group speaks. They stand frozen in place statuesque each digesting the news Brother Gustavo has deliver. Anne races over to the man behind couch. “Gustavo please ...” She grabs his arm. “It is my turn now to beg you.” Anne does not attempt to stop the flow of tears from her eyes. “Can you go out and save my husband and Sara?” He swallows hard his mouth opens but no words come out. Sound finally spill from his lips. “No Mrs. James I can’t.” He pats Anne’s hand on his arm. “It would risk all of our lives.” He holds up a finger to silence Anne. “Listen Mrs. James …. Listen everyone.” He prods Anne back among her children. “There are dozens of those smart zombie things in the church rectory above you. She preaches to them every night and leaves a recording playing during the day time.” The news comes down like a hammer to the survivors. “She …. The Sin Preacher I mean had me corral a lot them but only the smart ones. She wants to use them to help her take over an underground military base near here.” “Wait they listen to her.” Carson blurts. “Yes they do for the time being anyway.” Gustavo answers. “In the morning they stand around in the pews. We keep them locked in. At night she sets them free to hunt and bring more of their kind back.” Gustavo fidgets in place. His minds tells him these people will grow to hate him too. After all he has done in his life following misguided prophets from one town to the next before settling here. “She has a deal with the ‘Unclean’ as she calls them.” He sighs “We protect them during the day and they leave us be at night.” He stares at the speakers on the wall as if he can see through it. “Their numbers grow nightly she has an army that out numbers us two time over. We need to leave this place. This flock and their shepherd have made a literal deal with the devil.” “Do they know?” Anne stammers. “The other people in here, the members of her church, her flock.” Gustavo shakes his head. “No they don’t know. The only people who know the truth are she and I. Not even her precious Colonel is aware of her true nature.” Brother Gustavo heads back into the closet. His chest puffed out with confidence far from the man he was when he entered. He disappears closing the door behind himself like a cheap magician. In his mind, he prays for once in his life with his own words. Right now, he wants to save that woman’s baby and the James family that is all. Thunder shakes the walls of The First New Faith Baptist church from the angry sky outside.
     So it appears as though Brother Gustavo's faith in the Sin Preacher has been shaken. Will he be able to help the remaining survivors escape. Can he save baby Cammy for the gruesome fate that awaits her?
   I hope to see you all back her the week of February 2nd for Chapter 43 of The Living Dark to answer those questions and more. 
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