Chapter 43: Making a Way Back
Sara greets the coming sunrise by poking her head out of the drainpipe. She looks like an overly cautious groundhog. Sara wonders if she will see her own shadow in the coming light signaling six more weeks of zombie apocalypse. “So far so good” She whispers. Lockett glances down in the drainage culvert below her. She sees the armless corpse whose head she had destroyed with the rock last night. It bobs about on the surface of the pooled water. It is damaged head leaves an oil slick of brain matter floating in the cloudy rainwater. “Ben we need to head out your side.” She announces back down the wide aluminum pipe. Her voice carries reverberating with an echo down to Ben James. Ben sneaks a quick glance out of his end of the pipe. He gently places the rock he had used as a weapon down just inside the rim of the pipe. Scanning the area Ben cannot see any zombies meandering about the area. He knows they are there they are always there. “I got nothing over here Sara.” He responds finally tuning around to face Sara down the length of the pipe. “Well ….” A man veiled in darkness croaks out between the two of them. His voice is little more than a strained wheeze. It comes in short breathless gasps. “We really … need … to get our asses in doors.” The man who had shared the drainage pipe with them all night finishes up. “What I need to do is get back to my family.” Ben’s voice is hard and cold like ice. “Then …” He begins to clench his fists. “I’m gonna take my trusty rock and bash The Sin Preacher’s head in.” Ben leans out the pipe one more time before stepping out cautiously onto the damp lush grass. “Sara I should have listened to you. I’m sorry ok?” Ben looks up staring past the crumpled form to Sara. Sara duck walks her mud covered bare body down next to the man. They make eye contact. “Look Mr. James.” Sara pauses. “You let me smash her head in and we can call it even deal?” She gives him a playful smile. Even caked with filth her dark beautiful features beam down the length of the pipe. “You ready Willie?” She asks eyeing Ben. “Yeah … yeah just need a shoulder to lean on.” Willie pivots with Sara at his back he scoots his way through stagnate foul smelling water towards Ben. Ben reaches out a helping hand. He assists the man out of the pipe that had been their shelter all night. Sara and Ben get their first glance at the man in the grimy orange prison jumpsuit.
“So what were you in prison for Willie?” Sara asks hoping down from the pipe instinctively crouching low to the ground. “Uh …” Willie winces. “Drug dealing … pimping, murder ...” Willie huffs as he checks his offenses off mentally. “Pretty much all the things it takes to run a moderately successful drug outfit.” Ben takes Willie’s toned arm placing over his thick shoulder. He casts an untrustworthy glance at the light-skinned black man with corn rolls in his hair. Ben proceeds lock eyes with the man. His nose crinkles at the bridge. “So yeah nothing personal but I’ve had my fill of assholes in orange prison jumpsuits.” Sara snorts sarcastically attempting to get her bearings. “Well so have I.” Willie laughs his free arm makes its way to his left side. His hand covers a blossoming bloodstain there. Unlike the other bloodstains that cover Willie’s clothes. This one is still damp and seeping up from inside the jumpsuit. The laughter causes the man obvious excruciating pain. Willie’s face contorts as he tosses his head back. Ben pushes the thinner man off his shoulder. A look of fear races across Ben’s dirty face. “We’re you fucking bit?” Ben whispers angrily looking around. Willie shakes his head weakly. “No like I said last night.” He stops to draw in a few gasping breathes. “I was running from those zombie things.” Willie hangs like an unwanted child’s toy in Ben’s grip. He points up at the railroad trestle that had saved Ben and Sara the previous night. Ben notices the blade in the man’s hand for the first time. He uses his eyes to signal Sara. She returns a quick nod indicating her understanding. “I turned to looked back …” Willie stops looking about the immediate area. “I slipped and fell barely had time to catch myself. I smashed the shit out of my side. Think I probably fucked up a rib or two.” Ben slowly pulls the man back against him. “I dropped my pack in the water too.” Ben and Sara exchange a look of understanding. They recalled a splash in the river that drew the undead away from them last night. It was possible that Willie had inadvertently saved both their lives. Willie slaps his free hand against his hip in exasperation. The blood-caked prison made knife falls from his hand. Sara drops her rock snatching up the crudely made stabbing device. She walks it down to the edge of the dirty rainwater that had collected in the ditch. She rinses it off like an archaeologists with some ancient find they cannot readily identify. “My shiv….” Willie says smiling down at Sara. “Shiv” was right Sara though to herself. “The foot long blade appeared to have come from a bed rail of some sort. It was a dull silver the color of an old nickel. Its hilt tightly wrapped in some type of cheap once white cloth. Sara examined the weapon its tip filed to a point by repeated scrapes across some sort of stone. “Mind if I hold onto this?” She asks Willie without even looking up. “Nope she’s served me well.” Willie says squinting into the new day Sun. “I killed a lot of those undead bastards escaping that hell hole of a prison.” He hitched himself closer to Ben. “Now big fella … ah Ben I is it?” Benjamin James bobs his head deliberately. “Can we get some place a little safe that’s not a filled with stagnate water?”
The waterlogged trio slowly moves up the hill rising up in front of them. Ben huffs gruffly. “We need to get back to the other side. Then work our way back to First New Faith.” Sara’s examines the rolling fields surrounding them cautiously. “Mr. James I agree we need to get back but we don’t exactly know which way is back.” They look to each other Sara sees the fear in Ben’s face. He knows she is correct their heads were down as the ghouls drove last night. They had lost all sense of direction. “I came from this way.” Willie speaks up motioning with his finger back over a grassy knoll. “Never made it to the side you guys came from.” Ben looks back over the rusted structure covered at each end with white spray painted graffiti. “When I fell it was all I could do to crawl back down into that damn pipe.” Ben’s eyes narrow into slits. “Shit.” He mumbles aloud. Sara and Willie turn to looks across the bridge as well. There were at least a dozen zombies shuffling out of a thicket of trees. Their slack jaws hung open as their out stretched arms pawed at the air. “Rotters ….” Sara mouthed. “Can they make it across there?” Willie asks. “Don’t know …” Ben tugs the man draped over him grabbing his belt lop. “Let’s move I aint sticking around here to find out if they can cross that’s for sure.” “Big man I passed some houses back up that way.” Willie interjects. They top the slight hill in front of them. The sight of a battered house greets them across the rolling expanse. Other houses dot the landscape they appear like dots further out from their position. “I count eight of them between us and that house Mr. James.” Sara stares down at some of the slow moving zombies who have already spotted them. They turn in mass hobbling on broken and dislocated limbs. From Behind them comes the sound of bodies hitting water. The dead are attempting to traverse the trestle with little or no success. “The sound will draw more of them out.” Sara remarks. “We can get to the house and plan our next move.” Ben takes his first tentative steps down the embankment on the slippery grass. He had grown accustomed to being naked but he would kill for a pair of shoes right about now. “Hey pretty lady …” Willie calls out a halfhearted sly grin on his face. “Don’t let them bunch up take’em on one at a time.” Sara nods dashing off in advance of the men. “Aim for the eye sockets with my baby … and she’ll do the rest.” A quick series of raspy coughs interrupts Willie’s next words. Sara is moving quickly towards the first Rotter in their path. Willie leans his head on Ben’s shoulder. “Dude a butt ass naked hot chick fighting zombies. We’re living every nerds dream.” Willie laughs causing bolts of pains to rocket up from his busted ribs. “Shut up.” Ben says stopping just short of dropping the convict. He was losing his fondness for the Willie faster than he thought possible. As he watches Sara go, his thoughts turn to his family. The last thing he was going to do was take a smart assed half-dead drug dealing murder back with him to rescue them.
Private Sara Lockett takes bold strides through the thick wet grass. Her feet find it hard to maintain traction. She throws a peek back and Ben who is all but dragging Willie. Sara does not look ahead to the white house in the distance. She focuses on the dead thing lumbering towards her. It was more than likely female or had once been. The zombie front half is charred down to the bone is still smoking she noted. The zombie looks like a piece of meat from head to toe that someone forgot on a hot grill. Sara pays no mind to the warm sun on her bare skin. She tightens her grip on the shank Sara realizes clearly it is designed to stab not slash. The zombie moans as the space closes between them. Its arms raise up like a demented possessed puppet. The undead things eyes never leave Sara’s. They meet with Sara ducking low to avoid the zombie’s out stretched arms. She moves up from the side meaning to plunge the sharpened metal into her attacker’s eye socket. Her assault is halted mid-swing by the stench of burnt flesh. It reaches down into her painfully empty stomach. The vile smell draws dry heaves up from her gut. Sara feels the corpses sandpaper like scorched skin as its hands claws at her hair. “Sara!” Ben screams out. She ignores Ben concentrating on stifling the involuntary retching bringing acid up in her throat. Private Lockett grunts wind milling her hand in an arc. She drives the point of the metal deep into the Rotter’s eye socket. With a vicious twist of the shiv, the zombie falls to the sound of bones splintering. “Sara you ok?” Ben calls in a panic. Sara waves him off “yeah ... yeah.” She breathes deeply her hands on her knees. “Fucking thing stank to high hell.” She hollers back. Sara stands up checking her surroundings. “Let’s keep moving right up the middle take the shortest route.” With that, Sara takes off at a trot. She encounters a dead man wearing thin wire rimmed glasses. She notices a hole in the dead man’s neck. Chucks of chewed flesh plop out the hole reminding Sara of a meat grinder. The thought fades from her mind as she pushes the shank into the zombie’s eye socket shattering the lens of its glasses. Sara lays the corpse down like a preacher baptizing a sinner. She steps over the body looking up the house is closer. There is only one zombie between them and the house. She can see the structure better now. Its white paint is chipping and the big two-story house looks rundown. There is a shiny metal ladder running up to the roof. It strikes her as the safest place to rest. This would give them ample time to scout the rest of the area. “How will we get Willie up there?” She hears reverberate though her mind. Suddenly a large rotund man appears standing on the roof of the enclosed back porch. He is wearing a pristine white tee shirt and grey jogging pants.
The big round man holds a pink child’s plastic beach bucket of rainwater up taking a long drink from it. “Hey!” Sara calls out taking care not to wave the gore covered hand holding Willie’s prison shank. The balding man sports an atypical horseshoe of black hair around a large bald patch. He drops the bucket as a look of terror washes across his face. “Probably thinks we’re a couple of Trotters.” Sara mumbles to herself. The walking corpse nearest to her drags itself along on one good leg. The other scrapes the bare gravel covered area behind the house. The dead thing’s foot is twisted a hundred and eighty degrees behind it. Sara races up the rock-strewn path. The varying shaped stones begin to bite into her bare feet. She stands her ground rather than risk injuring her feet. “Can you help us we’re not zombies?” Sara shouts. The man looks like a scared rabbit ready to bolt, so she puts her attention back where it should be on the zombie. She takes a defensive stance and when the putrid teenager is close, enough she lashes out a foot into its thigh. Sara’s blow hits the damaged limb squarely dropping the corpse to its knees. She seizes the opportunity to stab the blade down into the top of the zombies head. The skull parts like broken china as Sara rotates it with both hands. Sara Lockett turns to see Ben James dragging Willie faster. The dead they had past once scattered about the vast field were now coming together in a loose pack. Sara looks over her shoulder casually. She watches the stout man step to the edge of the roof just above an aluminum ladder. For the briefest moment, she has a comical vision of the fat man in the grey jogging pants floating away like a balloon. Instead, he repositions himself and makes his way down the ladder. “No … no … nooo.” He scolds like a Sunday school teacher. The ladder clatters against the old house as his foot touches down onto the packed earth. “You can’t lead them here or they’ll comeback tonight.” He says to Private Lockett paying the attractive dark skinned girl no mind. “Yeah well tell me something I don’t know.” Sara rolls her eyes at the man. She drops her hands to her knees winded. “Sir I’ll take care of these few.” Sara points with her free hand at the zombies shambling across the field. She looks back at the house. “Do you have some place where we can rest up and maybe find some clothes?” The big man rubs his smooth red face lingering around his chin. Sara takes note of his freshly shaved face. He spins around eyes fixating on the house. He is briefly lost in his own thoughts before turning back to Sara. “Have any of y’all been bit or scratched by a zombie? On a count of the movies I done seen say that’s a bad thing.” Sara shakes her head to indicate “no.” “My friend and I found this guy when we went to hide in a drain pipe down by the river. He says he slipped and fell while crossing the railroad trestle.” Ben and Willie finally move into the conversation. “Hey can we get the fuck inside or what fat boy?” Willie blurts from Ben’s shoulder. Ben jostles the convict roughly repositioning him. He makes sure his displeasure is painfully evident. “Ahhhh …” Is the sole sound Willie can make as volcanic rush of red-hot agony grips his torso. “What my inconsiderate friend Willie meant to say is might we please come into your home to rest for a bit Sir?” “Sure Mister.” The man responds taking more notice of the tattered prison jumpsuit hanging loosely around Willie. It appears more disconcerting to the man than either of the naked people with him. “First we gots to kill all these damn zombies.” The man says as he walks back towards the house. “You can all rest here on the porch.” The man cocks his head down in the direction of three rickety white washed steps. The steps apparently compromised the back porch the man had made mention of. He grabbed a shovel that was propped up against the house.
Sara looked to Ben. “Go with him.” He tells her counting the zombies who had pursued them. “Alright Mr. James but keep an eye out for stragglers.” She says sauntering behind their quirky savior. “Man that’s a fine piece bro you tappin’ that?” Willie asks watching Private Lockett leave. “No I’m married Willie and if you keep acting like an asshole. I’m going to punch you right in the middle of that bloodstain on your side.” Willie’s hands immediately move to cover his wounded side. “Look big man I’m sorry I been in jail for a couple of years dude no offense.” Willie offers up in his defense. “Well my friend let me make one thing clear. There are several women in our group.” Ben bites back his words thinking of the others locked in that church with a homicidal maniac. “And if you attempt anything remotely shady or ungentlemanly like. With God as my witness I will snap your legs and leave you for the zombies to play with.” Ben stares down at the injured man. His eyes narrow as he and Willie’s brown eyes meet. “Am I clear?” He asks Willie. “Crystal.” Willie utters looking paler than he had earlier. Ben does not know if its fear or blood loss and he does not care. Sara is hot on the portly man’s heels raising up the bloodied shiv. With a grunt, the man swings his shovel in a two-handed shoulder high semi-circle. “Name’s Lawrence Faulkner.” He shouts his black shovel blade connects with a pair of zombie’s heads. Both Rotters hit the ground in a heap. Lawrence diligently drives the blade down into the first dead man’s face. Moving quickly he stomps the blade down on the zombies undead companion’s head. He has the look of a farmer turning over soil with the shovel. Lawrence takes the top half of zombie’s heads off like splitting a melon. Lawrence walks down the slight slope of the hill. He pulls his shovel back up hearing four remaining straggling corpses. The undead pack makes their way towards the humans undeterred. Their ragged moans filtering out into the surrounding area. “Well Lawrence I’m Sara, the big naked black guy is Ben and the convict is Willie.” Sara pulls even with Lawrence. “We stumbled upon him last night.” Lawrence nods to Sara. “Well Ms. Sara if you don’t mind stepping back.” Lawrence shoos Sara back like a diligent big brother. “I’ll take care of these dead folks here.” He motions down towards the ever-advancing zombies. There are four of them making their way up the grassy incline. The first two zombies are male. “Sheriff Lee?” Lawrence speaks up his face a mixture of shock and remorse. He stares at the shredded arms of the walking corpse as they reach for him. The moment passes as Lawrence draws in a deep breath. He smashes the shovel blade down with an over handed swing. The sound of the shovel’s black blade fracturing the dead man’s head reverberates across the open field. The Sheriff drops to the ground instantly. The next zombie plods along tripping over the Sheriff falling face first in the dusty packed gravel. Sara swoops in plunging the shiv into the zombie’s ear. She does not stop twisting until the Rotter falls still. “Look out!” Lawrence shouts Sara cranes her head up to see an old white haired woman missing a sizable chunk of her face and most of her belly. The woman falls forward hoping to catch the nude young soldier. “I told you to stay back now.” Lawrence cautions her catching the zombie under its chin with his shovel blade. He holds the shovel’s handle as the corpse drives its face further down on the sharpened blade. Lawrence has the look of a man with a monstrous fish on his line. Sara stands to her feet falling behind Lawrence. The burly man wrenches the handles left then right. This causes the dead woman’s mandible to pop of her face. Viscera streams down the shovel handle as Lawrence pitches his catch backwards. He gags at the sight of the zombie’s tongue wetly slapping the back of the shovel’s blade. With one final thrust and the crunch of bone, mercifully the zombie goes still. Lawrence deposits her at the feet of the final Rotter that had pursued them. “Oh shit kill his ass!” Sara points but Lawrence does not turn in her direction. Sara recognizes the fat round Boss Hog looking Rotter in tight gym shorts. “He’s one of those smart ones; he and his buddies chased us last night.” She grits her teeth wanting to put the fat zombie down herself. Lawrence steadies his aim raising the shovels up as if it was a spear. He makes eye contact with the corpse for a fraction of a second and knows the girl is telling the truth. He stabs the shovel into the things face just above the bridge of its nose. The chubby dead man teeters over falling into the ground truly dead. Lawrence plants the shovel in the grass scanning the horizon looking all around. Breathing in deeply the big man seems to enjoy a moment of peace closing his eyes. Lawrence suns himself in the warms early morning sunlight and smiles. Blinking his eyes open, he does not see any of the undead. Once Lawrence is satisfied, he turns his attention to the zombies laying at his feet. He catches a glimpse of Sara’s backside as she hovers over the Sheriff. “Is he dead” He asks, “I mean really dead?” “Yep” says Sara. “Which is why he won’t need this gun.” She holds the pistol in the air her hands move in a blur as she checks the weapon dropping the magazine out before slamming it back in. “He won’t need these spare clips or these handcuffs either.” Sara looks back towards Ben and Willie. She wants the con to see her pulling the cuffs and a ring of keys free from the dead Sheriff. “Well so are these.” Lawrence waves a hand at the corpses in the dirt. “Miss Sara why don’t we get ourselves inside the house before more of them come snooping around?” Lawrence says as he lightly plants a hand on Sara’s elbow.
“Alright folks follow me and don’t touch anything please.” Lawrence orders from the top of the steps. He pushes open the back door. What greets them is a blast of cold dank mustiness spilling out from a dark void. “Stay close to me.” Lawrence moves in first disappearing followed by Ben totting Willie. Sara brings up the rear pistol at the ready remembering the last time they dared to trust as stranger. She moves in and a cold chill draws goose bumps upon her dark sweaty skin. Unlike the First New Faith Baptist Church, this place is immediately foreboding. Sara’s mind goes back to the first time she entered the church. “If it’d felt like this I’d have turned right the fuck around” She thinks to herself. “Close the door.” Lawrence whispers and Sara does as instructed. The four of them are in pitch black cramped darkness. She feels trapped as the sound of paper rustling fills the air in the room. Sara reaches out placing a hand on Ben’s warm back for comfort. A light blazes to life in front of them. Lawrence is holding an oil-burning lantern up as if he is a train conductor. The orange flame casts light on the area around them. They are pinned into the wall by mountains of old newspapers and garbage. The stench causes Willie to gasps for breath. “What the fuck man …. I got asthma?” He wheezes trying desperately not to cough. “Me too …” Lawrence smiles broadly like he and Willie are members in some sort of secret club. The light thrown off by the lantern seems to make Lawrence’s round head glow. “Look guys I’m sorry my Ma’ she was a hoarder never threw nothing away.” Sara is aware the big man is sniffling. “When she and my Pa and Uncle left, I … well. I just didn’t have the heart to change anything.” Willie’s wheezing becomes more rapid. “Man this shit is sick fat boy!” He shouts covering his nose while hanging onto Ben. “Yeah I know it is.” Lawrence says solemnly. “It’s all I know … you know how I was raised.” Lawrence speaks up defensively. “You know how it is when a person who only speaks a foreign language that you don’t understand is trying to talk to you?” He sighs deeply as if troubled by a memory. “I mean you know they are speaking but you just can’t understand them. Well that’s what living with a person who is mentally ill is like.” Sara got it she understood fully what the man was saying. Her mind escaped the dank house and found its way to her grandfather all those thousands of miles away. Sara Lockett felt as though she might choke up herself. “To hell with that Sir I got one question.” Ben utters. “As your humbled guest I just need to know is it safe here?” Lawrence’s head perks up he lifts the lantern up with a smile. They can see a thin piece of dirty rope that vanishes into the darkness above them. “Yes … yes it is.” Lawrence grabs the cord. “Step back please.” He says as they all part ways Ben and Willie crush Sara into the corner against the door. With a simple tug on the rope from above comes the creak of wood. Before Ben and Will can react, a brown folded ladder appears. “Please be my guest.” Lawrence Falkner ushers the trio up the ladder staying behind drop a massive beam of wood into metal brackets barring the backdoor. He props his shovel against the door for safekeeping as well. Lawrence ascends the ladder behind his guest with a well-rehearsed ease. He finds them bottle necked at the top of the ladder in a tiny attic doorway. They stare out into a small dimly lit attic. The space is so immaculately clean that is almost hospital sterile.
Sara and Ben have made it through the night. They have met a few new people but their main goal remains the same. To get back to their people at The First New Faith Baptist Church. Their second goal appears to be the demise of The Sin Preacher.
Come back and see what happens in Chapter 44 the week of March 30th!
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