Chapter 44: Coming to a Head
Miriam cannot stifle the yawn pulling her jaws apart. She stands facing out the back window of her church on a small wooden porch. The Sun teases the horizon tinting the retreating thunderclouds a breathtaking shade of magenta. A few stray beads of water on the glass catch the early morning sunlight each creating brilliant miniature rainbows. Miriam smiles broadly at the wonderment before her. Behind her, she can hear her own voice softened by a closed wooden door. A tape-looped sermon is playing over the loudspeakers in the church’s nave. This would pacify her flock until she could return to them tonight. The “Unclean” as she had labeled them were the least of her concerns. Miriam was finally able to breathe a deep sigh of relief upon seeing two shadowy figures emerge from besides the church. “You did not come straight back I see” She says aloud through the screen door. Even though she is fully aware zombies, intelligence has retreated with the rising of the Sun. They both turn towards the sound of her voice. The dead men stumble about milky eyed ensnared by the effects of the new day sun. The zombies are each soaked in rich crimson blood. She knew they would disobey her word but she did not care. For as long as the Benjamin James and Sarah Lockett were dead. The Sin Preacher had no fear of any reprisals. Those of their party she held in the basement were now at her mercy. Still she ponders to herself “you were both disobedient, and my word cannot be broken.” Speaking audibly now “For that Brothers Lawson and Hobart” Miriam opens the screen door. “You will not enjoy the morsel of flesh I had promised unto you.” Her attention finds its way to the bastardized infant sleeping in her quarters. Miriam moves onto the porch grasping the rain slicked railing. She is not afraid of her wayward sheep as they stagger about well within the locked gated of the church’s compound. Miriam had given Lawson a key before he left to complete his ordained task. She clears her throat ready to speak her hypnotic words to these her most useful of sheep. Miriam did not see the third Rotter that had remained unseen hidden in shadows until it pounced.
“My Lord” The Sin Preacher cries out. Snatching her hand back off the white banister, the female zombie’s mangled teeth narrowly misses her hand. Miriam slips down the two small stairs plowing into Lawson. The bald zombie tumbles backwards knocking his undead sidekick to the wet ground with a grunt. Miriam loses her footing on the damp grass and falls on her backside. “My child … my child” She says calmly to the growling walking corpse making its way around from the other side of the porch. “Listen to my voice for it is I who the Lord almighty have allowed to hear your cries and ease your suffering.” The Sin Preacher implores her arms outstretched; her palms turned up like a beggar. The Rotter snarls a ropy mixture of blood and saliva spilling from its blackened maw. Miriam does not panic she is more concerned with the dampness seeping through her robe. “It will have to be cleaned before tonight.” She ponders to herself. “Please my child” Miriam’s voice breaks ever so slightly. She steals a glance back at Lawson and Hobart each ghoul struggling to his feet. Her face sports a mask of disapproval. Same way a mother does when she catches her son with a girl whom she does not care for. “You brought this Jezebel to my house.” She barks through clinched teeth. The Sin Preacher whips her head back around facing the zombie. “Do you hear not my words foul heathen?” She asks the feral hissing decaying walking corpse. “For you are truly lost then child.” Miriam scoots back on her rump a few inches waiting for the Rotter to lung once more. When the dead woman does Miriam kicks out her leg catching the zombie under her chin. The thing’s teeth clack together as it reels backwards landing face up on the bottom step of the porch. The Sin Preacher is on her feet trudging forward towards her unwanted guest. Her wet dirty once white robe billows out behind her. “There are the workers of iniquity fallen” She huffs breathlessly. Moving to a standing position over the undead woman Miriam places a hand on either side of the woman’s head. It is like holding a squirming alligator swaying in a vain attempt to get loose and strike. “They are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.” The rage bottled up in the darkest recesses of Miriam now bubbles over. She lets her fingers slide over the jellied white eyes of the zombie. Miriam slowly pushes her thumbs into the thing’s eye sockets. Her digits sink deeper into the mushy wetness as she clasps her fingers behind the corpse’s skull like a spider’s legs. The zombie’s eyes pop like overripe fruit but it still snarls sensing the warm flesh hovering above it. The Sin Preacher lowers her forehead down to the creatures. Miriam does not shy away from the damp rotten smell wafting up from the zombie. “You are banished from this place.” She rages leaning in Miriam slams the Rotter’s head against the bottom step. The Sin Preacher repeats this process until the zombie ceases its relentless attack. Miriam has lost herself in the sight before her eyes. The sun now beams brightly from the East. She smiles raising her hands gooey matter plops from her fingertips onto the ground. “Now my sons” she speaks without turning to face Lawson or Hobart. The ghouls sway in place made more docile by the fullness of daylight and The Sin Preacher’s voice. “Let us seek shelter for tonight you will make amends to me for your transgressions.” Miriam leads the zombies up the stairs and into First New Faith’s rectory. She does so pushing and prodding the dead men as a mother with unruly teenage boys. She has no idea Brother Gustavo has just witnessed her coming unhinged for the second time.
Under the small porch, kneeling in the dirt Gustavo raises old metal hatch. Chills blossom up his spine as the Sin Preacher along with her undead soldiers pass overhead. He holds his breath staring down at the baby girl in his arm. She was gorgeous her little blue eyes meet his. Baby Cammy grins showing her tiny pink gums. For the first time in a long time, he does not feel like he is a bad person. Above him, he hears a door lock. “Please God be with us” He whispers his first genuine prayer in recent memory. Brother Gustavo climbs down a spider wed metal ladder into the darkness. “We have to hurry” the thought runs frantically through his mind. He pulls the closet door open less than a minute later. Bianca Fullerton is running full tilt towards him. Her arms are open almost as wide as he eyes. Gustavo holds up a finger to silence her a cold sweat has settled upon his skin. “We have to go now.” He says with as much emphasis as he can muster without raising his voice. He surrenders the baby girl to her mother’s embrace. Bianca weeps softly Dakota sits by her mother’s immediately she finds herself swept up into a hug. “Please we need to go now,” Gustavo urges pulling Bianca to her feet. They disappear into the closet Anne James hustles Brandon and Belinda along to the hidden tunnel. Any other day they would look like typical sleepy kids ushered around by a mother with a schedule to keep. Private Medina checks her pocket for the handheld radio. Overnight she had briefly spoken with White Magic. Unlike their initial meeting, he would be waiting for them today. She cocks an eyebrow at Private Carson clutching her ribs. They both look down at a Chip sitting on the floor sans his wheelchair. “Come on bro spare me some dignity.” Chip says just above a whisper. “Don’t let the chick carry me please I’m begging” He chuckles. “Besides I got the only gun” Chip produces the revolver waving it around like a toy. “I got him go Carlita.” Carson lowers himself to the floor scooping up Chip. The boy rakes his shoulder length sandy curls back with one gloved hand. The pair head for the exit watching Private Medina as she vanishes into the dark tunnel. “What the fuck!” Private Carson hears as Chip draws the hammer back on the pistol next to his ear. Carson knew the owner of the deep overly harsh voice. They had not heard the door open behind them. Chip kept the pistol leveled at Colonel’s chest. The two young men he had assigned to guard the door flanked him on either side. “Drop your weapons or Colonel Mustard gets two in the chest.” Chip orders. Colonel ignores the two cowards who show no hesitation tossing their guns to the floor. “You too big man” Carson says to the old soldier. “You look like the type of pussy who’d leave without saying good bye Son.” Colonel spits the barb designed to bait the younger man. He squats placing his heavy pistol gently down on the floor. Chip and Private Carson exchange glances hunching their shoulders in unison. “Oh no Sir we were just on our way to see you.” Carson grins he walks over to one of the tables setting Chip down. “Now you Chip points to the guard on the right close that door and lock it please.” Chip uses the gun like a pointer. “You …” Carson points the second guard. “Bring those weapons over to my friend on the table here.” Carson pulls off his camouflaged uniform shirt flexing his shoulders. His physique is even more impressive as the olive green t-shirt fits tight against his chiseled chest. The smaller of the guards sheepishly deposits the guns on the table next to Chip. “You boys go ahead and take a front row seat on that couch over there.” He tells the pair pointing to the battered old couch that had been a bed the previous night. All the while Colonel stands breathing in deeply cracking his knuckles. An evil grin etched upon his harsh features. He never takes his eyes off Carson. “What the hell is taking …?” Medina burst back out the closet. “Aw fuck.” Her eyes bug out comically as her jaw hangs open. “Go Medina” Carson orders now refusing to drop his gaze from Colonel. “We’ll be along in a few this won’t take long.” She looks to Chip who gives her thumbs up with a toothy smile. “Run along missy this is man’s business.” Colonel laughs. Medina backs her way down to the tunnel entrance. “Carson ….” She calls out. “Yeah what up Carlita?” He responds staring down his foe. “Will you please beat that sadistic motherfucker to death for me?” Private Cody Carson licks his lips. “Sure thing Kid” he assured her as she goes up the secret tunnel.
Cody stood unblinking sizing up his opponent. He knew the man was older but the bulk of his weight was muscle. In the Army, they had drilled into his head that with age came wisdom. This he knew meant Colonel was a better tactician than he was. This fact alone let him know that he could not get into a brawl or a wrestling match with the grey haired former Marine. The scars Colonel bore on face and arms were a testament to his toughness. Cody was so lost in thought he blinked twice before he realized Colonel was rushing him. Colonel came stomping forward head lowered making it tougher to land a shot to the face. Private Carson spun out of the way of his charging foe. He stopped facing Colonel’s side as the man’s momentum kept him from stopping on a dime. Carson delivers a swift kick to the back of Colonel’s leg dropping him to his knees. He follows up with a spinning backhand to Colonel’s exposed face. The Colonel’s nose breaks with a “crunch” the sound carries across the room. Colonel pitches face first on the floor Carson and he have switched places in the room. Carson dances on his feet nimbly. He allows Colonel slowly get up to a standing position. “Carson don’t stop fuck’em up.” Chip shouts motioning towards Colonel with the gun. “Nah bro gotta do this right prove a point to this motherfucker.” Carson responds looking at the other two men sitting stunned on the couch. “I …..” Colonel wheezes sucking back some of the deep red blood flowing from his nose. “I forgot they don’t teach you Army girls how to fight a man straight up.” He spits a wad of blood on the floor moving his hands up like a boxer in front of his face. “Come on princess let’s see all that trendy dancing Jap shit y’all call fighting now.” Colonel was well aware he had underestimated the young bull. He was also knew the boy had made a mistake not finishing him off when he had the chance. The two men slowly encroached one another guard up in a pugilist stance. Colonel saw the private holding his guard high covering his pretty face. He delivered two quick brutal body shots. The first catches Carson on his left side the next punishes his right side driving the air from his lungs. Carson throws a feeble jab connecting with Colonel’s chin. It was more of a love tap with no force behind it. Carson cannot draw a breath he does not see the savage upper cut coming. For a brief moment, Private Carson feels as though he has left his feet. Before he knows it, he is reeling backwards his vision doubling. The only reason Carson does not hit the floor is the support pole he slams into back first. Colonel bares down upon him his eyes are calm and distant like those of a shark. To him this is a natural as eating nothing personal just nature. Colonel throws a right hook Cody blocks the punch ducking in the same direction as he catches movement to his left. The two guards who were sitting on the couch are sneaking up on Chip. The boy sits on the table eyes glued to the fight. “Chip look out!” he cries out. The distraction allows Colonel to pivot up a knee into his gut. Colonel has him trapped and takes the opportunity to land a solid left hook. Carson gets his bearings focusing on Colonel. He fights through the pain whipping his elbow straight up smashing it into Colonel’s exposed chin. Carson exploits the opening pulling the Colonel’s head down into his own knee. When the two meet Colonel’s arms go limp he is out on his feet. Carson sidesteps the groggy man teetering on the edge of consciousness. Taking Colonel by the back of his head Carson slams the man forward. Colonel’s head connects with the support pole with an audible “dong.” The Sin Preacher’s enforcer slides down the brown steel pole until the man simply slumps to the floor unconscious.
A woozy Carson turns his attention to Chip. “Alright bro” Chip grins. Carson’s confusion clearly etched on his face. Chip sits with holding the back of one guards head. He has the revolver placed just inside the man’s open mouth. The other guard stands behind him his hands raised comically in the air as if he was on some old cop show. Carson follows the man’s wide eyes gaze back to its source. “Good work pretty boy lets go.” Medina says. She keeps her weapon in on hand pointing at the man. She tosses Carson his M4 assault rifle. Carson catches the weapon nursing his ribs as he steadies himself. “Boys we need to go we’re loaded and waiting on Brother Gustavo.” Private Medina says crossing the room. “Let’s go,” She says pointing her rifle at the two men. Carlita takes the pistols off the table by Chip with her free hand. “Carlita what are you doing?” Chips asks. “I’m being a good Christian by not holding a grudge. Now open the door,” She orders waving the rifle one of the Sin Preacher’s men. Chip and Private Carson look to each other confused. “Carson you and Chip head up the ladder and follow the footprints in the dirt under the porch. Head for the big ratty shed across the yard I’ll be right behind you.” Medina cranes her head looking out the open doorway. “Is he dead or out cold” Private Medina looks to Carson tilting her head in Colonel’s direction. “Um out cold I think,” he says unsure of his answer. Carlita unleashes a kick aimed between Colonel’s legs. The man emits a low weak groan, she marches the two men hands held high out into the midst of the captives. Carlita ignores the stunned faces as they had ignored her the day before as she passes them. Standing in the middle of the room her eye catches the hole in the wall made by her body yesterday. “Listen up people” she speaks to no one in particular. “Fortunately for all of you my mother raised me to be compassionate or I’d leave all you cowards here to die.” Private Medina drops the three guns in the middle of the floor. “I suggest you formulate a plan to get the fuck out of here.” She kicks the back of each man’s knees they drop to all fours. “You need to be quite head back through this room. There is a back way out in the closet you need to get to the carport all your keys and vehicles are there.” She looks to each face stopping on the chubby Hispanic man who spoke up when Anne attempted to rally them. “I suggest you fight like your lives and the lives of those around you depended on it because they do.” She does not look away from the man until he drops his head. “These two I leave up to you.” She says prodding one of the men with her gun. Medina heads back down the hallway stopping briefly. “Oh for any of you planning on staying you should know one important thing.” She extends her index finger pointing upward. “Your great benefactor the Sin Preacher has a legion of zombies locked in the main part of the church. She fancies them her personal army.” Shocked gasps swirl around the room. Medina turns back with a television game show host smile. “Have a good life” She mocks sprinting through the back room up the ladder and to her people in the shed.
Miriam toughly enjoyed her hot shower. She had thanked God daily that the church was standing empty when ‘The Event’ had happened. In the wake of the cosmic onslaught, everything electrical that was without power that night still functioned properly. She stood before the foggy mirror now dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. She has her hair wrapped in a towel and left to dry. Miriam swiped a hand over the mirror cutting a swath through the condensation. She could not help but smile at herself after last night. Her flock was ready; she had gotten rid of the Son of Lot, which she had found personally invigorating. Tasting the blood of the sinner had left her in an almost euphoric. She had the traitors dealt with and the fatherless child would be done away with tonight. “By this time tomorrow I will lead my flock on a cleansing purge through man’s army.” She told her reflection knowing the military would never expect a coordinated attack from a mass of zombies. Miriam strolls carefree from the bathroom back into her office drying her hair with the towel. “Good morning Miriam.” She jumps startled at the sound of the voice. She knows its owner all too well “Good morning Brother Gustavo.” Miriam Jacob answers tossing her damp hair back out of her face. Brother Gustavo sits in her chair behind her desk. His hair is all over his head; his once pristine white uniform is filthy covered in dirt from head to toe. What troubled her the most? The smile plastered on the man’s long face. “Please have seat Miriam” He gestures towards the chair Benjamin James had taken during their initial meeting. “Brother Gustavo why are you in my seat?” Miriam lowers herself down into the chair. She glances over at the pile of blankets on her cot. “Brother Gustavo where is the bastard child?” Gustavo rakes his fingers through his hair leaning back. “Brother Gustavo have you sunk back to your sick ways?” Miriam brings her head back around in a slow mechanical manner. “Miriam I assure you the child is safe and as for my ways.” The man swallows hard leaning forward his palms planting on the desk. “Years ago I told you I felt like a child on the inside.” He trembles as if he caught in the grip of a chill. “When I told you that I was molested as a child you used it and my faith against me. All you wanted was a sheep to do your bidding.” He wiped a stray tear from his eye. “All I wanted to do was to relive my youth one where I wasn’t hurt. One where I was not demeaned and degraded you ….” He stabs a long index finger in her direction. “You are not woman of God. This is no house of God. Sin Preacher …” He scoffs. “I saw you last night.” Gustavo snarls he shakes barely able to contain his rage. The Sin Preacher’s face is a pale shade of pink. She swallows hard pulling the acid rising in her throat back down. Here’s one for the road.” He chuckles. “I just wish I had understood it earlier.” Their eyes meet and Miriam sees no fear, no respect just cold emptiness. “Beware of false Prophets, Which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Matthew chapter seven verse fifteen.” Gustavo finishes with a shout. There is a knock at the door. Miriam glares at the door behind her. Miriam turns towards the door “Not now” She calls out. “Is that it all it takes Gustavo the sweet words of a Jezebel for you to turn on me?” Miriam’s anger rises as the knocking comes again. “Not nowwww.” She seethes stretching the last word out. “I opened my eyes pastor.” Gustavo says rising slowly placing his hands in his pockets. “You told me I had to do what you said to earn the Lord’s mercy.” He continued a bit more calmly. “You said God helps those who help themselves and it was you …” He exhales rubbing one hand on his temple leaving the other in his pocket. “You who claimed to speak for God not me.” The knocking came again harder this time. He noticed color had returned Miriam’s face from the neck up it was beet red. He watched her storm off towards the door through which they had drug the James family. The Sin Preacher grabs the doorknob in disgust “I said not…..” Her words trail off as she stares at the empty hallway. Miriam looks across her office Brother Gustavo stands at the rear of the office. He is between two doors facing her. The door to his right leads up to the body of the church behind the pulpit. The door to Gustavo’s left leads out the back of the church. He points to the battered brown desk between the two of them with a sneer. The left pocket on his dirty pants appears pulled inside out. Miriam sees a jumble of red white and brown wires laying tangled in a rat’s nest on her desk. Brother Gustavo projects his voice across the office. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will eat with him, and he with me.” He opens the door leading up to the main body of the church wide and in the same motion disappears through the church’s rear exit. Miriam’s eyes dart to the desk “the intercom system he tore the wires out” she mouths in disbelief.
The undead Rotters pour from the open door. They are sheep no more snarling like hungry wolves. Their milky orange tinted eyes settle on the only warm human flesh they can find. That flesh belongs to the Sin Preacher. Miriam cannot move her feet feel locked into the creaky wood floor. “Ma’am everything otay?” Silas Proctor asks through his swollen damaged jaw as he hobbles up. Miriam snaps to watching the walking corpses ransack her office. The place seems far more cramped as it is quickly filling with the Unclean. She knocks Silas aside running for the front exit. The bulbous man teeters on his aching wounded foot before he falls forward. He is the first church member to feel the jagged teeth of “the Flock.” His screams panic the church members even more than their pastor sprinting past them for the door. More screams start as the zombies come into view down the hall. Miriam hits the locked door full force and it does not budge. She turns the knob forcefully side to side and it simply clicks. She is unaware that BC and Jim Hosstrum lie on the other side dead by Brother Gustavo’s hand. He had murdered both men while they dozed on guard duty earlier then snuck down and barred the door as the members slept. “Sin Preacher please …” Please a horrified woman grabs her arm. Miriam slaps her hands away and shoves the portly woman backwards turning to see the Rotters crowding towards the panicked mass of people surging towards the door. More screams as those on the outer ring fall into the mouths of the undead. The sounds of tearing flesh drives the undead into a frenzy and the living into a panic. “Shut up” Miriam commands composing herself lift her hands high. “Be still my children for they are my flock.” The horrified church members ignore her words. “I will sooth them my children fall to your knees in prayer!” She screams over the sounds of slaughter. The Sin Preacher feels a tickle in her throat as she starts a sermon. Around the room, Rotters rise from their feasting on the living. They stand some still chewing gobs of torn human flesh. The zombies sway in place placated by the Sin Preacher’s soothing voice. Miriam does not know how long her voice will hold up. She curses under her breath hearing the sound of the massive ice cream truck’s engine outside fading into the distance. “Judas” her mind screams.
In a rather interesting change of events. Brother Gustavo has helped the survivors escape. Looks like he has finally seen The Sin Preacher for the false prophet she is. It appears to me at least that hell hath no furry like a demented ice cream man scorned.
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