Chapter 45: Back in the Game
Lawrence peeked under the thin bed sheet covering Willie O apprehension clearly etched on his face. The lean man fidgeted in the grip of a restless sleep under the thin veil of cover. Almost the entire right side of his chest covered in white gauze. Lawrence shakes his head unsure of Willie’s true condition. He gently lays the cover across the man’s sweaty chest before standing. Lawrence walks over to meet a now clothed Benjamin James. “Ben he might need more help than I can give’em.” Ben sighs as Sara exits the bathroom. “Lawrence doesn’t think Willie is doing well.” Ben informs her taking in the outfit Lawrence had provided her. She has tied a white t-shirt up in a knot and pair of blue boxers with which she had repeated the knotting process. He thanked the Lord he fit the roomy grey sweat pants better than Sara did. The white shirt he wore and plain white sneakers were at least clean. “Lawrence I don’t know what to say my friend” Ben leaned in. “I need to get back to my family and the church pronto. Willie …. Well he’s not my problem Lawrence.” Lawrence rubs his head reminding Ben of “Curly” from the three Stooges. The wheels in Lawrence’s head seem to turn just a bit slower than they did with an average person. “Ben don’t worry he can stay here with me. If he makes it well Willie can leave when he’s ready.” Lawrence feels beads of sweat popping up across his forehead. His stomach in knots he didn’t usually like company. “Where’s your family and friends Ben … Which church they at?” Ben draws a blank “Ummm.” He looks to Sara confused. “First New ….” Lawrence breaks in. “First New Faith aww hell y’all done run cross The Sin Preacher.” “Yeah that’s her” Ben all but barks. “Well she and her people are crazy as shit house rats’ buuuuut ….” Lawrence smiles rubbing his chin recalling his family’s past with The Sin Preacher. “I’m guessing y’all already know that.” Sara snorts she brings her new found pistol into view. “Well Lawrence tell us how to get there from here.” Lawrence mulls over the questions. “Its bout ten or eleven miles from here you go up the street make a left just head out you’ll see’em signs everywhere.” Ben shakes with rage. “We’ve already wasted two hours or so. Now we’ve got to hustle through ten miles of zombie infested cornfields.” Ben gives Sara the once over. “You don’t even have shoes fuck!” His frustration boiling over Sara makes to grab his arm. “Well now Ben you just need a few things.” Lawrence steps back. “Sara there are bags of new women’s clothes downstairs.” Lawrence turns from the conversation. “My mom she just shopped and shopped. She bought thangs she had no need for; she couldn’t even fit most of it.” They were staring at the darkened ladder that led back down stairs. “Sara …” Lawrence points to the girl. “You still got the keys you took off Sheriff Lee?” Sara nods. “Well then we need to get you some clothes then.” Sara can hear Lawrence Faulkner’s breathing as he pulls them close. “Sheriff’s car is parked up the block. There’s ya guns and ya transportation.” “Does it drive Lawrence?” Ben moves his hand up slowly. “Yes sir her drove down here to check on everyone the day after everything went haywire.” He clears his throat. It took Ben several seconds in the dim light to see the man holding a fat arm aloft for a well-deserved high five.
Several minutes later, the trio is standing on the cramped back porch. Sara and Ben hold battery powered plastic green lanterns. The oil lit lantern with its dancing flame dancing swings in Lawrence’s grip. Light filters through various points in the old rickety house. The lanterns do little more than push the darkness back a few feet. “Ok Lawrence what the hell are we doing here?” Sara ask holding her lantern up. She scans the wall of garbage with a disgusted sneer. “Well now Sara there are bags and bags of clean new clothes piled up’n the kitchen.” Lawrence motions over the mountains of old newspapers and assorted trash. “I don’t know about this, we are really in a hurry my friend.” Ben breaks in waving his lantern around like a magic wand. “I preciate that you want to get to your family Ben but Ms. Sara …” Lawrence turns bashfully pointing to the young woman. “She can’t be much help to you runnin’ round mostly naked.” Ben could see his point. “Plus the more skin she shows the more she risks gettin’ bit by one of them zombies.” Ben gestures with his head massaging his temple. “Lawrence …. What’s …. Fastest … way to do this.” The last words trail from Benjamin’s mouth dripping with anger. “Well now Ben don’t be mad but I’m too big.” Lawrence stutters. “Y’all need to climb up carefully then just stay on top’a dem piles straight through to the kitchen.” Ben places the handle of his lantern between his teeth. Then hefts himself clumsily up the nearest dusty pile of refuse. The house is dank and heating up as the Sun bakes the rancid trash. Ben feels sweat break out all over his dark skin. Sara reluctantly hands her pistol to Lawrence before following Ben up the nearest pile. Ben gingerly makes his way across the trash heaps finding himself in the kitchen. He places each hand testing the trash heaps. The smell if stifling Ben feels woozy as the stench crawls down into his lungs with each breath. He gags causing the lantern to pin wheel from his mouth. Ben reaches for the lantern in a desperate attempt to keep his only source of light. He finds himself tumbling down in an avalanche of rubbish. “Ben!’ Sara shouts from behind him. Ben comes to rest flat on his back suddenly aware of something running across his ankle. “Fuck …” Panicking Ben’s mind races through the possibly. “Rats, spiders, roaches who the hell knows in this dump.” He scampers over seizing the softy glowing light. “Jesus ….” Ben whispers breathlessly his words barely heard as they fall from his trembling lips. He watches as dozens of filthy black rats scatter. The light illuminates a feeble zombie pawing helplessly at the air.
Ben watches the zombie pinned beneath what he thinks is at least a decade’s worth of faded nature magazines. The dead man’s skin is molted and grey there are rat bite marks all over its dead flesh. Something moves near Ben’s other hand. He quickly shines the light down where he is sitting. “Shit!” Ben snatches his hand away seconds before a decaying woman closes her teeth around it. He clamors to his feet in a frenzy. Looking around the kitchen Ben stumbles over to a window ripping down a shade. Light bathes the area in front him. He looks up to Sara trembling. “Lawrence …” She calls the hostility in her words more than evident. “Yes” his voice comes back muffled by the wall-to-wall trash. “When you said your family was gone did you mean they left or that they are dead?” She rolls her eyes awaiting the man’s reply. “Umm well they’re gone cause they’s dead Ms. Sara. They got bit and turned into zombies after they died.” Sara huffs from atop the stack. “Lawrence what happened then?” The silence drags out as Ben presses back against the window. He sucks in stale air in big gulps. “Well I couldn’t put’em down so, I done pushed a bunch of stuff on’em and hid out upstairs. “Ohhhhhh.” Sara screams in anger. “And he didn’t think this was something we might fucking need to know?” She snarls at Ben. “Lawrence how many were there?” Sara shouts back into the darkness. “Three Ms. Sara my ... my mom.” “That’s all I needed Lawrence.” She cuts the man off. “This whole fucking town is nuts.” Sara brings her voice down just enough for Ben to hear. “Ok watch out Mr. James there’s one unaccounted for.” Sara Lockett whips her head around frantically scanning the immediate area. She sees no signs of their missing zombie. Her eyes land on a pile of bright yellow see through plastic bags. “Jackpot” Sara mouths. Ben did not know why he had frozen in place. He felt sweat cascading off his bald head down his back. Ben teetered on a mound of trash seized by vertigo. “Mr. James …. Ben!” Sara leaps down from her perch on the trash mound. Sara takes care to avoid the pawing arms of the two zombies. Their mouths move but no sound escape from their dead compressed lungs. Sara stumbles over to Ben steadying herself by grabbing his beefy forearm. “You ok bug guy?” Sara asks placing a hand on Ben’s chest. “I … I” Ben stammers. “It almost bit me.” Ben pines his eyes watering. Sara hands Ben her lantern as she untucks the shiv from the waistband of her boxers. She takes several unsteady steps over to the first zombie that had laid in wait for them. She plunges the metal into its empty left eye socket with a twisting motion. The undead eyeless man falls still in his trash littered grave. Sara wastes no time stomping over to shriveled dead female corpse. She lay pinned under the weight of garbage up to her neck with one arm exposed. Sara grits her teeth stabbing down hitting the zombie square in the center of its forehead. She leaves the crude weapon stuck in the woman’s forehead. Sara storms over to the pile of tied up bags sitting in what was the ram-shackled house’s kitchen sink. “Mr. James get back to Lawrence and watch your footing.” She calls out. “We’re still missing one.” She wishing the big rats scampering around the floor were their only concern. Sara rips into the first she bag and does not look back.
Sara Lockett stood face to face with Lawrence Falkner twenty minutes later. She was dressed in blue jeans with a matching denim jacket, white shirt, and gym shoes. Sara was closing in on twenty years of age but even she knew one thing. Every piece of clothing she now wore was a throwback relic from the nineties. They itched and smelled like her grandmother’s attic but the beat being naked. “Again I’m sorry.” Lawrence wipes his face nervously. “I could put down a hundred zombies but not my Ma and Pa. Not my family I couldn’t do it.” She had stifled a deep desire to punch fat man. Once both she and Ben had crawled back over the trash to where Lawrence stood. “I understand Lawrence.” Ben looked at Sara hesitantly. Ben looked at the backdoor then back to Lawrence. “Look stay away from that open window Lawrence” Sara speaks up. “We are going to find our people then we’ll come back for you and Willie.” Lawrence raises his lantern letting the light wash over his face. “I appreciate it really I do but I’m home guys.” Ben nods his understanding. He is unwilling to debate the man any further. The only thing Ben James wants is his family and a generous helping of revenge. Sara moves to the backdoor hand on the knob. “Take care my friends” Lawrence smiles holding out a meaty hand. Sarah turns back to the man. “Thank you Lawrence you saved our lives for sure.” She tells him ignoring everything within her. Sara takes Lawrence in a polite embrace much to his surprise. “Yes thank you and we will be back my friend.” Ben shakes Lawrence’s free hand vigorously. “We’ll take care to deal with any zombies hanging around.” Sara releases the embrace. “This way they won’t work their way back to you guys.” She slowly pulls the pistol twisting the doorknob cautiously. “Ok and remember you go round the house’n down the block Sheriff Lee’s car is down the block middle of the street.” Lawrence covers his eyes as the light invades the dark cluttered house. Sara looks about no zombies coming over the field from the river. She also sees none in the immediate area around the back porch. She moves down the small steps blinking as the sun assaults her eyes causing them to water.
The warm fresh air washes over the pair. Ben follows quickly behind her his hands empty. Pivoting his head Ben desperately looks for something he can use as a weapon. “God I don’t like being empty handed.” Ben whispers fiercely the round the house crouching. “It’s ok Mr. James.” Sara says as she scurries forward pistol at her side. “If what Lawrence says is true you should have a weapon pretty soon.” They come to rest on a large tree. “There we go Mr. James past the wreck.” Sara draws Ben’s attention down the block to a white police car. “I don’t see any zombies” She looks both ways up and down the block. “Yet” She adds sarcastically. There are cars by the dozen strewn about the spacious street. They can see a multicar crash that blocked the street between them and the patrol car. “We move low Sara and stay away from the wrecked cars.” Sara nods holding her pistol up at eye level. Together they move hunched over always on the lookout for the undead. “Almost there” Sara calls back to Ben they pick up the pace. Sara pulls the ring of keys from her pocket. “Mr. James I’ll drive and we’ll stop down the road and check the car for weapons.” Ben swings wide around the front of the car. He stares at the mangled cars. Ben’s mind goes to his son Chip. He wonders what he and Belinda must have gone through during their ordeal. He vowed to himself at that moment that he and his family would never be apart again. Sara whips her door open sliding into the car. She takes a split second to pop the lock on Ben’s Side. “Let’s go.” She slams the doors as Ben does the same. Stabbing the key into the ignition and turning it. Every flashing light in the car comes on followed a wailing siren. “Fuck turn it off” Ben panics. Sara slaps at the dashboard hitting the switches marked “siren” and “lights.” “Oh no” Sara cries looking out the car’s windshield. The dead came meandering out of hiding in droves. They came from houses, alleyways, parked cars and the shadows all along the street. A deep moan erupts from the back seat as the pair turn. In the back of the squad car sits a large biker zombie. The dead man with the long blood stringy black hair slams his head into the steel mesh between the front and back seat. “Shit” shouts Sara dropping the pistol to the floor. The dead thing growls again flinging itself forward again. Ben is so distracted he doesn’t see the walking corpses shamble up top his side of the car. The ghouls proceed to pound on the car seeking the soft warm flesh inside. “Sara we need to go now.” Ben recoils back from the window then slumps into the seat. “There’s a damn zombie in the back of the car.” Shouts Sara. She observes a growing mass of zombies slowly surrounding the car. “He’s handcuffed Sara get us the fuck out of here.” Needing no further prodding she throws the cars in reverse taking great care not to lean back against the metal grate. They clip a parked car as they take off down the street. Sara backs over several zombies lumbering up on their rear. With a yank of the car’s steering wheel Sara spins the car around. “Lawrence said end of the street the head left.” Ben reminds he panting as he cast a nervous glance at their snarling passenger.
They rocket down the center of the road. Sara expertly dodges stalled and wrecked cars strewn about the two-lane road. Ten minutes later, they find themselves encircled by empty open fields. “Look” Ben speaks up pointing to a plain white wooden sign. The black script reads “First New Faith 2 miles ahead.” The car skids to a stop sideways as Sara jams the breaks down. She is out of the car before Ben realizes it. Taking two strides Sara grabs the rear driver’s side door snatching it open. The sound of the gunshots startles Ben. The big zombie in the backseat slumps to the floor it’s brains splattered on the window of the opposite door. “That bastard was irritating the shit out of me.” She snaps. Ben takes the keys from the ignition and exits the car in a rush. He heads for the trunk of the long white car. As he opens the trunk, he watches Sara drag the dead body from the back of car. He looks down into the trunk and smiles. Ben takes up a tactical shotgun chambering a round. “Yes Lord thank you.” Sara says now besides him placing the pistol in her waistband. She unclips the AR-15 from inside of the trunk’s lid. “Grab the bands of shells.” Ben is glad to see Sara smiling again as she speaks. He takes the belts of shells as instructed and loops them across his chest. “It’s about noon Ben.” Private Lockett states looking skyward breathing deeply. “Let’s go Sara.” He tosses her the keys. They climb into the car and make their way towards The Sin Preacher’s house.
The roads begin to look somewhat familiar from their drive in what seemed like forever ago. “Now remember Mr. James I get to bash that bitches head in.” Sara chuckles. Ben opens his mouth to speak but his words trail off. They watch the zombie dragging itself clumsily down the center strip of the road. The dead man is huge “as much as I’d love to run it down.” She looks to Ben “I think it will damage the car.” Sara turns the car wide around the burly walking corpse. The dead man stumbled on listlessly moving on heavy booted feet. “What the hell?” Sara can’t believe her eyes as they drive slowly past the big zombie with its head down. “Ben that’s that big old bastard” She points snapping her fingers. “Colonel … that was his name Colonel.” She swallows hard understanding the implications. Blood covers the front of the old soldier’s clothes. His face is an unrecognizable mask of lumps and bruises. The car’s occupants slowly realize the sinister implications of the dead man wandering down the road. “Ben …” She gazes back in the man pained face. “They got in Ben the church got overrun.” Sara feels her heart race her chest begins to burn. Ben’s eyes cloud over with pain. The car lurches forward as Sara mashes the gas pedal to the floor. Ben sits his mouth agape in shock. “Don’t worry Ben.” She calls him by his first name for a change. Sarah uses her free hand to place the two extra clips for the AR-15 into her lap. To her right Ben wrings his hands around the assault shotgun. Sara hopes he doesn’t cause the weapon to discharge in the car. They arrive just on the outskirts of the church property. “I don’t see any other zombies.” Sara takes her hand from the wheel and catches Ben by the arm. The big man stops one foot out the door. “Ben we do this the right way. We take care, we find out what happened to our …” She didn’t expect to choke up. The idea of having lost everyone washed over her unexpectedly. Ben takes Sara’s hand in his. They meet each other’s gaze “We take our time and do this right.” Sara says shaking her head. Sara’s eyes never leaving the white building in the distance sitting encircled behind a high wire fence. Sara takes the lead after thumbing the safety off her weapon. The pistol sits tucked in her pants. “Let’s head around back.” She whispers heading behind a tree. “Ben watch our back for Rotters.” Sara waves a hand dismissively at the dense wooded area. They begin to work a long wide arch around the back of the church. Ben and Sara keep to the tree line using it as cover. “Shit, shoot, damn.” Sara calls out in frustration upon seeing the rear of the property. The carport that they had entered that first day stood wide open. All of the cars once parked in the long barnlike structure were now gone. “That’s our way in.” Ben taps her on the shoulder noting the open doors were in line with the fence. They scamper across the open area Sara keeps her weapon held high. They both draw up against the interior wall of the dark carport. “Door’s open.” Ben motions with his shotgun. A thin shaft of light sneaks its way in via the door. They make their way to the door stealing a quick glance out. The rear of the church property is empty except for an unmoving female zombie. The body lays at the base of a small porch with its head caved in. “Looks clear ….” Sara starts. “Don’t ... don’t” a man’s voice croaks up from the darkness across the carport. They spin in unison bumping the door closed.
“Who’s there?” Sara calls raising her rifle inching towards the voice. “Wait” Ben grabs her shoulder. He fumbles his hand up the weapon’s muzzle. With a snap, he flips on small flashlight affixed to the muzzle of the shotgun. He aims the beam into the darkened corner. There he sees a thick-bodied middle-aged Hispanic man. Ben uses the light on his gun to scan the man. There is a gaping tear along his right forearm. It makes the nasty bite leaking blood from his neck look like a cat scratch. “Who are you?” Ben asks the man whose skin is a sickly greasy yellow hue. “Don’t matter now.” The man struggles to speak holding up his wounded arm. Blood rolls down the man’s arm soaking his shirt. “You’re with that family and the soldiers?” He was having great difficulty breathing. His chest rose and fell unevenly but that didn’t stop Ben from moving over to his side. “Yes we are have you seen them?” Ben asks eagerly. “They … they got out.” He points with a pistol in his other hand. The man’s arm dangles weakly. He looks to Ben like a puppet whose master is tugging his strings ever so slightly. Ben’s eyes light up with hope. “They … uhhh” He contorts in agony before coughing up a wad of deep red blood. The dying man spits clearing his mouth. “They left in … a big ice...” He trails off weakly dropping his head to his chest. “Ice cream truck?” Ben shouts moving closer to the man in the corner. “Slow down Ben be careful.” Sara cautions Ben untucking the pistol bringing it to bear on the man. Ben notices the man’s sickly eyes seem dull and distant unable to focus on any one point. “I …. Was making sure …. Everyone got out.” He struggles to stay conscious. “Heard …. screams from other side of church. There were …..” He swallows pain etched on his face. “Somehow zombies were closed up in there with them.” His voice strained as he forces the words out. “They got to …. Me” The man says forcing himself to laugh. “I held door let …. Others es…. Escape.” Ben stares back at Sara. A look passes between them as they realize this man had been a hero. From the trees, they hear the crunching of leaves. The sound is as loud as a gunshot. “Shit.” Ben snaps his eyes going to back the way they had come. Ben counted at least six corpses making their way slowly towards the open end of the carport. “Ben we …” Mangled arms reach through the open door grabbing Sara’s long hair.
Ben moves without thinking. He plows into the door hearing the crunch of bones as he lays his full weight into the door. Sara fights loose rolling backwards on the ground. She struggles to compose herself slowing her breathing. She sights down the AR-15 firing three quick bursts dropping the Rotters entering the carport’s open end. Undead guttural moans rise up from behind the door Ben struggles to hold. “There are more coming from the woods Ben.” She shouts they both know if they don’t move now they’ll die here. The weight pushing against the door begins to cause Ben’s shoes to slide in the dirt. “Go …” The man croaks from the corner. Sara raises her pistol aiming at the tortured dying man. Ben releases the door sprinting for Sara; he snatches her up causing her shot hit the wall above the man’s head. Ben drops Sara the door behind them slamming open. She takes a quick look at the man in the corner. He lifts the pistol up to his temple just as the first walking corpse drops to it’s knees before him. Ben throws the butt of the big black shotgun forward crushing a zombie’s face. He skirts the wall out of the carport Sara trailing him. Rounding the corner their need for stealth gone they hear one lone gunshot from inside the carport. “We’re the only game in town now Ben.” Sarah says prodding Ben onward. They head left into the sunlight running along the fence. “Ben it’s her ….” Sara’s words trail off. Ben turns back following Sara’s line of sight. He is dumbfounded at the sheer number of undead pouring from the church basement. The Rotters shuffle in formation line ants one after the other drawn to the sounds of the living. Near the front of the crowd almost lost is the Sin Preacher her throat torn out. “You deserved worse bitch!” Sara screams enraged she aims at The Sin Preacher wobbling among the crowd of zombies. The Rotters shuffle in unison heading for the fence. “No time for that now!” Ben grabs Sara pulling her with him as he heads for the Sheriff’s cruiser. The undead seem to come from everywhere now but they have a straight shot to their way out. They cover the distance sprinting the dead hounding them every step of the way. “I got the keys.” Panting Sara shouts opening the driver’s side door hopping in. Ben throws his gun in the car before sliding in. Sara takes a quick peak in the rearview as she starts the car. She knows the Rotters will soon overtake the car from the front. The last thing Sara wanted was to back into a tree and end up lunch for the rampaging rotten horde. “Go .. Go ...” Ben beats on the dashboards. The car lurches backwards out of reach the zombies. “If they are with the ice cream guy, I think they went back to the farm with Magic.” Sara shouts as the car bounces back on to the road. Ben smiles for the first time in recent memory. Sara prods the car down the road heading back the way they had come. The dead burst forth from First New Faith and the surrounding area. The last thought in their diseased putrid brains is the living flesh in the car. They follow on decaying limbs shuffling down the road long after the car disappears from sight. “If I get home, I will make them pay.” He chants to himself in his head repeatedly. Colonel drags his bruised body across a dry field of wild grass. An evil sneer races across his face like a jagged bolt of lightning. With his head down, he slouches past a pack of zombies. He gives them a wide berth not changing his stance so as not to arouse their interest.
Ben and Sara get back into the game attempting to locate the rest of the group. They make it back to the church only to find things have taken a turn for the worst for the members of The First New Faith Church. Even the Sin Preacher herself has met with a grisly fate.
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The Living Dark