First Dark Story-Megan’s Tale, Part 1
As promised, I am providing additional story lines to complement the main story in Comes The Dark and its two sequels. The stories I will be posting here on my blog were originally written with the intention of being included in the book. But for numerous reasons, they did not make the final cut. My hope is that by posting them on my blog it will give those of you who have read my book a chance to get to know some of the characters in the story beside Jeff a little better.
There will be a few of these stories for Comes The Dark, and a few more that I will post after the second book is released in the new year for characters that are introduced in that novel.
For now, here is the first part of my introduction to Megan. This story, along with Part 2, relates what she was doing before her meeting with Jeff early on in Comes The Dark.
I hope you enjoy it.
Megan, Part 1
Megan rolled over and stared at the wall. The bedroom, with its closed drapes and lack of light was the only place that gave her any comfort or peace anymore, if there was such a thing. At least sleep still came with relative ease. When she drifted off, it was the only time she could sever the tenuous link to reality she hated so much.
Certainly, there were nightmares, but they were tame compared to her waking reality. All Megan did was drift along like some raft on a meandering river, floating through one horrific experience to the next, never sure if she was awake or asleep as she did.
Despite whatever demons her mind dredged up when her eyes were closed, Megan still craved the sweet release of sleep. Nightmares felt real, but so did the occasional pleasant dream. Those rare moments when she was able to get lost in a dream were the only times she could forget.
That little bit of joy was her drug, so when she woke from them, Megan would bury herself in blankets and pillows and grasp at those fleeting images of happiness. But it never worked; once they were gone, they were gone for good.
No matter how bad or good her dreams became, Megan never made a sound in her sleep, or when she woke up. There was just too much of a chance that her voice would carry beyond the walls of her house. That could not be tolerated.
Megan kept staring at her bedroom wall. She’d been working on memorizing the pattern of the wallpaper border over the past few days. It was a floral print Dalton hated and it consisted of an assortment of red hued flowers repeating on the six inch border all the way around the room. Memorizing the pattern wasn’t much of a challenge, since there were only about ten different flowers on the paper, but doing so passed the time until she was able to drift off to sleep.
The rich color of the flowers matched the comforter and drapes, as well as the pillow cases and bed ruffle. Dalton faked nausea the first time he saw the entire set, but as a husband, he had learned how to pick his battles and bowed to his wife’s evil glare rather quickly when it came to such minor things.
Megan was proud of the decorative choices she’d made in the bedroom. It was the first room they’d finished in the house. The rest of the place was a work in progress, and had been since they’d moved in a little over a year ago.
This was their second place together, and purchasing the house had been the start of their “serious” stage. They bought a house that cost too much, picked out furnishings that maxed out their credit cards, and made plans to have a baby.
Megan and Dalton had been together for five years, married for three, and Megan had been feeling the itch to start a family for at least a year. This house out in the suburbs was going to be the place. The place where they really got going as a couple … and having the bedroom finished and tastefully decorated was the first step in that process.
Now the bedroom was going to be her mausoleum.
It wasn’t as if the food had run out. Megan had never been a big eater and she lost what little appetite she had when the world fell apart.
She could feel her muscles being devoured by her desperate body as she ate less and less. It was fighting her, resisting her desire to fade away. For some reason, Megan’s body wasn’t ready to give up on her just yet.
Before everything started Megan had barely topped “a buck five” as Dalton would say. She was sure if she checked her current weight, it would be a miracle if it was above ninety pounds.
“A strong wind’s going to blow you away if you’re not careful, honey.”
Megan grinned at the memory of her husband’s words. If she lost any more weight she might test that theory. Floating away might not be a bad idea.
Megan spent the rare occasion when she wasn’t lying in bed trying to read old magazines and books, but having never been a big reader, that didn’t last long. So instead, she dug up an old cookbook and flipped through it for hours on end, staring at pictures of recipes that would never be made again.
Ghosts of her old life were in everything that surrounded her. Not just in the cookbook, but in all the little things in the rooms she floated through like some sort of ghost; things they had bought together, made together. There had been so much to live for, but in the blink of an eye that was all gone.
Megan also spent a lot of time thinking about her sister in Pittsburgh. Sandy had three little boys Megan adored. They were all under six; each cuter than the next. “Aunty Mega” probably would never get to see any of them again. Sandy told her she and Phil were taking the boys down to the cabin in West Virginia just as this mess began and pleaded for Megan and Dalton to join them.
Unfortunately, things had turned bad so quickly that the National Guard clamped down on travel and Dalton nixed the idea of trying to make the six hour trip in their Jeep.
With all the reports of log-jammed highways and roadside attacks Dalton doubted they could even make it out of town, let alone to the mountains of West Virginia. Nope, they would stay in the house, stock up on necessities, and pray this wasn’t the end of times, like so many of those damn televangelists were shouting about over the airwaves.
But those bastards had been right.
Early on, Dalton planned on going out one last time to collect supplies-food, water, batteries … anything he could get his hands on. Megan remembered CNN blaring in the background that day, saying that it was Day Six of the crisis.
Dalton was going to take the Grand Cherokee, all their cash, and the revolver. His plan was to head to the closest grocery store and pick up whatever would fit in the SUV and return home as fast as he could.
Megan recalled the conversation before he left, when she was in a white hot panic and pleading with her husband to let her come with him or better yet, for him to not leave at all.
Dalton had gripped her shoulders as he tried to reassure her. “Honey, it’ll be alright. You can’t come with me. You have to stay and—”
“But I don’t even want you to go! Don’t you get it? It’s not safe out there Dalton. God only knows if the virus is here already. Please! If you have to go, let me go with you.”
Megan had gone on like that for over a minute as Dalton shushed her while shaking his head. He never broke eye contact with her the whole time.
Dalton’s level of calm began to overpower Megan’s determination and her hysterics lessened. In a normal situation, if her husband had shushed her she would have punched him in the chest. Not that her slight frame could pack much of a wallop, but he would definitely have known she wasn’t going to tolerate such a condescending attitude. But this time it was having the effect he’d hoped for.
“You know as well I do,” Dalton said as she started to wind down, “there isn’t much you can do for me out there.”
The volume of Dalton’s voice increased as Megan grew agitated again. He glared at his wife. “I’m not taking a chance on something happening to you. And let’s not play bullshit games about who is capable of handling themselves better out there if things get crazy.”
Dalton LeValley stood a smidge over six feet tall and weighed in at a fit one hundred and ninety pounds. He was ex-military, though he’d not seen combat in his two years of active duty. Still, he’d been trained to deal with dangerous situations while Megan had taken a two week self-defense course offered down at the Y. She knew Dalton could deal with trouble and move faster without her tagging along, but the idea of being separated from him, even for an hour, terrified her.
Megan shuddered as she took in a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she tried to shut out all the logic her husband had thrust upon her. The world had gone mad and she didn’t care that what Dalton said made sense. She also didn’t care if she was being selfish. He didn’t have to go out at all. They had enough food and water for a couple of days, and this whole thing would blow over by then, wouldn’t it?
All that day there had been pictures on the TV showing riots. Sure, they were going on in places like New York and L.A., just like you would expect, but they were happening in smaller cities and just about everywhere else.
One story on the television had stuck with Megan. A convenience store clerk in Iowa had been hung from a light pole in front of his store because he tried to stop a crowd of looters from ransacking his place of business. Megan remembered the images of shattered plate glass windows, shelves stripped bare and the store looking like a tornado had hit it. But what resonated in her mind were the images of the poor man after he’d been lynched. He’d not just been hung; he’d been stoned as well. His face and body were a mass of bloody bruises and welts. The censors had stopped bothering to cover up such brutality by then, so she got to see it in all its glory.
Megan found it hard to believe that it would ever get that bad in their anonymous little suburb. Certainly, their subdivision was in an uproar, with neighbors panicking and wondering what to do, but the madness of the outside world hadn’t touched down in Milfield yet. Lots of people were leaving the area and a few teens were trying their hand at vandalism, but the overall perception was that this viral crisis was happening elsewhere and would never reach the local area.
It wasn’t until a camouflaged Humvee drove down their street with a loudspeaker announcing where the nearest Red Cross and National Guard shelters were set up that Megan realized the worldwide panic being wailed about on television had come to their little corner of the world.
The National Guard wasn’t requiring anyone to leave their homes. Dalton told Megan the military didn’t have the resources to waste on homeowners unwilling to evacuate. They were urging everyone to do so, but were too busy cordoning off areas of the city, battling rioters, and trying to maintain the peace to bother with house to house searches.
Some of the families in the neighborhood took the Guardsmen up on their offer, piling into their cars and heading to the shelters. Others like Dalton and Megan decided to hunker down and wait it out.
Dalton had dismissed the idea of heading to a shelter rather quickly. “Why should we spend the next month crammed into some shitty tin can like sardines eating lousy food when we can be comfortable here in our own house?”
Megan didn’t argue at the time. But now Dalton was heading out into that mess to do a little grocery shopping, where the possibility of facing looters wasn’t the worst thing he might have to deal with.
Dalton shook Megan. It wasn’t violent, but she snapped out of her reverie just the same as if he had slapped her.
“Megan! Please, let me go. We both know I have to do this.” He wasn’t pleading with her. It was the last gasp of rational arguing he would do before he got angry. It was easy to read him after five years together, although things had never been even remotely this intense before. Megan knew she didn’t want him angry. Because if something happened and she never saw him again …
Things didn’t seem normal outside their house but it wasn’t as bad as the horror stories the news had cooked up. If Dalton went out there, then everything would be real. Megan was beginning to understand that for her husband it already was already real, and had been from the moment he heard the first hints of trouble in other places on the news. Dalton had accepted this new reality immediately and had boarded up the house and rationed their food and water. He’d even packed the Jeep in case they needed to leave in a hurry.
As Dalton pleaded with Megan to let him leave, it dawned on her that the only reason he hadn’t proposed this trip a couple of days earlier was because he knew how she would react. He had waited as long as he could before broaching the subject, until he had no other choice but to make this trip if they were going to survive inside their barricaded house.
So Megan knew it had probably surprised Dalton when she pulled him close, hugging him, and nodded her approval, rather than choosing to continue arguing. The tension between them remained for a moment, but when Dalton’s stiff shoulders relaxed Megan knew things were okay between them.
Wrapping her hand around the back of Dalton’s neck, she pulled him close to whisper in his ear.
“Please Dal, be careful. God, just be safe … I can’t imagine what I would do—”
Megan’s words were cut off as her husband swept her into a big bear hug. Dalton kissed her on the forehead and then pushed her back so they could look each other in the eyes. She had to bend her neck back quite a bit, as she always did, to accommodate their difference in height.
“You know I’ll be as careful as possible. No screwing around, just getting what we need and then I’ll head straight home.”
He dropped his arms to his sides, still a bit tense, fearful that Megan was some sort of firecracker whose wick had burned all the way down, but hadn’t exploded. Megan gave Dalton one of her sleepy little smiles she reserved for those times when she had essentially lost an argument. Not that she would admit defeat, but it served to let her husband know that this firecracker was a dud. Megan’s smile didn’t reach her eyes, but it was good enough for Dalton. He pulled her close again and kissed her firmly on the lips before heading to the garage.
“Be back soon,” was all he said before getting into the Jeep and driving away.
Dalton did make it back. He had been through hell and the Jeep had suffered some serious dents but it returned, just like Dalton, in one piece. There was a small gash on his forehead, but no other visible wounds when he stepped out of the SUV.
He described people dying on the streets-some sick, but others looking more insane than anything as they roamed the area.
“People were trying to take the truck, grabbing at the doors. A bunch threw rocks at the police and the National Guard … hell, they were attacking them! Everyone out there is insane, I swear to God. But …” He paused, his face turning pale at the memory as he told Megan his story. “But it was those sick people, the ones who were infected. They were attacking everyone, ripping and biting them. Christ, there was so much blood. It was a fucking nightmare.”
Dalton hadn’t made it to a store. Two miles down the road past their neighborhood was as far as he got and that was more than enough. He tried to turn around but people were running everywhere, blocking his path. After a few minutes of negotiating traffic to a place where he could turn the jeep around, a bunch of teenagers began throwing rocks and surrounded the vehicle.
When Megan asked for more details, Dalton shook his head, only saying that he had gotten away and was fine. He wouldn’t let Megan touch him as he rattled off his story, spying through the slats he’d nailed over the front door and windows. It was as if he was worried someone had followed him home. When she tried to hug him, he darted away. He was too strung out to stand still for even a moment.
It was when he went to the sink a few minutes later and rolled up his shirt sleeve that Megan saw the bite mark. The wound on his arm looked superficial, but Dalton’s hooded sweatshirt was torn in a couple of places. There were blood spatters on his clothes and Megan wondered if there were any other wounds he was hiding from her.
Dalton pulled off his sweatshirt and tossed it into the trash can. Still agitated after cleaning up at the kitchen sink, he locked himself in the bathroom. Megan tried to leave him alone for a while, certain her husband just needed time alone to calm down. But when he didn’t come out for ten minutes, she couldn’t wait any longer and banged on the door, demanding Dalton talk to her.
When he came out, Dalton still didn’t want to be touched. The thrill of seeing him again had been replaced by a dread that grew inside Megan. Dalton was alive, but what he’d seen out there had rattled him to the core. He was supposed to be the cool and rational one-the one who remained calm no matter what. Instead, he looked like some scared kid who’d been frightened nearly to death.
The next few hours were almost as bad for Megan as it had been waiting on Dalton to return from his trip outside. She prided herself on knowing her husband fairly well, but even a complete stranger could tell that something was terribly wrong with Dalton LeValley. After any stressful event Dalton was always the first to make light of it, smile and joke, washing away the stress and forcing himself to forget. That was not the Dalton Megan was seeing here. It was then that she realized he was dealing with something more traumatic than a violent run in with some teenagers.
Megan had seen the broadcasts and watched the scientists debate over what was causing the virus to be transmitted so easily from victim to victim. There were countless theories, but the one that stood out from all the others was that it was transmitted through the blood-through bites and scratches.
She didn’t want to accept it, but there it was. Megan wept as she tried to deny the truth of the matter. Dalton had been bitten and he was infected.
Dalton was lying on their bed, and perhaps it was her crying that allowed him to see past his own pain for the first time since his return. He held out a shaky hand to his wife and Megan fought against the urge to recoil as she looked at the wound on his arm, which he wouldn’t let her see before. The bite mark had turned black, with red, puffy skin surrounding it. The infection was definitely in his blood, and she could see that the skin on Dalton’s entire arm looked discolored and in bad shape.
Megan wanted so desperately to touch Dalton, but what if the infection didn’t just spread through the blood, but from touch as well? As she stood above him, near the edge of the bed, her heart racing, Megan looked into the pleading eyes of her husband and realized she didn’t care.
She took Dalton’s hand in hers and climbed in next to him, feeling the heat radiating off of his body. He felt like a blast furnace as she touched his forehead. It was as if his brain was boiling beneath his skull. Megan immediately sprung up from the bed, mumbling something about getting him a cold washcloth, and ran to the bathroom.
As Megan doused the cloth in cold water her hands were shaking. As she glanced at the mirror a ghost stared back at her. There was no blood in her normally olive toned skin.
“Get a grip, Megan. Keep it together. You have to for Dalton’s sake.” The whispered words were drowned out by the running water, but had the desired effect. Megan was able to resist the urge to break down crying again. Instead, she turned off the water and rubbed away the tears that had already fallen.
Returning to the bedroom, Megan could feel the washcloth cold and wet in her hands. She leaned over the stationary form of her husband and gently put the cloth on his forehead, wondering if even though it was wet, it might burst into flames from the overpowering heat coming off of Dalton. When he grabbed her wrist Megan jumped, startled. She yelped before she could cover her mouth with her free hand as she stared into his eyes. The hazel color she had always loved was beginning to cloud over with a milky film.
“Promise me … promise me you won’t let me change …”
It was only a whisper. Megan stared into his dull and weeping eyes, fighting to break free of their hypnotic effect. She wanted to shake her head and turn away, to avoid seeing the ravages of the virus as it changed Dalton, twisting and warping him into some kind of monster. Although it was still her beloved husband lying before her, he was already changing as his body was consumed with poison.
Megan touched his face gently. “Everything is going to be okay, baby,” she said in a surprisingly steady voice. She forced herself to look deeper into Dalton’s eyes. His fetid breath smelled of rot and it was all she could do to not gag. Instead, Megan smiled weakly at him. She wanted to run to the toilet and throw up, but stood her ground. This was her husband, no matter what was happening and she had to make sure he knew she was there for him, would stay by his side no matter what.
Dalton attempted to smile. Although he was wheezing and showing all the signs of a terminally ill patient, he seemed to be winning the battle with his fear.
He retained his grip on Megan’s wrist as he spoke again. “I’m going to head down to the basement. Please help me get down there. We have some giant sized trash bags I can lay on. If you wrap a towel around the revolver it will muffle the blast and not drawn any attention to the house.”
Megan only heard the first sentence, and then the blood pounding in her ears was just too loud. She’d felt faint before, but nothing like this.
A couple of minutes later … or maybe it was much later, Dalton was still holding her tight and all she could remember was screaming “No! No! No!” over and over again while she battered his shoulders with her small fists. Dalton was weak, but still had enough strength to get control of Megan and hold her until she stopped. He waited patiently for her to regain some sense of comprehension before he spoke again.
“God I know this is hard honey. There is nothing easy about it. I love you. More than you’ll ever know. But I CAN’T change what’s happening to me. Don’t you see? Either I have to do this myself or you have to …” at that Dalton broke down crying, taking his arms away from Megan as his broad shoulders shook and heaved.
The world was ending right that second. Megan could feel it. There was nothing left. She would pull the trigger and murder her husband, then stick the barrel in her mouth to put the final touch on this nightmare. She sure as hell couldn’t stay here without him. That wasn’t going to happen.
At that moment Megan was angry. Angry at herself for letting Dalton leave the house and angry for not letting him go a few days earlier when it might have been safe outside. She was angry with Dalton for coming back infected. She was angry at God, who seemed to be turning his back on them. The world was coming to an end and God didn’t give a shit.
Dalton’s crying slowed as Megan’s rage grew. He tried to take a deep breath to steady himself, but a coughing jag took him and lasted several minutes. Megan sprung up and ran to get him a towel as Dalton spat up blood, bile, and whatever else his body was liquefying as the virus tore through his system. He gestured for her to stay back, but to toss him the towel.
As the coughing died down Dalton was able to speak again. “You have to live Megan. No matter how bad you feel, you need to make it through this.”
The look in Dalton’s eyes told Megan that her husband knew what she’d been thinking about. More tears flowed from her eyes as Megan shook her head violently. None of this should be happening. It wasn’t fair.
“I’ll be dead in a few hours, Megan. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. But you won’t be. You’re alive and I want you to stay that way. You can make it through this crap, I know you can! The house is fortified and by yourself there is enough food and water to last a long time.”
Megan could only stare at her husband. The idea of putting a bullet in Dalton’s head was abhorrent, but she knew that he would pull the trigger if she didn’t. That was as much a part of who Dalton was as anything else: once he made up his mind, he followed through to the bitter end. No chance things would be different this time.
Dalton took the towel and wiped away the spittle and sweat from his face, though his lips remained crimson from the blood he’d coughed up. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and Megan resisted the urge to rush to his side to help him. If he wanted to go down to the basement to commit suicide, he could do it by himself.
Megan wondered if the man she had loved since their third date would do more than say goodbye as he left their bedroom, or would realize he couldn’t go through with this and instead profess his endless love to her. It was a selfish thought, and she knew it. All she could think about was how this impacted her and her existence. She wanted Dalton to fight this thing, resist it, so she didn’t have to accept that this was truly the end of their lives together.
Megan watched as Dalton got out of bed and moved toward the door. He looked at her but said nothing. He could see the parade of emotions on her face and likely knew how impossible all of this was for his wife. And that was when it hit her.
Even as Dalton was dying, he was thinking of his wife, which was exactly what she was doing. In the last few hours of his life he was more concerned with her well being than his impending demise.
That was when Megan ran to Dalton and slid under his shoulder to help him make it down the stairs without stumbling or falling. She was too short for him lean on her effectively, but the pained smile on Dalton’s face told her how grateful he was.
Dalton’s last few hours were better than Megan could have hoped for. They talked about everything, cried, and even laughed a few times.
Toward the end, Dalton touched Megan’s cheek with shaking hands as he started to fade. She watched as her husband fought to stay coherent, her face stunned and fearful.
Dalton had avoided telling Megan what to do up to that point, instead sharing the memories they both cherished in an attempt to forget his impending doom, if only for a little while. But as he felt his body shutting down and the pain gripping him so tightly he could barely resist crying out in agony, Dalton knew he had to explain what needed to be done.
“Do it before I turn. Don’t wait long; it probably won’t take more than a minute or so after my heart stops.” Dalton’s eyes were closed as he spoke and his skin was a gray, almost translucent as the virus’s victory over his body was nearing completion.
Megan heard the words and despite the fact that Dalton’s eyelids remained closed, she nodded down at him, knowing that if she said anything her voice would crack and she would lose control.
She was still considering pulling the trigger on the .357 Magnum not once, but twice. It would be so easy: they would escape this lunacy together. ‘Til death do us part-that was the vow, wasn’t it? But what if she didn’t want death to part them?
Megan remained lost in her thoughts, only half listening to the rattle of Dalton’s breathing, when she realized that the basement was silent. She glanced down at her husband and tried to hold back the flood of tears as she realized he was gone. His chest had stopped rising and the loud and ragged breathing had cut off. Dalton was laying there, his head resting on a garbage bag she had placed beneath him at his request, his eyes closed for the last time.
So when he sprung back up a moment later Megan felt her heart stop and her bladder let loose. Dalton grabbed his wife’s arms, looking at her with eyes that were dead and unseeing.
Megan didn’t time to ponder the fact that she had waited too long to do what he had asked. All she knew was she was going to die on the basement floor as her husband attacked her. As he pulled her close, she prayed the pain would be fleeting.
Before she could scream out or squirm loose he spoke.
“… make it! … to keep fighting!”
It was all Dalton could spit out. He fell back so fast his skull thumped against the concrete floor, his grip loosening (later there would be welts where he had grabbed her).
This time there was no doubt Dalton was truly dead. He was gone and taken with him everything Megan loved in the world. His last words echoed in her head: he wanted her to keep fighting.
The terror of his death grip on her receded and her heart rate dropped back to normal. Megan’s head was pounding, but she felt more alert than she had been in a long time. The jolt to her system had cleared her head.
Megan stared at the body of her husband as she stood. She lifted the dead weight of the pistol as she hovered over Dalton’s corpse. She was the only mourner he would ever have.
It was up to her to say good bye.
Megan reached for the towel and wrapped it around the muzzle as Dalton had instructed her.
What if I wait? The though slithered through Megan’s head like a serpent, its forked tongue tickling and teasing her. What if I wait to see if he gets back up? I’ll be able to look in his eyes and know for sure.
The thought that Dalton was somehow still in there, inside his ruined body, splashed Megan with irrational hope. She looked at him with love in her heart, wanting to touch him again and wanting him to touch her as well. He’ll look at me and know who I am. He’ll understand what happened and still know he’s my husband.
Megan shook her head. She raised the gun and rubbed the towel against her wet forehead.
“I love you so much Dalton. I would give anything to have you back with me. But I …”
The pain in Megan’s stomach made her double over. A huge knot had formed inside her gut. She moaned and almost fell to her knees, but somehow retained her balance.
“You’re the best man I’ve ever known. I will always love you Dalton.”
As she pulled the trigger, Megan swore she saw her husband’s eyes opening. The gun kicked and the towel covering the barrel shredded away as the bullet traveled at a tremendous velocity and blasted a hole the size of a dime in Dalton’s forehead. Megan blinked as she fired and when her eyes opened again she saw that Dalton’s eyes were still closed.
Megan avoided looking at the mess splattered across the garbage bags underneath Dalton’s head. Instead, she grabbed a couple of extra trash bags they’d brought down and laid them on top of him. She unwound the towel from the gun and dropped it beside the body. She was trying to be as clinical and removed from the situation as possible.
It isn’t Dalton, it’s just his corpse. She repeated that over and over in her head in a vain attempt to drown out the part of her mind that wanted to believe if Dalton had come back he would recognized and love her still.
Megan’s thoughts bounced against one another, tormenting her until she raised an arm to her mouth and bit down, hard. The torment inside of her head disappeared with a muffled scream as the coppery taste of blood filled Megan’s mouth. She kept screaming as she stumbled up the steps.
Somehow, Megan managed to hold on to the gun all the way to the bedroom. Later, she would contemplate using it on herself again, but always at the back of her mind was her husband’s dying wish. She held on to the weapon, keeping it close, telling herself it was there, just in case.