Well, I kept my promise. This final piece in the George and Jason introductory puzzle is complete and posted below. Please note, there will be another, briefer story about Jason that I will be posting next-it actually takes a further step back, and details his experiences before he met up with George and the others at the emergency shelter. But that is for another day. With this section of the George and Jason tale, we conclude their experiences up to where they meet Jeff and Megan.
And for a little plug for all of you out there: make sure you check out the sequel to Comes The Dark, which is Into The Dark. It is available on Amazon and Smashwords. I may be posting a few Dark Stories about some of the characters found in that book as well in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned. You will want to have read the second book before you check them out.
And just as a reminder, if you haven’t read all the Dark Stories yet, go over to that page and you can read them all in order, including this one. Thanks!
As always, I do my best to clean up any typos and grammar errors before I post these, but I am sure I missed a few here and there.
So without further ado, here ya go!
George and Jason, Part 4
The tears did flow as George sat in the room with the unread romance novel open on his lap as he relived those last moments standing outside of the church. He was crying for Jason. He was crying for Al and Jennifer. He was crying for the family he still hadn’t returned to. But mostly, he was crying for a world that was lost forever.
They managed to make it inside the church. The metal shard had enough left in it to shatter a window too high for George to crawl through. He managed to boost Jason up to it, and the kid was able to climb inside. He unlocked a lower window, which allowed George to climb in and lock it behind him.
The bright flashes of light from explosives and spotlight out on the street diminished as the night went on, so it was difficult for either of the refugees to see much inside the room they were in. All they knew was that they had made it to a classroom for preschoolers, based on the tiny desks spread around the room. They didn’t feel up to exploring, so instead they huddled behind the teacher’s desk.
The sounds of battle diminished, though George couldn’t help imagining more screams out on the street. The logical part of his brain knew he couldn’t hear them from where he was hunkered down, but that didn’t make the nightmares any less real. The only comfort was that despite the fact that they could still hear the drone of the undead, it was greatly reduced and appeared to be getting further away as the night wore on.
George knew what that meant, but tried not to dwell on it. The ghouls had broken through the last barriers and were inside the schools, tearing through the last of the living.
We’re alone now. It was the cold, harsh thought that stayed with George throughout the night.
Dawn broke after a couple of sleepless hours. George was shocked when he realized Jason had dozed off shortly after they’d gotten through the windows and settled in behind the desk.
Rooting around, they found a few rags and were able to clean off the worst of the gore that cover both of them. After that, they set out to explore the place and see what rooms they could barricade from outside assaults.
George promised Jason that they would stay here for only a couple of days, until he figured out an escape strategy. The boy listened to the promise impassively, seemingly unconcerned about their current situation.
They pulled down blinds on the windows that had them and propped a few cafeteria tables up in front of other windows that faced the road. They secured the exits as best they could, which amounted to little more than moving a few desks in front of the doors and praying the undead wouldn’t notice that someone was now inhabiting the church.
A search of the premises revealed a small stash of food and drinks—stale crackers and juice boxes left over from the previous school year. The box full of bottled water was a nice bonus, along with a stash of junk food George found hidden in a janitor’s closet. It was better than nothing and would prevent them from starving if they were forced to stay for a while. They claimed their bedrooms on the second floor and hunkered down.
After a couple of days with no attacks on the church, they were able to relax a bit and start monitoring the situation outside. The amount of rotters roaming the streets was diminishing. With the lure of warm flesh gone, George’s best guess was that they had wandered into the schools, away from the blazing sun. A few would pop out of the school buildings every now and then. George would watch them from the second floor as they stumbled around, picking at the Humvees and other vehicles that were now collecting dust.
That was when George wondered if those sad creatures still had a shred of humanity left to them. He couldn’t help but compare them to the boy he was hiding out with. Jason was acting more like some sort of drone or robot with each day that passed. Nothing George did seemed to break down any of the kid’s hard earned barriers. The twelve year old spoke only when absolutely necessary. He followed George’s rules without question or complaint. He knew that they needed to be quiet; he knew that if he went on the first floor he was not allowed to let any of the doors slam shut and he needed to stay away from the windows. But none of that came up too often, because Jason spent most of his time in his room up on the second floor, alone.
Days passed and time crawled. George plotted and planned different possible escapes. At the same time, he felt the strong need to keep Jason sheltered, to prevent even more damage from occurring to him. He prayed to God to give him an idea of what to do and when to do it. He stared out windows and went through different scenarios in his mind. Every single one ended up with the two of them being surrounded and devoured by those things. Time ticked by and after a while, the ideas ran dry. George needed to get to his family, but he wouldn’t risk the boy’s life to do it.
The slim hope that someone might come to their rescue disappeared not long after they arrived in the church. George had held out little hope for the Ninth Infantry to come blasting in or some Navy SEALs to sneak them away, but he tried to hold on to the belief that there was someone, anyone, out there and that they were trying to figure out a way to save the people who were trapped, like him and Jason.
The thought that some savior might show up and save them was a ludicrous fantasy, but George couldn’t help thinking about it every now and then.
Mostly, George slept. And when he wasn’t sleeping, he would exercise. He would do sit ups, push ups, jog around the gym … anything to distract himself from the current situation.
The weeks went by and the food continued to diminish, but nothing happened-either outside or inside the church.
George was about to doze off after a pretty aggressive workout when he was jolted out of his daze by the Jason, who was peering at him through his bedroom door.
It was shocking to see the boy; he never entered George’s room. Now here he was-the door partially opened with him leaning in with a look George had forgotten could exist on Jason’s face: excitement.
It was all the kid had to say for George to jump up and get moving. No questions, no skepticism. Those two words were the most he had heard from Jason in several days and the emotion he displayed in the few seconds it took George to rush through the door was more than he had shown since they had gotten to the church. Jason waved him on, pointing toward one of the small windows at the end of the hall.
“Okay, Okay,” George said as Jason grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to the window.
The windows faced the street and were spaced far enough apart that you couldn’t see directly below, due to the roofline of the building, but you were able to see most of the street between the two of them. Jason was pointing out the left window, frantically jabbing at something down below.
George moved up to the window and saw what the boy was so excited about. It was some sort of van slowing down in front of the high school. It was blue and he could see the silhouette of a driver who appeared to be staring at the sign posted nearby that stated:
GALLATIN EMERGENCY SHELTER. ALL FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS REPORT TO THE GYM FOR REGISTRATION.
One suitcase per family, clothes only. No pets! All food and water is provided. All food and water brought on the premises will be confiscated. NO FIREARMS! Please have valid state or federal ID available for inspection. Thank you for your cooperation.
George had memorized those words and even dreamt about tearing down the sign on more than one occasion. It felt like a mass grave marker to him; a sign painted in the blood of dead soldiers and refugees.
It was a man behind the wheel, George could see. He was wearing a tee shirt and a ball cap. Other than that, it was hard to tell much about him through the dirty window of the vehicle. The man was gesticulating at a passenger as the van slowed to a stop.
George could tell the vehicle had been through the ringer. It was banged up and splattered with gore. The rear windows were tinted and it was nearly impossible to tell if there was more than the driver and the person he was talking to inside. Got room for a couple of hitchhikers?
“Should we open the window and yell down to them?”
George shook his head at the excited plea as he continued watching the dark blue minivan inch down the street.
A cynical side of George did want yell out at the fools to tell them that they had picked the wrong street to cruise down. But mostly, he felt like he had just been shocked by defibrillation paddles. His heart was racing and his pulse was going through the roof with insane hope. Less than one hundred yards from where he and Jason stood were the only living beings they’d seen in ages.
The van came to an abrupt stop at the sign. The driver had probably read it, but was still jabbering at their passenger. What in the Lords name are these two squawking about? What could be so damnably important? George was getting irritated just watching the scene unfold below. He noticed Jason glancing over at him and realized he was mumbling, talking to the driver. He slammed his mouth shut and both he and the boy returned to looking at the vehicle.
“Huh?” Jason responded to the whispered word as he continued staring out the window. He jumped when George exploded a moment later.
“No, God dammit, no!”
George slammed his fist against the glass, rattling it in its frame. Jason was surprised to hear the supposedly religious man he’d shared this place with lash out with blasphemy.
Looking back out the window, he knew why George had lost his composure. Dead people were surging out of the schools on both sides of the road.
The van shot forward, and Jason wanted to scream along with the man next to him, yelling at the driver to come back. The vehicle moved of sight down the road past where they could see them.
Their rescuers were going to leave before they even knew he and George were here.
Jason was angry at the people in the minivan. He wanted to lash out at them, kick them, and beat on them. In that moment he hated the other survivors for everything that had gone wrong in his life. Every bit of his pent up rage that had been festering for weeks came to the surface in an instant.
The twelve year old grabbed George’s arm and pulled on it until the big man snapped out of his angry trance. Jason almost dropped his hand when he saw the seething anger in the man’s eyes. It looked like it was directed at him and he was ready to move backwards out of the range of those large clenched fists. But the anger dissipated and Jason realized George wasn’t angry, he was frustrated.
“We need to go after them. We have to leave here, now. I can’t stay here anymore.”
George had a surprised look on his face. His mouth opened as he tried to sputter out a response, but Jason spoke again before he could.
“I know those people took off and those dead things are out there, but if we go out back we could sneak around those creeps, we can track those people down. They have to stop sooner or later. We have to try!”
George shook his head as he watched Jason’s face grow more panic-stricken with each word.
“It won’t work.”
Before the boy could blurt out a protest, George continued. “The van will be coming back anyway.”
Jason looked confused, but if what George was saying was true, it was all the better.
“Then we have to go downstairs. We have to let them know we’re here! Come on!”
Now it was George holding Jason’s arm, easily keeping him from racing for the steps. George continued to shake his head, a resigned look on his face. The tug of war lasted only a couple of seconds until George snapped.
“Jason! Shut up and listen!” The command had the desired effect and Jason steadied, at least for a moment. George turned and pointed out the window down the street in the direction the vehicle had headed. “Can you see out past the schools?”
Jason’s vision was pretty good, but the road was curved and the church was far enough back on the road that it was hard to see that far. He shook his head.
“I’ve been looking out this window, just like you have, for a month now. I’ve looked at it from every angle. Believe me-I’ve tried figuring a way out of here … probably a million different times.”
George pointed and Jason followed his finger. He saw the blue spec that was the minivan, way down the road.
“See them there?”
“That’s as far as they go. There’s a bunch of vehicles down there blocking the road … and here they come again.”
The van had turned around and was heading back toward the church. George’s resigned voice deflated Jason’s enthusiasm, but seeing the van return still excited him.
The kid turned to rush to the stairs and George did not grab him this time. Instead, it was his words that stopped him cold this time.
“They’re dead already.”
Jason halted his progress and turned back to look at George, an angry and puzzled look on his face.
“See for yourself.”
Jason hesitated, fearful of what he might see, but his curiosity was too much for him to resist as he moved back to the window.
The van was skidding around the parking lot next to the church. The angle wasn’t great and Jason could barely see the vehicle, but the van was getting closer and was surrounded by crowds of the undead.
The driver was darting in and out of the horde and was having a small amount of success, but from their elevated vantage George and Jason knew what was about to happen.
The van would run out of space. There were too many monsters to ram through. They would be forced to stop, and the driver and his passenger would be torn to pieces.
Jason watched the vehicle pitch and weave and knew in his heart they were doomed. He glanced over at George and realized the old man was only watching the scene unfold out of some morbid sense of curiosity, not because he was hoping the driver would figure out a way to escape.
“I can’t stay here. I’m going to help those people.”
Jason turned and ran for the stairs. He had no idea what he was going to do, but he had to do it fast. He had hit the bottom of the steps when George caught up to him and whipped him around by the arm.
“Are you crazy? Have you completely lost your mind? Jason, I know being stuck here sucks, but that doesn’t mean you should go on some suicide mission to try and save some people who are already dead!”
The anger on Jason’s face as he wriggle free of George’s grasp startled the man. He was even more stunned when Jason slammed a fist into his chest.
“I’m not going to kill myself! I’m gonna to save those people and they’re gonna take me out of here. You and those creeps aren’t going to stop me either!”
Jason kept punching George as he raged. It was like hitting a side of beef, but he didn’t care. The anger he’d felt only moments before toward the people outside had been redirected toward the man he perceived to be his jailor. George, stunned by the outburst, couldn’t react. He could only watch as tears of rage formed in Jason’s eyes.
That’s when it all crashed down on George like a ton of bricks. He’d been sheltering Jason all this time, believing that the boy was some fragile child who needed to be kept safe from the horrors outside the door. The reality was that it was impossible to keep him safe. Not here, not anywhere. Jason already knew this, and was willing to take any risk necessary to get the hell out of this mausoleum they’d been dying in for far too long.
If we hide out in this place any longer, we’ll die here. It was a simple thought, clear and precise in George’s brain. The clearest though he’d had since they’d arrived.
An image of Helen popped into his head. She was listening to him talk on his cell phone from the high school gym. He was promising her would be home soon, that nothing would stand in his way of getting back to his wife and daughters.
So what the hell have you done since then, George Montgomery? A whole lot of covering your ass, that’s what.
Taking a deep breath, George grabbed Jason’s hands and held them tight, bringing his full strength to bear in an effort to control the erratic kid. Looking him in the eyes, he smiled at the twelve year old.
“Ok, let’s do it.”
He nearly laughed at the surprised look on Jason’s face.
Jason’s surprise turned to joy and he tried to move away, but George pulled him back until they were facing each other once again.
“But we do this my way, ok?”
George peered into Jason’s brown eyes with a steely glare. They looked at each other and an understanding passed between them. After a moment Jason nodded vigorously. George smiled at him and winked, which elicited a confused grin from Jason.
“Come on, we don’t have much time,” George said as he wrapped his arm around the boy’s neck and gave it squeeze.
They moved toward the gym, ready to get down to business.
The run out onto the street felt liberating this time. For the first time since that horrible night long ago he was doing something. It was rash and there was a good chance it would be fatal, but this was the choice George had made: choosing a dangerous risk rather than slowly dying with only dust and despair to mark his final resting place.
When it came right down to it, there it had been no real choice at all.
He told Jason to sit tight while he ran across the street. He would make a break for the water tower as the attention of the horde was directed toward the people in the van. Hopefully the effort (along with the screaming and yelling he would do once he got to the tower) would lure enough of the mob in his direction and give the van a chance to break free and Jason a chance to either flag them down or escape into the woods behind the church.
After that, the plan was for George to run away from the tower before it was surrounded, or for him climb the sucker if he had to. He didn’t want to think too much about what would happen if he was forced to choose the latter option.
The first part of his plan went off without a hitch. There were some stragglers still roaming on the street as he ran across, but George only had to bowl over a couple. The rest were far too slow to react before he made it to the fence.
As he was running, he could see the woods beyond the tower and a twisted urge to keep on running raced through his mind, but the temptation passed as quickly as it came. George knew he had stood by doing nothing as far too many people died to even consider that possibility. He increased his speed and hit the chain link fence a second later.
As he climbed the fence, he realized that getting up the water tower would be next to impossible. There were X-shaped struts running between the metal stems of the tower, but no ladder to be seen.
George bit his tongue as nervous laughter almost escaped his lips. It was far too late to turn back. He reached the top of the fence and balanced there, one leg tossed over as he twisted his body around so he was facing the mass of dead bodies surrounding the van. The few he’d passed were moving in his direction, though most remained focused on the van. He glanced over at the woods one last time.
Take a deep breath, he closed his eyes. The buzzing noise he’d discovered a few weeks back had returned, bringing with it memories of that terrible night. The solider on top of the truck, bodies being torn to pieces everywhere he looked, Al bleeding to death on the asphalt, and Jennifer’s last words.
Feeling dizzy, George opened his eyes again, keeping his precarious balance atop his narrow perch. He focused on the van and took a deep breath.
He screamed. It was a long, howling wail contorted with pain and a rage that George didn’t realize he’d been holding in all that time. He clenched a fist and raised it up high, shaking it at the demons spread out before him.
In that moment, it came to him. The prayer he’d forgotten on THAT night—the one he thought he believed he’d never memorized, but must have, years before. It thundered out of him, billowing forth as if he was an avenging angel:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever!”
As he began shouting, they turned. As he continued, his voice rising, more came forward as they forgot the van. They moved as one, drawn forward by his words. It felt like that even as the rational part of his brain told George they were only coming to him because he was food; food that was screaming like a lunatic for all the world to see.
He didn’t care. What he did care about was how it felt to finally curse the monsters that had caused all this. All his emotions: the rage, the fear, the helplessness were funneled into the words he spat out at these interlopers and cast-offs. As he shook his fists at them, it was as if he was calling thunderbolts down from heaven at the heaving mass of death dragging itself toward him.
When the speech was done and the fervor gone, George tried to comprehend the response he got. His words had bounced off his impassive congregation like everything else the human race had thrown at them. But at least they were coming for him-that much was certain.
Jumping down inside the small compound, he watched as the first of the raggedy monsters slammed into the fence. George stepped back, getting the first daylight close-up of one of the creeps, as Jason called them. He had seen enough of them in the dark, but now was getting a full Technicolor display of the dead soldiers and refugees he’d shared the high school gymnasium with.
As gruesome as the crowd was, George was still relieved. He didn’t recognize anyone, and the niggling fear Al or Jennifer might crop up was something he doubted he could handle. But if they were in the crowd, they were indistinguishable from the rest of the rotting mass of corpses, which was a small blessing.
The fence appeared to be strong enough to keep the army of slavering maniacs at bay for at least few minutes. The rust on it didn’t inspire confidence, but at least the invasion force pounding on the chain link didn’t appear to have much in the way of climbing skills. All they could do was press their swelling, overheated carcasses up against the fence as they bashed at it and hissed at George. They seemed almost insulted that the meat so tantalizingly close was not willingly sacrificing itself.
More and more corpses crowded up against the fence. They were drawing attention of others … it was a domino effect: even those that could not have possibly seen or heard him were moving in his direction, away from the van.
Looking through the gaps in the crowd, George could see that there were fewer bodies pressed up against the Odyssey. It wasn’t rocking back and forth anymore, though many persistent attackers were still engaged in an effort to crack into it.
George frowned, his frustration with the driver of the minivan surfacing. Why haven’t they tried moving yet?
The path was clear, or so it seemed, though it was getting harder for him to see over the bodies tugging at the fence. He did see a smaller group of the infected splitting off from the main force coming in his direction. They were on the opposite side of the street, still near the van, but moving toward the church.
Looking over at his old hideout, George groaned. The kid had done it. He’d disobeyed the order to sit tight and wait. When all the attention was drawn away from the church, Jason would have had his chance to take off. Until then, he was supposed to be safe behind the closed doors.
Now that was shot to hell.
George watched in stunned silence as the twelve year old whipped a clunky text book out one of the second floor windows at the crowd of onlookers gathered around the front of the church. The book spun like an oversized shuriken and sideswiped what may have been an elderly woman. The creature had a cloud of messy white hair and the tattered remains of a flower print dress on, which were the only hints at its gender. The book spun the recipient of the blow around, but didn’t knock it over. What it did do was draw its attention, and moments later it was clawing and beating at the church doors.
Where the hell did he get the book? It didn’t matter much, but George surmised that Jason must have done some exploring in the classrooms and found a few teaching manuals. More rectangular missiles flew out of the window, smashing into the heads of the ghouls down below. Though it was hard to tell from a distance, it looked to George as if Jason was enjoying himself.
“Get out of there now, dammit. GET OUT!”
It was pointless-the kid couldn’t hear him. The maddening sound of hornets was too loud, and they were vibrating every bone in George’s body. He could barely hear himself.
Resisting the temptation to launch his body at a part of the fence still bare of smashed-up bodies, George paced behind the walls of his prison as more stiffened corpses made the pilgrimage to the church. His movements were spreading the ghouls out around the perimeter of the fence. As they tried following him, more blocked his view of the van and the church. He wanted to signal for Jason to just cut and run, but it was fast becoming clear that for the first time in a long time, the boy’s fate was entirely out of his hands.
The crowd outside the fence continued to shift, moving to the side of the compound George was closest to-at least most of them were doing that. There were more than enough to spread around and those pressed up against the chain link appeared unwilling to give up their prime spots along the fence line.
George knew he would have to make a break for it soon. The fence was starting to sway as more bodies pressed against it. It wouldn’t be long before it collapsed.
He was still sizing things up when he heard the roar of the van’s engine. Finally! At least the people in the van would be able to escape this nightmare, even if he and Jason were screwed.
Even as he thought about how futile this whole rescue effort had been, George had to smile. It beat sitting on his ass until he starved to death.
Moments later, George’s eyes widened as the sound of metal crunching against metal jolted him out of his reverie and he saw the blue prow of the minivan heading in his direction.
He managed to dive out of the way as the Odyssey plowed through the fence, smashing at least five stiffs into its grill as it did so.
George wobbled to his feet, still in a daze, as he finally got a good view of the scraggly driver of van when he rolled his window down. At the same time, the cargo door on the minivan slowly opened. A thin, haggard looking woman stood behind the door, a massive revolver in her tiny hands.
He was still staring at these ragged people, trying to comprehend what had just happened, when he heard one of them shout “Get in!”
Another anthology that one of my stories will be appearing in is being released shortly. In fact, it should be available at the publisher’s website, www.pillhillpress.com tomorrow. It should be on Amazon within a week. This is a compendium of 365 Flash Fiction horror stories. Flash fiction are stories that are less than 500 words each. Essentially, these are short flashes of terror, without all the extras that come with short stories and novels. The challenge is to create an environment and fill it with characters and a plot in a very short period of time. My flash, “Compulsion,” is one of the April stories, and one I am quite proud of.
If you are a fan of horror, this is a great way to get a huge dose of it-365 different stories to freak you out, and each in nice little bite sized pieces.
Check out the cover by the same artist who has done my books, Philip R. Rogers. It is beautiful. More details as the book becomes available, which will be very soon!
Well, I guess I was expecting the book to be available on Createspace first. I was given the link by my publisher, but it never seemed to work. I am guessing that it is there, but somehow, it never got connected as it should.
But that is okay be me, because being on Amazon means that it is ready to go and you can go and place your order for it right away!
So check it out, tell all your friends. Into The Dark is here! Just click on the picture to head on over to Amazon.com to pick up your copy.
Sorry it has taken me so long to post another part of George and Jason’s tale, but I should be able to get Part 4, the final part of their story, posted within the next week or so. There are other stories based on other characters, and now that Into The Dark is on the verge of being released, some of the other stories about characters appearing in that book will also be showing up here, on my blog.
As always, you can find all my Dark Stories listed in order on the Dark Stories page of my blog. So if you haven’t read all the ones that came before this, check out that page first. Thanks!
As usually, I apologize for any typos or grammatical errors. I try to do my best to insure that what I post is clean, but I am sure I missed a few things here and there.
So without further ado, here you go. I hope you enjoy this installment.
George and Jason, Part 3
George thumbed through a paper back romance novel he had commandeered from one of the preschool teacher’s desks. Wretched was the only word he could use to describe it. But it passed the time. He would not have been caught dead with such a book previously but now, with only Jason left to pass judgment, he could care less.
He thought about the boy and what was to become of him.
Jason would be a tall teen. He was gawky, scrawny perhaps, but he had the bone structure that indicated that he would easily break six feet as an adult. The boy was the whole reason they were holed up in this church instead of dead out on the road somewhere. George wanted nothing more than to take his chances and leave this place behind for good. He would take any risk that he could to return to his family. They needed him.
But so did Jason.
Jennifer had coaxed some other details out of the shy boy in the few days they were stuck at the high school. It was far more than George had been able to get out of Jason since then. His father lived up near Detroit and was not on speaking terms with his mother. She made the decision a year ago to move to Ohio for a fresh start. She got a job as a nurse and promised Jason a house to live in, so they moved to Gallatin where they could afford a cottage in the little town.
The move was a shock to Jason’s system. He did well in school, but being uprooted and losing all his friends had been tough. His mother was happy here so he didn’t complain for her sake.
The boy had lost touch with his father long ago. He barely knew the man and hadn’t said much about him unless prodded. Jennifer guessed that even though Jason acted like none of it mattered, he still missed his father a great deal.
Jason lost his mother not too long before he had gotten to the shelter. It did not take much to figure that out since he had come to the place alone. He would not talk about it and all Jennifer could gather was that the National Guard had picked him up, perhaps in his house, or off the street, and dumped him in the shelter.
So Jason had lost his mother and then the one person he had latched onto when things had gone from bad to worse. George guessed that Jason felt that Jennifer had betrayed him when she had chosen to stay with her dying husband rather than escape with him from the parking lot.
It was a harsh assessment and George could not blame Jennifer for giving up when her husband, who was her high school sweetheart, was lying beside her with his lifeblood pouring out onto the asphalt. All she could do for the boy was to tell him to run away with George. That she could not see past her own grief and agony was nothing George could blame her for, but he knew Jason didn’t see it that way.
After George and Jason fled the parking lot of the high school, they kept moving around the building. As they got further away from Al and Jennifer, Jason managed to start walking on his own instead of forcing George to drag the boy along behind him.
Jason’s reaction to Jennifer’s abrupt farewell was worrisome to George, but his concern for the pre-teen’s mental well being had to take a back seat to bigger priorities.
They gradually made their way to a corner of the high school where they could spy what was going on out on the street. It took forever as George kept them sliding along the cold bricks of the building. The wall was not straight and it forced them to spend time creeping around corners, pausing to make sure they were not coming up on anything they couldn’t deal with. They reached several bushes that hugged the corner of the building and dove behind them, hoping they could hide there for a few moments. It was then that George realized how truly screwed they were.
The undead were scattered, spread out after moving in from north of the school onto the street between the high school and the grade schools across the street. They had pushed survivors they came across before them, herding them like cattle to the slaughter. By the time the hoard had reached the schools, its numbers were in the hundreds, if not thousands. Both soldiers and citizens alike had been defeated at every turn and it appeared that this was where the final battle between the undead and what remained of humanity in this region would take place.
The ghouls were in thick clusters surrounding islands of soldiers and the sound of automatic weapons fire were small disruptions to the deafening roars of the creatures. They were in the street, on the grass, everywhere, attacking everything living thing they could get their hands and teeth on.
Before that night, George had seen only bleak hints and whispers of what was happening outside the high school he’d called home for the past few days. It had been nothing worse than an uncomfortable itch at the base of his spine. That itch hinted at the truth of things, but nothing up until now had grabbed him by the throat and throttled him with the revelation that the world had come to an end.
George’s eyes zeroed in on a particular soldier on top of a pickup truck out on the street. It looked like he was dancing on the narrow roof as he dodged the grasping hands of the undead surrounding the truck. For an instant George was reminded of a group of concert goers trying to touch the leg of a lead guitarist as he jammed out on stage. The M16 in the soldier’s arms looked somewhat like a guitar, even as he fired into the crowd erratically, frantically trying to clear a path for a quick escape. Despite his efforts, the crowd wouldn’t part and the clot of ghouls around the truck kept growing thicker by the second. The dead clumsily attempted to climb the truck to get at him, but instead fell underneath the press of other bodies pushing on them from behind. Those that were crushed underneath served as step stools for the other stiffs who were able to get higher and closer to the soldier.
The young private continued to fire his weapon and bellowed resistance as he did. He hit the mark with the occasional shot and a head would disappear below the mass of contorting bodies, but mostly his attacks did little to influence the crowd, except perhaps to make it grow even more excited by his presence.
The ghouls dragged themselves onto the hood and into the bed of the truck behind the soldier, who was able to dodge their hands for a short while. The first few that that snagged his camouflaged leggings were easily shaken off. George was hunched down the bushes at the corner of the high school with Jason held closely in front of him as they watched helplessly as the terrible scene unfolded no more than fifty yards from where the hid. George could feel Jason shaking uncontrollably and tried to squeeze his shoulders tighter just to let the boy know he was safe, but it was useless. The middle-aged man would later recall whispering something like ‘everything will be okay’ in the boy’s ear, but wasn’t sure if it had been more to reassure Jason or himself.
George silently rooted for the soldier, who ran out of bullets and started swinging his M16 around like a bat, not with much hope of connecting with anyone, but more in an effort to deter those closest from reaching out to grab him. The young man’s screams increased in volume as he sidestepped several grasping claws and backed into another group of avaricious hands that latched on to his legs at the ankles. He attempted to turn and face these new attackers, his rifle still held out in front of him, but lost his balance and slammed down hard on the metal truck roof. A hollow clunk was the only sound George heard as the soldier crashed and was pulled over the side of the truck.
George, at ground level, couldn’t see what happened next, but he was cursed with a vivid imagination. He knew the man was being pulled apart, the angry ghouls snapping at one another as they fought over the tastiest morsels. The only consolidation for the soldier was that there were enough of the undead that it was unlikely there would be enough of him left to reanimate.
The ongoing carnage out on the street was almost hypnotic. There were numerous small groups of living humans trying to hold the line, but all of those groups were being infiltrated by the walking dead. So many of the infected were in army fatigues it was hard to tell who was alive and who was undead. George remembered how fast the old man that had bitten Al had changed and knew that those dying right now would be up and helping the other ghouls within minutes. It made the battle all that much quicker: soldiers often had no idea who was alive and who had reanimated, because both the living and the dead were saturated with blood and viscera.
Of all the crowding, surging undead, the largest concentration George could see was moving toward the entrance of the high school. Some of the guardsmen were falling back, around the bushes where George and Jason hid. George retained a firm hold on the boy as he watched the soldier’s run by. He felt like he was clutching a rabbit: he couldn’t squeeze Jason too tight, but if he relinquished his hold the kid would more than likely skitter away. But at that moment, Jason seemed sedate, not squirmy or making any noises that would draw any attention, at least.
One of the entrances to the high school was behind where George and Jason hid, and it was apparently the fall back position for many of the National Guardsmen. They were trying to delay the inevitable onslaught by seeking sanctuary inside the high school with the rest of the soldiers and refugees inside.
George wondered if the riot inside the high school had been quelled and how much innocent blood had been spilled in the process. After seeing the massacre outside, he suspected that anyone who had been killed in the clash between refugees and soldiers was probably better off than anyone still alive.
He scanned the front of the building, but his vision was blocked by part of the high school that jutted out onto the expansive lawn in front of the school. He couldn’t see the opposite end of the building, but did see the advancing horde moving in his direction. The ghouls were methodically following the retreat anyone left alive on the street … and those survivors were leading the dead straight to the high school.
George saw several vehicles moving erratically back and forth on the road and in the parking lot across the street, where even more soldiers were falling back through the doors of the elementary schools. Looking around, he dismissed the idea of trying to find a vehicle. There were far too many bodies already jammed underneath the wheels of several military vehicles and even a semi that had been commandeered by the National Guard. There was no possibility of driving out of the area.
George held his stomach in check as he saw more bodies being crushed under the heavy equipment and pulped beyond recognition. The few vehicles still in motion were barely moving as more ghouls mindlessly crashed against them in an attempt to reach the drivers. Bodies and appendages were dragged under wheels and bogged the machines down. Corpses ruptured and became wedged into wheel wells, forcing the vehicles to a standstill.
George forced himself to continue looking out on the street, which was starting to resemble the ninth circle of hell. There had to be something out there … something that would give them some spark of hope.
There has to be someplace for us to hide.
The screams echoed all around them. More of the dead filed past their hiding space, not sensing the two easy targets as they followed groups of soldiers streaming past. The sound of shattering glass and panicked shouts behind them told George that the people still alive inside the high school were starting to realize what they were up against.
Jason had grown still, only barely shivering. As George looked out on the street, he forgot about the boy for a moment. It appeared as if the dead were all clumping up out there, attacking the established positions of the soldiers while others surrounded the entrances of the two schools across the street. He watched as countless numbers of the wretched creatures crawled through shattered windows of classrooms that looked dark and vacant. Jagged shards of glass sticking out of the window frames were ignored as they sliced into the rotting bodies of the ghouls. Chunks of their flesh fell to the ground, bloodless and inert.
That was when he saw it-the one place in this nightmarish realm that they might make it to alive.
There was nothing surrounding the church. No soldiers and no stiffs. Gallatin United Methodist Church was posted on the sign out front. Flashes of light from weapons fire and spotlights being used lit up the building as George scanned it for damage or indications of someone hiding inside.
It looked like a simple church with a modest steeple that had been built onto. Another structure, attached by an extended hall, stretched north of the main structure. There was a set of double doors at the front of the church, but no other entrances facing the road. No visible shattered glass, no boarded up windows. It was next to the elementary schools, just north of them on the other side of the street. It would be a straight shot across from where they were hidden.
More of the undead had shuffled past where George and Jason were crouched behind the bushes. The battle raged on behind them and on the street in front of them. They had move soon.
George closed his eyes and tried to ignore the tumult of unnatural moans, human screams, and ear shattering explosions. He found it to be nearly impossible as he mumbled a short prayer.
As I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.
He brain locked up, blanking on the rest of the passage. George promised that if he ever saw another bible he would memorize all of it.
He opened his eyes and grabbed Jason by the shoulders. The look on the boy’s face made George pause. Jason was still breathing, still conscious, but there was something in his eyes that sent a chill down the man’s spine. Jason looked dead inside.
George shook the boy, rattling the teeth inside his skull.
“Jason!” he screamed in a stage whisper. “We have to go! We have to go NOW!” He continued shaking the boy, almost as much for his own benefit as for the kid’s. It was activity, it was movement. It would keep him distracted enough that he might not freeze or go mad with fear.
Jason eyes moved, tracking until they focused on George, who stopped shaking him and took a deep breath. The blank stare remained, but it looked like there was a trace of curiosity in Jason’s eyes. It wasn’t much, but George would take it as positive sign that the boy was listening and knew what was going on.
“We have to go … there.”
George pointed across the street, pushing the itchy leaves of the bush out of the way to give Jason a chance to see where he was pointing. The kid stared at the church, but did little else.
George shook him again. “Jason! We have to go now!”
A barely visible nod was all George got in response. It was enough. After a quick survey of the area, he stood, tugging on the back of Jason’s shirt as he did. After a moment, the boy rose of his own volition. George put his hand around Jason’s neck and leaned in.
This time Jason looked at George and nodded with confidence.
They took off running over the unkempt and slick grass that fronted the high school. A brief glance down confirmed that the grass was not slick with dew, but with blood.
The vivid image of hell returned as George imagined that they were slipping on the entrails of the dead, sliding downward into a pit toward Satan himself. The heat of several explosions nearby reinforced his nightmarish thinking as they slogged forward.
They ran, slipping in and out of flashes of light that showed ghouls surrounding them on all sides. Soldiers who were still alive kept the ghoul’s interest directed elsewhere. That was what George was counting on. If the infected discovered him and Jason, they might not break off an attack, but it would be best not to tempt them.
Their movements couldn’t be heard over the eruptions of screams or weapons fire, even as the duo weaved between clots of the infected and living that seemed more like a single organism with a thousand tendrils frantically waving about.
The dead grabbed and pawed at the living, smashing fists into armored vehicles that were stalled out, shattering glass or pressing themselves inward on small groups of men firing frantically into the crowd. Other survivors were doing better. They had managed to put down enough of the undead that they had created barriers made of piled corpses that encircled their positions. But even the most composed and calm soldiers were faltering, and as their ammunition ran out they were using their rifles as bludgeons before falling beneath a tide of rotting arms and gnashing teeth.
They kept moving, pausing only briefly to skirt the areas that would draw attention to them. The dead had won this battle and more than likely the war against humanity. They were too busy gorging themselves, swelling their ranks even further, to notice two dark shapes in the night as they ran past. As the duo inched closer to the church, a cold though ran through George’s mind: the human race was about to become extinct.
They hit the other side of the street and avoided a chain link fence that had been smashed flat by vehicles traveling back and forth over the grass between the school parking lot and the church.
They crossed the church lawn with Jason running at
George’s side. George knew the boy was suffering from the loss of Jennifer among other things, but as stunned and traumatized as he was, Jason still seemed willing to fight for his survival. That was something, at least. They reached the edge of the church, sliding across the wall until they were next to the glass doors. A quick tug on the handles confirmed they were locked.
Both the man and the boy were out of breath, wheezing and slumped over as they leaned against the building. After a few seconds, George slapped Jason on the back and led the way to the north side of the building, where the parking lot was. It was furthest from the action. It was also where he hoped to gain entrance to the church without attracting attention.
They crept along, paying close attention to everything behind as well as in front of them. George did his best to scan the area, but it was next to impossible to be sure they hadn’t been spotted. They managed to get to a darkened window and glanced inside at the chapel. It was nearly impossible to see much, but as far as George could tell, the inside of the church looked untouched by the calamity outside.
They kept moving, turning the corner and gliding into the parking lot. There was another set of glass doors and several windows that gave them a view of several vacant class rooms.
Great, it’ll be real tough for these bastards to get at us with all this damn glass, George thought sarcastically.
The side doors were locked as well. George peered inside and saw another set of doors beyond a vestibule that were wooden. The inner doors had small panes of glass in them at eye level, but he couldn’t make out anything beyond them. He turned and scanned the parking lot, trying to find something that might help them break into the building. An open dumpster sat at the back of the lot.
“Stay here,” George commanded Jason as he sprinted toward it.
There didn’t appear to be any movement beyond the lot, though the battle from the street remained thunderous. The side of the building was strangely peaceful and calm, as if it had a bubble of protection over it. George had already blotted out their harrowing experience on the street in his mind. A wrong move out there and he and Jason would have been dragged down in an instant, surrounded and engulfed, but that was in the past. The adrenaline coursing through him had him feeling energized and invulnerable.
He reached the dumpster and leaned over it. The whiff of stale garbage was pleasant compared the stench of corrupted human flesh that wafted on the air and stuck to George’s clothes like cigarette smoke. If he ever made it out of this place alive, the first thing he was going to do was ceremoniously burn the jeans and button down shirt he had put on that morning.
He pushed several garbage bags and loose trash about, leaning deeper into the container in an attempt to reach the back. As he lifted yet another hefty bag, he spied something that might work for what he needed. It was a broken piece of metal framing. He practically slid into the dumpster to avoid losing the spot where it was buried between several sticky plastic cups and what felt like a bag full of grass clippings. He got his forefinger and a thumb around it and grunted as he inched it closer, before managing to wrap his hand around it. George winced as the sharp piece of metal almost cut into his hand. It dug into the skin but didn’t break it.
George heard a whimper behind him and slid out from the dumpster, in the process scraping up his belly to match his scratched hand. He turned to see where it had come from, but already knew. Jason was on the ground squirming backwards in a corner of the entryway as a large figure shambled toward him from the direction of the street. George could see others in the darkness behind the intruder and knew they had been followed. He took off running toward the boy.
The man was hulking. A huge gut protruded outwards and the arms, which had a multitude of bite wounds running up and down their length, wobbled as the he came at the young boy. To say the man was obese was the understatement of the decade. It would be more accurate to say that the man was carnival-freak sized. George estimated he weighed at least four hundred pounds. The waddle of flesh hanging from his chin had been chewed on, but only half devoured. The free floating skin and greasy fat beneath flopped and slapped against the open wounds on the man’s shoulders as he moved closer to Jason. There were stains running down the front of his shirt and onto his pants. Normally George would assume it was the blood, but wondered if the behemoth had been caught mid-meal and it was the remains of his last supper as a human being.
George closed the distance quickly, gripping the shard of metal in his hands. It was rather thin but the broken end was sharp and could spear someone pretty good. Knowing that there were others coming, he didn’t want to lose the sliver on his first attack.
The huge man noticed George and shifted its massive girth in his direction. No sound came from its mouth, but a bubbling hiss emanated from the wound in his throat and green goop spewed forth from it as the man silently growled. George rushed forward, launching his foot at the beast’s chest, sending it backwards. He was surprised at how incredibly heavy the man was, even in death. It toppled into the arms of one of the creatures following it.
Moving past the tangle of arms and legs on the ground, George lashed out with his metal weapon at a teenage girl. The metal bent, but the force of the blow knocked her to the ground. The girl had no lips or eyelids and looked cartoonish with her rictus grin and bulging eyeballs. Two more stiffs were behind her, but George could see no others following them. Those last two were still a few feet back.
The final two ghouls were moving slow enough and were far enough back that George had time to raise his heel and send it down with the full force of his weight onto the head of the girl he’d just smacked with the metal framing. A sickening crunch verified that he had shattered her skull and he avoided looking at what he was sure would be a grisly scene beneath his foot. He could feel the ooze of mushy organic matter clumping to the heel of his shoe.
George turned to glance at the two stiffs he’d knocked over and was happy to see that the smaller one’s legs were still stuck under the stiff he’d dubbed Gigantor. The diminutive one tried to reach out and grab for George, oblivious to the fact that it would have to extricate its legs from underneath the huge beast first to reach him.
Jason was back up and moving toward the fray. George waved him back, sending a well placed kick to the skull of the ghoul trying to grab for him from underneath Gigantor. Its head rocketed to the side and sprayed the asphalt with teeth and what looked to be an eyeball. George looked at his handiwork and realized even with the head trauma he’d just caused it was still moving. He kicked it several more times, until its arms stopped twitching.
Gigantor was desperately trying to get up off of his back, but like a turtle that had been flipped over on its shell he was having a hard time of it. He could wait.
George turned to face the last two monsters that were closing in on him and Jason.
They had been soldiers. The first’s uniform had been ripped off to the waist and he was a few organs short, although his ribcage was still intact. Most of the visible meat on its arms had been ripped clean off, with only bones and ligaments remaining. The other one had one arm and only two fingers remaining on the mauled hand at the end of the appendage.
Dropping the piece of metal, George charged at them. His fist nearly dislocated the first soldier’s jaw as it plowed into it. The blow knocked the creature back and gave George the time he needed to grab the other ghoul by its lone arm and spin it so its gnashing teeth couldn’t reach him. He sent the ghoul skidding across the pavement as he let go, leaving a trail of gristle behind. The one George had punched was already moving back for more, and the stench emanating from its open chest cavity was horrendous. He grabbed both sides of its head quicker that it could react and drove the skull down onto his knee. Pushing the head away, he watched the body tumbled before him. To insure the job was complete, George brought his heel down on the skull and then raced over to finish off the other soldier, who had managed to get back to his knees. A quick kick to its hindquarters dropped it to the ground again. George placed one foot on its back to hold it down while he stomped on its head with the other, until his shoe was soaked with brain matter.
George bent over, exhausted. He was going to have to deal with Gigantor still, but knew the fat man was probably still trying to get off his back. Filling his lungs with corrupted air, he tried to lower his frantic heart rate.
Despite the grim chores he had just completed, George felt exhilarated. How these slow moving, stupid creatures had conquered the human race within a span of just a couple of weeks was incomprehensible. Unless he had to face off against the entire horde on the street, he was certain he could manage just fine against them.
Taking a deep breath, George turned, ready to deal with Gigantor. What he saw sent shockwaves through his body. He had already been stunned several times that night, but nothing compared to what he was seeing now.
The boy that had been nearly catatonic only minutes earlier had managed to regain his senses enough to pick up the piece of metal George had dropped and beat the fat ghoul to death with it.
After it had stopped moving, had stopped grabbing for him, Jason had continued pounding on the head of the corpse, sending sprays of blood and some sort of black, oily discharge squirting out of it as the sharp piece of metal connected with it time and time again.
The look George saw in the boy’s eyes of a stone cold killer. There was no anger, no rage, just focus. He made no sound; there were no screams passing through Jason’s lips. He just kept beating on the dead man, obliterating the flesh and bone of his skull.
George hesitated before moving closer to the boy. At that moment he was afraid to try and separate Jason from the lump of dead flesh in front of him. All the bravado he’d felt at his meager victory against the ghouls slipped away in a heartbeat. It was like a cold splash of water to his face as he watched the twelve year old in his care take out all his frustrations on one of the monsters who wanted to corrupt him like all the others.
The boy was not just splattered with guts, he was drenched with them. Bone chips and a stringy substance that George did not even want to guess at dangled from the boys tightly curled hair as he continued pounding on the corpse with the bent piece of metal.
“Jason!” His voice carried over the muffled sound of battle out on the street. He used the same tone of voice he used when he was mad at his children. He prayed to God it would have the same effect on the orphan as it did his daughters. George got what he wished as the boy stopped the gore-drenched piece of metal from descending into the innards of the ghoul’s head once again.
“Stop that NOW!” George stood with his own clenched fists, trying to display an anger he did not feel, but needed to dredge up if he had any hope of saving Jason from oblivion.
Jason looked at George for a moment and then his eyes dipped back toward the dead man at his feet. After a moment, perhaps to insure that the man was indeed dead, he looked up again. Lifting his hand, he offered the thin strip of metal to George. The look on the twelve year olds face was the same hollow, shell shocked look that had been there earlier, back where they had hid in the bushes next to the high school.
There was something else there too. Through all the dirt and gore that covered Jason’s face, George could see tracks of tears running down it, leaving a trail of purity in a field of blood caked nightmare. The middle aged man felt like crying as well, as he realized that despite all Jason had been through, the boy’s soul was intact. It was pummeled and damaged nearly beyond repair, but it still remained. But for how much longer?
George held back the tears and slapped Jason on the back affectionately, smiling. It was not returned, but he still felt relieved. They were survivors. More importantly, their humanity was still intact.
Luella Pembry can speak to the dead. Ghosts are all around her, and ask that she do their bidding. She is called to a place called Lazarus, where others have magical talents of their own, and the dead tend to rise, though this type of dead are zombies, and they seek to destroy the living.
Lazarus is a tightly written novella that immerses the reader in the old west, with a twilight zone bent to it. Its mix of magic and the grit of the old west keeps the reader intrigued page after page. Lori Titus certainly knows how to spin a tale that kept me wondering what was next. I guess it sounds trite to say, but this is a story with a little bit of something for everyone: mystery, romance, horror, adventure, a strong leading woman and man, deception, and solid, compelling characters.
I don’t think I’ve read a story that combined ghosts and zombies and layered on top of that mysticism before. Lori does an excellent job of combining those elements and making the story flow well from start to finish. Again, this is a novella, so perhaps my only complaint is that this isn’t a full fledged novel with more story to it-I would have liked to seen more of this little town in California and the people who inhabit it. So I guess the brevity of this tale isn’t really a complaint at all-Lori Titus has me craving more.
The paperback version of Into The Dark will be going live in the next day or so, but the Smashwords version of it has been posted already! And at the low, low cost of just $2.99, it is a great deal for all you e-book fans out there.
As mentioned in the prior post on this blog, there will not be a kindle version of book 2 or 3 by themselves, but due to the unedited version of the entire trilogy being on the kindle for the past few months, we will be re-releasing the entire trilogy on Kindle in March, along with another book-sized volume of short stories related to the world of the Dark Trilogy.
More details to follow on the paperback version of Into The Dark, but for now, here is the link where you can get the electronic version on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31068
Check it out, and feel free to drop a review on Smashwords or Amazon, your blog, your website, or where ever you like. I hope you all enjoy the second installment in my trilogy!
You can click on the picture and follow the link to Smashwords as well. Thanks.
I wanted to post this as soon as this was official.
Press Release: Library of the Living Dead
November 22, 2010
The Library of the Living Dead would like to announce that the current Kindle version of Comes The Dark, by Patrick D’Orazio, is no longer be available, as of today, in anticipation of a revised and edited version being released to coincide with the paperback release of the third book of the trilogy, Beyond The Dark, in March of 2011.
It was recently discovered that some of the copies of the Kindle version of Comes The Dark included an early, unedited version of the entire Dark trilogy, including Comes The Dark, Into the Dark, and Beyond The Dark. Because of this discovery, the Library of the Living Dead will not be releasing the edited versions of Into The Dark and Beyond The Dark separately as kindle books. Instead, it will be releasing a Revised and Edited version of the trilogy, which will include all three books along with several bonus short stories from the realm of the dark trilogy that will be exclusive to this new kindle release.
The release of the paperback versions of Into The Dark and Beyond The Dark will go forward as planned, with Into The Dark being released in December of 2010, and Beyond The Dark being released in March of 2011.
More details about the Revised and Edited Kindle version of the Dark trilogy will be revealed before the scheduled release date.
Those who purchased the Kindle and got the entire trilogy got a glimpse of the raw, unedited version of the book. Given the reviews that have been posted that were based on that, I can’t complain. This wasn’t how things were exactly planned, but it works out quite well, giving my publisher and I the chance to re-release the entire trilogy on Kindle in a few months with some really nice bonus materials. That plus Into The Dark will be out within the next few days, which I am really excited about.