Dark Stories: George and Jason, Part 4
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!”
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