Dark Stories: Jason, Alone
I hope everyone out there is having a great holiday season! I wanted to post this little stand alone introduction to Jason that actually takes place before he meets George. I probably could have posted this before the prior string of stories about the two of them together, but I guess this will work since it does relate to only Jason. This is fairly brief, but was my introduction of him as a character and delves a little deeper into his relationship with his mother and what happened to her.
There will be more Dark Stories to come, but this finishes the stories that introduce the initial characters that Jeff meets in the first book. Now that the second book is released, I will probably focus on stories about the characters introduced there from now on. Stay tuned.
Again, as always, forgive me for any editing misses-I try to clean these up, but I know I will end up missing a few bits and pieces here and there.
Without further ado, here you go:
Everything had been screwed up since momma dragged him out of school up in Detroit and moved him down to this white bread hillbilly paradise. They sure as heck hadn’t been rich up in Dearborn, but he’d gotten to see his father every now and then and they had a nice apartment. Jason didn’t want a house, even if momma insisted that they needed a place where they weren’t crammed in next to twenty other families. He didn’t want to leave his school either. It wasn’t like he had lots of friends there, but he was comfortable with his teachers and knew what was expected of him. Here, he stood out like a sore thumb. They had gotten a house like momma had always wanted, but there were even more trailer parks in the town they lived in than he’d ever seen back home. That momma somehow thought moving to Gallatin, Ohio was a step up from Dearborn, Michigan was beyond Jason’s ability to understand.
After living in the small town for a while, things leveled out, though they still sucked. The kids in Gallatin more or less ignored him. There was a good share of white trash, but most of the kids were nice enough. There were only a few black families in town so it was almost like most of the white kids had no idea of how to act around him. He could tell that they’d been taught that racism was bad and yet they were still uncomfortable being around someone who wasn’t the same color as they were. The school was okay. Jason had always been smart and adjusting academically wasn’t too challenging. His mother insisted he was getting a better education here, though he kind of doubted it.
He was getting used to things in Ohio, even though his father hadn’t called or written since the move. He didn’t like the nasty things momma said about dad, but didn’t argue with her about it. With as many times as she called him worthless, it didn’t seem all that surprising that Jason’s father chose to forget about his son once they moved away.
Momma never accepted any blame for anything in regards to Jason’s father, even after deciding to pick up and move almost three hundred miles away from him. She insisted that it was her ex-husband’s fault he couldn’t pick up a phone or try to arrange to have Jason go back up to Detroit for a week during the holidays or in the summer. She didn’t accept any blame, but Jason silently affixed much of it on her. But as with everything else, he suffered quietly and didn’t act out or complain. He was her good son, well behaved and shy. He loved his momma and even if he wished she wouldn’t have made some of the choices she did, he was smart enough to know that she was the one person in the world who would always be there for him, no matter what. He still loved his dad, but he’d known for years that the man was unreliable. That was just the way it was. Momma could always be counted on.
That was, until the world fell apart.
Jason was watching TV that morning, the morning when everything changed. He already knew things had been getting bad over the past few days, but with all the special reports breaking in on every channel, things had boiled over.
Yvonne, his mother, had been concerned about what was going on around the country and around town, but that concern didn’t mean she was interested in skipping out on work.
“They need me down there, especially now. You stay home today-no playing outside. Lock the doors and don’t answer the phone. I’ll be home after my shift.”
She hugged him tight and left. Jason wasn’t concerned for himself. Things had been quiet in their neighborhood, but there were some terrible stories on the news about what was happening in the cities, like where momma worked.
As the day wore on, Jason found himself glued to the TV, watching news reports that were getting harder to believe by the second. Every program he switched to was talking about the same thing. The virus had gone global and there were reports of infection everywhere. Doctors were baffled, despite the government’s reassurance that they were working on coming up with a vaccination or cure.
People were dying everywhere, and the televised attacks by the infected were hard to watch. Still, Jason was mesmerized by the violent images as they rolled by on the screen.
More than once, he was tempted to call the hospital where momma worked, but resisted the urge. He was only supposed to call in case of an emergency. This was a worldwide emergency, no doubt about it, but it wasn’t as if someone was banging on the front door, trying to get inside the house to attack him. So instead, he continued watching the stories about the virus spreading, maps with containment vectors discussed by Army Generals, and the riots breaking out in towns and cities across the country and across the globe.
Jason was still in front of the TV when Yvonne, his mother, came home five hours before her shift was supposed to end. He was thrilled she’d returned early, until he saw the bandage on her arm. She had been scratched by a patient at the hospital.
She had been plain unlucky. That was how she described it. Jason’s mother was a nurse a big downtown Cincinnati medical center and was taking the vital signs of a patient who’d come into the emergency room after claiming to have been bitten. The man was delirious and he freaked out when she put a stethoscope against his chest. He’d been lying on a gurney in one of the hallways off the ER, because people were jammed to the rafters in the place and the nurses and doctors had to deal with patients where they sat or stood. Yvonne had been commandeered from her post on the Cardiac ward to help with the overflow.
The man had reached up to grab her wrist as he babbled unintelligibly at her. When she tried to remove his hand, he raked his fingernails across her forearm as he spit up blood and frothed at the mouth. With the help of a couple of orderlies she got the man under control and sedated, but not before his spittle and blood and gotten all over her, including into her brand new wound.
Yvonne Samuels told her son that she’d had the suspicion that things were going to hell the moment she had walked into the hospital six hours earlier. It’d taken less than an hour before she’d been called into the emergency room. The rumor mill among the nurses had gained a full head of steam, and while much of what she was told sounded ridiculous, it was getting easier to buy into the various stories they were feeding her as the day went on.
A particular one stuck with her. One of the regular ER nurses indicated that she’d heard that the National Guard was planning on shutting down most of the hospitals in the area and not letting any more patients into them. In addition to that measure, rumor also had it that any of the people already in the hospitals, including staff, were to be quarantined.
It had sounded like an unlikely possibility the first time she heard it, but by the time she was scratched a few hours later and the emergency room had turned into an utter madhouse, it was getting hard to deny that something was about to happen. Fear, like the virus, was spreading across the hospital at an exponential rate.
No one really knew for sure how the virus spread. Bites without a doubt, but no one knew if it was also airborne, could be transmitted through drinking water, or if there was some other route to getting sick.
Paranoia and panic were engulfing the hospital. Both the patients and staff were rapidly losing their minds. Yvonne suspected that whatever plan the National Guard had in mind to restore control would be acted on far too late to do any good. The situation had deteriorated far too fast.
There had been several attacks when bitten patients died on operating tables or while waiting to be checked out in the ER. Far too late, someone in a position of authority decided that anyone who came in bitten was to be restrained. Unfortunately, that wasn’t before several nurses, doctors, and other patients were attacked.
Jason’s mom had never been one to pull her punches and she didn’t do so as she relayed her tale to him. She had a pretty good idea how much trouble she was in after bandaging her scratched arm. The wound had felt like it was on fire mere seconds after the attack. Since it wasn’t a bite, no one paid the wound much attention, but there was no doubt in her mind that she would be getting curious glances in no time. She was already running a fever. She had to get the hell out of there before she ended up tied to some bed while she waited to die.
Taking one last look around, Yvonne decided to make a beeline to the garage where her car was parked. There was no way she was going to let them quarantine her or tie her up; not with her boy waiting for her to get back home. She had been prepared to do anything, up to and including blasting through the gate at the edge of the employee lot with her beat up old Buick Skylark. It didn’t matter that there were two police cruisers parked on the street outside the garage-nothing was going to stop her from leaving that place.
Fortune smiled on her. The attendant waved her through without even looking up from the portable TV he had in the booth with him.
On the drive home, Yvonne listened to traffic reports that indicated every highway in and out of the city was either clogged or blockaded by the military. Even many of the major roads were backed up, but Yvonne had been driving in the city long enough to have learned about several lesser known routes that would get her home without all the traffic headaches the main routes tended to provide. It was clear as she headed east out of Cincinnati that the city was shutting down, and soon there wouldn’t be any roads open to traffic anymore. There was unchecked chaos and destruction everywhere she looked. People running in the streets, gunfire, and the sounds of screams she heard through the rolled up windows. She didn’t see any of them, but suspected they were there, nonetheless.
Perhaps it was a miracle, or just dumb luck, but she managed to get back home without incident.
She told Jason her story in a breathless rush. By the time she was done, her skin had gone an ashy color and she was drenched in sweat. When he suggested they find a doctor in Gallatin to check her out, she waved him off.
“What we need to do,” she replied, “is find someone to take you in while I deal with this.”
Jason had learned over the years that there was no use arguing with momma, especially when she gave him the “look”. The woman could be downright scary when she wanted to be. So when she picked up the phone and tried to reach out to some of her friends in the area, he remained silent, even as he felt terrified about what was happening to his mother. She was still in charge, and until she said different, there was nothing her twelve-year-old boy could say about it.
After the final call, when Yvonne was unable to reach a single other person, she sat in a chair in the living room and took a deep breath. A few seconds later, she slapped her hands on her knees, announcing to Jason that she had come to a decision.
“There’s just one thing left we can do.”
Jason would never forget when his mother directed him to tie her arms and feet to her bed. She told him that if she got delirious, like the man at the hospital, she didn’t want him to be in any danger of getting scratched or bit. She also joked that it was ironic that she had been desperate to avoid that fate at the hospital, but now felt it was the only solution she had remaining at home.
“If I turn into one of those monsters, and I doubt I will, I don’t want to be able to hurt you. I don’t want to bite you like all those people you’ve seen on TV.”
Once again, Jason had the urge to argue with his momma, but even with her eyes getting cloudy with infection, she wielded an authority that bucked no debate from her son.
So he helped get her into bed, taking several extension cords and wrapping them around her wrists and ankles and then the bedposts. When he tried to be gentle with the knots he made, Yvonne chastised him, insisting he make sure she couldn’t break free.
“I plan on fighting like crazy against this virus, baby, but I’m not taking any chances with your safety. If I turn, I need to know you’ll be safe.”
After the knots were tied and before the tears could come, Jason’s momma told him to sit down next to her on the bed.
“Jason, you’re a stronger boy than you realize. I’ve always known that about you. I also know you resent me for taking you away from your father, but I think, deep down, you understand why I had to do it. He could never take care of you, even if he thought that what he was doing was good enough.
“I didn’t bring you to Ohio to make your life miserable, I brought you here to make you stronger. You needed to get away from that place and learn to stand on your own. I didn’t realize how quickly you would need to be able to do that, but God gives us challenges we think we aren’t prepared for because he knows better than us how strong we are, and how much we can handle.
“I’ve done the best I could for you. It wasn’t enough, but there isn’t any time left for me to do any more. Now I don’t want you crying for me. Instead, I want you to do exactly as I tell you.”
Jason’s mother tolerated no back talk, even as she grew weaker by the second. So he listened to every word she had to say, and despite his reservations, he did as she asked. He collected what he could into his backpack-clothes, food, a pocket knife, and the spare cash she had hidden in a shoebox at the back of her closet. She told him that money probably wouldn’t mean anything for much longer, but it might help him out of a tight jam with someone he came across.
Yvonne didn’t want her son going to one of those shelters, but knew there were few other options available to a twelve-year-old on their own. The scroll at the bottom of the television screen listed the different shelters in the Cincinnati area, and Gallatin high school, which was just a few miles away, was the closest one. He was to try and go to the neighbors first, and see if any of them would take him in, but if that didn’t work, or if he came across anyone acting suspicious, he was to run to that high school as fast as he could.
She told him the some people might not think twice about taking advantage of a young boy without any guardians, so he would have to stand tall and fend for himself. And once things calmed down and the world got back to normal, he would have to try to reach out to any family they had up north that was still alive. Yvonne hadn’t been able to reach any of them for a couple of days, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t make it through this. And when they did, he needed to find them. They would take care of him.
Jason wondered if his mother actually believed that things would ever go back to normal. A cure sounded next to impossible from what he’d heard, and the military didn’t seem to be having any lucky anywhere as far as containing the spread of the contagion. After watching the news all day, and having heard horror stories coming in from across the globe for the last few days, the chances of the world ever being sane again was about as likely as momma being able to avoid succumbing to the virus.
She was the strongest person Jason had ever known, but no amount of determination to resist the rapid creep of the plague was going to keep her from changing. The doctors on TV had bickered back and forth on just about every minute detail related to the virus, but one thing they all agreed on was its 100% mortality and reanimation rate. If you were infected, you died, and then you came back.
After momma gave Jason her instructions and was certain he would carry them out, her voice became soft as she reminisced with him about their lives together. She told him stories about her youth she’d never revealed before and managed to get a few laughs out of him, even as the tears flowed despite her stern command he not weep for her.
On more than one occasion, Jason hinted that he wanted to remove the cords that bound her, but she would chastise him every time he tried, even when she grew delirious and her words were slurred.
Near the end she told him to leave, to get out of the house and go to the neighbors. He needed to find someone who could take him to the shelter, or away from this place. There was no more pretending. She was going to die and she had accepted that. He refused until she had to yell at him, telling him through her own tears that he needed to go, that she did not want him seeing her like this.
Jason pretended to leave, hiding at the front door after he slammed it shut. He slumped against it, crying silent tears while his mother lay dying down the hall. He wanted to untie her, cut her free and hold her tight one last time. And when he heard her loudly weeping, that desire became almost unbearable.
After the crying stopped about an hour later, Jason strained to hear anything coming from his mother’s bedroom. It didn’t take long for him to hear the wheezing as her struggles to breath became more pronounced. As he did, he laid his head on his knees. At that point, he’d been awake for nearly twenty four hours straight. His mother’s struggles with the virus had lasted through the night. So as he sat and listened to the ragged rhythm of her breathing, his eyelids continued to droop lower no matter how hard he fought against it.
One of Jason’s uncles had died of cancer, and he’d watched him gradually lose weight and hair from chemotherapy. It took several months, and the changes were gradual, but hard not to notice. When the man was brought home to be with his family for the last few days of his life, after the doctors had done everything they could for him, Jason was forced to go into his uncle’s bedroom one last time. The man’s eyes had sunken into their sockets and his skin was gray. The smell of illness in the room terrified the boy almost more than how his uncle’s looks had changed. There was a cloying scent of despair that hung heavy in the room. Even the reassuring grin his uncle gave him scared Jason. It made him look like one of the demonic creatures in a horror comic Jason’s dad had given him. His uncle’s eyes had gone from white to a jaundiced yellow, which added to the devilish effect.
What had happened to his mother was like a time lapse recording of the illness his uncle had suffered through. Several nightmarish months of agony jammed into a few hours of living hell, with the same terrible sights and smells that had given Jason nightmares for a year after his uncle died.
Jason woke with a start. He had been dreaming of his uncle, smiling up at him from his deathbed, telling him that his momma would be with him soon. As he spoke, he reached out with his hand, as if asking the boy to join them.
While he’d slept, the wheezing in the other room had stopped. The house was silent. Jason stood, fearful he’d missed the chance to rush back to his mother’s side to see her face and hold her hand one last time before she died. He couldn’t come to grips with the idea of his mother being taken away from him. How could some minor scratch undo such a larger than life person?
Jason listened for a few minutes, peering at the walls that separated his mother’s bed from where he was stood. Nothing. No sound at all. Had she passed? He had to know even though part of him was screaming that he needed to run away and not look back. He could pretend she was still alive if he wanted to. All he had to do was leave.
His voice sounded timid, almost embarrassed. He half expected her to come bursting through the doorway, yelling at him to do as he’d been told and leave the house.
It didn’t happen. Nothing did.
Fear mingled with a sliver of courage that resided deep within the twelve-year-old; courage that came from realizing he had nothing left to lose.
He waited. Sweat dripped down his face, rolling onto his upper lip. Droplets quivered there before falling to the floor. Jason moved his right foot forward with care, somehow afraid that the noise from a squeaky floorboard might upset momma even more than the fact that he’d yelled her name.
His foot was still hovering above the floor when he heard it.
The bed was making a creaking sound, but there was also another sound. One that was almost human.
The sweat pouring down his face and back turned to ice on his skin. An involuntary shiver wracked Jason’s body as he brought his foot down. Hairs on his arms and legs stood at attention and were almost painfully stiff as goose bumps covered every exposed inch of skin. His foot retreated to its original position and he remained locked in place at the front door.
It sounded like a moan coming from the bedroom, but not like any he’d ever heard before. He doubted that a human being in a normal state of mind could make a sound like that.
It was the terrified little boy inside of him reaching out for her now. Tears mixed with the cold sweat and Jason’s vision became blurred. He thought he saw his mother in her nightgown, the one she had worn when she had gotten into bed. It was her favorite. She was walking out of the room, coming toward him, angry at him for not leaving as he’d been told to do. He slammed his back into the front door and gave a wailing cry of his own that didn’t sound quite as bad as the moaning, but had the effect of making the inhuman sound grow louder. Frantically wiping at his eyes, he blinked and saw there was nothing in front of him. Momma was still in her bedroom, tied down.
She needs you. Go to her.
Jason slid to the floor, hugging himself as he wept. No longer concerned about the amount of noise he made, the sound of his crying echoed through the small house. After a couple of minutes, his sense of loss turned to anger as the moaning increased in volume, as if his mother was mocking him.
“Shut up! You’re not my mother anymore! Just leave me alone!”
It’s your mother in there, how dare you yell at her? Go in there and apologize!
The moaning didn’t stop and his anger gradually changed, morphing into something closer to regret. He begged and pleaded, yet knowing somehow, on a coldly logical level, that the monster his mother had become would never listen to him again. At the same time, the voice inside his head, the one that knew nothing of logic or sanity, kept whispering to him that he should go to his mother, that she needed him.
Jason knew it wouldn’t stop until it drove him mad.
That was about all the twelve-year-old was sure of anymore. That and the fact that there was no way he could face his mother ever again. Not with what she had become.
He turned away from the noises and stared at the front door of the house. This was no longer his home, and even as the strange voice inside tugged at him, he could feel the house pushing him away.
You are no longer welcome here. This is a place for the dead.
Jason leaned his forehead against the cold, unforgiving wood of the door and banged it against the pine gently, but repeatedly.
“I’m sorry momma. I love you, but I’m sorry. I can’t stay here anymore. Goodbye.”
It was a lousy eulogy, but was all he could think to say. The maniacal voice inside his head screamed at him to turn around and go to her, but he blotted it out, screaming and cursing at it.
Momma was gone.
Walking out the door, Jason didn’t look back as it slammed behind him. He stepped out onto the grass, unconcerned with where he was going. The world around him was in panic and upheaval. Several of the neighbors had fled, their front doors flung open while others had already in the process of barricading their homes. He didn’t concern himself with any of them, even as several called out to him, screaming his name. The blare of sirens and the sound of gunfire in the background also didn’t distract him.
He picked up his feet and ran, moving swiftly past his neighborhood. His only plan was to keep on running, perhaps all the way to Detroit, if he could. He would run until his legs gave out, his heart exploded inside his chest, or one of those things caught him and tore him to pieces. That was the only thought he had left in his head. He would run until he died.
By the time the soldiers caught up with him twenty minutes later, all the tears had dried and the stony visage that George knew so well had taken their place.